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The 40 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.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 effectively killed a franchise as we knew it, it came as a bit of a shock when Sony Pictures announced — after agreeing to share the rights to the web-slinging one with Marvel — they'd be moving forward with a new Spider-Man project. That task seemed all the more daunting when Spider-Man: Homecoming arrived like the John Hughes Spider-flick we didn't know we needed. 

To the shock of many, Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was about to prove the universe (nay, multi-verse) was vast enough for alternate Spider-Men, and even big enough for a half a dozen others. Into the Spider-Verse also breathed welcome life into both the rapidly tiring superhero genre and the stagnating medium of feature animation.

That life arrived via street smart teen Miles Morales, who — after inadvertently gaining "spidery" abilities — seeks to replace the recently deceased Spider-Man of his world, only to discover that there are several Spider-Folk spread across multiple dimensions, and that a singular threat is about to disrupt each of their realities. If that synopsis makes your head hurt, please know that matters become much clearer throughout Into the Spider-Verse. Know as well that said story (suffused with equal parts drama, comedy, and soul) unfolds in an electrifying visual style designed to literally bring comic book pages to life. That hearty combination of style and substance makes Into the Spider-Verse unlike any superhero flick you've seen of late.

Moonlight

Over the past decade, A24 Films has transformed itself from the little indie studio that could into a bonafide powerhouse that regularly challenges big-time studios for box office supremacy and awards season glory. They've done so by continuing to release a near-immaculate slate of films that vary from high-minded genre fare (The Witch, Under the Skin, Midsommar, High Life) to complex human dramas and comedies (The Lobster, Lady Bird, Good Time, The Souvenir). 

In a "grand scheme" sort of way, 2016 was the year A24 became a legit player in the Hollywood landscape. That was the year the studio released the sophomore film from a then all but unheard of filmmaker by the name of Barry Jenkins. The film was, of course, Jenkins' heartfelt and harrowing coming-of-age drama Moonlight, a film that cleaned up at the box office, blew the critics away, and stormed the Oscars by claiming three Academy Awards, including that infamous Best Picture win.     

We're not gonna waste much of your time bestowing more praise on Moonlight here. That's mostly because so much has already been said about the film's dramatic virtue and artistic integrity, there's not much we can add. But just for the record, with its pitch-perfect performances, stylistic mix of hauntingly naturalistic and boldly expressionistic photography, and its awe-inspiring original score, Moonlight is every bit the immaculately executed human drama you've likely heard. If you've yet to experience it for yourself, there's really no time like the present to bask in the lush, lavish glow of Moonlight

Hush

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.

Beasts Of No Nation

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.

The Fundamentals of Caring

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.

The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino's eighth film needs little introduction. In the aftermath of the Civil War, eight people get snowed in at a roadside pitstop, and as the title asserts, none of them are particularly savory characters. There's a lot of talking, a lot of bloodshed, and a lot of Tarantino-ness all around. Perhaps too much, according to some critics. With a 74 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, The Hateful Eight is one of Tarantino's worst-reviewed films.

As a Western, sure, The Hateful Eight is no Fistful of Dollars. But as Nerdist very effectively argues, it's not a Western at all—it's a horror movie. For starters, as Tarantino himself explained, it was most directly inspired by John Carpenter's 1982 body horror film The Thing. The pieces are there—the icy landscape, the claustrophobic setting, people trapped in close quarters by a raging blizzard, and the undercurrent of someone in the group who isn't what they seem. Also, Kurt Russell. On top of that, the musical score includes Ennio Morricone tracks from The Exorcist II and The Thing, deliberately adding to the sense that monsters are lurking, even if they turn out to be human after all.

Now Netflix viewers also have the added option of watching The Hateful Eight as an extended miniseries — broken into four episodes, with at least 25 minutes of new footage spliced in. "Some sequences are more similar than others compared to the film, but it has a different feeling," said Tarantino. "It has a different feeling that I actually really like a lot."

Haywire

Back in 2003, Quentin Tarantino's jaw-dropping genre stew Kill Bill Vol. 1 essentially set the bar for what female-fronted action movies could be. It did so by conjuring a tough-as-nails heroine with a heart of gold who could literally beat down or out-wit even the toughest S.O.B.'s among planet Earth's criminal underworld. En route to delivering an enigmatic action film fantasia, Tarantino almost single-handedly authored the blueprint for the current wave of movies putting ass-kicking ladies front and center.

Though produced on a much smaller scale, Steven Soderbergh's star-studded 2011 actioner Haywire took the Kill Bill blueprint (i.e. a female assassin betrayed by her bosses) and ran with it, transporting it to the world of international espionage and forging a fruitful, propulsive narrative every bit as smart, fun, and action-packed as Tarantino's opus.

We know, Steven Soderbergh is hardly a name one would typically equate with the action movie set. But the infamously dexterous filmmaker executed his first foray in to full-on action cinema with undeniable grace, utilizing a whip-smart screenplay from Lem Dobbs (see also Soderbergh's masterful The Limey), and a stoically tenacious performance from MMA fighter-turned-actor Gina Carano (see also The Mandalorian on Disney+) to deliver a full-throttle, '90s-tinged action flick with style and energy to burn. The final product very easily could've turned into the sort of female James Bond type franchise the film world has been clamoring for of late, had anybody actually seen it in theaters.

The Witch

With new classics hitting theaters or streaming platforms almost every week, genre fans are experiencing what appears to be a full-on horror renaissance — and Robert Eggers' haunting, New England-set folktale The Witch is one of the films that helped set the bar for current horror trends. Eggers' masterfully executed chiller wowed audiences at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and actually made a few bucks in its initial theatrical release, even if it didn't exactly set the box office on fire. It didn't fare quite as well when the folks at A24 cleverly re-released the film on 666 screens a couple of months later.

