Best movies to watch on Netflix right now
Some of the best movies on Netflix right now include Nimona, Tenet and No Country for Old Men. Updated weekly.
Let's face it: Netflix's film library has grown so large that it can be almost impossible to choose what to watch on any given evening.
The streamer collection – which consists of both original movies and popular flicks that the streamer has acquired – is extremely wide-ranging, even if there are a few blind spots like the noticeable shortage of films from before the 1990s.
But whether you're after a film from one of cinema's great auteurs like Martin Scorsese, a brand new family film such as the recently released Nimona, or just a silly comedy like Step Brothers, Netflix should have you covered with loads of different offerings.
If you're wondering which of the streamer's offerings to watch right now, RadioTimes.com has compiled a list of Netflix recommendations to suit all.
Alternatively, check out our helpful list of Netflix secret codes which help you unlock hidden movies and TV shows.
Updated: 15th September 2023
Best movies to watch on Netflix right now
This animated adventure started its life at Blue Sky Studios only to be shelved following Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2021, eventually being picked up by Netflix for release in 2023. And it's a good job it was rescued: it's a rollicking, inventive, and amusing fairytale that deftly touches on LGBTQ+ themes, with some impressive voice performances from the likes of Chloë Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed.
The film tells the story of Knight Ballister Boldheart (Ahmed) who has to turn to the titular shape-shifting teen (Moretz) for help when he is falsely accused of murdering the Queen. Nimona is the only person willing to help him prove his innocence, but things are somewhat confused by the fact she is also the monster he has sworn to kill. Cue an enjoyable adventure that features all sorts of havoc and makes for top-tier entertainment for the whole family.
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There Will Be Blood (2007)
Of the several masterpieces Paul Thomas Anderson has made since he first burst onto the scene in the late ‘90s, There Will Be Blood perhaps stands out as his most towering accomplishment. Loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s 1920s novel Oil!, it charts the life of ruthlessly ambitious oil prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the sometimes heinous acts he commits to become the leading tycoon in the US.
Day-Lewis picked up the second of his three Best Actor Oscars for his immense performance in the lead role, but at times he almost finds himself upstaged by a never-better Paul Dano – who plays the preacher with whom Plainview has something of a contemptuous relationship. Packed with memorable set scenes – the breathtaking finale in a bowling alley is a corker – the film is at once a mesmerising character study and a damning treatise on the corrupting nature of capitalism.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Before going their separate ways, the Coen brothers had firmly established themselves as one of the most consistently brilliant filmmaking teams in the business – but this 2007 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is the only one of their films to have picked up the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The film focuses on three men who get caught up in a bloody pursuit across the West Texas desert in the aftermath of a drugs deal gone wrong: opportunistic hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), psychopathic assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and world-weary sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Although perhaps slightly more serious in tone than some of their other efforts, the film retains much of the Coens’ black humour – and Bardem’s performance is a villainous turn for the ages.
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Wes Anderson’s aesthetic is without any doubt one of the most distinctive in modern cinema – even when he’s dabbling in the world of stop motion animation, such as in the case of this delightful Roald Dahl adaptation.
Full of the kind of deadpan line deliveries and quirky jokes you’d expect in an Anderson picture, it boasts a typically star-studded cast, with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe among the many A-listers to lend their voices to the film’s menagerie of woodland creatures. And of course, it’s gorgeously designed – with the impeccably detailed, symmetrical sets on their own enough to provide audiences with plenty to purr over.
The latest work from legendary Telegu filmmaker S. S. Rajamouli, RRR became a major international hit upon its release – enrapturing viewers all around the globe. It’s not difficult to see why it resonated so much – across its epic three-hour running time the film packs in all manner of superbly executed action scenes (sometimes involving CGI animals) and splendidly choreographed dance scenes, including one to Oscar-winning song Naatu Naatu.
Set against the backdrop of the brutal British Raj, RRR is a thrilling tale of revenge. The film chronicles a charming fictional friendship between real-life revolutionaries Komaram Bheem (NT Rama Rao Jr) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) as they seek to rid the nation of British rule.
