The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix (August 2015)

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Yes, we’re in a golden age of television, and yes, there are so many good shows on that it’s easy to caught up, night after night, watching “just one episode” before you go to bed. But every time I decide to watch a movie instead, I’m much more likely to end my night dwelling on what I just experienced. Of course, if it’s a bad movie, I’m mostly just annoyed that I wasted two hours of my time.

That’s where our team of writers and editors comes in. Each month, we revisit our list of the 100 best movies available to anyone with a Netflix streaming account. We can’t guarantee you’ll like them all—they range from a recent Hungarian art-house film to kung-fu comedy to a basketball documentary—but someone on our team was passionate about each of these films to choose them from the roughly 10,000 movies streaming on Netflix.

Of course, if you’re looking for a particular kind of movie, we recommend you check out our targeted lists for the best Dramas, Comedies, Action Movies, Horror Movies, Romantic Films, Sci-Fi, Foreign Films, or Martial Arts Movies.

And if you have a favorite movie that’s not mentioned here, please add it to the comments section below.

The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix

chocolat.jpg 100. Chocolat
Year: 2000
Director: Lasse Hallström
A year before Amelie, another lovely, quirky French character with an impish streak made us swoon. Juliette Binoche plays a single mother opening up a chocolate shop in a tiny French village. Binoche is at her most charming in a delightful and fantastical romantic comedy of the sort that doesn’t get made anymore. Nomadic chocolatier Vianne causes a scandalous stir in the conservative village when she opens her shop during lent, making an enemy of the village mayor (Alfred Molina). Things only escalate when she befriends a band of “river rats” led by Roux (Johnny Depp, making the other half of the audience swoon). Both Binoche and Judy Dench as Vianne’s landlady and confidante earned their Oscar nominations for this 20th-century fable about embracing life with vigor.—Josh Jackson

short-term-12.jpg 99. Short Term 12
Year: 2013
Director: Destin Cretton
As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith.—Curtis Woloschuk

french-connection.jpg 98. The French Connection
Year: 1971
Director: William Friedken
Winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing and Acting (Gene Hackman), The French Connection isn’t so much a deeply felt drama or meticulous procedural as it is a nearly perfectly executed exercise in inertia, mood and the obsession with both. Friedken’s film is all aesthetic, all carapace: this is New York at its grossest, and Hackman (as the gruff Popeye Doyle) at his most vicious. As the only character with any hint of depth, Doyle is the audience’s vessel from one chase to another—or, rather: throughout the giant chase that is the whole movie—a man as relentless as the filth and violence of the City that he struggles to defend, one drug bust at a time. In that sense, The French Connection is a defining film of the ’70s, unyielding in its depiction of an America hungover from the facile free love movement, still mired in the Vietnam War and the depravity of unmitigated urban expansion. But even moreso, the film is a lean action classic, all movement and no second wasted.—Dom Sinacola

wet-hot-am-sum.jpg 97. Wet Hot American Summer
Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 15 years later and with a Netflix series on lock, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola

snowpiercer.jpg 96. Snowpiercer
Year: 2014
Director: Bong Joon-ho
There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry.—Mark Rozeman

girl-who-walks-home-alone.jpg 95. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
The ravishing look of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” the film transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) The other important character is Arash (Arash Marandi), a strikingly handsome young man who takes a liking to this mysterious woman, not knowing her true identity. Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. Like Jim Jarmusch, Amirpour enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. She has a knack for the finely tuned marriage of sound and picture, drafting scenes and moments that stun the senses.—Tim Grierson

life-itself-poster1.jpg 94. Life Itself
Year: 2014
Director: Steve James
Life Itself may tell the story of a remarkable life, but it’s at its most enlightening when dealing with death. Steve James’ documentary on Roger Ebert naturally chronicles its subject’s exploits, trials and triumphs as he became the most recognizable film critic in the United States. But it weaves his life story around footage shot during the last months of his life, as we see the effect his impairments and mortality have on him and his loved ones….Life Itself finds Ebert’s real heart in its present-tense story. The rest simply puts it into perspective. Ebert often professed his love for documentaries that unfold in a way the filmmakers couldn’t have predicted when production began. He surely would have loved this one.—Jeremy Mathews

