According to data from Flixable, there are more than 4,000 movies available on Netflix at this very moment. So if you sign into the streaming service with no idea of what you’d like to watch, then chances are you’re going to be in for a night of scrolling until you find something that’s just right. After all, the next movie you cast your eye over may be even better than the previous one. And with so much choice to hand, picking a flick that will satisfy even the fussiest viewer can be tough. Save yourself time, then, with our definitive guide to the very best movies streaming on Netflix as of November 1, 2019.
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If you’re a fan of jaw-dropping stunts and thrilling fight scenes, then check out our list of “The 25 Best Action Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you need a film that ought to entertain every generation, on the other hand, then take a look at our list of “The 25 Best Family Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Or do you just want to laugh your socks off? Then check out our list of “The 25 Best Comedy Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you prefer fantastical worlds, though, then have a glance at our definitive guide to “The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
Fancy a fright? Head to our list of “The 25 Best Horror Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you’re more up for nailbiting tension, though, then check out “The 25 Best Thriller Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Just want your pick of the most recent releases? Then you may want to see our list of “The 25 Best New Movies On Netflix Right Now.” The more military-minded, however, should sneak a peek at “The 25 Best War Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And those in need of love should take a look at “The 25 Best Romance Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
To establish which movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of films currently available on Netflix. We then selected the 50 films with the highest scores on that site, excluding documentaries. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those 50 movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each movie an average score out of 100, and the 50 films with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
50. Trainspotting (1996)
With its bleak take on the realities of drug abuse, Trainspotting may not have initially seemed like an obvious box-office hit. But as it turned out, the public flocked in their droves to see Danny Boyle’s darkly humorous drama – which tracks the highs and lows of Ewan McGregor’s heroin-addicted Renton and his buddies – and the popularity paid off. The movie brought in over $16 million in the U.K. and also became that year’s highest-grossing limited release Stateside. Writer John Hodge ultimately picked up an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win for his gritty screenplay, too. And while there were concerns from some quarters that the British film glamorizes narcotics use, Boyle, for one, seemed unmoved by such criticism. “There’ll be as many drugs taken at the Olympics as there are in Trainspotting,” the director told Entertainment Weekly in 1996.
49. A Silent Voice (2016)
In 2016 A Silent Voice proved itself to be one of the year’s 20 highest performers at the Japanese box office, with the striking anime bringing in the equivalent of $19.5 million domestically. Acclaim then duly came the movie’s way – epitomized, perhaps, by its Japan Academy Award for Excellent Animation of the Year. And The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw certainly seemed to enjoy Naoko Yamada’s animated drama, too; in his 2017 review, the critic praised it for being “a beguiling film: subtle, sensuous and delicate.” A Silent Voice – adapted from Yoshitoki Ōima’s seven-volume manga series – follows a deaf teenager who suffers at the hands of a relentless school bully. Then, some years later, the bully approaches his victim in a bid to redeem himself…
48. April and the Extraordinary World (2015)
April and the Extraordinary World holds a staggering 96 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And as that figure suggests, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci’s animated feature has had its fair share of praise. The Arizona Republic, for instance, called the sci-fi adventure “smart, exciting and wonderfully weird,” while The Philadelphia Inquirer said that the movie “will have your imagination doing somersaults and cartwheels.” So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, April and the Extraordinary World takes place in a steampunk-flavored realm where all the scientists are strangely going missing; at the same time, young girl April – originally voiced by Marion Cotillard – is on the hunt for her parents. Not only that, but the French-language film takes inspiration from the graphic style of artist Jacques Tardi, and it painstakingly recreates his visuals for the silver screen.
47. Sunday’s Illness (2018)
In a 2018 review of Sunday’s Illness, The Guardian lauded the drama as “among the year’s most exquisite revelations.” High praise indeed, but what’s the film all about? Well, on the surface, the Spanish movie tells the tale of a woman spending ten strained days with the mother who had abandoned her 35 years before. And yet there may be more going on in Sunday’s Illness than first meets the eye. When speaking to The Daily Dot in 2018, director Ramón Salazar explained that his film is in fact designed to “create several layers of thought.” He elaborated, “You can choose to be more realist and to follow just the facts of what is actually happening, or [you can track] the idea and the desires that that encounter brings to the characters.”
46. Incendies (2010)
Before wowing audiences with sci-fi gems Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve brought us lesser-known mystery film Incendies. In summary, the movie tells the story of twins who head to the Middle East to investigate some family secrets – and yet so much more than this is conveyed on screen. Roger Ebert put it best in his rave review of the thriller, writing that Incendies also “succeeds in demonstrating how senseless and futile it is to hate others because of their religion.” And Ebert evidently isn’t the only one to have been won over by the 2010 release, as it currently holds a 93 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Incendies was also in contention in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2011 Academy Awards.
45. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America has a somewhat troubled history. First of all, the celebrated director apparently spent 15 years just getting the project to theaters. And after Leone had finally delivered a finished edit, the studio then cut 90 minutes of footage without his consent. This all resulted in a film that, according to Empire, once had star James Woods raving, “I hope they burn the f***ing negative!” American critics who witnessed the slimmed-down cut in 1984 weren’t particularly happy with it, either, and nor did the movie excel at the box office. These days, though, the 229-minute version of Once Upon a Time in America is widely regarded as among the best films ever.
44. Winter’s Bone (2010)
After the release of Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik told Time Out, “In Hollywood, only a female who’s massively damaged is interesting. We asked, ‘Could there ever be a tough Western hero in a girl’s body?’” And it seems that Granik’s hard-hitting drama answered this question with a resounding “yes.” The hero in question is Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree, who sets out on a perilous quest to find her absent father despite the many obstacles in her way. Lawrence garnered no small measure of acclaim for her performance, too, with The New Yorker, for instance, remarking that “the movie would be unimaginable with anyone less charismatic playing Ree.” But perhaps the most prestigious honor bestowed upon the star came in the form of an Oscar nomination for Best Actress; Winter’s Bone was also in contention in the Best Picture category at the 2011 Academy Awards.
43. Mudbound (2017)
After Mudbound earned a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival, Netflix paid out $12.5 million for its distribution rights. Dee Rees’ war drama then enjoyed a brief spell in theaters, which in turn made its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, eligible to receive an Academy Award. And rather astonishingly, when the nominations for the 2018 Oscars were announced, Morrison became the first woman ever to be in contention in the Best Cinematography category. That same year also saw Mudbound up for the Best Adapted Screenplay award, while star Mary J. Blige broke further ground when she was nominated in both the Original Song and Supporting Actress categories. Mudbound found favor with the critics, too; the film – about two WWII veterans trying to negotiate prejudice in Mississippi – currently holds a 97 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
42. Mustang (2015)
Deniz Gamze Ergüven made her directorial debut with 2015 Turkish-language drama Mustang, which tells the story of five orphaned young women who ultimately pay a hefty price for socializing with their male classmates. “A lot of those stories are from my childhood [and] the childhood of my mother and her sisters,” Ergüven told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “We triggered a little scandal when we sat on the shoulders of the boys.” All the same, upon its release Mustang garnered almost universal praise as well as a number of critical accolades internationally. Among the prestigious recognition that the film has received are four César Awards – the French equivalent to Oscars – and a nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 88th Academy Awards.
41. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
In 2013 the Cannes Film Festival’s jury gave stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif Kechiche the Palme d’Or award for Blue Is the Warmest Color. Steven Spielberg was part of that jury, too, and he went on to praise the film as a “great love story” about “deep love and deep heartbreak.” Yet almost as soon as Blue Is the Warmest Color was screened at the festival, it made headlines. Firstly, it was claimed that members of the behind-the-scenes crew had been subject to terrible working conditions. Then the author of the original graphic novel argued that the movie’s love-making scenes were virtually akin to “porn.” And Seydoux herself would similarly allege that the filming experience had been “horrible.” Nevertheless, in its review, The Globe and Mail maintained that the finished product “is too exceptional a film to be defined by its controversy.”
40. Network (1976)
In 2007 the American Film Institute named Network as among the 100 best U.S. movies ever made – suggesting, too, that the satirical drama still stands up well in the 21st century. That said, Sidney Lumet’s picture was hardly ignored back in the ’70s, and the Academy saw fit to bestow it with no fewer than ten Oscar nominations after its release in movie theaters. Then, on the night, Network took home four of those gold statuettes – including the first posthumous award in the ceremony’s history, for lead actor Peter Finch. Finch, of course, plays beleaguered news anchor Howard Beale, whose angry on-air rants see him unexpectedly land his own show. And thanks to the maverick broadcaster’s now-famous yell of “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Network has sealed its place within popular culture.
