The 30 best original films to watch on Netflix, ranked
From ‘Private Life’ and ‘Always Be My Maybe’ to ‘El Camino’ and ‘Roma’, Ed Power picks the streaming service’s best original offerings
Having established itself as a power-house of binge TV, Netflix has more recently 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.
30. 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.
29. 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.
28. 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.
27. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
A quirky though ultimately quite dark indie movie about two misfits, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) 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.
26. Triple Frontier
This team-up heist movie stars Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnum and 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.
25. 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).
24. 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.
23. 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.
22. 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.
21. 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.
20. 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.
19. 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.
Magic realism comes to Netflix in this coming-of-age story set in Dakar, Senegal. Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is betrothed to a wealthy man but then falls in love with construction worker Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré). When he vanishes her world is tipped head-over-heels. In truth, the bare-bone plot is merely the chassis upon which director Mati Diop drapes a hallucinatory romance and mystery with elements of the supernatural.
17. 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.
16. 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.
15. The Fundamentals of Caring
Paul Rudd takes a break from Ant-Man to play the carer of teenager Trevor (Craig Roberts), who has muscular dystrophy. A heart-warming road movie ensues as they somehow end up crossing America in the company of flinty hitchhiker Dot (Selena Gomez). Rudd’s likability is dialled all the way up in a feel-good weepie sure to shred the heartstrings.
14. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
King of motion capture Andy Serkis ropes in some famous pals – Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett. Benedict Cumberbatch etc – for a fang-baring tilt at Rudyard Kipling. Shunted back because of Disney’s own “live action” Jungle Book remake, this one is far grittier – a children’s movie with enough tooth and claw not to feel like a fairytale.
13. 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.
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.
11. 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.
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.
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.
8. 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.
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?
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.
5. 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.
4. 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.
3. 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.
2. 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.
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.