We get it, there are a lot of good movies on Netflix; so much so that deciding on one (or 25) is no easy task and we end up spending an hour going through our queues and every random genre in the streaming giant’s massive library. To make the most out of our streaming time and maximize our movie-watching time and prevent ourselves from getting caught in the infinite abyss, we’ve put together a list of the best movies on Netflix, with a little something for everyone.
Whether it be new originals like Concrete Cowboy and The Mitchells vs. the Machines or modern classics like Lady Bird, Spotlight, and The Social Network, there a ton of good movies to watch on Netflix. Let’s take a look at a couple dozen of the best movies to watch on Netflix as of May 2021.
Back To The Future (1985)
You can feel the power of love once more as Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 timeless classic Back to the Future has returned to Netflix. When Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) drives a DeLorean-turned-time machine back to 1955 he is forced to find a way back to the future before his life, and his family’s, is forever changed.
Mystic River (2003)
Three childhood friends, forever connected yet torn apart by a shocking event, find themselves facing another crisis when one of their daughters is found murdered in their Boston neighborhood. Clint Eastwood’s 2003 crime drama Mystic River was nominated for six Oscars at the 76th Academy Awards, bringing home two for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins).
Notting Hill (1999)
One of the best romantic comedies of all time, Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill follows lonely independent travel book store owner William Thatcher (Hugh Grant) as he has a chance encounter with movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), kicking off a charming, yet nearly impossible-to-manage, relationship that throws him into the international spotlight and a fixture of the tabloid world.
The 2009 horror comedy Zombieland follows a group of four strangers as they travel the undead American landscape, becoming the closest thing to family each has ever known in the process. Directed by Ruben Fleischer and featuring an all-star cast consisting of Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin, this gory good time of a film stands up 12 years later.
The Land Before Time (1988)
The 1988 animated classic The Land Before Time follows Littlefoot after his life is completely turned upside down by an earthquake and its devastating effects. But the young dinosaur’s life is given new meaning when he meets four friends in a similar situation, forming an unbreakable bond in the process.
One of the best Kurt Russell movies out there, the 1994 sci-fi action thriller Stargate follows Russell’s Jack O’Neil, a U.S. Air Force Special Operations officer, as he and Daniel Jackson (James Spader), an Egyptologist, lead an expedition to another universe through a powerful and mysterious portal.
Concrete Cowboy (2021)
When Cole’s (Caleb McLaughlin) in-school antics prove to be too much for his mother, he is sent to Philadelphia to spend a summer with his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba), an urban cowboy who’s part of the historic Fletcher Street Stables. Over the course of the summer, Cole becomes a member of the tight-knit family of riders fighting for the future of their home and community in Concrete Cowboy.
Legally Blonde (2001)
There are few, if any, Reese Witherspoon characters more recognizable and well-remembered than Elle Woods in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde. Witherspoon absolutely owns this movie with her portrayal of a sorority girl who finds the best way to get back at her ex-boyfriend: join him at Harvard Law School. Now we just need to figure out the Legally Blonde 3 status.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
The 2011 romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, with its intertwined storylines, is one of those movies you can’t help but watch whenever it’s on. From Steve Carell’s portrayal of man on the brink of being divorced to Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s chemistry (just a few years before dancing into our hearts with La La Land) to the emotional journey of an eighth grader in the midsts of an existential crisis, there’s a lot going on and a lot to enjoy here.
Superbad, the 2007 raunchy coming-of-age comedy written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is one of those movies that you knew was going to become a cultural phenomenon as soon as you saw the first trailer. Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and everyone else in this all-around amazing cast are on top of their game throughout the movie that’s essentially about two longtime friends trying to make the most of their last shot at being the cool kids for a change.
Shutter Island (2010)
Martin Scorsese is typically known for his hard-hitting and obscenity-filled gangster films, but the Academy Award-winning director isn’t too bad with his branches out. That happens to be the case for the 2010 psychological thriller Shutter Island, which features Leonardo DiCaprio as a broken man attempting to get to the bottom of a mystery at a mysterious and heavily-fortified mental institution.
The Conjuring (2010)
James Wan’s 2013 supernatural horror flick The Conjuring is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying additions to the possession genre in recent memory. The story about a pair of demonologists who are called to a New England home to rid the residence of a dark and mysterious force is nightmare fuel. And with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It set to be released through Warner Bros. 2021 movie plan, why not go back to where it all started.
