The streaming wars seem destined to rage on for the foreseeable future, which is great news for cinephiles eager to expand their horizons. Hulu, once merely a repository for network television, now features a robust library of films to choose from. As with any catalog, however, Sturgeon’s Law still applies, and it might seem difficult to find the real gems housed within Hulu’s massive library. But we have you covered. Our carefully curated list is a one-stop guide to the best movies on Hulu. So turn on your favorite streaming device, have Alexa dim the lights, and let the credits roll.
True Grit (2010)
The second film adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic Western novel, the Coen brothers’ True Grit is a damn fine take on the genre, with superb direction and great performances from its cast. Set in the 19th century, the film begins with teenager Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeking revenge on outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who murdered her father. Chaney and his fellow rogues have fled into Indian country, where the local authorities can’t follow, so Mattie hires curmudgeonly U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track him down. Along with a Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), they pursue their quarry. True Grit doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the Wild West, but the film isn’t without a sense of humor. This blend of horrific violence and wry comedy is classic Coen brothers.
Darren Aronofsky has made a number of controversial movies, but none has been so polarizing as 2017’s Mother! — a film that had critics and filmgoers dividing into camps based on whether they thought the film was a brilliant biblical parable or a trainwreck carrying some neat ideas. The film begins with a married couple, known only as Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), living in a secluded house. Him is a poet, trying to compose his next work, and Mother tends the house. Their life seems routine, until Man (Ed Harris) arrives, eager to meet Him, and takes up residence in their house. Soon, Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), comes as well, and then more strangers follow in her wake. As their house swells with uninvited guests, Mother struggles to maintain her composure. As that relatively simple explanation of the premise might suggest, Mother! is a strange film, an increasingly tense, frightening drama that makes heavy use of allegory.
I, Tonya (2017)
Tonya Harding is one of the most notorious figures in sports history. Once a shining star in the world of figure skating, she transformed into a villain after her ex-husband and bodyguard conspired to injure her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), a conspiracy many believed Harding had a hand in. I, Tonya follows Harding (Margot Robbie) from her sad childhood to her rise as a figure skater, to her eventual fall.
What elevates the film above most biopics, however, is its willingness to play with reality; I, Tonya filters events through the perspectives of its characters, leaving the audience questioning whether Harding is simply a misunderstood person with some flaws, or a devious villain. Robbie’s standout performance — and that of Allison Janney, who plays Harding’s mother — is simply the foundation that supports the entire endeavor.
Film scholar Kogonada has spent years crafting beautiful film essays on some of cinema’s greatest directors, so it should come as no surprise that Columbus, his directorial debut, shows a keen focus on composition, how people and things fit within the frame of every shot. The film isn’t just a showcase for his skill with a camera, however; it also tells an emotional story about two kindred spirits who meet by chance. Jin (John Cho), an American living in Korea, returns to the U.S. (Columbus, Indiana, specifically) after his father falls into a coma. Jin meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young, aspiring architect, who is languishing in Columbus, taking care of her mother. The two explore the town together, discussing their love of architecture and their own pasts.
Martin Scorsese spent decades trying to make his adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s classic novel; in a sense, Scorsese was not unlike the film’s protagonist, stumbling through hardships without any promise of success in the end. Set in the 17th century, Silence follows two priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), who venture to Japan in search of their mentor, Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who renounced his faith after enduring torture. The shogunate has outlawed Christianity, and the priests must seek out rare, hidden enclaves of Japanese Christians while evading samurai enforcers and witnessing atrocities committed against the Christian villagers. Measured, contemplative, and beautifully shot, even in moments of violence, Silence is a tremendous experience.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the classic play Fences, by August Wilson, is a well-crafted drama built around powerful performances. The movie follows a man named Troy Maxson (Washington). Troy works as a trash collector in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is an angry man; he grew up in poor circumstances and managed to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, but never made it to the majors due to segregation. He nurses grudges against the world and everyone in it, including his family. Fences is a focused character study, examining how his anger eats away at his relationships.
With 2015’s The Big Short, director Adam McKay transitioned from the fun, outlandish comedies that had defined his career to that point (Anchorman, Step Brothers) to didactic, angry satire. Vice, which chronicles Dick Cheney’s (Christian Bale) long ascent up the stairs of political power, takes that formula and runs with it. the black comedy takes aim at his subject and also at the society that enabled him. The movie follows a not-entirely chronological path through Cheney’s life, from his shiftless, drunken youth to his tenure as one of the most powerful men in America. As in The Big Short, the plot is frequently interrupted by explanatory skits, the narrator, even the characters themselves. Beyond McKay’s dynamic approach to satire, Vice is worth watching for Bale’s tremendous performance.
