The Absolute Best Movies on Hulu Right Now
Expand your streaming options.
Netflix may have been first to the streaming game, but it's far from the only player in 2021. One of the most reliable alternatives is Hulu, which is known mostly for its huge archive of TV shows and next-day episodes of currently airing series, but subscribers know that its secret weapon is its solid collection of quality movies. From director Bong Joon Ho's top-tier features to rewatchable rom-coms, Hulu can hold its own. Here, to make our case, are the best movies currently on Hulu.
Akira (1988)Akira, inadequately described as a sci-fi gang movie, is largely responsible for the boom of anime aimed towards adult, Western audiences (and also happened to eerily predict Tokyo's 2020 Olympics). Set in a post-apocalyptic, crime-addled Neo-Tokyo in 2019, Shōtarō Kaneda and his biker gang become entangled in a deep-state conspiracy and an outside resistance movement when one of the gang's members develops uncontrollable psychic powers after a horrible bike crash. What follows—R-rated violence, trippy hallucinations, and interdimensional passage, with humor peppered in—is a heady whirlwind that drops you off miles from where you started. Bonus points for the soundtrack, rich in percussion and chanted vocal rhythms, which is among the most distinctive in science-fiction film.
If you love existentialist outer space movies that make interstellar travel look like no fun at all, no thank you, then this one is for you. In the same vein as High Life, another masterful bleak space movie directed by Claire Denis, Aniara takes place on board a spacefaring vessel whose inhabitants are doomed to live their lives in the void: a spaceship on a routine trip to Mars is suddenly knocked off course, and, unable to correct themselves, its passengers must resign themselves to living within its decks. The movie follows MR (short for Mimaroben), a young woman who mans the Mima, a large room powered by an AI whose task is to mimic the sensation of being back in the green forests of Earth.
Another Round (2020)
Thomas Vinterberg's drama stars Mads Mikkelsen as Martin, a history teacher who is reserved and sober, quite literally. When out for a birthday celebration with his fellow instructors, he initially refuses to drink, but eventually gives in and an experiment starts. He and his buddies start to test a theory of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans' blood alcohol content is, on average, too low. The idea is research, but as with anything involving alcohol, lines become blurred. Martin, at first, sees only the positive effects: He's a more exuberant presence in his classroom, and is reconnecting with his wife. Eventually, as it always does, the buzz wears off. Vinterberg crafts a tale of male ennui in a country where drinking is rampant, and captures an incredible performance from Mikkelsen.
What if Jaws, but with spiders instead of a shark? Look no further than Frank Marshall's horror comedy film Arachnophobia, which stars Jeff Daniels as a family physician who suffers from a debilitating fear of spiders, and just so happens to have moved into a town about to be overrun by a deadly newly discovered species. Both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, Arachnophobia strikes the perfect balance between the hauntingly bizarre and the terrifyingly grotesque. You won't want to reach under any lampshades for at least a month after watching this.
Denis Villeneuve’s “first contact” movie would be quite a trip if it was just a linguistics exchange between humans and aliens, but that’s just a bridge to a high-concept evolution of human existence that might result from our dialogue with a species which perceives life and time very differently than we do. Arrival can be as chilly as it is stimulating, but Amy Adams finds the soul of the story, and connects the elegantly-designed language lesson to something primal, visceral, and moving.
The Assassin (2015)
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's wuxia epic about a deadly assassin (Shu Qi) proficient in martial arts and swordsmanship is just about one of the most visually breathtaking movies you will ever watch. Based on "Nie Yinniang" by Pei Xing, a core text in Chinese wuxia fiction from the late ninth century, the movie revolves around a young female assassin who, as punishment for showing mercy to one of her targets, is sent to a faraway province to kill her own cousin. Instead of killing him, she becomes his bodyguard, shepherding him through the dangerous wilderness while grappling with her own changing sense of identity.