Uncut Gems (2019)
From the start all the way to the Uncut Gems ending, the Safdie brothers’ 2019 crime drama about a down-on-his-luck gambling addict Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is one hell of an anxiety-inducing thrill ride. This movie, though remarkable in multiple ways, will leave you on the edge of your seat biting at your cuticles even after the ending credits roll.
Training Day (2001)
Training Day, the 2001 crime thriller following a rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) on a first day to remember under the (mis)guidance of a veteran narcotics detective (Denzel Washington) who left his moral compass at home, remains just as fun to watch now as it did upon its release 20 years ago. As the shaky partnership begins to come crashing down under the weight of the decision to do the right thing, the two are set on a collision course with each other and the fallout of their pasts.
When confident yet cantankerous chef Casper (Jon Favreau, who also wrote and directed the 2014 comedy) pushes things too far at his restaurant, he is forced to go on a soul-searching journey with his son and best friend to start a food truck and find out what got him cooking in the first place. Plus, there’s always the grilled cheese scene to help make Chef a must-watch.
David Fincher’s Mank (which was written by his late father in the 1990s) serves a flashy history lesson of 1930s Hollywood (and society as a whole) as experienced by alcoholic and sometimes unlikeable screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he writes Orson Welles’ crowning achievement Citizen Kane and deals with the fallout from the people on which his characters were based. This black-and-white affair is classic Fincher but with a “Golden Age of Hollywood” feel to it.
50 First Dates (2004)
The 2004 romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore 50 First Dates may not have the side-splitting comedy of the pair’s first dance (The Wedding Singer), but the story of a man trying his damnedest to win the love of a woman suffering from amnesia provides for more than a few hilarious situations and one of the most heartfelt and romantic endings.
The Death Of Stalin (2017)
With a title like The Death of Stalin you would think Armando Iannucci’s 2017 film would be a more dramatic and deadly affair, and while the movie has its fair share of murders and other violence from the Soviet Union, this is one of the funniest movies to come out in the past five years. Centering on the upper tier of the Soviet state (including performances by Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, and Jeffrey Tambor) immediately after Joseph Stalin breathes his last breath, this farcical dark comedy plays out like an episode of Veep but with bigger stakes.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 epic There Will Be Blood follows the insanely successful and outright insane oil baron Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he goes from a meager silver miner with a broken leg to a power-hungry and obsessive tycoon of the industry with a trail of blood (figuratively and literally) in his wake.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020)
Aaron Sorkin’s 2020 legal drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the eight activists charged with starting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as they fight for their freedom (and rights) in a system that has the odds stacked against them. With outstanding performances from Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, and Frank Langella as the authoritative Judge Julius Hoffman, not to mention the classic Sorkin dialogue, it's not hard to realize why it’s one of the best Netflix movies of 2020.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
It is hard to say who is the protagonist and who’s the antagonist in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but that doesn’t matter to the two leads (played by Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman) as their performances go above and beyond in this 2020 adaptation of a stage play about a high-tempered and heated recording session in 1920s Chicago. The biggest tragedy of this film is the fact that Boseman tragically passed away before he became aware of the universal acclaim his portrayal of Levee Green would receive upon its release.
The Night Comes For Us (2018)
Joe Taslim is the talk of the town following the release of the Mortal Kombat trailer (he plays Sub-Zero, by the way), so now’s the perfect time to watch not only one of the best movies on Netflix but also the most violent: The Night Comes for Us. When Ito (Taslim) decides to save the life of a young girl and turns his back on the deadly Triad, he finds himself on a collision course with his former life. Filled with bone-splitting (and head-splitting) action and a few of the best fight scenes not in The Raid, this can’t be missed.
I Care A Lot (2020)
Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson, the con artist at the heart of I Care a Lot, is up there with one of the British actress’ most deceitful characters, so much so that you might end up rooting for her throughout her endless campaign to siphon the money (and life) out of her elderly victims. And when Grayson picks the wrong “mark,” she’s introduced to a world where she’s suddenly not the most depraved character.
Pieces Of A Woman (2020)
The release of Pieces of a Woman and its subsequent awards talk has been overshadowed by those Shia LaBeouf abuse allegations, and that’s a shame considering the phenomenal performance by Vanessa Kirby as a woman who finds herself isolated from the world following a home birth gone wrong and emotional and legal fallout from the heartbreaking and earth-shattering event.
