The 25 best movies to watch on Netflix: October 2021

What’s the best movie I can watch on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the question, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s oddly specific genre menus, and getting overwhelmed by the constantly shifting trend menus. Netflix’s huge catalogue of movies, combined with its inscrutable recommendations algorithm, can make finding something to watch feel more like a chore than a way to unwind when really what you want are the good Films No… the best movies.

We’re here to help. For those suffering from choice paralysis in September, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. The selections range from taut thrillers and quirky comedies to new classics. We’ll be updating this list monthly as Netflix cycles movies in and out of its library, so be sure to check back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix home screen.


george clooney runs up stairs in rome in The American

Foto by Focus Features

George Clooney played the role of an old man who had a gun and was about to give up. Very few people saw the movie, and based on the movie’s “D-” Cinemascore in exit polls, those who did were caught off guard. It was a dull film. BourneA thriller about espionage that is reminiscent of a horror movie. American was a Euro-mood piece in which photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn descended deeper and deeper into Clooney’s ice-cold gaze. Set in Rome, the film is steamy and noir-ish, finding exhilaration in the assassin’s attempts to complete one last job with as little emotion as possible. But for all the seriousness and atmosphere, there’s still a pulpy, page-turner quality to the film’s second half — think of the whole package as Bond for the art house crowd. —Matt Patches


Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in Awakenings.

Columbia Pictures

Based on Oliver Sack’s 1973 memoir of the same name, Penny Marshall’s 1990 drama AwakeningsRobin Williams stars as Dr. Malcolm Sayer (a neurologist who treats catatonic patients at a Brooklyn hospital). Sayer learns of an experimental drug that could help alleviate catatonia. Sayer decides to give the treatment to his patients, starting with Leonard Lowe. (Robert De Niro), who falls in love quickly with the daughter from another patient. When the drug’s effects begin to falter, Leonard must reckon with the closing window of opportunity for him to live out his life, while Sayer grows a newfound appreciation for life through his relationship to his patient’s awakening. Williams and De Niro give stirring leads performances. AwakeningsThis film is beautiful and inspiring about living life to the fullest. —TE

At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Julian Schnabel’s 2018 biographical drama stars Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, following the late Impressionist master in the final years of his life as he struggles with aspersions towards his artistic career and ability as well as his own tortured psyche. Named for van Gogh’s 1890 painting, At Eternity’s Gate is a dreamlike work of art, diving into the painter’s point of view as the picture violently spasms and shakes as his life becomes increasingly more dire. Dafoe’s performance was celebrated at the time of the film’s release, earning him his fourth Oscar nomination at the 91st Academy Awards. —TE


Several people standing in an ominously lit room in Circle (2015)

Image: Felt Films/Taggart Productions/Votiv Films

Not to be confused with Netflix’s reality competition series The Circle, Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s 2015 psychological thriller CircleThe story centers around fifty strange strangers, who suddenly awaken and find themselves in a black mysterious room. It has an ominous black orb center. They are killed instantly if any stranger moves from their spot or touches one another. The strangers realize that they have been voting to decide who the next victim will be, and they begin to kill them one at a time. So yeah, it’s actually a lot like Netflix’s The CircleYou get killed, but you lose a contest. If you’re aching for some more kill-or-be-killed drama in the vein of Squid Game with a surreal sci-fi bent à la 1997’s Cube or Hiroya Oku’s GantzIf so, CubeThis is definitely one worth checking out. —TE

Do the Right Thing

Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing.

Universal Pictures Photo

Taking place over the course of a swelteringly hot day in Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing follows a rotating cast of characters as it traces the fault lines of racial tension between the neighborhood’s African-American locals and the Italian-American owner of a local pizzeria. From the film’s iconic shadowboxing opening featuring Rosie Perez, the beautiful and intimate cinematography of frequent Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, to its explosive and heart-wrenching finale, Do The Right ThingThis film is without doubt one of the best films that director John Ford has produced. It’s also one of America’s most important entries. —TE

Django Unchained

King (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) walk down a muddy street in Django Unchained

Photo: Andrew Cooper/Columbia Pictures

Quentin Tarantino’s Django UnchainedJamie Foxx plays a former slave, who is released by King Schultz. (Christoph Waltz), an benevolent bounty hunter, takes the man under his wing. Django and Schultz proceed to hunt down the men who enslaved and sold his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), eventually coming into conflict with Broomhilda’s new slavemaster Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Packed with thrilling gunfights, tense drama, memorable quippy dialogue, and an impressive collection of breakout performances (minus Tarantino’s weird cameo), Django UnchainedIt ranks easily amongst the best Tarantino movies. —TE


Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas walking away from an explosion in Desperado (1995)

