The 25 best movies to watch on Netflix: January 2021

What’s the very best motion picture I can view on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the concern, just to invest the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s unusually particular category menus, and getting overwhelmed by the continuously moving pattern menus. Netflix’s substantial brochure of motion pictures, integrated with its inscrutable suggestions algorithm, can make discovering something to view feel more like a task than a method to relax when truly what you desire are the great motion pictures. No… the finest motion pictures.

We’re here to assist. For those struggling with option paralysis, we’ve limited your alternatives to 25 of our preferred present motion pictures on the platform. These run the range from the beautiful, awful animated function The Income Producer to some newly shown up classics. We’ll be upgrading this list regular monthly as Netflix cycles motion pictures in and out of its library, so make certain to inspect back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix house screen.

Baahubali: The Start

Baahubali: The Beginning - prabhas as baahubali carrying a giant fountain

Image: Dharma Productions

In Western terms, this Tollywood production — the most costly Indian movie ever at the time of its release — resembles a scriptural legendary by method of Marvel Studios, with a little Hamlet and Step Up included for great step. The Start narrates the life of Shivudu, a traveler with superhuman strength who leaves his provincial life by scaling a skyscraper-sized waterfall, assistants and love a rebel warrior called Avanthika, then collaborate with her to save an abducted queen from a wicked emperor. Taking Off with hyper-choreographed battle series and CG phenomenon (not to point out a handful of musical numbers with equivalent bravura), The Start is 159 minutes of legendary excess. The movie goes huge like just Indian movie can, and rests on the muscular shoulders of its hero, the single-name star Prabhas. If you fall hard for it, get pumped — this is just part one. The twist leads into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, another two-and-a-half-hour legendary presently streaming on Netflix. —Matt Patches

Bonnie and Clyde

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway rob a bank in Bonnie and Clyde, stylishly

Picture: Warner Bros.

Many people viewing Netflix nowadays won’t keep in mind a time prior to movie and TELEVISION regularly glamorized bad guys and filled the screen with violence, so it can be difficult to comprehend what a furor Bonnie and Clyde raised on its release in 1967. Its trendy nods to the French New age were thought about groundbreaking for an American action movie, however so were the method director Arthur Penn plainly had compassion with the titular bank-robbers, concentrating on their adventuring spirit and bold. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as real-life break-in artists Bonnie and Clyde, who break with their dull lives and wind up on the lam together, in a film both declared for its delights and romanticism, and scolded for making criminal activity appear thrilling. Scaries! —Tasha Robinson

The Income Producer

An Afghan family — father, mother, toddler son, teen daughter, and younger daughter — gather around a single plate of rice in The Breadwinner

Image: Animation Saloon

Tomm Moore’s functions (The Secret of Kells, Tune of the Sea, Wolfwalkers) have actually drawn a great deal of attention to little Irish animation studio Animation Saloon. However the business’s other movie, The Income Producer, is simply as noteworthy. Directed by Secret of Kells co-director Nora Twomey, the movie is operating from a different visual aesthetic than Moore’s films, a leaner stripped-down look more appropriate to its story about an Afghan family on the verge of starvation. When the family patriarch is arrested by the Taliban, 11-year-old Parvana has to disguise herself as a boy to seek food for her mother and siblings, since Taliban law forbids women from working or traveling without a male relative. It’s a grave and intense drama, but with all the beautiful colors and expert craft of Cartoon Saloon’s other work. —TR


Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) wanders through a field.

Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment

A sense of frustration suffuses every part of Lee Chang-dong’s hypnotic adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning.” Focusing on would-be writer Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), whose listlessness is interrupted first by the appearance of his childhood friend Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and then her charismatic friend, Ben (Steven Yeun), Burning unfolds at an almost maddeningly deliberate pace as Lee tangles with class, country, and everything in between, turning a three-way relationship into the seed of a mystery-thriller. With a conclusion that could be interpreted in a million different ways — and stunning performances from the three leads, particularly Yeun, who proves utterly unreadable — it’s a film that’s impossible to shake. —Karen Han

A Clockwork Orange

Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange stands in a darkened milk bar full of naked female mannequins, with fictional drug names all over the walls

Photo: Warner Bros.