Behind marvelous critical buzz and equally solid word of mouth, The Witch has more than found its audience after the fact, with many hailing it as the one of the best horror films of the decade. We're inclined to agree. Eggers' film follows a 17th century family whose devoutly puritanical existence falls apart under the weight of unspeakable tragedies, which may or may not be the cause of an evil lurking in a nearby forest and a demon spirit inhabiting the family goat. That last bit may sound silly, but there's nothing to scoff at in The Witch. Eggers' film is a bleak, intensely atmospheric study in gothic Americana that features a star-making turn from Ana Taylor-Joy. It's the sort of film that you simply have to see to believe. And if you haven't, well, prepare thyself to live deliciously.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

In the pantheon of video game movies, there have been far more misses than hits. There was a time when the same could've been said about graphic novel adaptations as well. That Scott Pilgrim vs. The World arrived in theaters as both a video game flick and a graphic novel adaptation was reason enough to get excited about it in 2010. That the film was also directed by Edgar Wright — then a burgeoning cult icon hot off the success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — was reason to be downright impatient for the film.

Wright delivered the goods with Pilgrim, crafting an action-packed, genre-busting romantic comedy with enough razor-sharp wit and eight-bit charm to claim success on both the video game and adaptation fronts. It also featured a hip young cast including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth WInstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman, not to mention scene-stealing appearances from future MCU stars Chris Evans and Brie Larson. With that pedigree (and reviews to match), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World seemed destined for box office glory. That didn't happen. In fact, the film was an outright bomb that seemed doomed to claim little more than "cult classic" status. Luckily, Wright's hipster opus found second life on video, and is now counted amongst the director's best work. If you've been sleeping on that fact, now's the time to get into the game.

Her

One of the primary functions of cinema is to act as a sort of mirror image of the real world. In the case of science fiction cinema, the scope of that mirroring seeks to show not just the world as is, but the world as it may become. If Spike Jonze's wildly romantic, Oscar-winning sci-fi drama Her is any indication, artificial intelligence is going to complicate our lives in ways we cannot yet fathom — and probably sooner than we think. 

Set in a vividly realized, not-too-distant future, Her follows a kind, lonely man who finds love in a most unexpected place — with an AI-driven operating system named Samantha. On paper, that plot sounds a bit ridiculous, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, it probably would've been. With Jonze at the helm, Her's potentially silly setup becomes a tenderly observed study of longing for and finding connection in a tech-obsessed world driven to isolationism. 

At the center of that world is a transcendent performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who brings a warmth, wit, and compassion to this role barely glimpsed in his prior work — not to mention a scene-stealing turn from Amy Adams and dynamic voice work from Scarlett Johansson, who makes a fully developed character of her artificial persona. As a sci-fi film, Her is a towering, deeply personal achievement in style and substance. As a social document, it's an all-too-prescient reflection on the world as it likely will be. If you don't believe that, just ask Alexa what she thinks.

The Endless

In 2015, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead teamed up to deliver a wildly innovative, Lovecraftian romance about a young man falling in love with a mysterious woman while traveling in Europe. It was called Spring, and despite scoring well with critics — who lauded its genre-bending ambition — not many people actually saw it. Those who did likely discovered Spring on Netflix, where the film eventually garnered its well-deserved "cult classic" status. 

Fans of that film were quick to hail Benson and Moorhead as filmmakers to watch, anxiously awaiting the duo's next innovative offering. It arrived in The Endless, another critically acclaimed, mind-bending genre mashup that finds Benson and Moorhead following a similarly grounded, slow-burning dramatic approach to horror/sci-fi tropes while expanding their cinematic palette in ways their genre peers have yet to dare.  

This go-round, Benson and Moorhead spin a complex tale of two brothers who make the fateful decision to revisit the "alien death cult" they managed to escape in their youth. That's all the synopsis you're gonna get from us, because part of The Endless' narrative magic is uncovering the film's unnerving existential mysteries for yourself. Just know that whatever you think you know as the film untangles its intricately woven web, you're probably wrong. That's a good thing, by the way — and further proof that The Endless is almost certain to cement Benson and Moorhead as two of the most daring genre/cult filmmakers of this generation.

Hold the Dark

Over the past decade, Jeremy Saulnier has gone from the little-known writer/director behind the kooky, no-budget cult favorite Murder Party into a bona fide indie auteur. One whose penchant for tightly wound, blood-soaked narratives about normal people in impossibly tense scenarios led to the formidable one-two punch of 2013's caustic revenge tale Blue Ruin and 2016's gory, punk-tinged drama Green Room.

Those films worked because Saulnier had all but unfettered creative control over each. Saulnier found even more freedom with Netflix when he set his sights on the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness to shoot Hold the Dark, and it's a big reason his latest opus is one of his best offerings to date.

Adapted from William Giraldi's novel of the same name, Hold the Dark follows a tracker/wilderness writer (Jeffrey Wright) called to an isolated Alaskan village to hunt down a pack of wolves who may have killed a local boy — and he quickly finds nothing is quite what it seems in the eerily secretive community. We wouldn't dream of spoiling those secrets; just know that, as a mystery, Hold the Dark unfolds under an icy cloud of ambiguity, but those who stick with Saulnier's harrowing journey will find a bold, fiery beast of a tale about loss, regret, lust, and vengeance that functions simultaneously as existential mystery, survival drama, and straight up slasher. Yes, that combination is as confounding and enthralling as it sounds, and it's why Hold the Dark is an absolute must-see.

