Netflix films: 50 best original movies to watch, ranked

From ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘Malcolm & Marie’ to ‘Army of the Dead’ and ‘Roma’, Ed Power picks the streaming service’s best original offerings – and its worst

Monday 01 January 2024 21:10 GMT
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Netflix hits (clockwise from top right): ‘Malcolm & Marie’, ‘The Irishman’, ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘Extraction’
Netflix hits (clockwise from top right): ‘Malcolm & Marie’, ‘The Irishman’, ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘Extraction’ (Netflix)

Having initially established itself as a power-house of binge TV, in more recent years Netflix has turned its attention to movies.

But with dozens of Netflix original films to chose from, how to sort the gold from the feature-length dross?

To help you make sense of the service’s mind-boggling viewing options, here’s a countdown of the best original movies available to stream on Netflix UK.

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50. Rebecca

The ultimate hate-watch or game attempt at reinventing a classic thriller? Opinions are divided on Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel already immortalised by Hitchcock. Lily James and Armie Hammer – now a persona non-grata following reports about his private life – are the unlikely lovers from across the class divide, with Kristin Scott Thomas disapproving Mrs Danvers. Wheatley plays it straight and gothic Manderley estate isn’t nearly as creepy as it ought to be. Still, the film is a topic of conversation – and you wouldn’t want to feel left out, would you?

49. I Am Mother

This rickety-looking science fiction thriller delivers where it counts with a twisting, turning plot and several genuine surprises. In the far future, a maternal robot (voiced by Rose Byrne) raises a young woman (Clara Rugaard) as her daughter. But when an outsider (Hilary Swank) makes her way to their bunker, their perfect life is shattered forever.

48. Private Life

A bohemian middle-aged couple struggle to have a child. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are hilarious and poignant. And the pathos is piled on as twenty-something college drop-out Sadie (Kayli Carter) parachutes into their life. High jinks follow, though director Tamara Jenkins ensures the existential sadness that has become part of the protagonists daily life never quite fades.

‘Private Life’: hilarious and poignant
‘Private Life’: hilarious and poignant (Netflix)

47. High Flying Bird

Steven Soderbergh has become something of a Netflix regular, with his Meryl Streep-starring The Laundromat recently premiering on the service. This earlier movie is about a basketball agent (André Holland) in a game of skulduggery between players (mostly black and uneducated) and team owners (white and wealthy). It’s a great sports film and also a commentary on the racial and social schisms that divide America.

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46. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

A quirky though ultimately quite dark indie movie about two misfits, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey – recently seen in The Last of Us) and Tony (Elijah Wood), on the trail off a burglar who made off with a silver spoon belonging to Ruth’s grandmother. Whimsical on the surface, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore is in fact a meditation on what happens when you’ve had enough of life’s fundamental unfairness and lash out.

45. Triple Frontier

This team-up heist movie stars Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnum and future “internet daddy” Pedro Pascal as old marine corps buddies headed to South America for one final pay-day. It’s hugely flawed – but Affleck is convincing as a guy losing his way amidst divorce and middle age. And JC Chandor (Collateral) directs the action scenes with pizzaz. It comes close to being a great action flick for grown-ups before ultimately fizzling out.

44. A Futile and Stupid Gesture

Straight-to-video production values don’t do it any favours, but this biopic about the founder of American satirical magazine National Lampoon, Douglas Kenney (Will Forte), has its heart in the right place. It’s a by turns poignant and hilarious accent of Forte’s rise, his descent into drugs and infidelity – and his strained relationship with Lampoon co-founder Henry Beard (an unrecognisable Domhnall Gleeson).

43. Malcolm and Marie

Zendaya and John David Washington star as a glamorous couple working through their relationship issues in an empty apartment. The reason it’s empty is that the film was shot, by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, during lockdown. The two stars ooze charisma and, even if the script meanders, the film will surely have interest as a historical document: so this is what it was like to live through Covid.