Grim, sometimes grotesque, and certainly not for the faint of heart, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ famous novel is still mesmerizing cinema. Malcolm McDowell stars in a career-best performance as Alex, a bored youth-ganger who commits rape and assault for fun, until he’s selected for an experiment that leaves him unable to stomach any form of violence. It’s a stylish, visually shocking film, icy-cold in the manner of so many Kubrick movies, but it’s also a wry and bitterly entertaining thinkpiece about the place of free will in society. —Tasha Robinson

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Sam hands Flint an anthropomorphic giant strawberry and he freaks the hell out in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Image: Columbia Pictures

Before Phil Lord and Christopher Miller became the hitmaker directing duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, and the in-demand producer team behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they wrote and directed this amiably goofy kids-book adaptation about a dorky scientist (Bill Hader) whose attempt to solve world hunger produces the unexpected effects of making food rain from the sky — first normal food, then monstrous mutated food that threatens the world. It’s largely an excuse for sight gags and action sequences, as the characters navigate threats made of giant food, but it’s tremendously lively and fast-placed, with unconventionally weird banter and the same kind of wild, snappy humor that made Lego Movie such a hit. —TR

Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman eats his way through a pile of eggs in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke

Photo: Warner Bros.

“My boy says he can eat 50 eggs, he can eat 50 eggs!” A classic movie about a stubborn man fighting the system, Cool Hand Luke is primarily remembered today for the scene where Paul Newman downs 50 hard-boiled eggs to win a bet, and a grim prison warden’s line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!” Newman stars in an Oscar-winning role as an iconoclast arrested for using a pipe-cutter to decapitate parking meters, in an apparent act of futile, self-destructive sabotage against the state. Sent to a sweaty Southern prison, he feuds with the powers that be, is endlessly punished for it, and plots his escape. It’s a deliberately paced film, full of all the despair and winking anti-authoritarianism 1967 had to offer, and Newman is mesmerizing in his quiet war against the wardens of the world. —TR

Dick Johnson Is Dead

dick johnson in dick johnson is dead

Image: Netflix

If you were worried about a loved one’s impending death, would you process your fears by staging their death in advance? Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) does exactly that in her documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead, a mildly morbid, sometimes funny, and often extremely sweet document of her relationship with her father. As she’s losing him to dementia, they work together to stage his mock death (in a series of over-the-top scenarios), his funeral, and his ascent into a glowing heaven where he’s given a new body and a chance to interact with famous people and reunite with his wife. Both Kirsten and Dick cry as they contemplate his mortality, but this strange, mesmerizing film winds up being cathartic for them and for the audience, too. —TR

Fruitvale Station

A white police officer (Kevin Durand) puts his hand on the neck of 22-year-old Black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) in Fruitvale Station

Photo: The Weinstein Company

More relevant than ever after a year where the news was frequently dominated by protests over police brutality and police killings of unarmed Black citizens, this impressionistic portrait of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan) launched the filmmaking career of Black Panther writer-director Ryan Coogler. The film captures the events leading to Grant being shot in the back by a policeman while lying prone on the ground during a mass arrest, but Coogler focuses more on Grant’s life and family as he tracks him through his last day. It’s an elegiac movie, focused more on Grant’s humanity than his status as a martyr, and it’s well worth checking out as a Ryan Coogler origin story. —TR

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander stands in the foreground while a car burns in the background in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Photo: Columbia Pictures

David Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s massive international bestseller feels a lot colder and more aggressive than the earlier Scandinavian co-production starring Noomi Rapace in the lead role as uncompromising punk hacker Lisbeth Salander. This 2011 version, with Rooney Mara as Lisbeth and Daniel Craig as crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is more obviously reaching for blockbuster status, which it didn’t quite achieve — it was a minor box-office disappointment, coming simply after Larsson-mania peaked. It’s worth watching, though, to see exactly what took the world by storm in 2005, when the book version of Dragon Tattoo first came out: a grim and exploitative thriller-procedural, with Mikael and Lisbeth separately pursuing a series of horrific predatory men, and bringing them to grotesque forms of justice. —TR


Ray Liotta, sweaty and with a bruised eye, in Goodfellas

Photo: Warner Bros.

One of Martin Scorsese’s most celebrated and memorable films, and possibly his last unimpeachable classic, Goodfellas charts the rise and fall of a wannabe gangster who works his way into the Mob in 1950s Brooklyn, then finds the organization’s focus and fortunes changing radically over the decades that follow. Packed with storytelling devices that Scorsese went on to repeat over and over — particularly the monologue-voiceover introduction of a whole pack of colorful gangster characters who don’t much matter — Goodfellas is full of indelible dialogue and familiar comic bits (“I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?”), it’s the sprawling saga of a criminal watching the world change around him until he doesn’t recognize it anymore, made before any of these tropes, lines, and devices became clichés because so many people imitated Goodfellas. —TR

His House

A terrified Black man sits in a foggy orange landscape, with looming shadowy figures in the background

