The Best Movies on Netflix Nobody Knows About [Winter 2021]
Have you ever found yourself in a Netflix loop? You log onto the site, on your laptop or your television or even on your phone, to try to find a movie to watch at night, but Netflix keeps serving up the same content to you again and again. You’ve tried that, watched this, didn’t care for the other—all of the movies on your recommended list are old news, and you’re not sure what you should try next. Maybe all of this work even makes you give up on the hunt for a movie to watch, falling back on your old favorites instead of trying out new movies or shows.
One reason you might be struggling to find new movies to watch comes down to a shift in Netflix’s priorities. Loading up the main display on Netflix presents you with a whole list of content to choose from, some new and some not, but almost all of the featured content in 2021 will have a single thing in common: they all feature the Netflix logo on top of the poster. Netflix’s move into original programming started just five years ago, but it has since moved from a supplementary experiment into something far more substantial: Netflix’s future. Unfortunately, that can lead the company to often bury movies and other non-original content that might interest their subscribers. Worse, even some of their original shows and movies have been released in the past without fanfare.
So, we’re here to help. We’ve scoured the wilderness that makes up the Netflix library to try to find some of the best movies you haven’t seen yet. Whether it’s a cult-hit classic from a decade ago or a movie released by Netflix that you might have missed, we think we’ve found some of the best-kept secret titles on Netflix today. So, the next time you’re stuck in the dreaded Netflix loop, don’t run back to or Gilmore Girls—just refer back to this list. These are the best movies on Netflix that you don’t know about.
Roxanne Roxanne tells the story of Roxanne Shanté, a rapper who grew up in Queens and began rapping in 1979 at the age of nine. Five years later, after changing her name from Lolita to Roxanne, has become a member of the Juice Crew and is working to forward her rap career. Learning that rap trio U.T.F.O. had recently recorded a hit with their B-side “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a song detailing a girl named Roxanne who won’t return their advances, Shanté records a response from the point of view of the song. Titled “Roxanne’s Revenge,” Shanté immediately becomes one of the first female MCs to find fame. As she learns to navigate the 1980s rap scene, Roxanne must also struggle to balance the feeling of the weight of the world on her shoulders, providing for her family while also defending herself from the dangers of the streets in the projects.
From the writer and director of horror-comedy cult-classic Tucker and Dale vs Evil comes this 2017 Netflix Original that premiered without much fanfare on the service. Little Evil stars Parks and Recreation‘s Adam Scott as Gary Bloom, who falls for Evangeline Lilly’s Samantha. They get married, and Gary becomes the stepfather of Lucas, Samantha’s five year old son. Something is a bit odd about Lucas, however; Gary has difficulty finding any sort of relationship with his new stepson, and becomes concerned when Lucas’ teacher violently dies after an interaction with him. Concerned that Lucas may have some evil within him, Gary goes about trying to find the cause for Lucas’ erratic behavior, and in the process, accidentally discovers a Satanic cult that may have a connection to his new stepson.
The first Netflix Original film to win an Oscar, Icarus is directed by filmmaker Bryan Fogel, following the director as he explores the option to compete in a cycling race while doping. While researching illegal doping, he becomes friends with the Russian doctor that is helping him take performance-enhancing drugs that will prevent him from being caught using them. The doctor, Dr. Rodchenkov, eventually grows to trust Fogel enough to let it slip that Russia is planning on using a state-sponsored Olympic doping program that will allow their athletes to compete at higher levels than other nations. When word slips out to the public about the program, Fogel realizes his friend is in danger, leading to Rodchenkov giving a testimony in the United States once he is flown outside of Russia. The film is thrilling and eye-opening at the world of doping, and is great for fans of documentaries and political thrillers alike.
This Netflix Original documentary follows Gloria Allred, an attorney known for her cases fighting for women’s rights and for taking on high-profile cases that often see her in the press. Her legal career is one for the ages, spreading across four decades that rose in publicity when she began fighting for abortion rights in the early 1980s. Since then, Allred has represented numerous clients in lawsuits against celebrities for all sorts of outrageous behavior, and this doc happens to follow two of her most high-profile cases yet—Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. The documentary, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance to rave reviews, also follows Gloria as she talks, albeit reluctantly, about aspects of her own personal life, including becoming pregnant with her daughter at 19. Allred has lived an incredible life and has used her power as a lawyer to fight for hundreds of underdogs, making this documentary incredibly timely in the wake of #metoo.
