Netflix has been something of a cultural phenomenon. Forget Facebook, forget Twitter–Netflix has changed everything. We are no longer tied to cable TV or satellite contracts, no longer have to watch boring shows on set schedules or wait three months before a movie hits the DVD store. Now we can have what we want, when we want, how we want.
With that in mind, here is what we think are the 40 best Netflix Instant movies you can watch right now. There will definitely be something here you’ll want to see!
In no particular order:
1. The Matrix
This kung-fu cyberpunk action thriller from the Wachowskis blew everyone’s mind in 1999. Some of the style might have become cliched through almost 20 years of imitation, but The Matrix is still a great movie, filled with spectacular action and effects, and raising some fascinating questions. What was true in 1999 is still true today: if you haven’t seen The Matrix yet, you kind of have to.
2. St. Vincent
Grumpy retired guy gets involved with neighbors’ lives, with predictably heartwarming results. Yes, St. Vincent is retreading a well-worn formula, but it has Bill Murray so it’s going to be funny. It is easy watching and worth a chortle or two, which is why it’s in this list. Plus, in case you missed it, Bill Murray.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
This is one of the best popular science fiction movies of all time, brought to you by Steven Spielberg at his very best. Long before convincing CGI (ET came out the same year as Tron, for reference), this movie got America to fall in love with an alien who looked like a cross between a worm and a dried pear. Break out some Reese’s Pieces and watch it again (or for the first time).
4. The Founder
Michael Keaton continues a string of awesome, performances with this new biopic about Ray Kroc, the famous founder of McDonald’s. But why is it called “McDonald’s” anyway? Well, to understand that, we need to go to a little diner run by the McDonald brothers–and watch as Mr. Kroc stops at nothing to take control of it.
5. Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket is the great director Stanley Kubrick’s war movie. Intense, violent, and sometimes darkly funny, it follows a group of Marine recruits from basic training to action in the Vietnam war. Perhaps most famous for the sadistic drill sergeant played by R. Lee Ermey, the movie explores the psychological costs of war for those who can’t adjust… and for those who do adjust.
6. The Longest Day
Long before Saving Private Ryan recreated D-Day for modern audiences, The Longest Day reenacted the pivotal invasion of World War II for the audiences of 1962. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, and many other big names lend their powers to this 20th-century war epic.
7. Ip Man
In real life, Ip Man was the martial arts master who first taught Bruce Lee kung fu. In movieland, Ip Man was a Chinese hero who beat the Imperial Japanese army through sheer awesomeness. Historical accuracy is overrated–Ip Man is great fun. A lot of that is due to the star, Donnie Yen, who you might recognize from his role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
8. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game features Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his most compelling roles yet as wartime genius Alan Turing. Turing designed Colossus, the machine that broke the Enigma code and helped the Allies win the war. This movie is amazing–just watch it.
In this acclaimed adaptation of the Broadway musical, Roxy (Renée Zellweger) derails her dreams of being a Jazz Age star by murdering her lover. The story follows her into prison, and through her farcical trial, as she teams up with a smarmy lawyer (Richard Gere) and a rival star (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to beat the rap.
10. Forrest Gump
Forrest (Tom Hanks) is the first to admit he’s not a smart man, but he keeps leaving a mark on America, whether it’s accidentally triggering the Watergate investigation or ending up as a mysterious jogging guru. His good luck and kind nature take him on a series of adventures from the 50s to the 80s, while he tries to stay true to his friends and reunite with the woman he loves.
A sunny vacation spot. A man-eating great white shark. Richard Dreyfuss. What could go wrong? A Jaws is the movie that invented the summer blockbuster–and it really is that good. 40 years after it came out, Jaws is still a great, thrilling time.
12. The Prestige
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as a pair of stage magicians who will stop at nothing to outdo and destroy one another. Their rivalry pushes them to the limits of science at the end of the 19th Century–and beyond.
13. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Last year’s Star Wars prequel was a strong entry into the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. Rogue One covers the adventures hinted at in the original movie, A New Hope. The story of how the Rebel Alliance captured the secret plans for the Death Star is engaging on its own, but it also makes the whole Star Wars story richer by showing how much goes on in the background of the grand adventure.
Before The Dark Knight or Inception, Christopher Nolan burst on the scene with this mind-bending revenge mystery. Leonard, the protagonist, wants to avenge his dead wife–but he can’t make any long-term memories since the moment she died. The movie unfolds backwards in time, mirroring Leonard’s confused perspective.
Matt Damon plays a brilliant poker player who dreams of competing in the World Series of Poker. But when your dream involves gambling for money, following that dream gets you involved with dangerous people, including a ruthless Russian mobster (John Malkovich) and an ex-con friend (Edward Norton) who brings trouble everywhere he goes.
16. Cool Runnings
This upbeat comedy is based on the true story of the 1988 Jamaican Olympic bobsled team. John Candy plays the coach who has the brilliant idea of bringing together a team for a winter sport in a country where it never snows–but the athletes who join up have the determination and enthusiasm to make a long-shot Olympic bid.
17. An American Tail
An American Tail is a surprisingly dark animated children’s movie (although one with a happy ending, in case you need to know that going in). It tells the story of a young Russian mouse named Fievel whose family emigrates to America in the late 1800s. They and the other immigrants have heard that “there are no cats in America,” but the reality turns out to be more dangerous.
18. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson’s movies are in a genre of their own–goofy, deadpan, detached, heartbreaking comedy-dramas filled with absurd characters in an absurd world. In The Life Aquatic, Steve Zissou is an aging underwater documentary-maker (think Jacques Cousteau) who is taking his team on one last mission, to kill the shark that ate his best friend. Along the way he needs to reconcile with a man who may be his lost son, and maybe with life in general.