39. Kilo Two Bravo (2014)
Drama Kilo Two Bravo tells the real-life story of a company of British paratroopers who found themselves stranded in a minefield in Afghanistan in 2006. Naturally, then, the men had to try and escape their potentially lethal environment with both their lives and limbs intact – but it was far from a simple feat. And this frightening premise is at the heart of the work by director Paul Katis, who was spurred on to make a British picture that, for once, was set during a modern conflict. Authenticity was key, too, so Katis and screenwriter Tom Williams thoroughly consulted the soldiers who had gone through that traumatic day to in this way accurately portray their experiences on camera. Such efforts clearly weren’t in vain, either, as critics lauded the finished product. The Toronto Star’s Linda Barnard, for example, praised Kilo Two Bravo for providing “an intimate, unforgettable examination of war.”
38. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
When speaking about making Y Tu Mamá También, director Alfonso Cuarón told Criterion, “[The movie] was a reconnection to the reason why I wanted to make films in the first place.” Cuarón also claimed that before this he had gotten lost in being a “director for hire” for American studios. To produce Y Tu Mamá También, then, Cuarón headed back to his native Mexico to work with up-and-coming stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna and film the story of an eventful road trip undertaken by two boys. Yet while the result was critically lauded, it wasn’t without controversy. This was mainly due to the feature’s depictions of sex and drug use, which ultimately gained it an R rating. And at the time of Y Tu Mamá También’s release, critic Roger Ebert even bemoaned, “The MPAA have made it impossible for a movie like this to be produced in America.”
37. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto underwent dramatic transformations for their roles in biographical drama Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey in fact dropped almost 50 pounds in a bid to more accurately portray HIV-positive electrician Ron Woodroof, while Leto shed 30 pounds and stayed in character throughout the shoot to play transgender AIDS patient Rayon. Leto’s commitment was indeed so total that in 2013 director Jean-Marc Vallée told Focus Features, “I never met Jared Leto. I met Rayon; I don’t know Leto. Jared never showed me Jared.” McConaughey and Leto’s efforts were clearly worthwhile, though, as both men earned Academy Awards for their work. As for the film’s narrative, it concerns the real-life Woodroof’s efforts in the ’80s to supply unapproved drugs to help those with HIV and AIDS. In its review of Dallas Buyers Club, Newsday called the movie, simply, “transcendent.”
36. Life of Brian (1979)
The initial kernel of inspiration for Monty Python’s Life of Brian came after Python member Eric Idle dreamt up the title Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory. It’s perhaps little wonder, then, that when Life of Brian actually hit theaters, the comedy caused something of a stir. So much so, in fact, that the Roman Catholic Church apparently even awarded Brian a unique certification: “C” – short for “Condemned.” And yet the movie’s director, Python’s Terry Jones, had a slightly different perspective on the furor. “I took the view [that] Brian wasn’t blasphemous; it was heretical,” he explained to the Radio Times in 2011. But either way, the film – which depicts the trials of a man born right next to Jesus and subsequently believed to be the Son of God – has proven popular with audiences ever since its release.
35. Howards End (1992)
Howards End could hardly have come with a higher pedigree. The film emerged from the lauded Merchant Ivory Productions company, after all, and it’s packed with top British thespians of the caliber of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter and Dame Emma Thompson. Thompson in fact took home an Academy Award for her performance, while the production itself earned two additional Oscars alongside a further six nominations. And yet while all this may suggest that Howards End is just another comfortable period drama, it’s actually rather nuanced. Roger Ebert noted, for instance, that the movie “[seethes] with anger, passion, greed and emotional violence.” Adapted from the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster, the film follows the fortunes of three families as they battle over the estate of an upper-class woman.
34. Black Panther (2018)
A Black Panther movie had been mooted as long ago as 1992, with Wesley Snipes pushing at the time to bring the superhero to the big screen. With the right director for the project proving elusive, however, Snipes eventually moved on to Blade. Then, finally, Black Panther was released in 2018 – and the Ryan Coogler-helmed adaptation was worth the wait. In the end, Chadwick Boseman took the role of T’Challa, the Black Panther, who battles to save his country, Wakanda, from an imminent threat. And it’s fair to say that audiences couldn’t get enough of the finished product, either, as Black Panther completed its theatrical run with more than $1.3 billion in global receipts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Marvel movie is one of the top ten highest-grossing feature films ever.
33. God’s Own Country (2017)
Although God’s Own Country has been compared by some critics to both Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name, Francis Lee’s movie very much stands alone. The drama tells the story of a morose farmer, played by Josh O’Connor, who embarks on a relationship with Alec Secareanu’s immigrant employee. The bleak setting serves as a reminder of the hard lives that the men lead, while their feelings for each other are revealed in a suitably dispassionate fashion, too. O’Connor and Secareanu have certainly received praise for their performances; The Guardian, for example, called their acting “sharp, intelligent and emotionally generous.” And director Lee has also had his share of plaudits, with the Houston Chronicle dubbing God’s Own Country an “electrifying feature debut.”
32. Article 15 (2019)
Article 15 of India’s constitution strictly forbids discrimination on the basis of religious belief, caste, gender, background or race. The title of Anubhav Sinha’s 2019 movie is a slyly ironic one, then, as the based-on-real-life drama sees a police officer battling prejudice at practically every turn when he attempts to investigate the brutal gang rape of three girls. And given the controversial subject matter, it’s probably no surprise that the thriller caused something of a stir upon its initial release. According to The Independent, the Brahman Samaj of India even asked the country’s Supreme Court to pull Article 15 from theaters. Apparently, the organization asserted that the content of the film might prompt all-out class warfare. Yet ultimately the court denied the request, and the picture went on to become both a critical and commercial hit.
31. Burning (2018)
In a Sight & Sound poll, a collection of 164 film specialists voted Burning the third-greatest movie of 2018. More specifically, the magazine’s consensus praised Burning as being “masterful and unclassifiable.” And it’s in fact this latter quality that seems to have most captivated viewers of Lee Chang-dong’s mystery drama. This is a film, after all, in which you rarely discover what’s actually going on beneath the surface of the narrative. Said cryptic tale begins with Jong-su agreeing to take care of a cat for a woman with whom he has recently become obsessed. But after the woman returns from vacation with a new pal (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun), she suddenly disappears, leaving Jong-su to frantically pick up the pieces – and fall deep into the rabbit hole.
30. Short Term 12 (2013)
In 2001 Destin Daniel Cretton was a young man working in a temporary group home for vulnerable kids. And although the future filmmaker approached the job with the lofty notion that he would make a real difference, he was quickly brought down to earth when a teenager threw a chair that landed a matter of feet from his head. “That was my first slap in the face as to how complicated this world is,” Cretton told The Washington Post in 2013. Then a few years after leaving the position, the director channeled his checkered history at the facility into his script for Short Term 12, which stars a pre-Oscar Brie Larson in a widely praised performance as embattled care assistant Grace. Cretton’s second full-length movie has received its fair share of acclaim, too, with Forbes even lauding it as “the best film of 2013.”
29. Sling Blade (1996)
Although Sling Blade eventually saw release in 1996, Billy Bob Thornton claims to have conjured up the character of Karl Childers back in the mid-’80s. “I was kind of looking at myself, and I came up with this guy,” Thornton told Rolling Stone in 1997. “I started doing this one-man show, and Karl was one of the characters. I’ve lived with him for a long time.” Perhaps that lengthy period spent prepping Karl for the big time turned out for the best, too, as the movie’s screenplay ultimately garnered the star an Academy Award. Thornton – who also directed the film – portrays the intellectually disabled protagonist, who is finally released from an institution after spending years locked up for the homicide of his mom and her partner. And while things initially begin to look up for the ex-convict, events soon start to lead inexorably down a dark path.
28. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
In 2006 a panel of cineastes selected Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India among their 50 movies that everybody must see before they die. Other critics were effusive with their praise for the film as well, and Variety hailed it as “pure entertainment.” The Ashutosh Gowariker-directed feature stars one of Bollywood’s highest-profile actors in Aamir Khan and follows the attempts of a tax-hit village to defeat villainous Brits in a cricket game. Drama and romance abound throughout, with some memorable songs and dance routines packed in there too. It’s worth noting, though, that Lagaan was something of a labor of love for its cast and crew. They worked on location for almost six months straight – an almost unprecedented feat in Indian cinema at the time.
27. My Happy Family (2017)
My Happy Family only screened in the U.S. at a handful of film festivals, so it’s likely that the drama passed you by back in 2017. However, the critics who did see the movie were seemingly unrestrained in their praise. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, wrote that the Georgian picture’s “terrific cast” and “talented” directors turned its rather everyday premise into a “minor Greek comic-tragedy.” Meanwhile, The Village Voice named My Happy Family as “one of 2017’s best films.” The aforementioned directors calling the shots here were Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross, whose use of long takes and ambient sounds imbue a rather claustrophobic immediacy to the tale of an overburdened woman finally deciding to strike out on her own.
26. My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
This Swiss-French animated movie may have a strange title, but it’s actually more touching than it is bizarre. You see, My Life as a Zucchini – or Ma vie de Courgette, to give it its official name – is about neglected and mistreated young people who find solace in one another’s company. And its themes are therefore likely to resonate with even those adult viewers who may otherwise scoff at the idea of watching a stop-motion film without little ones around. The reviews for Claude Barras’ effort are glowing, too. Mark Kermode, for instance, wrote that the movie is “beautifully tender,” while the Chicago Sun-Times claimed, simply, that it is “marvelous.” My Life as a Zucchini was also in contention for the Best Animated Feature Film award at the 2017 Oscars.
25. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
To say that the production of The Magnificent Ambersons was troubled seems something of an understatement. In fact, it appears that problems began before cameras even started rolling. At first, you see, there was a contract dispute between the studio and the film’s director, Orson Welles. And even after that had been sorted and Welles delivered the finished drama, the powers that be demanded cuts. Then, when Welles refused to chop anything out of the movie, the studio went ahead and did it anyway. All in all, then, the theatrical version of The Magnificent Ambersons is apparently almost 45 minutes shorter than Welles’ original. Yet upon its release, the film was nevertheless praised as a “great motion picture” by Time. It also received four Oscar nominations and has since been included in the National Film Registry.
24. Room (2015)
Ostensibly, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room depicts how a woman and her young son persevere while in captivity for years on end. Lead actress Brie Larson has a different take on the harrowing drama, however, having told The A.V. Club in 2015 that it is really about “love and freedom” and “what it feels like to grow up and become your own person.” Larson also confessed that she had consulted a “trauma specialist” and stayed out of sunlight in preparation for her performance. And the extra work clearly paid off, as many reviews of the film noted just how good she and then-seven-year-old Jacob Tremblay are in their roles. Larson ended up winning an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for her work, too.
23. Coco (2017)
Incredibly, Coco is the first Pixar movie to showcase a protagonist from a minority background. It’s also by far the most expensive movie ever made with a predominantly Latino cast. So, it’s fair to say that there was a lot riding on the film. Director Lee Unkrich was aware of this too; as he told The Independent in 2017, “With me not being Latino myself, I knew that this project was going to come under heavy scrutiny.” The production team – including co-director Adrian Molina – therefore brought in cultural advisers to help make sure they got everything just right. The result is a charming adventure story that sees 12-year-old Miguel plunge into the Land of the Dead to track down his ancestors. And critics and audiences alike fell head over heels for Coco, with the movie ending its theatrical run boasting an incredible $807 million box-office haul.
22. The King’s Speech (2010)
After receiving almost universal critical acclaim, The King’s Speech earned four major Academy Awards, including one apiece for star Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper. That’s not bad going for a film that was apparently put on hold for a time by none other than the Queen Mother. However, after the beloved royal passed away in 2002, the filmmakers felt free to finally produce the drama about King George VI’s battle against his stutter. And the response from the royal family? Well, according to a report in The Sun, Queen Elizabeth II herself rather liked the movie. “To learn Her Majesty has seen the film and was moved in turn moves and humbles me greatly,” the film’s writer, David Seidler, revealed in a statement upon hearing the news.
21. Her (2013)
In Spike Jonze’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix slowly falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Yet while that may sound like an odd premise for a movie, the consensus is that it works. The New York Times certainly seemed to think so, dubbing Her a “deeply sincere romance,” while Time Out wrote that the quirky sci-fi is “quietly dazzling.” Jonze would even end up bagging a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for writing the movie. But there’s also an interesting bit of backstory about the casting; you see, Johansson was only brought on board when it came to post-production. British star Samantha Morton had initially portrayed the role of the operating system on set, having read her lines from a makeshift sound booth.
20. Mean Streets (1973)
After Martin Scorsese had finished work on his third feature-length movie, Boxcar Bertha, he received a tongue-lashing from John Cassavetes. Brutally, the influential director told his then-less seasoned counterpart, “You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of s**t.” So, Scorsese took the insult as a cue to mine more familiar territory for his next project: Mean Streets. Shot on a mere $480,000 budget, the crime drama partly drew inspiration from the filmmaker’s early life in New York’s Little Italy, with Harvey Keitel starring as pious street hood Charlie Cappa. And four decades on from the film’s release, it is, of course, an out-and-out classic. No less a figure than Roger Ebert hailed Scorsese’s picture as pioneering, writing, “In countless ways – right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows – Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies.”
19. The Lives of Others (2006)
As Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck told The New York Times in 2007, The Lives of Others originally saw life as a mere film school assignment. In fact, the director penned the movie’s treatment in just two hours or so after a period spent listening to music and waiting for inspiration to strike. And while it took Donnersmarck a further five years to bring his vision to fruition, the result was worth it. That certainly seems to be the opinion of National Review commentator John Podhoretz, who in 2007 lauded the drama as “one of the greatest movies ever made.” And The Lives of Others evidently found favor with the Academy, too, as it scooped the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2007 Oscars. The German picture follows an East German Stasi agent who makes his way into the orbit of a couple upon whom he is spying.
18. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
In 1979 Hollywood powerhouses George Lucas and Steven Spielberg scored a highly profitable contract with Paramount to bring Indiana Jones to the big screen. And upon the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the filmmaking duo’s adventure movie certainly delivered in terms of box-office returns. In fact, Raiders became the studio’s biggest hit up to that point – and kicked off a sprawling franchise to boot. It’s fair to say, too, that the feature has inspired utter fascination among some viewers. Many fans know, for instance, that Tom Selleck was originally envisioned in the title role before Harrison Ford picked up the iconic hat and whip. Yet another oft-related story tells of how a case of dysentery inspired Ford to come up with one particularly stand-out moment. All in all, then, whether you’ve seen Raiders a dozen times before or none, there’s no denying that Indy has ageless appeal.
17. Bad Genius (2017)
Bad Genius became the biggest hit of 2017 in its native Thailand – although it also achieved success in other territories. The drama’s box-office takings in China, for instance, helped it break a 13-year record for foreign-film sales. And after Bad Genius opened the New York Asian Film Festival in 2017, director Nattawut Poonpiriya conceded that his work appears to have charmed many overseas. “I am quite surprised to see that our non-Thai audiences can relate to the film this much,” he said to The News Lens that year. “I think that also means that the education system in other countries may have similar problems.” As for its synopsis, Bad Genius is about a high-schooler hoping to become a millionaire by pulling off an elaborate cheating scam on an important exam.
16. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Even in a filmography chock-full of classics, Strangers on a Train stands out as arguably among Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest-ever movies. An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s tense novel, the thriller sees two men realize how they may be able to pull off the perfect murder plot. Yes, each will kill the target of the other, leaving the pair with impeccable alibis if they’re ever suspected of offing their own loved ones. In theory, anyway. But when one of the strangers actually goes through with the plan, the other is bound to a promise that they struggle to keep. And along the way come some of Hitchcock’s most memorable cinematic sequences, including the protagonists’ famous showdown on a shadowy carousel. Nor has time dulled Strangers on a Train’s luster, it seems, as 21st-century critics’ overwhelming praise for the film noir has earned it a near-flawless 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
15. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Julian Schnabel’s 2007 movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly takes inspiration from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name. And the circumstances behind how the book first came to be are almost beyond belief. After falling victim to a massive stroke, Bauby was, you see, diagnosed with locked-in syndrome. This in turn meant that the only part of his body that he could move was his left eyelid. So, the journalist blinked as a method of painstakingly dictating his book – and this incredible feat is retold in Schnabel’s biographical drama, which earned a BAFTA Award, two Golden Globes and a brace of César Awards after its release. It almost goes without saying, then, that critics were bowled over by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, for instance, commended the film for its levels of “sweetness, sadness, maturity and restraint.”