50.TheTrip.NetflixList.jpg 93. The Trip
Year: 2011
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Two British actor/comedians playing versions of themselves travel the beautiful and bleak north England countryside, stopping to eat at various upscale restaurants, but mostly just talking. And talking and talking. And doing impressions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, and Liam Neeson, as well as British personalities an American audience might not recognize. But mostly just talking, with overlapping affection and competition. Sound like a good idea for a film? It absolutely is.—Jonah Flicker

muscle-shoals.jpg 92. Muscle Shoals
Year: 2013
Director: Greg “Freddy” Camalier
Freddy Camalier’s masterly Muscle Shoals is about the beginnings and heyday of the recording scene in Muscle Shoals, Ala., a tiny town that improbably changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll, putting out along the way some of the greatest records in the history of American music. Many of those moments are recounted to great effect in the film; first-timer Camalier is obviously a natural storyteller. But there’s so much more to the doc—the cinematography is lush and beautiful, the editing is crisp and precise, and it’s in turns heartbreaking, inspiring, wry, thought-provoking, nostalgic and genuinely funny. It’s simply a stunning debut film. It helps that Camalier and his producing partner Stephen Badger are after more here than just a dry lesson in musical history. They delve into the Civil Rights Movement and its effect specifically on Alabama, especially as it relates to a Muscle Shoals music scene that was, shockingly enough, lacking in any racial tension. They return again and again to the ancient Native American legend about the river that flows through the town and the water spirit who lived there, sang songs and protected the town. And the personal life of Fame Records founder Rick Hall, the protagonist of the film, is itself worthy of a Faulkner novel. It’s thrilling, it’s engaging, it’s fascinating, it’s stirring. It’s the best documentary of the year, whether you’re a music lover or not.—Michael Dunaway

the-chorus.jpg 91. The Chorus
Year: 2004
Director: Christophe Barratier
Released in Europe in 2005, The Chorus outsold Harry Potter at the French box office. The film’s soundtrack, which featured choral music written by leading French film composer Bruno Coulais, hit number one on the French charts. And all over the country, young people started clamoring to join choruses for the first time. The film tells the story of world-class conductor Pierre Morhange, who opens his door to a man he barely recognizes, named Pépinot. Pépinot brings Pierre a strange gift—the diary of Clément Mathieu, their former teacher. As the two men remember their past, they are transported back to Fond de l’Etang (literally, “rock bottom”), the school for rebellious boys they both attended. Run by the dictatorial Rachin (Franois Berléand), Fond de l’Etang is a place where hope dies under the hands of frustrated instructors who resort to corporal punishment at the first sign of trouble. When a new teacher, Clément Mathieu, arrives, he’s discouraged by the school’s climate, but manages to convince the director to allow a choral group. Then Clément sets about teaching the boys to sing.—Annabelle Robertson

punch-drunk-love.jpg 90. Punch-Drunk Love
Year: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
It may be hard to recall, but there was once a time when the world believed in Adam Sandler—and we have P.T. Anderson to thank for such a glimpse of hope. Compared to the scope of There Will Be Blood, or the melancholy of Boogie Nights, or the inexorable fascination at the heart of The Master, Punch-Drunk Love—a breath of fresh, Technicolor air after the weight of Magnolia—comes off like something of a lark for Anderson, setting the stage for the kind of incisive comic chops the director would later epitomize with Inherent Vice. But far from a bit of fluff or a reactionary stab at a larger audience, Punch-Drunk Love is what happens when a director with so much untapped potential just sort of throws shit at the wall to see what sticks. A simple love story between a squirmy milquetoast (Sandler) and the woman (Emily Watson) who yanks him from his stark blue shell, the film is part musical, part silent film and all surreal comedy. That this is Sandler’s best role is hardly up for debate; that this may be Jon Brion’s best soundtrack is something we can talk about later. That the rest of the film, which in any other director’s hands would be a total mess, feels so exquisitely felt is almost … magical. And that? That’s that, Mattress Man.—Dom Sinacola