The Assistant (2020)Nothing much happens in The Assistant. A young woman (played by Ozark's Julia Garner)—whose name is apparently Jane, although it's never said in the movie—goes to work at the office of a high-powered Hollywood executive before the crack of dawn. She performs menial tasks. She takes calls. When the day is over, long after the sun is set, she heads home. But Green has made a silent scream of a film, which is so quietly unsettling it becomes hard to shake. Of course, you're probably aware of some version of this story. Jane's unseen boss is quite evidently a stand-in for Harvey Weinstein, and over the course of her otherwise monotonous day, Jane starts to realize something is amiss. There's an earring on the carpet. A new, very pretty woman arrives from Idaho with no experience and is put up in a fancy hotel. A meeting with an actress extends late into the night. But this is not a story about triumph over the evil that men like Weinstein perpetrate. Instead, it is about the systems in place that have allowed his behavior to go on for so long. When Jane reaches out to a smarmy HR person played by Succession's Matthew Macfadyen, she quickly realizes that speaking out is futile.
Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar (2021)
Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar took us by surprise like a benevolent water spirit, a reference you'll get if you watch this truly zany comedy from the minds of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who also star as the titular Barb and Star, best friends who decide to leave their little Nebraska town for a vacation in the fictional Floridian paradise of Vista Del Mar. What they don't know is that a pale villain with a severe bob (also played by Wiig) is targeting that very spot because of a personal grievance. Barb & Star has multiple musical numbers, some wild cameos, and an infectiously goofy spirit largely thanks to the brilliant work of the pair of women at its center. It's hard to describe the specific lunacy of this film, so just go watch and be swept away by the good vibes.
Tim Burton's delightfully grotesque horror comedy about a family of ghosts hell-bent on exorcising some pesky humans form the house they've been haunting introduced the world to Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), dubbed Beetlejuice by the strange and unusual young Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder), a mischievous being who calls himself a "bio-exorcist" and wears more stripes than a living human could possibly hope to fit on their own body. As weird as it is funny, it's an ageless classic couching touching ruminations on the nature of life and death in an absurdist ghostly fantasy.
Booksmart (2019)Ever since Superbad came out in 2007, there were calls for a female version of the Apatovian classic. A lot of comedies in the interim have come close—see, for instance, 2018's Blockers—but none has felt like a true heir. And then Booksmart came along. Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is the raucously hilarious story of two high achieving high school seniors, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who have spent the past four years of their lives studying to maximize their chances of getting into their preferred prestigious Ivy League colleges only to find out a bunch of the popular kids are also going to really good schools. This coming-of-age story is incredibly well acted: Feldstein and Dever land every punchline even as they convey the strains of a meaningful female friendship, and it's almost unfair to single out a supporting performance because they are all perfect gems, but if you're twisting our arm, we'll pick one: Billie Lourd as a druggie, almost magical rich kid, is brilliant.
The first movie by the Wachowski sisters wasn't a sci fi epic or a technicolor comic adaptation, but a sexy neo-noir that skews more towards David Lynch than The Matrix. When Corky (Gina Gershon), a butch ex con hired to fix the plumbing in an apartment building, runs into Violet (Jennifer Tilly), the Marilyn Monroe-esque moll to a terrifying mafioso (Joe Pantoliano), the two are instantly attracted to each other, and hatch a plan to help Violet make a grand escape from her violent boyfriend.
Taika Waititi's second feature premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and instantly put its director on the map. 11-year-old Boy lives on a small New Zealand farm with his brother, cousins, and grandmother, dreaming of the day his heroic estranged father will return and scoop him up. When one day, his father does return, Boy at first thinks he's finally come home to be a father figure to his young sons. But his dad, who insists Boy call him "Shogun," has other plans, and reveals that he's actually come back to find a large sum of money he's buried on their land.
The Dead Zone (1983)This quietly harrowing Stephen King thriller is an underrated entry in both The Fly and Videodrome director David Cronenberg's and actor Christopher Walken's filmographies, yet remains among the warmest of their respective careers. The Dead Zone follows a man's effort to do good with his newfound psychic abilities and delivers some suspenseful and visually exciting scenes—his visions of the gazebo killer and of a crazed politician's future are both standouts—but the movie's power comes from the tragic love story running through it that while barely spoken is repeatedly evident in Walken's pained expressions.
Diane (2019)Though it addresses big ideas about guilt, death, addiction, and religion, Diane, which follows Mary Kay Place's widowed title character as she cares for her ailing loved ones, does so in a consistently surprising, human-scaled manner. Ever-diligent, Diane travels back and forth through Upstate New York, making food deliveries and checking in on the people she cares about—even when it causes her terrible pain and heartache. Film-critic-turned-filmmaker Kent Jones puts the viewer in the driver's seat, returning to the same image of the horizon fast approaching. As you'd imagine with a movie constructed from such small details, the destination isn't always the point.
