There’s a lot to love on Hulu right now.
For this list, I sifted through and came up with a range of movies new and old, left the country for a few others, and snuck in some of the broader-appealing Criterion movies (I’ll let you figure out which ones).
The best movies on Hulu in July 2017
Mean Girls before Mean Girls, Scream before Scream, that’s how I pitch this ’80s classic to people who haven’t seen it. It’s a satire and a biting black comedy. High school tales about the coolest of the cool and the people who want to undermine them are the forever-cool leather jackets of film.
2) Short Term 12
Before she landed the titular role in Captain Marvel, Brie Larson won an Oscar for Room. Before she won the Oscar, she won over audiences and critics with her work in Dustin Cretin’s Short Term 12. She plays a supervisor in a treatment facility for troubled teens. It’s a sensitive topic that the film handles in a way that feels honest. The movie goes to some dark places thematically, but there are enough victories for the characters mixed in that it’s not a grueling movie to sit through.
Cloverfield is awesome. I understand the complaints about the handheld/found footage aesthetic, but I don’t hear them. From concept to execution, Cloverfield is a blast. Say what you will about J.J. Abrams, but the man knows how to make an event movie. He also has an eye for talent. He roped in longtime collaborators Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods), both masters of genre. Cloverfield is much scarier than you’d think for a monster romp. And now that there’s a Cloverfield Cinematic Universe taking shape (last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and this year’s untitled entry), now’s a great time for a refresher on how it all began.
4) 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane came out of nowhere last year when was announced just two months prior to its release (it had previously flown under the radar as Valencia). For most of its runtime, it’s a taut locked-room thriller. It’s about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up after a car crash in bunker belonging to a mysterious man (John Goodman). There’s another man stuck with them (John Gallagher Jr.) whose allegiances are hard to peg. The movie is a showcase for its cast and talented young director (Dan Trachtenberg). The ties to Cloverfield proved to be divisive among audiences, but it’s too good to miss out on.
5) Iron Man
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years since Jon Favreau first laid out the blueprint for the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While creative fatigue may have set in somewhere along the way for some, the MCU movies continue to bring in interesting filmmakers and make overnight stars of its leads. Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. found magic in this origin story for Tony Stark, taking a second-tier superhero in the eyes of mainstream audiences and putting him on par with Batman and Superman. After 14 movies (and a staggering nine movies scheduled to be released by 2019), Iron Man continues to be one of the crown jewels of the MCU.
6) Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe ain’t what he used to be, but it’s important to go back and remind yourself about what made him so good in the first place. Almost Famous has it all, from the great performances by Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and everyone else, to catchy music, and effortlessly good writing. Based on Crowe’s own experience as a writer for Rolling Stone, the film follows a young writer (Fugit) as he goes on the road with the band Stillwater. Crowe won an Oscar for the film’s screenplay, and no less than Roger Ebert named the movie as one of the best films of the 2000s.
For those suffering from sequel fatigue, Ryan Coogler’s Rocky installment is the antidote. Coogler and leading man Michael B. Jordan lend Creed fresh perspective and energy while still packing the emotional wallop that endeared the series to so many people 40 years ago.
8) O.J.: Made in America
This eight-hour documentary (available in five chapters) is among the very best work to come from TV or cinema in 2016. O.J. looks closely at the man and legend of O.J. Simpson and charts his rise and fall from star athlete to accused murderer and social pariah. Director Ezra Edelman captures the racial tension that permeated the 20th century and distills it down to the Trial of the Century. It becomes clear that O.J. Simpson wasn’t the only one on trial. It’s as much a historical document as it is entertainment, and it couldn’t be more timely or timeless.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is quickly establishing himself as an A-list director, between Prisoners, this year’s excellent Arrival, and 2017’s high-stakes curio Blade Runner 2049. Sicario is a taut drug war thriller top-lined by Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin (all doing great work). Villeneuve has a strong eye for visuals and a knack for making movies that linger days after you watch them. If nothing else, this one is worth checking out for the awesomely tense opening and a spectacular border crossing attempt gone awry.
