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30 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.

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 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."

Black Panther

During the '90s, Wesley Snipes tried like crazy to get a big-screen version of Marvel's Black Panther into production. For a myriad of reasons, it never quite came together — which turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed Snipes to bring his version of Blade to theaters instead. A couple of extra decades also allowed CGI technology to advance enough to bring the radical, tech-centric world of Wakanda to life. That's just what director Ryan Coogler accomplishes in Black Panther, delivering a vividly realized vision of the fictional nation that appears advanced beyond our wildest dreams, but also feels like human beings actually live there. 

Of course, the high-tech world-building is only part of the fun in Black Panther. Coogler also ingeniously uses the setting as a plot device in a Shakespearean tale of palace politics, tribal traditions, and ideological conflicts. That he populates that narrative with richly developed characters (both heroes and villains) and propels it forward with some of the most electrifying action sequences the MCU has ever seen (the casino scene is a legit all-time great) is what makes the film so much fun to watch. That he also delivers a politically subversive film along the way is what may qualify Black Panther as the best Marvel movie to date.

Brick

There was genuine excitement when Rian Johnson was announced as the director of the middle film in the new Star Wars trilogy. To the surprise of many, the Looper filmmaker wound up delivering the most divisive film in the Star Wars universe, but however you feel about The Last Jedi, it's hard to deny that it's a refreshingly original take on the saga that was crafted with skill, ingenuity, and passion. If you'd been following Johnson's career, you expected nothing less. The director had, after all, been pushing the limits of genre filmmaking since making his feature debut.

For the uninitiated, that debut came in the guise of a slick little neo-noir by the name of Brick. Essentially a Sam Spade detective tale set in a high school, the film is driven by crackling dialogue, superbly drawn characters, an astonishingly complex/intelligent narrative, and a captivating performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. From its riveting opening to its heartbreaking finale, this audacious, often hilarious tale of high schoolers running amok never hits a false note. It gets into your head and refuses to leave — the sort of film that makes you wish you could always be watching it for the first time. Count yourself lucky if you get to experience it that way now. Otherwise, relish the chance to revisit the shifty, noir-drenched delight that is Brick.

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.

Enemy

Netflix has long been a haven for independent cinema. More often than not, it's the primary source for indie movie lovers to discover lesser known films and filmmakers. Netflix recently doubled down on that legacy by adding almost the entire slate of films produced by indie powerhouse A24, including gems like Ex Machina, Green Room, and Under the Skin.

One of the more unsung films in the A24 lineup is Denis Villeneuve's harrowing mindbender of a thriller Enemy. Based on a novel from subversive Portuguese scribe Jose Saramago, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal in a revelatory dual performance, the film follows a quiet man who unwittingly finds his doppelgänger and proceeds to have a full-blown crisis of identity. Along the way, the pair's lives become a tangled web of secrets, obsessions, and lust that threatens to upend each of their existences.

Just FYI, those lives are upended in ways we can't even begin to cover in a simple blurb. Enemy is an artistically and narratively ambitious film worthy of the sort of in-depth examination typically reserved for great works of literature, and Villeneuve utilizes the film's setup to craft one of the most hauntingly ambiguous thrillers you'll ever see, with a bold blend of stark visuals and a near-suffocating sense of atmospheric dread. Enemy is a vividly realized, surprisingly satisfying art film that you'll never be able to unsee — especially if you're afraid of spiders.

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 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.

Obvious Child

Jenny Slate would probably tell you 2009 was a big year for her. It did, after all, see her land gigs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and HBO's egregiously underrated comedy series Bored to Death. It was also the year she met an up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Gillian Robespierre, who cast her in a charming short film by the name of Obvious Child. That short would eventually become the feature film that served as Slate's breakthrough role five years later.

Initially dubbed a "romantic comedy about abortion," Obvious Child actually does follow a twenty-something comedian who finds herself unexpectedly with child, and decides to terminate the pregnancy. So yes, on the surface Obvious Child is a romantic comedy about abortion, but it's more a story about a young woman coming to terms with the realities of being independent in a world that requires independent women to make complicated life choices about work, and family, and healthcare, and sex, and love, and yes, sometimes about an unplanned pregnancy.

While it's wildly romantic, often surprisingly dramatic, and always deeply insightful, Obvious Child is first and foremost a comedy. As such, every aspect of this woman's perpetually complicated life serves as fodder for her standup act, which Slate delivers with an increasingly confessional air that teeters gingerly between caustic hilarity and flustered humility. So too does Obvious Child, with Slate and company ultimately delivering unto the world the abortion rom-com it never knew it needed.

