Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best movies on Netflix to watch right now.
Stuck staring at the Netflix home page and wondering what to watch next? We've all been there. And while the best Netflix TV shows may steal the headlines and dominate office conversations, there are some great movies on Netflix too.
So if you're in the mood for the magic of a full-length film, you're in luck. We've picked out 15 of the best movies on Netflix right now, which you may or may not have realised are buried in the streaming behemoth's library.
From illuminating documentaries to escapist sci-fi films and zany comedies, there's guaranteed to be something here to distract you, even as we emerge from the last vestiges of lockdown. So read on, and settle in for some quality viewing like it's April 2020. (Too soon?)
Note: not all movies are available in all regions. We've used the Netflix US catalogue, as it's the most extensive, but Netflix in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world may differ.
The Dig (2021)
If you like the idea of Ralph Fiennes taking up as lead archaeologist in an episode of Britain's Biggest Dig, this movie is for you. It's actually based on a true story – the 1939 excavation of Edith Pretty's rural estate in Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, UK.
Local, self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Fiennes), who left school at 12 and was taught the trade by his father, is given the task of tackling the large burial mounds on Pretty's grounds.
And much to everyone's surprise – especially Brown's employers, who want him back at his regular job at the Ipswich Museum – the dig reveals genuine, priceless Anglo-Saxon treasures. Annoyingly, World War II is approaching fast, Pretty's health is declining and, upon seeing what Brown has uncovered, various other noted archaeologists try to intervene and take credit for Brown's work.
For anyone keen on Anglo-Saxon or World War II history, The Dig is an engaging watch, served with a generous dash of English restraint and stunning sweeping landscape scenes.
News of the World (2020)
As if any of us can resist a mature, bearded Tom Hanks at his even more principled and paternal best. In this Western drama set in 1870, Hanks plays Civil War veteran and widower, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who now earns a crust travelling from town to town, reading newspaper stories to locals for 10 cents a pop. En route to his next gig, Kidd stumbles upon an overturned wagon and a scared, white, blonde little girl who can only speak the Native American language, Kiowa. Soon enough, it becomes apparent that the girl needs Kidd's help.
If the pace here is just a tad slow, it only gives Hanks – and Helena Zengel, who won a Golden Globe for her inspired portrayal of Johanna – more room to shine. News of the World was also nominated for best cinematography and best original score at the most recent British Academy Film Awards in April 2021, so expect sound and visuals to put your home cinema set-up through its paces.
The Old Guard (2020)
Want to see if your TV can handle fast-paced fight sequences without succumbing to shimmer or jitter? This 2020 film is the one. Charlize Theron stars as Andy, leader of a clandestine group of tight-knit hired guns with the shared super-power of immediate regeneration and the inability to die.
The gang have used this unexplained gift of immortality to protect us muggles for centuries, but when they break their own rule of never working for the same employer twice, they're rumbled – the job is a ruse and the former CIA operative who re-hired them has this time filmed their regeneration.
Luckily there's a new recruit, Nile (whom they locate via, uh, bad dreams) in Afghanistan who is quickly enlisted to help them push back against those who now want to study and torture them, with a view to weaponising and monetising their immortal powers.
Based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights), The Old Guard is refreshingly gritty and grounded for a superhero flick.
Uncut Gems (2019)
Uncut Gems follows Howard (played by Adam Sandler), a jeweller in New York's frantically paced Diamond District, as he attempts to auction off a rare Ethiopian opal for a massive return.
The film opens with Howard getting a colonoscopy, and we quickly realise that that’s a minor discomfort within the scheme of his life. He is maintaining a fake marriage to his wife while hiding his girlfriend from his children, and he’s $100,000 in debt to a particularly nasty loan shark. Selling the opal is his escape plan, but unfortunately, the rock catches the eye of basketball player Kevin Garnett wants to borrow it as a good look charm for his next match, offering his valuable championship ring as collateral. Howard can’t refuse, and this sets of a chain of bad decisions, each more infuriating than the last.
It’s never stated, but Howard is clearly addicted to gambling. As he continues to fall from one debt laced predicament to another, each time using the source of his problems as the solution, there is a sense of a modern Greek Tragedy playing out.
There’s even a Greek Chorus in the meditative vocalisations of the synth-heavy score that permeates the action offering judgment and ridicule. Dialogue is spoken naturalistically, and the music doesn’t dip during scenes. Instead, the sound design walks a fine line between unwatchably overwhelming and grippingly immersive. Shot mainly in low light with a grainy film texture punctuated by saturated fluorescents and neon, Uncut Gems is as claustrophobic to watch as it is to listen to. The footage is often shot at extreme close up or as if from a security camera, adding to the general confusion and constant danger of Howard’s chaotic lifestyle.
After being so tightly enveloped in Howard’s world, the audience slowly starts to root for this Willy Loman styled anti-hero to the point that when he is finally faced with the consequences of his actions, it is genuinely shocking.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)
In a post-apocalyptic world where a sentient voice assistant (picture a very sassy Siri voiced by Olivia Coleman) has overthrown their hoodie-wearing creator, the Mitchell family have managed to evade capture from the evil robot regime and are now the human race’s only hope for survival.
Unfortunately, the Mitchells have enough of their own problems, as tensions between aspiring film student Katie and her technophobe dad Rick have reached breaking point and his hapless attempts at rebuilding a relationship with his daughter only serve to alienate her further.
