Tom Power, entertainment reporter
The final May 2023 update to our best Netflix movies list sees the return of Martin Scorsese's iconic gangster flick The Departed.
Welcome to our best Netflix movies guide. Below, we've compiled a list of the 33 greatest films to stream on the globe's best streaming service. So, if you've been searching for something to watch this weekend (or any day, really), we've got you covered.
Well, that's if you haven't cancelled your Netflix subscription. The streaming giant has rolled out its password crackdown plan worldwide and, between you and us, it's off to a terrible start, with many users walking away from the service. Still, you must have kept yours, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this article.
Anyway, you might want to read our new Netflix movies guide as well as this one, too, for a full lowdown on all of the new movies to join the platform since March (this guide has different entries to those two, you see). For now, though, read on to learn about the best Netflix films for May 2023.
Best Netflix movies
Legendary director Martin Scorcese might still incur the wrath of Marvel fans for saying MCU movies are "not cinema" – we don't agree with that sentiment – but there's no denying he's one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time.
Scorcese's award-winning and critically-acclaimed film catalogue is proof of that, but few are as epic, fraught, emotionally impactful, action-packed, and thrilling as The Departed. The stunning crime thriller, which chronicles events (albeit loosely based on) surrounding the Boston Winter Hill Gang, is as engrossing, gritty, and morally ambiguous as we've come to expect from Scorcese. And, with an all-star cast comprising – but not limited – Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, and Martin Sheen at their electrifying best, it's one not to be missed.
Are you a big fan of Family Guy and American Dad!? Ted, the debut feature film from Seth MacFarlane, the adult comedy series' creator, will be one you shouldn't miss out on.
Mark Wahlberg stars as John, a 35-year-old manchild who shares every aspect of his life with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), his childhood stuffed bear that came to life one night when John wished for him to do so. The pair are inseparable and enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle, but soon find themselves at odds when John's girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) gives him an ultimatum: grow up and enjoy their lives together without Ted in tow, or forever be associated as the single guy who lives with his anthropomorphic toy.
A raunchy and hilarious flick, albeit one with a somewhat generic plot, Ted is a film that you'll either love or hate. Still, you can't argue against its $550 million box office haul on a budget of just $50 to $60 million. And, with Wahlberg, MacFarlane, and Kunis all on top form, it's one we can't help but recommend.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Director Barry Jenkins followed up on the success of his Oscar-winning Moonlight with If Beale Street Could Talk, a powerful portrait of love and loss in 1970s New York that deserves more attention that it garnered upon release in 2018.
Based on James Baldwin's novel of the same name, the film stars KiKi Layne as a young woman, Clementine "Tish" Rivers, who we follow as she desperately attempts to clear the name of her wrongly charged partner (Stephan James). Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Brian Tyree Henry, and Regina King also star in If Beale Street Could Talk, which is anchored by a stellar score from Succession composer Nicholas Britell. A harrowing but beautiful adaptation that cements Jenkins' place as one of the best and underrated storytellers and directors in Hollywood right now
Few sports dramas have been as influential in the film industry as 1976's Rocky. The boxing movie, which turned Sylvester Stallone into an overnight star, is unrivalled in its exploration of class divide, underdog spirit, and iconic music (who here hasn't worked out to Eye of the Tiger or the Rocky theme tune?). It'll come as no surprise, then, to see it take a spot on our best Netflix movies list.
Stallone plays rookie boxer Rocky Balboa, a Philadelphia-dwelling individual who's given a once-in-a-life-time shot at becoming the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world by current incumbent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
Simple thought it might be in its premise, there's a lot more working under the hood in Rocky than meets the eye. An emotionally and thematically deep flick, it's little wonder it managed to stun the world (typical of a Rocky film, eh?) to scoop Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars. Read our guide on how to watch the Rocky movies in order to find out more about the series.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Speaking of highly influential genre films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail did more for the satire and parody subgenres than many other comedies have done in the last 50 years.
A witty and biting take on the legend of King Arthur, Monty Python and the Holy Grail stars the titular, legendary British comedy outfit as King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable as they embark on a hilarity-infested quest to seek the Holy Grail.
