clock menu more-arrow no yes
Kojo (Joseph Otsiman) standin in front of a burning car stranded on a shore in “The Burial of Kojo” Image: Ofoe Amegavoe / Array Releasing

Filed under:

25 of the best movies on Netflix right now

From magical realist adventures to visceral revenge thrillers

What’s the best movie I can watch on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the question, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s oddly specific genre menus, and getting overwhelmed by the constantly shifting trend menus. Netflix’s huge catalogue of movies, combined with its inscrutable recommendations algorithm, can make finding something to watch feel more like a chore than a way to unwind when really what you want are the good movies. No… the best movies.

We’re here to help. For those suffering from choice paralysis in September, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from taut thrillers to eccentric comedies to newly minted classics. We’ll be updating this list monthly as Netflix cycles movies in and out of its library, so be sure to check back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix home screen.


21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street Image: Scott Garfield / Columbia Pictures

Based on the 1987 TV series of the same name, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 2012 buddy cop comedy 21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Morton Schmidt and Greg Jenko, two high school classmates from radically different social circles who befriend one another later in life as police academy cadets. After a humiliating screw up, the pair are sent undercover to pose as high school students in order to find the source of an illegal synthetic drug. Accidentally mixing up their identities, Morton and Greg get a taste of what life was like for one another back when they were in school, all while getting into all types of shenanigans and shootouts. Acutely self-aware and frequently hilarious, 21 Jump Street is a comedy reboot done well. —Toussaint Egan


At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate Photo: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Julian Schnabel’s 2018 biographical drama stars Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, following the late Impressionist master in the final years of his life as he struggles with aspersions towards his artistic career and ability as well as his own tortured psyche. Named for van Gogh’s 1890 painting, At Eternity’s Gate is a dreamlike work of art, diving into the painter’s point of view as the picture violently spasms and shakes as his life becomes increasingly more dire. Dafoe’s performance was celebrated at the time of the film’s release, earning him his fourth Oscar nomination at the 91st Academy Awards. —TE



Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Dracula (gary oldman) holds a lantern Image: Sony Pictures

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s seminal gothic horror novel stars Gary Oldman as Count Vlad Dracula, former conqueror-turned-immortal creature of darkness. When solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is summoned to Dracula’s castle under the pretense of securing new property in London, he quickly realizes that the Count has far more elaborate and sinister designs aimed at his fiancée Mina Harker (Winona Ryder), whom Dracula believes is the reincarnation of his long-dead wife Elisabeta. Filled with gorgeous practical set designs, elaborate costumes courtesy of the late Eiko Ishioka, and stunning atmospheric visuals, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a memorable and chilling incarnation of an iconic horror character. —TE


The Burial of Kojo

Esi (Cynthia Dankwa) standing under a shower of sparklers holding an umbrella in The Burial of Kojo. Image: Ofoe Amegavoe / Array Releasing

If you were a fan of either 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild or 2020’s Night of the Kings, you’ll love The Burial of Kojo. The directorial debut of musician Blitz Bazawule and filmed entirely in Ghana, the mythic drama stars Cynthia Dankwa as Esi, a young girl recounting the story of her childhood and the tumultuous relationship between her father Kojo (Joseph Otsiman) and her uncle Kwabena. When her father goes missing, Esi embarks on a journey to an otherworldly plane of existence where she must contend with a powerful creature known only as the Crow in order to rescue him. Narrated by actress Ama K. Abebrese, The Burial of Kojo is a stunning dream-like odyssey told with evocative visuals, richly lit colors, and captivatingly somber performances. —TE


Do The Right Thing

Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing. Photo: Universal Pictures

Taking place over the course of a swelteringly hot day in Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing follows a rotating cast of characters as it traces the fault lines of racial tension between the neighborhood’s African-American locals and the Italian-American owner of a local pizzeria. From the film’s iconic shadowboxing opening featuring Rosie Perez, the beautiful and intimate cinematography of frequent Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, to its explosive and heart-wrenching finale, Do The Right Thing is unquestionably not only one of the greatest films the director has ever produced, but one of the most essential entries in the canon of American cinema. —TE


Django Unchained

King (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) walk down a muddy street in Django Unchained Photo: Andrew Cooper/Columbia Pictures

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as a former slave who is liberated by King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a benevolent bounty hunter who takes the newly freed man under his wing and teaches him the ways of bounty hunting. Django and Schultz proceed to hunt down the men who enslaved and sold his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), eventually coming into conflict with Broomhilda’s new slavemaster Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Packed with thrilling gunfights, tense drama, memorable quippy dialogue, and an impressive collection of breakout performances (minus Tarantino’s weird cameo), Django Unchained easily ranks among the very best films Tarantino has ever produced. —TE