John David Washington and Zendaya play glamorous couple at film’s centre
John David Washington and Zendaya play glamorous couple at film’s centre (Dominic Miller/Netflix)

42. Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder fans had only just recovered from his four-hour remix of Justice League when the bombastic director launched the next action-packed chapter of his career. Mixing heist movie and high-octane horror, Army of the Dead finds David Bautista leading a rag-tag team of underdogs on a suicide mission through a Vegas over-run with zombies.

Bautista may be the film’s star, but the real A-listers here are the rotting villains, which include a zombie king and queen and a reanimated tiger. Granted, Army of the Dead is a long way from perfect – the plot and dialogue are traditional Snyder muddles – but did we mention the zombie tiger?

41. The Guilty

This remake of a Danish thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 call operator experiencing the worst morning of his life. He takes a call from a young woman abducted by a man in a white van, who is driving her to an unknown location. That’s just the opening set-up for a film brimming with twists and featuring a jaw-clenching, full-throttle performance by Gyllenhaal.

40. Concrete Cowboy

Idris Elba puts in a powerhouse turn in this intense drama about a 15-year-old (Strangers Things’ Caleb McLaughlin) who discovers the world of urban cowboys when sent to live with his estranged father (Elba). It’s a gritty study of a father-son relationship – but also a window into the real-life Black horse-riding culture in north Philadelphia.

39. Project Power

Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in an unapologetically schlocky comic book movie about a street drug that imbues its users with superpowers. The catch is you don’t know what powers you receive until you pop a pill. The thrills are strictly of the B-pic variety yet everyone involved commits entirely.

38. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Charlie Kaufman waxes weird in this tale of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who travels with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). And then things turn dark and weird – as you’d expect from the creator of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

37. Velvet Buzzsaw

Critics trounced this stylised horror starring Jake Gyllenhaal are a vainglorious art critic. Certainly, as commentary on the vacuousness of the art world it’s a whole lot of stating the obvious. Yet enjoyed as a Argento-esque OTT romp, Velvet Buzzsaw is a delight, as director Dan Gilroy subjects his victims to a series of ever more absurdist and grisly ends.

36. Pieces of a Woman

Vanessa Kirby was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of a woman whose life teeters on the edge after a tragic pregnancy. Playing Kirby’s husband, Shia LaBeouf is every bit as ferocious, in a film that – if often difficult to watch – raises profound questions about life, happiness and the duties we owe to ourselves and to others.

Shia LeBeouf and Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby in ‘Pieces of a Woman’
Shia LeBeouf and Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby in ‘Pieces of a Woman’ (Netflix)

35. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

This would be higher on the list were it not for the fact it really isn’t a film. Best thought of as a two-hour Breaking Bad episode, it takes up the story of Jesse Pinkman after he’s fled the dying Walter White and driven into the blue yonder. The milieu is the familiar New Mexico underworld of Breaking Bad and its gentler prequel, Better Call Saul. BB fans will nonetheless relish a return, however brief, to the Vince Gilligan expanded universe. Plus all – yes ALL – your faves from the Ballad of Walter White are back for cameos.

34. The Old Guard

The greatest action movie star of our times, Charlize Theron heads the cast in this rip-roaring romp about a squad of mercenaries gifted/cursed with immortality who have served as guns for hire through history.

33. Gerald’s Game

With his Doctor Sleep adaptation now in cinemas, Mike Flanagan has established himself as the latter-day top dog off Stephen King retellings. He gave us a taste of what he was capable of via his gruelling adaptation of the 1992 King novel about a woman (Carla Gugino) who ends up bound to a bed when her husband dies during a sex game. Don’t try this at a home – or anyone else for that matter – kids.

32. The Devil All the Time

Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Sebastian Stan head the cast in a gothic melodrama about a Second World War veteran (Bill Skarsgård) haunted by his memories of the conflict upon returning to a new life in deepest Ohio. Holland is his tearaway son, while Pattinson terrifies as a corrupt preacher.

31. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s verbose retelling of the notoriously politicised prosecution of American civil rights protesters after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago is already tipped as an Oscar contender. A packed-to-the-brim cast includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Rubin, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton and, as villainous judge Julius Hoffman, an imperious Frank Langella.

