The Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Your search for what to watch just got much easier.

phantom thread daniel day lewis
'Phantom Thread' | Focus Features
'Phantom Thread' | Focus Features

For more Netflix recommendations, read our list of the best TV shows currently on Netflix.

Anyone can tell you everything that's streaming on Netflix, take an inventory of a given month's new additions and subtractions, or cast the net of recommendations so wide that reeling in where to start is overwhelming. The whole goal of Netflix as a company is to give you as much content as possible, whether through streaming or good old-fashioned DVD mail-ins (remember those?).

Our goal in this space is to provide a different service: a list of the best films currently streaming on Netflix, so you can find a satisfying movie without wasting time with endless scrolling. One note: We won't be including Netflix original movies on this list, but check out this list of the best of those

Want even more movies? Check out our list of the Best Movies of 2021.

scott adkins avengement
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Avengement (2019)

DTV action star Scott Adkins knows how to land a punch, but this chronologically fractured fight film, which combines a bloody prison drama with a Guy Ritchie-esque underworld plot, also lets the burly actor show off his acting chops. With a metal grill on his teeth and gnarly scars on his face, Adkins plays Cain, a former boxer turned convict who starts the movie by escaping his security detail on a trip to the hospital to visit his dying mother. On the run, Cain ends up at a pub in the middle of the day, where he entertains the assembled goons with his convoluted life story, which involves a betrayal by his older brother and many grueling jailhouse brawls. Director Jesse V. Johnson co-wrote the refreshingly sharp script, which has more on its mind than your average fight-driven revenge film, and he stages the ferocious, bare-knuckle melees with appropriate vigor.

The Beguiled (2017)

This Sofia Coppola remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood-Geraldine Page drama returns to the Farnsworth seminary, a haven for proper young women avoiding the corruption of Civil War. Tucked away in the mist-swept backwoods of Virginia, the disciples of Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) live regimented days, a strain of well-intentioned repression eventually imploded by the arrival of John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an injured Union corporal. Hospitable to a fault, Farnsworth and her girls tend to the soldier, who draws out their carnal hunger (no one can resist Farrell's chest hair) before lashing out with his own animal instincts. Simple, stylish, and threaded together from the quirks of female and male behavior, The Beguiled is a sexual Southern Gothic fairy tale that is wisely more humid than hot.

Blackhat (2015)

Heat director Michael Mann's thriller Blackhat asks you to buy hunky Thor star Chris Hemsworth as a gifted computer hacker who gets freed from jail to help the FBI thwart another sophisticated hacker messing with the global markets and nuclear power plants. Yes, Hemsworth might not look like most movie hackers, but Blackhat is different from most Hollywood depictions of the ever-expanding digital surveillance state, combining the tropes of the cyber-action movie (scenes of people tapping away at lines of code) with Mann's pet thematic obsessions (isolated heroes living by a moral code). A box office failure on release, the movie remains a completely captivating experiment that grows more impressive the more you watch it.

Blade II (2002)

It's difficult to picture a movie like Blade II being made in today's Marvel Cinematic Universe. From its vampiric rave aesthetic to the icky effects, Guillermo del Toro's bloodbath of a sequel has only grown more impressive with the passage of time. Wesley Snipes, decked out in his Oakleys and leather trench coat, gives one of his most badass performances as the heroic daywalker, staking vamps and tossing off one-liners with an effortlessly cool demeanor. This is slick, corporate-approved entertainment with gonzo, cult-film soul.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

How do you follow up on a masterpiece? That was the challenge Blade Runner 2049 faced in sequeling the original Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott. The result is the story of K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant (the Blade Runner word for android) who searches for the mysterious child of another robot after the discovery of the mother's bones, bursting with post-apocalyptic eye candy. There's a constant twinning of plot points, creating nostalgic reverberations and deja-vu-like familiarity in nearly every scene, and it'll either be your favorite or least favorite part of the sequel. It really depends on if you love getting lost in a somber blockbuster reverie.

