Don’t overlook these.
If you’re looking for the best Netflix original movies, we should warn you it’s a mixed bag to say the least.
Unlike Amazon, Netflix seems less interested in producing and acquiring movies with the intent of distributing them on the big screen, and more concerned with building its ever-growing streaming library. The unintended result is that sometimes even its better movies get buried underneath the mountain of content Netflix puts out a monthly basis. When two of its originals premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the company became the source of much controversy, amid technical difficulties and concerns about whether streaming-only movies should be allowed in competition.
However, Netflix is going to keep putting out movies, no matter how much some may protest, and some of them are quite remarkable.
Here are the best Netflix original movies to remind you that, despite what Cannes says, there are good things about having movies available to stream whenever you want. —Chris Osterndorf
The best Netflix original movies
Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is an odd and oddly touching story about a girl, Mija, and her genetically enhanced superpig, Okja. Set in Korea and the U.S., Okja features a diverse cast, thrilling set pieces, and enough emotional moments to keep you engaged even when the film indulges its weirder aspects. Despite the film’s tonal shifts, Joon-ho’s agility and prowess as a filmmaker ties everything together and makes it feel if a piece. Okja is easily the best Netflix original movie to date. —Eddie Strait
Netflix’s first major foray into film distribution, at least in terms of narrative filmmaking, was this child soldier drama from 2015. Upon its release, Beasts of No Nation immediately declared that, in addition to giving you daily doses of ‘90s nostalgia, the streaming giant was committed to socially engaged stories too. Directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba in what should’ve been an Oscar-nominated performance, Beasts of No Nation is an intense watch but also a rewarding one. If nothing else, it’ll make you aware of how few depictions of Africa we really see onscreen, and how much that needs to be corrected. —Chris Osterndorf
Hush is an hourlong cuticle-ripper. The 2016 film centers on Maddie (Kate Siegel, who co-wrote the screenplay), a deaf and mute author who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. And there’s a killer on the loose, wearing a creepy white mask. This premise might sound awfully well-tread, but Hush upends the typical home-invasion thriller by letting us see the threat (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.) unmasked, forcing the tension to build as Maddie finds different ways to thwart his murderous advances. By immersing us in Maddie’s silent world, the tension is even more palpable, and the fact that she’s a writer of fiction allows the film to expand in some inventive directions, even as her fate remains unsure. —Audra Schroeder
Noah Baumbach has successfully usurped Woody Allen’s title as the greatest living director of New York comedies. His latest love letter to the Big Apple comes in the form of The Merowitz Stories (New and Selected), a thoughtful meditation on the challenge of letting the pain caused by a parent go. Dustin Hoffman’s Harold Meyerowitz is an aging sculptor, largely overlooked in his time. His children, played respectively by Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel, are all semi-dysfunctional, thanks to Harold’s over or under-involved parenting. As a comedy, it certainly isn’t a laugh riot, but it absolutely leaves an impression. —C.O.
In Sunday’s Illness, the raw emotions between a mother and the daughter she abandoned 35 years ago are on full display as they spend 10 days together, showing what could have been and what will never be with painstaking beauty. Mother Anabel (Susi Sánchez) and daughter Chiara (Bárbara Lennie) constantly push and pull at one another even when they aren’t in each other’s orbit. Sunday’s Illness could have taken its concept into a number of directions with the backdrop—and impeccable cinematography—of an isolated house located on a wooded mountain that helps set the tone. Instead, the film goes down a more emotional and sometimes uncomfortable path, climaxing in a profoundly life-changing experience. Like the snapshots we see, we’re left wondering what it might all say. —Michelle Jaworski
Adapted by Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound traces the stories of two families during WWII, one white, one black. They intersect when the McAllan clan buys the farm the Jackson family has worked on as sharecroppers for years. It’s worth watching Mudbound for its devastating ending alone. It’s impossible to deny that Hollywood is better for taking a chance on filmmakers like Dee Rees and stories like this. —C.O.
Kodachrome is like going to your childhood home to play a game of catch in your backyard: It’s comforting and you fall right back into the routine. What starts as a paint-by-numbers story of an estranged father and son working out their issues during a long road trip morphs into a genuinely affecting tale of family and mortality with a satisfying emotional payoff. Ed Harris plays the role of a father and renowned photographer, Ben, with customary elegance, but Jason Sudeikis steals the show as his son, Matt. Jonathan Tropper’s script pulls no punches, and director Mark Raso allows the scenes to breathe, making Kodachrome one of the better Netflix releases of 2018. —E.S.
8) 6 Balloons
In Marja-Lewis Ryan’s 6 Balloons, one long night tests the limits of compassion. It tells the story of Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) a woman who’s trying to plan a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend. But as the day goes on she collides with her brother Seth (Dave Franco), a heroin addict who’s using again. “The loneliness inside those dark moments is almost more crippling… not being able to talk about the things; not knowing where to talk,” Ryan tells the Daily Dot. “If this isn’t your story, then maybe you can gain a little empathy for people who are experiencing this. And if it is your story, hopefully, you can feel a little less lonely.” 6 Balloons is very much about middle-class addiction, based on a similar night Ryan’s best friend (and the film’s co-producer) Samantha Housman experienced: Her brother, a lawyer, was addicted to heroin. —A.S.
