The Best Netflix Original Movies of 2021

These are the Netflix films really worth checking out, from 'Bad Trip' to 'The Power of the Dog.'

bad trip
'Bad Trip' | Netflix
'Bad Trip' | Netflix

Netflix is a fount of original movies and TV shows, cranking out IP at an unrivaled pace. In 2021, the company doubled down on its ambition to be your go-to source for streaming, committing to release at least one new movie every week of the year, and is projected to spend upwards of $19 billion on productions and acquisitions. (That's two freakin' billion dollars more than last year.) Whether or not Netflix can successfully swat back its ever-growing list of competitors with their own splashy plays is mostly up to the quality of its originals—and we all know how that tends to be. Still, as it expands its foreign offerings, recruits head-turning star talent, and cranks out Oscar contenders, Netflix is clearly trying real hard to catch your attention. Though there are plenty of duds, the surprise hits, bullseye prestige fare, and simply fun movies keep us watching. These are the best Netflix original movies we've seen this year.

READ MORE:The Best Netflix Original Movies from 2020

bad trip
Dimitry Elyashkevich/Netflix

Release date: March 26
Director: Kitao Sakurai
Cast: Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish
There are hidden-camera pranks meant to embarrass or provoke the prankee to the point that they're practically forced to react out of an animalistic type of anger, and then there are the others that are simply there to capture everyday human behavior in the face of absolute absurdity. Bad Trip, the logical extension of the unpredictable gags featured on The Eric Andre Show, is the latter, even in its most egregiously ridiculous stunts. With the narrative backbone of Chris Carey (Eric Andre) and Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery) road tripping from Florida to New York to pursue Chris's unrequited love (Michaela Conlin) in Bud's sister Trina's (Tiffany Haddish) hot pink car, the cast ingeniously use the film's interpersonal conflicts to engage the people they encounter along the way, soliciting advice, asking for help, and bonding with generally receptive locals from the Deep South up to New Jersey. The result is a hilarious and lighthearted take on the genre from Jackass producer Jeff Tremaine, The Eric Andre Show's director Kitao Sakurai, some very funny comedians, and the demented meme king of goofing around.—Leanne Butkovic
(Watch the trailer)

below zero
Quim Vives/Netflix

Release date: January 29
Director: Lluís Quílez
Cast: Javier Gutiérrez, Isak Férriz
Prisoner transportation might be the task with the worst success-to-failure ratio in all of action movie-dom. Any time a group of incarcerated individuals get placed in a large vehicle (the more box-like and state-of-the-art the better), you can guarantee something unbearably tense is about to go down. Below Zero is a particularly gruesome example of what the "transfer-gone-wrong" genre has to offer, a close-quarters thriller that works best when it keeps its characters confined to the tightest possible space. From the first scene, the Spanish film's bleak and foreboding tone carries the action—centering on a police officer tasked with working alongside a new partner to oversee a "high-risk transfer" involving the deadly head of a Romanian gang across icy, barren terrain—even as the plot melts away to reveal a more conventional revenge movie slicked with brutal violence.—Dan Jackson
(Watch the trailer)


Bo Burnham: Inside

Release date: May 30
Director: Bo Burnham
Cast: Bo Burnham
A little more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Bo Burnham hit us where it hurt. It felt great. The stand-up comic wrote, performed, filmed, and edited a special from inside the guest house of his Los Angeles home, using song to chronicle the woes of quarantine, the ills of an incessant internet, the misadventures of FaceTime, and the villainy of Jeff Bezos. Inside can get heavy, but it is also a joy to behold Burnham, alone, in his element, grappling with the realities of the modern age. Creating his own light and sound design, Burnham employs a trippy charm that cuts through any inherent bleakness, lightly challenging a world governed by our eternal quests for attention. His best number, "Welcome to the Internet," is a hilarious (and damning) meditation on the highs and lows of an ever-connected culture: "Welcome to the internet / What would you prefer? / Would you like to fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur? / Be happy / Be horny / Be bursting with rage / We've got a million different ways to engage."—Matthew Jacobs
(Watch the trailer)

