The best Netflix original movies


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Once upon a time, Netflix’s only original content was television, but once upon an earlier time it thrived on DVD mailers that have become all but myth. Netflix has always loved movies, and ever since its first original production the platform has proved more than capable of churning out crowd pleasers and Oscar winners — sometimes both at the same time.

We’ve picked our favorites from 2020, 2019, and 2018, but here are the best Netflix original films ever, in release order.

1. Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation

Netflix’s very first original film seemed like a reckless gamble, but debuted to strong reviews and eventual awards. Abraham Attah stars as Agu, a Ghanaian child forced to become a soldier and join a battalion led by the formidable Commandant (Idris Elba). The young soldiers suffer losses in battle as well as abuse from the Commandant, and Agu fears he has become a monster in a life that never let him choose. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter

Where to watch: Netflix

2. 13th

Harvard University professor of History, Race, and Public Policy Khalil Muhammad in Ava DuVernay's "13th."

Harvard University professor of History, Race, and Public Policy Khalil Muhammad in Ava DuVernay’s “13th.”

Ava DuVernay’s chilling documentary explores a sinister loophole in the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for crimes. This clause laid the foundation for the country’s now-notorious and interminable problem of mass incarceration, a problem which has taken a toll on Black men more than any other demographic. — P.K.

Where to watch: Netflix

3. Icarus

Grigory Rodchenkov, head of Russian anti-doping laboratory, knows more about doping than expected.

Grigory Rodchenkov, head of Russian anti-doping laboratory, knows more about doping than expected.

A rare documentary with a big twist, Icarus starts as filmmaker Bryan Fogel dipping his toes into sports doping and trying it out for himself for an amateur bike race. In his research, he stumbles upon an international doping conspiracy involving a bizarrely open and knowledgeable participant: Grigory Rodchenkov, head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov started as a simple source of information on performance enhancers but had a lot more to share, spurring this documentary in a new, infinitely more interesting direction thanks to his whistleblowing, resulting in a huge scandal, criminal investigations, and very legitimate threats to peoples’ lives. — Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter

Where to watch: Netflix

4. Okja

Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun) and Okja in Bong Joon-Ho's surprisingly silly yet thought-provoking "Okja."

Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun) and Okja in Bong Joon-Ho’s surprisingly silly yet thought-provoking “Okja.”

Before he won an Oscar for suggesting we eat the rich, Bong Joon Ho’s most recent film was about a little girl and her genetically modified superpig, Okja. Ahn Seo-Hyun plays wide-eyed Mija, who cannot bear the separation when times come for Okja to be taken away and ostensibly killed for mass consumption. Mija flees to Seoul to rescue her best friend and expose the slimy Mirando Corporation which began the superpig program. Okja boasts a wholesome and streamlined story, but Bong’s stamp is in the delectably weird performances from Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, and more — and in the fleeting Easter eggs the director put in there just for fun. — P.K.

Where to watch: Netflix

5. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Peter (Noah Centineo) and Lara Jean (Lana Condor) sell the heck out of a fake relationship in "To All the Boys I've Loved Before."

Peter (Noah Centineo) and Lara Jean (Lana Condor) sell the heck out of a fake relationship in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Netflix’s rom-com revival kicked off in 2017, a year whose slate included this criminally charming movie based on the novel by Jenny Han. Lara Jean (Lana Condor) is a hopeless romantic in the habit of writing letters to her most epic crushes — writing, not sending. When the letters leak, she starts pretending to date Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) to divert attention from her real crush on her sister’s boyfriend. With a bouncy pop soundtrack and visual style that is the envy of your entire Instagram feed, To All the Boys is the kind of movie you can return to again and again, a comfort watch as cozy as Lara Jean’s baked goods. Will we ever tire of watching fictional characters fake love until it becomes real? If they’re even half as adorable as these two, the answer is no. — P.K.

Where to watch: Netflix

6. Roma

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, a housekeeper in the moving film

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, a housekeeper in the moving film “Roma.”