Moonage Daydream (2022)
A huge wealth of documentaries have been made about David Bowie both before and after his death in 2016, and none of them could ever hope to be definitive. But this immersive experience – which unfolds over two and a half hours – does an exceptionally good job of charting some of the highs and lows of his extraordinary career.
Including many of the legendary musician's greatest hits and a raft of never-before-seen footage and interviews, Moonage Daydream’s prime focus is on the mythology of Bowie as a performer and an artist. And even if less time is given to his personal life, this is an insightful – and crucially enjoyable – look at one of the 20th century's most enduring cultural figures.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Throughout his film career, Guillermo Del Toro has often explored the theme of life under brutal dictatorships, but never with as much success as in this spellbinding, hugely imaginative film from 2006. Set in Francoist Spain, it follows a ten-year-old girl who moves to her step-father's house and soon finds herself having fantastical encounters with strange and magical creatures.
Poetic, dark and hugely empathetic, it is a consistently enrapturing look at childhood told as a gothic fairytale for adults – featuring incredible creature and production design. It won three Oscars, for Art Direction, Cinematography and Make-up and was nominated for a further three including Best Foreign Language Film.
Bob Odenkirk might not be the first actor you think of when you hear the words 'action star', but the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul favourite proved he had yet another string to his bow in this fiercely enjoyable – and often brutal – thriller from director Ilya Naishuller.
Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a seemingly ordinary family man whose violent past comes back to the fore when thieves break into his house and target his wife and son. Cue all sorts of kinetic, wonderfully choreographed action in the vein of John Wick – a fight scene on a bus is a particular highlight – as Hutch embarks on a bruising revenge mission that brings him face to face with the Russian Mafia.
This Oscar-winning film from director Tom McCarthy takes inspiration from the likes of All the President’s Men to tell the story of a groundbreaking journalistic investigation: specifically the harrowing case of abuse by Catholic priests in Boston.
It boasts a superb cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, all of whom excel as the real-life reporters who played a crucial role in uncovering the scandal. As you’d expect from subject matter like this, the film contains some distressing scenes, but it’s expertly put together in a sensitive, realistic way that shines a light on the importance of quality investigative work.
Denis Villeneuve’s recent track record has been nothing short of sublime, but before he was entrusted to big-budget blockbuster epics such as Blade Runner 2049 and Dune, he directed this slightly more intimate sci-fi tale, based on a short story by Ted Chiang.
Amy Adams turns in a stellar central performance as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor called in by the US army to translate an alien language when spaceships appear across the globe. It’s a far more grounded alien invasion tale than most examples in the genre and features a hugely satisfying – and deeply emotional – ending that ensures a second viewing will be a very different experience.
Step Brothers (2008)
Before he was making Oscar-nominated satires such as The Big Short and Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay was one of the leading directors of riotous, unapologetically immature comedies like this one – which remains one of the funniest mainstream American movies of the 21st century.
Will Ferrell and John C Reilly star as fully grown step brothers who haven’t quite developed into adults in any traditional sense of the word – still living with their parents and struggling to get on when they must move into the same room. In a runtime stuffed with silly pratfalls, crude jokes and a huge number of scenes showing grown men acting like children, the duo slowly begin to develop something of a bond – leading up to a memorable conclusion.
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
When the Film BAFTA nominees for 2022 were announced, it came as something of a shock that Edward Berger’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic novel had scored an incredible 14 nods. But most of those who watched the film quickly understood the acclaim – it’s an immense technical achievement filled with visual action and first-rate performances.
The film makes a few changes from its famous source text but remains unflinching in its anti-war stance, following idealistic German soldier Paul Bäumer as he discovers the horrors of war. Those horrors are made all the more stark when put against the comparatively luxurious conditions enjoyed by those negotiating to reach an armistice – a plot strand that was absent from Remarque's novel.
Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (2019)
Quentin Tarantino has been consistently vocal that he will stop making films after his tenth feature, which makes this 2019 effort the penultimate entry in his beloved filmography. But what an entry it is – a freewheeling look at a pivotal moment in Hollywood history during the late 1960s, featuring superb performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and an Oscar-winning Brad Pitt.