14. Boyhood (2014)
Rolling Stone has called coming-of-age film Boyhood “a new American classic” and a “game-changer”; and The New York Times was similarly full of praise for the drama, describing it as “mesmerizing.” The Guardian even named Richard Linklater’s movie as “one of the great films of the decade.” And Boyhood is more impressive still when its rather unorthodox production is taken into account; you see, it was filmed over 39 days spread across 12 successive years. The result is well worth it, though, for the way in which Boyhood tracks the life of Ellar Coltrane’s Mason as he grows from child to man is unlike almost anything you’ve seen on screen before or since. It’s perhaps little wonder, too, that the movie and its actors went on to take home three Golden Globes, three BAFTAs and an Oscar.
13. Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s sports masterpiece, Raging Bull, earned an impressive eight Academy Award nominations before emerging victorious twice at the 1981 ceremony. It’s no surprise, either, that one of those gongs went to Robert De Niro – given the extreme lengths to which the actor went in portraying hot-tempered boxer Jake LaMotta as accurately as he possibly could. For starters, De Niro trained alongside the actual LaMotta for the best part of a year to ensure that the drama’s violent, operatic boxing scenes were authentic. And this wasn’t all; the star also went the extra mile during a break in the shooting schedule, gaining a phenomenal 55 pounds in four months for the sequences that appear towards the end of the movie. This grueling preparation clearly paid off, too, as critics both at the time and since have singled out De Niro’s performance as revelatory.
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still by far and away the highest-grossing foreign film ever at the U.S. box office. Indeed, with its $128 million in receipts, Ang Lee’s movie has out-earned its nearest competitor – 1997 Holocaust dramedy Life Is Beautiful – more than twice over. And not only that, but the martial arts picture also holds the joint record for the greatest number of Academy Award nominations ever given to a non-English language production. Ultimately, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought home four Oscars at the 2001 ceremony, including the award for Best Foreign Language Film. As for the movie’s plot, it hinges on the stealing of a mythic sword called Green Destiny and the attempts of a martial arts master – portrayed by Chow Yun-Fat – to both retrieve the weapon and teach the thief responsible the error of her ways.
11. Annie Hall (1977)
In 1977’s Annie Hall, Woody Allen takes the lead as a New York comedian searching for answers about his failed romance with the movie’s eponymous heroine. Meanwhile, Diane Keaton famously portrays Hall – a role that Allen had originally penned with her in mind. It may have helped, too, that the actress and the filmmaker had once had their own real-life liaison from which to draw potential inspiration – although Allen has actually denied that the work is in any way autobiographical. Regardless, the offbeat comedy seemingly wowed the Academy, as in 1978 it scooped four Oscars, including one for Best Picture. Critics at the time were suitably impressed as well; Variety, for instance, described the movie as “a touching and hilarious love story.” And in 2010 The Guardian named Annie Hall as the best comedic film that has ever been committed to celluloid.
10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
After Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit movie theaters in 2018, some of Hollywood’s brightest lined up to sing its praises. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins dubbed the superhero saga “one of the best films this year,” for instance, while Chris Pratt labeled it a “masterpiece.” Even live-action Spider-Man star Tom Holland honored Into the Spider-Verse, calling it “one of the coolest films [he’s] ever seen.” And in 2019 Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman’s picture received arguably its highest accolade of all: an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. So, assuming all of this has convinced you to select the animated adventure for that next family movie night, you can look forward to following teen Spidey Miles Morales as he attempts to save multiple realities – and multiple Spider-characters – from being destroyed.
9. Moonlight (2016)
When Moonlight scooped the Best Picture Oscar in 2017, it made plenty of headlines – and not entirely for good reasons. As countless film fans know, the award’s presenters initially – and erroneously – named La La Land as the winner of the night’s biggest prize. Whereupon La La Land’s makers flooded the stage – before the mistake was corrected and director Barry Jenkins could make his acceptance speech. The blunder was regrettable rather than funny to many, though, not least because it detracted from Moonlight’s victory. The drama in the movie deftly follows young Floridian Chiron through three distinct phases of his life as he struggles with his identity in a hard world. And upon its release, Jenkins’ work received rave reviews across the board. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was among those bowled over, with the critic writing, “The combination of artistry and emotional directness in [Moonlight] is overwhelming.”
8. Roma (2018)
After having won the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, Roma went on to enjoy a short theatrical release before heading onto Netflix. And the drama – which is based in part on director Alfonso Cuarón’s early life in Mexico City – has since become an awards darling too. Indeed, the movie earned ten Oscar nominations – the highest number ever for a Spanish-language film – as well as a pair of Golden Globes and the Best Film honor at the 2019 BAFTAs. And such acclaim may well have helped convince audiences to flock to see the film. IndieWire has in fact estimated that Roma’s movie theater takings will ultimately surpass $3 million – a feat not achieved in the U.S. by a non-English language picture since 2013’s Ida.
7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
According to some, Roman Polanski horror classic Rosemary’s Baby is cursed. And given the many misfortunes that have befallen members of the movie’s cast and crew, it’s not hard to see why this belief continues to hold some sway. While still shooting the picture, star Mia Farrow, for example, was abruptly dumped by her then-husband, Frank Sinatra. Yet Farrow got off lightly when you compare her fate to that of Krzysztof Komeda. The man responsible for Rosemary’s Baby’s music died in unfortunate circumstances mere months after the film’s theatrical debut – as did Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was infamously killed at the hands of the Manson Family. But whether or not you believe that the disturbing drama played a part in these tragedies, what can’t be denied is the enduring adulation for Polanski’s work. The Oscar-winning feature was even added to the National Film Registry in 2014.
6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Although Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s knights were initially intended to ride horses, there just wasn’t enough money in the budget to lend them all steeds. So, the Python team came to a decision: they would instead just pretend to be on horseback, while other actors would mimic the sound of cantering using coconuts. This works hilariously well, too, as it’s in much the same vein as the silly visual humor that the Pythons have made their trademark. And Holy Grail itself has since become a much-loved – and much-quoted – cult classic that landed at number three in a 2014 Rolling Stone readers’ poll of the funniest films ever made. The Terry Gilliam- and Terry Jones-directed movie has also spawned award-winning theatrical spin-off Spamalot, in which the Knights of the Round Table once again embark on a quest to locate the legendary artifact.
5. Taxi Driver (1976)
Upon his first reading of Taxi Driver’s screenplay, Martin Scorsese felt an immediate connection to protagonist Travis Bickle, with the director having also once felt isolated and alone. Meanwhile, writer Paul Schrader was for his part somewhat taken with Scorsese, as he’d been impressed by 1973’s Mean Streets. The earlier film of course starred Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and the director ultimately brought both actors, along with a young Jodie Foster, back for Taxi Driver. De Niro drew heavily on his method-acting technique to portray Bickle, too, famously devising the inimitable “You talkin’ to me?” scene during an improvisation session. And with such talents combined, it’s no wonder that Scorsese’s dark drama about an unbalanced Vietnam vet-turned-cabdriver is still held in lofty esteem. Indeed, Taxi Driver is currently IMDb users’ 96th highest-scoring movie of all time.
4. A Separation (2011)
A Separation holds an amazing 99 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Needless to say, then, that Asghar Farhadi’s film received exceptional reviews upon its 2011 release; Roger Ebert even claimed that the Iranian picture “will become one of those enduring masterpieces watched decades from now.” And the universal praise afforded to A Separation could well be chalked up in part to the director’s willingness to leave some aspects of his drama open-ended. “When you pose questions, your film actually begins after people watch it. In fact, your film will continue inside the viewer,” Farhadi told The Guardian in 2011. So, while at a surface level the movie depicts the deterioration of a marriage, it also has a great deal to say about the human condition – not least how we get to grips with both conflict and the real truth of the situations in which we find ourselves.
3. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Although Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, Reservoir Dogs, is now regarded as a classic, it actually saw only minor box-office success. No such fate befell Pulp Fiction, mind you, which ultimately powered its way to takings of $213 million worldwide. The stylish crime drama earned itself a host of accolades, too – among them the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and no fewer than seven Academy Awards nominations. And Pulp Fiction’s slick mix of violence and humor – not to mention some infinitely quotable dialogue – has seen the movie secure a fiercely loyal cult following while remaining an integral part of ’90s pop culture. Small wonder, then, that it holds a 94 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. The Third Man (1949)
Orson Welles makes an appearance in our top ten of the best Netflix movies with his unforgettable film The Third Man. Here, though, he was only in front of the camera, playing Harry Lime – the figure around whom this noir revolves. Carol Reed’s The Third Man was certainly admired by Roger Ebert, who once singled it out as among his “Great Movies.” The British Film Institute, meanwhile, has touted it as the greatest British picture of the 20th century. Then again, maybe the pieces were all in place for the picture to become a classic given that it was scripted by the acclaimed novelist Graham Greene. In “The Third Man Theme,” the film also boasts one of the most iconic pieces of cinematic music of all time – courtesy of then-unknown zither player Anton Karas.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg released two movies in 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List – and they couldn’t have been further apart in theme and tone. In fact, Spielberg was editing Jurassic Park as he was shooting the harrowing Holocaust drama – a situation that, as the director later disclosed at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, caused “a tremendous amount of resentment and anger” for him at the time. But whatever the circumstances of Schindler’s List’s creation, Spielberg and his team delivered a both artistically successful and exceptionally important film. The movie’s significance was then further underlined when producer Branko Lustig revealed at the Oscars that he had actually survived the Holocaust. “People died in front of me at the camps,” he said upon accepting Schindler’s List’s award for Best Picture. “Their last words were, ‘Be a witness of my murder. Tell to the world how I died. Remember…’
Not to be forgotten…
The following were previously on our list of the 50 best movies on Netflix, but they’ve either now left the streaming service or have since been pushed out of the top 50. Even so, these films are still very much worth watching.
An Education (2009)
An Education is a coming-of-age tale about a 16-year-old girl, played by Carey Mulligan, who embarks on an affair with Peter Sarsgaard’s much older man. According to Vanity Fair, this premise led some viewers to initially label An Education as “that pedophile movie.” But director Lone Scherfig doesn’t agree with such an assessment. “The age gap was not that much of an issue for me,” she told the publication in 2009. “You have cigarettes, racism [and] a young girl who has a sexual appetite [in there]; all of this adds to the credibility and, in a way, the innocence of the film.” The potentially contentious subject matter didn’t appear to deter the Academy, either, since the film ultimately earned three Oscar nominations, including one for Mulligan.
When writer Dustin Lance Black accepted his Best Original Screenplay Oscar for biopic Milk, he said that he had been 13 years old when he’d first encountered Harvey Milk’s story. “[That] gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am,” Black said while on the verge of tears. Yet despite the potential of the openly gay activist’s tale to inspire, it apparently wasn’t easy getting Milk made. “We doubted every day that our green light would last until we wrapped,” Black told Focus Features in 2018. “Back then, getting people interested in stories that just had an LGBTQ+ character was incredibly difficult – much less a story that took our lives seriously.” However, Milk, which was directed by Gus Van Sant, went on to achieve amazing success – as well as Academy Awards for Black and star Sean Penn.
If you’ve never heard of Krisha before, you’re probably not alone. After all, the film screened in just 26 theaters and made a mere $144,822, according to Box Office Mojo. Kickstarter contributions partially funded the drama, too, and these donations accounted for just under half of its paltry $30,000 budget. That’s not even to mention, either, the fact that Krisha was shot in just nine days at director Trey Edward Shults’ parents’ home. So, why is it one of the best movies on Netflix right now? Well, for one thing Krisha was a hit with critics; The Hollywood Reporter, for example, lauded it as “extraordinary” and displaying “bracing originality.” Shults’ directorial debut stars Krisha Fairchild as the eponymous character, who fights to keep herself together over the course of a Thanksgiving celebration with family.
The Wailing (2016)
The unnatural deaths of some of director Hong-jin Na’s loved ones partly inspired The Wailing; and these losses left Na with a certain question. “What I had to find out was why [they had become victims],” he told The Playlist in 2016. “So, I began to meet and talk to the clergy of various religions.” And from these beginnings came a deeply evocative horror movie about a police officer investigating a series of gruesome deaths coupled with an inexplicable wave of sickness. Critics later gave Na’s feature almost universal praise, with Empire claiming that it “leaves you with a lingering, unshakeable sense of dread that Hollywood horror films can rarely muster.” The Wailing also scooped five of South Korea’s prestigious Blue Dragon Film awards.
Chicken Run (2000)
From the movie’s conception to its completion, the Aardman Animation team took nearly half a decade to make Chicken Run. This included a couple of years spent coming up with the characters and planning the action as well as a further year and a half of laborious production time. During filming, a 250-strong crew worked with 534 silicon-and-plasticine figures to help produce a movie that, for all that work, remains the most lucrative stop-motion animation in cinematic history. Originally described to distributors DreamWorks as “an escape movie with chickens,” Chicken Run follows a bunch of feathered friends who look to flee a farm before they get made into pies. Yet for directors Nick Park and Peter Lord, the film is about so much more than that. As Park told Hollywood.com in 2000, it’s “a story about people in chicken costumes, really.”
Children of Men (2006)
“I think that Children of Men has only become an increasingly relevant and realistic portrait of where we are in the world,” actress Clare-Hope Ashitey told IndieWire in 2016. And it seems that others agree. In fact, GQ and the BBC have each published articles claiming that Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi movie – which stars Clive Owen as its lead – is now more relevant than ever. How so? Well, it’s mainly because of the vision of the U.K. in 2027 that Children of Men presents. In this reality, a government intent on getting its hands on the first woman to become pregnant in nearly two decades is shown portraying refugees as evil and locking up immigrants. For some, then, the movie may appear to depict a world not too dissimilar from ours in the present day.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
After its 1988 release, Cinema Paradiso won the Grand Prix at Cannes as well as awards at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs. IMDb voters seem to like the film, too; their ratings have led to it currently being listed on the website as the 54th greatest movie ever made. And perhaps some of this affection for Giuseppe Tornatore’s drama is down to arguably Cinema Paradiso’s most famous scene, which involves a montage of celebrated kisses from other movies. That sequence has been parodied and commented upon ever since – even The Simpsons once chose to spoof it – and it seems to perfectly encapsulate the movie’s exploration of the power of cinema. The story itself concerns a young Italian boy and his burgeoning friendship with the projectionist at his local theater.
West Side Story (1961)
Although adapting a play for cinema may be risky, West Side Story proves that it can be done with aplomb. The film version of the Broadway musical went on to land ten Academy Awards, in fact, while critics virtually fell over themselves to laud the Natalie Wood-led picture. The New York Times even went so far as to label the picture “a cinematic masterpiece” – high praise indeed. But what of the viewing public? Well, it seems that ’60s audiences were similarly enamored of West Side Story, as Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ feature ultimately raked in over $43 million – the equivalent of $505 million today – at the U.S. box office. And there’s probably no better time to rediscover this Romeo and Juliet-inspired tale of warring gangs, since a Steven Spielberg-directed remake is currently gearing up for production.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Enter the Dragon is maybe best remembered these days as the last movie that Bruce Lee ever finished. The martial arts flick was released just one month after the screen icon passed away, in fact, and – perhaps partly owing to Lee’s death – it went on to achieve extraordinary success at the box office. And fortunately for its star’s legacy, Enter the Dragon is now seen as a classic of its genre. That’s certainly reflected by the critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, which dubs Robert Clouse’s film “the ultimate kung-fu movie.” A contemporary Hollywood Reporter review also notes that the action scenes “lift the movie the way Astaire and Rogers used to when they danced.” As for its plot line, Enter the Dragon sees Lee go undercover at a fight-to-the-death tournament in order to spy on an evil crime boss.
United 93 (2006)
United 93 was the first movie to come out of Hollywood to deal directly with 9/11. The thriller charts in almost real time director Paul Greengrass’ interpretation of the events that took place aboard United Airlines Flight 93 that day – with the film’s makers having previously received the blessing of the victims’ families to depict the fateful journey on screen. The actors playing the heroic passengers, meanwhile, were given some free rein to improvise their dialogue. And although some have voiced concerns about the accuracy of the finished picture, United 93 has nevertheless been widely acclaimed. Indeed, according to Metacritic, no other film released in 2006 appeared on as many “best movies of the year” lists.
