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Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer Photo: Lionsgate

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25 of the best movies on Netflix right now

From neo-noir psychological thrillers to critically-acclaimed legal dramas

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 August, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from taut thrillers to international hits to some 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.


The American

george clooney runs up stairs in rome in The American Photo: Focus Features

In 2010, George Clooney starred as an aging man with a gun who was ready to hang up his scope. Very few people saw the movie, and based on the movie’s “D-” Cinemascore in exit polls, those who did were caught off guard. Instead of a slick, Bourne-esque espionage thriller, The American was a Euro-mood piece in which photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn descended deeper and deeper into Clooney’s ice-cold gaze. Set in Rome, the film is steamy and noir-ish, finding exhilaration in the assassin’s attempts to complete one last job with as little emotion as possible. But for all the seriousness and atmosphere, there’s still a pulpy, page-turner quality to the film’s second half — think of the whole package as Bond for the art house crowd. —Matt Patches


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



Beasts of No Nation

Idris Elba as the Commandant inspecting rows of child soldiers in Beasts of No Nation. Photo: Netflix

Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, True Detective and Maniac director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation stars newcomer Abraham Attah as Agu, a young boy living in West Africa involuntarily forced to serve as a child soldier in a civil war after witnessing his village decimated by rebel militias. Co-starring Idris Elba as the boys’ ruthless commander, Beasts of No Nation — which Criterion just honored with a special edition physical release — is a harrowing story of innocence lost and the stubborn perseverance of humanity in the face of unimaginable horror. Make sure to turn up your speakers: the sound design booms as Agu navigates his turbulent new life. —TE

Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio as con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can. Photo: Amblin Entertainment

Based on a true story, Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Steven Spielberg’s crime film Catch Me If You Can as Frank Abagnale Jr. who impersonated as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor, successfully conning millions of dollars — and at the age of 19 no less. Hot on his trail is Carl Hanraty (Tom Hanks), an FBI agent who’s always just one step behind Abagnale as he perilously galavants from one successful con to the next across the globe. —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


The Game

Michael Douglas as banker Nicholas Van Orton staring at a creepy porcelain puppet in The Game Photo: Universal Studios Home Video

David Fincher’s The Game is full of so many twists and turns — and twists of those turns and turns of those twists — that it might make your head spin. A successful, yet lonesome businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is gifted a personalized “real-life game” by his estranged brother, who promises it’ll change his life. The titular game begins pretty harmlessly, but then starts to grow increasingly more personal, delving into his inner demons and repressed memories. But it’s all just for fun, isn’t it? Nothing is real? Or is it? —Petrana Radulovic


I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Jessie Buckley as the young woman in I’m Thinking of Ending Things Photo: Mary Cybulski/Netflix

Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a surreal character study that at times feels like an internal monologue. It’s dream logic is likely to leave even the most open-hearted movie-watcher wondering: What does it all mean? If the film were a J.J. Abrams joint, it might feel like a puzzle to solve. But in Kaufman’s hands, the drama — which grapples with aging, grief, ballet dancing, earworm jingles, tidy Hollywood movies, and the lives we imagine for ourselves — is more of a pop tragedy with room for annotations.

In the spirit of his debut, Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman’s story of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time is a vessel for the unspoken aches and pains and anxieties of everyday life. The frames are layered with visual motifs, and the drama is never as literal as it seems — and when it slips into horror movie territory, the experience becomes even blurrier. The film is technically an adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, but fans of Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich will see Kaufman’s fingerprints over every choice. —MP


Inside

 Bo Burnham in Bo Burnham: Inside. Photo: Netflix

Recorded entirely from his own home over the course of year during the COVID-19 pandemic, comedian Bo Burnham’s 2021 comedy special Inside is a biting piece of gallows entertainment that not only documents the deteriorating effects of the isolation brought about by quarantine but the deleterious emotional impact of performativity in our always-online world. With over a dozen catchy earworm music numbers and memorable skits expertly shot and edited by Burnham himself, Inside is as entertaining as it illuminating as a time capsule for one of the most challenging and terrifying periods in recent human history. And it’s cinematic enough that we’re bumping it up to “movie pick” status. —TE


Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt with slick hair holding a shotgun in Killing Them Softly Photo: The Weinstein Company

Andrew Dominik’s pitch-black 2012 neo-noir Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer tasked with restoring order in the wake of three small-time crooks’ attempt to rob a Mafia poker game. Set in Boston on the euphoric cusp of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, Killing Them Softly is a bitter and bleak crime thriller with a final scene and speech whose words will stay with you for years to come. —TE


Legally Blonde

Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. MGM Distribution Co.