Largely unfolding over the course of a single day in 1969, it has the feel of a hang-out movie as we spend time with a washed-up TV actor (DiCaprio), his loyal stuntman (Pitt) and the real-life actress Sharon Tate (Robbie) as they run into all manner of eccentric characters and events – including members of the sinister Manson family. It all leads up to an explosive conclusion some months later that ranks among the auteur’s most divisive – but brilliant – set pieces.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Legendary director Martin Scorsese is perhaps best known for his epic crime films, but his long career has been exceptionally varied and this wonderful period drama ranks up there with the very best of his work. Adapted from an Edith Wharton novel of the same name and boasting an exceptional cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder in the lead roles, it recounts a tragic love triangle that develops in a wealthy New York estate in the 1870s.
It's an exquisitely made film with a brilliantly-judged melancholic tone, and the impressive cast members are all at the top of their game. Scorsese's direction is stunning, if less bombastic than in his gangster pictures, and there are several standout romantic moments – including an especially memorable scene that involves the removal of a glove.
Knives Out (2019) and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)
The comedy murder-mystery has been enjoying something of a moment in recent years – thanks to everything from British flick See How They Run to hit TV series Only Murders in the Building. But arguably no one has done it better than Rian Johnson, whose two star-studded Knives Out mysteries are both available on Netflix, with a third expected to follow at some point in the future.
The films see Daniel Craig’s heavily accented sleuth Benoit Blanc attempt to unravel a couple of very mysterious cases – first the death of a revered crime writer in a cosy mansion, then an even more puzzling death on a private island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Craig is on terrific form throughout, and both films are as humorous as they are exciting, each packed with intriguing twists that keeps the audience guessing until the end.
Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Guillermo Del Toro’s first foray into stop-motion animation – alongside co-director Mark Gustafson – is one of many new takes on the tale of the wooden boy to have been released in recent years. It also happens to be by some margin the best of the bunch, ingeniously transposing Carlo Collodi’s classic tale to Benito Mussolini’s Italy.
Many of the story beats are, of course, familiar: Geppetto makes a puppet that comes to life, with the pair then getting tangled up in adventures alongside a talking cricket. But, this new version also laces its narrative with profound meditations on grief, death, religion, and authoritarianism, adding up to a truly beautiful and visually sumptuous piece of work.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
French filmmaker Celine Sciamma has made some of the best films of the last decade – and this period romantic drama arguably ranks as the finest of the lot, winning a major prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it opened to glowing reviews. Set in France in the late 18th century, it follows the romance that develops between a reluctant bride-to-be and the artist hired to paint her portrait.
Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are luminous in the lead roles, and the whole film is superbly put together by Sciamma, whose direction is frequently subtle and intelligent. Certain scenes will linger long in the memory, none more so than the heartbreaking final shot.
The Harry Potter series
After long having been absent from major streaming platforms, all eight Harry Potter flicks arrived on Netflix in 2022, giving fans the chance to once again relive the magical adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione in Hogwarts and beyond.
In addition to kickstarting the careers of leads Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the film also featured many of the finest thespians Britain had to offer, with Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman among the stars to bring beloved characters to the screen. A new TV adaptation of the books is currently in the works at Max, but these films – released between 2001 and 2011 – will take some beating.
Denis Villeneuve has recently been working mostly in the sci-fi genre, but he’s equally adept when it comes to crafting a thriller – and this 2013 effort stands as a testament to that. Villeneuve’s first feature in the English language, it boasts an all-star cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Paul Dano, each of whom delivers an engrossing performance.
Jackman is Keller Dover, a man whose daughter – along with his neighbour's daughter – is abducted. Although Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is drafted in to work on the case, Dover soon pursues a vigilante form of justice convinced that intellectually disabled man Alex Jones (Dano) is the person responsible. What follows is a gritty and gripping thriller that features its fair share of shocking violence – but that is near impossible to turn your eyes away from.
This Siegfried Sassoon biopic from legendary British filmmaker Terence Davies, which premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, was one of the best films released in UK cinemas in 2022. A beautiful but melancholy portrait of the wartime poet, it explores some of the obstacles he faced as a gay man in the first half of the twentieth century, charting his marriage to Hester Gatty and eventual conversion to Catholicism.