Mysteries and thrillers are perfect for dark and stormy nights, and The Invitation might be the ideal film to chill you to your core. The film stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, a divorcee who drive his girlfriend Kira to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife at his old house in the Hollywood Hills. Will’s ex, Eden, alongside her new husband David, welcomes Will and Kira to the party, though immediately, something feels wrong. As Will continues to deal with the grief of his deceased son (the reason Eden and him split up), he begins to feel like something is wrong with his ex-wife and her husband’s motivations. The tale is dark and grim, and as the night advances, you’ll begin to put the pieces together in this thrilling tale of mystery and murder.
Directed by So Yong Kim, Lovesong follows Sarah (Riley Keough), a stay at home mother whose husband is often absent for work and dismissive of Sarah’s concerns about his absences. When she contacts an old friend, Mindy (Jena Malone), following feelings of isolation and loneliness, the two embark on a road trip together after years apart, bringing Sarah’s toddler daughter along for the ride. The two rekindle their friendship over stories of their past, as Mindy’s carefree and untroubled lifestyle and outlook begin to win over Sarah’s own heart. The film follows the relationship that grows between these two friends.
Orson Welles had no shortage of long-lost projects, including Don Quixote and The Merchant of Venice, among other projects. One of the most famous unfinished projects was The Other Side of the Wind, originally slated to come out in the 1970s after six years of starts and stops in production. The film acts as a parody of old Hollywood filmmaking and the New Hollywood style of the 70s, shot as a mockumentary and in black and white—both uncommon traits for that decade. After sitting on a shelf for over forty years, the film has arrived as a new project from Welles distributed by Netflix, and by all accounts, the long-lost project is an excellent final marking on the late director. The film, which follows a director returning to Hollywood from Europe to finish his comeback movie, is delightfully meta and well-worth a watch.
Our second Noah Baumbach tale is also his newest film, and a Netflix original. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) tells the story of three children: Danny, Matthew, and Jean Meyerowitz, played here by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel, respectively. Danny and Jean are siblings, with Matthew as their half-brother, all tied together by their rocky relationship with their father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Though the three children are relatively estranged from each other, their father’s upcoming career retrospective brings all three to New York City to reunite, bicker, and deal with their life’s problems. Despite the prominence of Sandler and Stiller, don’t expect this to be a laugh-riot; like Baumbach’s other tales, this is drama first, comedy second, though critics have praised Sandler’s dramatic turn here as his best since Punch Drunk Love.
A recent Netflix Original film, Mudbound tells the story of two World War II veterans living in rural Mississippi following the conclusion of the war. The film begins when Henry McAllen (Jason Clarke) and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) purchase a farm alongside Henry’s brother Jamie and their father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). The Jackson family, led by Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) works the farm for the McAllens, until Ronsel and Jamie are pulled away to fight in the war. Upon returning, Jamie deals with PTSD and alcoholism, while Ronsel deals with readjusting to southern racism following his life in Europe. As Ronsel and Jamie begin to strike up a friendship, despite the objections of Pappy, the struggle to readjust to American life threatens to break apart both families. Mudbound is the first Netflix film nominated at the Academy Awards, up for eight awards at the 2018 Oscars.
A brand-new Netflix original film, Dumplin’ was released at the tail end of 2018 quietly onto Netflix. Unlike a film like Bird Box, which saw massive promotion during the holidays, Dumplin’ went more unnoticed by fans, and it’s time to correct that. Based on a young adult novel of the same name, Dumplin’ follows a plus-size teenage daughter (Danielle Macdonald) whose mother is a former beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston). When she signs up for her mother’s pageant as a protest against the idea of mainstream beauty contests. When other contestants follow in her footsteps, however, things escalate quickly, leading to a full-on revolution of the pageant in Dumpin’s small Texas town.
One of the best films of 2018, Burning is a South Korean psychological drama mystery adapted from “Barn Burning,” the short story by famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Burning follows Lee Jong-soo, a young man working to perform odd jobs in order to make money in Paju. While working, he runs into Shin Hae-mi, a girl who used to live in his neighborhood when they were children. The two develop a connection, and Hae-mi asks Jong-soo to watch her cat while she’s out of town. When she returns from a trip to Africa, she introduces him to Ben (Steven Yeun, The Walking Dead), a man she met while on vacation. Ben seems like an average playboy at first, but slowly, a darker, mysterious nature reveals itself.
From acclaimed director Mike Mills (Beginners), 20th Century Women tells the story of Jamie, a semi-autobiographical character based on Mills’ own childhood experiences with his mother. The film is set in 1979 Santa Barbara, California and follows Jamie(Lucas Jade Zumann), his mother Dorothea, and two younger women who exist in Jamie’s life—Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a savvy a provocative teenage neighbor who often shares a bed with Jamie. When Dorothea feels as though she can no longer connect with her now-teenage son, she asks both Abbie and Julie to help raise her son with her. Also on-board is another tenant in Dorothea’s household, William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who once lived on a commune. Following Beginners, which also told the semi-autobiographical story of Mills’ father coming out of the closet in his mid-70s, 20th Century Women is a great pairing and, arguably, an even better film.
