The Best Movies on Netflix Nobody Knows About [Winter 2020]
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 2019 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 The Office 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.
Train to Busan may be unfamiliar to most Americans, but if you’re willing to dive into the world of South Korean films, this action-horror thriller is a great introduction. The film follows the passengers in a bullet train headed from Gwangmyeong Station to Busan in South Korea, with passengers including Seok-woo, a divorced fund manager taking his daughter to her mother’s house; a working-class man and his pregnant wife; a high school baseball team; and a homeless man suffering from PTSD. When the train departs, a convulsing young woman jumps on board suffering from a bite wound on her leg, and quickly becomes a zombie, transferring her virus to others on the train. The passengers will have to fight their way to safety to make it to Busan—but who will they lose along the way?
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.
Though certainly not one of the Coen Brothers most-accessible films, A Serious Man is often lauded for its balance of black comedy and razor-sharp wit. The film stars well-known actor Michael Stuhlbarg as a Minnesota Jewish man whose life begins to crumble both professionally and personally, as his wife asks for a divorce and he faces a vote on his tenure at a local university, leading him to question his faith and his religion. The film is bleak, dry, and in some cases, absolutely absurd—all comments meant as compliments. This is an odd film that won’t please everyone, but the Coen Brother completionists, it’s a must-see film.
From acclaimed director Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria is an English-language French film that takes place in Switzerland, following the struggles of an older adult female actress. Juliette Binoche stars as Maria Enders, an international film and stage actress who gained her big break twenty years prior when she starred as a young girl in the stage and film versions of a play entitled Majola Snake. The film begins when Enders, accompanied by her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) is travelling to visit the playwright of Majola Snake, Wilhelm Melchior, and to accept an award on his part when she learns he’s died. During this time, she’s approached by a young new director wishing for her to take part in a new revival of the play, but in the role of the older woman opposite the young girl. Throughout the film, Enders must come to terms with a reflection of herself and what her life has been, as she prepares to start this new role.
Don’t Think Twice is the second and most-recent film from director, comedian, and actor Mike Birbiglia, who is best-known for his unique brand of stand-up that combines jokes with one-man shows to tell stories from his life revolving around single themes. Don’t Think Twice pulls from Birbiglia’s comedy background, following an improv group in New York called The Commune headed by Miles (Birbiglia) and featuring his friends Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), and Bill (Chris Gethard). When Jack receives a call from a representative with Weekend Live, an SNL-style show, inviting him to audition, the group dynamic is forced to change and face reality when he leaves to join television.
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.
Frances Ha won’t please every reader of this list, but in our eyes, it’s well worth watching. Some have criticized the film as aimless, but for those it connects with, Frances Ha represents a modernization of the principles and ideas first shown in films from the French New Wave era of the 1960s. From the black and white film aesthetic to the impromptu trip to Paris halfway through the film, the inspiration from titles like Breathless and The 400 Blows is all over this title, co-written by director Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig (who later brought her wit and talent for writing to 2017’s critically acclaimed Lady Bird). It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the films topped several year-end lists and found critical acclaim with the film community. Baumbach’s films are generally fairly bleak, and it makes for a great mixture with Gerwig’s brightness and sense of joy found within dark.
Based on the moon-landing conspiracy theories that have perpetuated in American culture for decades, Moonwalkers stars Ron Perlman as CIA agent Tom Kidman and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter) as a struggling band promoter. When Kidman is tasked with hiring filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to film a fake moonwalk in case something goes wrong with the actual space mission, he files to England to meet with Kubrick’s agent. When plans get mixed up, he accidentally meets the agent’s cousin Jonny (Grint), who agrees to arrange a meet-up between Kidman and Kubrick, only to bring his stoner roommate Leon disguised as Kubrick to the meeting instead. After realizing he’s been fooled, Kidman and Jonny must work together to create the film for the US government to save both of their skins.
Directed by Francis Lee in his feature debut, God’s Own Country is a haunting tale of love and loss in the English countryside. The film follows Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), a young man who lives on his family farm with his father Martin, and his grandmother Deidre. Johnny takes care of most of the farm by himself, his father unable to assist after experiencing a stroke and his grandmother aged out of the farm life. Johnny’s life is a mess, drinking heavily and having sexual encounters with men in his spare time. When Johnny’s actions result in the loss of a calf, Martin hires help in the form of Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu), a Romanian farm hand who is initially treated harshly by Johnny. When Johnny refers to Gheorghe by a slur, the two men find themselves in a fight that quickly turns sexual. With the nature of their relationship, Johnny must learn quickly who he is, less he face the consequences of a broken heart. The film was critically-acclaimed upon its release last year.