Casino Royale (2006)

Dozens of James Bond movies later, and Casino Royale still stands the test of time as the best of the franchise. Filling the shoes of the classic MI6 agent for the first time, Daniel Craig pulled off the impossible by defining the role for a new generation and giving us the 007 from Ian Fleming's early novels, a blunt instrument filled with morose purpose and self-doubt. Still, director Martin Campbell managers to offer a blockbuster that's a masterclass in geometric, dramatic, constructive action filmmaking in 007's journey down to Madagascar to face off with a favorite Bond villain, Mads Mikkelson's Le Chiffre, in a high-stakes poker game. This is a debut Bond actors will be trying to measure up to for decades. 

Cliffhanger (1993)

The poster for Cliffhanger promised "an avalanche of thrills," and the marketing department was not kidding around. This Sylvester Stallone starring outdoors epic, directed with gravity-defying aplomb by Die Hard 2 filmmaker Renny Harlin, delivers all the twists, set-pieces, and perilous climbing shenanigans you'd expect from a big-budget '90s star vehicle. There's even one of those post-Alan-Rickman-in-Die-Hard scenery chewing villain performances from John Lithgow. Grab your gear and make the climb.

The Conjuring (2013)

James Wan scared the shit out of moviegoers and restored faith in horror films when he dramatized Ed and Lorraine Warren's haunted farmhouse visit for the big screen. As the two paranormal investigators (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) go head-to-head with a wicked presence, you'll find yourself audibly yelping and wanting nothing to do with the dark. The impeccably choreographed jump scares are damn good, but the Warrens' nail-biting heroics and the family's intoxicating paranoia woven throughout are even better—proof that big-budget horror flicks don't have to suck.

Contagion (2011)

One of the most terrifying and depressing outbreak apocalypse movies ever made, Steven Soderbergh's Contagion gained a strange second life at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the lightning fast spread of an unknown virus, the movie bounces between several different narratives—an epidemiologist working to create a vaccine, a conspiracy theorist vlogger's attempt at fame by claiming to have an unlikely cure, a father's fight to protect his teen daughter from a rapidly deteriorating outside world—to tell a cohesive tale of a world brought nearly to its knees by the tiniest of invaders. It's frightening because it's never too heightened, never spilling into melodrama, and, now that we've lived through our own version, closer to reality than we'd ever care to admit.

Creep (2014)

Patrick Brice's found-footage movie is a no-budget answer to a certain brand of horror, but saying more would give away its sinister turns. Just know that the man behind the camera answered a Craigslist ad to create a "day in the life" video diary for Josef (Mark Duplass), who really loves life. Creep proves that found footage, the indie world's no-budget genre solution, still has life, as long as you have a performer like Duplass willing to go all the way.

Den of Thieves (2018)

If there's one thing you've probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it's that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann's crime saga Heat. The broad plot elements are similar: There's a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Pablo Schreiber) and they must contend with a obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Gerard Butler) over the movie's lengthy 140 minute runtime.  A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, director Christian Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle.

The Devil's Advocate (1997) 

Let's get this out of the way: The Devil's Advocate is a wild movie. It's alternately a slow burn courtroom drama with a murder mystery and a supernatural horror plot. It's also very hard not to spoil because the reveal is part of its glorious kookiness. Keanu Reeves plays a cocky young Florida lawyer named Kevin Lomax who can't and won't lose a case, getting even the most heinous criminals acquitted. He's invited to come to New York and help a hotshot law firm with jury selection and is ultimately recruited by the company run by Al Pacino's mysterious John Milton. The title really says everything you need to know about who this "John Milton" is and soon enough some very creepy stuff starts to happen to Kevin and his wife (Charlize Theron). But the thing you might forget about The Devil's Advocate is how much of a law movie it is in between all the Pacino yelling.

Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry may be conservative, pro-cop fodder, but it's also a pretty badass classic. The film is peak hyper-masculine, stone-cold Clint Eastwood as San Francisco investigator Harry Callahan on a hunt for a Zodiac Killer-like perp, the Scorpio Killer, in the '70s. The film follows Harry's gruesome attempt to take matters into his own hands to see that justice is served, and through a series of volatile shootouts, torture sequences, and a penultimate school bus hijack, he does exactly that. There's a reason why this flick pioneered the genre for crime films to follow. 