Force Majeure (2014)We learn the truth about ourselves in times of crisis. In Swedish director Ruben Östlund's hysterical, biting character study, a husband and wife, on vacation at a skiing lodge with their two young daughters, begin to breakdown after a controlled avalanche comes dangerously close to wiping out their lodge. The woman grabs the kids. The man runs for his life. The aftermath is brutal.
Gemini Man (2019)
Gemini Man casts Will Smith as two characters: Henry Brogan, the older, wiser former assassin who just wants to spend the rest of his days in a sleepy fishing village, and Junior, the younger clone of Henry who spends the movie trying to hunt him down and kill him after their assassin agency turns against him. It may feel familiar because the two-decades-old script had been bouncing around Hollywood since before one of the original writers, David Benioff, had ever caught a whiff of Game of Thrones, and it still retains that air of confidence and simplicity. It feels like a classic action-adventure movie because, in part, it is—what makes it new is all the technology that finally managed to catch up with it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Nordic noir stars Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as Mikhail Blomkvist, a bespectacled, cozy sweater-clad departure from his slick, muscular Bond persona, and tosses the two together in the midst of a murder conspiracy involving a wealthy family, a series of horrific killings, and an unsolved disappearance that took place more than 40 years prior. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reels you in with its mystery-thriller facade and slowly opens into a potent examination of the many different types of misogynistic cruelty hiding beneath society's surface. It also begins with, arguably, Fincher's best opening title sequence ever, set to Karen O's ripping, howling cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)Long before we knew her as Carrie Bradshaw, a young Sarah Jessica Parker played a sheepish high school gymnast named Janey in this film that pretty much set the tone for many popular dance flicks that have followed it. The film centers on sheltered teenagers Janey and Lynne (Helen Hunt), who make it their mission to audition for a chance to appear on the fictional DanceTV against Janey's conservative father's wishes.
A Glitch in the Matrix (2021)
Rodney Ascher is well-practiced when it comes to making documentaries about the rabbit holes pop culture can send people down, and A Glitch in the Matrix is another haunting trip from the director of Room 237. Ascher's latest film centers on those living among us who believe that our own world is just a simulation. Using the work of Philip K. Dick, scientific studies, and, of course, The Matrix as guideposts, Ascher doesn't seek to prove or debunk simulation theory, but to investigate why people gravitate towards it and what those implications could mean. What results is a haunting trip.
Gone Girl (2014)Gillian Flynn and David Fincher's Rashomon-style thriller about a missing wife (Rosamund Pike) and the husband charged with her disappearance (Ben Affleck) will make you question everything you know about the person you share your bed with. If you somehow missed the film and the many fevered think-pieces it generated (e.g., misandrist mess or feminist triumph?), it’s not too late to see what all the fuss is about it, while those already acquainted with the film’s dark twists and turns will certainly find something new to unpack on a second viewing.
Heathers (1988)If it weren't for Heathers, the darkest of pitch-black teen comedies, there'd be no Mean Girls. A young Winona Ryder stars as Veronica, the precocious high-schooler tasked with taking down a clique comprised of Heathers Duke, McNamara, and Chandler from the inside. Veronica gets help, though—from a smoldering Christian Slater as ultimate bad boy J.D. What follows is acerbic and absurd, and left an undeniable mark on the teen pop culture that followed.
Hell or High Water (2016)The rootin', tootin', consideratin' modern Western follows bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) looking to save their family farm from foreclosure while sticking it to The Man. Hot on their tails is a soon-to-retire sheriff (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, who engage in their own morality dialectic as they drive deeper into the Texas heartland. Hell or High Water has shoot-outs and car chases, but it's in diner conversations and pickup-truck small talk where director David Mackenzie finds a beating heart, economic depression as the greatest equalizer. The material turns villains into heroes, heroes into villains, and simple characters into some of the actors' best performances to date.