Both Creep and Creep 2 are available for streaming on Netflix, but generally, 2017’s Creep 2 is seen as the better of the two films. Both films are found-footage horror movies directed by Patrick Brice and starring Mark Duplass, who also served as a writer on both films. While the first Creep follows a man who wants a stranger’s help in making a film for his unborn child, Creep 2 ups the ante, as Josef (Duplass) hides his identity and undergoes becoming a serial killer with a knack for filming his victims. Both films are worth watching, and new viewers may be lost if they haven’t seen the first Creep, but be warned: you’re in for some seriously messed-up content. A sequel, Creep 3, has been announced.
Armando Iannucci is no stranger to political black comedy: his landmark British comedy series The Thick of It didn’t just bring In the Loop into existence—it was also developed by Iannucci himself into Veep in the United States. And while the director might focus primarily on television, 2017’s The Death of Stalin shows that the filmmaker continues to be a strong voice in feature films. The film presents a fictionalized account of the power struggle that took place in Russia following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. With an all-star cast including Steve Buscemi, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, and Jeffrey Tambor, The Death of Stalin is Iannucci’s grimmest film yet.
When Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, the race was on to release a film based on Walter Isaacson’s acclaimed biography. Four years later, with a script from Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and direction from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), Steve Jobs was released into theaters. And although the film was ignored by audiences, the film received critical acclaim, thanks in part due to Sorkin’s script and Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs. The film is set over fourteen years, set prior to three different keynotes held by Jobs, as he deals with personal issues related to his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan and their daughter Lisa. The film also stars Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak and Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett impressed with their 2011 film You’re Next, and when they got to make a follow-up just three years later, they crafted one of the best horror-thriller hybrids of the 2010s. The Guest follows a mysterious US soldier named David, who brings it upon himself to visit the mourning Peterson family. David introduces himself as a friend of their late son Caleb, who died in combat in Afghanistan. Invited into the family home, David slowly improves the lives of each member of the family, but when a series of unexplained deaths occur, daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, It Follows) begins to suspect David is connected.
It’s rare to see a film described as an epic road drama, but that’s exactly what American Honey is. Released in 2016 to critical acclaim by indie studio A24, American Honey follows Star (Sasha Lane), an adolescent girl from a troubled home, who runs away with a traveling sales crew making their way across the American Midwest, selling subscriptions door-to-door. Mixed up in a group of young adults just trying to find their way in life, she finds herself enjoying the gang’s lifestyle of partying, lawbreaking, and young love. The film, directed by Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights, Wasp), also stars Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough.
Not only is Uncut Gems one of the best films of 2019, it’s also one of Adam Sandler’s best on-screen performances of his career. After wowing audiences with his turn in Punch-Drunk Love back in 2002, Sandler returns to drama for the first time since The Meyerowitz Stories. In the film, directed by the Safdie Brothers (Heaven Knows What, Good Time), Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York who is addicted to gambling and has found himself under a pile of debts he can’t pay. After scoring a rare Ethiopian black opal that promises to sell for millions of dollars at auction, Ratner loses control of the situation after lending the gem to NBA star Kevin Garnett. As the tension rises, Ratner has to make a series of high-risk bets to get back on top of the situation.
If you haven’t heard of The Castle of Cagliostro, you probably aren’t an animation nerd. The first film from legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, and one of two films directed by Miyazaki not released under the director’s own Studio Ghibli. The film, an adaptation of the classic Lupin III manga, it a must-watch now that it’s on Netflix, especially for fans of Miyazaki who have yet to visit the director’s early works. The film follows Lupin III, a master thief who discovers the money he robbed from a casino is counterfeit. He heads to Cagliostro to find the source of the forged cash, only to find himself on a mission to rescue a princess from capture.
Seems like you can’t have the last name Kaufman without working in the world of avant-garde art. Charlie Kaufman made his name on becoming one of the hottest indie writers in Hollywood. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are all three of the best films from the years they were released, and when Kaufman finally turned his attention towards directing, he still managed to hit it out of the park critically. Both Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa were praised by critics, but failed at the box office, leaving most film fanatics to wonder if the director would work again in Hollywood. Thankfully, Netflix allowed him to craft an adaptation of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the acclaimed novel from Iain Reed. It’s a tough watch, and even tougher to describe, but here goes: the film follows a young woman who takes a trip to meet her boyfriend Jake’s parents, all while considering ending the relationship. But things aren’t what they seem, both at Jake’s parents’ house and in the reality of the world around her.