Despite being a deeply sad piece of work, Davies injects real wit into proceedings, and the film is anchored by two absolutely superb performances from Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi, who play the poet at different stages of his life.
In the Loop (2009)
Armando Iannucci's Westminster satire The Thick of It is one of the best British sitcoms of the 21st century, so it’s no surprise that this feature-length spin-off – which features many of the same actors playing different characters – makes for such a hilarious 90-minute flick.
Tom Hollander leads the ensemble as Simon Foster, the Secretary of State for International Development who finds himself embroiled in political games on both sides of the Atlantic, but it's Peter Capaldi who once again steals the show as spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker – the scariest and sweariest comic creation of recent years.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Yorgos Lanthimos is known for injecting a feeling of unease into his films, and that’s certainly the case in this gripping psychological chiller. The Killing of a Sacred Deer chronicles the unusual relationship between an accomplished heart surgeon and a teenage boy, who he invites to stay with his family for reasons that aren't initially clear.
Barry Keoghan marked himself out as one to watch with his extremely disquieting role as the unwanted house guest, playing opposite his future Banshees of Inisherin co-star Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, while you’ll probably never be able to listen to Ellie Goulding’s song Burn in the same way after watching.
An adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing is a hugely accomplished directorial debut from BAFTA-winning actress Rebecca Hall. A thoughtful period piece, it follows two African-American childhood friends who meet again later in life and discover they have taken radically different paths in life – with one of them having taken steps to “pass” as a white woman.
Hall handled the topic with great sensitivity, and the use of Academy ratio and crisp monochrome photography ensures that it’s also a stunning work from an aesthetic point of view. Meanwhile, Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are both exquisite in the lead roles, and there is able support from the likes of Bill Camp and Alexander Skarsgård.
Paddington 2 (2017)
The first Paddington film in 2014 had already proved irresistibly charming to audiences across the world – but this sequel took things up a notch to deliver arguably one of the best family films ever made. The film picks up with the Peruvian bear – still living with the Brown family – as he embarks on a journey to get the perfect gift for his Aunt’s 100th birthday.
Only there’s a spanner in the works – and that spanner comes in the shape of a scene-stealing Hugh Grant, who stars as narcissistic thespian Phoenix Buchanan, who would like Paddington’s preferred gift all for himself. What follows is a delightful, rip-roaring adventure that was deservedly heaped with praise. We’re still waiting for a planned third instalment, but for the time being this one is always ripe for a revisit.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Inglourious Basterds marked something of a change in direction for Quentin Tarantino – who until that point had largely made films set in contemporary times. All of his films since Basterds have been period pieces – not that this change in approach led to any watering down of his instantly recognisable style or his fascination with revenge narratives.
Starring Brad Pitt as a lieutenant leading a troop of vengeful Jewish-American soldiers, and an Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz as the chilling Nazi villain Hans Landa, this film is electric throughout – from the unbearably tense opening scene to the immensely cathartic conclusion. Complete with plenty of Tarantino's trademark dialogue and a handful of perfectly constructed set pieces, this two-and-a-half-hour epic is the writer/director at the very top of his game.
Bad Trip (2021)
Eric André has long been a purveyor of outrageous comedy on his self-titled TV show, and he very much took that anarchic spirit into this hilarious hidden camera comedy, which also stars Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery.
André and Howery star as best friends Chris and Bud as they take a road trip from their small town in Florida to New York City so that the former can declare his love for his high school sweetheart Maria (Michaela Conlin). But, with Bud's criminal sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish) on their tail after escaping prison, the two find themselves in a number of sticky situations as actual members of the public look on in shock.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
The work of Charlie Kaufman is always innovative and often divisive, and both those descriptors certainly fit this 2020 adaptation of Ian Reid’s novel of the same name. On the face of it, the film tells the simple story of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) travelling with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his family on their secluded farm.
Only things take several unconventional turns as the film becomes a nightmarish exploration of the young woman’s psyche, with all sorts of surreal imagery, dark jokes and even interpretative dance sequences. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those who can get on its wavelength, it will prove a haunting and unforgettable experience.