Photo: Aidan Monaghan / Netflix

It feels a little late for new horror movies as we move further away from Halloween and into more cheer-focused holidays, but it’s never too late for a movie as intensely relevant as His House, which turns the trials of immigration into a shock-filled ghost story. Gangs of London’s Sope Dirisu and Lovecraft Country’s Wunmi Mosaku play a Sudanese couple seeking asylum in Britain, where they encounter supportive but not exactly friendly social workers (including former Doctor Who star Matt Smith) who can’t accept that the home they’ve been given is haunted. Caught between the ghosts at home and an inflexible system ready to send them back to a war-torn country, the couple struggle with their past and their highly questionable future. —TR

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

hunt for the wilderpeople - julian dennison

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The truly rare family movie that’s safe for kids, funny and acerbic enough for adults, and surprising enough to keep everyone absorbed, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of cinema’s great underseen gems. An authentically refreshing take on the usually cloying “orphan kid melts surly senior’s heart” subgenre, Wilderpeople follows initially sullen foster-system kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) as he blossoms in a new environment, then winds up on the run in the woods with an older man (Sam Neill) who has no idea what to do with him. Waititi’s startling, wryly straight-faced humor in movies like Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do In The Shadows is on full display here, and the film starts out sweet and hilarious, then gets recklessly wild. —TR

Into the Wild

A grinning Emile Hirsch runs with horses in Into the Wild

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Based on Jon Krakauer’s revered nonfiction book, Into the Wild tracks the life of Christopher McCandless, who disconnects from modern civilization in hopes of finding true meaning in the Alaskan wilderness. Emilie Hirsch, at the height of his dashing twenty-something phase, embarks with director Sean Penn on the untethered journey, which finds Chris meeting other roaming souls and the live-off-the-earth solitude he’s always imagined. Penn’s stoic, drifting camerawork takes time to bask in the sun and inhale deep breaths of mountain air, and backed by Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack, it’s often a spiritual experience. But it’s all in service of portraying the power of nature that inevitably crushes Chris’ experiences — the wild is wild. —MP


Image: Toho

Mamoru Hosoda’s film Mirai was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and the sense of breathlessness the film effortlessly evokes makes it easy to see why. The story revolves around a four-year-old boy who, though initially happy at the birth of his new baby sister, begins to grow resentful of the attention she gets. When an older Mirai arrives from the future and the rules of time start to shift, Kun and Mirai must work together to put everything back in order. —KH


Shirtless Matthew McConaughey looks consternated in Mud

Photo: Lionsgate

Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Loving) is a director who brings rare scale to an independent film. While 2012’s Mud was made on a dime compared to most studio-backed prestige movies, the sunbaked, Southern gothic saga has the sprawl of a novel, with photographic moments that feel as detailed as prose. Coming of age along a coastal patch of Arkansas, two teenage boys (played by a young Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a drifter-type who enlists the pair to help him reconnect with his ex-girlfriend. Nichols gives the quest a fairy-tale touch as they boat from island to mainland, sneak into corners of the frayed adult world, and get caught up in true danger. McConaughey and Sheridan, despite his age, go toe-to-toe over the course of the film, and forge a bond that’s sweet without being overly sentimental. —MP

The Muppets

amy adams, a bunch of muppets, and jason segel

Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Midway through the 2011 Muppets reboot, co-protagonist Jason Segel sings an existential-crisis song about his own identity. “Am I a man, or am I a Muppet?” he wails. “If I’m a man, that makes me a Muppet of a man.” He’s not wrong. One of the primary reasons The Muppets works so well is that Segel is a floppy, bright-eyed, go-for-broke Muppet of a performer, and his brand of outsized comedy fits so well into their world. Granted, the romance between him and Amy Adams’ character (a boring-killjoy love interest saddled with the unpleasant job of trying to rein in the movie’s fun) doesn’t fit in with the story’s energy or meta silliness, and it’s a dull spot in a bright movie. But the upbeat, catchy songs and the wry but shameless embrace of the oldest musical-movie trope (“We’ve gotta reunite the gang and put on a show to raise the money to save our beloved theater!”) make this one a winner. The whole film rides that all-important Muppet line between sincerity and self-satire perfectly. —TR


Sophie Thatcher, a young woman in handmade-looking space gear, points a handmade-looking gun offscreen in Prospect

Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

The VOD boom during the pandemic shutdown of theaters has been particularly useful to the new wave of tiny indie science-fiction movies — there’s been a rash of them on streaming services over the past year, alongside the more common horror indies. Prospect dates back a little further, but with its arrival on Netflix, it’s suddenly a lot more accessible, which is excellent news — it’s a strange little gem of a film that shows how far a small budget can go with clever filmmaking and a big vision. Sophie Thatcher stars as a girl who roams from planet to planet with her father, mining for resources to make ends meet. When things go wrong, she winds up navigating a criminal conspiracy where her life is at stake. Jay Duplass and The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal co-star. —TR