The Host (2006)A massive success in South Korea, this monster movie arrived in U.S. theaters with considerable hype, and it's easy to see why: thrilling action scenes, incredible effects, and slapstick humor make it the perfect antidote to Hollywood's self-serious blockbusters. Switching tones, moods, and even genres between scenes, The Host—which stars many Bong regulars, including Song Kang Ho (Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer, Parasite) and Barking Dogs Never Bite's Bae Doona—that defies easy categorization, and flits adeptly between the sentimental, the political, and the horrific. You'll never believe that a movie about a mutated killer fish can make you feel so many complicated emotions.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)This New Zealand backwoods adventure roughs up every single coming-of-age cliché. Julian Dennison's Ricky is an absent-minded, hip-hop-obsessed, rebellious orphan. His grizzled foster father would like nothing more than to ship the kid back to government care. When the two find themselves stranded in the woods, mistaken for on-the-lam criminals, they... decide to own it. Wilderpeople is a generous genre blend, with Taika Waititi, director of the wacky, vampiric mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, finding cheeky jokes in the duo's perilous journey.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)The close-ups of faces in If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkins' adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name, feel like they have the power to stop time. The eyes stare back at you, the music swells, and the world drops away. That makes sense since the couple in the film's story, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are so in love, so connected on a deep level, that their relationship serves as a bulwark against institutional racism and familial forces that attempt to keep them apart. But the empathy of the movie's gaze doesn't just extend to the two stars at its center: In thrilling, tantalizing detours we spend time with Tish's watchful mother (Regan King, who won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for her role) and Fonny's old friend (Atlanta's Brian Tyree Henry). These wounded, wise characters build out the larger world of early 1970s Harlem, one filled with wonder and cruelty, that Jenkins is evoking.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
If you've heard any talk recently about director Karyn Kusama and writer Diablo Cody's horror-comedy masterpiece Jennifer's Body, it's probably due to the recent resurgence of praise for the movie, crowning it a feminist cult classic of the modern era, tragically underappreciated in its time. The movie stars Megan Fox as a demonically possessed high school student whose spirit is driving her to murder her male classmates, while her best friend, played by Amanda Seyfried in nerd glasses, tries everything she can to stop her.
Let the Sunshine In (2018)Opening with a deeply unpleasant sex scene for the ages, Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In announces itself quickly as a movie that's most passionate about portraying the moments of courtship that fall outside the bounds of the conventional romantic comedy. And yet, the story of Isabelle, a middle-aged French artist (Juliette Binoche) struggling through a series of frustrating and alienating romantic encounters, is unapologetically, swooningly romantic. Many of the scenes between the endlessly charming Binoche and her often odious suitors, like a petty lout who demands "gluten-free olives" at a bar, are poignantly, wickedly funny. Denis's simultaneously sensual and heady film, which is loosely based on a philosophical work by the writer Roland Barthes, takes its time but eventually puts you under its spell.
Little Joe (2019)
We've all seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but not like this. Young, single mother Alice is a bio-engineer at a futuristic greenhouse whose purpose is to research and genetically engineer the perfect plant. She and her team create "Little Joe," a beautiful red flower that, if kept at the right temperature and spoken to and watered regularly, will, in exchange, make its owner happy. She secretly brings one of the flowers home for her son, but soon starts to notice an odd change. Her son still looks and talks and feels like her son, but he's somehow different, like something about him has shifted. Her fellow employees at the lab also start to exhibit strange changes, and Alice grows more and more paranoid, convinced that the plants are altering the people around her in terrifying, insidious ways.
Logan Lucky (2017)Steven Soderbergh, the mastermind behind the Ocean's franchise, possesses Danny Ocean's keen sense of operation and attention to detail (no one shoots mundane insert shots quite like him). With Logan Lucky, the filmmaker gifts those of us without bespoke tuxedo collections the heist movie we deserve: a bluesy, Southern-fried, NASCAR-set bank job where pick-ups do the heavy-lifting, gummy bears and cleaning solution make the vaults go boom, and blue collars are worn with pride. No one believes Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver), known around West Virginia for their bad luck "curse," could rob the Coca-Cola 600 race. How they stick it to the naysayers is one of the most pure-fun times you can have watching a movie.