Win It All

Some filmmakers revel in the bombast of Hollywood, but over the years, indie auteur Joe Swanberg has eschewed those stupefying reveries in service of crafting incisive micro-budget features of all genres, winning a fiercely loyal fanbase along the way. Those fans helped make Swanberg's work — Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas, and Digging for Fire surprising hits on Netflix. It seemed natural, then, that the streaming giant would invest in Swanberg's vision. They did so by producing his mostly marvelous anthology series Easy, then went all in by greenlighting Swanberg's latest feature, Win It All.

Netflix's filmmaker-friendly approach proved an excellent match for Swanberg's fiercely independent style. Win It All finds the director re-teaming with Jake Johnson to deliver the tragi-hilarious tale of Eddie Garrett, a charismatic Chicagoan with a crippling gambling addiction. Eddie's unstable existence is completely upended when a pal entrusts him with a duffel bag full of cash before serving a lengthy prison sentence.

That's the last thing you'd want to hand over to a gambling addict, of course, and what follows is a cringe-worthy, if often hilarious, spiral into addiction madness that plays out about the way you'd think (i.e. the money is lost and must be won back). Like the best of Swanberg's films, he tempers the madness by focusing the film's narrative on the human that drives it. In turn, Win It All proves itself insightful, irreverent, romantic, and laugh-out-loud funny.  

The Irishman

Few names in the history of cinema inspire as much respect and awe as Martin Scorsese. Now well into the fifth decade of his all but unimpeachable career, Scorsese has somehow managed to maintain his fiercely independent vision while cranking out more genuine cinematic masterpieces than pretty much any filmmaker who's ever lived. The Irishman is Scorsese's 26th feature film, and it's certain to go down as one of his late-game masterworks.

At three and a half hours, The Irishman is also the longest film of Scorsese's career. Shockingly, it seems the film almost never happened, with Scorsese relenting that — even with iconic titles like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas to their credit — no studio was interested in properly financing a new Scorsese film with Robert De Niro in the lead. Luckily, Netflix jumped at the chance to add the latest Martin Scorsese picture to their in-house catalog.

Anchored by a powerhouse turn from De Niro, with equally compelling work from Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, and Scorsese first-timer Al Pacino, The Irishman finds the legendary director in surprisingly subtle form, delivering a melancholic, decades-spanning slow-burner of a gangster flick culled from a real-life story about ruthless mobsters, scheming teamsters, fractured families, and the corrosive legacy of violence and betrayal that ultimately undid a sprawling underground empire. Yes, The Irishman may look like a typical Martin Scorsese gangster flick. We can assure you it's anything but, and proves that even 50 years into his career, Scorsese still has a few new tricks up his cinematic sleeve.  

Taxi Driver

With over four decades of movies and accolades behind him, Martin Scorsese might easily lay claim to being the most lauded filmmaker that's ever lived, if not also one of the most influential. Back in 1976, however, Scorsese was still a brash young director who — on the strength of the gritty, dramatic one-two punch of Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore — had more than earned the title of "up-and-comer." Taxi Driver is the film that formally announced Scorsese's arrival, positing the director as both a radical cinematic stylist and the voice of cinema to come.

Just FYI, Taxi Driver also announced Robert De Niro as a once-in-a-generation acting talent, saw a baby-faced Jodie Foster step firmly into the spotlight as a tragic teenage prostitute, and posited now legendary scribe Paul Schrader as one of the premiere writers in film. Oh, and it also proved a hit with critics, scored respectable numbers at the box office, and earned a handful of Oscar nominations to boot. 

Today, Taxi Driver is considered one of the most important films ever produced. And yes, Scorsese's caustic tale of an unstable veteran with violent tendencies traversing the filthy, morally bankrupt streets of New York as the titular motorist is more than worthy of that praise. Its politically charged narrative feels as vital in today's climate as it likely did upon release. But you probably already know that to be true, right? Because you have seen Taxi Driver, right?

The Lobster

The Lobster is without a doubt one of the weirdest movies ever made. Period. It's such an oddly unsettling movie that you'll likely be concerned for the overall mental state of every single person involved. It's also one of the funniest, most emotionally devastating movies you'll ever see about people desperately searching for love in hopes of avoiding being turned into an animal.

No, you did not misread that synopsis. The Lobster really does unfold in a dystopian near future where single people are rounded up and given 45 days to find true love or be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild alone.

Again, The Lobster is one of the weirdest movies ever made — and a cinematic experience unlike any other. Here's all you really need to know going in: Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz (who both deliver career-redefining performances) are in it, that the film is funny as hell, but that its sense of humor is drier than the Sahara, and that The Lobster is one of the more surprisingly humane and romantic films produced in the past decade, though it often feels devoid of romance or humanity. Enjoy!

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Since breaking into Hollywood with 1984's remarkably assured debut Blood Simple, the Coen brothers (a.k.a. Joel and Ethan) have gone on to produce a near-unimpeachable body of work that's found them working as easily in slapsticky farce and romantic comedy as in the crime, western, and musical genres. Whatever story they choose to tell, you can be certain of one thing — the Coens are always going to push to do something they haven't done before. Though it features all the staples of a Coens movie (i.e. brutal/hilarious outbursts of violence, schticky genre setups, crackling dialogue, and stark human drama), their Western anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs finds the Coens pushing themselves farther than ever.  

Of course, the thing that most obviously sets The Ballad of Buster Scruggs apart from the rest of their films is that it is, in fact, an anthology (comprised of six short tales of the wild west) and not a single, straightforward narrative. Those six tales are thrilling, and hilarious, and frequently downright heartbreaking. They feature stellar work from an all-star cast including Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco, Tom Waits, and Liam Neeson. And they're each fueled by the sort of mirthful madness only Joel and Ethan Coen can conjure. Coupled with Bruno Delbonnel's jaw-dropping digital cinematography and pitch-perfect Western themes from composer Carter Burwell, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is easily one of the best movies Netflix has ever produced, if not one of 2018's best films.

