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 an uneven crop of Netflix originals 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 or on Netflix 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 during 2016 - 2019.
Updated December 1, 2019 (Click on hyperlink for full review)
The Irishman (Watch Here) — At once fresh and pleasantly familiar, innovative and nostalgic, watching The Irishman feels like meeting an old friend for the first time — the sort of delightful impossibility that can only be crafted by a true magician. After all this time, Scorsese’s still got it, and it’s a joy to behold.
El Camino (Watch Here) — El Camino is not a major departure from Breaking Bad and ultimately that is to its credit. Gilligan does not reinvent the wheel here, so much as he moves the end of Breaking Bad from one natural stopping point to another natural stopping point while delivering new details that serve both the story he’s telling her and enriches the story he’s already told. It’s not that different than what he and Peter Gould have been doing for four seasons of Better Call Saul: They have a remarkable affinity for taking a moment or a snatch of dialogue from a scene in one episode and turning it into another storyline, but always doing so within the confines of his characters and their motivations. Is it necessary? No. Is it a well-observed, smart, and entertaining extension to an already brilliant series? Absolutely.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Watch Here) — I want to live inside of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. I want to simultaneously wallpaper my brain with this thing, and erase all memory of it so I can watch it again for the very first time. And look, I know I’m an easy target for a movie like this, given that it ticks basically all of my boxes (comic book characters? animation? Nic Cage?). But when I say that the hype on this one is real, I don’t simply mean that it will live up to your expectations — I mean that it will surpass them. This movie is more than the sum of every Spider-person, easter egg, clever nod or surprise cameo in it. Its charm is in the confident balance it strikes between all those things and the story that drives it, the technical genius of the animation, that bangin’ soundtrack, and the message it leaves you with.
High Flying Bird (Watch Here) — This partnership between Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (of Moonlight), and actor André Holland (also of Moonlight and Soderbergh’s series The Knick), who suggested the story, is a movie full of sharp edges, of characters navigating singularly through labyrinthine mazes of power and wealth, of people trying to—and I say with this no sarcasm whatsoever—make a difference. High Flying Bird is a film that benefits through multiple viewings, whose character motivations click together more and more upon further consideration, and whose final messaging is not unlike one of my favorites from last year, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. You can try to enact change in the world, and you can try to make things better, and you can try to build coalitions, and you can try to foster understanding, and sometimes you just have to smash it all down. If the men in charge won’t hear you, you have to remind them. Wealth isn’t the only form of power. There’s labor, too.
Perfection (Watch Here) — The Perfection, directed by Richard Shepard and co-written by Shepard and Eric C. Charmelo, is the spiritual successor to Park Chan-wook’s remarkable psychological thriller The Handmaiden. That movie is one of my all-time favorites, and while I’m still digesting this one, it certainly hit a lot of the same pleasure centers for me. It’s a film that is as much about form as it is content — the way the story is told as much as what story is told. But it’s not a movie for everyone, nor is it an easy movie to process. The very conceits that I love may be ones that others will argue vehemently against, and that’s OK. It’s divisive. And how you respond to it may be very personal. Speaking for myself, I can tell you that this is the only horror film that ever just emotionally shattered me. It’s hardly a tearjerker by any means, but damn if I didn’t sob. It just flat-out resonated with me… and wrecked me, in deeply satisfying way.
Dumplin’ (Watch Here) — A lot of reviews for Dumplin’ talk about its clichés, its convenient ending, and its buzzword wisdom. With all due respect, I don’t think these critics get it. Yes, you know where Dumplin’ is going and how everything will wrap up. That’s not the point the film or Willowdean want to make. It’s a simple story of minor revolution through the radical act of being yourself on purpose. Dumplin’ is low stakes in terms of narrative but high emotion at all times. Not gonna lie, I cried through like 40% of this film, and it wasn’t all because of the Dolly Parton music.
Breakers Uppers (Watch Here) — It’s funny, but not in the usual rom-com way. Not even in a Judd Apatow or Paul Feig way. It’s heartwarming yet raunchy, over-the-top yet utterly believable. This is proper Kiwi comedy, from the producers of Hunt For The Wilderpeople (and by that I mean — yes, Taika Waititi). Better yet, it’s written and directed by two incredibly talented and funny women, Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami, who also star as the titular Breaker Upperers. It’s a romantic comedy by women, about women — only it’s not really about romance at all. It’s an ode to the way we can be whole, all on our own — but it’s still better to have a friend beside us. Especially a friend who’ll take off her underwear and give them to you on the street when you realize you’ve lost your own.