Desperado

Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas walking away from an explosion in Desperado (1995) Image: Columbia Pictures

Robert Rodriguez’s neo-Western action thriller Desperado stars Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi, a mysterious wandering gunslinger dressed in all black who journeys across Mexico hunting drug lords. When his campaign of vengeance brings him to Bucho (Joaquim DeAlmeida), the ruthless kingpin of a seedy border town responsible for murdering his girlfriend, Mariachi enlists the help of his ally Buscemi (Steve Buscemi) and a beautiful book store owner to take Bucho down and bring order back to the town. Packed with intense action, over-the-top gunfights, massive explosions, and effortless style, Desperado is a brilliant action film and an enduring favorite among fans of Rodiguez’s oeuvre. —TE


The Edge of Seventeen

Nadine (Steinfeld) does the human version of the shrugging kaomoji. Photo: STX Entertainment

Hawkeye star Hailee Steinfeld stars in the 2016 comedy-drama The Edge of Seventeen as Nadine Franklin, a high school junior with a tumultuous home life exacerbated by the death of her father. Things only get worse when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins hooking up with her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), driving a wedge between them. Exasperated with her life, Nadine finds herself leaning on the support of her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) in order to navigate the challenges of growing up. Quirky, slightly morose, and deeply earnest, The Edge of Seventeen is a solid coming-of-age story powered by great performances on part of Steinfeld and Harrelson. —TE


The Florida Project

willem dafoe and brooklynn prince Image: A24 Films

Central Florida is a weird place to be a kid from a poor family. You grow up in the shadow of corporate dreamlands, where people from around the world come to live out a fantasy of a weekend at the “happiest” places on Earth, fueled by workers who historically have made an average of $10 an hour. Directed by Sean Baker, The Florida Project is one small story set in this shadow, about a six-year-old girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a Kissimmee motel called The Magic Castle with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), who, trying to make ends meet, often leaves Moonee to her own devices, and the reluctant supervision of motel manager Bobby (Willem Defoe). The Florida Project is one of the best stories about Central Florida and Walt Disney World, a story about childlike wonder and joy a stone’s throw away from its monolithic commercialization, and the economic hardship that keeps the monied dreams of tourists afloat. —Joshua Rivera


Gladiator

Russell Crowe in Gladiator shouting at a Coliseum full of people Image: DreamWorks Pictures

Ridley Scott’s historical drama Gladiator follows the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russel Crowe), a celebrated Roman general and favorite of Emperor Marcus Aurelius whose family is murdered by Aurelius’ son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) before being enslaved as a gladiator in the arena. Fueled by rage and a burning desire for revenge, Maximus rises through the ranks of battle with the sole intent of taking revenge on Commodus and regaining his freedom. Filled with epic battles, thrilling action, and memorable performances, Gladiator is a sword and saddle epic for the ages and one of Ridley Scott’s most terrific cinematic achievements. —TE


Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman channeling James Brown on the set of “Get On Up” in Natchez, Mississippi. Photo: Gasper Tringale

Before he won the hearts of audiences worldwide for his role as King T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther and his riveting portrayal as Thurgood Marshall in Reginald Hudlin’s 2017 biopic, Chadwick Boseman delivered an electrifying performance as the legendary funk musician James Brown in Tate Taylor’s 2014 musical drama Get on Up. The film recounts Brown’s journey from his humble beginnings in Augusta, Georgia to his meteoric ascent to fame and fortune to his turbulent personal life. Told in an occasionally fourth wall-breaking, asynchronous style narrated by Boseman as Brown himself, Get on Up is a thoroughly entertaining drama with Boseman shining at its center. —TE


It Follows

It Follows - Jay Height (Maika Monroe) in swimming pool Radius-TWC

David Robert Mitchell’s breakout supernatural horror film It Follows centers on a young teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) who, after a strange sexual encounter, finds herself stalked by a nightmarish entity that no-one else but her can see that intends to kill her. In order to stave off death, Jay and her friends must stay a step ahead of the creature while attempting to find a means of defeating it, or else resort to passing the curse on to another hapless unassuming victim herself. With a terrific score provided by Hyper Light Drifter composer Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace), It Follows is a memorable, unique, and entertaining teen horror drama that flips the script on the genre’s traditionally puritanical framing of sexuality with terrific results. —TE


Jumanji

Image: TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The 1995 children’s adventure film Jumanji stars Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, a young boy living with his wealthy parents in 1969 who is accidentally transported into the world of a mysterious board game called Jumaji. Living inside the game for over 26 years, Alan is miraculously released from it by siblings Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce) — along with every other creature and character living in Jumanji. Propelled by a moving and hilarious performance by Williams and impressive special effects, Jumanji is still wildly entertaining after nearly more than two decades and an absolute must-watch children’s film. —TE


