The Best Recent Movies on Netflix (2015-2018)
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 2015 - 2018.
Updated December 1st, 2018
The Lobster (Avail. Dec. 2nd) — The Lobster is bitingly funny: Olivia Colman, as the director of the centre David stays in, is wickedly comical as a prim, controlling despot; and to see Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly get into ineffectual fisticuffs after Whishaw ridicules Reilly’s decision to become a parrot (“You’ve got a lisp and you picked the one animal that talks”), is to know cinema comedy heaven. The film’s wit often exists on a very visceral, disturbing level: I’m afraid to say I laughed at Colin Farrell kicking a little girl in the shin, and at one character calmly sipping tea while another lies nearby dying in agony. The film is merciless in pointing out our despair to get along, to succeed, to fit into society which requires huge acts of cruelty in this universe. In this world, characters all speak in a kind of staccato delivery, stating their intentions with no irony or shame. At one point Lea Seydoux asks Farrell where’s he been she’s been looking for him everywhere and he replies in a winningly matter-of-fact voice, “I was masturbating behind a tree.” She registers this information with scarcely the flicker of an eyelash.
Green Room (Watch Here) — You know that feeling when someone grabs you by the shirt, right at your breastbone, and twists. They’ve made a handle. They’ve got you. You feel unnerved by the lack of control you now possess. Now, imagine them twisting the shirt tighter and tighter. Its creases catch your skin and pinch. Your chest tightens. Your breath halts in fear. You are helpless in your fate. This is the sensation of watching Green Room.
Black Panther (Watch Here)— It’s not amazing “for a superhero movie” and it’s not amazing “for a black movie” or any of that shit. It’s amazing because it’s a beautiful, meticulously created, gorgeously shot, incredibly detailed, terrifically acted, brilliantly directed movie. It’s funny and exciting and wondrous to look at. And that it is all of those things, with a virtually all-black cast save for Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue and Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett Ross, and that is an achievement because no one has ever given this type of movie a chance to even exist before. Never mind to completely cut loose. Marvel appears to have given director Ryan Coogler full rein to create a vision of his own, and that vision is utterly breathtaking.
The Witch (Watch Here) — There is no levity in The Witch. You will not laugh. You might pee yourself a little. The jump scare, aka the favored tool of horror directors who don’t actually know what they’re doing, is used sparingly and well—most of the horror comes less from ZOMG THERE WAS A LOUD NOISE than the real-world fears of English families who packed up their belongings to move out to Bumfuck, Nowhere, aka colonial America.
Like Father (Watch Here) — Like Father is basically the “We Are Family” of Netflix movies, and that’s not at all meant to be a dis. It’s a general audiences crowd-pleaser, a father-daughter comedy wrapped in a romantic-comedy formula and belted out to absolute perfection by Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammar. There is not an original moment in the entire film, but it hits all the right beats and goes down easy, like a cold PBR on a hot summer day. Like Set It Up, it is quintessentially Netflix, the perfect movie to watch on your laptop on a lazy Saturday night. It will not change your life, but it will entertain and charm you for a couple of hours without insulting your intelligence.
Set It Up (Watch Here) — Netflix’s latest, Set It Up, is the quintessential Netflix comedy. It’s the perfect movie to watch on your laptop while lying in bed, and that is not by any means an insult. Granted, it’s a movie that I would’ve been disappointed in if I’d spent money to watch it on the big screen, but on Netflix? I kind of loved it, even if it is as cookie-cutter a rom-com as can be.
Wind River (Watch Here) — Filmmaker Taylor Sheridan’s movie has flaws. But what he’s done with Sicario and Hell or High Water is established himself as a writer willing to explore the fringes of certain communities that already don’t get much attention, and he does that again — and well — in Wind River, his second directorial effort. There are bursts of violence in this film that are unexpected and haunting. A supporting turn from Jon Bernthal is astonishingly heart-breaking. Plus it acknowledges some of the many ways America—from its corporations to its government to its law enforcement—has brutalized and objectified and ignored Native Americans, over and over again. His inclusion of details of modern Native American life highlight how traditional culture can adapt and warp over time, yet avoids romanticizing the Native American in a simplistic, “honorable” way (as Hostiles frustratingly does). Wind River certainly isn’t perfect, but it raises questions that demand answers — none of which are easy.