10) Balls Out
If you can get past the terrible poster art and even worse title, Balls Out is funny enough to justify the 90-minute commitment. People taking sports too seriously always has potential, and this intramural-football-centered story gets good mileage out of the familiar setup. The cast is full of current Saturday Night Live cast members and top-lined by the always enjoyable Jake Lacy and Nikki Reed.
11) The Truman Show
The reality TV angle of Truman has become increasingly relevant with each passing year, but the recommendation here is for Jim Carrey’s performance. He’s a tragicomic force who never hits a false note. The movie itself is great all the way around, but Carrey is its heart and soul.
12) Cabin Fever
Eli Roth’s debut remains a goofy, gory, gooey delight nearly 15 years after its debut. A getaway to a cabin in the woods for five friends goes spectacularly awry when a flesh-eating disease rips through the group and ruins their debaucherous plans. Roth’s mix of comedy and horror isn’t for everyone, but this movie did catch the eye of splatter-horror icons like Peter Jackson. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s hard to imagine you won’t find something to laugh or cringe at in Cabin Fever.
Charlie Kaufman is arguably the best American filmmaker going right not. Or the most important. At the very least, he’s the best screenwriter. Anomalisa marks his second directorial effort after the much praised Synecdoche, New York, and it’s full of the pathos and introspection that have marked much of his work to date. It’s about a lonely man living a pedestrian life who meets someone who breaks up the monotony. But it’s about so much more than just that. This film is not for everyone, and its ending won’t leave you feeling particularly satisfied, but Kaufman has written some of the absolute best films of the last 20 years (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He doesn’t get the chance to direct very often, so we have to savor the films we do get from him.
Johnny Depp makes a lot of awful movies, but Mortdecai is perhaps the most curious oddity of them all. The movie is infamous for how it tanked at the box office, and its mere existence is baffling to anyone who saw it. A misfire of this magnitude doesn’t come along often, but when it does there’s almost a badge of honor feeling for the souls who survive it.
Compliance is the kind of movie meant to push buttons and provoke strong reactions. Writer-director Craig Zobel’s film is about an unlucky fast-food employee being kept on the phone by someone claiming to be a police officer. The caller (Pat Healy) asks the employee (Dreama Walker) to do increasingly disturbing things in the name of clearing herself. Despite being based on a true story, Compliance’s premise will certainly test viewers’ patience and suspension of disbelief. Much like the phone caller’s demands, Compliance puts you through the emotional ringer.
Imagine if one of the regional myths you grew up believing held more truth than you ever knew. That’s the setup for this documentary based on a New York urban legend. The filmmakers get more than they intended as their search for the truth leads them to the case of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand. The truth, or whatever the doc uncovers, proves to be far scarier than the legend.
17) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
First New Zealand gave us Peter Jackson; now it’s given us Taika Waititi. Jackson makes oversized spectacles, and Waititi has built his name on small-scale stories with strong characters (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows). That is, until Marvel recruited him for his own oversized spectacle (the upcoming Thor: Ragnorok). Wilderpeople is such a delightful movie that you understand why Waititi is getting called up while also being greedy enough to want him to keep making movies where his is the main creative voice.
As far as vampire thrillers go, this one is comparatively lowkey. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play a pair of vampires who have been on the run for hundreds of years. They try to live anonymously, but when their cover is blown, they’re on the run again. It’s arty fare and something that may test the patience of some. Director Neil Jordan creates a beguiling atmosphere, and Arterton and Ronan are strong leads, and combined they help carry the movie through clunky moments. Even if it isn’t totally successful in everything it sets out to do, it’s a worthy effort with enough highlights to make it worth your time.
19) March of the Penguins
Remember when this documentary captured the zeitgeist in the summer of 2005? There’s nothing separating Penguins from any number of nature documentaries, from Disney Nature’s output to Planet Earth. But I’ll be damned if the journey of the penguins featured isn’t just as compelling now as it was back then.
Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo isn’t well known in America, so this is a chance to impress your friends with your excellent taste in foreign films. Vigalondo’s biggest movie to date is the indie hit Colossal (starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis), but his debut Timecrimes remains his best film. It’s a low-budget time travel thriller (think Primer with a more propulsive plot) that is heady without being pretentious and twisty without being confounding.
21) Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s spiritual cousin to Dazed and Confused received the usual acclaim that accompanies most Linklater joints, but it didn’t translate to a big audience. That seems fitting, as it wouldn’t be right if Everybody Wants Some!! (the two exclamation points are important) didn’t find and build its audience the old-fashioned way just like Dazed did. The movie follows a group of baseball players as they navigate life on a college campus. Like most Linklater movies, Everybody’s is about the experience and characters rather than plot mechanics. Get you some!!
This Emma Roberts- and Dave Franco-starring techno-thriller is fast-paced fun. Roberts plays a woman looking for some extra money who decides to play a popular online game. In the game, called Nerve, players take on dares from anonymous viewers. For each completed dare, the player gets money instantly deposited into their bank account, so the allure to keep going is strong. Franco is one of the game’s best players, and when he teams up with Roberts, they become a popular duo. The movie is pretty dopey, and gets pretty heavy-handed at the end, but it moves so fast that those concerns don’t really hit until long after the film is over.
23) Barbershop: The Next Cut
The third entry in Ice Cube’s Barbershop series might be its best. The movie, like the barbershop itself, has a looseness to it that makes you want to linger in the shop longer than you need to. The conversation is alternately fun and fierce. The ball-busting goes both ways, with everybody cracking wise and getting cracked on but always in a way that’s good-hearted. If that were all the movie had going, that would be enough for a fun time. But The Next Cut tackles larger issues, most notably the changing racial makeup and growing crime problems of Chicago. In a movie with the central idea of people hashing out the day-to-day of their lives, the thornier societal issues flow naturally out of the conversation, and the movie is consistently entertaining. The cast, including stalwarts Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Anthony Anderson, and newcomers Lamorne Morris, Nicki Minaj, and Common, has easy chemistry and the film’s two hours just fly by.
24) Daddy’s Home
It’s a crying shame Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s 2010 collaboration, The Other Guys, isn’t available, but their second one is. Ferrell plays a buttoned-up step-dad competing for the affection of his stepkids with the kids’ father, played by Wahlberg. The game of one-upmanship grows increasingly silly, as those kinds of things are wont to do, and Ferrell and Wahlberg sell the jokes as best they can. Daddy’s Home isn’t the funniest movie you’ll see with Wahlberg or Ferrell, but it gets the job done.
25) The Orphanage
The Orphanage is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century, I really mean it. It’s a humane and terrifying story set at what used to be an orphanage. A family moves into the house and the family’s son begins communicating with the spirit of a former orphanage resident. If you’re blood-averse, The Orphanage is a great option. Director J.A. Bayona (director of the upcoming Jurassic World sequel) shows remarkable restraint. He lets the tension build steadily and never sells out the film’s emotional honesty for cheap scares.
26) American Beauty
After a wondrous run as a cultural whipping boy for its portrayal of suburban and especially teenage angst, the tide has turned for the movie that won best picture in 1999. Kevin Spacey’s performance is a perfect blend of malaise and existential crisis. Annette Bening and Mena Suvari are the yin and yang representation of a man’s midlife crisis: Suvari as the young temptress and potential for a different kind of life, and Bening as the outgrown partner and reminder of a life wasted. Nearly 20 years after its release, American Beauty holds up fairly well. Its observations still sting, even if they’re not as sharp as they used to be, and the satire is still relevant today. If nothing else, the trash bag scene is still a hoot.
27) American Ultra
Being totally honest, I hated American Ultra when I saw it, but now that it’s available for streaming, I’ve thought about giving it another look. It comes from the highly prolific and equally divisive Max Landis and is about two stoners who get mixed up with government spooks. Between the premise and the mix of violence, lowbrow humor, and romantic chemistry between the leads, I reductively refer to this as the poor man’s Pineapple Express (sadly not on Hulu). Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t, and movies that take risks deserve to be seen, good or bad.
