Netflix has released a list of its most-watched movies and shows from the first half of 2023, and the list of most watched movies is not exactly full of instant classics, I'm sorry to say. The 5 most-watched movies globally are:
- The Mother (249,900,000 hours viewed)
- Luther: The Fallen Sun (209,700,000 hours)
- Extraction 2 (201,800,000 hours)
- You People (181,800,000 hours)
- Murder Mystery 2 (173,600,000 hours)
Now, as someone who thinks Out of Sight is the coolest movie ever made, I love to see a J.Lo movie at the top of the list as a matter of principle, but there are much better thrillers to spend your time on.
The same absolutely goes for the gritty crime of Luther, and the comedy of You People and Murder Mystery 2. This selection is not troubling our list of the best Netflix movies.
Perhaps surprisingly, Extraction 2 is the movie with the highest approval from critics and audiences (at least, on Rotten Tomatoes), and is arguably worth watching just for its incredibly ambitious 21-minute 'single-take' shot – but even the end result of all this was a movie we only described as "mildly entertaining".
We can definitely do better than this. I've picked five movies available on Netflix right now that fit the same kind of genres as the five most-watched above, but are better uses of your movie-watching time. And as a bonus, don't forget that among December's new Netflix movies there are two instant classics in the form of May December (Charles Melton should win an Oscar!) and Maestro (though this is way better with a great sound system).
The Woman King
Let's start with an action thriller I rate higher than The Mother, though with a very different setting. The Woman King tells the story of the Agojie, the female warriors of an African kingdom said to have inspired the Dora Milaje in Black Panther – in particular, it follows Viola Davis as the head of the unit, and Thuso Mbedu as its newest recruit, during a period where the king is deciding whether to continue the slave trade with European nations or to risk war with them. Spoilers: battles happen! It's a sweeping historical epic and punchy action movie all in one and looks great on a big TV. Davis is naturally excellent, though Lashana Lynch steals the show for me as pseudo-mentor for Mbedu's over-eager new warrior who demonstrates that it takes mental fortitude as much as physicality to be a great warrior.
You want a gritty crime drama? How about the best one of all time? (Although LA Confidential is also on Netflix, and has a pretty good claim to this title too.) Al Pacino plays a cop whose relationship is falling apart because he can't be happy unless he's chasing something dark; Robert De Niro plays a thief who can't bring himself to consider any life that doesn't involve the thrill of pulling heists, even if they end up getting people killed. In Heat, they get caught in each other's orbit, inevitably spiraling towards each other until they must collide. It's got career-high performances from both legendary actors, as well as amazing turns from Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Danny Trejo, and generally a murderer's row of "Hey, it's that guy!" great character actors.
A slightly ridiculous action movie starring a big Marvel movies actor? Please welcome Chris Evans in a movie where he has to fight his way through a train in a post-apocalyptic winter where leaving the train means rapid death. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, of Parasite fame, the train is used for loveably blunt social commentary, where the poor must literally seize the means of production (ie, take over the factory carriage that produces their horrible mystery food) in order to storm the front of the train and change things for the better. Tilda Swinton is having the time of her life as the heartless, thoughtless mouthpiece of the ruling class, and it's full of acting greats including John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, and Octavia Spencer.
Always Be My Maybe
This rom-com with an edge is much more successful than You People, and has one of the all-time great "actors playing themselves" roles from Keanu Reeves. Ali Wong and Randall Park play a pair of friends since childhood who tried turning their relationship into something more, but ended up falling out and not speaking for years – until they happen to meet again, and obviously old feelings ignite. But now Wong's character is a celebrity chef and is dating Reeves – who steals the whole movie playing a kind of hyper-real, satirized version of his own celebrity persona – while Park's character has been stuck in a rut at home following the death of this mother. Will the hyper-ambitious Wong learn to get happiness from what's already in her life instead of always reaching towards what's on the horizon? Will Park learn that he has to spread his wings and take control of his own life? Yes, obviously, it's a rom-com.
The Nice Guys
For our two-person action comedy instead of Murder Mystery 2, take a look at The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling. No one who saw this movie would've been surprised by Gosling's comedic chops in Barbie – here he plays a ’70s private detective with wavering morals and a distinct lack of cool, who is forced to work with Crowe's violent enforcer to find a missing girl. You would never guess where the conspiracy plot ends up in a million years (though here's a hint: Who Framed Roger Rabbit fans will appreciate it), but you're here for the one-liners along the way, really. It's crammed with the quips you expect from writer/director Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man 3, among others.
You might also like
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.