6. the babadook (Custom).jpg 89. The Babadook
Year: 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Between It Follows and The Babadook, the last year or so has been a strong one for indie horror films breaking free from their trappings to enter the public consciousness. Between the two, The Babadook is perhaps less purely entertaining but makes up for that with cerebral scares and complex emotion. It’s an astoundingly well-realized first feature film for director Jennifer Kent, and one that actually manages to deal with a type of relationship we haven’t seen that often in a horror film. Motherhood in cinema tends to invariably be portrayed in a sort of “unconditional love,” way, which isn’t necessarily true to life, and The Babadook preys upon any shred of doubt there might be. Its child actor, Noah Wiseman, is key in pushing the buttons of actress Essie Davis, pushing her closer and closer to the brink, even as they’re threatened by a supernatural horror. The film’s beautiful art direction approximates a crooked, twisted fairytale, with dreamlike sequences that never quite reveal what is true and what might be a hallucination. The characters of The Babadook ultimately undergo quite a lot of suffering, and not just because they’re being chased by a monster.—Jim Vorel

nebraska.jpg 88. Nebraska
Year: 2013
Director: Alexander Payne
The first question at the Cannes press conference for Nebraska, the new film from Alexander Payne, was about why the director decided to shoot his comedy-drama in black and white. It’s an understandable query. Studios don’t like black-and-white movies from a commercial perspective and, because Payne’s films emphasize character and dialogue, they’re not necessarily thought of as being grandly cinematic, which might require such a striking look. But after seeing the film, the choice makes more than a little sense. Payne doesn’t use black and white to make his movie grand. Quite the contrary, he uses the lack of color to illustrate his characters’ tiny, quiet existence. To paraphrase a line from Paul Simon, their lives are so common they practically disappear.—Tim Grierson

frances-ha.jpg 87. Frances Ha
Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach 
Frances Ha is endearing, kind and, in many ways, Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date. One could trace his films, from his debut (Kicking and Screaming) to his most recent (Greenberg) and see a slow but steady focus on the individual, as well as his abandonment of an ironic, sometimes caustic stance against the very characters he writes. It is as if Baumbach could only write a certain type of person—the privileged, socially crippled intellectual with either too much self-awareness or none at all—and for a while it seemed like even the writer himself couldn’t stand to be in the same room with such characters. This anger has faded, and what has emerged over his last few films, and culminated in Frances Ha, is an embrace of not only the flaws of his characters, but also his flaws as a filmmaker. He has settled down and created a film imbued with love, fun and melancholy. It feels simple and open and is a joy to watch.—Joe Peeler

nightcrawler.jpg 86. Nightcrawler
Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
“A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” That’s the image Nina (Rene Russo) evokes when describing her news program in director Dan Gilroy’s tremendous thriller Nightcrawler. It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which makes his achievement doubly impressive—but while that is definitely part of the equation, what drives this movie forward is the menace that lurks just below the surface, beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. A nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell, Lou is a motivated self-starter. Full of meaningful acronyms, manufactured self-confidence, and drive powered by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into on the ground floor. When he comes across the lucrative world of nightcrawlers, freelance stringers who race after breaking news stories—the bloodier, the better is the prevailing wisdom—he has the ambition, opportunity and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel. Gyllenhaal, who shed in excess of 30 pounds for the role, has rarely—if ever—been better. Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented and even borders on charming at times, but this measured exterior belies the inherent violence you spend the entire movie waiting to see erupt. Nightcrawler is tense and intense, ferocious and obsessed, and crackles with energy and a dark sense of humor.—Brent McKnight

kung-fu-hustle-netflix.jpg 85. Kung Fu Hustle
Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Chow
Stephen Chow is probably the biggest name in martial arts comedy since the days of Sammo Hung, and Kung Fu Hustle will likely remain one of his most well-regarded films both as a director and performer. Gleefully kooky, it combines occasional song and dance with extremely exaggerated kung fu parody in telling the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing a large criminal organization, the “Deadly Axe Gang.” This is not a complex film—rather, it’s simply intended as popcorn entertainment at its most absurd. The action has no basis in reality, being closer to a real-world depiction of Looney Tune physics. The characters are broad pastiches and references to famous actors from the genre’s history abound. With comedy that teeters decidedly on the juvenile or inscrutable side, it’s a film that some will dismiss off-hand, but Chow’s style has always and will probably always be “entertain first, make sense later.” That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else.—Jim Vorel