Thor Ragnarok (Watch Here) — It’s unconventional — it changes the way we look at the characters. As a result, it feels fresh and exciting again. Obviously, this is the best Thor film to-date, with the best depiction of the character. But it also easily breaks into the top five in the MCU pantheon. It’s the funniest of them all, even more than Guardians, and the action is breathtaking and nutty and set to a killer soundtrack, and it never lets off the gas. I felt like I needed a smoke afterwards, like instead of sitting in a dark theater I was sitting in a bed with the sheets ripped in half and the pillows hurled across the room. It’s just that satisfying.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Arrives June 26th) — It’s natural to compare the film to Empire, that dark and tragic middle chapter of the original trilogy. And there is something to it: the middle chapter of a trilogy cannot help but end with the heroes on the ropes on some level, else what is the third act for? But it manages to add its own flavor to that. This is not a film of tragedy but a film of hope. It channels that core conceit of Rogue One and makes it its own. Hope is what rebellions are made of after all. Most of all it is a film about symbols though, about how we need to see legends walking among us to become greater than we are. And about how the bottom drops out of our stomach in awe when new legends are made before our eyes.
Coco (Watch Here)— Coco does feel a little less laugh-out-loud funny than other “Pixar” films, but those are slight deterrents from what is another stellar Pixar offering in Coco, a film that honors Mexican cultural traditions while showing the beauty of home.
Related: Ranking the Best Netflix Original Series
Happy Anniversary (Watch Here)— Here’s an idea we don’t see very often: A romantic-reevaluation comedy. We’ve seen hundreds of meet-cute rom-coms; we’ve seen romantic comedies that track the entire lifespan of a relationship; and we’ve seen numerous movies about the end of a relationship, but Happy Anniversary is a, “Hey! Should we still be together?” comedy. It is not a life-altering rom-com, but it’s genuine and honest and funny and teases out a lot of truths confronting relationships in their middle years, which gives it a leg up and some of the disappointing original Netflix movies, of late. It is precisely the kind of romcom that doesn’t get made anymore without the streaming service, and well worth it as a Saturday night date movie for a couple who has spent way too many Saturday nights watching Netflix movies.
6 Balloons (Watch Here) — It’s a searing depiction of an addicted father and his co-dependent sister, and there’s something about seeing Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobsen in those roles that makes it so much more relatable. They’re like people we know. A young father. A woman who just wants to give her boyfriend a party. We have no idea how Seth ended up in the situation he is in, but it hardly matters. It really could happen to almost anyone. Addiction is an ugly, painful, horrifying thing that takes sons away from mothers, fathers away from daughters. Six Balloons personalizes that, and it makes that story our own, or at least one that could be our own. It’s a powerful, restrained, and weirdly beautiful film about addiction, about co-dependence, about siblings, and about family, and about that one night when a sister had to buy her brother heroin so that he wouldn’t die.
47 Meters Down (Watch Here) — The waiting was killing me. I remember no music. I remember no sounds. I remember only floating in the sustained, unforgiving fear of that moment, closing my eyes in hopes a musical sting would save me the scare. But when I gave up on audio cues and dared to peek over my notebook, that’s when the Great White emerged, jaws wide rushing toward the camera, toward the sister, toward me! I screamed so loud I felt my chest burn inside me. I panted as the harried heroine dodged to safety, for now. I felt that acute embarrassment when you’ve unreservedly lost your cool in a critics’ screening, and can hear others giggling over your terror. I regret nothing. 47 Meters Down is uniquely terrifying, offering an authentic exploration of a nightmare scenario, treating sharks as keen predators, but not evil villains.