Director Todd Haynes brought the famous 1952 novel The Price of Salt to the big screen in 2015 with an adaptation in Carol, one of the most-acclaimed films of 2015. Featuring an all-star cast in Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, and Kyle Chandler, the film follows Therese Belivet (Mara), a woman working at a Manhattan department store in the 1950s who spots Carol (Blanchett) looking at doll displays. The two women quickly become friends, and more, with dangerous results that spawn as Carol’s ex-husband begins to spy and pry on the life of the two women.
Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson made a huge splash in the world of filmmaking with her 2016 autobiographical documentary Cameraperson, and finally, you can watch her hotly-anticipated follow-up film on Netflix. For Dick Johnson is Dead, the director once again turned her attention towards her own life—more specifically, her father, who suffers from dementia and is slowly losing his memory. With the help of his daughter and her filmmaking crew, the film follows Dick Johnson as his impending death is demonstrated on film again and again and again, with hilarious results from violent “accidents.” The film is truly bittersweet, showing the close relationship between father and daughter while also demonstrating what’s coming in due time.
Directed by Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring is a 2013 satirical crime film and the second film ever released by studio A24. The film is based on the true story of the Bling Ring, a gang of young fame-obsessed teenagers living in Los Angeles, as told by Nancy Jo Sales in the 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.” The film is also notable for helping Emma Watson escape the shadow of her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, cementing her as a serious actor who would go onto star in critically-acclaimed films like Noah and Little Women. When Marc Hall enters a new school, he’s quickly befriended by Rebecca Ahn. The two begin using social media to track the location of celebrities, before inviting their friends to empty houses owned by the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, where they party and steal in order to boost their status in high school.
The highest-profile snub for Best Picture in 2017, Sean Baker’s 2017 film The Florida Project is an excellent drama, a character study looking at both childhood and adulthood alike. The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinai) over the course of the summer, as Mooney is home for vacation. The two live week-to-week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget hotel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe, at his best and most light-hearted here), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion. The film is episodic for much of its runtime, following Moonee as she hangs out with her friends throughout endless afternoons and grand adventures, exploring the unique world set just outside Disney World. Unbeknownst to Mooney, Haley is forced into darker ways of making money, risking her daughter while nevertheless attempting to care for her.
Tragically slept on after its limited release in 2018, Wildlife has finally arrived on Netflix, and hopefully it’ll manage to find the audience it deserves. Written by Paul Dano (There Might Be Blood) and Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and directed by Dano, Wildlife is the quiet, heartbreaking tale of a marriage in crisis based on the 1990 novel of the same name. The film follows Joe (Ed Oxenbould), the only child of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal). The three live in a small town in 1960s Montana, where an uncontrolled forest fire breaks out along the Canadian border. When Jerry loses his job, he leaves the family to fight the fire, forcing the two to make new lives for themselves. As Jeanette struggles with her new life, Joe finds himself forced to care for both himself and his mother.
If you’re a fan of Michael B. Jordan’s high-profile outings with filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Creed, Black Panther), you need to see where their creative partnership began. Fruitvale Station follows Oscar Grant (Jordan), a 22-year-old fresh out of San Quentin who experiences the last day of his life. As Oscar tries to piece his life back together, he’ll deal with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter (Ariana Neal), struggle to get his job back, and find himself the target of BART police. Based on the tragic real-life story of Oscar Grant III, Fruitvale Station doesn’t hide the story it’s telling you—and manages to crush you regardless.
Steven Soderbergh hasn’t met a movie genre he doesn’t want to play in. From crime thrillers to medical mysteries, biopics to science-fiction, Soderbergh operates on a scale only rivaled by filmmakers like Richard Linklater. High Flying Bird sees him enter the world of sports, following sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland), whose company is losing clients during an NBA lockout. Faced with a rare opportunity, Burke pitches a rookie on a controversial plan that could save the company at the potential risk of that rookie’s career. The film was shot on an iPhone 8, the second Soderbergh film to do so after Unsane in 2018.
One of the most inventive animated films of the last decade, I Lost My Body is an acclaimed French-language fantasy film that managed to score a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards. The film follows a hand cut off from its body, that manages to escape from a dissection lab with a single goal: get back to the body to which it was previously attached. As the hand scrambles throughout the streets of Paris, it flashes back to the life it has with the young man it was once attached to, until the man met Gabrielle. The film wasn’t just critically acclaimed, but it also managed to win the Nespresso Grand Prize from the 2019 Cannes festival.