the dig

The Dig

Release date: January 15
Director: Simon Stone
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James
There are no big dinosaur bones to be dug up in this quiet archaeological period drama, set in rural Suffolk on the cusp of WWII, just buried ships and super old coins. Even so, The Dig, based on John Preston's 2007 novel of the same name, extracts dramatic gems from under innocuous-looking ground in its retelling of the true-to-life 1939 excavation. When wealthy, ailing landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires mild-mannered Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), a self-taught excavator, to survey the burial mounds on her property, the dig attracts the attention of prominent archaeologists, who try to edge out Basil, lacking prestigious credentials, from his groundbreaking discoveries. The Dig rewards patient viewers who invest as much in the story's larger context as the smaller tender moments, together offering a bittersweet account of what and who gets to be remembered.—LB
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: July 2, July 9, and July 16
Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Kiana Madiera, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Gillian Jacobs
Marketed as a series of bloody teen slashers, director Leigh Janiek went above and beyond in her adaptation of young-adult horror novelist R.L. Stine's books, building a meticulously interwoven narrative and overtly queer romance across three time periods in the same accursed town of Shadyside. While the backbone of the three films—set in 1994, 1978, and 1666—is the unshakeable hex an accused witch named Sarah Fier supposedly cast upon Shadyside before her execution in the 17th century, Janiek tucks in feminist interpretations of witchcraft and reads on the deficits society functioned in through each era. There's a tender heart in the Fear Street movies, while still clearly having tons of fun playing around in its Scream-inspired murder-spree sandbox, refreshing jump-scare tropes and getting increasingly creative with its deaths. (One in particular will ruin the way you look at deli-meat slicers forever.) With its high body count and gloopy, gratuitous blood splatter, Janiek's ambitious project is steadfast in its teen slasher selling point, but adds in the extra layers to appeal to audiences who wish more horror movies would say something kinda smart.—LB
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: December 15
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Luisa Ranieri
The Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is known for eccentric movies—and a couple of HBO shows, The Young Pope and The New Pope—that treat the passage of time like a dizzying whirlwind. The Hand of God, however, focuses more on the future than the past. It's a rambling coming-of-age story about an introverted 17-year-old (Filippo Scotti) finding his voice in 1980s Naples. When the movie ends, we're left with the sense that young Fabietto is ready to chart his own journey, having experienced enough life (including family tragedy and a bizarre first sexual encounter) to start figuring out who he truly is. Sorrentino based the movie partly on his own adolescence, rendering The Hand of God all the more intimate and personal.—MJ
(Watch the trailer)


The Lost Daughter

Release date: December 31
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Cast: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris
Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, is a story about motherhood that will crawl under your skin and stay there. It centers on Leda (Olivia Colman), a professor on a solo Greek vacation. From her perch on a beach chair she watches as a loud, aggressive family invades the beach, but her gaze centers on a quiet, beautiful mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her crying child. Through watching this woman struggle with the toddler, Leda is flooded with memories of her own two daughters. As a young mother, Leda (played in flashbacks by the wonderful Jessie Buckley) was frustrated and frequently angry at her kids. She wasn't an abusive parent, but she was one that didn't fit naturally into the maternal stereotypes forced upon women. In the present, Leda is drawn closer and closer to Nina and her own doubts about her assigned role. It's a tricky piece that Gyllenhaal executes almost flawlessly, creating a vivid universe of women and their internal strife. —EZ
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: April 23, 2021
Director: Mike Rianda
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman
If Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse established Sony Pictures Animation as one of the most exciting studios making animated movies right now, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, on Netflix, solidified that reputation. Also from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the family comedy about a group of weirdos besieged by an AI apocalypse is very funny and extremely heartfelt, featuring a nuanced father-daughter relationship that feels akin to something out of Lady Bird. Directed and written by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, both veterans of the early 2010s Disney Channel and XD series Gravity Falls, The Mitchells vs. the Machines builds to a climax that's as exhilarating as it is touching, successfully blending an all-out, wonderfully goofy action sequence with the kind of resonance it needs to move its audience.—EZ
(Watch the trailer)