A Little Princess (1995)
Long before Alfonso Cuarón earned an Oscar for Gravity, the director had turned critics’ heads with A Little Princess. The family film – inspired by the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same name – tells the tale of a ten-year-old girl who becomes a servant after her father is deemed to have been killed in action during WWI. However, despite the attempts of a stern headmistress, the child’s spirit can’t be crushed – as seen in the movie’s stirring fantasy sequences. A Little Princess received rapturous reviews from critics upon its initial release; unfortunately, though, it failed to find an audience in theaters. By way of explanation for the feature’s relatively poor box-office performance, producer Mark Johnson told the Los Angeles Times in 1995 that “the movie was better than the marketing.” Thanks to Netflix, though, there’s no excuse for people to miss out on such a top film now.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Although the New York Post ultimately dubbed The Bourne Ultimatum “a pulse-pounding peak to Matt Damon’s spy trilogy,” the film actually had a pretty inauspicious beginning. Indeed, when Damon talked to GQ in 2011, he revealed that the first draft of the screenplay had been “unreadable,” “a career-ender” and “embarrassing.” Small wonder, then, that this state of affairs in turn led to rewrites happening while the film was being shot. “It’s not an advisable way to make a movie,” Damon added of the situation during Ultimatum’s promotional tour. But regardless, director Paul Greengrass – making his second Bourne film – somehow turned in an action flick that garnered both huge praise and ample takings at the box office. And although Ultimatum may not be an ideal jumping-on point for newcomers to the Bourne franchise, it nevertheless has the highest rating of the entire movie series on IMDb.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Hilary Swank could have died while preparing to play Million Dollar Baby’s Maggie. At one point during her intense training, you see, she acquired a massive blister on one of her feet. And while that may not sound dangerous by itself, the blister then became infected with staphylococcus. “So, I went to the doctor… and he said, ‘This is really serious,’” Swank told 60 Minutes in 2005. “‘If you had waited two more hours, you would’ve been in the hospital for three weeks. And if it gets to your heart, that’s it.’” Fortunately for Swank, that wasn’t it. What’s more, she went on not only to complete the film but also to earn an Oscar for her performance. The Academy crowned the sports drama Best Picture, too, with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman receiving their own statuettes for winning in the Best Director and Best Supporting Actor categories, respectively.
Quiz Show (1994)
Quiz Show tells the true story of a fixing scandal that rocked the TV show Twenty-One back in the 1950s. Robert Redford’s Oscar-nominated drama sees Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro portray Charles Van Doren and Herb Stempel, respectively. Both of those real-life individuals had, you see, played their part in staging Twenty-One – even though the show was presented as real to around 50 million members of the watching public. In a 2008 article for The New Yorker, the actual Van Doren also confessed that the film is largely accurate in recounting the past behind-the-scenes drama. Yet he did have one quibble. The former contestant explained, “I understand that movies need to compress and conflate. But what bothered me most was the epilogue stating that I never taught again. I didn’t stop teaching.”
In 2000 Empire argued that Goldfinger is “the quintessential James Bond movie.” Similarly, a critic for The Guardian two years later contended that Guy Hamilton’s action flick set “the standard by which all other Bond movies must be judged.” And there’s certainly some credibility to both of those claims. After all, Goldfinger is the film that first saw Bond, played here by Sean Connery, order a martini “shaken, not stirred.” It also features several other classic Bond tropes, including super-cool gadgets, a bombastic finale and a larger-than-life villain. Perhaps, then, Goldfinger’s success upon its release – it earned $51 million at the U.S. box office, or what would be $598 million today – set the template for 007 movies to come. The spy thriller additionally became the first Bond picture to pick up an Oscar.
The Departed (2006)
After five previous unsuccessful nominations, Martin Scorsese finally won a Best Director Oscar for his work on The Departed. The crime drama also took home three more awards in 2007. And that’s despite the hyper-violent nature of the film, which makes it far from your typical Oscar bait. Scorsese, for his part, justified The Departed’s content by saying, in a 2006 interview with The Guardian, “It came from a very strong state of conviction about the emotional [and] psychological state that I am in now about the world and about the way our leaders are behaving.” The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as undercover operatives working to expose each other before it’s too late. What’s more, according to Entertainment Weekly, the end result is a “masterpiece.”
When Carol first screened at Cannes, audience members reportedly gave it a standing ovation for a whole ten minutes. And according to Metacritic, Todd Haynes’ movie – which centers around a lesbian relationship between Cate Blanchett’s titular character and Rooney Mara’s Therese – was the best-reviewed flick of 2015. Perhaps, then, the 18 years that the feature took to develop were worth it after all. Fortunately, at any rate, Carol’s writer, Phyllis Nagy, actually knew Patricia Highsmith, who penned the novel on which the film is based. “I found [the book’s] treatment of the sexuality of the two female characters quite radical – especially for something that had been published in 1952,” Nagy told Creative Screenwriting in 2015.
Oliver Stone felt driven to make Platoon in part because he was unhappy with the romanticized version of the Vietnam War on screen in John Wayne’s 1968 offering, The Green Berets. You see, for Stone – an actual veteran of the conflict – the combat was neither a thrilling nor glamorous experience. And this ethos is certainly evident in Platoon, which tells the story of a young recruit – played by Charlie Sheen – who is grinding out his first tour of duty. Stone doesn’t shy away from depicting the atrocities of war, either – including scenes of murder and attempted rape. Yet the director’s often unflinching vision was nevertheless a hit with critics and audiences alike. The war movie landed four Oscars in total, with the coveted Best Picture award among them; it also brought in a substantial $138 million at the domestic box office.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Speaking to Animation World Network in 2009, Brad Bird said of The Iron Giant, “We were dead on arrival on opening day.” And as that rather blunt statement suggests, the director was referring to the movie’s abysmal box-office performance in theaters. It cost $70 million but ultimately earned just over $31 million in receipts, making it a big flop. Bird went on to blame the situation on Warner Bros., saying that the studio “refusing to give [the picture] a release date… made it impossible to get awareness for the film going in time.” Still, The Iron Giant’s timeless tale of a boy and his robot has received considerable plaudits from critics. In fact, its Rotten Tomatoes score is a highly impressive 96 percent.
45 Years (2015)
In a review for The Guardian, Mark Kermode lauded 45 Years as “rather extraordinary.” The critic also commended leads Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling for their “superbly nuanced performances” as a seemingly content married couple who learn that the body of the husband’s ex-girlfriend has been discovered in the Alps. It appears that the Academy enjoyed Rampling’s work in Andrew Heigh’s romantic drama, too, as the veteran actress earned an Oscar nomination for her part in the film; and 45 Years itself received a nod in the Outstanding British Film category at the 2016 British Academy Film Awards. The short story on which the movie is based was, interestingly, actually inspired by a real-life event. But in that case, it was reportedly a mountaineer in France whose frozen and perfectly preserved body was found some 70 years after he had gone missing.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind tells the story of Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary, whose everyday life starts to go awry after he witnesses visiting aliens. The classic sci-fi is also arguably a gentler, more uplifting movie than others being produced within the same genre today. But that’s not to say it was an easy film to bring to fruition. Shooting suffered from several delays, for starters. Moreover, Close Encounters’ budget sky-rocketed from $10 million to $20 million, with many at the time believing that the huge outlays on both the production and its promotion could bankrupt Columbia Pictures. That being said, the finished film excelled both critically and commercially, picking up no fewer than eight Oscar nominations. Two other versions of the movie were also unveiled after its initial 1977 release: a “Special Edition” in 1980 and a “Collector’s Edition” in 1998.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
A few eyebrows may have shot up when Mike Nichols picked Elizabeth Taylor to portray Martha in the big-screen version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? After all, the then-32-year-old Taylor had won an Oscar just a few years earlier for playing “the most desirable woman in town” in Butterfield 8. It seemed unlikely, then, that the actress could pull off portraying a dowdy, bitter 50-something struggling with an unhappy marriage. Yet Taylor rose to the challenge by, among other things, reportedly gaining more than 20 pounds for the part; she also sported an unflattering wig on screen. And the result? The movie legend took home her second Oscar – one of four that the drama won on the night. In fact, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? earned an astounding 13 Academy Award nominations, including one for Taylor’s on- and off-screen husband, Richard Burton.