Labyrinth

David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Jennifer Connelly stars opposite of David Bowie in Jim Henson’s classic 1986 musical fantasy Labyrinth as Sarah Williams, a 16-year-old girl who inadvertently casts a spell that results in her baby brother Toby being abducted into another world by the Goblin King Jareth (Bowie). With only 13 hours to spare, Sarah must navigate the treacherous corridors and traps of Jareth’s labyrinth in order to rescind her wish and bring Toby back home, all while defeating the challenges constructed by the Goblin King’s minions. The second collaboration between Henson and artist Brian Froud following 1982’s The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is a fairytale adventure on par with Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride or Wolfgang Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story, bursting at the seams with memorable characters, beautiful set pieces, and an inimitable performance by David Bowie as a wily and verbose sorcerer with an irrepressible flair for the dramatic. —TE


Magnolia

Tom Cruise in Magnolia Photo: Ghoulardi Film Company

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 ensemble drama Magnolia is sprawling mosaic of loosely related characters whose fates and stories are intertwined with one another as their respective search for love, forgiveness, and meaning unspools beautifully across the expanse of the San Fernando Valley. Boasting several masterful performances courtesy of William H. Macy, Jason Robards, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melinda Dillon, and many more, Magnolia is unlike anything that Anderson has produced before or since and as such, a vital watch for anyone claiming to be a fan of the director’s work. (And while you’re at it, go watch The Master, which is also streaming on the platform.) —TE


Middle of Nowhere

Omari Hardwick and Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere. Image: Participant Media

Ava DuVernay’s 2012 drama Middle of Nowhere centers on the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a nurse living in Compton, California separated from her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) who has been arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. While regularly visiting Derek and attempting to negotiate his parole, Ruby meets Brian (David Oyelowo), a bus driver whom she eventually pursues a romantic relationship with. As she struggles to reconcile her growing attraction to Brian with her lingering attachment to Derek, new discoveries are brought to light that force Ruby to reckon with the consequences of both her and her husband’s choices as she attempts to move towards an uncertain future. Beautiful, evocative, and thoroughly heart wrenching, Middle of Nowhere is a stirring portrait of finding truth in love and vice-versa. —TE


The Nightingale

Clare (Aisling Franciosi) racing through a forest and touting a rifle in The Nightingale. Image: IFC Films/Shout! Factory

Set in 1825 during the British colonization of Australia, Director Jennifer Kent’s (The Babadook) period drama The Nightingale stars Aisling Franciosi (The Fall) as Clare, a young Irish convict who serves her 7-year sentence only for her abusive master Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin) to refuse to release her. After being subjected to a horrific act of sexual violence at the hands of her master and his officers, and with no hope of justice served on part of the British authorities against their own, Clare embarks on a relentless chase through the Tasmanian wilderness to exact her revenge on Hawkins when he leaves to take up a captain position up north. Known for its extreme historically accurate depictions of rape, murder, and racism perpetuated by British settlers against the indigenous people of Australia, The Nightingale is an visually striking and emotionally enthralling tale of revenge conveyed through deft performances, striking cinematography, and unflinching harshness. —TE


The Paper Tigers

Ron Yuan and Ray Hopper in The Paper Tigers Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment

Quoc Bao Tran’s Kung-fu action comedy stars Alain Uy, Ron Yuan (Mulan), and Mykel Shannon Jenkins as the eponymous Paper Tigers: three former martial arts prodigies who, after a lifetime of strenuous training and hard fighting, have grown into beleaguered middle-aged nobodies. But when their master is murdered, the three swear an oath to avenge his memory and bring his killer to justice. If that sounds serious, please know this falls into the Apatowian camp of Dumb Man comedy. —TE


Passing

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing Photo: Netflix

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, actor Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood having been radically affected by their respective lived experiences as African-American woman. While Irene (Thompson) lives as a Black woman, Clare’s lighter skin allows her to “pass” for a white woman, escaping and inadvertently enforcing the prejudices of her time. As their rekindled friendship begins to strain under the weight of their shared secret, both must reckon with challenges that come with performance and essence of their respective identities. Shot in exquisite black-and-white — which quickly goes from obvious metaphor to integral lens — Hall charts the course of two women with a deep sense of psychology. A million movies have been shot around New York, and yet Passing discovers an entirely new corner of the world in its streets.