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 difficult film to explain, Under the Skin is a film from Jonathan Glazer (Birth), loosely based on the novel of the same name. It stars Scarlett Johansson as a being from somewhere else, who arrives to Earth and prays on men in Scotland. The film effectively works as a portrait of an alien attempting to collect data about humankind, causing an identity crisis in the alien which ends with her spinning out of control. The idea of men being punished for desiring women that appear vulnerable can also be attributed to the science-fiction ideals in the film, though as always, the film is up to a certain amount of reading into by the viewer. Under the Skin is a tough watch, a box office bomb that nevertheless has received critical acclaim. If you love hard sci-fi, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
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.
A24 has made its name as a studio on the strength of its indie flair, but its division of horror films shouldn’t go unsung. With so many horror films being manufactured jump-scare machines, the studio has made a solid effort at crafting terrifying, slow-paced horror thrillers, and that all began with The Witch, the debut film from director Robert Eggers. Set in 1630 New England and spoken using period-accurate English, the film follows as panic and despair envelops a farmer, his wife, and their children when their youngest son Samuel disappears. The family blames his disappearance on Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, in her major film debut), the oldest daughter who was supposed to be watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy and Jonas suspect their older sister of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith and loyalty along the way.
In Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s romantic drama film from 2010, viewers watch a romance fall from grace, told nonlinearly and with as much heartbreak as you might imagine. The film follows Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), a married couple that lives a modest life in a quiet neighborhood with their daughter Frankie and a dog. The film flashes back and forth between the early days of their relationship and the present, as their relationship slowly breaks down following a series of setbacks. The film is heartbreaking, a truly sad examination of a promising relationship dug down into the earth by the harshness of life, as both Dean and Cindy deal with the disappointments and hardships that leave them broken. The film was critically acclaimed, and can break your heart again and again when it comes on Netflix later this month.
Growing up can be pretty difficult, and no one knows that more than high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, in one of her best performances). Currently trapped in her junior year of high school, Nadine already feels incredibly awkward trapped in her life when her older brother, popular kid Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until an unexpected friendship with a thoughtful teen (Hayden Szeto) gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all. The film was produced by James L. Brooks, and was the directing debut of Kelly Fremon Craig (Post Grad).
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.
Yorgos Lanthimos mastered the balance of absurdist humor and dystopian fiction in his 2015 film The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, after managing to grab the attention of critics and moviegoers alike with his 2010 film Dogtooth. The Lobster is set in a dystopian universe where single people are given just 45 days to find a romantic partner before being turned into animals. When David’s wife leaves him for another man, he attempts to form a relationship in his hotel to avoid being turned into a lobster, his animal of choice. At the hotel, he makes acquaintances who are also attempting to find love at the hotel, all while living in a society with byzantine rules. Anyone with a desert-dry sense of humor will enjoy this.
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.
The conclusion of the “Death trilogy,” Alejandro González Iñárritu’s collection of films from 2000 to 2006, Babel is an ensemble drama film starring, among many others, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Elle Fanning, Adriana Barraza, and many more. Edited into segments, the film focuses on four groups of characters, with events being revealed out of chronological order. The film focuses on a single accident that connects groups from across three different continents: two young Moroccan goatherds, a vacationing American couple, a deaf Japanese teen and her father, and a Mexican nanny who takes her young charges across a border without parental permission.
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.
And who says the romantic comedy is dead? One of the best films of 2014, Obvious Child is a fantastic, breezy indie rom-com from director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate. Based on Robespierre’s short film of the same name (which also starred Slate), Obvious Child follows Donna Stern, a comedian in New York who is dumped by her boyfriend in the bathroom of her usual comedy club. After confessing he’s leaving her for one of her best friends, Donna begins to tailspin, drinking heavily and bombing at her next set. When she meets Max (Jake Lacy), the two immediately have a connection, leading to a drunken hookup in which they fail to use protection. When Donna learns she’s pregnant, she decides to have an abortion. A chance run-in with Max leaves Donna struggling to tell him about the impending abortion, especially after he mentions his dream of being a grandfather someday.
Based on the bestselling memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, The End of the Tour tells a chapter from the life of David Foster Wallace, the late, great author who published Infinite Jest and The Pale King. The film follows Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), who becomes awestruck with Infinite Jest shortly after release. He persuades his editors to allow him to head out with Wallace on the last leg of his book tour to conduct an in-depth interview. In rural Illinois, Lipsky meets Wallace (Jason Segel) outside his classroom at Illinois State, and though he seems likeable enough, it’s clear Wallace is indifferent to being interviewed. The film follows the two through their days together, as Wallace opens up to Lipsky on a variety of subjects. The film was acclaimed upon release for its script and for Segel’s performance as Wallace.