9) Annihilation (not available in U.S.)
In Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation, we still get to explore Area X, a quarantined area of land besieged by mysterious environmental changes. That’s about where the similarities to the book end. The film uses author Jeff VanderMeer’s spectral setting to get in its characters’ heads. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier who is grieving the loss of her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). He was sent into Area X on a secret mission and feared dead, but he suddenly returns home—altered. Lena’s mission there is one of truth and redemption, but Portman plays her with appropriate detachment. We don’t really know her true motives, and fellow travelers Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) have their own reasons for going on an apparent suicide mission. —A.S.
10) To the Bone
It may be hard to convince yourself sit down for a harrowing story about a young woman’s struggle with anorexia. Despite To the Bone’s dour subject matter, Marti Noxon’s script has enough humor to act as a release valve. The performances from lead actress Lily Collins to supporting players Alex Sharp, Keanu Reeves, Retta, and Lily Tomlin are great. The story is based on Noxon’s past experiences and that comes through in the intimate and empathetic approach she takes. —E.S.
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11) Gerald’s Game
It’s the year of the Stephen King adaptation, and Gerald’s Game might be the best one. Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) takes a novel that has long been considered unfilmable and imbues it with tension and emotion. Carla Gugino gives a standout performance as Jessie, a woman who is left handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) dies unexpectedly. The bulk of the film concerns her survival and how deep into the past she can go, and it actually improves upon the novel. —A.S.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Netflix’s feature film adaptation of Josh Karp’s 2006 book of the same name, is an exploration of the creation of humor mag National Lampoon and its odd-couple co-founders, Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) and Doug Kenney (Will Forte). It’s removed enough from its 1970s origins to offer new insight into its generational influence—and it also recontextualizes satire in an era littered with “fake news.” —A.S.
13) Lucid Dream
A South Korean riff on Inception, Lucid Dream follows a journalist, Dae-ho, working to find his son, who was kidnapped three years earlier. The investigation has gone cold, but an experimental technique allows Dae-ho to relive the day his son was taken through lucid dreaming. For a premise as inherently grim as a parent searching for a lost child, Lucid Dream is surprisingly fun. The investigations taking place in dreamland and the real world intersect in interesting ways, and the story is constantly upping the stakes. —E.S.
The Incredible Jessica James opens on something many of us are all too familiar with: a very bad Tinder date. Jessica Williams plays an aspiring playwright, working through her failures in New York. She’s not above stalking her ex on Instagram or lying to her parents. But Williams gives us a performance that reminds us that we’re all human and that falling down is not something to be ashamed of. In the process, she breathes life into the tired rom-com genre. —Sarah Jasmine Montgomery
15) The Killer
This well-executed Brazilian shoot-em-up flick cuts no corners in telling its serpentine story and spares no gory details. Branded as O Matador outside of the United States, the film stars Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Cabeleira, a manchild assassin searching for his adopted father through the lawless badlands of Pernambuco. —Kahron Spearman
Ennui, violation, ham-fisted vengeance: It all comes together in Macon Blair’s directorial debut, starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as two amateur detectives looking for justice in a world gone mad. —A.S.
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Wheelman stars Frank Grillo as a professional getaway driver who finds himself with $200,000 in his trunk and some very bad people on his tail after a bank job goes pear-shaped. Staged almost entirely within the confines of the car, Wheelman blends an intense neo-noir storyline with a gritty, charismatic lead performance by Grillo. More French Connection than The Fast and the Furious, Wheelman is a ride well worth taking. —David Wharton
There’s yet another Stephen King adaptation landing on Netflix, and this one involves rats and murder. In Zak Hilditch’s take, Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a Nebraska farmer who has a crisis of conscience when wife Arlette (Molly Parker) says she wants to move to the city and take their teenage son. What follows is a signature King ghost story but it expands in Jane’s dead-eyed portrayal of Wilfred. Mike Patton provides the anxiety-inducing soundtrack, and it couldn’t have been a better choice. —A.S.
Louis Waters (Robert Redford) has lived a quiet life since his wife’s death years before. Then one night his neighbor, Addie (Jane Fonda), herself a widow of many years, knocks on his door with a simple proposal: “Would you like to sleep with me?” Our Souls at Night would be worth watching even if it was just to see Redford and Fonda working together again, but thankfully, it also serves as a gentle reminder that it’s never too late to find love. Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone and knock on some doors. —D.W.
South Korean thriller Forgotten is a slick, twisty yarn. It’s also a blast. Jin-Seok gets caught up investigating his brother’s kidnapping, and each new thing he learns makes him question everything about his own life. Nothing is as plain as it seems, and our protagonist comes face to face with long-forgotten demons. Action master Jang Hang-jung’s film is a well-executed genre exercise that delivers an emotional wallop to go with its thrills and jaw-dropping reveals. —E.S.
