The Best Netflix Original Movies of 2021 (So Far)

These are the Netflix movies really worth checking out.

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

Netflix is a fount of original movies and TV shows, cranking IP out 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. So far, these are the best Netflix original movies we've seen this year—check back as we'll continue to update this with more of our new favorites.

READ MORE:The Best Netflix Original Movies from 2020

bad trip
Dimitry Elyashkevich/Netflix

Bad Trip

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.
(Watch the trailer)

below zero
Quim Vives/Netflix

Below Zero

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.
(Watch the trailer)

the dig
Netflix

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.
(Watch the trailer)

oxygen
Shanna Besson/Netflix

Oxygen

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.
(Watch the trailer)

sentinelle
Netflix

Sentinelle

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.
(Watch the trailer)

space sweepers
Netflix

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.
(Watch the trailer)

to all the boys always and forever
Katie Yu/Netflix

To All the Boys: Always and Forever

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.
(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.
(Watch the trailer)

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