28) Where to Invade Next
Michael Moore is never going to change his stripes as an activist or filmmaker. But his 2015 documentary tweaks his tactics enough to make you think maybe change is possible. Moore looks at various issues plaguing America, then finds other countries who have seemingly got it right as an example of a solution. It’s the least “preaching to the choir” Moore has been in a long time, and it makes Where to Invade Next feel like a conversation starter rather than a screed.
29) Legally Blonde
To see Legally Blonde is to love Legally Blonde. Reese Witherspoon does some of her best work as Elle Woods, who goes from sorority queen to Harvard Law School student after being dumped by her shortsighted boyfriend. Elle is unapologetically herself as she brings her fashionable ways to a community marked by its dullness. The movie is infectiously fun, from Elle teaching her friends at the beauty salon the bend-and-snap to breaking down the dos and don’ts of perms to clear a client. Like Elle, Legally Blonde is an easy movie to underestimate, but it’s time to stop being a Warner and start being an Emmett.
Photo via MGM Channel
There’s a growing realization that Seann William Scott is an underrated actor. Yes, Steve Stifler, the Stifmeister. That guy. Scott has had woefully few opportunities to show his chops, but in movies like The Promotion and especially Goon, he gets to show off a deftness for more subtle humor and emotions than American Pie demanded. In Goon, he plays a hockey player who excels only at fighting, but it’s his ticket to a brief respite from the drudgery life has waiting for him. Goon proved to be a cult hit, and Goon 2 is in the can and awaiting release in the U.S.
Hulu’s marketing leaned heavily on the whole “Jackass: Origins” angle, but there’s a lot more to Big Brother Magazine’s legacy than just helping make Johnny Knoxville famous. Dumb is a ride through the history of a weird little publication that kickflipped over every sacred cow it could find, redefining skater culture in the process. Even if you don’t know Tony Hawk from Tony Robbins, Dumb is fast, slick, and a lot of fun. —David Wharton
32) The Foot Fist Way
The Foot Fist Way is the rawest, purest form of Danny McBride. He plays a brash tae kwon do instructor, Ben Simmons, who shares his considerable lack of skills with kids. Fists and foul mouthed barbs fly as Simmons trains the kids for a tournament. Simmons is a rough draft version of Lenny Powers, and it’s worth watching to see McBride and co-writer and director Jody Hill before they blew up. If you’re a fan of McBride’s style, you owe it to yourself to catch up with The Foot Fist Way.
33) Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
I’m not bold enough to say Talladega Nights is better than Step Brothers or Anchorman (well, maybe Anchorman). But I will say that it is certainly on par with those more revered comedies. Ricky Bobby is a wondrous character and Will Ferrell gives his finest comic performance. Ricky’s mix of cockiness and immaturity is offset by the fact that he’s pretty good at what he does (moreso than Ron Burgandy or Brennan Huff). The supporting cast is just as brilliant, from John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen to Jane Lynch, Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, and so on. This riff on NASCAR finds ways to be silly and funny without insulting the sport or its fans.
Saw is and always will be a poor man’s Se7en. The movie is kind of indefensible. The grandstanding philosophizing, the tortuous violence, the acting, there’s a lot to rag on with Saw. But the movie is also fun, especially if you watch it with friends. Cary Elwes’ performance alone is worth the runtime. After dropping seven movies between 2004 and 2010, the series is returning this fall with its latest (and possibly last) joint after a seven year hiatus. This is more of a refresher recommendation. Whether it’s your first time watching the movie or first time in awhile, Saw will probably entertain you in some way. If all else fails, well, the twist ending is legitimately good.
With Spider-Man having a bit of a renaissance with Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s a good time to bask in the glory of Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spidey flick. It gets just about everything about the character, and tentpole blockbusters, right. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco are a lot of fun as the main trio, and the rest of the character is great too. Raimi strikes the right balance of silliness and pathos, and gives the story a real sense of pathos. With the last decade’s worth of superhero super films numbing my senses and taking most of the joy out of these movies (I know, I’m being a grump on this, but I stand by it), jumping back to Spider-Man satisfies nostalgia in a different way than what we’re used to now.
Editor’s note: This article shares blurbs with some of our other streaming guides and is regularly updated for relevance.
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