Chicken Run (2000)
More than two decades after Aardman first released this beloved animation, a sequel is arriving in cinemas and on Netflix in late 2023 – and so there’s never been a better time to catch up with the original. If you need a reminder, Chicken Run follows the inhabitants of a chicken farm who see a chance to escape when rooster Rocky seemingly flies into their pen.
The sharp humour and attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Aardman is present in all its glory – and indeed the film was so good that it’s been credited as one of the main reasons for the Oscars adding a Best Animated Feature category the following year. (Aardman won the award a few years later for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.)
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Da 5 Bloods went somewhat under the radar when it arrived on Netflix at the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020 – but this is another terrific Spike Lee joint, following hot on the heels of his high-profile return to form with BlackKklansman two years earlier. That this film didn’t manage nearly as many nominations at the Oscars can be seen as something of a snub, particularly given the quality of some of the performances.
Delroy Lindo (The Good Fight), Clarke Peters (The Wire), Norm Lewis (Scandal) and Isiah Whitlock Jr (BlacKkKlansman) star as a group of Vietnam vets who return to the country to search for the remains of their fallen commander, played in flashback by the much-missed Chadwick Boseman – whose portrayal is even more poignant in light of his tragic death in 2020. On their journey, the group confronts their traumatic memories of the conflict while also reckoning with the different paths they’ve each taken since.
Marriage Story (2019)
Writer/director Noah Baumbach has teamed up with Adam Driver on a number of occasions, but this divorce drama is arguably the peak of their collaboration. The film earned six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards – winning one – and proved every bit as popular with audiences as it did with critics.
Based in part on Baumbach’s own divorce, Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as a director and actor couple whose marriage has reached its end, but things only get more bitter when lawyers are called in to begin divorce proceedings. By turns funny and tear-jerking, this film is a real winner – worth it for a scene that sees Driver singing Stephen Sondheim’s Being Alive alone.
The Irishman (2019)
There was a time a few years ago when Netflix was gladly giving a number of acclaimed big-name auteurs big budgets and free rein to make their passion projects, and the greatest result of that era was Martin Scorsese’s superb gangster epic.
Of course, the great director has famously dabbled in the gangster genre many times before, but what marks The Irishman out from the likes of Goodfellas and Casino is the more sombre, elegiac tone. The film follows Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran (Robert De Niro), as he recalls his involvement in the disappearance of his longtime friend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), whilst also reflecting on a number of relationships, including that with his daughter, Peggy (Anna Paquin).
The title of Ava DuVernay’s searing documentary refers to the 13th Amendment in the US Constitution, which declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”
The film goes on to draw parallels between slavery and the major flaws in America’s modern-day criminal judgment system, examining the prison-industrial complex and the ways in which the system disproportionately affects Black Americans and other minority communities. The film won huge acclaim on release and secured Netflix its first BAFTA – while it found an audience again following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Uncut Gems (2020)
Most of the Adam Sandler films you’ll find on Netflix are of rather dubious quality, but every so often the actor picks a project that shows just how good he can be – and there’s never been a better example of that than Uncut Gems. This unbearably tense, blackly comic offering from the Safdie Brothers was a huge critical hit when it debuted in 2020, with many feeling that Sandler was unfortunate not to nab an Oscar nomination.
He stars as a New York City jeweller with a gambling problem, who must risk everything to banish his debts and escape the collectors after him – whilst also balancing his role as a father, a crumbling marriage with his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Idina Menzel) and an affair with an employee (Julia Fox).
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Although telling a fictional story, the characters in this ode to the glam rock era are heavily based on real musical icons – with David Bowie serving as the main inspiration for lead character Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The film follows events after British journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned to write about Slade’s disappearance from public life a decade before.
Through interviews with those close to him – including American rocker Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), Arthur pieces together Slade’s life, while we also find out more about the significance of glam rock to his own life. Superbly written and directed by Todd Haynes, this is a surreal and glittering experience with some tremendously theatrical performances at its centre.
Hollywood icons Robert De Niro and Al Pacino famously both starred in The Godfather Part II, but it wasn’t until the infamous diner scene in Michael Mann’s crime epic that the pair finally shared the screen.
The film sees De Niro take on the role of seasoned criminal Neil McCauley – who is preparing for his last heist before waving goodbye to a life of crime – while Pacino plays the troubled LA cop desperate to take him down. Across a gripping, gruelling three hours, the psychology of both men is examined, leading up to one of the most memorable shootouts in cinema history.
