Streaming video has turned our living rooms into an endless video store, with a vast array of titles to choose from.
Netflix has around 10,000 titles, taking in everything from rom-coms to action movies, TV shows and documentaries; and that can be a problem. It's called the paradox of choice; faced with an endless array of options, people freeze up. Before you know it, you've spent an hour scrolling through the possible choices, and you've run out of time to watch a movie.
Fear not; we've done all the hard work for you, picking out the cream of the streaming crop. Read on…
Marvel Studios’ latest foray into episodic television is far and away its best - a gritty, street-level crime drama that has more in common with The Wire than Captain America. Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox stars as the costumed crusader Daredevil – blinded in an accident but granted heightened senses and perception.
With an extended running time to play with, and none of the constraints of broadcast TV, Daredevil’s free to explore the ramifications and moral complexities of super-powered vigilantism – with Daredevil's alter ego Matt Murdock working as an attorney by day, there are plenty of moral grey areas to explore. It’s also free to flesh out its supporting characters, including a stellar Vincent D’Onofrio as crime boss Wilson Fisk.
This tense, Belfast-set show centres on a pair of truly compelling characters – Gillian Anderson’s icy, complex detective and Jamie Dornan’s obsessive serial killer - and is equal parts police procedural and psychological thriller.
We all already knew that Anderson was a fantastic actor, but ex-model Dornan is perfectly cast and surprisingly affecting as an apparently normal, caring family man with a deep-seated sickness lying just beneath the surface.
With every episode of the three-season show in Netflix USA’s library, there's never been a better time to let The Fall's cold grip get a hold of you.
Beasts Of No Nation
Netflix’s first foray into feature film-making is not for the faint hearted. This is the story of a young boy, horribly orphaned as the result of a militia attack on his village, who falls into the retinue of a brutal, yet also charming commander of a band of child soldiers.
It’s violent, visceral and sobering, and features Idris Elba in his most impressive performance to date. But it’s newcomer Abraham Attah who shines brightest of all as the boy at the centre of the drama.
To describe Oldboy as intense would be like saying Piers Morgan is unpalatable - i.e. an enormous understatement. To watch it is to be visually assaulted for 120 mins, your emotions squeezed and stamped on and flung around the room until you're left thinking that maybe you ought to go for a bit of a lie down.
A South Korean thriller about a man who's locked in a room for 15 years with no idea why – before being released to seek vengeance on his captors – it's never exactly fun viewing, but it is absolutely essential nonetheless. Story-wise it's sharp and packed with action, some of the acting is outstanding and at the end you'll be left battered and bruised but still wanting more. Brilliant.
The defining sitcom of the 90s has hit Netflix, affording you the opportunity to lose yourself in ten seasons’ worth of terrible fashion (Mom jeans! Denim vests!) and relationship drama (“We were on a break!”).
The early seasons, when the characters had yet to become caricatures, are better – but although the show developed into more of a comedy-drama than a sitcom, its writers’ room continued to pump out gags with astonishing efficiency. It’s also an entertaining time capsule of a bygone age, when the Internet was the exclusive preserve of geeks and smartphones were but a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. How on Earth did we cope?
The Netflix/Marvel partnership is fast becoming TV’s equivalent of Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez: reliably brilliant but never in a boringly predictable way.
Jessica Jones is the latest product of said partnership and follows the eponymous character (played by the superb Krysten Ritter) as she attempts to set up her private detective business in NYC, battle with her superhero demons and drink every bar in the Big Apple dry.
Oh, and she also has to face her nemesis, the obsessive, abusive and mind-controlling sadist Zebediah Kilgrave, brilliantly played by David Tennant.
But great though the two leads are, New York City is every bit as integral to JJ’s appeal: it looks simply stunning, with a gritty, stylised feel that is quickly coming to characterise Netflix’s Marvel forays. And of course that’s all the more true in the 4K stream available to owners of 4K TVs. Stunning stuff.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There’s no room for James Bond or Jason Bourne in this muted spy drama; based on the novel by John Le Carre, it populates the world of espionage with damaged, shabby men who play chess with other people’s lives. Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is one such figure, brought out of an enforced retirement to track down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”.