Dunkirk (2017)

The circumstances that left hundreds of thousands of Allied troops surrounded by Nazi troops and trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940 are messy, convoluted, and marred by militaristic debate. Director Christopher Nolan's treatment of "Operation Dynamo," the effort to smuggle those men out through waves of air raids and U-boat torpedo attacks, is not. Intricate yet simplistic, like the pocket watch one hears tik-toking behind every bar of Hans Zimmer's propulsive score, Dunkirk is an elemental chronicle where each path of escape -- by land, by sea, by sky -- diverts back to the Hell on earth that was World War II. There's no plot beyond "get the hell out." But in Nolan's hands, and through IMAX-sized frames, it's a mesmerizing, maddening, and often isolating experience.

The Exorcist (1973)

The original, unquestionable, undisputed great grandpappy of "possession" horror, and one hell of a brutally good time, William Friedkin's The Exorcist is not just one of the scariest films ever made, it's also one of the most well-constructed horror movies of all time. The story of demon-inhabited Regan, her distraught mother, and the two priests working their religious mojo to save her life holds up to repeat viewings -- partially because the horrific set pieces still hold up resoundingly well, and also because the actors create realistic, believable characters who are worthy of our empathy.

Fast Color (2019)

A week before Marvel was set to release its monolithic Avengers: Endgame, a much smaller superhero film entered theaters. Fast Color features no characters you've seen in comic books as it looks at how power and trauma mixes in one family. Directed and co-written by Julia Hart, it centers on Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who we first meet as she flees captivity. Ruth has seizures that cause seismic shifts, and as she retreats to her childhood home home to escape the scientists chasing her, we learn that she's part of a line of women who have extraordinary gifts, including her mother and her daughter. Fast Color is more of a family drama than anything else, but its final moments are infused with a sense of wonder you can only hope to get from some of the bigger budget movies in the same genre.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's bestseller stars Rooney Mara as goth hacker Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as bespectacled journalist Mikhail Blomkvist. The movie 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."

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Possibly the Coen brothers' zaniest work—and these are the guys who brought us Raising ArizonaBurn After Reading, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?Hail, Caesar! throws back to the golden age of Hollywood for a droll, screwball mystery. A Communist kidnapping plot plays in the background as the Coens swing between a down-on-his-luck singing cowboy, a pair of gossip reporters, a starlet keeping her pregnancy hush-hush, a frustrated auteur, and a studio fixer who can't help but wonder if Hollywood's all it's cracked up to be. Musical numbers elevate it to greatness. Tap-dancing Channing Tatum rules the world. 

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Quentin Tarantino has something to say about race, violence, and American life, and it's designed to ruffle feathers. Like Django Unchained, the writer-director reflects modern times on the Old West, but with more scalpel-sliced dialogue, profane poetry, and gore. Stewed from bits of Agatha Christie, David Mamet, and Sam Peckinpah, The Hateful Eight traps a cast of blowhards (including Samuel L. Jackson as a Civil War veteran, Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter known as "The Hangman," and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a psychopathic gang member) in a blizzard-enveloped supply station. Tarantino ups the tension by shooting his suffocating space in "glorious 70mm." Treachery and moral compromise never looked so good.

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 -- the slickest you'll see this year -- but it's in diner conversations and pickup-truck small talk where 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.

Her (2013)

Spike Jonze's Oscar-winning script throws a lonely greeting-card writer and a fancy Siri-like operating system into a questionable romance. The result, anchored by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (yes, the latter kills it as the OS), is at once poignant and thought-provoking, especially for a generation that leans more and more on personalized handheld devices.

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 unruly 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 and the wry superhero adventure Thor: Ragnarok, finding cheeky jokes in the duo's perilous journey. 

Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it's difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others' subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he's got to implant one—that's inception, baby!—with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Before throwing Harrison Ford in a plane inAir Force One and tossing George Clooney on a boat in The Perfect Storm, action maestro Wolfgang Peterson put Clint Eastwood in the line of fire in…In the Line of Fire! Skillfully playing "too old for this shit" characters way back in the early '90s, when he was still relatively spry in his 60s, Eastwood excels as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan, a old-timer tasked with stopping an assassination attempt and unraveling a vast political conspiracy. With a classic villain performance from John Malkovich, the movie leaps from one nail-biting sequence to another, and Eastwood ties it all together with his grizzled charm.