Mom and Dad (2018)
Brian Taylor’s horror/comedy Mom and Dad takes a simple premise — sometimes, even loving parents get a little fed up with their kids — and runs with it all the way to Crazytown. The film follows the Ryan family: Brent (Nicolas Cage), Kendall (Selma Blair), their petulant teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and young, hyperactive son Josh (Zackary Arthur). The Ryans exhibit the typical tensions of movie families — Kendall feels shut out of her daughter’s life, Carly steals money from her parents to buy drugs — but those problems explode when a mysterious signal drives all the parents in town into a frenzy, making them possessed by a singular urge to kill their children. With the rampage spreading around town, Carly and Josh must escape from their murderous parents. As one might expect, Cage turns in a delightfully frenetic performance, and Blair keeps pace with him. Mom and Dad isn’t brilliant satire (the dialogue can be a bit stilted at times), but it’s so over-the-top and moves at such a ferocious pace, it’s hard not to get caught up in the action.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
The directorial debut of Boots Riley (perhaps better known as the frontman of the hip-hop band The Coup), Sorry to Bother You is a madcap satire of 21st-century capitalism, a film that tosses realism out the window within the first 10 minutes or so. The movie follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a sad-sack guy who, desperate for money, gets a job as a telemarketer at a grimy office (he lies about his previous work experience, which his interviewer considers a positive). Cassius struggles to make sales, so an older coworker (Danny Glover) gives him some advice, telling him to use a “white voice.” After using a white voice (David Cross), Cassius suddenly starts racking up sales and soon gets a promotion to the esteemed position of Power Caller. As he climbs the corporate ladder, however, Cassius risks losing his soul to the relentless machine of marketing. Sorry to Bother You makes uses of some bonkers visuals to accompany its eccentric premise, such as an early sequence in which Cassius, as he calls customers, literally drops into their houses, snapping back to the office when they hang up.
The Square (2017)
The Square, the latest award-winning film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, follows a man named Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a modern art museum whose exhibits, he assures an interviewer, must be “cutting-edge.” Running such a museum is a difficult job, and over the course of the film, Christian trudges through setback after humiliating setback, some of which are his own making. As in his previous film, Force Majeure, Östlund is a vicious satirist, slowly chipping away at his protagonist and the larger, bourgeois world of modern art. As absurd as it is scathing, The Square is a sharp comedy that manages to keep topping itself from beginning to end.
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
A delightfully dark comedy about the hazards of social media, Ingrid Goes West follows Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a troubled woman who develops an unhealthy fixation on an Instagram celebrity, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). In awe of Taylor’s sunny, sublime life, Ingrid moves to California and conspires to worm her way into Taylor’s orbit. Ingrid Goes West has a sharp script with snappy lines that capture the dialect of the social media age. Each character feels absurd in their own unique way, and Plaza’s performance as the bubbly-yet-dangerous Ingrid is among her finest.
A dark subversion of the high school films that dominated in the 1980s, Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), one of the popular girls — a member of a clique called the Heathers — at Westerburg High School. Weary of the group’s tyranny, Veronica teams up with dangerous misfit J.D. (Christian Slater) to pull a prank on the Heathers’ leader, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). When the prank turns deadly, Veronica realizes she may be in over her head, as J.D. wants to keep killing the school bullies. Very dark, but also funny, Heathers is an excellent, unique comedy.
Action and adventure
The Dark Knight (2008)
More than a decade after its release, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight — the second in his trilogy of Batman films — remains one of the greatest superhero films ever made, a stellar example of what happens when studios give a talented auteur free rein to pursue their vision. Set not long after Batman Begins, the film finds Gotham City on the upswing, as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) work together to take down the remnants of organized crime. While the crimefighters are focused on the mob, however, a new villain is making a name for himself in Gotham: A wild anarchist known as the Joker (Heath Ledger), who promises the mob bosses that he can kill Batman. The Joker is no ordinary criminal, however; he has a plan to turn Gotham upside down and show the world that everyone is just a bad day away from going mad. Upon release, The Dark Knight raked in praise for taking the trapping of superhero films and elevating them with a focus on theme and character. The film’s dramatic approach is still unparalleled in superhero cinema, as are its action scenes; see the opening sequence, a tense, cutthroat bank heist that serves as the Joker’s establishing moment.
Ninja Scroll (1993)
The classic anime film Ninja Scroll follows a wandering swordsman named Jubei and a ninja named Kagero, whose paths cross when they run afoul of one of the Eight Devils of Kimon, a group of ninja with demonic powers. Jubei and Kagero, along with an old spy named Dakuan, must fight their way through the Eight Devils and stop a conspiracy to overthrow the shogunate. Ninja Scroll moves from fight scene to fight scene, set piece to set piece, with ruthless efficiency. The action sequences are the main attraction, particularly the fights with the Eight Devils, each of whom has unique powers that make for creative battles.