Released at a time when audiences didn’t appear to be overly interested in Westerns, Unforgiven seemingly defied the odds to become a hit with both critics and the paying public. But then this is not a movie that revels in the old clichés of the Western; there are no high-noon duels to be seen here, for example. Instead, Clint Eastwood’s film delves into the dark heart of what it really means to kill. Eastwood himself takes the starring role as Bill Munny, a hog farmer forced to confront his previous murderous ways. And, as many will remember, this marked the actor’s return to the genre that had initially made his name. Eastwood had, in fact, read the script for Unforgiven some ten years prior to production; he’d simply shelved it so that he could “do some other things first.”
It’s an interesting fact that 1975 classic Jaws has been credited with creating the cultural phenomenon that is the summer blockbuster. You see, the movie made big bucks during a season in which studios traditionally used to offload anticipated flops. Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing throughout the iconic thriller’s production. And star Richard Dreyfuss certainly made that clear when he said of Jaws’ shooting process, “We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark.” Nor did it help that the making of the movie was plagued by technical hiccups and a ballooning budget. Nevertheless, the finished product was, in the words of Daily Variety, “an artistic and commercial smash.” Jaws also took home three Academy Awards and helped put director Steven Spielberg on the path to becoming the industry powerhouse that he is today.
The Terminator (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently only has 17 lines in total in The Terminator; yet even so, his performance in the film is so iconic that it made him a star anyway. It didn’t hurt, either, that one of those snippets of dialogue is the often-quoted “I’ll be back.” But if Schwarzenegger had had his way back when they were shooting the action flick, that classic quip would have been replaced with the not quite so thrilling “I will be back.” Thankfully for fans everywhere, then, director James Cameron convinced the musclebound actor to leave the line alone, and movie history was made as a result. In this first film of the Terminator franchise, Schwarzenegger’s indefatigable T-800 is sent back through time to rid the world of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the savior of humankind.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coen Brothers’ multi-award-winning No Country for Old Men is memorable for being a great film, of course; however, it’s also known for the haircut worn by one of its stars; yes, that freaky bowl cut sported by Javier Bardem’s deadly Anton Chigurh. And yet in 2007 Bardem told the Los Angeles Times that the ’do actually helped inspire the performance that ultimately earned him an Oscar. “You don’t have to act weird if you have that weird haircut,” he said. Of course, though, No Country for Old Men – based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel – is about much more than the hair. During the movie’s tense 122-minute running time, Chigurh goes on a murderous rampage in pursuit of a bag of cash. But along the way, this force of evil comes up against Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), and their fates become forever entwined.
The Pianist (2002)
In 2017 actor Adrien Brody confessed that making The Pianist had plummeted him into a year-long period of deep despair. “It wasn’t just a depression; it was a mourning,” he added to reporters at the Locarno Film Festival. “I was very disturbed by what I embraced [in making that film] and of the awareness that it opened up in me.” Brody was talking about the movie’s depiction of the Holocaust – the horrors of which protagonist Władysław Szpilman is seen attempting to endure on screen. The real Szpilman also penned the memoir on which The Pianist is based, although he sadly passed away before seeing his book adapted for the big screen. Meanwhile, Brody was awarded the 2003 Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the titular musician; and the film itself scooped two further Academy Awards.
The Truman Show (1998)
In 2018 Laura Linney spoke to Vanity Fair about the experience of shooting The Truman Show. “We would laugh about how unrealistic some of it seemed,” she said in the interview. But even as the years have passed, Peter Weir’s dramedy about the unwitting star of a reality show – the titular Truman, played by Jim Carrey – is seemingly more prophetic than ever. According to Vox, there were, after all, some 750 reality television programs available on cable in 2015. And, indeed, the President of the United States himself is arguably a former reality star. So Linney, for one, feels that the theme of the critically acclaimed picture has not been heeded. “The Truman Show is a very foreboding, dark movie – and, unfortunately, our world had gone even way beyond that,” she explained to Vanity Fair.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman took much of the praise – and most of the awards – for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind upon its initial release. However, stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and director Michel Gondry also deserve credit for their roles in creating a film that was voted by a 2016 BBC poll of critics as the sixth best movie made in the 21st century. What’s it all about? Well, the sci-fi-tinged romance sees Carrey’s Joel agreeing to have Winslet’s Clementine literally deleted from his memory – only to ultimately change his mind about the procedure. The premise is somewhat out there, then – and apparently it did initially make the studio a little uncomfortable. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, though, the movie went ahead anyway.
Song of the Sea (2014)
In 2009 director Tomm Moore saw his film The Secret of Kells released to critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination. So what better way to follow that up than produce another animated movie to yet more praise and a second hat tip from the Academy? The feature in question is Song of the Sea – a fantasy that follows a mute girl who, along with her brother, embarks on a quest to save a mythical land. Having taken inspiration from the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Moore kept this adventure story hand-drawn and personal; the director’s son even inspired one of the main characters. Hopefully, then, Moore’s boy can be proud of a movie that Variety called a “treasure” and The Boston Globe labeled “aesthetically breathtaking.”
The Hurt Locker (2008)
During her acceptance speech for the 2010 Best Director Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow described receiving the award as “the moment of a lifetime.” The win had significance beyond that felt by Bigelow, too, as it made her the first female filmmaker ever to have been honored in this way by the Academy. Nor was this the only prize that Bigelow’s movie The Hurt Locker took home on the night, for the war picture scooped a further five Oscars, including the gongs for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps inevitably, then, the critical reaction to the film was glowing as well; in a 2009 analysis for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert even deemed the drama “very nearly flawless.” And that’s all despite the often-weighty themes explored by The Hurt Locker, which tells the story of bomb disposal expert William James as he contends with the dangers of the Iraq War.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs remains the only horror movie to have taken home an Academy Award for Best Picture. And Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster were also each awarded Oscars for their turns in the 1991 chiller. However, the film would likely have been very different if Jonathan Demme had managed to convince his first choice for the iconic role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The director had, you see, initially asked Sean Connery to portray the flesh-eating killer – a perhaps bizarre move in hindsight. After all, thanks to Hopkins’ scene-stealing performance, it’s now difficult to conceive of anyone else in the part. Meanwhile, the critical response to The Silence of the Lambs was glowing, with The Boston Globe lauding it as “stylish, intelligent… and stolen by a suave monster you’ll never forget.” The movie, of course, centers on an FBI rookie’s attempt to catch elusive serial murderer Buffalo Bill.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Legend has it that Tennessee Williams was far from happy with Hollywood’s version of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. “This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!” he reportedly once told people standing in line to purchase tickets for the adaptation. Yet the reason for Williams’ dismay was neither the casting nor the film’s director – MGM veteran Richard Brooks. His feeling instead stemmed from a movie censorship code that necessitated the source material being toned down for ’50s audiences. Fortunately, at least, the Academy was far more sporting than the playwright in its appraisal of the movie. Indeed, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof earned six Oscar nods, including one each for Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. The drama follows a former football star as he repels the advances of his frustrated spouse while attempting to get closer to his dying father.
The African Queen (1951)
The American Film Institute currently rates The African Queen as the 65th best American movie ever made. It seems, then, that John Huston’s romantic drama has stood the test of time since its release in 1951. And yet that doesn’t mean The African Queen was slated back in the ’50s; on the contrary, a contemporary review in The Hollywood Reporter called the film “top-flight entertainment, delightful, different [and] always interesting.” That same critic also praised the performances of leads Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart as, respectively, missionary Rose Sayer and riverboat captain Charlie Allnut, who attempt to ambush a German boat during WWI. Both Hepburn and Bogart received Oscar nods for the movie, with Bogart emerging victorious. The production was reportedly so perilous, though, that the pair were probably just happy to make it out unscathed.