19. The Invitation
The Invitation is something different. It’s hard to watch, hard to process, and tough to sit through, but it is so worth it. It deals with loss, heartache, wonder, and mystery. It’s a thriller that will keep most of you guessing until the final reveal–I know it did me!
This latest animated feature from Disney is a wonderfully imaginative fantasy adventure. Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of a Polynesian island chief with a mission to sail across the ocean and heal a wounded god. Along the way, she gets “help” from the vain and untrustworthy demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).
21. Doctor Strange
This recent Marvel movie brings us the origin of the Marvel comics’ universe’s Sorcerer Supreme. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Strange, an arrogant surgeon who discovers the world of magic. It’s familiar comic-book-movie territory, but it’s one of the better iterations on the formula, and the imaginative, trippy visuals make Doctor Strange stand out.
22. Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder joined forces to create this brilliant spoof of the 1930s Frankenstein movies. Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein, a descendant of the famous mad scientist who wants nothing to do with that side of his family. Of course he gets roped into animating a monster of his own, with ridiculous results.
This tense thriller revolves around the real-life search for the “Zodiac Killer,” who murdered seven people in the late 60s. A handful of investigators connect the dots to identify and track down the killer, but as they do they realize, the closer they get to the truth, the closer they are to the killer himself.
24. The Shining
The Shining is one of Stephen King’s scariest books, and one of his best movie adaptations too. This movie is a great way to spend those winter days when the snow has you stuck at home–just don’t count on getting any sleep that night.
25. Blue is the Warmest Color
At almost 3 hours long, Blue is the Warmest Color isn’t an easy watch, but it is a journey–a journey of two lovers as they grow together and then apart. This is one of the few longer movies that won’t have you fidgeting in your chair halfway through and is well worth the investment in time.
Harvey Milk was a major gay rights activist in California, and this biopic tells his story through the 70s and up to his death. It’s a surprisingly sensitive and detailed look at the man and his opponents. It won the Oscar for Best Actor for Sean Penn in 2008, as well as Best Original Screenplay.
27. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s second movie combines style, wit, interlocking stories, and heaps of personality with a whole lot of violence for a really entertaining time. Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, and Uma Thurman all won Oscars for their performances as ridiculous gangsters caught up in convoluted plots.
28. The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan got everyone’s attention with this movie’s famous twist ending (which I won’t explain here, for the benefit of the few remaining unspoiled), but the movie works because it’s a convincing thriller, twist or no twist. Haley Joel Osment plays a young boy who is afflicted with visions of ghosts almost everywhere he goes; Bruce Willis plays the child psychologist who has seen this once before, and is determined to help the boy.
29. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
In a version of Hollywood where real actors and cartoon characters live together, one of the most famous is accused of murder. A hard-drinking private eye needs to get to the bottom of it, and of course he gets caught up in shady conspiracies. It’s a wacky ride, and the blend of live action and animation is as impressive now as it was in 1988.
30. 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.
31. Lucky Number Slevin
Assassins, crime lords, and mistaken identity fuel this funny, violent thriller. This surprising and smart movie also features what might be the coolest Bruce Willis and the evillest Morgan Freeman you’ll ever see.
32. Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda is a solid, fun kids’ movie with a healthy proportion of slapstick humor and martial arts action. Jack Black leads as Po, a panda who–you guessed it–becomes a master of kung fu.
33. The Big Short
The Big Short is about the housing crash of 2007, and the actions of a select few that brought the economy down. The movie is sometimes angry, sometimes funny, and at all times worth watching.
34. Schindler’s List
Not a feel-good movie by any stretch, this acclaimed drama tells the story of the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who used his pull to save more than a thousand Jews from the Holocaust.
35. No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men is a modern Western classic, set in the 80’s. Hunter Josh Brolin finds a bag full of money, not knowing that it contains a tracking device. Along comes hit man played by Bond baddie Javier Bardem, trying to track the money down and leave as few witnesses as possible. It’s a dark Cohen Brothers masterpiece.
36. The Queen
This fictionalized drama follows then-new British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II (played mesmerizingly by Helen Mirren) as they deal with the sudden death of Princess Diana in 1997. The surrounding scandal, media spectacle, and resulting cultural phenomenon strain the monarchy to the breaking point, and Queen Elizabeth must face the question of whether she is still relevant in the country she supposedly rules.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that the heroine is a talking rabbit–this movie has roots going back to noir detective classics like Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon. Sure, it’s a children’s movie, but it deals with surprisingly adult themes–and beside that, it’s just modern Disney at its best.
38. Finding Vivian Maier
Finding Vivian Maier is about an amazing female photographer who haunted Chicago during the 1950s. This movie was funded by Kickstarter, and documents the fascinating life of an ordinary but reclusive woman.
39. Lord of War
This gripping crime movie tracks the rise and fall of an international arms smuggler, Yuri Orlov, played by Nicholas Cage at the top of his acting game. As he stays one step ahead of the Interpol agent determined to shut him down (Ethan Hawke), Yuri tries to live the high life, keep his family safe, and–just maybe–come to grips with the morality of what he’s doing. The character and incidents are based loosely on real criminals and events.
40. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl started out as a shameless plug for a Disney attraction, but turned into brilliant family entertainment purely because of Johnny Depp. The now famous Captain Jack Sparrow carries the entire movie while Orlando Bloom does his best to keep up.
If you’ve watched all the movies on this list, maybe it’s time to check out the best Netflix original series, or the best movies on Amazon Prime.