With so many titles to choose from, Netflix Instant's library can be overwhelming. So we bring you this biweekly column as a tool to cut through the clutter by highlighting some now streaming titles that pair well with the latest theatrical releases.
Looking to Elysium, Kick-Ass 2, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler for inspiration, we've pulled together a selection of dystopian science fiction, dark superhero stories, and docudramas that chronicle major moments in U.S. history.
As follow-up to his critically heralded District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp presents a story of class struggle set in 2154. Elysium is a space station that houses Earth’s wealthiest citizens in an ever-lovely manufactured environment free of crime and disease. On their home planet below, the poor and sick scrape by with big dreams of escape. But this class separation may be shattered when one scrappy have-not straps on a superhuman exoskeleton and aims to take Elysium down. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley co-star; Blomkamp directs. (Read our full review here.)
Science fiction is a genre that often warns us of the ills in society’s present that could lead to horrific futures. Will we force children to murder each other for our amusement? Will emotions become criminal? Or will the rise of the machines push humanity into debauched chaos? Find out with these three dystopian dramas.
The Hunger Games (2012) Based on the best-selling YA novel by Suzanne Collins, this teen-centered adventure follows young Katniss Everdeen, a impoverished girl sent to fight in a cruel child competition set up by a tyrannical government. To survive, she must be the last one standing, but can she strike down the sweet boy who once saved her family from starvation? Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Woody Harrelson star; Gary Ross directs.
Equilibrium (2002) Christian Bale fronts this thriller that has him playing a trench-coat wearing cop in a fascist future where emotions are outlawed, a ruling enforced but subduing the populace with a mood-dulling drug. But when this law enforcer skips a dose of his prescribed mood meds, he awakes with feelings he refuses to give up. And so becomes a threat to this stoic society. Emily Watson and Taye Diggs co-star; Kurt Wimmer directs.
Metropolis Restored (1927) Arguably the most iconic dystopian drama ever made, Metropolis is set in the not-so-distant future of 2026 where the wealth disparity has become so extreme that poor live underground while the wealthy enjoy the jaunty splendor of the surface world. But when one rich man falls for a humble have-not girl, he decides to lead the charge to social revolt! Will his efforts be undone by a chaos-spurring robot who dances with fiery abandon? Note: this version is a recently restored edition that contains the most original footage since the film toured the world in 1928. Brigitte Helm, Joh Fredersen, and Gustav Frohlich star; Fritz Lang directs.
In this sequel to the R-rated superhero romp Kick-Ass, Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) grows his ranks of vigilante crime fighters while his old ally the Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gears up to wreak a bloody vengeance. Chloe Moretz, Morris Chestnut, and Jim Carrey co-star; Jeff Wadlow directs. (Read our full review here.)
Kick-Ass won fans by offering a quirky new take on the superhero genre with a deeply dark edge. If you prefer anti-heroes to clean-cut good guys, and relish in a good heartbreaking backstories, you’re sure to salivate over these three super selections.
Hellboy (2004) Based on the cult comic book series by Mike Mignola, this fantastical feature unveils the adventures of a pack of misfit heroes way weirder than the X-Men, and nowhere near as pretty as The Avengers. Ron Perlman stars as Hellboy, a demon brought to Earth by Nazis but breaking from expectations by fighting against the forces of evil. John Hurt, Selma Blair, and Doug Jones co-star; Guillermo del Toro directs.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) The web sensation created by Joss Whedon stars Neil Patrick Harris as the titular baddie who dreams of becoming a supervillain. But while he uses freeze rays and evil schemes to achieve infamy, his efforts are thwarted again and again by the arrogant local superhero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). But Horrible finds a new inspiration for menace when the Captain steps in steals the heart of his long-longed for crush (Felicia Day). It’s one part rousing musical, and one part dark drama. And Whedon directs, so you can probably guess what that means for its finale!
Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010) Batman has faced plenty of dangerous foes, but none like the new vigilante that’s stalking him and his former sidekick, Dick Grayson. This enigmatic figure is known only as Red Hood, and he has a hard-earned grudge with Gotham’s greatest hero. Who is he? Batman will have to solve this mystery while battling the Joker, Ra’s al Ghul and Black Mask. Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Bruce Greenwood, John Di Maggio, Jason Isaacs, and Wade Williams lend their voices; Brandon Vietti directs.
Lee Daniel’s The Butler
The filmmaker behind Precious digs into the evolution of race relations in the United States through the true story of one African-American butler who worked in the White House for 34 years, under the likes of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey star; Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and many, many more co-star. Daniels directs. (Read our full review here.)
It’s an incredibly ambitious goal to attempt to capture the complicated history of race relations in the U.S. within a single film, but sometimes a narrative movie or TV series is an incredible tool to investigate a particular era. For a look back on some of America’s dark but defining moments, check out these three titles. One centers on the greatest feud the nation ever knew. Another follows the story of one soldier that speaks for many. And the last unravels the mystery of a serial killer who wrought terror and infected the popular culture.
Hatfields & McCoys (2012) The Civil War was famously a conflict that turned brother against brother, but the legendary feud of neighbors Hatfield and McCoy began after their patriarchs returned from the battle field. The History Channel unfurled the beginnings of this gruesome feud that stretched from the Hatfield’s West Virginian home across the river to the Kentucky land of the McCoys with this heralded mini-series. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989) This twice Academy Award-nominated drama unfolds the story of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, finding inspiration in his best-selling autobiography of the same name. Tom Cruise stars as Kovic, playing him from an idealistic youth who willfully enlists in the Marine Corps, to a proud soldier on the front lines, to a wounded vet and activist who spoke out against the war whatever the cost. Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Berenger, and Frank Whaley co-star; Oliver Stone directs.
Zodiac (2007) In the 1960s and 1970s, a serial killer who called himself Zodiac was the scourge of the California police force, leaving a string of bizarre murders, strange codes, and public threats he demanded be published in newspapers. He made headlines, spurred fear, and inspired the movie Dirty Harry. The unknown man also became an obsession to one cartoonist who risked everything—even his own life and family—to crack the case that had so long confounded the police force. Be warned, while this film makes it quite clear how this killer became a national obsession, it is also so chilling it can give you goosebumps on the hottest summer day. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, and Robert Downey Jr. co-star; David Fincher directs.