Into the Wild (2007)

Jon Krakauer's book about the life and untimely death of Christopher McCandless is all the more poignant when soundtracked by Eddie Vedder. Emile Hirsch's McCandless waxes poetic about philosophy and alienates everyone who loves him, which can grate at times, but it's balanced out by the profound beauty of the wilderness. When McCandless' pride proves to be the ultimate peril, the outcome is no less tragic.

Ip Man (2008)

There aren't many biopics that also pass for decent action movies. Somehow, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip made Ip Man (and three sequels!) based on the life of Chinese martial arts master Yip Kai-man, who famously trained Bruce Lee. What's their trick to keeping this series fresh? Play fast and loose with the facts, up the melodrama with each film, and, when in doubt, cast Mike Tyson as an evil property developer. The fights are incredible, and Yen's portrayal of the aging master still has the power to draw a few tears from even the most grizzled tough guy.

It Follows (2015)

The villain of this retro-thriller doesn't need to creep. "It"—a demon? An embodiment of fear? A walking STI?—can come from any direction at any time and can't be stopped. All its target can do is run, or damn someone new by transmitting the possession through intercourse. A relentless chase set against a picturesque suburban dreamworld, It Follows builds scares from pure suspense, a welcome alternative to the screeching, skittish horror movies that frequent theaters.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Brad Pitt doesn't make conventional blockbusters anymore -- even World War Z had epidemic-movie ambitions -- so it's not surprising that this crime thriller is a little out there. Set during the financial crisis and presidential election of 2008, the film follows Pitt's hitman character as he makes sense of a poker heist gone wrong, leaving a trail of bodies and one-liners along the way. Mixed in with the carnage, you get lots of musings about the economy and American exceptionalism. It's not subtle -- there's a scene where Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn do heroin while the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" plays -- but, like a blunt object to the head, it gets the job done.

lady bird

Lady Bird (2017)

The dizzying, frustrating, exhilarating rite of passage that is senior year of high school is the focus of actress Greta Gerwig's first directorial effort, the story of girl named Lady Bird (her given name, in that "it’s given to me, by me") who rebels against everyday Sacramento, California life to obtain whatever it is "freedom" turns out to be. Laurie Metcalf is an understated powerhouse as Lady Bird's mother, a constant source of contention who doggedly pushes her daughter to be successful in the face of the family's dwindling economic resources. It's a tragic note in total complement to Gerwig's hysterical love letter to home, high school, and the history of ourselves.

Margin Call (2011)

The mathematical headache of the 2008 financial crisis makes for profane drama in this steely debut feature from writer and director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year). With a cast including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Zachary Quinto, the movie goes for the talky, put-down-filled tone of David Mamet's classic Glengarry Glen Ross, turning a world of spreadsheets, mortgages, and neckties into a verbal bloodbath. Sometimes it plays like comedy. But, mostly, it feels like a horror movie.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

After he launched the Pierce Brosnan era of the James Bond franchise with 1995's GoldenEye, director Martin Campbell turned his attention to another iconic character in need of an update: the vigilante swordsman Zorro. With Antonio Banderas donning the mask (and the cool hat) to play the dashing hero and Catherine Zeta-Jones battling on his side as the striking love interest Elena, the movie blends old-fashioned swashbuckling spectacle with pulse-pounding blockbuster craft and a dash of romance. It's one of the most purely pleasurable action movies of the '90s.

Michael Clayton (2007)

George Clooney made a career out of playing gray knights, and his work as the title character in this icy New York thriller might be the pinnacle of his work. Clayton is a super-cynical, debt-ravaged "fixer," stuck doing damage control amid a massive class-action lawsuit. (Think Olivia Pope from Scandal, but somehow more intense.) He also plays poker, drives cars that explode, and does his best impression of Shiva, god of death. Tony Gilroy's Oscar-winning legal drama is addictive fun in that way complex conspiracy yarns can be, and it has a handful of memorable exchanges to boot -- wait till you see the final confrontation with Tilda Swinton.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The legendary British comedy troupe took the legend of King Arthur and offered a characteristically irreverent take on it in their second feature film. It's rare for comedy to hold up this well, but the timelessness of lines like, "I fart in your general direction!" "It's just a flesh wound," and "Run away!" makes this a movie worth watching again and again. 