The seminal anime film Akira has had a huge impact on sci-fi since its release, but despite how many films and video games have drawn on Akira for inspiration, the movie itself still feels fresh. The film begins in Neo-Tokyo circa 2019, decades after the start of World War III. Far below the towering skyscrapers, gangs of motorcycle-riding youths fight in the streets. A leather-clad hotshot named Kaneda leads a gang called the Capsules. While evading the police, Kaneda’s comrade Tetsuo runs across a mysterious being with psychic powers, and after crashing his bike, ends up in the government’s custody. After enduring strange experiments, Tetsuo develops psychic powers, and a mighty ego to match. As Tetsuo’s powers grow, Kaneda must try to stop him before he destroys Tokyo. Akira is a slick action film full of striking imagery and stylish violence.
Annihilation is the kind of film that asks the big questions, though, it never truly answers any of them. Helmed by the visionary behind Ex Machina (Alex Garland) and adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, the film follows a ragtag group of military scientists — namely, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh — who investigate a biological anomaly known as “The Shimmer,” a quarantined zone on the coast that’s mutating everything in its path. It’s an ambitious novel to tackle, yet, Garland and company tackle the book’s haunting, metaphysical themes with aplomb, serving up a sci-fi masterpiece that will leave your head reeling once the beastly, otherworldly screams and crystalline blossoms begin to settle.
Overshadowed by The Matrix, David Cronenberg’s 1999 film Existenz is a wild tale about artificial reality, one with less kung fu and even more body horror. In the film’s vision of the future, fleshy, biological video game pods can be plugged into a person’s spinal cord (through something called a bio-port), mentally transporting them to a game world. Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is one of the preeminent game designers in this new world, and her latest project, Existenz, promises to be her magnum opus. After assassins dedicated to preserving the real world attack Geller, security guard Ted Pikul (Jude Law) saves her. She convinces him to get a bio-port so they can test the game together. So begins a journey into other worlds, one that involves violence, existential anxiety, and a gun made of chicken bones. Existenz may not have the flashy action of sci-fi blockbusters, but it’s a thrilling examination of the nature of reality with some memorably grotesque visuals.
Horror and suspense
Let the Right One In (2008)
A horror film with a heart, Let the Right One In follows a meek boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) who lives in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Bullies prey on Oskar, and he leads a lonely life, dreaming of revenge, until one night he meets a pale girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson), who lives next door with a man named Håkan (Per Ragnar). Although Eli is distant at first, the two become friends, but Eli has a dark secret, and a string of murders follows her arrival. Let the Right One In is a somber, methodical film, and a fresh take on a classic horror premise, but it’s also strangely touching. Despite their youthful personalities, Oskar and Eli are two lonely souls who find a sort of comfort in each other.
If there is one lesson to take away from horror movies, it is to never spend a weekend in a secluded cabin, a lesson newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) learn in Honeymoon. The movie wisely builds up their relationship in the first act, and their affection makes it all the more unsettling when things start to go wrong. Honeymoon is a character-driven horror movie, and while it is light on jump scares, it does a great job of creeping out the audience, slowly escalating the action until it reaches a disturbing climax.
Weiner, a documentary from Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, began as a redemption story, chronicling former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s campaign to become mayor of New York City a couple of years after a sexting scandal forced him out of politics. As the campaign progresses, and Weiner becomes embroiled in another scandal with similar details, Weiner becomes an eyewitness account of a campaign (and a marriage) imploding. Weiner is a fascinating subject, overflowing with bravado but prone to moments of self-doubt; he cuts a tragic figure, his wild energy causing both his rise and downfall. Weiner is a strikingly intimate portrait of a complicated public figure, and how quickly a political campaign can go off the rails.
Free Solo (2018)
What can we say about Free Solo that hasn’t been said already? Filmmaker Jimmy Chin’s award-winning biopic chronicles professional climber Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent of one the most iconic slabs of granite in the world, El Capitan, as well his upbringing and van-fueled life outside the wall. It’s a harrowing portrait, one lined with vertigo-inducing shots and candid conversations about life and death, told through the lens of a 33-year-old who wants nothing more than to summit a 3,000-foot cliff with no ropes or safety harness. The footage of the climb itself — from the route planning to the actual execution — is mesmerizing, but it’s the film’s blunt examination of Honnold’s mind and motives that takes it to new heights.
Becoming Bond (2017)
James Bond is one of the most prestigious roles in cinema, one several great actors — Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig, among others — have stepped into. One man who got a taste of the Bond lifestyle, however, stepped away from it after just one film: George Lazenby, who starred in the underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In Becoming Bond, director Josh Greenbaum sits down with Lazenby to hear the story of how a young car mechanic from Australia came to play a British icon, and why he walked away from it all. Lazenby is a charming storyteller, and Greenbaum wisely lets him take the lead, as he tells a tale as full of drama, sex, and luxury as any Bond film.
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