Groundhog Day (1993)
The kind of film you can watch over and over again, Groundhog Day features one of Bill Murray’s finest comedic performances and an ingenious plot device that is now as famous as the film itself.
Murray stars as misanthropic weather reporter Phil Connors who is extremely disgruntled to be covering the titular celebration in the Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney. Unable to leave due to adverse weather conditions, Phil is further alarmed when he repeatedly wakes up on the same morning – forced to relive the same day on repeat with seemingly no way to end the loop. Often imitated but never bettered, Groundhog Day remains the gold standard when it comes to time-loop narratives, with both Murray and co-star Andie MacDowell in fine form. It’s a doozy!
Nicolas Winding Refn has made a career out of crafting stylish crime flicks – that is when he’s not adapting The Famous Five for the BBC – and this moody neo-noir is arguably his crowning achievement. Ryan Gosling stars as a nameless, taciturn stunt performer whose side gig as a getaway driver is put at risk when he falls for his neighbour, played by Carey Mulligan.
Gosling is superb in an almost wordless performance, while there are also notable supporting turns from Oscar Isaac and Albert Brooks, among others. Meanwhile, Refn’s direction creates a richly atmospheric experience – full of neon lights, synth beats and occasional bursts of extreme violence.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Netflix’s library is not quite so well stocked when it comes to films made before the 1990s, but one bonafide classic of British cinema available on the streamer is David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia.
The film, which unfolds over more than three hours, is based on the life of archaeologist and army officer T. E. Lawrence, and specifically his experiences in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – including his involvement in the Arab National Counsel. It won seven Oscars and is regarded as one of the finest ever film achievements, remembered for its visual style, storytelling, themes, and performances from the likes of Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (2011)
Arguably the best big-screen adaptation of a John Le Carré work, this suspenseful thriller from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson is a masterful piece of espionage cinema. Gary Oldman leads a cast packed to the brim with British acting talent, taking on the role of retired MI6 agent George Smiley – who is brought back into the fold to root out a bad egg in the Secret Service.
It’s a film that requires the utmost concentration, but those that stick with it will be intensely rewarded. Meanwhile, the cinematography and production design also combine to create a chilly atmosphere of paranoia and dread – showing an altogether less glamorous side to spycraft than the likes of James Bond.
The Truman Show (1998)
Jim Carrey had worked almost exclusively in comedies when he took on the role of Truman Burbank in Peter Weir’s satirical drama – but his terrific and somewhat restrained central performance proved himself a dramatic force to be reckoned with.
The premise is now the stuff of legend: Truman is an insurance salesman who thinks he’s been living an ordinary life, totally unaware that he’s actually the subject of a successful TV show and everyone in his life is merely an actor. Thought-provoking and often very funny, it’s a film that has only become more relevant with time, deftly satirising celebrity culture, commercialism, and the role of the media in our lives.
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Monty Python remain one of the most influential comedy acts of all time, and their 1979 film The Life of Brian ranks up there with their very best work. Controversial with religious groups upon its initial release, the film follows a young man named Brian (Graham Chapman) who was born in close proximity to Jesus – and is often confused for the Messiah.
There’s the usual blend of absurdist humour, juvenile japes and biting satire, with a huge variety of delights sprinkled throughout – from a cameo by Spike Milligan to the iconic rendition of the original song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. All in all, it’s a consistently hilarious film that rightly stands as a landmark in British comedy.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen’s astonishing Oscar-winning drama tells the true story of Solomon Northup – a free Black man living in 1800s New York who was captured and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Brutal scenes of suffering ensure it can be a tough watch, but it’s directed with sensitivity and grace by McQueen and makes for a truly powerful piece of filmmaking.
The performances from the cast are also uniformly exceptional – Chiwetel Ejiofor is a magnetic force in the lead role, while the supporting turns from the likes of Michael Fassbender and Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o are equally impressive.
Jake Gyllenhaal turns in one of his greatest performances in this electrifying neo-noir – which exists as both an intimate character study and an uncompromising societal critique. Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a man inspired to enter the world of ‘night-crawling’ – the act of taking lurid videos of shocking incidents including car crashes and shootouts, with the intention of selling the clips to the press.