Julie & Julia (2009)
The final film from the late Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia is split up into two equally important stories about strong female characters with a love (borderline obsession) with the culinary world. With Meryl Streep taking on the role of the legendary Julia Child and Amy Adams as blogger Julie Powell, this 2009 comedy shows just how far people will go to make their dreams come true and just how much that decision affects the world around them.
Into The Wild (2007)
One of the most tense survival movies based on a true story, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, follows Emile Hirsch’s Chris McCandless as he goes from a college graduate with nothing but opportunity ahead of him to Alexander Supertramp, a man not of the modern world seeking happiness and freedom even if it puts him in the face of danger (and death).
The Pursuit Of Happyness
Want a movie that is going to make you cry both tears of joy and downright sadness, then look no further than The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith’s portrayal of Christopher Gardner, a single father stops at nothing to make a better life for himself and his young son (Jaden Smith), goes beyond inspirational and likable as he navigates the peaks and valleys of life.
The Departed (2006)
The Departed explores how sometimes cops and robbers aren’t always too far apart, especially in a city like Boston. With memorable performances by Leonardo Dicaprio as a cop acting like a mobster, and Matt Damon as a mobster acting like a cop, not to mention Jack Nicholson as a criminal mastermind, everyone in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 modern-day Greek tragedy.
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Even without the ridiculous cameo by Keanu Reeves, the 2019 Netflix original romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe is one of the most refreshing and hilarious movies to come out in the genre in years. Led by Ali Wong and Randall Park, this story of childhood sweethearts who reconnect later in life has everything that we have come to know and love about romantic comedies, with the pair’s chemistry at the top of that list.
About Time (2013)
There are few movies that hit as hard as About Time, and even after all these years, this 2013 comedy still gets me every time. Presented as a standard romantic comedy following a man (Domhnall Gleeson) who has the ability to travel back to any point in his life, Richard Curtis’ film is so much more than that. With a beautiful story about the bond between fathers and children and how there is no easy way out of life’s biggest problems, it’s about time to watch About Time again.
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2018 black-and-white drama Roma follows the lives of domestic workers and the families whose lives they tend to set in 1970s Mexico City. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards (winning three) following its release, Roma is a touching and daunting feat in filmmaking, and helped further cement Cuarón’s place in movie history.
The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network features not only an amazing cast anchored by Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg but a creative pairing made in cinema heaven with a script by Aaron Sorkin and direction by David Fincher. From the very early days of (The) Facebook to its first brushes with controversy a few years into the platform’s astronomical ascent, this 2010 modern classic grabs the audience in the lightning-fast opening scene and doesn’t let up until the credits roll two hours later.
Nightcrawler? More like Skincrawler, am I right? Seriously, the 2014 thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis “Lou” Bloom is unsettling as it is exciting in its portrayal of a freelancing videographer who will stop at nothing, literally nothing to beat out the competition. There’s a level of mania in Gyllenhaal’s eyes throughout this exploration of human depravity that draws you in more than it pushes you away, and I just can’t get enough.
Spotlight, which won Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards, remains one of the best journalism movies of the 21st Century and perhaps of all time, and there are a myriad of reasons why. The story which was based on true events that sent ripples through the greater Boston area and Catholic church as a whole, the stellar cast, and general feeling of the film have me coming back time and time again.
Lady Bird (2017)
There are few actor/director combinations that work better than Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan, and the 2017 coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird helps make a strong case. Two years before the pair teamed up for Little Women, Gerwig and Ronan told the story of a strong-willed teenager as she struggles with the decision to leave her home and family following high school graduation for a new life in California is filled with teen angst, optimism, and plenty of heart.
One of the best movies on Netflix is without a doubt the 2016 drama Moonlight, which took home the honors of Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards following that uncomfortable mixup. The story of Chiron (told over three chapters) coming to terms with his sexuality and the struggles it brings in his younger days is emotional, sometimes heartbreaking, but consistently poignant and beautiful.
This is just a small portion of the best movies on Netflix, as there are literally thousands of decorated films from all corners of the earth. If you want to see all of the good movies on Netflix that are set to come out this year, check out CinemaBlend’s 2021 Netflix Movie Guide.