If you're a fan of Monty Python, you'll likely have seen this one countless times over. First-time viewers, though, will cackle and guffaw their way through the film's rivetingly silly scenarios. The Black Knight scene, Knights of the Roundtable dance number, deadly Rabbit of Caerbannog sequence, and Knights Who Say "Ni!" moment are just four instantaneously classic moments waiting to be viewed. Just don't blame us if you end up endlessly quoting this flick long after the credits have rolled.
Few filmmakers can hold a candle to Quentin Tarantino – and it's movies like Reservoir Dogs that showcase why. Tarantino's feature film debut is a masterclass in telling an engrossing, hyperviolent, and image-rich story; one complete with an all-star cast comprising – but not limited to – Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Chris Penn at the top of their game.
A neo-noir crime flick, Reservoir Dogs tells the tale of a group of diamond thieves whose latest jewelry heist goes awry, thus setting in motion events where each team member becomes increasingly paranoid about the other (there's a police informant in their ranks, after all) as they systematically return to their hideout to lay low.
A stone-cold classic that set the stage of instantly recognizable Tarantino motifs – pop culture references, tons of swearing, extreme violence, and visually arresting scenes (that opening diner scene and climactic showdown are beautifully shot) – Reservoir Dogs is more than deserving of its place on our best Netflix movies list.
The Other Boleyn Girl
An oft-forgotten hidden gem of historical cinema, The Other Boleyn Girl tells a fictionalized account of life under King Henry VIII for the famous Boleyn sisters. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play Mary and Anne, respectively, with the latter ultimately winning (albeit fatally) the affections of the infamously barbarous monarch.
Eric Bana rounds out a stellar cast (which also includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, and Mark Rylance) as Henry, while Justin Chadwick directs. Being a relatively low-budget BBC co-production, The Other Boleyn Girl opts for smart dialogue over needless spectacle – and the movie deserves its place on this list for Portman's powerhouse performance alone.
La La Land
Damien Chazelle's La La Land is a magical movie. An ode to old Hollywood and hopeless romantics everywhere, it follows two headstrong Angelenos, Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), who are forced to reckon with their own – and each other's – dreams of making it big in the City of Angels.
One of the most well-received musicals of modern times, La La Land picked up rave reviews almost across the board upon release in 2016, as well as countless awards for its performances, writing, and directing (although it infamously missed out on the Oscar for Best Picture). Put simply, La La Land is a must-see for film fans, and indisputably one of the best Netflix movies.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Knives Out wowed fans and critics alike in 2019, so sequels were inevitable. The first of those – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – is another elaborate and highly entertaining whodunnit from director Rian Johnson. Buoyed by its excellent ensemble cast and a confidence carried over from its predecessor’s success, Glass Onion is even showier and bolder than Knives Out – though the film proved exceptionally divisive among fans of Benoit Blanc's debut outing upon release at the end of 2022.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Who says Netflix has lost its taste for originality? With Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the streamer breathes new life into Carlo Collodi's beloved 1883 fairytale about a wooden puppet who longs to become a real boy.
Shot entirely using stop-motion (in a manner akin to Netflix series The House), del Toro’s darker adaptation is set in 1930s Italy during Mussolini’s fascist regime and features a star-studded voice cast that includes Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz and Cate Blanchett. Indisputably one of the best Netflix movies in years.
Fresh from her acclaimed (and movie-saving) performance in Don't Worry Darling, Florence Pugh (Black Widow, A Good Person) proved her generational talent yet again in Netflix's unsettling drama-cum-horror The Wonder.
Set in the Irish Midlands in 1862, the movie stars Pugh as an English nurse called to observe a young girl (Kíla Lord Cassidy) who remains miraculously alive and well despite not having eaten for four months. Ciarán Hinds, Niamh Algar, and Toby Jones also star in Sebastián Lelio’s period mystery.
As period dramas go, The Wonder is an absorbing and fantastic flick that confirms Pugh's ability to embody every role she plays. Like Glass Onion, it's one of the best Netflix movies of 2022.
All Quiet on the Western Front
It’s been a good few years since Dunkirk and 1917 reminded audiences of the horrors of war, but Netflix assumed that responsibility in 2022 with its shocking but beautifully-made WWI epic, All Quiet on the Western Front.
Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s landmark novel of the same name (which was first adapted into a feature film in 1930), this award-winning German-language movie tells the story of a young German soldier (Felix Kammerer) whose naive expectations of fighting for his country are shattered by war’s harrowing reality. As you'd expect, All Quiet on the Western Front is brutal, vivid and poignant – just don’t expect to reach its credits feeling particularly joyous.
The Good Nurse
Netflix puts its penchant for true-crime storytelling to good use with The Good Nurse, which follows the murderous exploits of real-life serial killer Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). Jessica Chastain plays Cullen's co-worker, Amy Loughren, who would ultimately go on to expose the sadistic behaviour that led to the deaths of dozens of patients over a period of sixteen years.
On the broad spectrum of new Netflix movies, The Good Nurse is a lower-key affair than, say, Don't Look Up. However, its shocking story of gross criminal negligence is far more impactful than the big-budget drama of the streamer's recent blockbusters. Sure, it's far from an easy watch – but it'll stay with you long after its credits roll.
The first thing to say about Blonde is that it isn't a Marilyn Monroe biopic – not in the traditional sense of the genre, anyway. Instead, Andrew Dominik's controversial Netflix production plays more like a psychological horror movie in which Monroe (an exceptional Ana de Armas) is the troubled protagonist.
Blonde loosely chronicles the rapid rise to fame (and equally uncompromising demise) of the 1950s icon, but the film is also a hallucinatory thriller – shot mostly in black and white – about a young star haunted by her troubled past and swallowed up by the industry around her. Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel and Julianne Nicholson star alongside Armas in this divisive conversation-starter.
Call Me by Your Name
2017 was a stellar year for cinema, but it was Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name that perhaps left the greatest impression on audiences. An adaptation of André Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name, the movie follows Timothée Chalamet's Elio, a precocious teenager who develops feelings for his father's temporary research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) in 1980s Italy.
Praised for being an honest exploration of young love and a launchpad for Chalamet's burgeoning career, Guadagnino's film is one of the most beautifully-shot in recent memory, and a reminder that quiet and careful cinema can still triumph among today's superhero-heavy releases.
The Nice Guys
Buddy comedies don't come much better than The Nice Guys. Director Shane Black's still underappreciated action comedy stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as a private eye and a tough enforcer, who team up to determine the whereabouts of a girl-in-hiding (Margaret Qualley) in 1970s Los Angeles.
Reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights in both its setting and black humor, the movie is fast-paced, suitably adult, and a perfect example of how to elicit chemistry between two big-time leads. Gosling, in particular, is hilarious.
A surprise addition to Netflix in August 2022, Skyfall – the twenty-third Bond movie and one of the very best entries in the decades-spanning series – is about as close to perfect evening entertainment as it gets.
Sam Mendes directs this darker take on 007, which finds Bond forced to return to action when a disgruntled agent from M's past comes back to haunt her. Javier Bardem is exquisite as the villainous Silva, proving more than a match for Daniel Craig's usually indestructible Bond – though Skyfall as a whole is a much more emotional affair than we've come to expect from the franchise. Lives are lost, tears are shed, and Adele kicks the whole thing off with an absolutely killer title track. Be sure to read our Daniel Craig James Bond movies ranked piece, as well as how to watch the James Bond movies in order, while you're here.
The Sea Beast
The Sea Beast proved Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on layered, child-friendly storytelling upon its arrival in July 2022.
Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Williams (Moana, Big Hero Six), the movie follows Jacob Holland (voiced by The Boys’ Karl Urban), a celebrated sea monster hunter whose life is upended when a young girl, Maisie Brumble (newcomer Zaris-Angel Hator), stows away on his ship.
Charming, action-packed, and beautifully-rendered, The Sea Beast was praised by audiences and critics alike upon release, and serves as further proof that Netflix should think twice about scaling back its animation department. If it still is, that is.
Can you name a more quotable movie than Jerry Maguire? Director Cameron Crowe's schmaltzy sports drama features not one, not two, not three, but four (four!) lines of dialogue that could very well sit among the top 100 film quotes of all time.