Image: Alfonso Cuarón /  netflix

Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning drama follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a housekeeper working for a wealthy family in Mexico City. Thanks to Cuarón’s writing, direction, and cinematography (each of which garnered its own respective Oscar), the film is remarkably immersive, enveloping us in Cleo’s world in a way most movies strive for and can never even touch. We feel the comfort in her mundane day-to-day, the sting of her boyfriend’s betrayal, and blinding panic and trauma in the film’s final act. It’s a stunning piece of cinema that should be talked about for decades to come. — P.K.

Where to watch: Netflix

7. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé

"Homecoming" goes behind-the-scenes of Beyoncé's 2018 Coachella set, a rare and transfixing insight into the artist's process and production.

“Homecoming” goes behind-the-scenes of Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella set, a rare and transfixing insight into the artist’s process and production.

Homecoming is a documentary film that is mainly footage from Beyoncé’s two-night headlining gig at Coachella in 2018 (which was dubbed Beychella for her outstanding performance). On its face, the documentary is a reiteration of Beyoncé’s unparalleled talent uniquely set on a backdrop of the celebratory culture of sporting events and gatherings on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities.

Homecoming is also especially personal because it serves as a closer look into Beyoncé’s mindset as she nervously anticipated her return to the stage while living in a postpartum body that felt foreign to her. The entire film is triumphantly affecting and genuinely awesome.

The choreography, vocals, remixes of Beyoncé’s repertoire, costume changes, and special guest stars make Homecoming, which is over two hours long, totally worth the viewing journey.* — Tricia Crimmins, Entertainment Fellow

Where to watch: Netflix

8. Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy plays the struggling actor Rudy Ray Moore in

Eddie Murphy plays the struggling actor Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite is My Name,” based on true events.

Image: François Duhamel / NETFLIX

Chronicling the true story of late comedian Rudy Ray Moore — also known as Dolemite — this Eddie Murphy vehicle is worth every minute of viewing. Dolemite Is My Name is at once a poignant look at the life of an underdog and an unbelievably good time. With supporting performances by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, and more, this biopic offers more beat-for-beat joy than many fictional comedies. Sensational, aspirational, and electric, you’ll love it.* — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter

Where to watch: Netflix

9. Klaus

A mail worker gets caught in the Christmas spirit because of letters to Santa in

A mail worker gets caught in the Christmas spirit because of letters to Santa in “Klaus.”

Few modern Christmas films are as totally enchanting as director Sergio Pablos’ Klaus. Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2020 Academy Awards, this Santa Claus origin story follows Jesper Johansson (Jason Schwartzman), a disappointing heir to a postal empire, as he takes up a new post in a remote village. Narratively touching and visually stunning, Klaus captures Yuletide magic in a way that’s fresh but still cozy. — A.F.

Where to watch: Netflix

10. Marriage Story

Insert joke about how it should be called

Insert joke about how it should be called “Divorce Story” here.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s Divorce Film is many things: a strong drama about family, a sad tale of love lost, maybe even a tentatively hopeful piece about next chapters. Mostly, though, it’s just a damn great movie with two best-of-the-year performances in Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through an acrimonious split. The two — plus a stellar supporting cast that includes Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta — make you feel every emotional beat in the 137 minutes; every scream, sob and painful glance dives straight to your heart.

It’s not easy viewing, but it’s a genuinely moving experience that will have you thinking about the nature of love long after you wipe your eyes and leave the theater. —Erin Strecker, Entertainment Editor

Where to watch: Netflix

11. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

“Crip Camp” is the true story of Camp Jened in the 1960s, a haven for young people with disabilities that led them to organize and demand a more accessible world.

is a vital documentary that tells the story of the generation of disability activists who first learned to organize while attending the now defunct Camp Jened. Camp Jened was a summer program for children and teens with a wide range of disabilities, and the documentary uses archival footage from the camp’s’ heyday in the 1960s to show the impact its progressive and accessible space had on its campers.