Shanna Besson/Netflix

Release date: May 12
Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi
There's a certain artistry to movies that revolve around only a single set, where the script and the characters are forced to make the most of a small space. In Alexandre Aja's Oxygen, the set is barely a set at all—it's a locked medical chamber with a woman (Mélanie Laurent) trapped inside, desperate to escape before her supply of breathable air runs out. All she has to help her are her spotty memories, a few phone calls, and a not-so-trusty A.I. system that can barely do anything actually helpful. It's a lean thriller, capable of sustaining your attention through all of its reveals, using everything at its disposal to craft a story that's fun, tense, and never boring. And when it's over, you'll want to take a big breath of fresh air.—Emma Stefansky
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: November 10
Director: Rebecca Hall
Cast: Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, André Holland, Bill Camp
There's a delicacy to actress Rebecca Hall's directorial debut, Passing, an adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel about two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood and find their lives in a state of contradiction. Irene (Tessa Thompson) is living in Harlem as part of the upper echelon of Black society with her husband and two children; Clare (Ruth Negga) has been passing as a white woman and is married to a racist man. A chance meeting brings them together after years apart and ignites mutual insecurities, especially when Clare begins to infiltrate the life with which Irene previously thought herself content. Filmed in black and white and featuring a stunning jazz score by Dev Hynes, Hall keeps the tension between her protagonists at a simmer, the roiling frustrations and desires lingering just beneath the surface. Both Thompson and Negga are extraordinary, playing their characters' internal emotions through glances and subtle shifts in their tone of voice. Hall's film has style in spades, but it's all in service of the tricky feelings underneath the pretty people and parties.—EZ
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: December 1
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee
The Piano director Jane Campion's return to feature filmmaking after more than a decade away is an absolute triumph, a chilling exploration of a man driven to cruelty by the pursuit of a masculine ideal in the American West. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a rancher who prides himself on the dirt under his fingernails and his ability to live with as few amenities as possible. He worships a rider named Bronco Henry and calls his softer brother George (Jesse Plemons) "fatso." When George marries a widowed innkeeper Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil makes it his mission to mentally torture her. He is similarly inclined to do that to her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who arrives at the ranch on summer holiday from college studies, but instead decides to take him under his wing, figuring he can mold him into the kind of man he thinks is worth being. Campion's direction is dangerously erotic, while Benedict Cumberbatch gives one of his all-time great performances as a man so uncomfortable in his own skin he inflicts his pain upon others.—EZ
(Watch the trailer)



Release date: November 12
Director: Robert Greene
Procession is without a doubt one of the most emotionally and creatively ambitious documentaries this year. It's a searing indictment of the Catholic Churches' practices of shielding sex offenders, while also a remarkable depiction of how art can unpack trauma. Greene is not so much a director as a collaborator here. He worked alongside a drama therapist and survivors of child sexual abuse by priests in the Kansas City area. The project was not just to have these men share their stories, but to have them confront their experiences through scenes that they would write, stage, and film.Processionis as much about putting those on screen as it is about the process of creating them and the healing that can do.—EZ
(Watch the trailer)