election.jpg 84. Election
Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
A high-school election for student body president turns into a darkly comic satire on politics and sexuality in one of Alexander Payne’s uproarious takedowns of Midwestern values. The election turns into a struggle of wills between Matthew Broderick’s wormy high-school teacher and Reese Witherspoon’s overbearing know-it-all Tracy Flick, but resentful mediocrity doesn’t stand a chance against relentless ambition. With a hyper-capable schoolkid surrounded by hilariously flawed characters, Election could be Rushmore’s cynical classmate.—Curt Holman

beginners.jpg 83. Beginners
Year: 2011
Director: Mike Mills
Beginners is directed by Mike Mills, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2005’s Thumbsucker. And this time, Mills drew on his own life for the story of Beginners. Like Hal, Mills’ father also came out of the closet after the death of his mother. Cancer took both of his parents and there’s a subtle jab at smoking in the film. But Beginners is not a message movie; it’s an ambitious play on coming-of-age late in life, of course for Hal but also very much for Oliver, and perhaps for Mills himself.—Jonathan Hickman

hot-fuzz.jpg 82. Hot Fuzz
Year: 2007
Director: Edgar Wright 
The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up.—Dom Sinacola

jerry-maguire.jpg 81. Jerry Maguire
Year: 1996
Director: Cameron Crowe 
Besides acting as the megahit blockbuster of 1996, Jerry Maguire also quickly achieved the status of the modern day romantic-comedy done right. Certainly, between Say Anything and Almost Famous, writer/director Cameron Crowe has never been one to hide his inner softie. Jerry Maguire is no different, featuring career-best performances from Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as litany of memorable lines still quoted to this day. And, let’s face it, whoever doesn’t get at least a little bit teary-eyed when Renee Zellweger proclaims, “You had me at hello,” is probably a Cylon spy who should be blasted away at once.—Mark Rozeman

charade.jpg 80. Charade
Year: 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
Cary Grant is the most charming male lead ever. Audrey Hepburn is the most charming female lead ever. Everything else is just bonus in this romantic thriller about a woman pursued in Paris for her late husband’s stolen fortune: the Henry Mancini score, the Hitchcock-ian suspense, the plot twists and Walter Mathau as a CIA agent.—Michael Dunaway

good-will-hunting.jpg 79. Good Will Hunting
Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant 
The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will is both exasperating and loveable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robbin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Damon’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy form the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Afleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and never overwrought.—Amy Libby

drug-war.jpg 78. Drug War
Year: 2012
Director: Johnnie To
When Hong Kong director Johnnie To finally released Drug War, his first film completely shot in mainland China, it felt like a culmination—of his unfussy knack for style; of his gracefully plotted potboiling; and, most of all, of the one thing he was probably put on this planet to realize: his effortless ability to direct elaborate action setpieces. Which isn’t to say that Drug War is built like Peter Jackson’s wet dream; instead, it just demonstrates that some of the best action films resist drumming up intensity through unhinged camera movement or breathless editing. Drug War is clean, it’s clear, it breathes with room despite its suffocating tension—it’s able to feel like some epic battle between good and evil borne of a bunch of simple pulp elements. And in its final 20 minutes it comes together as a beautiful, meticulously shoot-out that both decimates all life we’ve come to know and love in the slick 90 minutes before it, and does something even better: shows what purity looks like in an action movie. Nothing wasted, nothing unearned, and every moment completely realized. It’s brutal.—Dom Sinacola

44.InTheLoop.NetflixList.jpg 77. In the Loop
Year: 2009
Director: Armando Iannucci
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself.—Robert Davis

act-of-killing.jpg 76. The Act of Killing
Year: 2012
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Some tragedies are so horrific that it’s hard to reconcile one’s belief in the basic decency of human beings with the atrocities that some of them have perpetrated. Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing focuses on one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, speaking to some members of the Indonesian death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women in 1965 and ’66. These people don’t live in the shadows, though: They’re treated like royalty in their native land, celebrated as heroes who helped “save” Indonesia from communism. The film is so shocking and depressing that its subjects’ utter disconnection from morality would almost be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.—Tim Grierson

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