The film offers a fascinating insight into Bloom’s psyche as he acts in increasingly sociopathic ways to get the best footage, while also asking very relevant questions about the exploitative and unethical nature of the news ecosystem.
Christopher Nolan had already made waves with the ultra-low budget Following, but this was the film that really announced him as a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Based on a short story by his brother Jonathan, it tells the story of an amnesiac insurance investigator desperately attempting to piece together clues from tattoos and notes he has left to himself.
The film's fascinating non-chronological structure has become the stuff of legend – although perhaps ensures that no rewatch will ever quite live up to the thrilling experience of solving the puzzle the first time around. But complete with neo-noir trappings, a mood of distinct unease, and an impressive turn from Guy Pearce in the lead role, this is a terrific piece of cinema.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
The second instalment in the Spider-Verse saga arrived in cinemas to rave reviews in 2023, but this first entry in the series is perhaps even better. The film follows Miles Morales after he is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes the titular superhero – only for his life to become even more complicated when he finds himself fighting alongside alternate versions of himself in a bid to save the multiverse.
The film’s hugely inventive approach to animation – blending a range of different styles, and superbly adopting a comic book aesthetic – has already proved hugely influential. But as well as being impressive from a technical point of view, it also serves as an inspiring story about who gets to be a hero.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Pretty much the whole Studio Ghibli oeuvre is available to stream on Netflix, giving subscribers a huge range of wonderful animated flicks to enjoy including Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart. And there can be no doubt that this delightfully charming little film – just their third feature – is one of the greatest.
It follows two girls who move with their father to the countryside while their mother is ill, where they find themselves having a number of magical encounters with the titular friendly monster and other surreal beings. The story itself is fairly minimalist, but the gorgeous animation and the way the film captures a youthful sense of wonderment make it a must-watch.
Few films can be said to have truly changed the face of cinema – but Jaws is one for whom that statement is by no means an exaggeration. After being subject to a famously disastrous production process, the film went on to achieve monumental success, becoming known as the first-ever blockbuster and launching the career of a young Steven Spielberg in the process.
Almost 50 years on, it very much endures as a classic – still a thrilling example of building suspense by withholding the terrifying shark for as long as possible. The character work is also tremendous – with Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss all bringing great heft to their roles – and John Williams’s iconic score is one for the ages.
Al Pacino plays one of his most iconic roles in Brian De Palma’s operatic crime epic, which takes the excesses of the gangster genre to their most extreme degree. Pacino plays Tony Montana, a Cuban who arrives in Miami and builds a drug empire – only to come undone by his own hubris and growing paranoia.
It’s certainly one of Pacino’s more overstated performances, but his extravagant turn is the perfect match for De Palma’s virtuosic direction, while Michelle Pfeiffer gives a hugely memorable supporting performance as Tony’s love interest Elvira. Although criticised upon release for its excessive violence, it’s correctly come to be regarded as a classic.
Little Women (2019)
Greta Gerwig has emerged as one of the most vital cinematic voices of her generation – a status only further bolstered by the recent groundbreaking success of Barbie. Her Oscar-nominated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved coming-of-age novel is perhaps her richest work to date, innovatively reworking the structure of the classic text to bring fresh insights to a tale adapted many times before.
It helps that the performances are exceptional across the board. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh were both nominated for Oscars for their roles as Jo and Amy March respectively, while Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Timotheé Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, James Norton and Bob Odenkirk are among the others to produce fine work.
Stand by Me (1986)
Of all the terrific Stephen King adaptations for the big screen – from Carrie to The Shining to Misery – this could just be the best of the lot. Based on the writer’s 1982 novella The Body, it differs from most of the films based on his work in that it is not a horror film but an emotional coming-of-age tale, superbly directed by Rob Reiner.
It follows four young friends who take a trip to find the corpse of a local teenager who was hit by a train, with the quartet learning a lot about the value of friendship along the way. With wonderful performances from the likes of Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and the late River Phoenix, and a closing line that won’t fail to make the most hard-hearted viewer tear up, this is a real treasure of a film.
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