Quiz Show

With the release of the criminally underrated The Old Man and The Gun, 2018 may or may not have brought an official end to Robert Redford's nearly six-decade acting career. It also saw the actor delivering a performance with enough charm, wit, and pathos to rank among his finest. If The Old Man and The Gun remains Redford's swan song in front of the camera, retirement should offer him a little more time in the director's chair.

That's a good thing, because Redford's work behind the camera has often been as thrilling as his work in front, even earning him an Academy Award for 1981's Ordinary People. In the years since winning that Oscar, Redford has remained choosy with his directorial efforts, directing only nine movies since. 

Of those films, 1994's Quiz Show is arguably his best work. Set in the '50s, and based on a true story, the film follows a working-class man and a member of one of America's most prominent families as they face off on the hit tv quiz show Twenty-One — which was infamously/illegally rigged by the show's producers, and eventually exposed by an idealistic government attorney. That may not sound like the blueprint for a thrilling, character-driven biographical drama about corruption and classism in America, but that's just what Redford delivered in Quiz Show. Like the story it so elegantly explores, Quiz Show is almost too intriguing to believe, and remains one of the best films of the '90s.

Cloverfield

Summer 2007. Movie fans around the world line up for an anxious first look at Michel Bay's hotly-anticipated Transformers film. Little do they know, a 110-second teaser for an untitled found footage genre flick is about to be the most memorable part of their evening. At least that was (presumably) the case for so many filmlovers who suffered through Bay's franchise-opening snoozer

Regardless of what audiences thought about Transformers, the buzz swelled around the unlabeled, inexplicable monster movie ad. J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot team still made fans of the cryptic teaser wait a few more months to find out the name of the film featured it teased, further peaking interest with a groundbreaking viral marketing campaign that ensured interests would stay peaked.

In fact, by the time Cloverfield made its premiere in January of 2008, those interests were beyond fever-pitch. Against all odds, Cloverfield — directed with fevered urgency by Matt Reeves and bolstered by Drew Goddard's agile scripting — didn't just meet its lofty expectations, it far surpassed them. Reeves and Godard delivered the humane, grounded monster-movie masterpiece a generation of filmgoers never knew they needed. Over a decade later, Cloverfield still packs as visceral a punch as it did upon release, and remains a fascinating entry point to the cinematic world-building experiment that led to the near-flawless 10 Cloverfield Lane and the compelling disaster that was The Cloverfield Paradox — which (like Cloverfield itself) are far more rewarding with repeat viewings.

The Box

Almost two decades have passed since Richard Kelly broke the collective brains of the film world with his reality-shifting genre mashup Donnie Darko. On the strength of Donnie Darko alone, Kelly has become a cult film figurehead in the ensuing years. He's only bolstered that status by directing two feature films since, both of which have proven as haunting, heady, and confounding as Kelly's masterful debut. The first of those films was 2006's Southland Tales, a tragically misunderstood social satire that essentially earned cult status before it even hit theaters. The second was 2009's The Box, a film that barely registered in theaters before fading into oblivion sans even that "cult classic" tag.

That's a legit tragedy, because The Box may well be Richard Kelly's most accomplished film. One that finds the director utilizing a relatively simple setup — a couple receives a mysterious wooden box, and are promptly informed that pushing the button on top will grant them one million dollars… but will simultaneously kill someone they've never met. From that stark moral quandary, Kelly spins a mind-bogglingly dense human tragedy fueled by greed, regret, fear, and a near suffocating sense of paranoia. 

Yes, The Box is a genuinely grim affair. It's often confusing as all hell too. But if you choose to traverse its blisteringly bleak emotional landscape, you'll be rewarded with a lavishly photographed, stingingly insightful, meticulously orchestrated mindf**k of a film that'll engage/provoke your intellect in that beautifully morose way that only Richard Kelly films do.

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.

Personal Shopper

She's fronted a tentpole franchise and appeared in low-key indie fare. She's earned a standing ovation at Cannes, and seen her life become the stuff of salacious tabloid fodder. Though she's still young, Kristen Stewart has seen and done it all in the movie business. Somehow, she's still finding ways to evolve as a performer, frequently scaling back her celebrity to take bold creative risks in intensely personal cinematic fare. That desire to take risks is what caught the eye of French auteur Olivier Assayas, who wrote Stewart the role of her life for his heartrending 2016 supernatural drama Personal Shopper — and nothing could quite prepare you for what the gifted actor and Assayas conjured.  

In case you skipped Assayas' eerily muted masterpiece in theaters, the film follows a listless young personal shopper who refuses to leave Paris until she makes contact with her twin brother… who died in the city months earlier. To complicate matters, she's started receiving mysterious text messages that may or may not be from the beyond. Assayas bolsters the moody vibes in Personal Shopper with a subtle, slow burn approach that allows Stewart to guide viewers through a masterfully executed maze of physical, emotional, and supernatural entanglements. All of which helps this engrossing spiritual story about loss and grief ensnare, confound, and satisfy.

