Amazon Studios formed in late 2010 to deliver content to be distributed both through theaters as well as its new Prime Video streaming service. It began with Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ in 2015, which was followed up by others, including Academy Award-winning films like Manchester by the Sea. Since then, Amazon Prime has consistently produced some pretty great films across all types of genres. These are some of the best.
All things Amazon
It makes sense to begin with the very first film ever to be acquired by Amazon Studios, which also helped solidify its position as a hit movie studio. The film, dubbed a musical crime comedy-drama, is co-written by Spike Lee and sheds the spotlight on gang violence on the south side of Chicago. Based on the Classical Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes (where women withheld sex in a desperate attempt to end the Peloponnesian War), it’s yet another project that demonstrates Lee’s tremendous creativity and utter genius.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Stars: Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
Runtime: 127 minutes
The Vast of Night (2020)
This sci-fi flick premiered at the Slamdance Festival in 2019 before Amazon acquired the exclusive distribution rights and released it online and at some drive-in movie theaters in 2020. Drive-in theater is especially appropriate for this eerie ’50s-era sci-fi thriller. One night in 1950s New Mexico, a young switchboard operator, Fay (Sierra McCormick), and radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that threatens to change the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape, crossed patch-lines, and an anonymous phone call hurtle Fay and Everett on an unwitting mystery to be unlikely heroes.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Stars: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
Director: Andrew Patterson
Runtime: 89 minutes
The Big Sick (2017)
Most known for his role as Dinesh on the HBO series Silicon Valley, Kumail Nanjiani proved his immense talent as a screenwriter as well with this touching rom-com he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. Loosely based on their own life, it follows the story of an interracial couple who struggle with their cultural differences. But when Emily (Zoe Kazan) falls ill, everything is put into perspective. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, it was one of the highest-grossing independent films that year.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Director: Michael Showalter
Runtime: 120 minutes
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
One of Amazon Studios’ first film acquisitions for the Prime Video streaming service, this heartbreaking story still remains among the best thanks to its poignant plot and convincingly emotional performances. After returning to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, to see his sick brother, Lee (Casey Affleck) finds himself revisiting old trauma that led to him leaving town in the first place and facing a tough decision about his nephew and his brother’s final wishes. It’s a tearjerker but worth the watch to learn why the film received numerous nominations and wins, including one for Affleck.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Runtime: 137 minutes
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
This film based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson looks at recollections of stories of various civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. and observations on American history. Baldwin, a novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, was close friends with the three aforementioned leaders and wrote the manuscript throughout the ’70s as a collection of notes and letters. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, it has an almost perfect rating by critics who refer to it as an “incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin’s crucial observations on American race relations” and a “sobering reminder of how far we’ve yet to go.”
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson (narrator)
Director: Raoul Peck
Runtime: 95 minutes
Honey Boy (2019)
Actor Shia LaBeouf has always been open about his unconventional childhood, and this screenplay he wrote is based on his time growing up and, most critically, his turbulent relationship with his father. LaBeouf wrote the film as a form of therapy, with a premise that begins when a young man named Otis (Lucas Hedges) is forced to revisit his troubled past in order to uncover the root of his severe alcohol addiction. It takes you through a troubling, eye-opening, and emotional journey, which The A.V. Club called a “fascinating … glorified form of drama therapy.”