Killing Them Softly

Nearly a decade has passed since Andrew Dominik released the followup to his flawless anti-Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and we're betting most of you probably haven't seen it. Yes, you should rectify that, because Dominik's overtly political powder keg of a crime flick Killing Them Softly is every bit as impressive. In some ways, Killing Them Softly is actually the better film.

Make no mistake, Killing Them Softly is a spectacular slice of socially-conscious crime cinema. Set amid the darkness of 2008's housing collapse, the film follows a pair of low-level criminals (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who rip off a mob-protected card game. That act leads to the hiring of a stoic hitman (played with unflappable cool by Brad Pitt) to restore order in the local criminal underworld. Upon his arrival, Killing Them Softly becomes a glib, supremely stylish, unabashedly opinionated little crime drama that's as much a down-and-dirty gangster movie as a scathing indictment of American socioeconomic structures. It also features a bravura supporting turn from the late, great James Gandolfini, and one of the all-time greatest final lines in movie history. Don't believe us? It's high time to find out for yourself.

The Death of Stalin

If you've been to the movies in the past decade, you're well aware there's been a fairly noticeable comedy drought at the cineplex. In fact, prior to the release of Armando Iannucci's venomous, laugh-out-loud historical dramedy The Death of Stalin, we really couldn't recall the last time we'd seen a genuinely great comedy film. To be clear, The Death of Stalin is inarguably a great comedy — one that continues to eclipse all comedic comers even two years after it left theaters in terms of savage wit, outlandish language, and socio-political savvy.

Of course, if you're among the viewers who stumbled blindly into Iannuci's latest pitch-perfect political farce (see also 2009's In The Loop, and HBO's Veep) you already know it's the sort of rapid fire laugh riot that all but demands repeat viewings because you simply cannot take in every immaculately written one-liner, calculatingly cock-eyed performance, or scrupulously executed set piece in a single viewing. We'd even posit you couldn't catch them all in three or four screenings. The good news is you'll find something different to love and laugh hysterically at no matter how many times you watch The Death of Stalin. And with each new viewing, the film's acerbic, utterly absorbing, politically charged narrative (fueled by shrewdly astute work from a very English-speaking ensemble cast including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs, and Andrea Riseboroughh) carries as much dramatic weight as it does on the first. 

There Will Be Blood

Few actors have cast as long a shadow over their craft as Daniel Day-Lewis. No, that's not because the actor stands a full 6'2" in stature. Rather, it's due to Day-Lewis' fierce dedication to his method-acting modus operandi, and uncanny ability to transform himself body and soul for each new role. Such ability has led Day-Lewis into elite awards season company, standing alongside screen icons Katherine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, and Walter Brennan as the only actors in history to win three or more Academy Award statues

Day-Lewis claimed his third Best Actor award for his towering work as a ruthless, near vampiric turn-of-the-century oil man who refuses to stand idly in anyone's shadow. And trust us when we say there's not a shadow on Earth big enough to shade Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview. Frankly, merely calling the actor's performance in There Will Be Blood "towering" seems an egregious understatement, because Paul Thomas Anderson's film is utterly consumed by Day-Lewis' presence.

The beloved actor's near-mythic work in There Will Be Blood is so utterly transfixing it's almost easy to lose sight of Anderson's own mastery throughout. Still, even as the preternaturally gifted filmmaker willfully puts his actor's scene-devouring turn front and center, he wisely uses it to bolster what's essentially an epic chamber drama about capitalism run amok that's as audaciously ambitious as it is inherently insightful. One that may well feature career work from both actor and director.

Shadow

Hong Kong-based auteur Zhang Yimou has long been one of the most electrifying and respected filmmakers in the world. He's earned that adoration by delivering a steady stream of historical epics fueled as much by dazzling visual artistry as they are by deeply human stories of noble warriors. Among Yimou's best-known titles are 1991's Oscar nominated Raise the Red Lantern, 2002's Jet Li-starring Hero, 2004's spectacular House of Flying Daggers, and 2006's jaw-dropping Curse of the Golden Flower.

Hopefully you've seen at least one of Zhang Yimou's Wuxia wonders over the years. But if you're looking for a gateway into the martial arts madness of Zhang Yimou's fantastical cinematic oeuvre, look no further than the director's tragically overlooked masterpiece, 2019's Shadow.

Set during China's Three Kingdoms Era (220 – 280 AD), Shadow follows the tale of an impetuous King, a brilliant Commander, his life "shadow," and a pair of noble women searching for their rightful place in a war-torn world that has little room for them. At the center of Shadow's narrative is a ruthless battle over a desirable walled city. But that's all we'll say of the the plot of Shadow, because the plot (for all its political and personal intrigue) isn't really the point. Rather, we'd encourage you to simply sit back and marvel at the film's awe-inspiring photography, mind-boggling set pieces, and sweeping musical flourishes. And hey, if you get swept up in Shadow's Shakespearean narrative twists along the way, all the better.

The Invitation

There are horror movies that shock you with jump-scares and blood-splatter, and those that burrow into your brain, festering there like a pestilence primed to ravage you body and soul. If you've already ventured into the unholy dinner party drama of Karyn Kusama's The Invitation, you know which side of that horror movie coin it lands on. You also know it's not entirely fair to classify Kusama's nightmarishly elegant study of grief as a horror film at all.

For those of you who haven't stepped into the fray, know that The Invitation starts out ominously, with an on-edge young couple en route to a dinner party. Turns out the host of the part is the man's ex wife, and that the marriage dissolved in the wake of a loss neither has fully recovered from. Things only get more dire from there.