Release date: March 5
Director: Julien Leclercq
Cast: Olga Kurylenko, Marilyn Lima, Michel Nabokoff, Martin Swabey
At 80 minutes, Sentinelle is pared back to the bare essentials. The main character, an opioid-addicted French soldier (Olga Kurylenko) patrolling the waterfronts of Nice, moves through the movie with steely determination, seeking revenge for her sister after she's brutally attacked and raped by sleazy Russians. Though some of the fights can be a bit choppy and elements of the plot strain credulity, the storytelling displays an admirable focus and sense of restraint. When the action arrives, it has a real impact. Director Julien Leclercq's previous movie The Bouncer, which put Jean-Claude Van Damme in a similarly bleak and unforgiving world, was even sharper, but Sentinelle continues to show the filmmaker's commitment to telling stories of violence and trauma with a sense of moral weight and emotional truth.—DJ
(Watch the trailer)

space sweepers

Space Sweepers

Release date: February 5
Director: Jo Sung-Hee
Cast: Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-Ri, Jin Seon-Kyu, Yoo Hae-Jin
Right from its first, electrifying sequence involving a bunch of bounty hunting spaceships chasing after a careering piece of garbage, Space Sweepers spins a far-future of multicultural, multilingual human life in space that's as exhilarating as it is crushingly dystopian. Tae-Ho is a pilot aboard the freighter Victory, along with Captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park, and loudmouthed robot Bubs, all of them part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts. After a particularly harrowing chase, the crew finds a little girl hiding in a derelict spaceship, who just happens to be a nanobot-filled android that a group of space terrorists have fitted with a hydrogen bomb. At first the Victory crew plans to sell the "little girl" back to the terrorist group who lost her, before they realize that she's much more special than she seems.—ES
(Watch the trailer)


Release date: November 19
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Robin de Jesús, Alexandra Shipp, Bradley Whitford
In the '80s, before he wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson was just another struggling playwright with a dream. Larson turned that struggle into a musical, and after his untimely death in 1996, it was revised and performed off-Broadway. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who portrayed Jon in a 2014 production, has now made tick, tick... BOOM! his directorial debut. The movie has a lot going for it, chiefly Andrew Garfield's turn as the scrappy, hopeful, exhausted protagonist. It's a stylish excursion about the creative process that doubles as a loving homage to Stephen Sondheim, who mentored Larson and died mere days after this film premiered on Netflix. —MJ
(Watch the trailer)

to all the boys always and forever
Katie Yu/Netflix

Release date: February 12
Director: Michael Fimognari
Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett
The sense of tying up loose ends is really all that To All the Boys: Always and Forever needed to be about as the third movie in Jenny Han's adapted rom-com trilogy. It absolutely succeeded, the conflict in Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky's (Noah Centineo) improbable but effortlessly shippable romance coalescing in the inevitable reality check that comes with high school ending: college. Though much of the movie is, of course, about Lara Jean and Peter clumsily trying to figure out what it means for their relationship if one of them falls in love with a college and a city on the other side of the country, the biggest strength lies in its shift to teasing out the two characters' relationships with other people—their families, their friends, their prospective classmates. By connecting with others, they seek answers to their conundrum: Will Lara Jean and Peter survive real life (family, college, the future) crashing down upon them? Maybe. Will Lara Jean and Peter, the separate entities, be all right even if their relationship isn't? Of course. It's a comfort and a balm, the type of movie that makes you want to write love letters.—ES
(Watch the trailer)

the white tiger
Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix

The White Tiger

Release date: January 13
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao
The rigid Indian class system is put on full display in Ramin Bahrani's adaptation of Aravind Adiga's 2008 novel The White Tiger, a darkly comedic—and then simply dark—exploration of what it takes to make a life for yourself in a world where upward mobility is very nearly a myth. Balram Halwai, born to a poor family in Laxmangarh, knows the only way to get out of his low class community is to befriend a rich family. When he's accepted as the personal chauffeur of his village's landlord's wealthy son Ashok, newly returned from America with his New York-raised wife Pinky, he befriends his employers, always playing the grateful, beloved servant while finagling himself deeper into their lives. When a shocking disaster strikes, Balram's notion that he meant something to this family is shattered, and he learns that using his own genius and ruthlessness is the only way to escape being treated like a servant for the rest of his life.—ES
(Watch the trailer)

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