The Best RECENT Movies on Netflix Right Now
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 - 2017.
Updated January 12th, 2017
Related: Ranking the Best Netflix Original Series
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.
Moana (Watch Here) — Moana is Powered powered by so much incredible acumen that it should outshine the sun — directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid), screenplay by Jared Bush (Big Hero 6, Zootopia, songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, music by Grammy award-winning Pacific Island musician Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina (who’s worked on what seems like every movie of the past 35 years), and with voice acting from the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Jemaine Clement. It’s like a how-to manual for successful animated pictures, and it takes all of that star power and creates something utterly wonderful, a charming, fantastically imaginative story about self-reliance, family, gods and monsters, the beauty within us all, and the wonders of exploration and discovery. Goddamn, this is a good movie.
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.
Captain America: Civil War (Watch Here) — After all is said and done, it’s a great film filled with great performances and amazing, exciting action sequences. The story is dense and complex and while it sometimes staggers under its weight, in the end it comes out strong. Its action is fast and spectacular, but never overwhelming or edited into incomprehensibility. There’s a nice mix of tightly-shot, violently intimate, almost Daredevil-esque fight scenes, as well as large-scale punchy-smashy-shooty superhero battle royals. By leaving out the most powerful characters (Thor and Hulk), the Russos are able to create much more even matchups and it feels less like city-destroying devastation and more like superpowered fisticuffs. Sure, there are times when airplanes are being torn in half, but even then it never feels like too much. Perhaps most importantly is that even though its themes are complicated, and its tone is often grim, there is a remarkable amount of joy to be found in Civil War. Its action is harrowing, its storyline labyrinthine, but damn it, it’s also just fucking fun, and that’s what makes it my kind of superhero movie, and one of the best in Marvel’s franchise.
Bridget Jones’ Baby — Bridget Jones’s Baby may not transcend its genre in the way that the original— an honest classic— did. But if you’ve already been looking forward to a date or a boozy fun ladies’ night with this movie, it won’t disappoint. And if you’re being dragged along to one of those events, you can breathe easier. Because this is not the thing you expected to have to suffer through. It won’t be your new favorite movie, but it’s fun, smart, and Colin Firth has a LOT of screentime. Bonus.
Doctor Strange (Watch Here) — I’ll say this for Doctor Strange: It’s unlike any Marvel movie we’ve ever seen. And for the most part, I mean that in the best possible way. This new entry, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Strange, is a weird, trippy, sometimes even silly departure from the conventional HEROES SMASH films that we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. Sure, there are some of the requisite punchy-kicky fights, but that’s not the heart of Doctor Strange. It’s heart lies in the strange and mysterious, in the wonders of the universe, and it’s an enjoyably bizarre ride getting through it.
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.
Pete’s Dragon (Watch Here) — There’s nothing particularly original or surprising about Pete’s Dragon except in the way it tugs at heartstrings. It’s potent, capable of reducing nearly anyone to sobs, not out of sadness, but out of appreciation for the extraordinary, enchanting friendship between a wide-eyed boy and the dragon who protects him. While Stranger Things has been able to recapture much of the Amblin magic and translate it into television, Pete’s Dragon is the closest thing to the old Steven Spielberg going. You won’t find a sweeter movie anytime soon.
Secret Life of Pets (Watch Here) — Dog lover or cat lover, kid or grown-up, you’ll find plenty to relish in this deeply silly and sweet movie. But a quick warning to parents: The Secret Life of Pets might be a bit scary for more sensitive tykes. At my screening, one child was absolutely howling over a scene involving a massive, one-eyed, one-fanged viper, and an action-packed finale that threatened to sink our canine heroes into the East River.
The Jungle Book (Watch Here) — It’s not for little ones because the action sequences are too intense, but that’s exactly what makes it so thrilling for adults. It is a phenomenal film that hews closely to the Rudyard Kipling source material, but brings in a few surprises to differentiate it and yet never veers far away from the spirit of the book. It’s engaging from the first frame to the last, and breaks up the intensity with enough humor to keep us from dwelling too much on the terrors of the jungle.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Dope (Watch Here)— 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.
Spotlight (Watch Here) — With a remarkable ensemble that boasts Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James, and the ever-outstanding Stanley Tucci, Spotlight focuses on the team of Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of the Catholic Church’s long and horrifying history of covering up sex abuse allegations against their priests. I know. Heavy stuff. But trust me when I tell you like Room, Spotlight deftly weaves its disturbing story in a way that is powerful without tipping into overwhelming or soul-crushing.
For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.