This list is updated monthly to reflect recent availability and to showcase films currently streaming on Netflix, whether talking classics or modern gems.
Netflix offers roughly a gazillion different movies available through its streaming platform — well, approximately a gazillion. However, while the landmark service might become surprisingly accurate with its suggestions once you’ve been using it for a while, it’s still often tough to find something worth watching amid the trove of terrible choices.That being the case, we’ve taken the time to wade through the ridiculous amount of content in order to bring you a list of some of the best films currently available on Netflix Instant. Planning your weekend has never been easier.
New for April
Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World
When Miles Scott was diagnosed with leukemia at just 18 months old, his young life and lives of his entire family became a battle for survival. As he grew up living with the disease, Scott became fascinated by Batman, who became a symbol of hope while he was undergoing his difficult treatment. After years battling the disease, his parents teamed up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in order to give their son a chance to be Batman for a day. What began as a simple event quickly blossomed into a massive campaign that brought together people from all over the globe — including classic Batman actor Adam West and President Barack Obama — and turned San Francisco into Gotham City. Batkid Begins tells the story of how this now-viral story came to be, and moreover, does so beautifully.
Best in Show
Though none of his films have attained the mythic status of his earliest project, This is Spinal Tap, screenwriter-director Christopher Guest has helmed several brilliant and bizarre mockumentaries since then. Guest’s films tend to examine esoteric activities and the eccentric people involved in them. In the case of Best in Show, he chronicles a prestigious dog show and the oddball contestants involved, all of whom bring their emotional baggage to the competition. Featuring some of Guest’s frequent collaborators, such as Eugene Levy and Parker Posey, Best in Show is a charming look at obsession and pageantry.
Mystic River is proof that Clint Eastwood is as acclaimed a director and composer as he is an actor. It’s a haunting and beautiful story, centered on three childhood friends who reunite later in life as the result of a murder investigation regarding one of their teenage daughters. It’s based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, and though the rampant profanity and unsettling outcome will likely upset you, the resounding performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins are enough to leave you floored when the last scenes of Boston fade out.
While Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 drama Boogie Nights does, in fact, focus on the porn industry of the ’70s, it’s anything but a raunchy or lewd piece of filmmaking. Over the course of the film’s semi-long run time of two and a half hours, Anderson tells the story of Dirk Diggler (played by Mark Wahlberg), a young high school dropout who stumbles into the world of porn because of his large… personality. With a star studded cast and perfectly written script, Boogie Nights excels at nearly every turn.
Released at the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Sunset Boulevard examines the transient glory of the movie business through what was one of the biggest genres at the time: noir. Opening with a dead man floating in a pool, the film follows narrator Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter. Fleeing his creditors, Joe stumbles upon the mansion of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an aging movie star who dreams of making a comeback. Norma offers to help Joe with his financial problems if he will revise a script she has been working on, but what seems like a sweet deal for Joe slowly becomes sinister. Deeply critical of Hollywood power structures, Sunset Boulevard slashes through all the glamor of the movie business, revealing the merciless hunger that fuels it.
The Shawshank Redemption
Most prison dramas aren’t exactly uplifting — perhaps that’s why few of them hold a candle to Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. The emotional, affectionate film is an adaptation of Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and as such, it recounts the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), an upstanding banker who’s wrongly given two life sentences for the murder of his wife and former lover. However, he quickly befriends the film’s narrator Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) once in jail, and the remainder of the film beautifully examines their deep friendship and the very nature of life itself — both inside and outside of the state prison they call home.
Harrison Ford is an iconic actor, even if he isn’t the best actor. That said, he gave his best performance to date as hardened detective John Book in Witness, a film in which he goes undercover within an Amish community in order to shield a young boy who witnessed a murder. It’s a complicated love story at its core, mostly due to Ford’s interaction with a young Amish widow (refreshing Kelly McGillis), though suspenseful elements and aggressive violence carry the pacing in all the right places. Those same scenes also contrast with the small-town pacifism and an endearing samplicity of the rural countryside in which the film takes place, which ultimately results in landscapes that are as enjoyable to watch as the film’s on-screen performances.