Columbia Pictures

Robert Rodriguez’s neo-Western action thriller DesperadoAntonio Banderas plays El Mariachi (a mysterious, wandering gunslinger in all black) who traverses Mexico searching for drug lords. Mariachi’s quest for revenge leads him to Bucho (Joaquim deAlmeida), a ruthless leader of a dangerous border town that killed his girlfriend. Mariachi recruits Buscemi, his friend (Steve Buscemi), and an attractive book shop owner to help take Bucho down. This action-packed thriller is filled with high-stakes gunfights, huge explosions and effortless style. Desperado is a brilliant action film and an enduring favorite among fans of Rodiguez’s oeuvre. —TE


Russell Crowe in Gladiator shouting at a Coliseum full of people

DreamWorks Pictures

Ridley Scott’s historical drama Gladiator follows the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russel Crowe), a celebrated Roman general and favorite of Emperor Marcus Aurelius whose family is murdered by Aurelius’ son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) before being enslaved as a gladiator in the arena. Maximus is driven by anger and the burning desire to take revenge on Commodus, and rises up the ranks of battle. Filled with epic battles, thrilling action, and memorable performances, Gladiator is a sword and saddle epic for the ages and one of Ridley Scott’s most terrific cinematic achievements. —TE

Keep on Moving

Chadwick Boseman channeling James Brown on the set of “Get On Up” in Natchez, Mississippi.

Photo: Gasper Tringale

Before he won the hearts of audiences worldwide for his role as King T’Challa in 2018’s BDeficiency of Panther and his riveting portrayal as Thurgood Marshall in Reginald Hudlin’s 2017 biopic, Chadwick Boseman delivered an electrifying performance as the legendary funk musician James Brown in Tate Taylor’s 2014 musical drama Take the first step towards your goalsThis is the. The film recounts Brown’s journey from his humble beginnings in Augusta, Georgia to his meteoric ascent to fame and fortune to his turbulent personal life. Boseman, Brown, is the narrator. The film tells Brown’s story in a sometimes third-wall breaking, synchronous way. Take the first step towards your goalsIt is entertaining, and Boseman shines at its core. —TE

Wilderpeople: Hunt

Julian Dennison, left, and Sam Neill in Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”

Credit to The Orchard

The truly rare family film that’s safe for kids, funny and acerbic enough for adults, and surprising enough to keep everyone absorbed, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of cinema’s great underseen gems. An authentically refreshing take on the usually cloying “orphan kid melts surly senior’s heart” subgenre, Wilderpeople follows initially sullen foster-system kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) as he blossoms in a new environment, then winds up on the run in the woods with an older man (Sam Neill) who has no idea what to do with him. Waititi’s startling, wryly straight-faced humor in films like Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do In The Shadows is on full display here, and the film starts out sweet and hilarious, then gets recklessly wild. —TR


Bo Burnham in Bo Burnham: Inside.

Netflix Photo

Recorded entirely from his own home over the course of year during the COVID-19 pandemic, comedian Bo Burnham’s 2021 comedy special InsideThis is an entertaining piece of gag entertainment. It not only shows the degrading effects of quarantine, but also the negative emotional consequences of performing in the ever-online age. Burnham has produced a collection of memorable skits, as well as catchy music tracks that will delight the ears. InsideThis is both entertaining, informative and illuminating. It’s a time capsule that captures one of most frightening and challenging periods in modern human history. And it’s cinematic enough that we’re bumping it up to “movie pick” status. —TE


David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Jennifer Connelly stars opposite of David Bowie in Jim Henson’s classic 1986 musical fantasy Labyrinth Sarah Williams is a sixteen-year-old girl playing the role of Toby. With only 13 hours to spare, Sarah must navigate the treacherous corridors and traps of Jareth’s labyrinth in order to rescind her wish and bring Toby back home, all while defeating the challenges constructed by the Goblin King’s minions. The second collaboration between Henson and artist Brian Froud following 1982’s The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is a fairytale adventure on par with Rob Reiner’sThe Princess Bride or Wolfgang Petersen’s Neverending StoryThe film is bursting with unforgettable characters and beautiful set pieces. David Bowie’s performance as a verbose and wily sorcerer with an unrepressible passion for the dramatic makes it a must-see. —TE

A Knight’s Tale

Heath Ledger and Rufus Sewell in A Knight’s Tale

Columbia Pictures

Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight,” Brian Helgeland’s semi-anachronistic medieval adventure comedy A Knight’s TaleHeath Ledger stars as William (a young peasant who has a gift in jousting and sets out on a quest to fame and glory with Roland (Mark Addy), and Wat (Alan Tudyk). They meet Geoffrey Chaucer, a loquacious writer who has a talent in theatrics and helps William to achieve his self-made fame. An oddball comedy filled with surprising needle-drops, colorful characters, and a smoldering romance plot featuring Shannyn Sossamon as William’s love interest, A Knight’s TaleIt may not have been a hit when it debuted in 2001 but the movie has been a favorite of a select group of people. —TE

Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe in The Lincoln Lawyer

Lionsgate photo

Based on Micahel Connelly’s 2005 novel, Brad Furman’s 2011 legal thriller Lincoln LawyerMatthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Haller, an charismatic defense lawyer who runs his business from the back seat of his Lincoln sedan. Don’t get it twisted though; working-class CosmopolisIt isn’t. Haller, who had a long career defending small-time criminals gets his break with Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), an aspiring Beverly Hills playboy charged with beating a prostitute. This appears to be a straightforward case, with quick cash. But it soon turns out that a plot against Maggie (Marisa Tomei) is an evil conspiracy that could endanger his life and the lives of Maggie’s young daughter. Lincoln Lawyer marks the beginning of what many at the time characterized as the ‘McConaissance’, a period in McConaughey’s career in which the actor embraced a string of captivating dramatic roles which ultimately culminated in winning the Oscar for best actor in 2014. Lincoln Lawyer Although it may not have been his best performance, it set the stage for later successes. —TE


Tom Cruise in Magnolia

Photo: Ghoulardi Film Company

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 ensemble drama MagnoliaIt is a sprawling collection of characters who are not related but whose stories and fates intersect as they search for meaning, forgiveness and love across the San Fernando Valley. Performers include William H. Macy (Jason Robards), Tom Cruise, Julianne Moor, John C. Reilly; Melinda Dillon and many others. Magnolia is unlike anything that Anderson has produced before or since and as such, a vital watch for anyone claiming to be a fan of the director’s work. (And while you’re at it, go watch Master(This video is available on YouTube. —TE

Middle of Nowhere

Omari Hardwick and Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere.

Participant Media

Ava DuVernay’s 2012 drama Middle of NowhereThe story centers around Ruby (Emayatzy corinealdi), who is a retired nurse from Compton, California. She has been separated from Derek (Omari Hartwick) and was sentenced to eighteen years imprisonment. Ruby first meets Brian Oyelowo (David Oyelowo), who is a bus driver with whom she develops romantic feelings. She visits Derek regularly and attempts to negotiate his release. As she struggles to reconcile her growing attraction to Brian with her lingering attachment to Derek, new discoveries are brought to light that force Ruby to reckon with the consequences of both her and her husband’s choices as she attempts to move towards an uncertain future. This is a beautiful and powerful story that will leave you with a deep, painful feeling. Middle of NowhereIt is an inspiring story about finding the truth in your love, and vice-versa. —TE

Nocturnal animals

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals

Foto by Focus Features

This movie is not for everyone, but we’re assuming you love provocative, weirdo cinema. Amy AdamsSharp Objects) stars in Tom Ford’s gripping neo-noir psychological thriller Nocturnal animalsSusan Morrow is an upper-class, successful art gallery manager. She receives a strange manuscript by Edward Gyllenhaal along with an invite to dinner. Susan begins to look at the manuscript. A dark and violent story unfolds about a teacher, whose family trip turns out to be a nightmare. Susan must confront the direct parallels between her personal life and what is written on the page. Nocturnal animals is a dark, dense, and beautifully crafted thriller with a killer ending that will stick with you long after it’s over. —TE

Once Upon a Time In America

Once Upon a Time in America

Warner Bros.

Once Upon a Time In America is Sergio Leone’s final film and, by the director’s own insistence, his greatest. Based on Harry Grey’s novel Hoods, the film follows the story of David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro) and Max Bercovicz (James Woods), two lifelong friends who rise from the squalor of their lives in the ghettos of New York to become successful gangsters in the city’s criminal underworld. Leone’s film is epic spanning over 40 years of love, betrayal, loss, and estrangement as Aaronson and Bercovicz’s ambitions fork and diverge into direct opposition with one another. Gorgeous set designs and a haunting and poignant score by Ennio Marricone are complemented by the captivating performances of Woods as well as De Niro. Once Upon a Time In AmericaIt is a magnificent work which captures the spirit of American Dream and its sorrowful heart. —TE

The piano

Miramax Films, Photo

An eloquent love story with erotic overtones, Jane Campion’s 1993 drama is required viewing for anyone whose list of favorite films is lacking female perspective. After sailing from Scotland to New Zealand, Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute pianist, and her daughter, Flora (Anna Paquin) are dumped on a beach with all of their luggage — and a big-ass piano! Ada’s new husband, who bought her and isn’t terribly up for dragging a musical instrument into his house, leaves the piano for the waves, crushing Ada’s spirit. Her new husband, Harvey Keitel’s friend Baines, comes to her aid and they strike up a romantic relationship that places the film in the realm of gothic romance. Deeply felt and entranced by Hunter’s near-silent performance, this is Campion at her best and great starting place to an underrated auteur’s career. —MP


Oyafunmike Ogunlano in Haile Gerima’s “Sankofa.”

