20 best movies on Netflix right now

There you are again, sitting on the couch, staring at Netflix. You're wondering whether to take a chance on that indie thing with the obscure cover art or just give in to your darker impulses and watch Face/Off for the sixth time. Life shouldn't have to be this hard, and we're here to make it just a little easier. From incredible underrated gems to timeless favorites that you haven't thought about in years, we've rounded up the best movies on Netflix right now.

My Left Foot (1989)

Daniel Day-Lewis earned his first Academy Award for his performance in My Left Foot, a powerful biopic about real-life writer Christy Brown, a lifelong quadriplegic who could only write using the toes of his titular appendage. Day-Lewis masterfully portrays all the nuances and frustrations born of a life confined to a wheelchair—no doubt thanks to the fact that he Method-acted the crap out of the role, refusing to leave the wheelchair or break character between takes.

According to the DVD's "Making Of" featurette, he actually damaged two of his ribs because he spent so long hunched up in the wheelchair. That's insane dedication, but it paid off. It may be nearly 30 years old, but My Left Foot is still an immensely emotional movie about one man's struggles—and ultimate triumph—over the cruel hand dealt to him at birth.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

From the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings marks yet another visually stunning achievement in stop-motion animation. It's seriously gorgeous, a musical odyssey that manages to capture the butterfly-like element of pure imagination without bruising a single delicate wing. The story follows Kubo, a little street performer in feudal Japan who uses his two-string guitar to make origami come to life. But little does he know that he's the focal point of a supernatural war raging unseen all around him. All he knows is one thing: never go outside after dark.

Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic adventure that's billed as a kids' movie but probably holds even more magic for the adults in the room. And with a voice cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and George Takei, the only disappointing thing about this film is that it didn't win an Oscar.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Edgar Wright's 2007 hit Hot Fuzz is arguably the best of the "Cornetto Trilogy," which also includes Shaun of the Dead and The World's End (it's a close three-way tie, anyway). The story starts with super-cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a London policeman who's so good at his job that he's making the rest of the department look bad. To save their image, the brass reassigns him to Sandford, a sleepy little town in the English countryside where he'll be safely out of their way. Of course, it's only a matter of time before he uncovers an insidious plot hiding beneath Sandford's perfect façade, and the only way to bring the truth to light is to do what he does best: blow up everything in sight. Inspired by every action movie ever and packed with more jokes than a Mitch Hedberg special, Hot Fuzz is one of the best action comedies ever made, hands down.

The Imitation Game (2014)

Helmed by Passengers director Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game is an Oscar-winning look into the tumultuous life of Alan Turing, the mathematician largely responsible for breaking the Enigma code, an encrypted communication system that the Axis powers used to coordinate naval attacks during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an incredible performance as Turing, turning a potentially dry historical period piece into an emotional journey charged with high-tension drama. He's backed up by an equally convincing Keira Knightley, who offsets Cumberbatch's cold, off-putting genius with genuine warmth. Both were nominated for Oscars that year, and for good reason. The Imitation Game is definitely a movie everyone should see at least once.

Spotlight (2015)

Based on the true story of the Boston Globe's investigation into allegations of widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, Spotlight is one of those rare films that ignores all the unnecessary glamour and dives straight into the heart of the story. Spotlight stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D'Arcy James as the Spotlight team, the tightly-knit investigative journalism squad that broke the real-life story in 2002 (and won a 2003 Pulitzer for their efforts).

For starters, the performances from the cast are simply phenomenal. Michael Keaton's brusque portrayal of team leader Robby Robinson and Mark Ruffalo's brilliantly neurotic acting mark the centerpoints to the film, but everybody on the cast clearly gave it their all. And we have to give a special shout-out to Liev Schreiber, who barely speaks above a whisper and all but disappears beneath a beard and glasses, yet somehow steals every scene he's in. It's no wonder Spotlight took Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the 2016 Oscars. Overall, Spotlight is pure, unflinching, and thorough in its take on what was then—and still is—a highly controversial subject. It's definitely a story that will resonate for years to come.