Nightcrawler (2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a career-best performance in this nocturnal noir, playing the haunted, single-minded Lou Bloom, a scavenger of human suffering whose motives are as twisted and opaque as the seedy LA underworld he inhabits. That is, as a cameraman documenting crime scenes for a local news station—but that’s media for you! It’s a twisted thriller, testing how much you can take as you go on an after hours high-speed chase, and it’s all set against writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pitch-black vision of sunny California that forces you to see the City of Angels in a whole new light.

The Nightingale (2019)

The Nightingale is a harrowing watch—a piece of art that's unblinking in its depictions of the trauma its protagonist Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict in Australia in 1825, suffers. In the early minutes of the nearly two and a half hour movie, Clare is assaulted and her husband and child are killed in front of her eyes by Hawkins (Sam Claflin), the British soldier to whom she is essentially enslaved, and his gang of followers. Her experience sets her off of a path of retribution, following Hawkins through the untouched Tasmanian land alongside Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal guide, who she treats cruelly until they start to better understand the cycles of abuse they have both endured at the hands of their British colonizers.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Reynolds Woodcock (the now-retired Daniel Day-Lewis) is the premier fashion designer of the era, a genius playboy who detects the contours of women, dresses, and life itself like Neo sees The Matrix. And though his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) manages every second of his every day, a new muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), slips by the alarms and disrupts his understanding of success with a simple trick: love. In Phantom Thread, everything from Woodcock's mansion to the draping gowns to pans of sautéed mushrooms are fashion-shoot-worthy (the Oscar voters noticed, too), but there's also a devilish comedic streak to the movie, like a prestige version of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Early on, Woodcock reveals that he sews secret messages into his garment; director Paul Thomas Anderson does the same in Phantom Thread, a drama rich with details and personal admissions.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Steven Spielberg's World War II movie solidified itself as an American classic 15 minutes into its runtime, after a grave, pungent staging of the invasion of Normandy Beach. The rest of the film lives up to the sequence, with Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and an unimaginable list of big-name actors playing out a universal band of brothers. When a life is worth saving, backstory matters, and Spielberg's direction does as much to enrich the lives of his men as it does to enact the terrors of war.

She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Before checking out Spike Lee's Netflix original series of the same name, be sure to catch up with where it all began. Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) juggles three men during her sexual pinnacle, and it's all working out until they discover one another. She's Gotta Have It takes some dark turns, but each revelation speaks volumes about what real romantic independence is all about.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell’s first collaboration—and the film that turned J-Law into a bona fide golden girl—is a romantic comedy/dramedy/dance-flick that bounces across its tonal shifts. A love story between Pat (Cooper), a man struggling with bipolar disease and a history of violent outbursts, and Tiffany (Lawrence), a widow grappling with depression, who come together while rehearsing for an amateur dance competition, Silver Linings balances an emotionally realistic depiction of mental illness with some of the best twirls and dips this side of Step Up. Even if you're allergic to rom-coms, Lawrence and Cooper’s winning chemistry will win you over, as will this sweet little gem of a film: a feel-good, affecting love story that doesn’t feel contrived or treacly.

The Social Network (2010)

After making films like SevenThe GameFight ClubPanic Room, and Zodiac, director David Fincher left behind the world of scumbags and crime for a fantastical, historical epic in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network was another swerve, but yielded his greatest film. There's no murder on screen, but Fincher treats Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg like a dorky, socially awkward mob boss operating on an operatic scale. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire, screwball-like dialogue burns with a moral indignation that Fincher's watchful, steady-handed camera chills with an icy distance. It's the rare biopic that's not begging you to smash the "like" button.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

In the music he made as a member of the Oakland hip-hop group The Coup, filmmaker 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 sensibility of the film recalls a string of indie hits of the 00s, particularly the work of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, those movies were often content to wallow in emotional solipsism. Sorry to Bother You is about reaching out into the world around you and shaking it up.

Starship Troopers (1997)

Paul Verhoeven is undoubtedly the master of the sly sci-fi satire. With RoboCop, he laid waste to the police state with wicked, trigger-happy glee. He took on evil corporations with Total Recall. And with Starship Troopers, a bouncy, bloody war picture, he skewered the chest-thumping theatrics of pro-military propaganda, offering up a pitch-perfect parody of the post-9/11 Bush presidency years before troops set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan. Come for the exploding alien guts, but stay for the winking comedy—or stay for both! Bug guts have their charms, too.