And from that tautest of setups, Kusama takes a cool, calculating pace, milking a narrative built for a slow, soulful burn while guiding the apocalyptic action headlong toward a shocking final act as surprising as it is inevitable. Of that final act, we'll say nothing more — mostly because a lot of you will see the madness coming. That's sort of the point, of course, and no matter how full-on slasher flick Kusama and company make things, at its core, The Invitation is meant to be a raw-nerve styled character study about loss and soul-choking grief. And in humanizing (without rationalizing) the inherent insanity, The Invitation manages to creep us out in ways most horror movies cannot fathom.

The Master

Though he's been working steadily behind the camera for over 20 years, Paul Thomas Anderson has delivered just eight feature films to his rabid fanbase. While those fans likely couldn't pick just one of those films as their favorite, the man who made them appears to have less trouble choosing. No, Anderson's favorite PTA movie is not his breakout film Boogie Nights. Nor is it either of his semi-iconic collaborations with Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. It's not even that startlingly effective Adam Sandler flick Punch-Drunk Love. No, of the eight masterworks Anderson has released to date, his own favorite is apparently the brilliant (and too oft overlooked) 2012 pseudo-cult drama The Master

Now, if you've seen this Joaquin Phoenix/Philip Seymour Hoffman/Amy Adams starrer, you already know why. If haven't, well, there's much to adore within the fragile framework of the haunting, emotionally raw character study that is The Master. The film follows Phoenix's irascible (and psychologically unsettled) WWII Vet Freddie as he drifts aimlessly through post-war life. Fortunes seem to change for Freddie when he meets a charismatic guru (Hoffman) spearheading a spiritual movement. From there, Anderson & Co. guide The Master through a twisted tale of fractured humanity and shifting power dynamics that teeters effortlessly between the weird, the sexual, the horrific, and the metaphysical. In the mix, Anderson draws career best work from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Adams, and delivers a film more than worthy of adoration from the man who conjured it.

Good Time

Those of you who were keeping track of the recent awards season madness in Hollywood probably heard a lot about a bracingly original little Adam Sandler thriller being egregiously snubbed by the Academy Awards. It was called Uncut Gems, it was directed by up-and-coming indie ingenues The Safdie Brothers, and it was undeniably one of the best films of 2019. Sadly, Uncut Gems was not the first masterwork from the Safdies to be unjustly ignored by the Academy. In fact, some might even say that their 2017 offering Good Time is the better film, and that its star should've been a shoe-in for the Best Actor award that year.

That actor was none other than former teen heartthrob/current indie film all-star (and future Batman) Robert Pattinson. And if you've seen the white-knuckle thrill ride that is Good Time, you already know how transcendent his work is in the film.

If not, we'd urge you to crawl down the gritty, neon-drenched rabbit hole that is Good Time as soon as possible. Yes, the film is anchored by one of the finest performances of Pattinson's young career, but it's also a taut, propulsive, wholly engrossing New York crime drama that doesn't just riff on the genre as much as it completely reinvents it — so much so that Good Time feels as vital a slice of NY crime cinema as Scorsese's Taxi Driver, or Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. And please understand we do not make those comparisons lightly.

Green Room

Some movies set out to challenge your mind or move your soul. Others kick in the doors to your head and heart with red-laced combat boots, seeking solely to wreak unholy havoc on your very being. Jeremy Saulnier's propulsive punk rock thriller Green Room does the latter with the tale of a down-and-out hardcore band caught in a deadly standoff with a nasty sect of skinheads (led by a never-better Patrick Stewart).  

If only to maintain the crushing emotional impact of the film's narrative twists and unyieldingly vicious acts of violence, we'll say no more of the plot. We should, however, tell you that Green Room is out to deliver maximum shock value, and it wholly succeeds in delivering with its heady blend of savage bloodletting and punk fury. Still, viewers may be shocked to find that Saulnier's film succeeds most in its quieter moments; those uncertain times when plans are hatched, confessions made, and final breaths taken.

The body count runs high in Green Room, with Saulnier taking obvious pleasure in finding brutal/heartbreaking new ways to thin the herd. In spite of the film's brazen wealth of filth and fury, Green Room's audacious insight allows it to challenge your mind and move your soul in ways you simply cannot foresee — even if it does so with the subtlety of a Dead Kennedys cover.

Roma

It's easy to forget now (as they seemingly release a dozen new movies every week), but Netflix has only been in the business of producing original films for a few years. They began their cinematic journey in 2015 with what they hoped would be an awards season contender in their harrowing and heartbreaking child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation, and the ensuing years have seen the streaming giant working with some of the biggest names in movies; not surprisingly, their awards season presence has grown exponentially. Netflix broke through in 2018 with a foreign language film that earned a staggering 10 Oscar nominations, emerging as an early frontrunner to win Best Picture.

That breakthrough came when they greenlighted an intensely personal passion project from cinematic visionary Alfonso Cuarón, titled simply Roma (after the Mexico City neighborhood he was raised in). Not only did Cuarón write, direct, produce, and shoot Roma (in glorious black and white), the film's yearlong study of a maid caring for a middle-class family amid the politically turbulent 1970s is culled from the director's own memories of his youth. It unfolds less as a straightforward narrative than a vivid collection of moments, each viewed through fractured lens of time and memory. Through that lens Cuarón delivers a hushed, deeply emotional cinematic journey of an unconventional family in transition; this is one journey you'll not soon forget.

Marriage Story

Over the past few years, Netflix has transformed itself from a streaming juggernaut with a penchant for producing compelling, smaller-scaled passion projects to a legit industry powerhouse whose artist friendly approach has drawn talents like the Coen Bros. (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), and Steven Soderbergh (High Flying Bird) into the fold. Along the way, they've also become regular awards season players who've seen their films take home an arm full of Oscar gold of late.

