The 25 Best Recent Movies on Netflix
If you want to catch up on great television, Netflix is a fantastic service. It has a ton of great options (here's the 15 best recent series on Netflix Instant) that will keep you occupied for months, if not years. The recent Netflix movie selection, however, often leaves something to be desired, particularly when it comes to more recent films. Netflix will often land three or four big movie titles each year, but the rest of their movie selection tends to be a lot of filler, and it's difficult to wade through it to find the best gems.
We here, however, like to keep a running list of the best, most recent movies on Netflix. Not just the movies that were recently released to the service, but movies that were released in theaters from the past three years. We update this page regularly, so feel free to check back if you're ever searching for a good recent release. At this point, we are only featuring films released in theaters during 2012 - 2016.
Updated October 1st, 2016
Zootopia (Watch Here) -- Sure to speak to kids and grown-ups alike, Zooptopia unfolds a poignant lesson about how prejudice can hurt people, but also how it can be overcome. And it does all this in a wonderfully fun film with big laughs, clever casting (did I mention Kristen Bell has a cameo as a sloth?), and delightful animation that boasts photo-real textures, telling physicality, and undeniable verve. And as a bonus: Zootopia sets up a charismatic critter partnership that could easily carry a thrilling and fun animated franchise I'd actually be happy to see.
The Imitation Game (Watch Here) -- The Imitation Game is, beyond all else, an ambitious movie. It tackles a huge number of Very Important Issues: World War II code breakers, secret government agencies, Soviet spies, scientific breakthroughs, social outcasts, possible Asperger's/autism, repressed homosexuality, oppression and persecution... there is no end to the grandness of this movie. And to its credit, the movie navigates all these issues surprisingly well. To do so, there's definitely a simplification, a glossing over, of the entire story. And what a story it is. Turing's life was a remarkable one, and it seems a crime to skip over or condense any part of it. But this is filmmaking, and that's the way it goes. Still, due to a quick pace and a spectacular cast, the whole thing works. It is as heartbreaking as it set out to be, with enough laughs to actually be a (very, very depressing) crowd-pleaser.
St. Vincent (Watch Here) -- A lot of things are being said about St. Vincent: that it's formulaic, it's been done, that it's schmaltzy, saccharine drivel. And while I can't tell you that those things aren't true, I will tell you that I don't care. Not one bit. I didn't care while I was watching the movie, genuinely laughing and also crying far more than I feel comfortable with in public, and I don't care now, looking back with the advantage of cynical hindsight. Despite all its shortcomings, St. Vincent manages to still be sweet (not saccharine, I'd argue), moving, and entirely engaging. All of that is due, of course, to Bill F*cking Murray.
Little Prince (Watch Here) -- Considering this French/Canadian movie was demoted from a US theatrical run to a Netflix release, I suspected The Little Prince might be some clunky substandard fare. Clunky, a bit, but in the lovable way of Terry Gilliam fairy tales, which chase down curious characters instead of getting too caught up in plot. Substandard? Far from it. Osborne integrates various animation aesthetics in the storytelling, making this fun film visually sumptuous. The animation used for the girl's world has soft edges, and muted colors, while that of the pilot's stories are vibrant hues, and characters folded as if animated origami. The novella's watercolor illustrations come to life on the pages the pilot sends into the girl's bedroom as carefully crafted airplanes. And as the Little Prince becomes more and more real to her, the animation evolves to something bright but more dimensional. It's richly designed, and gorgeous.
The Big Short (Watch Here) -- Based as it is on a non-fiction book by Moneyball author Michael Lewis, The Big Short is fairly inside baseballer-y (ba-doom-ch), with industry terms like "CDO," "synthetic CDO" and "tranches" thrown around willy-nilly. Thankfully, McKay (who co-wrote the script) leans into the fact that very few people watching this movie will know what the fuck is going on, obliterating the fourth wall at times so characters and celebrities on cameo duty can explain what the fuck a sub-prime mortgage is. It livens up a potentially dull subject, and it's also a gentle dig at how little your average person knows or even cares about the financial systems that ultimately rule their lives. "I know the phrase 'mortgage-backed security' makes your eyes glaze over, so here's Margot Robbie in a bathtub."