30. The Incredible Jessica James

Former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams is a revelation as a romantically adrift young playwright who tries to come to terms with a break up by projecting blinding over-confidence. She strikes up an unlikely chemistry with Chris O’Dowd’s awkward everyman – with results that achieve a rarefied mix of funny and sweet.

29. Enola Homes

Millie Bobby Brown steps outside Stranger Things and joins forces with Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin. She plays the eponymous younger sister of Sherlock (Cavill) and Mycroft (Claflin) Holmes, with Helena Bonham Carter as her eccentric mother. The game is afoot when Eudoria (Bonham Carter) vanishes and Enola sets out to track her down. A 2022 sequel had loads of pizazz yet struggled to recaptured the charm of its predecessor.

‘Stranger Things’ star Millie Bobby Brown in ‘Enola Holmes’
‘Stranger Things’ star Millie Bobby Brown in ‘Enola Holmes’ (Legendary)

28. Bird Box

Sandra Bullock in a blindfold whispering to two terrified children might not sound like the stuff of blockbuster gold. Sci-fi horror Bird Box is certainly flawed. It also had the ill fortune to come out six months after the thematically adjacent A Quiet Place. Nonetheless, there’s an undeniable pulpy thrill to this tale of aliens that drive you mad on sight (hence the blind-folds). Keep an eye out, too, for a fantastic cameo from Tom Hollander.

27. Always Be My Maybe

Ali Wong and Randall Park play former childhood sweethearts from San Fransisco whose lives take very different paths after they consummate their friendship. She becomes a celebrity chef engaged to a dead-eyed property developer; he’s a home town schlub still living with his dad. Screwball antics ensue as their paths cross again. So far, so cliche. But there are enough surprises – and one hilarious cameo – to prevent Always Be My Maybe feeling hopelessly formulaic.

26. The Two Popes

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Price twinkle ecumenically in this two-hander about Pontiffs Benedict XVI (Hopkins) and Francis (Price) who are thrown together at a time of crisis for the Church. The two leads were nominated for Oscars, as was screenwriter Anthony McCarten, adapting his 2019 play of the same name.

25. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Netflix has become an unexpected champion of the humble romcom and this was the movie that established its reputation in the genre. Lana Condor plays a shy high-school student who writes pretend letters to her crushes. But when the missives are stolen and made public, she feels obliged to enter a fake relationship in order to preserve her dignity. All your favourite romcom tropes are ticked off – but with a knowingness that falls satisfyingly short of cynical.

24: The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s Oscar winning meta-Western stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a cruel farmer whose toxic masculinity – and hostility towards his sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) – conceals a secret that dare not speak its name. It screams of Academy Award bait – but nobody does this sort of fare better than Campion.

23. Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy puts in one of his best performances in years in this biopic about Blaxploitation comedian Rudy Ray Moore, whose potty-mouthed albums and movies in the mid Seventies were credited with helping invent hip hop. Moore’s “Dolemite” character was based on old Black homeless man he encountered in San Fransisco and caused both a sensation and a scandal at the time. Murphy brings this complex figure to life with an alternately hilarious and affecting turn.

Eddie Murphy brings a complex figure to life in ‘Dolemite Is My Name’
Eddie Murphy brings a complex figure to life in ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ (Francois Duhamel/Netflix)

22. Extraction

Chris Hemsworth puts to one side Thor’s hammer to play an Australian black ops mercenary in a kinetic Bangladesh-set thriller directed by former stunt-man Sam Hargrave (Hemsworth’s double in the Marvel films). It’s pedal-to-the-floor from the start and worth watching for a mid-point car-case Hargrave shot in a single take by strapping himself to the bonnet of a jeep.

21. Annihilation

Lovecraftian weirdness by the bucketful from director Alex Garland. Natalie Portman heads a team of researchers venturing into a quarantined swampland where the laws of nature have been rebuilt from the cellular level up. Mind-bending body horror, with echoes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

20. Beasts of No Nation

Cary Joji Fukunaga will shortly make his Bond debut with No Time To Die. But he was better known for directing original season of True Detective when his adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s Ghanian civil war novel was acquired by Netflix. It’s a nightmarish tale of child soldiers dehumanised by conflict, with Idris Elba chilling as the adult commander of the boy combatants.

