Greetings, Polygon readers!
It feels like the year only just started, and January is nearly behind us. We’ve already seen some impressive movies so far, with surprise hits like Mayhem! and David Ayer’s The Beekeeper, and there are even more exciting new releases slated to come out in February. Before we get there, though, we’ve rounded up our selections of the best movies to watch before they leave streaming platforms at the end of the month. We’ve got Janicza Bravo’s hilarious and bizarre black-comedy crime movie Zola, Edgar Wright’s 2010 cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, an explosive early-aughts kaiju classic, and much more.
Here are the best movies you should watch before they leave streaming this January.
The Exorcist III
Director: William Peter Blatty
Cast: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller
Leaving Criterion Channel: Jan. 31
This past October, I included The Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty’s 1990 threequel to William Friedkin’s masterful adaptation of that book as the final entry in our annual Halloween Countdown list of horror recommendations. The reason why is simple: For a franchise made up almost entirely of regrettable entries that repeatedly attempt (and fail) to emulate the iconic terror of the original film, The Exorcist III is the sole sequel that came the closest to achieving that feat, through its willingness to go out on a limb and tell its own equally terrifying story.
Based on Blatty’s 1983 novel Legion, the film follows William Kinderman (George C. Scott), a Georgetown police lieutenant assigned to investigate a series of murders possibly linked to an infamous killer believed to have passed years prior. His investigation leads him to the psych ward of a local hospital, where a mysterious amnesiac resembling Kinderman’s deceased friend Father Karras is being treated. Though infamously plagued by several pre- and post-production problems, The Exorcist III is a genuinely fascinating and thoroughly terrifying movie that probes the same territory as the original but from its own unique perspective. If for nothing else, it’s got easily one of the scariest jump scares ever committed to film, but I’m not telling you when it happens. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. —Toussaint Egan
Movies to watch on Netflix
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Leaving Netflix: Feb. 1
Edgar Wright’s romantic action comedy is the textbook definition of a “zeitgeist” film, embodying both the meteoric popularity of the comic that inspired it and the generational verve and aesthetic of the 2010s. Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a box-office bomb when it was initially released, but the film has steadily grown a cult following in the decade-plus since, culminating in last year’s Netflix anime adaptation, which saw the return of the entire original cast to reprise their roles. With the new context of that series, it’s a great time to return to the original adaptation. —TE
Movies to watch on Hulu
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Cast: Chiharu Niiyama, Ryudo Uzaki, Masahiro Kobayashi
Leaving Hulu: Jan. 31
There’s one breathtaking moment in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack where the camera zooms out from a man in a bathroom to Godzilla crushing the house he’s in with his foot, moving from a full-size set to miniatures without breaking the shot. The movie does this multiple times, transitioning to miniatures with clever masking techniques for maximum impact and jaw-dropping scale, and the joy in the movie’s formal approach energizes it.
GMK is a delightful throwback to the early era of Godzilla movies, especially in its use of miniatures and rejection of a CG Godzilla for the classic “man in a suit” approach. Like many of the best movies in the franchise, it also balances tones very well. It’s funny — in the first 90 seconds, it references both the original movie and Roland Emmerich’s 1998 entry, humorously dismissing the latter’s potential status as canonical — but also very tense in the destruction sequences.
There are few guaranteed good times out there like a quality Godzilla movie, and GMK certainly fits that bill. A note: Hulu only carries the dubbed version, because Toho had the movie dubbed for international release. The dub is very solid, though, with the voice actors leaning into the sincere (and at times silly) tone of the project. —Pete Volk
Movies to watch on Max
The Thomas Crown Affair
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary
Leaving Max: Jan. 31
They don’t make heist movies hotter than this. John McTiernan’s remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway classic is a steamy romp, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo at their sexiest.
Brosnan plays Thomas Crown, an arrogant playboy billionaire who is also the world’s greatest art thief in his spare time (in many ways, this is Brosnan’s Batman movie). Russo is Catherine Banning, an insurance investigator tasked with solving and recovering Crown’s most recent daring theft. The two fall for each other over the course of a delicious cat-and-mouse game, culminating in an unforgettable, intricately choreographed sequence set to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” —PV
Movies to watch on Prime Video
Director: Janicza Bravo
Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun
Leaving Prime Video: Jan. 31
Few films have fully embodied the raucous surrealism of our technologically mediated modern life quite like Janicza Bravo’s black-comedy crime film starring Taylour Paige (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Riley Keough (Under the Silver Lake). Based on David Kushner’s 2015 Rolling Stone story and the viral Twitter thread that inspired it, the movie follows the story of Aziah “Zola” King (Paige), a part-time stripper living in Detroit who is convinced by her new friend Stefani (Keough) to go on a road trip to Tampa to earn money. However, what begins as a lighthearted weekend jaunt quickly morphs into a long and suspenseful odyssey rife with absurdity, crime, violence, and colorful cast of characters. Four years since it first premiered, there’s still nothing quite like Zola. —TE