The Dark Knight (2008)
At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, director Christopher Nolan revealed that he had approached The Dark Knight as being more of a dark thriller than a typical superhero flick. “The Joker was a terrorist, an agent of chaos let loose,” Nolan added. And Barack Obama apparently has a similar take on Heath Ledger’s character, since the former president is said to have once used the villain’s actions in the film to describe ISIS. “The Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIS is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire,” The Atlantic reported Obama as having explained. But regardless of what audiences read into The Dark Knight – which also features Christian Bale’s Batman – it’s fair to say that the movie proved a hit. As of February 2019, in fact, it stands as the 37th highest-grossing picture of all time.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Thanks to The Wild Bunch’s graphic content, there were certainly a few eyebrows raised when the Western hit theaters. In fact, as Roger Ebert reminisced in 2002, Sam Peckinpah’s epic was “one of the most controversial films of its time – praised and condemned with equal vehemence.” Yet the William Holden-led feature – which portrays a gang of men seeking to relive their outlaw pasts – ultimately received two Oscar nods as well as an award from the National Society of Film Critics. The Wild Bunch has evidently stood the test of time, too, given its place in the American Film Institute’s 2008 list of the top ten greatest ever Westerns. And Hollywood execs clearly believe there’s still mileage in the movie, since a Mel Gibson-directed remake is upcoming.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Two Towers – the second part of Peter Jackson’s ambitious Lord of the Rings series – memorably packs in even more nail-biting action than its predecessor. And thanks to the fantasy film’s climactic Battle of Helm’s Deep – which pitches the evil Uruk-hai and other Orcs against the movie’s band of heroes and their Rohirrim allies – Jackson can boast of having produced arguably one of the most memorable war scenes ever to hit the big screen. Yet filming this intricate piece of cinema certainly wasn’t without its challenges. In fact, in 2002 Legolas actor Orlando Bloom told Syfy Wire that the grueling 120-day shoot “broke” most of the cast. “It was physically very demanding,” Bloom recalled. “We were filming it on a quarry, so just the uneven ground was a challenge.” Nevertheless, worldwide box-office takings of $926 million surely made the cast’s blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.
Spotlight focuses on the real-life uncovering of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Boston. And even though Tom McCarthy’s drama – which stars Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams – largely steers clear of grandstanding character speeches or against-the-clock chase sequences, its narrative skill saw it quietly scoop the Best Picture award at the 2016 Oscars. Critics and audiences have been almost universal in their acclaim, too, as evidenced by the movie’s high ratings on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Possibly more surprising, though, was the response from the church itself. In October 2015 Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley was prompted by the release of Spotlight to speak plainly about what had come to light within the Archdiocese of Boston. “The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the Church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself,” he said in a statement.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
After an ambitious production that took several years and many millions of dollars, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring became the first of three movies that see Elijah Wood’s Frodo Baggins attempt to protect Middle-earth by finding and annihilating the One Ring. And while you may have to go elsewhere to finish the story – sequels The Two Towers and The Return of the King are not currently on Netflix – you could hardly hope for a better film to welcome you into this fantastical world. There’s plenty of adventure and groundbreaking action to enjoy in Peter Jackson’s epic, after all, not to mention note-perfect performances from its assembled cast. Plus, the movie appears to be continuing to resonate with audiences; at present, it’s the 11th highest-rated film on IMDb.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
In 2008 Roger Ebert opined, “The physical presence of Paul Newman is the reason [Cool Hand Luke] works: the smile, the innocent blue eyes, the lack of strutting.” It may also have helped that Newman was game when it came to the Stuart Rosenberg drama’s famous egg-eating scene – although he actually only consumed around eight samples of the foodstuff rather than the 50 that his character manages to get down his neck. Still, whatever je ne sais quoi the actor brought to the role of maverick prisoner Lucas Jackson, it certainly seems to have impressed the Academy, which duly rewarded Newman with an Oscar nod for Best Actor. Co-star George Kennedy, meanwhile, brought home the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of chain gang veteran Dragline. And Cool Hand Luke’s all-round excellence is summed up, too, by its 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
In L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson delivered a movie of the kind rarely seen coming out of a major studio. The director’s noir-steeped murder mystery is big, dark and complex, after all; and its leading men were relatively small names at the time, too. Nor was it easy to get L.A. Confidential to the big screen in the first place; it took two years just to get the script alone right. And even then, Hanson still had to sell the money people on the production and cast members, such as the then-obscure Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. It all came together in the end, though, and what resulted is a movie that The New York Times has described as “brilliantly adapted” and “dazzling.” L.A. Confidential also scooped two Oscars and in 2015 became part of the National Film Registry.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In its critics’ consensus on Pan’s Labyrinth, Rotten Tomatoes labels the movie “Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups” – and there’s certainly some aptness to this description. After all, Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 release tells a haunting tale in which the fantastical and the mundane intertwine – much like what transpires in the children’s classic. Here, however, protagonist Ofelia ultimately finds herself not in the company of the Hatter and co but, rather, in an underground maze populated by intriguing beasts. There’s a subversive side to del Toro’s twisted fable, too. Indeed, as the director told The Guardian in 2006, “I wanted to represent political power within the creatures.” Yet whatever the inspiration behind Pan’s Labyrinth, the film has managed to enchant critics, win awards – including a trio of Oscars – and excel at the box office. On the latter score, the drama is the fifth highest-grossing foreign-language movie in the U.S., in fact.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Thanks to the setbacks that famously plagued the making of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s movie took years to bring together. For one thing, production was hampered by Marlon Brando reportedly not having memorized his script parts before shooting began. Then there was the extreme weather that demolished some of the sets – and that’s not even taking into account Martin Sheen’s near-deadly heart attack. Coppola also shot an inexplicably large amount of film – more than a million feet of the stuff, to be exact. So with all this in mind, it’s almost incredible that audiences ever got to see the Vietnam war epic. Then again, given that Apocalypse Now ultimately picked up eight Oscar nominations and the Palme d’Or, perhaps that agonizingly protracted development period was worth it after all.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
As the final film in the Lord of the Rings screen trilogy, The Return of the King had lofty expectations to meet. Fortunately for fans everywhere, then, director Peter Jackson rose to the occasion by crafting arguably the best instalment yet. In the movie, the high-octane action of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is neatly balanced by a sense of emotional catharsis as Frodo’s quest to obliterate the One Ring epically climaxes. And judging by its jaw-dropping $1.1 billion worldwide box-office haul, The Return of the King was a hit with more than only Tolkien aficionados. The year after the picture’s release, the Academy then honored it with the Oscar for Best Picture – making the film the first in the fantasy genre ever to achieve the feat. Mind you, that award was just one of a record-equaling 11 presented to Jackson and his team on the night.
Touch of Evil (1958)
In a 2012 poll for Sight & Sound magazine, critics voted Touch of Evil as the 57th best movie ever made. However, Orson Welles’ film noir had a difficult time making it to the screen as the director had apparently intended. The 1958 version, you see, ran to just 95 minutes and was reportedly reworked at the request of the studio. Then a longer, 108-minute version was found and released in 1975, with this cut thought to more accurately reflect Welles’ original vision for the film. And yet in 1998 Walter Murch edited the movie again, taking his cue from a 58-page memo that Welles had written about the picture in the ’50s. Regardless of its history, though, Touch of Evil is today considered a classic – and it has certainly earned its place as one of the top films on Netflix right now.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
After the incredible success of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola had free rein for the sequel. So the acclaimed director set about making a gangster flick that “amplified” the narrative of the original film. And in fact, The Godfather Part II features two distinct stories: one following Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone as he navigates life as a mafia don; and another that tracks the rise of Robert De Niro’s Vito Corleone. George Lucas apparently wasn’t a fan of this dual approach, though, and according to Coppola himself, the Star Wars creator had advised him to “throw one [storyline] away.” However, Coppola persisted – and created a gripping movie that the Los Angeles Times would call “more daring than the original.” The Godfather Part II also became the very first sequel to take home the Oscar for Best Picture.
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather once topped our list of the very best movies on Netflix. That may not come as much of a surprise, though, given that Francis Ford Coppola’s classic has on various occasions been named as among the greatest movies of all time. The gangster film received praise upon its initial release, too, and went on to shatter a number of box-office records. It wasn’t always plain sailing when it came to making The Godfather, however. During shooting, for instance, Coppola reportedly believed that he was in line to be fired from the production and subsequently nearly suffered a nervous breakdown. Star Al Pacino’s performance was apparently also called into question. But in the end, The Godfather made cinematic history, and the picture’s cast and crew won three Oscars between them. Presumably those awards had nothing to do with an offer the Academy couldn’t refuse…