clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The best movies on Netflix in 2019

We sorted through thousands of titles to handpick ones you should actually watch

From Oscar winners to recent hits to peak action movies and no-holds-barred comedies, the seemingly endless options streaming on Netflix feel all the more overwhelming given how much content is added — and taken away — every month. Though you might find something to watch eventually, you might also just end up spending an hour scrolling through movies without settling on anything at all.

To make things a little easier, we’ve put together a list of the best films available on the platform right now. No matter what you’re in the mood for, this list has something for you.

For more recommendations, read our lists of the best movies of 2018, and the best movies of 2019 (so far).

Ed Harris as White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13.
Ed Harris as White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13.
Universal Pictures

Apollo 13 (1995)

If First Man has you craving movies about the space race, look no further than Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. The film is a dramatization of the third would-be moon landing mission, which suffered a catastrophe en route and, instead of becoming a journey to the moon, became a fight simply to get the astronauts home safely. Howard’s focus on the technical aspects of the mission keep the film from falling into maudlin territory, aided by great performances from America’s favorite dads Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, respectively.

tim blake nelson as buster scruggs in the ballad of buster scruggs on netflix
Tim Blake Nelson as the titular Buster Scruggs.
Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Coens’ fascination with the West reaches a fever pitch with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which traverses both the landscape and the genre through six distinct chapters that each addresses a different storytelling tradition. Though the styles and tones of the chapters vary, they form a coherent whole as a meditation on mortality, beginning with a singing cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson) shooting his way through a saloon, and ending with a carriage transporting its passengers beyond the veil.

That final chapter’s sense of wide-eyed mystery hints at how to process the way the Coens’ chapters veer into the bleak and macabre. It’s a lovingly crafted film, and for all that their characters may sometimes tear each other apart, the Coens love each and every one of them, too.

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane relaxing on the beach in The Birdcage.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane relaxing on the beach in The Birdcage.
Photo: United Artists

The Birdcage (1996)

I’m not usually a proponent of English-language remakes, but Mike Nichols’ take on the French La Cage aux Folles is an exception to the rule. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane make a lovely pair as Armand, the owner of a drag club, and Albert, the club’s star and Armand’s partner. When Armand’s son (Dan Futterman) visits — with his fiancée and her ultra-conservative family in tow — it sends stress fractures through their relationship.

The Dora Milaje in Black Panther Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Black Panther (2018)

What can we say? Of all the Marvel movies added to Netflix since Disney struck a licensing deal, Ryan Coogler’s political odyssey is the one we keep revisiting (over the longest year of all time — this movie came out in February!). Since the Disney Plus streaming service will eventually snatch it away, we’ll bang the drum for Chadwick Boseman’s model hero T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan’s sympathetic-yet-brutal Killmonger, Danai Gurira’s breakout badassery as Okoye, and of course, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who needs a screen-time promotion in Avengers 4. More big-budget afrofuturism, please.

Lupin and his partner Jigen speed down the highway in a yellow beetle car in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. Photo: Manga Video

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Before Hayao Miyazaki’s string of instant classics for Studio Ghibli, the animator took a crack at bringing to life one of Japan’s most famous manga characters: Arsène Lupin III. The Castle of Cagliostro finds the gentleman thief caught up in a counterfeiting scheme and looking to enact revenge. While Miyazaki’s sense of whimsy is mostly absent from his debut feature, his taste for spry, fluid movement remains, bringing to life gun fights, car chases and other Bond-like action.

Cold in July IFC Films

Cold in July (2014)

There’s an unmistakable, macho energy to Cold in July, as the film begins with Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) shooting and killing a would-be burglar, and subsequently being congratulated by his neighbors for defending what’s his. But the incident hangs over Dane like a cloud, and as the film progresses, it becomes clear that director Jim Mickle has more on his mind. As Dane is drawn into events beyond his control, Mickle dissects the expectations of masculinity that seem to define the movie’s small world. Along the way, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson stop by to help.

Coraline crawls through an otherworldly tunnel.
Coraline exploring the Other World.
Photo: Focus Features

Coraline (2009)

Even a decade later, stop-motion studio Laika’s very first feature film, Coraline, is a marvel. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the film follows a young girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). Her family has just moved across the country, and she’s having trouble adjusting to the jump, a task that doesn’t get any easier as eerie magical influences start creeping into her life. Queen among the new influences in Coraline’s life is Other Mother (Teri Hatcher), a doppelgänger of her actual mother who just so happens to sport buttons for eyes.