Incredibles 2 (Watch Here) — “Politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right,” is an idea that comes up over and over again in Incredibles 2 to validate what the superheroes are doing, and it’s, of course, one you’ll recognize from the Captain America films and other movies of this mold. But what Incredibles 2 does uniquely is examine the people involved in doing that good and how their other roles in life—father, mother, husband, wife, teenage girl trying to make sense of her first crush, young boy trying to understand how to do math, daughter, son—shape the choices they make for themselves and for others, as individuals and as members of a family and a communal society, whether they succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. Every challenge for these characters, whether it’s finishing math homework or saving a careening train full of people, is treated with respect. That’s some nuanced, big-picture shit, and it only took us 14 years to get it.
Hell or High Water (Watch Here) — Methodically paced, Hell or High Water envelops audiences in the desperation of its setting, and the attitude of its people, who have authentic grit thanks to the casting of supporting players with character to their faces, and curves (some sensual, some sagged) to their bodies. Mackenzie masterfully embeds us into the lives of his anti-heroes, while weaving a story of moral complexity and chilling compromise. It’s so rich in detail and atmosphere, you’ll marvel that an English auteur spun such a stirring story about good ol’ boys in the new Old West.
Roma (Watch Here) — Roma is about the downfall of a civilization. Every moment of happiness these women try to find is marred by someone succeeding where they failed, or death. Yet, like all women, they persist. With four children looking to them for guidance and support they don’t have another option. Neither woman bothers to seek another option. Cuarón, in his expert hands, drives tensions to a near breaking point. At the climax of the film, I found myself asking seriously how much more this poor woman was expected to endure. Executed to near perfection, this movie serves as a nostalgic time capsule of Mexico in the early ’70s. Every performance is alive and intriguing.
I Am Mother (Watch Here) It’s not a wildly imaginative film, but like a lot of Netflix fare, it’s a serviceable, well-acted, entertaining and at times intriguing film. It’s even more interesting as a thematic exercise about mothers and daughters, about who you trust — the robot that raised you or the human that you just met — and most of all about protecting our children from a harsh world outside their doors, in this case a dystopian wasteland. At a certain point, a parent — even a robot one — has to stand down and let their kid go and hope that all the parenting work they’ve done prepares them for dangers that come, even if the biggest danger is Mom herself.
The Edge of Seventeen (Watch Here) — I can’t speak as to how much other people will relate to Nadine—maybe I’m viewing my particular experiences and emotional foibles of youth as more universal than they really are. Maybe, if you see The Edge of Seventeen, you’ll see it as a standard teen movie that’s funny, yeah, but the protagonist is kind of hard to root for because she’s such a self-involved dick with a massive case of #firstworldproblems. I don’t know. But I do know that I really wish The Edge of Seventeen had been around when I was seventeen.
Triple Frontier (Watch Here) — I can understand that Triple Frontier will be boring to some—hell, I know Chandor’s A Most Violent Year was like pulling teeth for some people—and I appreciate that our very own Kate Hudson was popping into my tweet thread Sunday night to resolutely voice her “This movie is hella uninteresting” stance. But I think the parts of Triple Frontier that explore the fluidity of the borders between concepts like nationalism and neocolonialism are quite good, and the ensemble cast is very strong—yes, even Affleck!—and there is a particular scene, where Hedlund’s Ben goes a little haywire and starts burning stacks of money, that is beautifully shot and an insightful distillation of the meaninglessness of their entire mission.
Always Be My Maybe (Watch Here) — It remains kind of amazing to me that a genre as classically white as the romantic comedy has been receptive at all to diversity and inclusion, but Always Be My Maybe is further evidence that expansion is a good thing. The latest Netflix rom-com with Ali Wong and Randall Park is consistently thoughtful and often hilarious, with a supporting turn from Keanu Reeves that oozes delightfully weird energy.
Bird Box (Watch Here) — Sandra Bullock’s great performance aside, Susanne Bier’s film, adapted from the 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, is a little uneven; there’s a subplot involving how certain people (including the criminally insane) can see the “Problem” and not get affected by it that feels a little exploitative, and some of the dialogue by Eric Heisserer (who previously wrote the 2011 remake of The Thing, 2016’s surprisingly OK Lights Out, and the excellent Arrival, and is uncredited on the very bad Netflix movie Extinction) is clunky and cliched. But the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is suspenseful, the cinematography by Salvatore Totino really frames what Malorie and the children are facing during this river journey, and the spookiness of invisible beings urging you to harm yourself and others is, while familiar (I’m thinking of a particular X-Files episode here), nevertheless effective.
Moonlight (Watch Here) — Rich with humanity, Barry Jenkins’ exceptional drama is a major step forward from his charming debut, 2008’s black-hipster rom-com Medicine for Melancholy. Though the setup might seemed poised for the sort of tear-jerking theatricality film festival buzz is often born from, the Oscar Winner for Best Picture, Moonlight, continues to play by its own rules, delivering a subtle but stunning finale that will shake you hard, but leave you smiling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wrinkle 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.
Header Image Source: Netflix