With a third installment supposedly on the way for 2022, now is as good a time as any to revisit (or watch for the first time) Legally Blonde. Nobody takes Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a sorority girl with a fondness for the color pink, seriously, including her boyfriend, who breaks up with her because she isn’t “serious” enough to fit in with his future political ambitions. To prove him wrong — and, eventually, simply for her own sake — she gets into law school, even winning an internship with the school’s most respected professor as she works through the program. A perfectly calibrated performance by Witherspoon and a supporting cast (including The White Lotus’ perpetually underrated Jennifer Coolidge) make this one stand the test of time. —TE


The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe in The Lincoln Lawyer Photo: Lionsgate

Based on Micahel Connelly’s 2005 novel, Brad Furman’s 2011 legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer stars Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller, a charismatic defense attorney who does business literally from the back of his black Lincoln sedan. Don’t get it twisted though; working-class Cosmopolis this is not. After a career of mostly defending petty criminals, Haller gets his big break in the form of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), a hotshot Beverly Hills playboy accused of beating a sex worker. What at first seems like an open-and-shut case and a quick payday unravels into a murderous conspiracy that threatens the lives of his ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and his young daughter. The Lincoln Lawyer marks the beginning of what many at the time characterized as the ‘McConaissance’, a period in McConaughey’s career in which the actor embraced a string of captivating dramatic roles which ultimately culminated in winning the Oscar for best actor in 2014. The Lincoln Lawyer may not have been the performance to win him that accolade, but it certainly set the groundwork for his later success. —TE


The Machinist

Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. Photo: Paramount Home Video

Brad Anderson’s 2004 psychological thriller The Machinist stars Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) as Trevor Reznik, an emaciated amnesiac working as a lathe operator. Trevor hasn’t slept in over a year, and is now haunted by visions of a co-worker that no one else can see, and an inexplicable stream of mysterious Post-It notes that appear on his fridge, Trevor must get to the heart of the madness that engulfs him if he has any chance of surviving — or at the very least, ever getting a good night’s sleep. Come for Bale’s physically transformative performance, stay for the delirium that mirrors his presence. —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


The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Abbi Jacobson as “Katie Mitchell” in The Mitchells vs. the Machines Photo: Netflix

Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), The Mitchells vs. the Machines finds Katy (Abbi Jacobson) and her quirky, dysfunctional family on a cross-country roundtrip that lands them smack dab in the middle of a robot apocalypse. Lord and Miller have an amazing track record and the animation in the trailer looks impressive with some genuinely funny moments to boot. From our review:

From the zany visuals to the wild plot and its genuinely sweet observations on family, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, originally set for a theatrical release by Sony before settling on Netflix, is a joy in every way. It’s a movie that commands attention, with everything going on across the screen and in the script. The action plot augments the family conflict and vice versa, with every moment of the story pushing those plots forward. It’s an utter delight from start to finish that brings the best of animation and the internet to life.


Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

Hathaway Noa aims a firearm aboard a spacecraft in Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway Image: Sunrise

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is the first of a trilogy of films set 12 years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. The film tells the story of Hathaway Noa as he attempts to terrorist organization bent on defying the Earth Federation and preventing the further privatization of the planet. Directed by Shuko Murase (Witch Hunter Robin) and based on series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novel series of the same name, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is one of the most highly anticipated anime films of 2021 for anime buffs. (And if you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Netflix has you covered with all the old compilation movies, too.) —TE


Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals Photo: Focus Features

This movie is not for everyone, but we’re assuming you love provocative, weirdo cinema. Amy Adams (Sharp Objects) stars in Tom Ford’s gripping neo-noir psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals as Susan Morrow, a successful upper-class art gallery manager who receives a mysterious manuscript written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), along with an invitation to dinner. As Susan pores over the manuscript, an insidious and violent saga unfolds involving a teacher whose family trip evolves into a nightmare that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, forcing her to confront the savage parallels between her own life and the story on the page. Nocturnal Animals is a dark, dense, and beautifully crafted thriller with a killer ending that will stick with you long after it’s over. —TE


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


Prospect

Pedro Pascal wears a space suit while walking in a forest in Prospect Image: DUST

Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s 2018 sci-fi movie Prospect follows teenager Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass), a pair of would-be prospectors who descend upon the surface of a poisonous forest-covered alien moon in search of rare gems. Beset by the elements and forced to contend with the moon’s fearsome inhabitants, Cee is forced to join forces with an desperate and unreliable prospector named Ezra (Pedro Pascal) in search for a means of survival and escape. As our friends over at the Verge describe it, “Prospect is a collection of successful, carefully refined elements, all of which are meticulously put together in service of a vision that absolutely connects — and a story that ultimately doesn’t.” Be that as it may, the film nonetheless remains a pleasure to watch. —TE


Shadow

Jingzhou (Deng Chao) using the Pei kingdom’s weaponized metal umbrella in Zhang Yimou’s Shadow Photo: We Go USA Entertainment

Wuxia master Zhang Yimou (Hero) is known for capturing color, from the crimson wash of Raise the Red Lantern to the eye-popping landscapes of House of Flying Daggers. In Shadow, Zhang dials back the gradient to black and white, and the result is a politically tinged martial-arts epic as mesmerizing and complicated as a Rorschach. After basically condensing the entire run of Game of Thrones into the first hour, Zhang goes on to stage blade-wielding combat and royal court clashes on par with his early work. Devoted fans will know what to expect, but unsuspecting newcomers may melt over the sheer vision on display in this contrast-heavy return to form. —MP


A Silent Voice

Shoko Nishimiya holds her nose as Shoya Ishida stares back at her in A Silent Voice Photo: Kyoto Animation

Adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga of the same name, Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is a beautiful, bracing coming-of-age drama about a young man’s journey for redemption after being reunited with the deaf girl he once belittled and terrorized in childhood. Boasting gorgeous visual produced by Kyoto Animation and an emotionally-charged screenplay penned by Reiko Yoshida of Violet Evergarden fame, A Silent Voice is one of the best Japanese animated films of the past decade and an essential watch. —TE


Space Sweepers

Three human space sweepers and their android buddy look down with sweaty horror on something offscreen in Space Sweepers. Photo: Netflix

Set in the year 2092, Jo Sung-hee’s Space Sweepers follows the crew of freelance garbagemen in space who discover a strange child-like robot named Dorothy containing a nuclear device. Hoping to ransom Dorothy in exchange for enough money to escape their poverty-stricken lives, their plan quickly escalates into a chase to stay one step ahead of the military force of a corrupt corporation. Though it’s far from the most original of sci-fi premises, Space Sweepers is still a visually impressive film with a likable cast of dysfunctional characters with great chemistry. —TE


Stand By Me

Based on the Stephen King novella, The Body, Stand by Me is a coming-of-age film about four 12-year-old boys who set out to find the body of a missing kid. The boys trek across the Oregon forests, running into local hoodlums and speeding trains. But despite the dangers, the real thrill of the movie comes from the transformative power of childhood friendships. The main character closes the movie with a line that basically sums it all up: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” —PR


Streets of Fire

Diane Lane as Ellen Aim singing on-stage in Streets of Fire Photo: Universal Pictures

Director Walter Hill and screenwriter Larry Gross’ 1984 feature Streets of Fire is an odd film to describe. A self-described “Rock and Roll Fable” about an ex-soldier-turned-mercenary named Tom Cody (Michael Paré) who returns home to rescue his ex-lover-slash-rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) when she’s unsuspectingly kidnapped on-stage by a nefarious biker (Willem Dafoe) and his band of ne’er-do-well bikers. Rounding out the cast is Amy Madigan (Twice in a Lifetime) as McCoy, a former soldier and mechanic who joins Tom in his mission to rescue Ellen and Rick Moranis (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) as Ellen’s manager-boyfriend Billy Fish. While the film initially bombed when it released in theaters initially in 1984, Streets of Fire has gone on to achieve status as a cult favorite among fans and critics in the decades since. —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


Underworld

Kate Beckinsale as the vampire Selene in Underworld Photo: Lakeshore Entertainment

Kate Beckinsale stars in Len Wiseman’s 2003 action horror movie Underworld as Selene, an elite vampire warrior working at the behest of an ancient clandestine order of immortals pitted in a centuries-old conflict against the “Lycans,” also known as werewolves. When Selene crosses paths with Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a human being targeted by the Lycans for some mysterious purpose, she inadvertently uncovers a conspiracy that will rock the foundations of both the vampire and Lycan world, forcing her to question her allegiances and choose whether the truth is worth fighting for. —TE