Michelle Yeoh preparing for battle in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Michelle Yeoh preparing for battle in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Image: Sony Pictures Classic

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the rare film that deserves to be called “epic.” Nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film), the movie is peerless as a love story (well, two love stories) and a wuxia gem, and a showcase for not only the cast (Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh) but for Lee’s gorgeous direction. As the characters fly in combat, so too does the camera, taking the audience right along with it.

Sharlto Copley looking out over a sci-fi Johannesburg in District 9.
Sharlto Copley looking out over a sci-fi Johannesburg in District 9.
Photo: TriStar Pictures

District 9 (2009)

If Close Encounters of the Third Kind touches on the magic of life elsewhere in the universe, District 9 gets at its possible horrors. The horrors in question, however, are inflicted by humans rather than any alien visitors. Neill Blomkamp’s film is the Earth-bound version of how movies set in outer space use aliens to discuss racism, here using them as blatant allegory for issues of xenophobia, particularly when it comes to how governments have handled refugees. Half “found footage” and half not (following Sharlto Copley as a government worker), it’s an affecting piece of work.

Nadine (Steinfeld) does the human version of the shrugging kaomoji.
Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen.
Photo: STX Entertainment

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

If True Grit weren’t enough to prove Hailee Steinfeld one of the best actresses of her generation, then The Edge of Seventeen should do the trick. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the coming-of-age film doesn’t play down just how selfish its protagonist (Steinfeld) can be, but doesn’t punish her for it, either. Her life is in adolescent free fall — her brother (Blake Jenner) has started dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson), and her closest confidant is her teacher (Woody Harrelson).

Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) lie on the ice in eternal sunshine of the spotless mind Photo: Focus Features

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the surreal, bittersweet rumination on love that you would expect from two such minds. The story travels through past and present, through memory and imagination, as Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) find themselves drawn to each other on a train leaving Montauk, New York. As it turns out, their meeting is not coincidence. The film guides its audience gently through their shared past, and the circumstances that made them strangers — before bringing them back together again.

gerald’s game stephen king movie: a shirtless man crawls up on his handcuffed-in-bed wife Photo: Netflix

Gerald’s Game (2017)

Before tingling our spines and wringing our tear ducts with his episodic adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, writer-director Mike Flanagan turned one of Stephen King’s supposedly unfilmable novels into a slow-drip chamber piece. Hill House’s Carla Gugino gives a nearly solo performance as Jessie, who begins a trip to an off-the-beaten-path lake house hoping to rekindle romance with her husband, and ends the trip wondering if she should cut her own wrists to free her from a pair of bindings tying her to the bed. It’s not all horrifying: The agony gives way to some surprises and introspection.

Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone.
Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone.
Transmission Films

Goldstone (2016)

Australia’s history when it comes to the treatment of its indigenous peoples is — and remains — fraught. The superb Goldstone, directed by Ivan Sen, puts it on full display. The supposed hero of the story, detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), is perceived as an outsider for being of aboriginal descent. the case he’s assigned to work on is a cluster of bureaucratic roadblocks as the missing woman was a sex worker, and involved in a land dispute that’s much more important to the local (white) people than any of the people being affected by the case.

the hateful eight The Weinstein Company

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film is a brutal one, but so is its subject matter. The Hateful Eight, set shortly after the Civil War, is a rebuke of the way America’s past is often romanticized, using a group of strangers trapped in a cabin by a snow storm as a way of tearing apart the country’s past — and its effect on contemporary America — as well as acknowledging the tenets that are constantly cited when referring to “the land of the free.” As bloody as the film is, it’s ultimately more bittersweet than bitter.

Heathers Arrow Films

Heathers

The caustic satire of high school life, which finds two teenagers (Winona Ryder and Christian Slater) gunning down students and nearly blowing up a pep rally with dynamite, probably wouldn’t fly today (the hyper-controversial TV remake being the best evidence). But in 1988, when school violence wasn’t a weekly occurrence, Daniel Waters’ black comedy was like an anti-John Hughes movie, done with enough of a wink that the exaggerated violence is all part of the joke. Plus, Ryder is a joy.