Hush (2016)

Shh…hear that? It's the sound of a smart, sexy horror thriller. With a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 2016's Hush is definitely a movie you can't miss. The premise is simple: Maddie, a deaf/mute author, is staying in her isolated house deep in the Alabama woods when a masked killer appears at her window. While that concept could easily devolve into another run-of-the-mill suspense flick, Hush has no problem upping the thrill factor with deft camera work, unrelenting suspense, and a truly amazing performance from largely unknown actress Kate Siegel. Without saying a word, Siegel portrays Maddie as strong, capable, and intelligent, a breath of fresh air for a female role in a horror movie.

Of course, the sound design in Hush is top-notch. It has to be. Just as he manipulated our perceptions of reality with 2013's Oculus, director Mike Flanagan here uses Maddie's disability to keep the constant threat of danger looming. He never gets gimmicky with his portrayal of Maddie's deafness, giving us exactly as much as we need to feel the fear of never knowing what's behind us. It's not always what you hear, it's what you don't hear.

The Babadook (2014)

The hype surrounding this indie Australian horror film is already unreal, so we'll keep our praise to two simple words: Watch it.

The Babadook opens on Amelia, a widowed mother (Essie Davis), who's struggling to raise Samuel, her six-year-old son (Noah Wiseman). She's exhausted, on a mental teeter-totter, and finding it harder and harder to love the erratic child, who's a bit mentally unstable himself.

And then there's the monster.

This is pure horror, far removed from the typical grab bag of jump scares and loud, jarring audio cues you find in most horror movies. Yeah, it can be uncomfortable. It's probably not for everyone. But it's also touching, heartwarming, and impossibly human in its emotions. The relationship between Amelia and Samuel is as real as it gets. Put simply, The Babadook is so fresh, so far removed from cliché, that it'll probably start a few new clichés of its own given enough time. This film will be emulated and studied for years to come.

But don't let that put you off. It's a fun, approachable watch, with one of the creepiest film antagonists since Hannibal Lecter. Well worth your time if you like a good scare.

Oldboy (2003)

Gritty, moving, gut-wrenching, and beautiful, 2003's Oldboy succeeded on two massive levels: one, it breathed new life into the (frankly stale) hard-boiled revenge genre. Two, it brought Korean films into the international spotlight. Well, okay, it succeeded on three levels: it also showed us that we can have way too much fun being grossed out of our minds.

Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a middle-aged drunk who is kidnapped and locked in a room for 15 years. When he's inexplicably released one day, Oh Dae-Su embarks on an emotional, blood-soaked journey of revenge against the man who imprisoned him. The camera doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable moments—and there are plenty of those. You'll cringe, but you'll also laugh. Maybe, just maybe, you'll cry.

If you aren't in the mood for subtitles, Spike Lee filmed an inferior English remake of Oldboy in 2013 with Josh Brolin, although at present, it's no longer on Netflix.

Nightcrawler (2014)

This hidden gem flew pretty far under the radar, which is a shame because it was definitely one of the best movies of 2014. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal in one of his most quietly sinister roles, Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a desperate young man who discovers that he can make some quick cash by filming crime scenes and selling the footage to the local news stations. Bloom gets sucked into the seedy world of nightcrawling—trolling the streets at night with a police scanner and a camera—where he begins an ambitious, grueling climb to become top dog in a world of bottom feeders.

Gyllenhaal is fantastic here, which shouldn't come as a surprise—he's been fantastic in just about everything recently. First-time director Dan Gilroy captures the grimy underbelly of Los Angeles perfectly, evoking a sense of disquiet and barely-concealed rage that surges just beneath the surface of both the city and its inhabitants. For a unique movie that will have you on the edge of your seat, definitely check out Nightcrawler on Netflix.

Beasts Of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation is Netflix's first original feature film (they bought the distribution rights, but didn't actually finance the film) and was released simultaneously in theaters and online. Unfortunately, the resulting controversy—several large theater chains boycotted the film, saying it violated theater exclusivity—overshadowed the film itself. That's a shame, because Beasts is an amazing first choice for Netflix to break into original films.