The Piano

Photo: Miramax Films

An eloquent love story with erotic overtones, Jane Campion’s 1993 drama is required viewing for anyone whose list of favorite films is lacking female perspective. After sailing from Scotland to New Zealand, Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute pianist, and her daughter, Flora (Anna Paquin) are dumped on a beach with all of their luggage — and a big-ass piano! Ada’s new husband, who bought her and isn’t terribly up for dragging a musical instrument into his house, leaves the piano for the waves, crushing Ada’s spirit. But her new husband pal Baines (Harvey Keitel) comes to her rescue, and the two strike a relationship that puts the movie firmly into the gothic romance realm. Deeply felt and entranced by Hunter’s near-silent performance, this is Campion at her best and great starting place to an underrated auteur’s career. —MP


Sankofa

Oyafunmike Ogunlano in Haile Gerima’s “Sankofa.” Image: Array

Haile Gerima’s Ethiopian-produced drama Sankofa centers on the story of Mona (Oyafunmike Ogunlano), an African-American model on a film shoot in Ghana who finds herself spiritually transported into the body of a Ghanaian woman named Shola who is being kidnapped into the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Experiencing first-hand the brutal physical and psychological torture of chattel slavery, Mona joins her fellow slaves in an uprising as they seize their freedom. Dismissed by US distributors when it was initially released in 1993, Sankofa was recently acquired and restored by Array Releasing before being released on Netflix this year. While the film’s premise on its face may sound reminiscent to 2020’s abysmal horror thriller Antebellum, don’t come to Sankofa expecting Shymalan-like twists attempting to ape the cultural resonance of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Gerima’s film is a bold, beautiful, and bracing depiction of the redemptive power of community and rebellion and a stirring cinematic call to embrace, understand, and most importantly remember the history of human struggle. —TE


There Will Be Blood

Dillon Freasier stands next to a seated Daniel Day Lewis in a screenshot from There Will Be Blood Photo: Miramax

For a while, Paul Thomas Anderson’s mesmerizing story about the rise and fall of an oil baron was best known for an unfortunate milkshake meme. But it’s been 14 years since its release, surely by now we can let go of that particular gag and get back to appreciating Daniel Day-Lewis’ typically intense performance and the film’s particularly uncompromising severity. It’s a severe-looking film, all cracked, dry surfaces and angry desperation, and the clash between Day-Lewis’ viciously competitive oilman and a struggling young preacher (Paul Dano) is just as severe. This is not a film about moderation or kindness, and the end is pure Grand Guignol, but it’s a hell of a ride to get there. —Tasha Robinson


Uncut Gems

adam sandler in uncut gems Photo: A24

2019’s Uncut Gems is a contemporary crime drama shot through the frenetic rhythm and terror of a heart attack. Adam Sandler, far from just a simple case of stunt casting, delivers an electrifying performance as Howard Ratner, a New York jeweler and gambling addict who comes into possession of a rare black opal that might finally settle his outstanding debts once and for all. The only catch is that Howard’s worst enemy is himself, and his habitual attempt to fleece and manipulate everyone from his family, friends, and acquaintances in search of his next big score imperils both his life and the lives of those around him. With a powerful orchestral EDM score courtesy of Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), dazzling performances by Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, and Kevin Garnett as himself, Uncut Gems is an unforgettable film that plays out like a pulse-pounding Greek tragedy set in 2010s New York. —TE


Under The Shadow

Under the Shadow - Shideh Vertical Entertainment

During a string of Iraqi airstrikes in late-1980s Tehran, the Iranian government bars medical student and political activist Shideh (Narges Rashidi) from continuing her studies. She retreats to her family’s apartment, and despite her husband’s wishes, remains with her young daughter in the war-torn capital — this is her home, and she’s not leaving. But when a missile blasts directly through her building, the normal life Shideh and her daughter knew becomes marked by an invisible, nefarious presence. Is it a djinn? Much like in The Babadook, first-time director Babak Anvari allows the question of the supernatural to orbit the action of Under the Shadow as he captures the erosion of his plain, main set, and Shideh’s very existence. —MP


White Girl

Morgan Saylor and Brian Marc, also known by his rapper name, Sene, in “White Girl.” Credit: FilmRise

Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl caused quite a stir when it premiered back in 2016, earning comparisons to Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s 1995 city portrait of teenage nihilism Kids. Starring Morgan Saylor, India Menuez, and Brian Marc, Wood’s film centers on the story of Leah (Saylor), a sophomore college student who strikes up a passionate love affair with Blue (Marc), a a young dealer after moving into an apartment with her friend Katie (Menuez). Things take a disastrous turn when Blue is arrested by an undercover police officer after been sold out by one of his regular customers, leaving Leah with over a kilo of cocaine he had recently acquired. With no other options and desperate to save Blue from prison, Leah attempts to sell the cocaine in order to earn enough money to afford a lawyer. White Girl is a shocking and frenetically paced movie, a nightmarish thrill ride comparable to the Safdie brothers’ 2017 Good Time that’s equal parts exhausting, exhilarating, and heartbreaking to watch. —TE