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.

Batman Begins

It's easy to forget, but prior to 2005's Batman Begins, there wasn't a ton of support behind making a new Batman flick. That had a lot to do with the beyond sour taste Joel Schumacher's shamelessly indulgent camp-fest Batman and Robin left in the mouths of Bat-fans the world over. So when a then-relatively-unknown Christopher Nolan signed up to bring the Dark Knight's big screen saga back to its former glory, a few eyebrows were undeniably raised — though many of them were in wariness.

When Batman Begins finally hit theaters in the summer of '05, those eyebrows went from warily raised to wide-eyed with glee almost overnight. Gone were the neon-drenched visuals. Gone were the absurdly quippy one-liners. Gone were the bat-nipples. In their place was the Batman film so many fans had been waiting for — a gritty, action-packed character drama about a troubled young man embracing his inner heart of darkness in the wake of witnessing his parent's brutal murder. 

The fact that said man was Bruce Wayne (played with equal parts charm and pathos by Christian Bale), and that his heart of darkness led him to become the vigilante known as Batman, only made the story more intriguing. While Nolan and company pay full credence to the white-knuckle action one would expect in any Caped Crusader tale throughout Batman Begins, the film's passion for character (particularly Michael Caine's pitch-perfect Alfred) ultimately led Nolan's Batflick to do something no other Batman movie had before — resonate with viewers on a deeply human level.

Winter's Bone

Today, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most beloved and recognizable stars in Hollywood. A mere decade ago, that was not the case. In fact, prior to 2010, you would've been hard pressed to find anyone at all who knew her name. If you're at all familiar with Lawrence's meteoric rise to legit superstardom, you know the ascension began when she landed the lead in Debra Granik's gritty, near-flawless micro-budget drama Winter's Bone.

If you're not, well, we're gonna go ahead and question your J-Law fandom, because as good as she's been in much of her work since, the actor's performance in Winter's Bone remains her best. While Lawrence's raw talent is full on display throughout this absolute diamond of a film, it's all in service of the vision of Debra Granik, who cast the actor against type as a dirt poor, tough-as-nails Ozark teen desperate to find her missing, meth-dealing father.

In order to find the missing man, she's forced to dive headlong down a rabbit hole full of nefarious, backwoods-dwelling characters who value their community's strict code of silence above all else. Chief among them is her enigmatic, addicted Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of the best supporting performances ever committed to film), who's harboring some serious ill will toward his missing brother. To say any more would be to take the sting right out of this brutal, beautifully brooding little drama, and this is one mystery whose secrets are worth discovering (or rediscovering) for yourself.

Gremlins

In the 35 years since Joe Dante's Gremlins hit theaters, a lot has been said about how one should classify the film. Some folks think it's a straightforward monster movie. Others think it's a classic black comedy. Some think it's a gory, cut-and-dry horror flick, while others think it's an impetuous treatise against the commercialization of the holiday season. Hell, some folks even think it's the greatest Christmas movie ever made. The only thing you really need to understand about Gremlins is that Gremlins doesn't give a hoot how you classify it, because it's Gremlins for Pete's sake.

So yes, Gremlins is a classic blacker than black comedy. Yes, it's an anti-commercial Christmas movie, taking specific aim at the disgusting excesses of the "Me Generation" of the '80s, even as it simultaneously projects a certain affection for the excess of the holiday season itself. And yes, it's a classic slice of creature feature horror to boot, delivering one of the cutest creatures to ever grace the silver screen in Gizmo, and ingeniously ensuring that the cuter-than-cute creature spawns (however inadvertently) the murderously grotesque monsters that give the film its name.

Look, we aren't trying to tell you how to watch Gremlins. All we're saying is it's irrelevant how you watch the twisted tale, so long as you actually watch it. Just know that whether you're seeing it for the first time or the twentieth, Gremlins is that rarest of creepy, socially conscious, creature feature comedies that delivers a few new surprises every single time you see it. 

Snatch

Of all the noteworthy filmmakers who broke through in the '90s (Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Richard Linklater among them), few did so with quite as much verve as Guy Ritchie. The director's stylishly kinetic and laugh-out-loud hilarious caper comedy Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels remains a highlight of the decade, even if the director's best work would follow just two years later.