Melancholia (2011)At once a family melodrama, an apocalypse movie, a fantasy epic, and a symbolic meditation on mental illness, Lars von Trier's Melancholia features a first act that focuses on Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst), a severely depressed bride-to-be struggling to make it through her nuptials, while part two shifts the focus to her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as both she and Justine react very differently to the discovery that a rogue planet is on a direct collision course with Earth. Overflowing with stunningly evocative imagery and devastating performances, Melancholia is one of the all-time best cinematic representations of depression, one that will haunt you long after the closing credits.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Before he wowed American audiences with the dystopian train thriller Snowpiercer and the animal-rights fable Okja, Bong Joon Ho directed his most grounded movie to date with Memories of Murder, his ripped-from-the-headlines crime drama about the hunt for one of the first serial killers in Korean history. The film follows two detectives (played by Song Kang Ho and Kim Sang Kyung) with very different temperaments and methods as they attempt to make sense of murders across months and years. Like David Fincher's Zodiac, this is a procedural that focuses on the granular aspects of police work while still examining profound questions about truth, memory, and the search for meaning.
Monos (2019)This saga of a group of teen soldiers in an unidentified Latin American country (though filmed in Colombia) is one of the most intense watches on this list. The young men and women that the film centers on are given the adult responsibility of watching over a captive American doctor, but director Alejandro Landes never lets you forget that these are kids way in over their heads. Monos has drawn comparisons to Apocalypse Now, but the interpersonal drama sometimes plays out like it's on The CW: Hormones are raging as the environments get more and more intense, all captured by Jasper Wolf's stunning cinematography. Mica Levi's ethereal score only adds to the disorienting experience.
The Mountain (2019)Dr. Wallace, or Wally "as the ladies call me," Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum) is a charming but vile man in the twilight of his messy career performing transorbital lobotomies on his patients, treating it as a cure-all to sadness, lust, or hearing voices. He recruits Andy (a stoic Tye Sheridan), whose father (Udo Kier) recently died and whose mother is institutionalized, to join him as his photographer on a road trip, essentially freelancing his services out to different hospitals, asylums, and sanatoriums for difficult patients. Director Rick Alverson fictionalizes the last years of lobotomy fever, and one man's last-ditch attempt to convince the world that the procedure isn't one of the most horrifying things you can do to a human body.
The Nice Guys (2016)Birthed from '70s funk, covered in porn sleaze, and decorated with the English-language equivalent of shaggy neon carpet, this rollicking, Los Angeles-set noir is a comedy of groovy errors. Writer and director Shane Black combines the spitfire soul of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with his Iron Man 3 action-directing skills to intoxicating effect. There's a mystery in play—a missing girl, a celluloid MacGuffin, an auto-industry conspiracy—but it's all bedrock for Ryan Gosling, the Inspector Clouseau answer to L.A. Confidential, and Russell Crowe, a bruiser straight man who scores just as many laughs, to parade across. Around the time Gosling falls off his third ledge and a 12-year-old starts expounding on penis size, it's clear Black's shooting for lunacy. With only a few bumps along the way, The Nice Guys gets there.
The Nightingale (2019)On the surface, The Nightingale, director Jennifer Kent's unceasingly brutal follow-up to her breakout horror hit The Babadook, is another familiar tale of vengeance and bloodshed. Claire, a 21-year-old Irish convict played by newcomer Aisling Franciosi, faces incredible hardships at the hands of cruel, merciless British officers in 1825 Tasmania. After being raped multiple times and seeing her family killed in front of her eyes, she's left for dead. But she survives, tailing her attackers across the harsh Australian landscape with the help of Aboriginal tracker Billy (Ganambarr), who she initially treats with contempt and condescension. Shooting in a box-like aspect ratio, Kent zeroes in on the hypocrisies of colonialism with a startling sense of purpose. Her camera often locks in on the faces of the characters, refusing to look away and encouraging the viewer to confront truths that most films would prefer to keep hidden.
Nomadland (2021)Director Chloé Zhao's film is both a travelogue of the West, displaying some of the most stunning vistas ever put to screen, and a document of the innate hardness of American life under corporate structures. Zhao, known for her docudramas, adapts a piece of nonfiction by Jessica Bruder, using some of Bruder's subjects, but anchoring the piece with a performance by Frances McDormand as her protagonist Fern, who lived with her husband in a small mining town known as Empire before the corporation keeping it afloat shut down and the zip code was rendered nonexistent. Patiently, Zhao and McDormand reveal how Fern's insistence on traveling is a means of coping with grief over the loss of her spouse. Nomadland is gorgeous, but never glamorizing. Instead, it's a generous work of art.