Lines like "You had me at 'Hello'" and "You complete me" showed Tom Cruise at the peak of his Hollywood powers in 1996, and the Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible actor's turn as an arrogant football agent who risks it all to find a little humanity is still necessary viewing for romcom fans in 2023.
If you were a fan of 2019's Uncut Gems, listen up: Hustle, a surprisingly entertaining basketball drama, landed on Netflix last June to deliver more Adam Sandler-sized surprises.
After discovering a once-in-a-lifetime player with a rocky past abroad, Stanley Sugerman (Sandler), a down-on-his-luck Philadelphia 76ers scout, takes it upon himself to bring the young phenom to the States without his team's approval. Against the odds, the pair must work to prove that they both deserve to make it big in the NBA.
That synopsis might sound like standard sports drama fare, but Hustle earned unexpectedly glowing reviews ahead of its muted release. Trust us: this is no Jack and Jill.
The Hand of God
The Hand of God marks the movie-making return of beloved Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, and tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a young man (Filippo Scotti, standing in for a teenage Sorrentino) grappling with the pressures of growing up in 1980s Naples.
As well as referring to the infamous goal scored by Argentine footballer (and Napoli legend) Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup, the film's title alludes to a tragic and life-affirming event that forces its protagonist to grow up quicker than he'd otherwise like. To say more risks spoiling The Hand of God's most tender moments, though the movie's beautiful locations, hypnotic camerawork and larger-than-life characters ensure it ranks among Sorrentino's best work. If you're a fan of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name, add this one to your watchlist.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
If you’re keen to mix up your movie-watching diet, films don't come much more unconventional than Netflix’s Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. Boyhood director Richard Linklater returns to filmmaking duties with this animated feature, which tells the story of the 1969 moon landing from multiple perspectives.
The movie shares the visual style of Linklater’s previous animation, 2006's A Scanner Darkly, and features the voice talents of The Super Mario Bros. Movie's Jack Black, Shazam! Fury of the Gods' Zachary Levi, and Top Gun: Maverick star Glen Powell. Despite its needlessly lengthy title, Apollo 10 1/2 is a genuinely unique take on one of history’s most iconic moments, and serves as yet more proof of Netflix's willingness to invest in boundary-pushing storytelling.
Shortly after Licorice Pizza, director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest effort, hit last year's awards circuit, Netflix added his previous film – Phantom Thread – to its content library. One of 2017's best movies, this one tells the story of a dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) in 1950s London who falls for a young waitress (Vicky Krieps).
That might sound like a potentially boring narrative, but Phantom Thread is actually masterfully-shot. It's also a poignant exploration of what it means to be an artist, combining Oscar-winning costume design with a stunning soundtrack (from Radiohead and frequent Anderson collaborator Johnny Greenwood) to rank among its director's finest work. One of the best Netflix movies, this certainly is.
The Power of the Dog
It’s safe to say that Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog was the critical hit – and one of the best Netflix movies – of 2021. Widely praised for its slow-burning psychological drama, it follows the story of a menacing rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) who doesn’t take kindly to the arrival of his brother’s new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Cumberbatch arguably gives a career-best performance as the volatile Phil Burbank here, which undoubtedly made interesting prep for Doctor Strange 2. It's a slow-burner, for sure, but The Power of the Dog is a masterful piece of filmmaking.
Another Netflix original movie, The King stars Timothée Chalamet as Henry V, a young man forced to navigate the worlds of politics, war and treachery after unexpectedly becoming king of England in the 15th century.
This one contains all the fanfare you'd expect from a modern medieval movie, and boasts an excellent cast including Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris. For a reported budget of just $20 million (although you wouldn't know it), director David Michôd managed to produce one of the most engaging and visually stunning historical dramas around. Stick it on your watch list.
Army of the Dead
Army of the Dead was Zack Snyder’s first feature film since his increasingly acrimonious split with Warner Bros, and it’s everything that his DCEU superhero movies weren’t: bright, colorful, action-packed, funny, and topical, even if its 45-minute introduction is a little self-indulgent.
