Is Netflix’s pricey Premium plan a bad deal for movie fans?

Netflix logo on TV screen in contemporary living room
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Syafiq Adnan)

Netflix is a regular source of streaming entertainment for millions of viewers – 231 million worldwide as of January 2023, according to Statista. Subscribers to the service can choose from a wide range of programming, including TV series, documentaries, comedy specials, and animation. There are even interactive shows and games, though that latter offering has so far failed to draw interest.

Movies are another mainstay of the Netflix library. The service started out as a DVD rent-by-mail operation, and it still offers that option to subscribers in the US at extra cost (add-on DVD plans start at $10 per month). But how much of Netflix’s streaming catalogue actually consists of movies, and is a Premium subscription worth the money for movie fans seeking out the best streaming service?

A Netflix Premium plan costs $15.99 / £11.99 / AU$19.99 / CAN$16.99 per month, and the company’s Standard plan is $12.99 / £8.99 / AU$13.99 / CAN $13.99 per month. There’s also a cheaper ad-supported option, but we’re discussing Netflix in the context of movies here, and most viewers don’t want their movies interrupted by ads if they can help it (I sure don’t).

A key difference between the Standard and Premium plans is that Standard is 1080p HD-only, while Premium bumps picture quality up to 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range. Premium also gives you Dolby Atmos sound (when available) along with Netflix's own Spatial Audio, a feature available on on select titles that lets you hear more immersive sound when using the best headphones or a TV's built-in speakers.

With a Premium subscription, movie fans are getting the highest possible picture and sound quality from the service, and they’ll find plenty of standout content to give the best 4K TVs and best Dolby Atmos soundbars a workout. But are they getting the best possible access to new movie releases, along with recent and classic films?

I live in the US, so I'm going to looking at this from the point of view of the market here, but a lot of the same principles will apply in other countries too.

Movies on Netflix: what’s playing 

Still of a soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is a 2023 Academy Awards Best Motion Picture of the Year nominee as well as being Germany's entry for Best International Feature Film. (Image credit: Netflix)

With the Academy Awards coming up in March, movie-fan subscribers might be wondering what Oscar contenders released in 2022 are available on the service to view. The good news here is there’s a fair number compared to other streaming services, with Best Motion Picture of the Year nominee All Quiet on the Western Front (which is also up for a slew of other awards) and Best Adapted Screenplay nominee Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ready to drop in your streaming queue. There’s also Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and The Sea Beast, both of which are contenders for Best Animated Feature Film.

Beyond those, you’ll find Blonde, RRR, and Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, all of which are up for various awards, from Best Actress (Ana de Armas for Blonde) to Best Cinematography (Darius Kondji for Bardo).

If you’re looking for more of the best Netflix movies, you’ll find White Noise, Athena, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Marriage Story, and Phantom Thread, along with previous Oscars power-players Power of the Dog and La La Land. There’s also a fair amount to choose from on the classic (and cult classic) front, including Reservoir Dogs, Apocalypse Now Redux, Road to Perdition, Shutter Island, Skyfall, and It Follows. Note that these are selections currently available to viewers in the US, and they may not be accessible in other regions. 

Oh, and before I forget, Netflix just added The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

A substantial lineup, right? I’ll admit that, once I started digging, I was surprised by it. My subscription mainly gets used for watching the best Netflix shows, with Copenhagen Cowboy, The Queen’s Gambit, Black Mirror, Midnight Mass, Narcos, and countless others providing a stream of steady  thrills over the years. Each time I consider canceling Netflix – and I actually did do that once – the service drops some new and intriguing show I feel compelled to watch. For movies, I have found HBO Max to be more of a go-to, so much so that it should be used as a movie selection yardstick against which to measure Netflix for US viewers.

HBO Max is priced at $15.99 (around £13 / AU$23) per month. There’s also an ad-supported tier with, you know, ads available for $9.99 (around £8 / AU$14) per month. Like Netflix, HBO Max has select titles available in 4K with Dolby Vision high dynamic range, along with Dolby Atmos sound in some cases.

Movies on HBO Max: what’s playing 

Zoe Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in The Batman

Matt Reeves' The Batman is up for three Academy Awards in 2023, including Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Anyone curious to catch up on Academy Award-nominated films will find a healthy selection on HBO Max. It has Best Motion Picture of the Year nominees Banshees of Inisherin (my personal winner) and Elvis, along with The Batman, Navalny, All That Breathes, and Empire of Light, all of which have been nominated in other categories.

When poking around for interesting recent choices among the best HBO Max movies, you’ll likely find plenty to add to your queue. Dune: Part I is here, along with popular horror films Barbarian and The Menu, and indie action thriller Kimi.

Trilogies and series are also an HBO Max highlight, with The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, the Harry Potter series, The Matrix, John Wick, Christopher Nolan’s trio of Batman films, the James Bond collection, and the Studio Ghibli library all on tap. Warner Bros. Discovery is HBO Max’s parent company, so it’s no surprise to find that the vast Warner Bros. library is well represented on the service, with classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Silence of the Lambs, and Blue Velvet available to stream – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And there's also the best HBO Max shows to consider, a list that's almost too extensive to trim down to a manageable level.

Is Netflix Premium a bad deal for movie fans? 

The answer to that question is yes… and no. Let me explain. At $19.99 per month for Netflix Premium, you’re not getting an improved selection over the cheaper and better stocked HBO Max. Other streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, The Criterion Channel, and Mubi also are all priced less than Netflix, and they offer up a wide range of movies to avid cinephiles. It’s not that Netflix doesn’t have movies – it’s just that it's not a main focus for the service.

Original shows, on the other hand, are a main focus for Netflix, and it does a good job of keeping those in fresh rotation. So, if you’re interested in binge-watching the many great series in the streamer’s library, a good number of which are in 4K with Dolby Atmos sound, then Netflix’s movie offerings are icing on the cake, and they add considerably to the service’s value.

I will continue subscribing to both services – HBO Max because I find it indispensable, and Netflix because it’s a habit I can’t shake. But that’s a situation that could change in the near future when HBO Max parent Warner Bros. Discovery launches the service’s supersized replacement. The details of that deal aren’t yet clear, but it looks like the main change will be that HBO Max is going to get merged with the Discovery Plus service, adding nature docs, crime and reality TV shows, and a whole lot more to the current platform.

One thing you can count on is that the new, reconfigured and expanded HBO Max is going to cost more, most likely putting it in the same price tier as Netflix Premium. When and if that does happen, I, and many others, may finally be forced to make a hard choice between the two services. As a movie fan first and foremost, I know which one I'd pick.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.