Just FYI — with Martin Scorsese's sprawling gangster epic The Irishman in play, Netflix may well take home their first Best Picture statue this year. But the streamer also has a bit of a dark horse contender on its hands in the guise of Noah Baumbach's harrowing relationship dramedy Marriage Story. If nothing else, you can be certain that Marriage Story stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson will be among the frontrunners for the Best Actor and Actress awards come Oscar night.

Point of fact, Baumbach's latest actually led the pack in terms of nominations at this year's Golden Globes, with Driver and Johansson both landing nods for their performances. And yes, the duo more than earns the praise they've been receiving since Marriage Story made its debut on Netflix. We're not gonna waste much breath trying to convince you that Marriage Story is worth your time, because you either adore what Noah Baumbach brings to cinema or you don't.

The Social Network

It's easy to forget in the era of election-meddling, online bullying, and relentless political commentary, but social media used to be fun. It also used to be a legitimately useful technology that allowed folks from all walks of life to connect (or reconnect) to a world that's become increasingly isolationist. Little did we know as we were liking and sharing and selfieing our way through the mid-2000s, but the birth of click-culture was ground zero for all manner of small and large drama.

At the center of the fray was tech giant Facebook, whose young founder Mark Zuckerberg eventually became the face of the social media craze. Just years after his tech changed the face of modern communication (in turn making him the youngest billionaire in history), Zuckerberg himself became the face of this frenetic, cinematic study of the genesis of Facebook, The Social Network.

Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg's road to becoming a top dog in tech wasn't without turmoil. And if Aaron Sorkin's razor-sharp screenplay for The Social Network is even remotely accurate, that road was bathed in the blood of his enemies — and also some of his friends. Zuckerberg's story here is presented through the lens of the great David Fincher, who anchored The Social Network to Jesse Eisenberg's scene-chewing performance, and unexpectedly delivered one of his best movies to date. If you know anything about Fincher's near-spotless resume, you know what a feat that is.

Burning

If you've been paying any attention to the international film landscape over the past two decades or so, you've likely noticed that South Korea has become a major player on the market, with filmmakers delivering a wave of movies as artistically ambitious as they are deeply disturbing. You probably noticed Chang-dong Lee's name listed as director on many of those films as well, even if he works with far less frequency than many of his contemporaries — a full eight years passed between Lee's harrowing Alzheimer's drama Poetry and 2018's Burning. Given the director's near-flawless track record, it's no surprise that Burning was well worth the wait.

If you've yet to experience Lee's latest simmering slow burner, you should know it's adapted from a short story by iconic Japanese scribe Haruki Murakami, and that it follows the tale of a directionless young man whose meandering existence is upended by the reappearance of a woman he knew in his youth. That life is further impacted by the arrival of a wealthy, enigmatic young businessman (a never-better Steven Yeun) with an eye on the woman. If you're thinking that setup makes Burning sound like a run-of-the-mill love triangle drama, you're gonna need to think again. From that simple setup, Lee and his cast spin a cryptic, propulsive little thriller that revels in ambiguities and moral quandaries — and one that barrels ever so slowly towards a heart-stopping finale that's certain to haunt your memory well after the credits roll.    

Snowpiercer

Since breaking onto the international film scene with the potent one-two punch of 2000s Barking Dogs Never Bite and 2003's Memories of Murder, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has become one of the most respected filmmakers working today. That's because in the years since, he's put together one of the most adventurous filmographies cinema has ever seen. The director continued to surprise when — on the heels of his kaiju-styled romp The Host, and a deeply personal crime drama in Mother — he adapted a little-known graphic novel for his followup, which also marked his English-language debut.

Though many foreign filmmakers struggle in adapting their style to American markets, Bong took the challenge in stride, and delivered one of the more bracingly original sci-fi confections of the modern era. Snowpiercer unfolds on a speeding train that's spent 17 straight years cutting through a desolate landscape decimated by a failed climate change experiment, and even amongst this director's eclectic filmography, it's one hell of a wild ride.

As with much of Bong's work, it's also politically charged, with climate science in play outside the train, and class warfare broiling inside. Of the ensuing fight, we'll say nothing, 'cause we wouldn't dare spoil one wild ass minute of this film for those who haven't seen it. Just know that Snowpiercer is completely crazy in ways you cannot fathom. And know that's a very good thing.

Hail, Caesar!

Since bursting onto the scene with 1984's no-budget neo-noir stunner Blood Simple, Joel and Ethan Coen have become poster boys for Hollywood outsiders who've made it big in showbiz, earning a handful of Oscars and waves of critical praise to boot. They've also brought their singular wit and audacious cinematic vision to every genre under the sun. Quite often, they've packed several seemingly disparate genres into the same film, essentially conjuring a distinctly left-of-center genre all their own.

The Coens' uncanny penchant for genre gymnastics has never been so on display as it is in their immaculate skewering of Hollywood's Golden Age, Hail, Caesar! As the film is set largely on a backlot circa the 1950s and follows a studio "fixer" (Josh Brolin) who goes above and beyond in keeping multiple stars, directors, and productions in check, Hail, Caesar! is tailor-made for such gymnastics.

Hail, Caesar! really does find the Coens packing literal representations of every genre they can — from musical to western to period drama — into a darkly comical, overarching narrative about Cold War anxieties in mid-century America. While that "everything at once" approach occasionally leaves Hail, Caesar! feeling a bit unfocused, it still offers ample opportunity for the brothers to show off their razor-sharp writing, their undying love for period-specific dialect, and their impeccable taste in actors (see Brolin, Clooney, Swinton, Johansson, Tatum, McDormand, and more). And though Hail, Caesar! ranks among the slighter of the Coens' efforts, it also remains one of their most misunderstood.