Titled simply Snatch, that film saw Ritchie building on the styles (breakneck cutting, outlandish violence, dialogue driven by street smart slang) and themes (low-level stooges with off-color nicknames bungling toward a big score with unabashed comic zeal) that made Lock, Stock such a refreshing cinematic endeavor, and delivering a devilishly over-the-top magnus opus of the Brit-crime genre. One that finds the entirety of London's criminal underground — bare knuckle boxing promoters, bookmakers, and Russian gangsters on the hunt for a priceless stolen diamond.

In service of bringing this marvelously madcap diamond dash to life, Ritchie enlisted an impressive A-list cast of U.S. and U.K. players, including Benicio del Toro, Jason Statham, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Ewen Bremmer, Jason Flemyng, Lennie James, and of course, Mr. Brad Pitt. Not surprisingly, it was Pitt's involvement in Snatch that really got people talking about the movie. And as solid as the cast is top to bottom, Pitt's miraculous turn as a shifty, tough-as-nails Gypsy absolutely steals the show, and helps transform Ritchie's clever genre retread into a crackerjack crime comedy for the ages.

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.    

Cloud Atlas

First published in 2004, the epic, mind-bending sci-fi novel known as Cloud Atlas was hailed in some literary circles as a visionary work of speculative fiction. Not surprisingly, Cloud Atlas was also believed to be totally unadaptable for a big screen treatment. Clearly, nobody told Tom Tykwer or the Wachowskis that fact. So it was that the adventurous trio set out to bring their sprawling, star-studded, and unabashedly ambitious adaptation of Cloud Atlas to the world a few years later — only to see the world all but ignore it. That was the world's loss. 

Set over six different time periods, fit with loosely intertwined narratives that start and stop with little notice, and featuring a brilliant ensemble cast (fronted by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon) all playing multiple roles throughout, Cloud Atlas was, admittedly, a challenging slice of experimental cinema for the blockbuster audience it targeted. As if the film's dense narrative, cerebral structure, and highbrow spirituality weren't enough to scare that audience off, the film's almost three-hour runtime was probably enough to seal the deal. 

Those brave enough to buy the ticket and take the supremely wild-ass ride that is Cloud Atlas were rewarded with a visionary work of cinematic daring so full of visual thrills, stark human drama, and complex philosophical ideologies it could spin the head of even the savviest of cineastes. To those who missed out, we'd wager this marvelous mindf**k of a film will be a bit more digestible in the comforts of your own home.

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.

50/50

Though he's kept a relatively low profile over the past few years, between 2004 and 2014, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was one of the busier young talents in show biz, appearing in some of the boldest films coming out of Hollywood. He did so at the behest of heavy-hitting filmmakers like Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, Gregg Araki, and Steven Spielberg, earning a heap of critical accolades and a pair of Golden Globe nominations along the way.

Said nominations came via his work as the lead in a pair of first-rate romantic comedies, the second of which featured Gordon-Levitt opposite Seth Green and Anna Kendrick. Of course, it's not entirely fair to label 2011's 50/50 a romantic comedy given that it follows the travails of a young man who — after being diagnosed with a potentially fatal case of spinal cancer — is given even odds at survival (hence the film's title).

While 50/50 is often unabashedly romantic and at times laugh-out-loud funny, the film (based on the experiences of first-time screenwriter Will Reiser) dedicates equal time to the inherent drama within, allowing Gordon-Levitt to deliver an emotionally dexterous performance worthy of all the praise it garnered. Director Jonathan Levine wisely lets his star (and ace supporting cast) lead the way, guiding the film with a subtle touch, and infusing the action with a playful edge and understated urgency that ensures viewers will laugh, and cry, and be left with an unflinching desire to hug their mother.

Miami Vice

When Michael Mann's Thief hit theaters in 1981, it heralded the arrival of a bold, impressionistic cineaste uniquely tuned to the styles and energies of the day — one who would leverage his penchant for tough guy crime tales and his edgy sense of cool to maximum effect as a key creative force behind smash hit TV series Miami Vice. In the years since that show ended (circa 1990), Mann has built a reputation as a visionary cinematic stylist who Martin Scorsese once called "One of the finest filmmakers in America."

It's a little-known fact, however, that Mann directed not a single of Miami Vice's 111 episodes. It came a bit of a surprise, then, that — a quarter century after the show was canceled — he signed on to write and direct a big-screen adaptation of the series. To the surprise of exactly no one, Mann delivered a slick, exacting neo-noir thriller steeped in the suave, neon machismo that made the series a hit, though he did so sans the "buddy cop" camp that helped soften the edges of the series.

Make no mistake, Miami Vice — driven by a pair of unflappably stoic performances from Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell — is often an absurdly serious film. But if you're willing to buy into that super-serious tone, you're likely to see Miami Vice for exactly what it is — a subtly subversive, razor-sharp crime drama with style and energy to burn, all of which makes it a pitch-perfect Michael Mann film.

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.