Dave Bautista leads a strong cast as Scott Ward, a former zombie-stomping war hero who’s approached with an intriguing proposal by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). The assignment? Enter a zombie infested Las Vegas, break into Tanaka’s casino vault, escape with his $200 million assets, and Ward and his group will receive $50 million to split between them as a reward.
Yes, the movie is as chaotic as that plot makes it sound. And, with a sequel film and TV spin-off on the way, Army of the Dead is a must-watch for fans of gratuitous blood and gore.
The Mitchells vs the Machines
Originally intended for a theatrical release, Netflix bought this animated movie from Sony and producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller – best known as the minds behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, and also part of the team behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. It's exactly as charming and funny as those movies, too.
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is an aspiring filmmaker who's about to head to college – until her dad, conscious that they've been drifting apart, cancels her plane ticket and insists on a family roadtrip. Halfway through this fraught journey, an AI takes revenge on its billionaire creator and the world is suddenly under duress from smart robots.
A lot of Spider-Verse's visual touches cross over into this film, with 2D annotations and drawings on the already-pretty 3D visuals. Most of all, it's nice to see Netflix backing a family movie that's not just full of talking dogs and other hackneyed nonsense so often seen in CG kids' fare.
Rush is a biographical sports movie about the heated rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda – played here brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl respectively, in one of Ron Howard's best movies in recent memory.
The film portrays their rivalry as lucky playboy vs hotheaded strategist, and while it might exaggerate real-life events somewhat, it's a riveting movie. Along with documentary Senna and dad-friendly flick Ford Vs Ferrari, Rush is one of the best Netflix movies about racing.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Based on the play by August Wilson – and despite the gorgeous period set dressing and costume design, it definitely feels very stage-y – Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is one of the best Netflix movies of recent years.
Viola Davis stars as legendary 'Mother of Blues' Ma Rainey, with the film focusing on one fraught recording session with Ma and her band, and the tension between the musician and her white producers and management.
The late Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) stars as Levee, an innovative trumpet player who struggles to find his place in the music scene, amid bandmates who don't always take him seriously. It's a sad but insightful movie that explores how culture is worth protecting and valuing, in a world where it's easily taken and monetized, and the film truly comes to life in its amazing musical sequences.
Beasts of No Nation
We won't beat about the bush – Beasts of No Nation is a tough watch. No Time to Die's Cary Fukunaga directs this harrowing feature, which follows the journey of a young orphan (Abraham Attah) forced into becoming a child soldier by a fierce warlord (Idris Elba) during an unnamed African civil war.
An adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's novel of the same name, Beasts of No Nation is a masterfully-shot story documenting the human cost of conflict, and places the uncomfortable realities of war front and centre. This isn't one to watch with the kids, but sitting through its two-hour narrative is an enlightening, dare-we-say necessary movie experience.
This threateningly long Scorsese pic attracted attention for the extensive effects work used to de-age its old stars, and it's a creative decision that's sometimes distracting. But there's no denying the appeal of seeing Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino in the same movie together for likely the last time, and this life-spanning, mostly rewarding crime epic is a suitable tribute to their collective talents.
The Irishman follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro) as he recounts his long association with the Bufalino crime family and infamous union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). It's a languid film – and not a patch on Goodfellas – but absolutely among the best Netflix movies the streaming service has financed to date.
If you've enjoyed Bong Joon Ho's Oscar Best Picture winner Parasite, you might want to check out his previous movie, Okja, which is still one of the best Netflix movies on the platform.
It tells the bizarre tale of a young girl Mija and her best pal, an enormous creature called Okja, whose friendship comes under threat when a nasty CEO (Tilda Swinton) has evil plans for the titular animal. It's a refreshing movie with a nice angle of animal activism – a very different proposition to Parasite, for sure, but one that also demonstrates the director's ability to blend genres.
An astonishing ode to motherhood in all forms, Roma is the most personal film to date from visionary director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity).
On paper, it's is not the easiest sell – a subtitled black and white film about a live-in housekeeper spoken almost entirely in Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language. But Cuarón's 2018 critical hit is nonetheless riveting from a cinematic standpoint. More a series of vignettes than a traditional three-act story, it examines the life of a Mexico City family in the early 1970s during a time of great social upheaval.