Free Fire

After bursting onto the scene with 2011's marvelously twisted creeper Kill List, Ben Wheatley has crafted one of the more colorful resumes in showbiz. He followed his breakout with the psycho-killer romantic romp Sightseers (2012), a psychedelic period chiller in A Field In England (2013), and a stunning, socially-conscious satire in High-Life (2015).

With such a wildly varied slate of films keeping his fans decidedly off balance, Wheatley followed his High-Rise success by once again changing dramatic speeds with 2016's action-packed, crackerjack crime farce, Free Fire. Undoubtedly his highest-profile film to date, Wheatley had no doubt earned the right to paint on a bigger canvas in his post-High-Rise career, but Free Fire went big in completely unexpected ways.

To clarify that last statement, Wheatley didn't just go big with Free Fire, he went absolutely crazy, casting an impressive slate of not-quite-A listers (Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, and Cillian Murphy among them), and throwing them into a viper pit of a narrative that finds an arms deal gone wrong in ways that really have to be seen to be believed. Know that the entirety of Free Fire's 90-minute runtime unfolds in the dusty confines of an isolated warehouse, and finds a balls-to-the wall gunfight unfolding between the feuding parties. With boxes of artillery and ammunition handy, that fight gets every bit as wild as you'd think — and makes for one of the more deliriously brutal/cool/hilarious cinematic confections of recent years.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Genre fans are currently entrenched in a veritable golden age of horror cinema. So much so that it seems like every single week, a brainy new genre confection is hitting theaters to rave reviews and box office conquest. Of course, that kind of success has led to an inevitable over-saturation of horror flicks in the theatrical market. And that means that every year there's a black-hearted diamond or two unfairly lost in the rough.

One of the more egregiously overlooked gems of late has to be André Øvredal's 2016 pseudo-haunted house chiller The Autopsy of Jane Doe. If you recognize Øvredal's name, it's likely because you saw his 2010 found-footage masterpiece Trollhunter. If you're wondering why you never heard about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, well, the film received virtually no promotion from distributors en route to its theatrical release and was all but ignored by audiences in theaters.

Luckily, Øvredal's atmospheric creeper has garnered legit cult-classic status via streaming platforms. So if you've yet to experience the morbid delights within The Autopsy of Jane Doe, there's no time like the present. Don't worry, we wouldn't dare spoil a single monstrous moment of it for you. Just know that The Autopsy of Jane Doe (part haunting procedural mystery and part gory, ghoulish fright fest) is very much centered around the gruesome titular act, that Øvredal makes marvelous use of the film's grim, single location, and that nothing can quite prepare you for the grisly mystery unfolding within. 

Sinister

Scott Derrickson's name has been in the news quite a bit lately — and not necessarily for the best reasons — as he recently vacated the director's chair on Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness due to creative differences with Marvel Entertainment. His departure has been a bit of a double-edged sword as horror icon Sam Raimi has surprisingly stepped in to helm the project. That good news aside, we were beyond pumped to see what Derrickson had in store for the sequel.

Thankfully, Derrickson already has a few intriguing projects in the works, so it shouldn't be too long until we see new work from the filmmaker. Until something materializes, it's as good a time as ever to discover (or simply re-discover) his more brooding work in genre fare. But if you want to see Derrickson at his absolute best, look no further than his deliriously unsettling 2012 thriller Sinister.

If you missed Sinister in theaters, the film follows a washed-up true crime scribe (Ethan Hawke) who shockingly moves his family into a home where a grisly murder took place while researching a new book. After finding an old box of Super 8 movies in the attic depicting truly horrific acts, well, let's just say life gets seriously creepy for the man and his family. And by creepy, we mean stylishly disturbing in ways we can't really quantify in words. So if that sounds like your cup of tea, you should add Sinister to your queue immediately.

Public Enemies

The terms "underrated" and "overlooked" get tossed about pretty frequently these days in regards to movies. And if we're being completely honest, we'd say maybe a third of the films that get tagged with those labels are actually worthy of either. We can tell you beyond doubt, however, that Michael Mann's 2009 crime saga Public Enemies is the very definition of both.

The same could be said of Mann himself, of course. With nearly five decades logged in the director's chair — and a handful of legit masterworks to his credit — Michael Mann's name and stylish cinematic oeuvre should be as well known to the world as that of Spielberg or Scorsese. Unfortunately, Mann and his work continue to linger on the fringes of the cinematic world.

Set in a crime-ridden 1930s America and boldly photographed almost entirely in digital formats, Public Enemies is easily among Mann's most forgotten works. It's also one of his most star-studded affairs, with the likes of Christian Bale, Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, and Channing Tatum making appearances, among others.

The film finds Depp portraying infamous bank robber John Dillinger, and pits Bale against him as Melvin Purvis, the stalwart G-man tasked with bringing the nefarious thief to justice. From that simplistic setup, Mann does his typical Mann thing, turning Public Enemies' "based-on-true-events" narrative into a pulse-pounding, intensely humanistic tale of cops and robbers with style and energy to burn. It's high time the world acknowledged the fact.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

When it comes to cinematic legacies, few are quite as storied as that of Steven Spielberg — a.k.a. the cinematic wunderkind who essentially invented the blockbuster with his 1975 breakout Jaws. In the years since, Spielberg has conjured one of the most impressive behind-the-camera careers in Hollywood history, delivering a steady string of award-winning prestige pictures and tentpole money-makers alike.

