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55 Best Movies on Netflix 2020
You see, Netflix’s best quality is that it has a library so expansive that it can scratch just about any itch that you might have. The downside is one could not be expected to go through and curate all the available titles. And while you’re sure the Gwyneth Paltrow show where she stands in front of a deconstructed vagina looks fine, you’re not sure that’s what you want to invest in on a Friday night.
That’s why we’ve dug into the library and pulled out some real gems for your consideration. Maybe tonight you’re feeling a serious documentary or just need to laugh at something earnest and kind. This is the kind of range we’re looking to cultivate here because in the laundry list of things you could be watching, it’s time to take a break from doing the same binge of [insert whatever you’ve been streaming on end this week] and pick up something new. Netflix is your cure and your burden. Let us lead you toward the former.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
In the age of the massive grift, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a perfect film. Set in Italy, imagine if Cruel Intentions were more prestige and took place mostly on a boat. It’s a fun thriller that turns class structure on its head in the sexiest way possible.
Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell’s bittersweet comedy about mental illness is one of the best of the past decade. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the film tackles the struggle of loss, the joy of finding new love, and the very complicated path that is being a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Go birds.
Life After Beth
If you need a break from straight up horror, there’s always the surprisingly endearing zombie movie, Life After Beth. Starring Aubry Plaza as a teenage girl who falls ill to a sickness that leads to her death, she comes back as a zombie who then wavers between human behavior and, you know, eating people.
Wow, Ryan Gosling is a man in Drive. It seems that every young heartthrob has a film that involves masculine energy and cars, and this is his. Playing a stuntman and getaway driver, he dares to venture away from his normal—if you can call it that—life for a new neighbor who turns out to be more trouble than the situation is worth.
The Shawkshank Redemption
Sorry, but there is no better prison film better than Shawshank Redemption. Deeply affecting, the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman feature chronicles the story of a man framed for murder and the friendship that he forms with another inmate named Red.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a glorious mess. Part gay fantasia, part art snobbery, and part horror, the film manages to be so uneven and ridiculous that it’s a perfectly acceptable wild ride. Bonus: Toni Collette is perfect.
Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Yeah, it’s hard to believe, but the best Spider Man movie in ages is an animated film, and it manages to breathe new life into a franchise that is already doing pretty dang well for itself.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Let it be noted: Adam Sandler can be a good actor. This literally had Oscar buzz. An Oscar. For Adam Sandler.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before came out after Set It Up to prove that Netflix knows how to put together a rom-com. Based on the book of the same name, the film is a pitch perfect look at what the rom-com genre can be in 2018.
Always Be My Maybe
In this rom com, two childhood sweethearts reconnect after years apart, and as you can imagine… the sparks return. But the most important part is that Ali Wong and Randall Park are incredible at carrying a rom-com.
Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation, a war film released in 2015, was one of Netflix’s first bona fide award contenders. Though it didn’t fully get off the ground, it was a great vehicle for Idris Elba and an even better flex for Netflix.
The story of President Barack Obama was always going to be clamored over, and though multiple films have come out about the president’s life, Barry is proof that Netflix can do a decent job with a biographical film.
In her most vulnerable outing to date, Taylor Swift is featured in the Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, detailing the wild (and very public) ride the singer went on between creating Reputation and 1989.
Tallulah never got its due, but the Allison Janney/Ellen Page film follows a woman who takes a child from its irresponsible mother and raises it as her own.
In a way, Okja feels like Netflix’s first breakaway hit, an environmentalist tale that pits big business against environmental morality made Netflix worthy of being looked at as a contender in the film space.
Dolemite is My Name
There was a time when Eddie Murphy was one of the most famous actors (if not the most) in the world. And after over a decade of largely out-of-form work, it took Dolemite is My Name—where Murphy plays a struggling entertainer, full of heart and humor—to remind us of that.
I Lost My Body
In a category usually packed with children’s movies, I Lost My Body—the story of a… dismembered hand—was a pleasant surprise when it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Even though it didn’t take home the Oscar (it still takes a hell of an effort to dethrone Toy Story), the creative, weird, and brilliantly animated film is more than worth the watch.
Yes, we heard you: The Irishman is too long. Got it. If you’re willing to get over that, let us direct you to a holy grail of performances from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, in another all-timer of a mob epic from the mind of Martin Scorsese.
The Two Popes
There are few things that would make the film version of the complicated real-life relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis a must-watch. Casting heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, respectively, as the former (and current) leaders of the Catholic church is one of them.
In this moving film written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver portray an actress and stage director slogging through a grueling, bi-coastal divorce, which forces them to confront the long-held resentments that simmered throughout their marriage. Compassionate, funny, and deeply specific, Marriage Story is a portrait of how marriage changes us over time, and of how divorce turns us into our worst selves.
This Oscar-winning documentary follows the short life and career of Amy Winehouse. It’s an emotional depiction of the singer-songwriter’s talents, told by her family and friends who watched as her life spun out of control in the face of addiction.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers teamed up with the streaming service for this Netflix original, an anthology film featuring six stories set in the American west that’s full of outlaws, pioneer women, double-crossing, and one singing cowboy.
Marvel’s record-breaking blockbuster brought fresh life into the superhero genre earlier this year. Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, the king of the secretive African nation of Wakanda, who must fight to protect his homeland from outside forces that hope to use its natural resources for world domination.
This heart-wrenching drama about a couple (played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) looks at their relationship from all angles—and its realistic sex scenes almost earned it an NC-17 rating.