The two Texas Rangers survey the land.
Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in Hell or High Water.
Lionsgate

Hell or High Water (2016)

The reason behind the enduring cultural fascination with the Western is perhaps best illustrated by David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water. Though set in the 21st century, the film deals with the same themes as the best revisionist Westerns, floating the faint suggestion that not so much has actually changed since the West was wild. As two Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) pursue a pair of brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), Taylor Sheridan’s script weaves in American economic decline and race relations, as well as the classic antihero question of when good ends may justify bad means.

Ron Perlman, dressed in red, as Hellboy.
Ron Perlman, dressed in red, as Hellboy.
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Hellboy (2004)

Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films are objectively perfect. Sure, Hellboy II is better, but the first Hellboy is still pretty damn good, too. Ron Perlman stars as everyone’s favorite big red boy as he reconciles his demon heritage with his human upbringing, and does his job as a Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense member along the way. Facing similar existential crises are the half-fish, half-man Abe Sapien (played by Doug Jones, and voiced by David Hyde Pierce in this particular installment), and the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).

Jet Li amidst a throng of soldiers in Hero.
Jet Li amid a throng of soldiers in Hero.
Miramax Films

Hero (2002)

There’s nobody who uses color quite like Zhang Yimou, and Hero (if not Raise the Red Lantern or House of Flying Daggers) is the definitive proof. Legends Jet Li, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi all star in the film, which tells the story of an assassination attempt upon the King of Qin. Brilliant reds, greens, and yellows color every scene, lending a sense of magic to the battles between these martial arts masters.

Yasiin Bey and Martin Freeman at the wheel of a spaceship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Yasiin Bey and Martin Freeman attempting to drive a spaceship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Buena Vista Pictures

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

If movies were foods, the adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be chicken soup. It’s a no-frills, charming, feel-good movie that just so happens to feature space travel, Vogon poetry, and planet-building. It also features Martin Freeman in peak everyman mode, as well as Sam Rockwell as a two-headed intergalactic George W. Bush equivalent, John Malkovich as a malevolent torso, and Bill Nighy as a space bureaucrat dressed like a rock star. Oh, and there’s a song sung from the perspective of dolphins. What’s not to love?

Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Karl Johnson in Hot Fuzz. Photo: Working Title Films

Hot Fuzz (2007)

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hot Fuzz is a love letter to the cop-action movie genre. Regardless of whether you’re versed in the works that Edgar Wright is fondly lampooning (if it helps, he explicitly name-checks a handful of them in the movie itself), the burgeoning friendship between two cops — tough guy Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) and gormless genre enthusiast Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) — will win you over in no time. Though the sleepy countryside town Angel is reassigned to doesn’t seem to have much to offer, it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore Netflix

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Actor Macon Blair, a longtime collaborator of Green Room (also great, also on Netflix) director Jeremy Saulnier, made his directorial debut with this madcap indie about two neighbors who grab their detective caps — and their ninja stars — to solve the theft of a laptop. The simple premise unfolds like a suburban hellscape version of Alice in Wonderland, escalating with bloody crimes and existentially tinged encounters. The movie keeps its feet on the ground thanks to star Melanie Lynskey, who bubbles with rage as the world continues to disappoint.

In Bruges Focus Features

In Bruges (2008)

Somewhere in the canon of “strange holiday films” is In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s film about two hitmen in hiding in — you guessed it — Bruges. The fairytale-esque Belgian city is the perfect setting for a story that wrings laughs out of tragedy and existential crisis. Ray (Colin Farrell) is sent to Bruges after a hit goes wrong, with Ken (Brendan Gleeson) sent along to make sure he doesn’t get into any further trouble. Naturally, it’s an impossible task. Ray hates the town. Ken finds it captivating. Their forced vacation grows stranger and stranger as life, death and love form an uneasy mix.

kill bill vol 2 Miramax

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2 (2003, 2004)

The Kill Bill movies are, more than any of Tarantino’s other works, love letters to the movies that he loves. After surviving an assassination attempt on her wedding day, the Bride (Uma Thurman), herself a former killer, is back for revenge. Her journey mixes grindhouse style with martial arts, blaxploitation, samurai, spaghetti Westerns, and even anime films, resulting in a saga that apes, celebrates, and maybe even transcends the genres it’s made of.