Mudbound (Watch Here) — An American masterpiece from filmmaker Dee Rees, the Netflix film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, has an evocative score from Tamar-Kali Brown, and boasts a fantastic ensemble with Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, and Carey Mulligan. It is a reminder of the brutality of American history, of the weight of generations of institutionalized bondage and familial racism, and of the possibility of love as survival. It is worthy of being discussed alongside The Grapes of Wrath and Giant and The Deer Hunter and Days of Heaven and other classics that analyze our relationship with the land and the promise of the American dream.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Watch Here) — Vol. 2 brings the whole damn band back together — Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers, and Gamora’s psychotic sister Nebula (Karen Gillian). There’s a host of other recognizable faces, some of them surprises, some not, but all of them contributing in some fashion to making another hilarious, fantastical, breathless adventure tale of intergalactic derring-do. Gunn is in prime form, easily guiding the audience through a story that’s equal parts action and comedy, and both parts are absolutely sublime. Baby Groot will be the highlight of the comedic aspect, with a couple of scenes literally making me laugh until I was having trouble breathing. Vol. 2 is funny as hell, playing off the idea of a group of madcap renegades perfectly. If the Fast and Furious franchise has you at times rolling your eyes at their slavering devotion to the concept of family, Guardians of the Galaxy is the salve for your cynical soul. It’s an homage to familial love, but it does so with all of the bitterness and bickering and rowdy, unruly weirdness that comes with a real family.
Gerald’s Game (Watch Here) — The secret of trauma is that there is only one trauma. And so whenever we confront horror again, we relive the old horrors in parallel. Every pain, every startling jolt, every surge of fear, and the same scenes play out in our mind’s eye. This is a story that understands that part of horror. And for all that horror, it is fundamentally a story of deeply earnest hope and optimism. Because the scars might never fade, but maybe there is hope that they won’t always be chains.
Raw (Watch Here) — Methodically paced, Ducournau’s film reveals a confidence all the more impressive in a first-time filmmaker. And Raw’s surreal atmosphere smudged in grime, sprinkled with fur, splashed with paint, and splattered in viscera makes it throb like a nightmare that follows you into your morning. There’s a wildness here that’s fierce and thrilling, building to one shocking reveal after another. Then comes a final beat so sharply funny and fucked up that it left this critic cackling over the end credits. And that’s its menacing magic. Biting and brilliant, Rawis a chilling tale with a wicked wit that’ll make dark hearts cackle
Carol (Watch Here) — Cate Blanchett plays the title character, Carol Aird, a woman going through divorce and a bitter custody battle with her husband. She becomes involved very quickly in a love affair with Therese (Mara Rooney) a young sales assistant and aspiring photographer. Blanchett and Mara do a close to miraculous job here, conveying through an unbelievable precision of gesture all their excitement, anxiety and repressed joy at the outset of this relationship. The scene in which they first meet and talk over Therese’s sales counter is a marvel of acting, each look exchanged between them building on the previous one, each quickly cast glance loaded with a metric tonne of emotion. They also succeed in creating a heady chemistry that grows with each scene, so that the film’s later stages have a thumping intensity that sort of grips and chokes you. Finally, the best part of the actors’ performances is their difference in tone: Rooney Mara plays Therese with a great deal of naturalism, showing her often on the brink of tears, always prey to her feelings of confusion, desire and guilt. Meanwhile Blanchett’s performance exists on a far more stylised level, presenting someone who is a prisoner of her own life, whose every day is a struggle to put a face on her feelings. This difference in registers lends the movie an added charge: the two women complement each other, and feed the spirit of the film itself.
The Founder (Watch Here) — What John Lee Hancock has crafted here is a positively blistering take on the rot at the center of the “American Dream.” The Founder starts off all wholesome and Leave it to Beaver. Ray Kroc (Keaton) travels around the country trying to convince drive-in restaurant owners to buy the milkshake mixtures he’s hawking. No one bites, except this random outfit in Santa Barbara that Kroc’s never heard of called McDonald’s. Its owners, brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (a ‘stacheless Nick Offerman) have come up with something called the “Speedee System,” which would eventually come to be known as fast food. Impressed, Kroc goes into business with the brothers, setting off to start up franchise locations across the country. A twinkly score and sun-drenched shots of Ray driving down Route 66 underscore how very, well, ’50s it all is. The war is over and anything is possible — if you want to be successful in life, all you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself. It’s Ray’s mantra: Persistence. Never give up. Isn’t that what America’s all about? But here’s the problem: Ray’s a shark. And he’s going to eat the McDonald brothers alive.