Director Tomas Alfredson imbues the 1970s setting with a melancholy air, as his characters trudge through nicotine-stained offices and rain-sodden London streets. Oldman gives a stellar performance opposite a Who’s Who of British thesps, including the old guard of John Hurt, Colin Firth and Toby Jones, and young whippersnappers Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. Unmissable.
On paper, The Trip shouldn't work. It stars Brit comics Steve 'Alan Partridge' Coogan and Rob 'him out of Gavin & Stacey' Brydon as themselves, taking a culinary tour around some of northern England's finest restaurants (and in the follow-up, around a similar bunch of places in Italy).
There's no real plot beyond that, but if you think that sounds dull you're reckoning without the pair's natural charm and repartee; whether goading each other into Michael Caine impersonations or riffing on one another's foibles, the laughs just keep coming. A word of warning though: don't watch it on an empty stomach.– Marc McLaren
“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the mantra of Los Angeles’ increasingly ghoulish TV networks - and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is ready and willing to dish up the gore. Video camera in hand, he roams the streets of the city in the dead of night, chasing ambulances and combing crime scenes for footage that’ll give middle-class familes a frisson of fear as they watch the morning news.
Director Dan Gilroy’s film is a pitch-black satire of the American Dream - with Lou’s dead-eyed sociopathy and his willingness to do what others would balk at as his ticket to success. As he rattles off motivational business-speak with absolute sincerity, it’s infinitely more chilling than the footage he captures.
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on both the big screen and TV, but the Bluths are up there with the most self-centred, destructive and, well, downright hilarious bunch of the lot.
Straight man George Bluth desperately tries to keep his family and fortune intact as their company is hit by the US government for embezzlement.
Superb performances from the likes of David Cross, coupled with tonnes of re-quote potential make this a must-watch. It gets a little lost after the first three seasons thanks to the actors' other projects clashing with filming, but it's still well worth watching until the very end.
Voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (the man behind Sterling Archer's vocal cords), Bob Belcher is an average bloke trying to make a living for his family by doing what he does best - flipping burgers. Compared to the Griffins or the Smiths, the Belcher's are (relatively) normal, though full of enough quirks and uniquely-delivered dialogue to provide plenty of laughs.
It's more story-driven than Family Guy, falling more in line with American Dad in that sense, but it's carved out its own unique spot amongst its rivals and deserves to stand up there with them. Well worth a look if you've grown tired of Family Guy's senseless cutaway gags.
It takes a lot of tact to make a film about a delicate subject like Boston’s Catholic priest child sex abuse scandal, but the host of nominations and wins Spotlight earned over this year’s award season should clue you in: director Tom McCarthy absolutely nailed it.
The star-studded cast helps, getting you invested in the hard-working team of Boston Globe investigative journalists right from the off. Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo steal the show, but there are great performances from Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams too.
It’s difficult to watch in places, but entirely engrossing and totally worth sticking through to the end.
The Two Faces of January
On the face of it, conman Chester MacFarland seems to have it all; a jet-setting lifestyle, sharp suits, a beautiful wife and Viggo Mortensen’s jawline. But this film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr Ripley – so this happy state of affairs can’t last for long.
A private detective catches up with him in Athens, and circumstances force him to turn to small-time crook Rydal (Star Wars Episode VII’s Oscar Isaac) to help him flee the authorities. Director Hossein Amini conjures up a stifling air of Hitchcockian paranoia amid the lush period setting – this is unquestionably the best-dressed thriller on the streaming service.
Master of None
Comedian Aziz Ansari plays jobbing actor Dev in this 10-part series about life, love and tacos. Actually, one suspects Ansari is really playing himself (his real-life parents even play his onscreen parents here) and a big part of the charm is watching him work through various subjects over the course of the series.