Chiu Chi-ling showing off the Hung Ga Iron Fist technique in Kung Fu Hustle.
Chiu Chi-ling showing off the Hung Ga Iron Fist technique in Kung Fu Hustle.
Sony Pictures Classics

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

There’s just the thinnest thread of plot holding Kung Fu Hustle together, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most exhilaratingly fun films ever made. (And, yes, there are two Stephen Chow films currently on this list.) Set in a crowded apartment complex known as Pig Sty Alley, Kung Fu Hustle is mostly just an excuse to construct the most outrageous fight scenes possible. Just when it seems like the kung fu mastery the characters wield can’t get any more colorful, another kung fu master is revealed to take things to the next level.

Lincoln Walt Disney Pictures

Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg’s Civil War-set biopic doesn’t have alien encounters or killer sharks or dashing archeologists, but by golly, it’s a masterpiece, and arguably in the director’s top five of all time. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the 16th president, who is trying to figure out the congressional quagmire of ending the war while freeing the slaves. Never before has political wheeling and dealing been captured with such fire, while Day-Lewis’ quiet power is exacerbated by an all-star cast of character actors. With stunning photography that echoes the silver nitrate of the era along with a subdued John Williams score, Lincoln is still mistaken as minor Spielberg for being small in scope, yet it captures one of the most seismic moments in American history.

An uneasy dinner unfolds.
John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Colin Farrell in The Lobster.
A24

The Lobster (2015)

Bringing a new dimension to “Netflix and chill” is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which takes place in a universe in which people must be romantically paired up (based on shared traits or interests) within 45 days or else be turned into an animal. The lengths that the characters go to in order to secure their respective futures range from comedic to horrific (sometimes both), with their delivery just as deadpan as we’ve come to expect from Lanthimos’ work.

look of silence documentary Drafthouse Films

The Look of Silence (2014)

Joshua Oppenheimer followed his 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, which profiled the murderers behind the Indonesian mass killings of the mid-’60s, with this narrower-scoped film about the brother of one of the genocide victims. Adi Rukun is an optometrist in Indonesia, and uses his courtesy of in-home eye exams to confront the man who killed his brother. Oppenheimer is there for the journey, up close and personal, and what he captures is an achievement in nonfiction filmmaking.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Matthew and Danny Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

From its very first moments, when a frustrated scream smash-cuts to a tepid hello, it’s clear that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) isn’t going to shy away from the sometimes jarring ups and downs of life. Weaving in and out of three generations of Meyerowitzes, Noah Baumbach’s film is kind even when its characters aren’t. The shadow that Harold (Dustin Hoffman) has cast over his children (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) isn’t an inconsiderable one, and has, in turn, colored their relationships with each other, as well as their own kids. But blood, in the end, runs thicker than water.

Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell in Miami Vice.
Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell in Miami Vice.
Universal Pictures

Miami Vice (2006)

Like the TV series it’s based on, Michael Mann’s film Miami Vice is a gorgeous, moody piece of work, following two Miami-Dade police detectives who go undercover in order to combat drug trafficking. Though it’s not a case of style over substance, style is what carries the update over the finish line — just listen to the cover of “In the Air Tonight” that Mann uses. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over from Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as Crockett and Tubbs, with Gong Li, Justin Theroux, and Naomie Harris rounding out the supporting cast.

mississippi grind A24

Mississippi Grind (2015)

A poker movie may not immediately seem like much of a draw, but Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Captain Marvel) have crafted something remarkable. Following Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) as they gamble their way down the Mississippi River has less to do with the hands they’re literally dealt and more with their respective approaches to life. The money isn’t the thing; rather, it’s the connection between the two men, who go from being strangers — who seem as different as can be, with Gerry a stereotypical loser and Curtis almost an embodiment of a lucky charm — to being revealed as kindred spirits.

Moon - Sam (Sam Rockwell) on the moon base Photo: Mark Tilles/Lunar Industries Ltd.