While Spielberg's family-friendly sci-fi marvel E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (and its nearly $700 million box office take in 1982) would seem to fit snugly among his tentpole entries, most would agree it fits just as easily among his prestige works. Once you look past the glossy "boy meets alien" premise of E.T., it's clear to see there's a lot going on under the surface, with themes of love, and death, and faith, with fractured families and the isolating alienation of the suburbs all present. There's also the question of the film's clever subversion of alien invasion tropes, in which one could easily find an unpacking of Cold War paranoia.

But even amid all that heavy subtext, E.T. is never anything less than a tender-hearted, vividly realized tale of a troubled kid (Henry Thomas) whose life is forever changed when he encounters a friendly visitor from another planet who desperately wants to "phone home." It just so happens to also be bursting at the seams with jaw-dropping imagery, iconic music, and a genuine sense of awe as palpable today as it was almost 40 years ago.

The Silence of the Lambs

Though a recent string of critically-revered releases has dramatically reshaped the conversation surrounding horror movies, the genre on the whole continues to be viewed as slight and schlocky by snobby cineastes the world over. Of course, many of those same snobs are quick to hail Jonathan Demme's 1991 Best Picture winner The Silence of the Lambs as a masterpiece, even as some refuse to acknowledge it as an unrivaled masterwork of the horror genre.

And make no mistake, this is a horror movie to its very core. We're guessing you've at least heard about The Silence of the Lambs, because its cinematic legacy is pretty much unimpeachable. If you're among those who've yet to enter its suffocatingly moody narrative, the film follows an F.B.I. cadet (Jodie Foster) who becomes unexpectedly ensnared in a manhunt for a sadistic killer. To find her murderer, she turns to Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in an unforgettable performance), a brilliant psychologist imprisoned for killing and eating his own patients.

As the action unfolds in The Silence of the Lambs, so too do the horrors, with Demme crafting an enthralling little crime thriller packed with more gore, jump-scares, and boogey-men than your average slasher flick — doing so with the grace and vitality of a bona fide cinematic master.

Da 5 Bloods

Perhaps more than any other filmmaker in history, Spike Lee continues to elicit a decidedly visceral reaction from moviegoers. That's very much by design, as Lee's films are specifically meant to not just push buttons, but to push viewers as far out of their emotional comfort zones as possible. And whether you love or loathe what Spike Lee brings to cinema (there aren't many in the middle), few can argue the filmmaker's uncompromising cinematic artistry, or his indefatigable flair for biting social drama.

Given the divisive state of the world, it should come as no surprise that Lee is pushing boundaries farther than ever. The director made serious waves with his searing, racially-charged 2018 thriller BlacKkKlansman, and is back in the saddle this year with the fevered Vietnam war drama Da 5 Bloods.

Lee's latest follows a group of Vietnam Vets who find themselves back in country decades after war's end to bring home the remains of their fallen brother — and the cache of gold they'd stored away during combat. Equal parts anti-war drama and action-packed treasure hunt adventure, Da 5 Bloods explores the men in both timelines as they struggle with fighting (and having fought) a war for a country that, even decades later, all but refuses to recognize them. Yes, Da 5 Bloods is as politically and socially motivated as any film Spike Lee has ever made. It's also a daring, devastating document of the Black experience that demands to be seen by as many folks as possible.

Sleepy Hollow

The last half-decade hasn't exactly been one to remember for Johnny Depp. It hasn't exactly been a banner few years for his frequent collaborator Tim Burton, either. But no matter how far the duo's legacies might have slipped of late, they're still likely to go down as one of the most creatively congruous director-actor combos in movie history.

That statement would ring true even if you only account for Depp's and Burton's 1990s collaborations. They kicked off the decade with the enigmatic suburban satire Edward Scissorhands (1990), followed that with the lovingly twisted biographical dramedy Ed Wood (1994), and closed the decade out with what might be the most succinct symbiosis of their shared cinematic fantasia.

That decade-closer came in the guise of 1999's Sleepy Hollow, and found both actor and director delivering a bold re-imagination of Washington Irving's iconic tale of terror "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," perhaps better known as the story with the Headless Horseman (played here by Christopher Walken). In the hands of Burton and Depp, that classic tale becomes a hyper-stylized steampunk nightmare that transforms the cowardly Ichabod Crane into a cunning, if sheepish, turn-of-the-century constable dispatched to the titular town to solve a series of grisly murders in which victims are left without their heads. Yes, that story is as thrilling, gory, and glorious as you might think. And even if you are familiar with the well-trod Sleepy Hollow lore, we guarantee you've never seen it quite like this before.

Schindler's List

After blazing a trail through the '70s and '80s to become the first legit blockbuster auteur in Hollywood, many would argue Steven Spielberg didn't have much to prove at the dawn of the '90s. Still, there were some in Tinseltown who wondered if the director (even after helming the The Color Purple) would ever really find his footing in the true dramatic realm. So it was Spielberg likely entered the decade with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, wanting to prove his talent could flourish in something other than tentpole fare.

That proof came in 1993, which saw two separate projects from Spielberg: the year's biggest moneymaker and the eventual Best Picture winner. Released in the summer of '93, the moneymaker was Spielberg's game-changing dinosaur spectacular Jurassic Park. The Best Picture winner arrived in December, and remains Spielberg's artistic zenith.

Spielberg's sobering Holocaust epic Schindler's List, about a German businessman who saved the lives over one thousand Polish Jews from the barbaric Nazi regime, is the film in question. And no, we're not gonna waste much time bestowing praise on Schindler's List, because much has already been said in praise of the film and all of it is true. If you've already seen Schindler's List, you know that to be the case. If not, understand that not only is Schindler's List Steven Spielberg's best movie, it's one of the most important historical dramas ever produced. Just make sure you've got some tissues handy when you watch it, because tears will be shed.