19. Apostle

Netflix has been churning out serviceable horror movies for several years now. This Wicker Man updating by The Raid director Gareth Evans features the standard feral yokels, to which he brings his own innovation via oceans of gore. Dan Stevens is a naive outsider who, in 1905, travels to a remote Welsh island hoping to locate his vanished sister. He discovers a cult headed by Michael Sheen’s crazed preacherman, a whole lot of trouble and something terrible hiding in the dark.

18. The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut features a fantastic one-two performance from Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, portraying the same character at different stages of life. Colman is a solo holidaymaker in Greece who has a run-in with a family of loud Americans. She is drawn to a young mother (Dakota Johnson), whose struggles with parenthood cause Colman to revisit her own traumatised past.

Olivia Colman revisits a traumatisd past in ‘The Lost Daughter’
Olivia Colman revisits a traumatisd past in ‘The Lost Daughter’ (© 2021 Netflix, Inc.)

17. The Gray Man

The Russo Brothers $200m action juggernaut is Netflix’s most expensive film ever. It’s no masterpiece – though it the Russo have certainly given Netflix plenty of bang for its bucks. Ryan Gosling plays a CIA agent drawn into a deadly intrigue that spans Hong Kong, Turkey , Croatia and Vienna. It’s basically Netflix’s tilt at Mission Impossible and, if a bit generic, Gosling burns with low-key menace as chaos follows his every move.

16. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Del Toro received an Oscar nomination for his creepy take on the classic fairytale. The 1940 Disney adaptation was notoriously dark. But del Toro’s is no less unsettling, his tale of a wooden child (Gregory Mann) who longs to be human orbiting themes of grief and addiction. It wouldn’t be a del Toro movie without scary monsters – rest assured these are present and connect, too.

15. Da 5 Bloods

There is a heartbreaking cameo from the late Chadwick Boseman, who plays a US marine squad leader killed in Vietnam. In the present day, the four veterans (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Norm Lewis) who served under him return to the scene of the war to repatriate his remains. Lee has delivered a dizzying rumination on growing old and making peace with ghosts from the past. But the soldiers are African-American and so the Da 5 Bloods also interrogates, in the year of Black Lives Matter protests, America’s racial traumas.

14. Okja

With Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite winning the Palme d’Or, what better moment to revisit his brilliantly weird and charming morality fable from 2017. Co-written with John Ronson, this is a by turns heart-warming and chilling story of a young girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her friendship with the titular bio-engineered super-pig. It sounds, and frequently is, bonkers but Joon-ho plays with our heartstrings as if manipulating a Stradivarius, while Tilda Swinton is outstanding as an evil tech messiah masquerading as an environmentalist.

13. The Wonder

Filmed in an air-craft hanger in suburban Dublin, this period psychological drama from Sebastián Lelio poses deep questions about faith and identity. Ten years after Ireland’s Great Famine, an impoverished village is visited by a nurse who served in the Crimean War (Florence Pugh). She is there to investigate claims that a young girl has not eaten for four months while remaining in perfect health. What follows is a flensing exploration of festering secrets and intergenerational trauma.

12. Glass Onion : A Knives Out Mystery

Has an actor ever had more fun than Daniel Craig as scenery-chewing gentleman detective Benoit Blanc? He’s gleefully over-the-top in this Knives Out sequel that also stars Edward Norton as a ghastly tech mogul and which features both a deliciously tangled plot and a break-out performance from pop star Janelle Monae.

11. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson head the cast in Noah Baumbach’s comedy drama about worldly Manhattanites struggling with their lives of sophisticated privilege. Baumbach is on solid ground marshalling the inter-familial tension. But he also reminds us why he’s a master at locating universal truths within the self-involved lives of neurotic Americans.

10. Mudbound

An unflinching survey of race and politics in the Southern United States immediately before and after the Second World War. Carey Mulligan and Mary J Blige head the cast, while Dee Rees guides the story with tremendous tautness. Mudbound was expected to receive a clean sweep of Oscar nominations in 2017. In the end it received just four, in relatively minor categories. The first rumblings of Hollywood’s hostility towards streaming and its impact on cinema?

9. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

A poignant final bow from the late Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), who stars opposite a powerhouse Viola Davis. Boseman is trumpeter Levee Green while Davis is the eponymous blues singer Ma Rainey. The setting is a recording session in 1920s Chicago, though director George C Wolfe’s story soon expands to take in life, the universe and everything.

8. The Mitchells vs the Machines

Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller produced this whiz-bang animated caper, and their whip smart sensibility crackles through every scene. The machine uprising has begun, which is bad news for the Mitchell family as they’ve just set set out on a road trip across America to drop off their eldest daughter at university. Family comedy mingles hilariously with apocalyptic action scenes. And voicing the evil AI plotting humanity’s downfall, Olivia Colman proves she really can do everything.

7: The Dig

A costume drama with a human ache under all the ruffles and flat-caps, The Dig is based – more or less – on the true story of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial site in Suffolk on the eve of the Second World War. But it’s really about loneliness and human connections, with Ralph Fiennes excelling as stoic excavator Basil Brown and Carey Mulligan quietly burning a hole in the screen as wealthy widow, Edith Pretty.

6. Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler blazes like a diamond-drill in Josh and Benny Safdie’s sensory-rush drama about a jeweller and gambling addict trying to hold onto his sanity as his world comes crashing down. It’s an exhausting, sometimes overwhelming watch – but with Sandler as the audience’s lodestar, it’s a journey worth staying with.

Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in sensory-rush drama ‘Uncut Gems’
Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in sensory-rush drama ‘Uncut Gems’ (Netflix)

6. Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach draws on the breakdown of his marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh in this unflinching chronicling of a modern divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are compelling as a couple who wake one morning to discover they’ve fallen out of love, while Laura Dern deservedly won an Oscar as Johansson’s force-of-nature attorney.

5. The Other Side of the Wind

For a reminder how unhinged film-making became in the Seventies, buckle up and lose yourself in this posthumous restoration of a never-completed Orson Welles movie from the period. What would have been Welles’s swansong is a maniacal, meta meditation on art and fame, with John Huston playing a buccaneering director – in essence, a heightened composite of himself and Welles. There are also parts for Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper. Welles’s editor, Bob Murawski, together with Bogdanovich and Welles’s daughter Beatrice, assembled the cut from 100 hours of footage. It only occasionally makes sense – but, as an experience, it’s unforgettable.

4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

When Netflix asked the Coen brothers to make a binge-friendly TV series, Hollywood’s quirkiest siblings obviously went their own way. This anthology movie features six stories set amid the Coens’ deeply quirky and revisionist take on the Old West. The spirit of their classic O Brother, Where Art Thou? is tapped enthusiastically, with Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco and Tom Waits heading the starry cast.

3. The Irishman

Teaming up with De Niro, Pacino and Joe Pesci, Martin Scorsese suggested The Irishman might be the cinematic event of the decade. There is certainly lots to love in this generations-spanning tale of hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) and his relationship with union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and his own daughter (Anna Paquin). True, the film isn’t quite a classic at the level of Goodfellas. The de-aging technology employed to turn the cast into thirtysomething gangsters feels rubbery and unconvincing. And the 209-minute running time left many viewers suffering numb bum. But it’s still Scorsese doing mobsters and unmistakably the work of a director reaching for a big artistic statement.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front

Nominated for a sweep of Oscars and Baftas, Edward Berger’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 anti-war novel reimagines the horror of the trenches as a hauntingly beautiful nightmare. Ashen landscapes, spectral gunsmoke and primitive tanks that loom in the murk like apparitions from a HG Wells novel give All Quiet on the Western front an otherworldly punch as we follow a raw and idealistic enlistee (Felix Kammerer) into the hell of mechanised conflict.

1. Roma

The privileged Mexico City childhood of director Alfonso Cuarón inspired his affecting, quasi-autobiographical treatise on class, privilege and love. Yalitza Aparicio is the semi-invisible maid to a wealthy family, her life a story of small moments unfolding against the backdrop of political upheaval. Netflix was denied its Best Picture Oscar but Cuarón was an uncontroversial pick for Best Director at the 2018 awards.

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