Moon (2009)

Netflix lured Duncan Jones (Source Code) by promising to produce his Blade Runner-adjacent passion project, Mute, which turned out to be mostly eye candy. Much more measured is Jones’ directorial debut, this lo-fi psychological thriller about a man named Sam who spends his days harvesting helium-3 from lunar soil as the sole miner stationed on Earth’s moon. But Sam isn’t alone, and when he finally makes contact with the other humanoid on the rocky satellite, his entire world is turned upside down. Anchored by Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell’s brittle performance, and realized with lush practical effects, this indie sci-fi film takes the best lessons from The Twilight Zone to new heights.

monty python life of brian Warner Bros. Pictures

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Given that the life of Brian (Graham Chapman) involves him being born next door to and subsequently mistaken for the Messiah, Life of Brian was the subject of a considerable amount of controversy when it was first released. But the film isn’t blasphemous so much as it is just bloody funny, as per its famous final sequence, in which Brian, condemned to crucifixion, is told by his fellow sufferers to “always look on the bright side of life.” A parody of tales about Jesus as well as biblical epics on the whole, the film is (like all Python works) a delight.

mother 2009 CJ Entertainment

Mother (2009)

Over the years, Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer) has proven himself a master of juggling tones in order to achieve the greatest emotional effect, adding jokes to deathly serious moments and elements of horror to slapstick situations. Though that facility persists in Mother, it may just be his bleakest film. The movie follows a woman (Kim Hye-ja) as she attempts to clear her son’s (Won Bin) name of murder, and descends into darker and darker territory as the case raises the question of just how far she’d go in order to protect her flesh and blood.

No gods, no kings, only Brendan Fraser in The Mummy.
No gods, no kings, only Brendan Fraser in The Mummy.
Universal Pictures

The Mummy (1999)

If you’ve never seen The Mummy, now is the time to fix that. It may seem effortlessly fun and breezy, but making an action/adventure/comedy this enjoyable is no mean feat — Tom Cruise himself couldn’t quite pull it off. Starring Brendan Fraser at the peak of his leading man prime, The Mummy pits its heroes — including Egyptologist (and hero to librarians everywhere) Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) — against Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), a former high priest who begins to call down the Plagues of Egypt.

my happy family 2017 Image: Netflix

My Happy Family (2017)

In this cheeky-yet-melancholy Georgian drama, the matriarch of a sprawling family moves out of the house, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. She has her reasons — and for most of the movie, her dependents struggle to figure them out. Fifty-something actress Ia Shugliashvili is the heart, soul and cock-eyed death stare of My Happy Family, which is no-bullshit in a Jerry Maguire kind of way.

the night comes for us Netflix

The Night Comes for Us (2018)

Timo Tjahjanto’s Indonesian crime movie definitely has a plot but ... we can’t say it’s worth recapping. As with The Raid 2, the real joy of The Night Comes for Us is the relentless, hyper-gory action sequences that fill nearly every second of the runtime. From pool cues to meat hooks, everything sharp enough to be a weapon is a weapon. Bone crushing has rarely been this satisfying.

no country for old men anton chigurh Paramount Vantage

No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers have always been fascinated with the Western, and No Country for Old Men serves as their take on the genre in a contemporary setting. Despite knowing better, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes the cash he discovers at the site of a drug deal gone bad, putting himself in the crosshairs of hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With little music to accompany the unfolding tense chase, No Country is a gorgeously sparse film as lawmen and outlaws reckon with the changing world, their consciences and the idea of fate.

Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and Okja, her giant super-pig. Image: Netflix

Okja (2017)

The tale of a girl and her super-pig, Okja is warm — and wild — at heart. As Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) sets out to save her super-pig, Okja, from the corporate clutches that whisk her away from her, director Bong Joon-ho (we couldn’t help but recommend him twice) pulls off thrilling action sequences and social commentary in equal measure, all the while maintaining sight of the fact that it’s love that anchors the film. With asides that specifically channel the film’s pedigree as a South Korean-American production, it’s utterly unique — as is its central character. Viewer beware: The movie may make you a vegetarian if you aren’t already.

Prelude to War - two soldiers U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Prelude to War (1942)

Netflix threw this documentary up after commissioning the nonfiction series Five Came Back, and it’s well worth a watch for history buffs. The first of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight propaganda films commissioned by the American government during World War II, Prelude to War is a transportive explanation of the war effort and Nazi-vs.-American conflict through the Army’s rah-rah lens. Capra, best known for directing It’s a Wonderful Life, is one of the greats, and his camera once again speaks volumes.