Animated cowboy chameleon Rango clutches his hat while riding a horse in Rango

Image: Paramount Pictures

The first feature-length animated film from the VFX titans of Industrial Light & Magic is also one of the most idiosyncratic odysseys of the last decade. Director Gore Verbinski, clearly high off the unfettered lunacy of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, teamed up with Gladiator writer John Logan on — what else? — a Clint Eastwood-style spaghetti Western starring Johnny Depp as a chameleon. Like Verbinski’s swashbuckling adventures, Rango saddles up every cowboy trope and rides a familiar story into the sunset. But along the way, the director puts every bizarre idea that animation can afford him on screen: There are shootouts, slapstick antics, mystical yucca plants directing the path to salvation, and even an appearance by the Man with No Name himself. The cast is reptilian, the hyper-realistic Western town sets are classic, and, truly, the mayhem of Rango will never be replicated. —MP

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

michael cera in scott pilgrim vs. the world

Image: Universal Pictures

Edgar Wright’s 2010 adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics is the kind of movie you can passively take in for the extremely fast-paced gags and action, or actively mine like a trivia contest. As whiner-slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) pursues his unattainable crush Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and has to contend with her past relationships in violent, symbolic, hilarious ways, Wright packs the screen and soundscape with visual and audio references to past games, to the point where the soundtrack is practically its own referential language. The cast at this point is a remarkable grab bag of famous people in younger days, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman. But it’s even more a calling card for Wright. He’s continued to make mile-a-minute stories about dippy, immature guys figuring out what they want, but he’s never been quite this joyously demented again. —TR

Spring Breakers

James Franco leans against a white car and points guns at his nonchalant bikini-clad co-stars in Spring Breakers

Photo: Annapurna Pictures

If lockdown has you craving bacchanalia, turn to Harmony Korine’s indulgent-yet-critical appearance at the sprrrrrring breeeaaaak party life. Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine star as four coeds who dream of letting loose in Florida, but are low on funds. So naturally, they snort massive amounts of cocaine and rob a restaurant. The high of a law-breaking act unlocks the young ladies’s worst instincts, and when they finally make it to the beach and hook up with Alien (James Franco), a rapper/arms dealer, dreamy, sunbaked hell breaks loose. Swinging to the sounds of a Skrillex soundtrack, the movie remains perfect as an at-home midnight-movie experience. —MP


Tristan (Cox) has his back to a sluggish Septimus (Strong).

Photo: Paramount Pictures

There will likely never be another Princess Bride, however the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ Stardust is about as close as it gets. Flamboyantly over-the-top, comedically broad, and full of derring-do, this fable about a series of competitive princes, a hapless hero (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), a ballgown-loving pirate (Robert De Niro, having a blast), and a youth-craving witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) is sloppy fantasy humor-adventure in the vein of a Terry Gilliam movie. It’s worth tuning in just for Ian McKellen’s ridiculously pompous narration. —TR

Stranger than Fiction

will ferrell in stranger than fiction

Picture: Columbia Pictures

The film Stranger Than Fiction may well feature Will Ferrell’s best performance. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent whose humdrum life takes an abrupt turn when he begins hearing someone narrating his life — and saying that his death is imminent. As he tries to figure out who the voice belongs to, he also starts to take more risks, seeking to get the most out of what time he has left in case the voice is telling the truth. The film takes full advantage of Ferrell’s comedic talents to express Crick’s growing panic, but also gives him the room to flex his dramatic chops as he comes to terms with what’s happening to him. —KH

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin beam as they walk through a cordon of photographers on their way to the courtroom in Trial of the Chicago 7

Photo: Netflix

Movie fans should know better than to go to an Aaron Sorkin film for absolute historical accuracy, but they sure can get the entertaining side of history out of his work. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is basically history via one-liner, as Sorkin tracks the major players in a court case against a group of highly disparate Vietnam War protestors and speakers involved during the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention riots. Sacha Baron Cohen as countercultural leader Abbie Hoffman is a huge highlight — he and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) talk almost entirely in banter as they deliberately turn both the protests and the trial into a media circus. But all the support cast is impressive, especially Frank Langella as the openly biased Judge Hoffman, Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the righteously pissed-off Bobby Seale, and Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance as the group’s lead attorney. For a motion picture about injustice, cruelty, systemic oppression of protestors, and the heavy-handedness of an establishment bent on sending kids off to die, it’s astonishingly brisk and hilarious. —TR

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.