2001: A Space Odyssey
The harrowing, intergalactic satire that is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is more than a cult classic. The hugely influential film pushed the boundaries, in terms of both special effects and narrative, chronicling the two astronauts who wage war against their ship’s intelligence system while investigating the appearance of a mysterious monolith in deep space. Dialogue is limited and interspersed with classical music, which gives the film differing shades of nuance while the film’s accurate depiction of space flight and ambiguous imagery only further the existential questions it brings up regarding what humankind is truly capable of. You could say it delivers on a cosmic scale, even if Matt Damon is nowhere to be found.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 opus A Clockwork Orange is many things. On the surface, this dystopian science fiction drama concerns the actions of Alex DeLarge, a sociopath with a strange affection for classical music and “ultra-violence.” Between the lines, the film takes a hard look at the boundaries of someone’s free-will and whether aversion or condition-reflex therapy is a sensible solution for those deemed immoral. Over the course of the roughly two-hour film, DeLarge and his droogs — the Russian equivalent to friend or buddy — embark on a harrowing spree of crime and mischief, culminating with DeLarge’s capture and supposed rehabilitation. Not for the faint of heart, A Clockwork Orange is a horrifically brilliant cinematic experience.
V for Vendetta
Alan Moore’s dystopian vision of Britain translates fairly well to the silver screen, with help from the iconoclastic Wachowski Brothers. In a country ruled by a fascist cabal, all information is regulated by the government, and the police maintain an iron grip on all aspects of life. When Evey (Natalie Portman), an employee for the state television network, is rescued from an assault by a masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving), she is drawn into his campaign to overthrow the government. At first charmed by V’s passion and knowledge, she quickly finds that his methods might be too extreme for her taste. Excellent choreography and bold set design make V for Vendetta an exciting, if melodramatic, thriller.
Buen día, Ramón
It’s often the warmhearted films that make the most impact on our well being, not necessarily the ones ripe with drama or over-the-top special effects. Thankfully, Buen día, Ramón is exactly that. It’s a film centered on a young man (Kristyan Ferrer) who leaves an impoverished life in Mexico for the United States, only to later end up forging a lasting friendship with a retired nurse (Ingeborg Schöner) in Germany. That bond, as unlikely as it is given the language barrier and their age differences, becomes the defining aspect of the film, along with a string of simple plot twists and the way the two performers carry their roles with an understated sense of dexterity. Apparently, the kindness of strangers goes a lot further than you might think.
Made-for-TV movies are hit or miss. Pirate’s Passage falls in the former category, however, taking William Gilkerson’s novel of the same name and infusing it with colorful visuals, tremendous voice talent, and a fair share of adventure. The coming-of-age tale involves a 12-year-old boy from Novia Scotia and his mother, both of whom have fallen on hard times as a result of bullying and are struggling to hold on to the family inn. Things quickly change when an enigmatic sea captain (Donald Sutherland), who may or might not be a pirate who supposedly died more than 200 years ago, arrives on the scene to help out. The ensuing journey is exciting, creative, and — best of all — even somewhat enjoyable to adults.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 thriller features one of Jack Nicholson’s most iconic performances as Jack Torrance, a novelist and recovering alcoholic who takes on a gig as the off-season caretaker at Overlook Hotel, a large winter resort that just so happens to have been built on a Native American burial ground. Jack brings his wife Wendy (Shelly Duval) and young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) with him, hoping to use the time in the secluded resorts as a means to work on his novel. However, when Danny starts experiencing strange visions in the empty hotel, tensions between Wendy and Jack rise, finally pushing Jack to break his sobriety and — under the influence of alcohol, cabin fever, and a malicious, ghostly presence — attempt to murder his family. The Shining has endured as both as one of the hallmarks of the horror genre, and one of Kubrick’s best films.
The Exorcist stands as the pinnacle of horror, and quite possibly, one of the most disturbing films to ever hit the big screen. The film was based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same, which in turn, recounted the 1939 exorcism of one Roland Doe. That being the case, the supernatural horror film revolves around a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) and her mother’s attempts to rid her of evil with the help of two priests. Ellen Burstyn’s performance as the mother is soaring, but you’ll also have to deal with her on-screen daughter who urinates, vomits, masturbates, and unleashes obscenities like no other throughout the course of the film. We wouldn’t say watching it makes for an enjoyable experience, but it is a classic one.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride begins in the late ’80s when a young boy (Fred Savage) spends the day home from school sick. While in bed, his grandpa (Peter Falk) reads him a book called The Princess Bride, a fairytale about the young maiden Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), aka the farmhand with whom she falls in love. Although Westley sets out with dreams of finding a fortune to support himself and Buttercup, his dreams are cut short when his ship is attacked by the notorious Dread Pirate Roberts and becomes presumed dead.
Buttercup later agrees to marry Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) following years of heartbreak and distress, only to be kidnapped by a ragtag trio of bandits before the wedding. As the gang flees the to the countryside, however, a mysterious man in black trails them. And unbeknownst to Buttercup or her captors, the Man in Black is none other than Westley, who not only survived the attack but vows to free his beloved.