Adult Beginners (Watch Here) -- Aimless but utterly charming, Nick Kroll stars as Jake, a man in his mid-30s whose start-up goes belly-up and he is forced to move back home with his sister (Rose Byrne) to reset and ultimately find himself. The living arrangement, however, creates some friction when Jake finds out his sister's husband (Byrne's real-life partner, Bobby Cannavale) is sleeping around. Adult Beginners is modest, amusing, and a genuinely decent movie with a cast with chemistry to spare. It's the perfect for movie background watching. It also features a rarity in the career of Nick Kroll: A role in which he is not a douchebag.
Tangerine (Watch Here)-- On its surface, this LGBT dramedy sounds like it's bound to be chock-full of embarrassing backwards stereotypes. Set in Hollywood on Christmas Eve, it follows a pair of transgender sex workers, one who is hunting down her boyfriend/pimp over rumors he strayed while she served time, the other desperately seeking an audience for her cabaret show that night. Along the way, these broke bffs collide with eye-rolling cops, slur-spewing bro-dudes, and skeezy johns, including a cab driver with a complicated family life (to put it lightly). It sounds sordid, but writer/director Sean Baker's approach and his electric ensemble cast offer an unapologetic frankness and surprisingly jolly humor making for an unconventional holiday movie that's fascinating, funny and humane. Bonus: you can stream it on Netflix.--Kristy Puchko
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Beasts of No Nation
After awing critics and audiences with the moody marvel that was True Detective season one, director Cary Joji Fukunaga dove into the ambitious adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's harrowing novel about a young boy forced into the grim life of a child soldier. It's a topic that could easily have gone into soul-crushingly dark territory, but Fukunaga's sharp script threads humanity and hope throughout, leading the audience as it does the film's pint-sized protagonist played by mesmerizing newcomer Abraham Attah. His face spikes with pain and fear as his narration gives voice to this child lost in war and made plaything to a charismatic and cruel warlord. Idris Elba deftly channels his alarming charms into this vile villain, making for a purposefully jarring experience. As for Attah, his performance feels so effortless and natural, you might forget you're watching a narrative film as opposed to a documentary. Beasts of No Nation is brutal, beautiful and streaming on Netflix. Don't miss it.--Kristy Puchko
Europa Report (Watch Here) -- Europa Report is everything I want out of my hard science fiction. It takes the science seriously, grounds it within the constraints of the real world and then wraps those ideas around human drama. This is a slow movie, and if you're looking for space action or alien horror, this just isn't the film for you. And that's okay.
Welcome to Me (Watch Here) -- The story of such an imbalanced person is inherently fraught with dangers of caricaturization. But Wiig's Alice is a surprise-- she is delightful, yet brutally honest. These types of emotionally naive roles are usually innocently virginal, but Alice is complex and comical, though still realistically sexual, and very much an adult. Thanks to the weird darkly cartoonish version of humanity Wiig brings to the role-- and all her roles-- Alice is a person we want to spend 90 minutes getting to know. The material supporting her may not always warrant it-- it may wander and even fall apart entirely at its most crucial moments, but it's honestly hard to notice, given who's at the helm. Hopefully Wiig will graduate on to stronger scripts soon, but she positively kills it with everything she's given to work with in the meantime.
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Nightcrawler (Watch Here) -- Nightcrawler is a dark film, but it's not punishing or bleak. It's not the kind of movie you simply watch to appreciate for the themes and performances. It's also an entertaining and riveting thriller with a certain popcorn quality. Above all, however, it's Gyllenhaal's film, and he delivers another incredible performance in a string of incredible performances.
Beyond the Lights (Watch Here) -- Beyond The Lights takes a rather derivative, simplistic story and adds just enough freshness and intelligence (and music! The soundtrack is perfection) to make it rise to something far more interesting. It's built on a thoroughly conventional premise that in less skilled hands would be cause for eye-rolling, but under the capable, confident direction of Gina Prince-Bythewood, it flexes a little more muscle and becomes a picture that is far stronger and more enjoyable than the average hideously cheesy Nicholas Sparks garbage that we normally suffer through. It's a rare, welcome and much-needed departure from the genre, and was genuinely enjoyable to watch.