Palm Springs (2020)Arriving on streaming in the middle of a pandemic, a time when many lives have fallen into unceasing loops of quarantine-related repetition and tedium, the Lonely Island produced comedy Palm Springs perhaps resonated differently than when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Jokes about doing the same shit over and over just hit harder now. Tracking a romance between a goofball wedding guest (Andy Samberg) and the bride's self-destructive sister (Cristin Milioti), writer Andy Siara's clever script combines Groundhog Day existentialism with quantum physics, doling out inspirational life lessons and math cram sessions at a clipped pace. In the same way Tom Cruise had to battle aliens in Edge of Tomorrow, the two must relive a wedding over and over, struggling to escape from an Instagram-ready, celebratory hell.
Parasite (2019)Another collision of whiz-bang genre pyrotechnics and nudge-nudge class critiques, Parasite finds South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho working in a similar mode as his previous two features, the dystopian train thriller Snowpiercer and environmental love story Okja. There's an allegorical threading of ideas going on in this Oscar-winning nail-biter, which follows a poor family that infiltrates the blemish-free modernist home of a wealthy family, but Bong still ratchets up the suspense with each scene. Somehow, his movies keep getting even more precise in their execution.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)Portrait of a Lady on Fire opens with the simple image of a hand drawing charcoal lines across a blank piece of paper. That's how an artist begins her work: sketching out the outline and making preliminary judgements about what goes where. We soon learn the hand belongs to Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a French painter in the 18th century who falls in love with the young woman (Adèle Haenel) assigned to her as a subject. (In the early stages of the relationship, Marianne must keep her profession hidden on long walks with her object of obsession, giving the narrative an almost spy-movie like touch.) The fastidiousness of the early scenes helps establish the precise, exacting style of director Céline Sciamma, who tends to favor uncluttered compositions filled with lots of blank space, deliberate movements, and dramatic splashes of color. The flame-kissed title is very literal. As the story builds to its inevitably tragic and bittersweet finale, the movie strikes a powerful emotional chord.
Possessor (2020)Opening with a piece of metal piercing the top of a woman's head, the second feature from filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg announces the type of movie it is right away. The son of body horror legend David Cronenberg, the director splices together elements of Inception, The Matrix, and his father's own cyberpunk reality-bender eXistenZ to create an art-damaged thriller about an assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who uses advanced technology to take control of other people and carry out her assigned hits using their bodies. For her latest mission, she invades the mind of Colin (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of the daughter of a powerful tech CEO. Simple job, right? Not so fast. From the plot description, Possessor sounds relatively straightforward, but Cronenberg piles on enough gruesome gore effects, Walter Benjamin quotes, lengthy sex scenes, and hallucinatory montages to make this a sufficiently out there experience.
When Earth's jungles are menaced by an extraterrestrial big game hunter planning to add a human of two to his trophy collection, the only person to call is '80s Arnold Schwarzenegger and his band of elite paramilitary warriors, who run afoul of the alien on a rescue mission in guerrilla-occupied Central American rainforest. Predator was an instant classic, spawned an entire franchise of films, and is one of those movies that anyone is always down to watch.
Great science-fiction novels often have an air of irony; as great as new technology might seem to be, we're all pretty much screwed thanks to the unchangeable aspects of human nature. Paul Verhoeven tapped right into that spirit with RoboCop, awash with bleak comedy and gooey ultra-violence. The film combines vicious parody of the corporate world with glimmers of hope for a safer future under the watchful eye of technology. With Peter Weller adding soul to the film's robotic enforcer, and some of the most memorably vulgar lines in all of filmed sci-fi, RoboCop blows holes in pretenders.
Sea Fever (2019)
When a biology student studying animal behavioral patterns reluctantly boards a fishing trawler to get some hands-on experience in the field, she and the crew of the Niamh Cinn Óir find themselves at the mercy of a mysterious deep-sea parasite, which latches onto their boat and infects their water supply with its spawn. Everyone onboard must reckon with the threat of infection and the cause of sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Come for the creepily timely plot and creature-feature scares, stay for the infectious blue goop and enviably cozy fisherman's sweaters.
The Shape of Water (2017)This Cold-War-era fairy tale rattles a G-rated romance between a human woman and an amphibian fish-man with splashes of R-rated reality. Elisa, a mute janitor at a hush-hush government research lab, doesn't just pine for the model man, she's sexually stifled, her pleasure scheduled each morning to the ring of an egg timer. Her soon-to-be-lover, the ripped, otherworldly "asset" fought over by American scientists and Russian spies, is a viable lover, but sheds blood like any other tortured creature. Director Guillermo del Toro doesn't flinch in any of the graphic details, but a classic Hollywood touch, lush color palette, and air of innocence make this horror-adjacent story of outsiders as sweet as any Disney flick.