Rogue One (Watch Here) — Rogue One is the epiphany of what Star Wars can be. It is dark and inhabits every area of moral grey to tell its story. It’s a tragic story and one well told of a universe that feels huge and rich, recapturing on a larger scale that feeling from the Mos Eisley Cantina that we were only glimpsing a fraction of a real and vibrant universe. One of the disappointments I had with The Force Awakens despite so much that felt right about it, was how small it made the universe feel at times. Just a couple planets, everything a few minutes away. Not here. The universe of this film positively sprawls and bulges everywhere with detail.
Lion (Watch Here) — There’s color, joy, reunion and tears, both those onscreen and those sure-to-be shed in the audience. Though a clunky ride that includes stops that are far from scenic, Lion is an emotional rollercoaster, delivering exhilarating highs and dizzying lows, but with a conclusion that is sure to make hearts sing.
Okja (Watch here) — Netflix has offered Bong a place to make a monster movie, where the monster is man. And along the way, he smashes to bits the expectations constructed by decades of four-quadrant American-made action-adventures. Ultimately, Okja offers escapism with a generous dose of politics that makes it fascinating, funky, and fabulous. It’s not for all ages. It’s not for everyone. But to those craving something strange and daring, Okja is a gamble worth taking.
Don’t Think Twice (Watch Here) — Don’t Think Twice is a hard movie to watch at times, with these moments that feel so real and true that you squirm, feeling like you should not be watching something so intimately uncomfortable. But Mike Birbiglia’s script smartly does not wallow in these moments of discomfort, balancing them out with uproariously funny scenes. Both poignant and hilarious, Don’t Think Twice is similar to a Judd Apatow film in that way, except that both the emotional and comedic beats feel more realistic than even the best Apatow moments. Fans of improv will love this for the improv scenes alone (which are made up of both scripted and actual improvised moments). But this movie should, and hopefully will be, loved by everyone because Don’t Think Twice is simply a heartbreaking, but hilarious, delight.
Win It All (Watch Here) — With Jake Johnson, the film easily swings back from the more visceral moments, never letting itself get bogged down. The rest of the cast, mostly with significantly smaller roles, carry their weight (has Keegan-Michael Key ever not?), but Joe Lo Truglio is a surprising stand-out. Win It All has a wonderful lived-in tone and style, thanks to how Swanberg films and edits his movies. It’s tense, funny, well-structured and carried by strong performances.
I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore — I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore starts slowly and contemplatively in one genre and crescendos until a hell of a final act that seems to take place in another genre altogether, one that has more in common with Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (which featured Macon Blair in an acting role). However, the two genres play well together. Melanie Lynskey is — as always — superb, as she evolves into this generation’s Parker Posey, while Elijah Wood continues a streak of oddball indie roles designed to ensure that no one ever finds him sexually appealing again. It’s not an earth-shattering film, but it makes for solid Netflix fare for a Saturday night, and it’s a must-see for the Lynskey enthusiasts among us.
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.
Beasts of No Nation (Watch Here) — 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.
Room (Watch here) — Room is a dark drama that deals with sexual abuse and trauma. Yet it is not bleak. Instead, it’s a film about hope and the healing power of love that is remarkably layered in its details and emotion. Brie Larson delivers a soul-shaking performance. As Jack’s Ma, she is many things. She is his rock, building stories to keep him from dark truths. She is his protector, cajoling Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) to stay away from the tiny cupboard where Jack sleeps while the heinous man does his dirty business. She is warm, cuddling and playing with the boy within the four-confining walls, making it more of a home than you’d imagine. But she’s also a girl who remembers what was before room, resents this life, and sometimes loses patience with her ever-present roommate. Larson realizes all of this beautifully while playing opposite child actor Jacob Tremblay, who—like his onscreen Ma—is earning Oscar buzz.
Wrinke in Time (Watch Here) — A Wrinkle on Time is boldly, unapologetically earnest in its message: We as people are flawed but worthy of love. We as people must fight the darkness, self-doubt, and fear that threatens to drown us, and bring our best—our light—to the world to make it better. DuVernay took a charming children’s book and turned it into an empowering message of self-love, and a war cry for the Resistance. When Oprah urges Meg to be a warrior, my heart swelled, because it felt like Big Giant Goddess Warrior Oprah was talking to me personally. She was telling me that times may be dark, but I can be light. I can be a warrior. (And you can too!)
For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.