Fruitvale Station (Watch Here) -- There is a lot to recommend the film in some bold and interesting early scenes: it begins with a fine, realistic scene involving Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) arguing in bed: it articulates very well the dynamic between the two of them, between exasperation and tenderness, and lays out the film's themes of family and money, and how to be a good person. In our introduction to Oscar, he is a lively, combative presence with great reserves of charisma: he speaks fast, he is off-the-cuff and bright. A few more scenes -- including a lovely breakfast scene with the couple's daughter the next day -- add a few more assured brushstrokes to this picture . We gradually get a sense of the type of man Oscar is, through interactions with pretty much everyone he knows, in text messages he sends to everyone, phone calls, and encounters with strangers: the sense is of a conflicted, kind and generous man.
Life Partners (Watch Now) -- All of the praises that were deservedly showered on Bridesmaids should also be applied here. But Life Partners is so much more than a "new Bridesmaids," mostly because it has no interest in being that. Though that's what it will probably will be called, because while a strong female friendship is really the only connection, that's a rare enough element for it to stand out. What we really learned here is that Gillian Jacobs can carry the shit out of a movie. Leighton Meester is also fantastic, and the chemistry between the two is unbelievable (in just how absolutely believable it is). Adam Brody and the supporting cast-- Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Dover as Sasha's lesbian frenemies, and Kate McKinnon in one completely stolen scene-- round out a fully lived-in connected web. But Jacobs is something else.
Babadook (Watch Here) -- The Babadook is writer-director Jennifer Kent's first feature-length film. And that's absolutely insane. Her skill for film language, establishing set geography, developing tension, and creating complex characters is far beyond what you'd expect from a first-timer. The Babadook is damn-near perfect. And horror connoisseurs better take notice.
How to Train Your Dragon (Watch Here) -- How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a rare followup that not only lives up to the hype of the first movie but also manages, somehow, to surpass all expectations. The opening sequence will swiftly get you up to speed if you missed (or forgot what happened during) all of the events until now. The first film was a thrill-seeking ride about the Viking village Berk and how humans stopped hunting dragons and developed symbiotic relationships with these dangerous creatures. The sequel is just as captivating, except everything is king-sized instead of simply fun-sized. The animation is better. The first movie's visuals were uneven after suffering from some production blips, but the sequel is visually flawless.
Minions (Watch Here) -- Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm have a quirky chemistry as married super villains Scarlett and Herb Overkill. Her frantic energy channels into an increasingly harried, and delightfully feminine super villain, whose dresses pack more weapons than Iron Man's suit. The animators have a lot of fun with her dangerous couture, and so will you. There's also a brief appearance by a wacky family that boasts voice work by some of my personal favorites, Michael Keaton and Allison Janney. Jennifer Saunders pops in to lend her voice to a playful take on Queen Elizabeth II. And the B-plot, which follows those Minions left behind as they struggle through their ennui, is surprisingly funny. There's just something about maudlin Minions attempting apathetic cheer squad routines.
Chef (Watch Here) -- Jon Favreau has had a bit of a bumpy ride, hasn't he? After a bangarang career launch, complete with the catchiest catchphrases of the 90s, he found his way into the blockbustery people-pleasing business. And he's taken a lot of sh*t for that. The thing is, as a writer, director, and actor, Favreau has put out a lot of great work. But for every Swingers, there's a Couples Retreat. For every Iron Man, there's a Cowboys and Aliens. Even his best work these days is in the form of huge tentpole films. In watching those movies, you get absolutely no clue of who he is. He may have produced The Avengers, but his indie street cred of the '90s is long gone. That loss of artistry -- the accusations that Favreau has sold out and gotten soft (figuratively and physically) -- is the driving force behind Chef. The movie is clearly an autobiographical allegory, with Favreau casting himself as his own Mary Sue in the form of Carl Casper.
The Double -- For The Double, Richard Ayoade has invented a fascinating world. Somewhere between our own reality and a dystopian future, it feels like The Twilight Zone's version of what 2014 would look like. It's bleak and dark and vaguely Eastern European. The immediate influences abound. It's like David Lynch and Orson Welles threw a party for Charlie Chaplin. Dostoevsky was invited, naturally, since the movie is based on a novella of his, and he brought along Jean-Pierre Jeunet as his plus one. Still, though the film may immediately remind you of ten different things, it is spectacularly unique.
Short Term 12 (Watch Here) -- Brie Larson's Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it has the potential to be the best independent film of 2013. It's an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. Despite the subject material, however, Short Term 12 is not a maudlin film. It is peopled with determined and hopeful characters, and there's not an ounce of self-pity coursing through the narrative. It's my favorite kind of film: Good people who want to do good things, and nothing but kindness, humor, and warmth seep out of every frame.