She Dies Tomorrow (2020)Read anything about She Dies Tomorrow and you'll find some mention of how it's eerily perfect for the current moment. It's a movie ostensibly about mortality, but more accurately about fear and how it's its own sort of virus. The plot is relatively simple: Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), for reasons she never fully explains, is convinced she's going to die. She calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams) and describes her premonition. Jane attributes Amy's paranoia to an alcoholic relapse, and writes it off, but then, alone in her basement, huddled over a microscope, Jane starts to experience the same fear. It's contagious. The world director Amy Seimetz creates is one that turns progressively more surreal. It's an echo of our own that slowly grows more foreign. It's also often absurdly funny, like a Tim & Eric sketch with an operatic bent.
Shirley (2020)Josephine Decker is the preeminent director of women who utilize their canny madness in ways that are utterly thrilling. Her last outing was Madeline's Madeline in which a teenager's acting class veers into surreality when a drama teacher starts to leech off her student's experience. Now, she brings another tale of art and women on the verge with Shirley, a fictionalized tale of the horror author Shirley Jackson, played with impish vigor by Elisabeth Moss. Aping the general structure of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Shirley finds a young couple Fred and Rosie (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young) arriving at the home of Shirley and her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) on the Bennington campus. Decker's camera never stops moving, delving you into their states of mania and revelation. The house itself feels like one of Jackson's haunted creations, moaning with the anxiety of these characters.
Shoplifters (2018)The bonds that tie together makeshift families are the subject of Shoplifters, a moving and lyrical tale of economic struggle on the margins in Tokyo. We meet the rouge-like patriarch Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) in an opening scene where a young child, wide-eyed and curious, serves as the accomplice in a small-scale act of thievery at a grocery store. The two communicate through subtle nonverbal cues, almost like dancers performing a choreographed routine. From there, director Hirokazu Kore-eda expands the scope of the story, introducing the viewer to other family members and sketching out the broader social order of the community, one where money, safety, and dignity are secured through constantly shifting legal and illegal means. Eventually, the obscured dynamics and tangled histories between the characters begin to unfurl and the movie becomes a mystery of sorts, one where the clues are buried in the small details of domestic life.
Shrek (2001)This hilarious (both ironically and non-ironically) DreamWorks film—which we paid tribute to with our 20th anniversary celebration Shrek Week—has exactly what a children’s film needs to be just as palatable to adults: inappropriate humor, pop culture references, and Eddie Murphy voicing a wisecracking donkey. Set in a fantastical enchanted forest, the story features spoofs of all the fairy tale characters everyone knows and loves, along with an ornery ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) whose lawn they’re encroaching on at the order of the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), a ruler with an inferiority complex and an impeccable bob. To get the Three Little Pigs and others off his dang property, Shrek sets out on a quest to rescue the princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a particularly lustful lady dragon in order to get his solitude back. Instead of delivering the princess to Farquaad as promised, Shrek breaks a curse caging Fiona, and they all live happily ever after.
The Sisters Brothers (2018)Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as a pair of hitman brothers in the wild west is a good way to sell a movie. Two men known for wacky performances traipsing across the violent and dusty landscape? Sign us up. The Sisters Brothers delivers on that logline while also being a genuinely thoughtful take on the genre. The saga of these siblings grappling with past trauma is paired with the related tale of two unlikely comrades (Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal) who dream up a Utopian paradise. Ultimately, hubris takes hold—as it tends to when gold is involved—but this is more a character study than anything else, and these actors are the ones to tackle it.
Every Bond era has its ups and downs, but Skyfall is decidedly an up, pitting Daniel Craig's international man of mystery against Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a simpering yet terrifying big bad who forces Bond to question the motivations of everyone he trusts. With Adele belting the booming strains of the title song and elaborate fight scene setpieces involving casinos full of deadly komodo dragons and the spider's web of tracks that make up the London Underground, Skyfall is one of the best James Bond movies of the franchise.