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs
Director: Alma Har’el
Runtime: 94 minutes
Late Night (2019)
After experiencing a steady decline in her ratings, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a once-popular talk show host, hires a new writer to shake things up. She hopes that Molly (Mindy Kaling), an Indian American woman, is exactly who she needs to help develop the kind of fresh material she isn’t getting from her current team of all white men. Not only does Molly help Katherine boost her ratings, but her talented work leads to an expanded audience base. Thompson was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Stars: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Runtime: 102 minutes
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
If you’re in the mood for comedy, this hilarious one marks the directorial debut for Paul Downs Colaizzo as he tells the story of an overweight woman living in New York who parties too hard and abuses Adderall until her doctor warns her that she needs to lose weight. Through a series of events, she decides to take up running and, alongside some new friends, commits to training for the annual marathon. Colaizzo says the story was inspired by his own roommate, who is featured in photos at the beginning and end credits of the film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Stars: Jillian Bell, Michael Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Runtime: 103 minutes
The Report (2019)
Based partly on the Vanity Fair article “Rorschach and Awe” written by Katherine Eban, this film delves deep into the investigation of torture used by the CIA following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The focus is the 6,700-page report by Daniel Jones of the Senate Intelligence Committee. With a star-studded cast, it’s no surprise the film has been heavily lauded for both its story and performances.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama, History, Thriller
Stars: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Runtime: 119 minutes
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, a mercenary traumatized by his past who has found rewarding work in rescuing kidnapped girls, including the daughter of a politician who was taken by a network involved in human trafficking. Joe’s specialty? Using any means necessary to get the job done, often drawing from his own troubled past to do heinous things to kidnappers in the name of rescuing the victims. Phoenix deeply commits to the haunting role as he does with every performance, keeping you at the edge of your seat the entire time.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Runtime: 90 minutes
In the second Adam Driver film on this list, he stars as a bus driver and poet who lives a typically boring life, contrasted by his wife’s ever-changing ambition. As he goes about his mundane daily tasks, however, like walking the dog and grabbing a beer at the local bar, he takes in the seemingly insignificant moments around him and turns them into beautiful poetry. The entire film takes place over the span of just one week, and while it has been described as undramatic, that is precisely what makes it so satisfying to watch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Runtime: 118 minutes
The Lost City of Z (2016)
British explorer Percy Fawcett traveled to Brazil to try and find a lost city in the Amazon, and this film looks at his journey. It is based on the 2009 David Grann book of the same name and looks at Fawcett’s exploration efforts through many years as he became obsessed with finding this lost city. While the movie actually didn’t perform very well at the box office, critics praised the story and Charlie Hunnam’s performance, so it might be worth checking out when you have the time to sit through the two-plus-hour film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Director: James Gray
Runtime: 141 minutes
The Handmaiden (2016)
Also known as Ah-ga-ssi, this erotic psychological thriller hails from South Korea and tells the story of a con man who sets up to seduce and marry a Japanese heiress. His intention? To have her committed to an institution so he can inherit her riches. The film is inspired by Fingersmith, a novel by Sarah Waters, which was set in the Victorian era versus the Japanese colonial rule depicted in this film version of the menacing story.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller
Stars: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Director: Park Chan-wook
Runtime: 145 minutes
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 cult Italian feature combines rhythmic beauty and psychological horror to strangely satisfying effect. Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, a sheltered, religious American woman who arrives in Berlin in the late ’70s to join an avant-garde dance company whose work she has admired from afar. Like other dance movies, Susie shines under the tutelage of the company’s leader, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), and becomes the star of the company. However, within Susie lies a mysterious, overwhelmingly compelling power that bewitches audiences and is harnessed by Blanc for her own gain. Susie’s recognition of her exploitation leads to bloody, horrific ends.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Runtime: 152 minutes
Beautiful Boy (2018)
Viewers rated this film much higher than critics. Based on the memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, and co-produced by Brad Pitt, the film looks at the relationship between father and son as they try to overcome addiction.
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Genre: Biography, Drama
Stars: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
Director: Felix van Groeningen
Runtime: 120 minutes
The tragic yet hopeful story behind this film is based on the memoir of the same name by John Callahan, a quadriplegic and recovering alcoholic who, after regaining some use of his upper body, found solace in creating ridiculous cartoons for newspapers by clutching his two hands together to hold the pen. His off-color humor, usually involving typically taboo topics like physical disabilities and diseases, made him a popular cartoonist and helped give the man, paralyzed at 21 in an automobile accident, a new lease on life.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Runtime: 114 minutes
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