Starring Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor) as a ruthless commander and newcomer Abraham Attah as the boy soldier Agu, Beasts of No Nation is powerful, shockingly real, and heartbreaking in its portrayal of the unspeakable horrors of war. It's not an easy film to watch—the pace is relentless, the imagery visceral. But it's a film you should watch, if only for a brief glimpse into the struggle of daily life in war torn Africa.

The country in the film is never defined, although the story could presumably fall into any of the African nations embroiled in turf wars. It was filmed in Ghana, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga spent years researching the conflict in Sierra Leone before finally settling on the 2005 novel as the source material for his film.

Following (1998)

If you've never had a chance to watch this film, don't beat yourself up. Until Netflix picked it up, there was practically no way to get a copy. But now that it's streaming, you could do worse things with an hour than take a trip back in time to the humble beginnings of one of Hollywood's current biggest directors.

There's no doubt that Christopher Nolan devastates derriere with a big budget and city-sized set pieces (Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy, and so on), but where he truly shines is with small, intimate performances. Nowhere is that more apparent than in his first feature film, Following.

Following, er, follows a struggling writer who gets it in his head to pick a random person on the street and just…follow them. Not to rob them, or kill them, or anything like that. Just to see what their lives are like. While doing this, he follows the wrong guy—a small-time home burglar who lets the writer tag along while he breaks into apartments. From there, things go downhill in a hurry, leading to a twisting plot that never stops surprising. Saying any more would give too much away.

Don't let the fact that Following was filmed in black and white turn you off from this gem. It's a masterpiece.

The Prestige (2006)

Right smack dab in the middle of making the Dark Knight Trilogy, Christopher Nolan took a short break from Batman and released a movie about a stage magician struggling to stay relevant in the late 1800s. If that sounds like a total departure from Nolan's usual work, rest assured—it isn't. The Prestige feels almost like a bridge connecting Nolan's earlier, low-key films like Memento and Insomnia to his later, visually stunning sci-fi extravaganzas like Inception and Interstellar—the best of both worlds. Sometimes disturbing, always enthralling, and woven throughout with threads of pure cinematic magic, The Prestige still might be the best movie Christopher Nolan's ever made, and that's saying a lot. Plus, what other movie lets you watch Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman duke it out on-screen? This is literally the closest we'll ever get to a Batman and Wolverine crossover.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

Heartwarming, poignant, and injected with more lewd jokes and profanity than a Farrelly Brothers comedy, The Fundamentals of Caring plays like a feel-good summertime Disney flick that got left in an AA meeting for too long, with the end result being an experience more real and human than it ever could have been with a PG-rated script. The movie opens with newly certified caregiver Ben (Paul Rudd) meeting his first patient, a wisecracking teenage shut-in with muscular dystrophy who's driven away all his previous attendants. After a rocky start, they set out on a road trip to see a series of roadside attractions, and along the way they both learn valuable lessons about family and friendship.

Saccharine and mushy, right? It may read that way on paper, but by the third bawdy joke you'll totally change your mind. Give it a shot, and just remember that while it looks like something to stick on for the whole family, it's probably better to wait until the kids go to bed.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Undeniably the best installment in the MCU since The Avengers, 2016's Captain America: Civil War is proof that Marvel finally figured out how to nail a sequel. After the letdowns of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World, Civil War sings with all the right notes. It's a tour de force of high-stakes action mixed with character-driven drama and all the right dashes of humor, but arguably what makes it all work so well is the humanizing aspect the Russo Brothers brought to Earth's mightiest heroes, along with the troubling idea that there are consequences to all the mayhem and destruction we love to watch onscreen. Hopefully Marvel will continue to explore the deeper texture beneath the spandex in future releases, but until then we can at least relive Civil War to our heart's content on Netflix.

The Wailing (2016)

Equal parts drama, psychological horror, and supernatural thriller, The Wailing sounds like a winner out of the gates, but here's the rub: you've kinda gotta stick with it for the first half hour. It starts out fairly slow—but then again, so do spaceships. And once it picks up speed, The Wailing never stops to take a breath. In a quiet South Korean village, a mysterious disease leads to an outbreak of violent behavior among the residents. When his daughter starts showing symptoms, a bumbling police officer digs deeper into the plague and stumbles into a battle between good and evil that threatens to tear the village to pieces. Beautifully shot, terrifying at times, and scientific proof that Korean exorcisms are way cooler than ours, The Wailing should be on every horror fan's watch list.

Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood might just be the most unique movie ever made. Filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast, it tracks a child's life as he develops from a young boy to a college-bound adult. The boy, Mason, is played by Ellar Coltrane, who was seven when filming started and 19 by the time of its release. You literally watch him age onscreen as the story progresses. Similarly, his parents, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, age alongside him. In fact, director Richard Linklater specifically asked Arquette not to get plastic surgery in real life for those 12 years, since any real changes the actors made over that decade would be reflected onscreen.

But the money question is: did it work? Absolutely. Probably, if anything, even better than Linklater and the cast could have dared hope. The runtime can be a little intimidating —it clocks in just under three hours—but Boyhood is well worth the investment.

Chicken Run (2000)

Is Chicken Run the most original animated animal adventure? Not by a long shot. Is it the best? Well, that's one that's definitely open to debate. Helmed by Nick Park and Peter Lord, the guys behind Wallace & Gromit and the more recent Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run revels in the same style of goofy stop-motion animation paired with witty writing that made those series such hits. And although it was released way back in 2000, Chicken Run is one of those rare non-Disney/Pixar animated films that has not only stood the test of time, but possibly improved over the years. Featuring the voice talents of Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalha, it's definitely a movie that's fun for the whole family.

It Follows (2014)

In an era during which horror movies now get top billing at the box office and every shot is calculated to give us the maximum level of scare, it's refreshing to see a poverty-budget indie horror movie—with an actual story (looking at you, Paranormal Activity 1-6)—that genuinely delivers on the creep factor. "No clichés, no disappointments" must have been the mantra of writer/director David Robert Mitchell when he set out to put It Follows on celluloid. The movie follows a simple premise, but sticks with it the whole way and makes an effort to only let the premium chills make it past the cutting-room floor.

The story: a young woman (Maika Monroe) finds she's been saddled with a curse after sleeping with her new boyfriend. Something is coming for her, something slow but persistent. The only way to pass the curse on is to sleep with someone else. It Follows comes in strong with a strong, unique, vaguely '80s aesthetic and keeps you guessing until the end.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Okay, daddy-o. There are dozens of reasons Pulp Fiction has become such a modern cult phenomenon, but the main one has to be that it's simply rewatchable as all get-out. Quentin Tarantino's third feature film is regarded by many to be his best, with a punchy, high-energy script, awesome performances from the entire cast, and a retro-violent style that beats you over the head and doesn't let up until the credits roll.

Before Miramax picked up the script, it had already been passed over by one production company, who called it "too demented." It almost had a completely different cast, too. Producer Harvey Weinstein was set on casting Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Vincent Vega, and Tarantino had to fight to use John Travolta. Of course, neither of them were the original choice: Tarantino reportedly wrote the script specifically for Michael Madsen, who played Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. Just weeks before Tarantino finished writing the script, however, Madsen dropped out, much to Tarantino's wrath.

It's hard to imagine Pulp Fiction with any other actors, but that's not the only last-minute switch. Bruce Willis was nearly Vincent Vega, while Matt Dillon was briefly cast as Butch and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was offered the part of Mia. And Samuel L. Jackson came this close to not even being in the film. The part was ready to go to someone else, and Jackson was so hungry when he went in for his last-minute audition, not to mention angry that he'd just been mistaken for Lawrence Fishburne, that the producers were "scared s***less" when Jackson walked in the door and started yelling at them. He was given the part on the spot.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Martin Scorsese is a master at capturing the world of gangsters in any epoch. From the decades-spanning narrative of Goodfellas to the turn-of-the-century mayhem of The Departed, he has the unique ability to take a story and build an entire world around it—and few films showcase that gift better than Gangs of New York, which sees the clash of street gangs in 19th-century New York City reach gritty new highs.

And that's just on the surface. Gangs of New York is one of the director's many examples of near-perfect storytelling, with beautiful cinematography, a sweeping narrative, and pitch-perfect performances from every actor involved. This is not only one of the best movies on Netflix, but one of the best movies, period.