Image: Array

Haile Gerima’s Ethiopian-produced drama Sankofa Mona, an African American model in Ghana on a film shoot, finds herself being spiritually transported into Shola’s body. Shola is then kidnapped and sold into trans-Atlantic slave trading. Mona is forced to witness firsthand the torture and physical pain of chattel slavery. She joins other slaves as they fight for their freedom. Sankofa, which was rejected by US distributors in 1993 when the film was first released, was restored recently by Array Releasing and released this year on Netflix. While the film’s premise on its face may sound reminiscent to 2020’s abysmal horror thriller Antebellum, don’t come to Sankofa expecting Shymalan-like twists attempting to ape the cultural resonance of Jordan Peele’s Move Out. Gerima’s film is a bold, beautiful, and bracing depiction of the redemptive power of community and rebellion and a stirring cinematic call to embrace, understand, and most importantly remember the history of human struggle. —TE

School of Rock

Dewey Finn (Jack Black) in School of Rock

Image via Paramount Pictures

Richard Linklater’s 2003 comedy School of RockJack Black stars as Dewey Finn. He is a struggling guitarist and accepts the job of substitute teacher in a private elementary school to make rent money. Dewey discovers that his students are playing their instruments at music classes and creates a scheme for them to start a new group. He also enters the Battle of the Bands competition to earn $10,000. Powered almost entirely by Black’s infectious charisma and eccentricity, School of Rock is raucous and heartwarming comedy about a man who grows as both a musician and a person through his relationship to students he mentors, aligning his love of rock in a new direction that spurs him to find his true calling in life. Jack Black described himself in a GQ 2019 interview. School of Rock as the movie he’s most proud to have been a part of. If that’s not a stirring endorsement, I don’t know what is. —TE

A Silent Voice

Shoko Nishimiya holds her nose as Shoya Ishida stares back at her in A Silent Voice

Kyoto Animation

Adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga of the same name, Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is a beautiful, bracing coming-of-age drama about a young man’s journey for redemption after being reunited with the deaf girl he once belittled and terrorized in childhood. Beautiful visuals by Kyoto Animation, and a powerful screenplay by Reiko Yoshida. Violet EvergardenThe fame A Silent VoiceThis is one of Japan’s best animated films and a must-see. —TE

Uncut Gems

adam sandler in uncut gems

Photo by A24

2019’s Uncut GemsThis is a modern crime drama that captures the terror and frenetic pace of a heart attack. Adam Sandler is more than just an actor doing stunts. His performance as Howard Ratner (a New York jeweler, gambling addict) is riveting. The only catch is that Howard’s worst enemy is himself, and his habitual attempt to fleece and manipulate everyone from his family, friends, and acquaintances in search of his next big score imperils both his life and the lives of those around him. With a powerful orchestral EDM score courtesy of Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), dazzling performances by Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, and Kevin Garnett as himself, Gems UncutIt is a film unlike any other. —TE

Below The Shadow

Under the Shadow - Shideh

Vertical Entertainment

The Iranian government blocks Shideh (Narges Rashedi), a medical student and activist, from continuing her studies after an avalanche of Iraqi airstrikes hit Tehran late in 1980s Tehran. She retreats to her family’s apartment, and despite her husband’s wishes, remains with her young daughter in the war-torn capital — this is her home, and she’s not leaving. The normal, happy life Shideh lived with her daughter becomes a nightmare when an unidentified, evil presence strikes directly through the building. It could be a djinn. Similar to in BabadookBabak Anvari, the first director of Babak Anvari, allows for the supernatural question to be a part of the action Unter dem Schatten as he captures the erosion of his plain, main set, and Shideh’s very existence. —MP

The White Girl

Morgan Saylor and Brian Marc, also known by his rapper name, Sene, in “White Girl.”

FilmRise Credit

Elizabeth Wood’s The White Girl caused quite a stir when it premiered back in 2016, earning comparisons to Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s 1995 city portrait of teenage nihilism Children. Starring Morgan Saylor, India Menuez, and Brian Marc, Wood’s film centers on the story of Leah (Saylor), a sophomore college student who strikes up a passionate love affair with Blue (Marc), a a young dealer after moving into an apartment with her friend Katie (Menuez). Blue, who was sold to him by a regular customer, is taken into custody by undercover officers. This leaves Leah with more than a kilo cocaine that he recently purchased. Leah is desperate to free Blue and sells the cocaine to make enough money so he doesn’t have any other choices. The White Girl is a shocking and frenetically paced movie, a nightmarish thrill ride comparable to the Safdie brothers’ 2017 It’s a good time that’s equal parts exhausting, exhilarating, and heartbreaking to watch. —TE

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