When Amazon debuted Amazon Prime more than a decade ago, CEO Jeff Bezos and company simply wanted to give their loyal customers a chance to save some money on shipping costs. As the service gained a massive subscription base, the company continued adding a slew of incredible perks, such as access to Prime Pantry, same-day delivery, and Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Now, anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription has easy access to thousands of hit movies and TV shows, all with the simple click of a mouse. To help subscribers sift through Amazon’s sizable library, we’ve taken up the task of finding the best movies currently available on the service.
So pop some popcorn, find your favorite spot on the couch, and throw on an excellent film, courtesy of our list.
Drama and romance
‘A Ghost Story’
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story takes a simple — some might even say silly — premise as its foundation, and builds atop it a beautiful, mournful film about death and the passage of time. The film begins with a man, C (Casey Affleck), and a woman, M (Rooney Mara). C dies in a car crash early on, but his soul continues to wander, draped in a hospital sheet under which he spends the rest of the film. C returns to the house he shared with M, watching as she grieves and eventually moves on. He remains, watching as the house changes hands, and the world changes entirely. A Ghost Story is light on plot and even dialogue, with Lowery using thoughtful shots and beautiful scene compositions to convey emotion.
An adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences is a fascinating study of a man in slow collapse. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) was an accomplished baseball player in the Negro Leagues, whose career ended before Major League Baseball integrated. By the time the film begins in the 1950s, he works as a garbageman in Pittsburgh, living with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis); and son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy seethes at the world, and the story is focused on the ways in which he chips away at his relationships with everyone in his life, cheating on his wife and grinding down his son’s ambitions. It’s a powerful story, and Washington (who also directed) gives it a skillful treatment.
Set in 17th-century Japan, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name) follows a pair of Jesuit priests on a mission to find their missing mentor, Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who renounced his faith following torture at the hands of the shogunate, which has outlawed Christianity. The priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), sneak into Japan, taking refuge among the remaining Japanese Christians. During their search for Ferreira, Rodrigues and Garupe witness terrible atrocities, and find themselves in a moral quandary that drives them to the brink. At times beautiful, at others horrifying, Silence is a deeply spiritual film, reflecting on the nature of faith, and whether God cares about the suffering of his servants.
‘Manchester by the Sea’
This bleak drama, directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, is set in the titular town of Manchester, a town Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) would prefer never to return to. Chandler lives out his days working as a janitor in Quincy, away from any connections to his past. Tragedy brings him home; his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies, leaving behind a teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and a will asking Lee to take care of him. Manchester by the Sea is a deeply personal drama, examining the ways tragedy can wear away at a person’s soul, and whether it is possible to come back from the brink. Despite the premise, the movie is not gloomy from start to end; the script allows for plenty of humor and warmth throughout, making for a film that captures the complexity of life.
Some of Moonlight’s most important scenes take place near water. Always shifting, water proves to be a potent symbol for protagonist Chiron’s journey through the film. The film follows Chiron from his time as a youngster growing up, impoverished, in Miami, to his tragic, conflicted adulthood. The film’s three acts, set during different stages of his life, show him struggling with his identity and sexuality, as he develops an attraction to his best friend and faces pressure and bullying from other boys his age. Buoyed by excellent performances — particularly Mahershala Ali‘s, which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — Moonlight is a powerful character study, one rife with mesmerizing imagery.
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival tackles a classic sci-fi premise — humanity’s first contact with an alien species — which it treats with appropriate gravity, but the story gets a lift from the protagonist’s personal struggles, which provide a relatable emotional undercurrent. After a brief prologue, the story begins when alien spaceship appear at 12 locations around the world. Unsure whether the aliens have come in peace, the U.S. Army enlists linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to approach the extraterrestrials. As the nations of the world grow restless, Banks studies the alien’s language, hoping to understand them. Based on an acclaimed short story, Arrival is a thoughtful film, a sci-fi tale that withholds easy answers.
‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
In the soft shadows of The Gaslight Cafe, folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) croons that he “wouldn’t mind the hanging.” Leave it to the Coen Brothers to oblige him. Two of America’s most mercurial filmmakers, the Coens have approached both grim tragedy and madcap comedy in their films, sometimes at the same time. Inside Llewyn Davis falls on the bleaker end of the spectrum, following Davis as he attempts to get his music career on track in the wake of his musical partner’s suicide. His finances are not the only part of his life falling apart; his former lover, Jean (Carey Mulligan), pregnant with a child that is likely his, wants nothing to do with him. Davis’ struggle, set against the frost-glazed backdrop of New York, is a tragic one, but the film is not without humor, black though it may be. The characters surrounding Llewyn are as vibrant as he is cold … particularly Justin Timberlake as Jane’s new boyfriend.