Psychokinesis - objects floating in front of a man using telekinesis Next Entertainment World

Psychokinesis (2018)

From Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho — best known for his jump to live action, 2016’s zombie knockout Train to Busan (also on Netflix) — Psychokinesis follows Seok-heon, a bumbling, borderline-alcoholic security guard who drinks from a mountain spring recently infected by a meteorite and gains telekinetic powers. Ryu Seung-ryong is a joy as the oaf, who’s learning to control his abilities just as his estranged daughter re-enters his life and sucks him into a real-estate-driven class war. Psychokinesis plays Seok-heon’s “fighting style” for laughs, and while it’s not as cartoonish as Chinese director Stephen Chow’s genre hybrids, the movie can make the flying object mayhem both cheeky and thrilling. The political edge gives weight to Seok-heon’s superpowered decisions, but Sang-ho never loses sight of why everyone showed up: to push the psychic conceit to bigger and bigger heights.

chante adams as roxanne shante in roxanne roxanne Netflix

Roxanne Roxanne (2018)

A conventional biopic can do wonders with the right subject and star. Such is the case with Roxanne Roxanne, which chronicles the hip-hop career of young Roxanne Shanté, and gives newcomer Chanté Adams the spitfire role of a lifetime. Co-starring Nia Long as her tough-as-nails mother and Mahershala Ali as a man who woos her away from family life, the story of a bumpy road to fame — and rap history books — thrives on the musical talents of all involved.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) and Itzhak Stern (Kinglsey) face each other. Universal Pictures

Schindler’s List (1993)

During the Holocaust, German businessman Oskar Schindler managed to save over a thousand refugees by employing them in his factories. Though the idea of making a film about the events was first floated by Steven Spielberg in the ’80s, it took another decade (and several attempts at passing the script to other directors) for Spielberg to finally feel ready to take the project on. The resulting work is intensely affecting, and shockingly so for a filmmaker who had been known, up until that point, for fun. Though some have accused Spielberg of succumbing to more maudlin tendencies in the film’s conclusion, it remains an inarguably great film.

shaolin soccer Miramax Pictures

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

The plot of Shaolin Soccer makes no sense under the best of circumstances, but that hardly matters. Stephen Chow, who directed and stars in the film, has a sixth sense for how to keep an audience’s attention — just try Kung Fu Hustle on for size. Shaolin Soccer, his previous film, has a former Shaolin monk (Chow) find inspiration in a soccer star, and attempt to use the sport to bring Shaolin kung fu to a wider audience. The soccer they play has absolutely no bearing in real life — and neither does the kung fu, really — but what joy is there in Chow’s work if not that sense of escapism?

she’s gotta have it MGM Home Video

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Before rattling the mainstream with Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee knocked out this shoestring-budgeted indie that, while rough around the edges, proved he was one of the most important voices of his generation. Nola Darling is a sexually liberated African American artist navigating her Brooklyn life as she sees fit. She entertains three different relationships and values her independence. Not everyone cares for it. Some try to change her. The movie starts out as a straight comedy before stepping it back into something more poignant. The push and pull of male forces on Nola illuminates her complexity. It’s no surprise Lee would eventually adapt She’s Gotta Have It into a fleshed out, polished series for Netflix, but this raw attempt at storytelling works in its own unique right.

shirkers 2018 Netflix

Shirkers (2018)

Shirkers is the kind of movie that, if you’ve ever had any creative aspirations in your life at all, will stop your breath. The documentary, made by Sandi Tan, relates the creation — and loss — of a movie that Tan shot as a young woman. It might have been Singapore’s first independent film if not for the man she considered her mentor, who disappeared with all of the footage. The glimpse we get of what might have been is just as affecting as the documentary’s look at how that experience still affects the people who lived through it, today.