Some of the same people shown as children in the camp footage went on to lead life-changing demonstrations that improved the social status of people with disabilities in the United States, but Crip Camp’s greatest strength as a film is in showing how early access to inclusive spaces gives marginalized community members the opportunity to dream of and create a better world.*Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter

Where to watch:

12. Tigertail

Tigertail

Tigertail

Image: Chen Hsiang Liu/Netflix

Alan Yang’s feature film directorial debut tells the heartwarming story of Pin-Jui and Yuan, who met in Taiwan as children and young adults but eventually lose touch. In his later years, Pin-Jui finds himself distant from his daughter, their relationship strained by his reluctance to open up over the years. Flashbacks continue to reveal the tender love between Pin-Jui and Yuan until he abruptly marries someone else, and the grown Pin-Jui is compelled to find his old love and return to his roots.* — P.K.

Where to watch:

13. Da 5 Bloods

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, and Jonathan Majors in

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, and Jonathan Majors in “Da 5 Bloods,” in which four friends visit Vietnam to recover what they lost during the war.

Image: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Spike Lee did what Spike Lee does in : He delivered a work of cinema that’s both timely and timeless, marked by stellar performances and a camera lens that tells a story even if you ignore the script.

The film follows four Black Vietnam vets as they return to the former war zone in search of their dead squad leader’s remains…and the millions in CIA gold they plundered and buried before their tour ended. Political differences between the men foster mistrust and complicate their journey, leading to a powerful finale that’s not-so-strangely resonant — this is Spike Lee — for our current moment in history.* —Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter

Where to watch: Netflix

14. The Old Guard

Kiki Layne, Luca Marinelli, Charlize Theron, and Marwan Kenzari as a group of immortal mercenaries in

Kiki Layne, Luca Marinelli, Charlize Theron, and Marwan Kenzari as a group of immortal mercenaries in “The Old Guard.”

Folks looking for that summer blockbuster thrill, search no further than . Based on the superhero comic books of the same name, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s movie sucks viewers into a slick, well-crafted world of action and narrative that isn’t particularly unique but delivers its formulaic pieces with enough precision to keep you invested. Charlize Theron crushes as the ass-kicking leader of an immortal warrior fight crew, with performances by Harry Melling, Marwan Kenzari, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Van Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts, and more.* —A.F. 

Where to watch:

15. Dick Johnson is Dead

Filmmaker Kristen Johnson explores the many ways in which her father could die in

Filmmaker Kristen Johnson explores the many ways in which her father could die in “Dick Johnson is Dead” on Netflix.

That death comes for us all doesn’t make it any easier to bear when it’s coming for someone you love. But rather than turn away from this tragic reality, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson stares it right in the face. In Dick Johnson Is Dead she kills off her own aging father over and over again, in a series of staged deaths ranging from the mundane (a trip down the stairs) to the shocking (a falling air conditioner). Sometimes she follows him to his funeral, and in other scenes all the way up to heaven. In between, she reflects on their bond, mourns his inevitable demise, and simply shows him for the sweet charmer he is. By turns absurd, hilarious, and utterly heart-wrenching, Dick Johnson Is Dead dares to imagine the unimaginable — and in grappling with death, finds a way to celebrate life. –Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor

Where to watch: Netflix

16. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Madalen Mills as Journey Jangle in Netflix's incredibly delightful holiday musical.

Madalen Mills as Journey Jangle in Netflix’s incredibly delightful holiday musical.

Shut up and embrace the magic of Christmas with Jingle Jangle, a delightful original musical about family, toys, and inheritable mechanical ingenuity. Forrest Whittaker stars as Jeronicus Jangle, a formerly genius toymaker who thinks he’s lost everything, but his daughter Jessica (literal Disney princess Anika Noni Rose) and granddaughter Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills) come back into his life to reignite the spark that makes their family special. Ricky Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and Keegan Michael Key also star in unforgettable roles that play together to make Jingle Jangle an instant holiday classic. –A.N.

Where to watch: Netflix

*This blurb has appeared on a previous list.





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