Amazon Prime Instant Video is pretty darned good. What began as an incentive service to reward customer loyalty has developed into a wide-ranging and lucrative service offering from Amazon. It is also a good way to watch some good movies without leaving your sofa. With that in mind, here are what we think are the best Amazon Prime movies available now.
In no particular order:
25. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
This heartbreaking drama stars a young Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio as a pair of brothers struggling to get by in a small Midwestern town. Gilbert (Depp) falls in love with a traveler stuck in his town, but his life is complicated by caring for his housebound mother and severely disabled brother (DiCaprio).
The war on drugs provides the backdrop for this intense and brilliantly acted thriller. The set pieces and cinematography here are especially striking, but what sticks with viewers is the film’s thoughtful pace and moral ambiguity that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic film noir.
23. Song of the Sea
This stunning animated movie is about a young Irish boy who has to explore the world of faeries to rescue his sister–who it turns out is half selkie (a half-seal, mermaid-like creature). Beautiful and funny, this movie deserves to be a classic.
This movie version of the Broadway musical won six Oscars in 2003. It follows a handful of accused murderesses as they deal with their arrests and trials in 1920s Chicago, with the help of a smarmy lawyer who understands that murder is just show business!
21. Iron Man
Whether you’re already in line for the next Marvel superhero movie, or you feel like they got stale after The Avengers, maybe it’s time to go back to the movie that convinced everyone that Marvel movies were a good idea. Robert Downey Jr.’s first turn as Iron Man genuinely fresh and clever, and it may still be the best movie to come out of Marvel Studios.
20. The Untouchables
This fun crime movie is a thoroughly Hollywood-ified version of the true story of Elliot Ness, the federal agent who put together a team to take down Al Capone. Among other things, The Untouchables features Sean Connery and Robert DeNiro doing what they’re best at, as a rule-bending cop and the arch-gangster himself, respectively.
In this smart, classic romantic comedy two wealthy brother woo and fight over their chauffeur’s beautiful daughter. Both the 1954 original and the solid 1995 remake are on Prime. So the question is, would you rather watch Humphrey Bogart chase Audrey Hepburn, or Harrison Ford match wits with Greg Kinnear?
This is another comic book movie from before comic book movies really took off, about a Nazi-fighting demon with a heart of gold, and his misfit friends. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy has the kind of imaginative visual style that most fantasy movies only wish they had.
Selma is a powerful and pertinent story in our age of discord and inequality. Everyone “knows” the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism, but we tend to forget most of the actual struggle and drama behind his famous message. With a stellar cast, superb writing, and inspired shots, this is definitely a must-see.
This classic comedy-horror pits a small town against some cute (then not-so-cute) fantasy creatures wreaking havoc. (A bit of trivia: this is one of the 80s movies that walked the line between family-friendly and violent so finely that the MPAA decided to create the PG-13 rating between PG and R.)
15. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl wrote children’s books, but he knew that children can handle a lot more darkness than adults think they can. That’s what makes this adaptation of his book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so great–and especially what makes Gene Wilder’s performance as the genius chocolatier so amazing. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp later tried to remake this, but they couldn’t match the wonderfully creepy, creepily wonderful balance of this classic.
14. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
This one is a tie. I could have made the tough choice of which of these two classic adventure movies deserved more to be on the list–but in the end, you deserve to know that they’re both on Prime! If you’ve somehow missed either of Harrison Ford’s best adventures in archaeology and Nazi-fighting, there’s no better time than the present to catch yourself up.
13. The Firm
Nobody wrote young lawyers in trouble like John Grisham. This adaptation of Grisham’s novel made excellent use of Tom Cruise to propel a smart, tightly-wound legal thriller.
12. American History X
Not for the faint-of-heart, this drama follows the life of a Neo-Nazi (Edward Norton, in a much-acclaimed performance) who goes to prison for murder, then returns home and tries to keep his younger brother from following the same path.
11. Across the Universe
Don’t watch for the plot, watch for the amazing music and visuals. This tribute to the Beatles only needs enough story to string together a series of brilliant musical sequences by the likes of Bono, Joe Cocker, and Eddie Izzard. Everyone involved brings heaps of imagination, talent, and love for the classic Beatles songs they get to reinterpret.
Bryan Cranston, who you probably recognize from Breaking Bad, stars here as Dalton Trumbo, a brilliant Hollywood screenwriter who found himself blacklisted during the Red Scares of the 1940s and 50s. It’s a powerful story of courage and of the dangers of mass hysteria in a democracy.
Arguably, Hollywood and Sly Stallone have been trying to recapture the magic of the original Rocky ever since the rematch that wasn’t supposed to happen in Rocky II. Creed comes closest to doing that, following the son Apollo Creed as he rises in the world of boxing and finds a mentor in Rocky Balboa. With Creed, the Rocky franchise finally found a high note to go out on.
This is a gorgeous and wonderfully entertaining fantasy story from the mind of Neil Gaiman. In what amounts to a latter-day The Princess Bride, a young hero sets out to rescue a woman (who is also a fallen star), facing pirates, witches, and other dangers.
7. Swiss Army Man
This supremely bizarre dramedy was a huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival. It stars Paul Dano as a suicidal castaway, and Daniel Radcliffe (remember him from Harry Potter?) as a flatulent corpse; together, they both learn to embrace life again.
6. Pretty in Pink
This well acted and unnecessarily smart movie set a high bar for teen comedies back in the 80s. The plot may seem familiar, from the insecure heroine to her misfit friend, the job at a record store, and the climactic prom–but that standard framework supports a movie that’s heartfelt, insightful, and funny.
5. The Truman Show
After almost 20 years, this movie deserves more attention. Jim Carrey stars a man who discovers his entire life is actually a television show, his hometown is a set, and everyone he knows is an actor. It’s hard to believe that this movie came out before “reality television” was a thing–two years before the first season of Survivor. And though Truman’s a bit of a goofball, Jim Carrey surprised everyone at the time with his dramatic performance.
Peter Pan did the one thing he was never supposed to do–he grew up–and forgot about Neverland. When Captain Hook kidnaps his children, he has to go back and save them. This is a silly movie, and everyone in it–especially Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman–seems to be having a whole lot of fun. You will too.
3. Ex Machina
This mind-bending thriller starts out about testing out a new artificial intelligence. Before long, though, it turns into a brilliant psychodrama held up by the spectacular performances: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. For some added weirdness, the first two of those actors also worked together in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in very different roles.
Earth is dying, and Matthew McConaughey heads the mission to find a new habitable planet for the human race. The result is a spectacular space adventure, essentially Christopher Nolan’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
1. Thelma & Louise
The titular Thelma and Louise start out on a road trip to get out from under the obnoxious men in their lives, but things take more than a few unexpected turns. Most people who know about this movie know how it ends, but Thelma & Louise is worth seeing for all the heart, and the twists, in the middle.
If you find you’re in the mood for some bingeable television instead of a movie, check out our list of the best shows on Prime, or the best shows on Netflix.