Steve Jobs (2015)

Caught in the crossfire of a director shake-up (Slumdog Millionaire Oscar-winner Danny Boyle stepped up after David Fincher bailed) and the North Korean Sony hack, Aaron Sorkin's take on the (abridged) life and times of the Apple cofounder came and went from the 2015 award season. Not since the Newton MessagePad has there been such an overlooked Mac product; Sorkin's drama is an operatic chamber piece with Michael Fassbender's Steve as the maniac maestro. In the tightly wound biopic, the behind-the-scenes mayhem gets the blood pumping, the monologues drill like dental weaponry, and the keynote speeches feel like Moses stepping down from Mount Sinai. What could be hagiography is a movie as large as the subject itself.

Synchronic (2020)

Directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a very distinct style: weird stuff in the sky, complicated brotherly relationships between men, new and fascinating conceptions of the nature of time. Synchronic is another dive into the depths of what the fabric of the universe is woven from, spinning a wild tale of death, drugs, and time travel amidst the dim, sinister backdrop of nighttime New Orleans. Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie play a pair of EMTs cruising the NOLA nights responding to emergency distress calls. On a few of these calls, they come across a number of people who have either mysteriously disappeared or somehow wound up dead, each incident having to do with a new drug called "Synchronic." When Dornan's daughter goes missing, his friend must figure out how to use the killer drug to find her.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Travis Bickle (a young Robert De Niro) comes back from the Vietnam War and, having some trouble acclimating to daily life, slowly unravels while fending off brutal insomnia by picking up work as a... taxi driver... in New York City. Eventually he snaps, shaves his hair into a mohawk and goes on a murderous rampage while still managing to squeeze in one of the most New York lines ever captured on film ("You talkin' to me?"). It's not exactly a heart-warmer—Jodie Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute—but Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver is a movie in the cinematic canon that you'd be legitimately missing out on if you didn't watch.

True Grit (2010)

Having flirted with the Western genre in No Country for Old Men and Raising Arizona, it made sense for the Coen Brothers to saddle up for an adaptation of Charles Portis' True Grit, previously made into a 1969 vehicle for John Wayne, who won his only Oscar award in the role. By swapping out Wayne for Jeff Bridges, the Coens signaled that this would be their own type of cowboy movie: darkly funny and loaded with profound melancholy. With a sneaky, standout comic performance from Matt Damon and a star-making turn from Hailee Steinfeld, the movie has more than enough great acting, intense gun battles, and gorgeous vistas to keep you under its old-fashioned spell.

Uncut Gems (2019)

In Uncut Gems, the immersive crime film from sibling director duo Josh and Benny Safdie, gambling is a matter of faith. Whether he's placing a bet on the Boston Celtics, attempting to rig an auction, or outrunning debt-collecting goons at his daughter's high school play, the movie's jeweler protagonist Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) believes in his ability to beat the odds. Every financial setback, emotional humbling, and spiritual humiliation he suffers gets interpreted by Howard as a sign that his circumstances might be turning around. After all, a big score could be right around the corner.

Unfriended (2014)

The Blair Witch Project popularized the found-footage genre, and Unfriended was one of the first to tap into the even more niche subset of the horror style—social media/computer screen found-footage. This Blumhouse freak-out isn't always a master of its craft and can feel more like being forced into peering at a screen from over someone's shoulder like you're waiting for your sibling's allotted screen time to wrap up, and is sometimes flat-out silly, but since we're addicted to being online, it is hard to look away. It follows a group of teenagers whose chatroom appears to be haunted by their friend who was recently bullied and died by suicide. Even when the scares are cheap, it's an interesting experiment that's worth logging into. 

Warrior (2011)

Gavin O'Connor, the director of similarly sturdy sports movies like Miracle and The Way Back, turned his attention to mixed martial arts back with this intense family melodrama. Following two estranged brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), the movie bucks fight-film conventions by making you care deeply about both opponents as they head towards their inevitable confrontation at the end. With stellar fight choreography, plenty of MMA-world cameos, and a sensitive Oscar-nominated turn from Nick Nolte as the brothers' tortured father, Warrior is a movie that sneaks up on you with its candid, nuanced look at the often misunderstood world of combat sports.

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