Anthony Hopkins as “Hannibal the cannibal” in The Silence of the Lambs.
Anthony Hopkins as “Hannibal the cannibal” in The Silence of the Lambs.
Photo: Orion Pictures

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor at the 64th Academy Awards with only 16 minutes of screen time. His performance as Hannibal Lecter remains one of the greatest ever committed to film, and is matched beat for beat by Jodie Foster’s turn as Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee who comes into his orbit as she pursues the serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the late director Jonathan Demme’s best (and most well-known) films, and rightfully so, as he balances the incomprehensibly horrific with startlingly tangible, human emotions.

slow west 2015 A24

Slow West (2015)

Slow West lives up to its title as an unusually thoughtful, slow-paced Western. When Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leaves Scotland for America to search for the girl he loves, he quickly gets more than he bargained for, and employs a bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) for protection. The further west the pair goes, the more the film ping-pongs between humor and tragedy, peace and violence, with the only constant being Jay’s conviction to find his sweetheart (who, we are told from the outset, doesn’t quite care for him in the same way). It’s a off-kilter film, and a welcome breath of fresh air in an old genre.

Tristan (Cox) has his back to a sluggish Septimus (Strong). Photo: Paramount Pictures

Stardust (2007)

Stardust is one of the most unabashedly sweet fantasies of the last few decades. When Tristan (Charlie Cox) goes to retrieve a fallen star in order to impress the woman he loves, he finds that the star has taken human form (Claire Danes). Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who’s after her, and in the ensuing chaos, he finds himself caught between witches, princes and air pirates as everyone vies for the (literal) heart of the star. Adventure and romance ensue, as does an all-around good time.

v for vendetta Warner Bros. Pictures

V for Vendetta (2005)

Regardless of whether it’s a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel, the film version of V for Vendetta is as resonant as the bomb-and-fireworks show set off by its title character. Contemporary relevance aside, the story of a revolutionary’s push against a neo-fascist government has a drive to it that’s impressively backed by a masked Hugo Weaving, playing V, and Natalie Portman as Evey, a young woman caught up in the changing tides. Dealing with totalitarianism, terrorism, homophobia, and religious freedom, it’s a surprisingly complex film, and one of the better recent comic book adaptations.

The Wailing - rainy detective scene Well Go USA Entertainment

The Wailing (2017)

If you loved the metaphysical hodgepodge of True Detective, the pounding atmosphere of Silent Hill games, or the oddball dread of Bong Joon-ho’s detective epic Memories of Murder, then you’re in luck: The Wailing ties it all together. Instigated by brutality and splintered by zombies, demons, and simpler forms of murder, this 156-minute horror epic follows a cop, Jong-goo, as he investigates a killing in a small South Korean village. As he digs deeper into the case, he encounters hermits, shamans, and local folk with their own tangential stories (to paraphrase: “Oh, you saw a naked man with glowing red eyes eating a deer? OK!”). Director Na Hong-jin builds horror to an operatic conclusion, and while deliberate diversions of rain pitter-pattering on rooftops may test those looking for a night of jump scares, his work in The Wailing will reward the patient with genuine nightmare fuel.

A lineup of would-be heroes in Watchmen.
A lineup of would-be heroes in Watchmen.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Watchmen (2009)

As far as comic book adaptations go, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is one of the best. Besides translating most of Alan Moore’s work panel for panel, the film is well-served by Snyder’s love of grandiosity and slow motion, with audio (courtesy Bob Dylan and Mozart, among others) and visuals mixing to gorgeous effect. It’s also the rare superhero story to find a good balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary, as only one of the characters has any form of superpower, and the rest find themselves bound by the times — the Cold War, government regulations — as well as their own personal hang-ups. Though the changed ending ruffled a few feathers, we’d argue it’s for the best — why not give it a watch and judge for yourself?

Thomasin (Taylor-Joy), alone in the woods.
Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch.
Photo: A24

The Witch (2015)

Some of the most interesting films of the last decade have come out of the horror genre. Among them is Robert Eggers’ The Witch, which pits a Separatist family against a mysterious evil. When a baby suddenly vanishes, fear and resentment begin to bubble up within the family. Is the eldest daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy) actually susceptible to witchcraft? Does the goat, Black Phillip, have ties to the Devil? There’s only one way to find out.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac.
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Zodiac (2007)

Based on the book by Robert Graysmith (and starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the author himself), Zodiac recounts the search for the so-called “Zodiac Killer.” The film follows Graysmith as he becomes more and more obsessed with the investigation, and co-stars Mark Ruffalo as proto-Columbo Dave Toschi, and Robert Downey Jr. as the journalist Paul Avery. The real-life case remains unsolved, and the film — mildly spicy take incoming — remains David Fincher’s best film.