Decades after the still-unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey, director Kitty Green goes to Boulder, Colorado to cast local actors in a film about the murder—only to discover the lasting impact the little girl’s murder has left on the area’s residents.
City of God
Fernando Meirelles’s coming-of-age tale follows a group of young men in a Rio de Janeiro favela as their lives intertwine with the gritty underworld of organized crime.
Dallas Buyers Club
Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto nabbed Oscars for their powerful role in Dallas Buyers Club, a film that tackled the AIDS crisis and how the system forced those suffering from the disease to take big risks that included smuggling drugs across the Mexican border. Leto gives an especially affecting performance as trans woman, Rayon.
The Edge of Seventeen
Hailee Steinfeld stars as an emotional teenage girl who is just trying to get through high school—a task made even more complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.
This mind-bending sci-fi thriller sees a computer programmer invited to his boss’s secluded home in order to administer an intelligence test on his latest creation: a gorgeous robot played by Alicia Vikander.
David O. Russell’s sports drama stars Mark Wahlberg as the real-life boxer Micky Ward, a small-time fighter who attempts to break out of the shadow of his older, more successful brother (Bale), who has become a drug addict.
Greta Gerwig wrote and starred in this delightful black-and-white film from director Noah Baumbach as an aimless young New Yorker who tries to figure out her life in the year after her college graduation.
God’s Own Country
A young sheepfarmer named Johnny sees his life turned upside-down when his father hires a Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe, with whom he falls in love.
A punk band accepts a gig at a backwoods Maryland bar, only to discover the clientele is heavy on the neo-Nazis. When they witness a murder, they hold up in the back room to fight off the viscous and violent group that needs to cover up their crime.
This lush Merchant-Ivory adaptation of the classic E.M. Forster novel follows two families with opposing worldviews who are thrust together when their children become romantically attached.
Quentin Tarantino loves a good historical reimagining, and Inglourious Basterds takes World War II and runs with it… in an entirely different direction than you’d expect. But Brad Pitt shines as the badass Tennesseean who takes absolutely no prisoners in his fight against the Nazis.
Kicking and Screaming
Noah Baumbach’s breakthrough movie follows a group of aimless friends in their first year after graduating from college, which sees them stuck in their college town trying to avoid adulthood.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a feast for his fans and history buffs alike that features an incredible performance from Daniel Day-Lewis (who earned his third Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th president)—as well as a starry ensemble of supporting players.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s dark satire stars Colin Farrell as a recently single man who has 45 days to find a new wife, or else risk turning into an animal of his choice (he picks a lobster).
Sean Penn plays gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official in California before he was shot by a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Authurian legend get the parody treatment in this absurd—and endlessly quotable—cult classic in which the Monty Python players star as the Knights of the Roundtable on the search for the legendary treasure.
The controversial Best Picture winner that bested La La Land is powerful on more than a couple levels. Diving into the complexity of being queer in the black community, Moonlight follows a young black man as he comes of age and grapples with his sexual identity and the pressures that his world impresses upon him.
Dee Rees’s Academy Award-nominated drama tells the story of two families—one white, one black—who are linked by their neighboring land in post-World War II Mississippi and are caught in the complicated racial tensions of the era.
Girl meets boy; boy gets girl pregnant. Can a romance blossom out of an awkward turn of events that lead to an abortion? You’ll end this one feeling pretty hopeful for these two kids.
A gay man (Jesse Plemons) returns home to his conservative family to be with his cancer-stricken mom (Molly Shannon) in this sweetly comic semi-autobiographical film written and directed by Chris Kelly.
The Other Side of the Wind
Thought it wasn’t released until this year, Orson Welles’s infamous unfinished film—a mockumentary satire of the New Hollywood movement and starring legendary directors John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich—was the director’s passion project in the ’70s and has a particularly new Hollywood vibe.
Paris Is Burning
Jennie Livingston’s seminal Paris Is Burningdocuments the Harlem drag ball culture of the late ’80s, which helped push drag into the mainstream. More importantly, it chronicles the intersection of race, gender, and class at the height of the AIDS crisis, but does so with humor, joy, and affection for its subjects.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Spielberg joined forces with George Lucas to launch one of the greatest action-adventure franchises in film history, with Harrison Ford’s first outing as Indiana Jones remaining the series’ best installment.
Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous autobiographical film follows Cleo (Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in maid for a middle-class Mexico City family, throughout one year as both her life and the lives of her employers are changed forever.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee’s first feature film is an indie black-and-white comedy starring Tracy Camilla Johns as a young woman in Brooklyn who juggles three potential boyfriends.
Sleeping With Other People
Director Yance Ford’s Oscar nominated feature looks into the 1992 murder of his brother William and the ensuing case, which saw an all-white grand jury chosing not to indict the white man who killed him.
If you can get past the fact that a cruise line definitely bought a share of this movie as sponsored content, then Like Father becomes a really touching tale of an estranged father and daughter played by two of the most likable performers in Hollywood today. But seriously: it’s very much sponcon.
Wet Hot American Summer
Long before Netflix’s two spinoff TV series, this ensemble-driven cult classic spoofed raunchy ’80s teen comedies and made stars out of Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Paul Rudd.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
This film examines the career of Nina Simone, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, and activist whose tumultuous life influenced her fierce and dynamic artistry—but, at times, proved too intense for Simone herself.
Y Tu Mamá También
In one of his breakout films, Alfonso Cuarón received his first Academy Award nomination for this sexy roadtrip movie about two friends (a then unknown Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) who set out with an older woman (Maribel Verdú).
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.