21) The Ritual
This indie flick stars Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Hot Fuzz), Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey), Arsher Ali, and Sam Troughton as four friends on a lads’ holiday hiking in Sweden after a recent tragedy. As you might’ve already guessed given that this is a horror movie, the trip does not go as planned. One of the men hurts his foot, sending them off the main trail and onto a shortcut through the woods. The third feature from director David Bruckner, the film is essentially a mythological riff on Deliverance. —C.O.
22) The Discovery
The discovery here is one of an afterlife, and the consequences it has on society. Robert Redford is the scientist who made the fateful discovery, which has led to a surge in suicides and drawn in a cult of obsessives. It also explores what that afterlife looks like, and whether we really want to know. Director Charlie McDowell explored similar themes of duality in his 2014 film The One I Love. —A.S.
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Mascots marks Christopher Guest’s return to form with this Netflix original. Mainstays like Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and John Michael Higgins pop up in this film about a mascot competition, mirroring Guest’s Best in Show. It doesn’t have the structure or comedic heft of his past films, but it does boast a Parker Posey dance sequence. —A.S.
24) Win It All
Jake Johnson helms this film about a gambling addict and the duffel bag that starts the domino effect. Director Joe Swanberg follows up Drinking Buddies with another tale of a hapless guy in over his head and adds in some memorable scenes with Joe Lo Truglio and Keegan-Michael Key. —D.W.
25) First Match
Netflix is putting a lot of time and money into young adult content, but First Match escapes the genre and leaves an impression that’s often rare for a debut film. Monique (Elvire Emanuelle) is teen from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood who’s searching for acceptance and direction after being cycled through foster homes. In an effort to define herself in the chaos, Mo joins the all-male high school wrestling team, which dovetails with her reconnecting with her estranged father Darrel (the tremendous Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has just gotten out of jail and is trying to make ends meet. He used to wrestle too, and their relationship gets a tentative restart once he starts coming to her matches and helping her train. Like Mo, Darrel is a complex character, and Abdul-Mateen plays his many sides beautifully. He ropes Mo into illegal fighting to earn money. She’s hesitant about getting involved but is pulled along by that need for her father and his guidance, however fleeting. —A.S.
26) Roxanne Roxanne
A long overdue biopic, the dutiful Roxanne, Roxanne tells the early ‘80s beginnings of Lolita Shante Gooden, known to the hip-hop world as Roxanne Shante, rap’s first female superstar. Serviceable as a straightforward film, the project suffers from lack of depth as it tries to cover as many real-life events as it can. However, the accurate time-period placing, expert editing, and dazzling performances of Chante Adman, Nia Long, and Mahershela Ali cover most of the film’s tangles. —K.S.
27) Layla M.
Layla M. is about teenage rebellion gone awry. Layla is just coming into her own as a person and realizing that her own beliefs don’t quite line up with the rest of her family and friends. In the search to find like-minded people, Layla leaves home and gets married. Her new life takes her far from home where she finds herself on the edge of terrorism, as her husband’s commitment to their religion is more radical than her own. The movie is a compelling look at a story most audiences haven’t seen before. Even though the film feels like it’s just getting started by the time it ends, it’s worth your time. —E.S.
The story of four friends attempting to navigate their changing lives in the weeks leading up to high school graduation, Dude has essentially been billed as a stoner comedy, with Netflix dropping it intentionally on 4/20. While there is a lot of pot-smoking in the movie, there’s a lot more going on too. If anything, Dude is a coming-of-age dramedy, containing some very funny moments but also a few very serious ones. In other words, a female Superbad this ain’t. —Chris Osterndorf
29) The 4th Company
Mexican crime film The 4th Company doesn’t rise to the level of genre mainstays like Goodfellas, City of God, and A Prophet, but you can see what co-directors Mitzi Vanessa Arreola and Amir Galvan Cervera are aiming for. The film, set in the late 1970s, follows Zambrano, a young man with a passion for American football who gets sent to the Mexico Distrito Federal Penitentiary for car theft. Zambrano joins the prison’s football team, Los Perros, and quickly learns that the Dogs double as the warden’s personal goon squad, the 4th Company. Arreola and Cervera are clearly determined to show the corruption of the prison system, to the point that the football aspect of the story feels like an afterthought. But if you enjoy crime films, this one will scratch your itch until the next one comes along. —E.S.
30) The Titan
Set in 2048 with Earth on the verge of becoming uninhabitable, The Titan is about mankind’s search for a new home. A potential planet has been found, but humans will have to be genetically modified in order to survive in this potential new environment. Directed by Lennart Ruff with a screenplay by Max Hurwitz, the film is captivating because inside the macro themes there’s an intimate film. At the heart of the story are Lt. Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Abigail Janssen (Taylor Schilling). Rick has been chosen to participate in an experiment to genetically enhance the human body to survive Titan’s conditions. As an actor, Worthington never really got a fair shake from audiences. Between Terminator Salvation and Avatar he was anointed as the next big thing and it didn’t stick. He’s solid here: It’s a role predicated on physicality, and Worthington sells it well. —E.S.
Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.