Blue is the Warmest Color (Watch Here) -- At just under three hours, the French film Blue is the Warmest Color would seem, from the outside looking in, to be a journey into the sleepy realms of slow-cooked cinema. Not the case! Offering a surprising lightness (surprising because it's oftentimes melancholy), the film makes the time investment here well worth it, a finer relationship film you're unlikely to see all year.
Drinking Buddies (Watch Here) -- Drinking Buddies, starring Jake Johnson, is a screenwriters' nightmare, the complete opposite of the major studio screenplay-by-committee schemes. There was no script for Drinking Buddies. In fact, much of the cast -- which also includes the beautiful and crass Olivia Wilde, the charming and winsome Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston -- were only discussing the idea of doing the movie when the director, Joe Swanberg, shot them an email asked them to show up for filming a few days later. Credit the insane chemistry of the actors, their deft improvisational skills, a smart, original outline from Swanberg, and the inability of the actors to overthink the process for Drinking Buddies' ability to transcend not only conventional romantic comedy tropes but most mumblecore offerings and capture something real, relatable, and genuine. It is a magnificent film.
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Happy Christmas (Watch Here) -- Joe Swanberg's follow-up to Drinking Buddies is aimless at times, and often represents what people dislike about mumblecore, but the cast -- led by Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey -- keeps things light, enjoyable, and entertaining for the film's short duration.
Frank (Watch Here) It's a bizarre movie, mostly about how these oddball musicians bond together over their esoteric, unlistenable pop music. Frank is not without its merit. It's brimming with neat ideas and it is populated with absurdly funny moments, and the performances are good (especially Fassbender, who emotes more from beneath a mask than 80 percent of Hollywood actors). The film itself, however, remains defiantly impenetrable.
Django Unchained (Watch Here) -- uentin Tarantino's Django Unchained works on two levels. The surface level is that of a simple revenge flick, of the wronged taking up arms in a mission of retribution. From that point of view, it's a movie that has been made a hundred times, usually with Clint Eastwood squinting into the sun as he quick draws. The movie works well in that genre. Played straight, it stands with the best of Western vengeance tales, spiced with Tarantino trademarks of ultraviolence, perfect music, and darkly humorous asides. But the fact that this particular version of the Man with No Name is a former slave cannot be overlooked. The implications of that, and the focus of the story on slavery itself, construct the film's second level and elevate it from effective genre film into something more.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Watch Here) -- Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not a love story. It's a meditation on life and on what it is we value. Do we cling to our routines even as we realize the pointlessness of it all, if only because it's those routines that we value? Do we throw caution to the wind, let our Ids run wild, and soak up as much hedonistic experience as possible before we expire? Or do we seek out comfort, someone with whom we can connect and bond as the lights dim on the survival of mankind. I know what I'd want, if the lights were about to go out on humanity, and Seeking a Friend offers the perfect vehicle for your very thoughts to wonder about that question.
Silver Linings Playbook (Watch Here) -- Silver Linings Playbook carefully walks the line between reminding us of our own relentless obsessions and distancing us enough from the action to see the crazy that is ever so evident before us. A character drama for people who can handle being spoken to as adults, with a hefty dose of honesty.
Quartet (Watch Here) -- Quartet, on the surface, seems easy to dismiss as a film that your mum or grandma would love. Just a hint of the naughty, filled with familiar old faces and having to do with retired opera singers! Director Dustin Hoffman clearly understands how to tell a story through both word and visuals, and never attempts to show off, instead leading the audience and characters through a well-rounded journey. Quartet may not be flashy, but it's pretty damn delightful to watch.
Dope -- Dope is a smart, funny, inventive look at a coming-of-age tale, framed within a caper flick. It's wild and weird and goofy, led by Malcolm in an unusually quiet, nuanced, steady tone regardless of the hijinks on the screen (though he does have his moments of craziness). It's clearly a labor of love, and the project is backed by a variety of big names -- producers and executive producers include Forrest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and Sean Combs. It's an ambitious, rambunctious, wildly inconsistent and often messy film that needs some parts trimmed and others expanded. But it doesn't matter. Dope has enough wonder and brilliance, ambition and humor, and perhaps most of all love in it to easily outweigh its flaws.