The Social Network (2010)After the trio of Seven, Fight Club, and Panic Room, director David Fincher left behind the world of scumbags and crime for a fantastical, historical epic in Benjamin Button. The Social Network was another swerve, but yielded his greatest film. There's no murder on screen, but Fincher treats Jesse Eisenberg's Mark like a dorky, socially awkward mob boss operating on an operatic scale. Somehow he finds movement, despite the fact that the plot largely involves sitting in chairs, often in front of computers. He portrays the Internet as literal currency, the ripple effects evident in the way the camera whirls and darts around, bouncing between people and places.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)In the music he made as a member of the Oakland hip-hop group The Coup, Boots Riley displayed a gift for tackling big, provocative ideas about politics, labor, inequality, and race with wit and nerve. It's unsurprising that Sorry to Bother You, the bracing comedy he wrote and directed about telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) using his "white voice" to climb the corporate ladder, would pack a similar punch. While the surreal visual sensibility of the film recalls a string of indie hits of the '00s, particularly the freewheeling work of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, those movies were often content to wallow in emotional solipsism. Eternal Sunshine was about climbing in your own brain; Sorry to Bother You is about reaching out into the world around you and shaking it up. Riley's wickedly funny, tonally adventurous story is prescriptive. It's a brilliant satire, but it's also a blueprint.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)Great action and great science fiction are hard to come by. The first Star Trek sequel is a time-tested balancing act, dabbling in terraformation theory with its "Genesis Device" MacGuffin, and puffing out its chest with the Captain Kirk-Khan Noonien Singh rivalry. The face-off is distant but electrifying, a naval battle set in the stars. Wrath of Khan even conjures a scare or two—you won't want to sleep after watching a mind-controlling Ceti eel wiggle into Chekov's ear.
Summer of Soul (2021)
The footage alone would be worth recommending The Roots' drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's directorial debut, which sold at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking sum. These recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a weeks-long musical event that happened the same year as Woodstock, have been unavailable to the public until now, an example of a Black historical artifact being buried. The archival material is incredible, capturing unparalleled performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many more acts. Thompson frequently lets the music speak for itself, but also uses it as a guide through the place and the period, showing how Black artists were responding and evolving during the era.
Sunshine (2007)Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland's follow-up to zombie apocalypse thriller 28 Days Later is a meditative and thoroughly bizarre take on the space movie, sending a crew of astronauts on a possibly futile mission to restart a dying sun. But the closer you get to our brightest star, the weirder you act, and when the astronauts make a detour to check out the remains of a previous mission, something—or someone—starts picking them off one by one.
Support the Girls (2018)The tacky world of the "breastaurant" might sound like an odd fit for former "mumblecore" auteur Andrew Bujalski, one of the premiere chroniclers of mid '00s social alienation, but the movie's family-friendly establishment Double Whammies ends up being the perfect staging ground for a funny, whip-smart comedy about labor and friendship. Put-upon manger Lisa (Regina Hall) has a watchful, caring eye as she looks after the younger women who work for her, serving as the negotiator between them and a large roster of rowdy customers, crappy boyfriends, and boorish authority figures. Hall embodies that kindness and generosity—you'll wish she was your boss—but in this complex, nuanced workplace comedy she also shows you the emotional toll that work can take.
The Terminator (1984)James Cameron's first major film as director is a lean, brutal vision of machines run amok, dressed up with the complications of time travel. Cameron probably would have had a great story without the bizarre charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the heavy-metal insanity of Stan Winston's robot effects, but with all those elements in place, The Terminator is a "lightning in a bottle" moment that demonstrated just what Cameron could do.
Train to Busan (2016)
When a young father boards a high speed bullet train from Seoul to Busan, he's wholly unprepared to deal with an outbreak of a fast-acting zombie disease that quickly takes hold of the train's passengers. Fast-paced and utterly terrifying, Train to Busan is a Korean horror classic and a gory good time, revitalizing the zombie movie genre and cementing its place in the annals of great midnight horror movies.
28 Days Later (2002)
There are few pandemic/zombie movies as immediately, viscerally terrifying as Danny Boyle's hit thriller, which takes place nearly a month after a deadly illness was accidentally released into the air and introduced the wider world to star Cillian Murphy. Murphy plays Jim, a bicycle courier who awakens from a coma alone in a hospital, having no idea that a virus, nicknamed "Rage," has infected most of the world's population. Jim sets off into the wasteland of London, forming alliances and fighting to stay alive in the new world order.