As you would expect from the team that bought us both The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs The Machines has a sparkling script full of insightful humour and an anything-goes plot backed up by mesmerising and innovative visuals.
The animation mixes 2D and 3D watercolour styles with overlays indicating Katies own ‘directors’ point of view, and there’s a vivid handpainted look to even the slickest of action sequences. But all the textures, light and movement are still deeply realistic, and when combined with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, create a captivating, exciting adventure caper full of dramatic flair and just the right amount of heartfelt sincerity. And if none of that appeals, there’s a Furby uprising so cinematic that it puts Godzilla to shame.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Aaron Sorkin writes and directs this courtroom drama based on the true account of charges of conspiracy and inciting riots bought against eight men following the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where anti-war protestors were denied the right to demonstrate coming up instead against police brutality.
Seven of the defendants are a ragtag bunch of revolutionaries united only by their differing opinions on how to incite change: there’s clean-cut Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) who believes in acquiescing to authority to gain power and his friend Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) from the Students For A Democratic Society; Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) a radical rebel rockstar of the Youth Intern National Party (the Yippies) and his co-leader Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong); middle-aged pacifist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), and bit players John Froines (Danny Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) who aren’t sure why they’re being charged but knowingly quip that in the “Academy awards of protest, it’s an honour just to be nominated”.
The eighth man on trial, Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), has been included in the group as a politically motivated scapegoat, and despite seeking a mistrial as his lawyer is ill, he is repeatedly denied the right to speak or defend himself by the bigoted judge Julius Hoffman, played odiously by Frank Langella.
The film is crisply written and hits all the emotional beats of a Spielberg blockbuster, who was incidentally initially attached to direct. Still, beyond the kitschy protest montages and squabbles of would-be reformers, it derives its gripping drama from the shocking real-life sham of a trial and tense struggle of wills played out between Seale, the deranged judge and the attorney for the seven white defendants William Kunstler (Mark Rylance). Stylistically the film may verge on sentimental, but the questions it poses on the divisiveness of ideology, the fragility of free speech and whether there is a way to take on the ruling classes without becoming them are unfortunately both timely and timeless.
Chris Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake, a Black Ops mercenary who is on a mission to rescue the kidnapped son of an Indian drug lord. It's a thriller, not to mention a Netflix Original, so you won't be able to see all the action anywhere else. Because it's based on a graphic novel, expect a little more in the way of character development than the usual mindless gung-ho heroics (although there's plenty of this too!). End of lockdown got you down? Crack open the popcorn and enjoy.
This 2010 documentary of the legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna was directed by Asif Kapadia, the man behind similar biopics of Amy Winehouse (2015's Amy) and 2019's Diego Maradona. It charts Senna's remarkable career, from his 1984 debut to the crash a decade later that tragically killed him. Full of archive footage from his professional and personal life, it's a must for fans.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indy's first outing is – in many eyes – still his best. Raiders has it all: Nazis, biblical artefacts, and the best sword vs gun fight scene, well, ever. It's proper Boys Own stuff, full of whip-smart dialogue and acts of derring-do, and the perfect antidote to the troubled times we've been living through.
Searching For Sugar Man (2012)
In two friends' native South Africa, the US singer Rodriguez was as big as Elvis. But they were amazed to discover that everywhere else in the world, his two albums sank without trace, and the singer himself hadn't been seen for years. Was he dead, as rumoured? Or just a recluse? Thus starts an epic journey to try and track down Sixto 'Sugarman' Rodriguez, and reinstate him to his rightful place in music history.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
And there is. Based on Upton Sinclair's Oil!, Paul Thomas Anderson's period drama stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a silver miner-turned-oilman ruthlessly trying to make his fortune during South California's turn-of-the-century oil boom. Day-Lewis was lauded for his role: an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe were among the awards he picked up for his efforts.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Released in 2007, this is the seventh version of Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic, and the only version over which he had complete control (bizarrely, he didn't completely oversee even 1992's The Director's Cut). It's the only version to contain the full-length version of the unicorn dream, along with the extra violence and additional edits from the international cut. To many, it's the definitive Blade Runner, and as such, possibly the definitive sci-fi film.
Having spent a healthy chunk of time stuck indoors with our virtual assistants in the past year, isn't it time we reevaluated our relationships with them? That's the aim of this 2013 sci-fi satire, in which Theodore Twombly (a moustachioed Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his virtual assistant, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The vision of the near future is spot on – all tasteful furnishings and subtly integrated technology - and could've come straight out of an Apple advert. Which makes its message all the more unnerving.
That score. Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 adaptation of James Sallis' novel of the same name has a pulsing, neon-drenched Cliff Martinez soundtrack that's worth the Netflix subscription alone. Ryan Gosling puts in a monosyllabic performance as the unnamed getaway driver, while Carey Mulligan plays Irene, his love interest. Turn it up.
The Naked Gun (1988)
Surely we're not including this, one of the zaniest comedies of the late 20th century? Of course we are. And don't call us Shirley. The late, great Leslie Nielsen plays the hapless Lieutenant Frank Drebin, who's tasked with foiling an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II during a state visit to the US. Goofy? Certainly. But the gag rate of six-a-minute feels much needed right now – even if some miss by a mile, at least a few will hit the target. Silence your inner critic, sit back and enjoy.
See our pick of the best documentaries on Netflix
Read our selection of the best streaming services: Amazon, Disney+, Netflix compared