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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 nicely with the latest theatrical releases.
Looking to Oz the Great and Powerful, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and The Call for inspiration, we've pulled together a selection of before-they-were-stars titles, niche-career narratives, and star-fronted thrillers.
Oz The Great and Powerful
James Franco stars as a womanizing magician who has a chance at greatness when a fateful twister lands him in a fantastical land full of wonders, witches, and flying primates. Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz co-star; Sam Raimi directs.
Since Oz the Great and Powerful focuses on the man before he was great and powerful, I've picked out the projects that launched the then-unknown stars of the film. For Sam Raimi, his breakthrough was Evil Dead, which is streaming. But notably most of his cast broke through as teen dreamboats on TV.
Freaks and Geeks (1999) This 1980s-set dramedy series created by Paul Feig only lasted one season, but since its cancellation has proved not only to be a growingly embraced portrait of teendom, but also a majorly influential show that launched a string of careers. Here James Franco played one of the freaks, more specifically a beautiful burnout boy named Daniel Desario. Revisit it, or find out what all your friends have been raving about. Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and John Francis Daley co-star.
That '70s Show (1998) This daffy sitcom set in 1970s suburbia centered on another batch of burnouts that week after week managed to find a new mistake to make. Though a young Mila Kunis started off as a supporting character, playing Ashton Kutcher's demanding girlfriend Jackie, over the series, she grew to be a fan favorite. Find out how by diving into all eight seasons, all of which are now streaming. Topher Grace, Lauren Prepon, Danny Masterson, and Wilmer Valderrama co-star.
Dawson's Creek (1998) Michelle Williams first won attention playing the secretive new girl Jen Lindley in this contemporary teen drama series that centered on a sensitive teen cinefile named Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek). All six seasons of the popular series are now streaming, so you can catch up with Dawson, Jen, Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), and Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson). Do it now. You don't wanna' wait for our lives to be over. (No, I could not help myself.)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Steve Carell stars as this comedy's titular magician who needs to give his act some new panache when a bizarre street performer (Jim Carrey) starts stealing his thunder. Steve Buscemi, James Gandolfini and Olivia Wilde co-star; Don Scardino directs.
Inspired by this week's Operation Kino question, I've paired The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with three other titles that give some insight into other niche careers. A blend of reality and fiction gives us a look behind the scenes at what's it like to be a drag queen, a psychic medium, and an art star, three career paths that each depend on illusion and mystique.
RuPaul's Drag Race (2009) The world's most famous drag queen RuPaul offers the next crop of wannabe drag superstars a gauntlet of challenges that test their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Who ever comes out on top will be crowned America's next drag superstar. Whether or not you've ever wondered about the art form of female impersonation, Drag Race proves insightful and entertaining, focusing on a cast of colorful characters, many whom have overcome intense personal struggles to rise to the top of their profession. For all its trash talk and fabulousness, the core of this reality show is a message of self-acceptance and inspiration. Because like RuPaul says, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?" Seasons 2 and 3 are now streaming.
The Frighteners (1996) In this freaky and frightening horror-comedy from director Peter Jackson, Michael J. Fox stars as self-proclaimed psychic detective Frank Bannister, a con man who makes his living by conning the living. He actually does see dead people. The con comes in when he urges these globby ghosts to haunt households specifically so Frank can come in and get paid to save the day by scaring these poltergeists away. However, this quirk becomes a real life saver when Frank discovers a dangerous dead man's evil plan to continue his murder spree from beyond the grave. Trini Alvarado, Jake Busey, and Chi McBride co-star.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) Between his controversial art and his dedication to maintaining his anonymity, street art star Banksy is an elusive figure with plenty of mystique. Ironically, directing a film about the street art scene has only made him more of a mystery, as this film sparked a debate about what is real and what is art(ifice). Check it out, and join the debate. Banksy, Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Thierry Guetta appear; Banksy directs.
Halle Berry stars as a veteran 911 operator haunted by a bad call she made that led to a girl getting killed. When another teen girl calls from the trunk of a car, she has chance not only to save the day but also to redeem herself. Abigail Breslin and Morris Chestnut co-star; Brad Anderson directs.
Even a decent thriller gets an added boost of appeal when some serious star power is kicked in. So with that in mind, I've compiled a trio of titles that boast big stars and twisted turns. Enjoy!
The Machinist (2004) In this earlier effort from The Call director Brad Anderson, Christian Bale stars as the titular machinist whose body and mind have been worn down by long-term insomnia. When bizarre notes start popping up, this gaunt man falls into a mystery that may have no bottom. How do you wake up from a nightmare when you can't fall asleep to begin with? Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Ironside co-star.
Vanilla Sky (2001) This English-language remake of the Spanish psychological thriller Open Your Eyes stars Tom Cruise as a powerful, wealthy, very handsome man with a gorgeous girlfriend (Cameron Diaz). But a fateful meeting with an exotic woman (Penelope Cruz) leads to a car crash that changes everything, leaving him in a mystery that may push him to madness. Kurt Russell and Jason Lee also co-star; Cameron Crowe directs.
Charade (1963) For something a little lighter check out this charming bit of deception and romance. Audrey Hepburn stars as a recently widowed woman pursued by dangerous men because of her late husband's criminal double life. Her only salvation seems to be a handsome older man (Cary Grant), who is definitely dashing…but can he be trusted? Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy co-star; Stanley Donen directs.
For even more selections, check out our Now Streaming archive.