It’s very self-obsessed and some will find the whimsy hard to stomach, but it's also funny, charming and occasionally thought-provoking. Well worth five hours of your time.
Orange Is the New Black
Netflix’s second-best original series after House of Cards, this is a prison show that goes its own way: less brutal than Oz, less daft than Prison Break and more compelling than Prisoner Cell Block H, it’s a fish-out-of-water drama (based on a true story) in which a white, middle-class Brooklynite ends up in a low-security women’s jail for a crime committed almost a decade previous.
A character-driven show that uses Lost-style flashbacks to explore the pre-prison lives of the cast, Orange Is the New Black proved such a hit that a second season was swiftly commissioned. A third followed, and the fourth arrived on Netflix in June 2016.
House of Cards
Despite being inspired by the 1990s BBC series of the same name, House of Cards feels every bit the American megabucks TV show: it has the big name stars and executive producers; the superb writing, direction and cinematography; not to mention the necessary amount of scheming and backstabbery.
This was the show that started the Netflix Originals craze, so rather than being broadcast over a couple of months, each season is released in its entirety, allowing viewers to binge on it like a DVD box set. And believe us, you will binge, because once this tale of Capitol Hill intrigue and the lust for power gets its hooks into you. That’ll generally happen about three episodes in.– Sam Kieldsen
A TV show about the behind-the-scenes drama of a TV show sounds potentially mind-numbingly dull, except in 30 Rock it's all played for laughs: huge, constant, and often very surprising ones. This satirical sitcom garnered massive acclaim across its seven-season run, which means you have a whopping stack of 138 episodes to savour.
30 Rock is really built on the strength of its ensemble cast, delivering incredibly memorable characters large and small: from Tina Fey's neurotic showrunner Liz Lemon to Alec Baldwin's corporate suit Jack Donaghy, not to mention Tracy (Tracy Morgan), Jenna (Jane Krakowski), Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), and so many more. It's typically brainier than its sitcom contemporaries, yet also remarkably goofy at times; that it can balance all of that so well is incredible, really.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
When organised baseball decided to move its AAA club out of Portland, actor and baseball fan Bing Russell decided to fill the void with a totally independent team – the aptly-named Mavericks. This Netflix-produced documentary charts the Mavericks' fortunes over their short-lived career. Although they only lasted from 1973 to 1977, they shook up the game with their antics; a ball-dog that ran onto the field, broom-waving spectators – and a string of victories that shook up the baseball establishment.
"I wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major franchise,” explains Russell; and from the outset, it's clear where the documentary's sympathies lie. The Mavericks are the scrappy underdogs, made up of outcasts from professional baseball and amateurs who never got the big break they were hoping for. The baseball establishment are the villains, humiliated on the field and resorting to dirty tricks in search of victory.
The truth is probably more nuanced, but it's a rousing story, told with panache by Russell's grandsons – and his son, actor Kurt Russell, who took to the field with the Mavericks.
The BBC's Sherlock Holmes series brings the Victorian consulting detective bang up to date, setting the action in the present day; telegrams are replaced by texts, while Dr Watson's reminisces take the form of a blog. The core of Conan Doyle's stories is intact, though; the relationship between the prickly sleuthing savant and his faithful companion, played to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
The scripts – mostly written by Doctor Who alumni Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss – are packed with plot twists and witty one-liners; and the 90-minute episodes wouldn't look out of place in the cinema (particularly since Cumberbatch and Freeman are both starring in blockbuster movies these days).
Netflix has an extra treat for US viewers, too – hourlong behind-the-scenes special Unlocking Sherlock.
Parks and Recreation
The show that propelled Amy Poehler to Golden Globe-presenting notoriety and Chris Pratt to blockbuster ultrastardom has its wit and oneliners honed to perfection. Taking Modern Family’s warmth, mixing it with Arrested Development’s absurdity and building it around The Office’s mockumentary formula, it centres on the inconsequential workdays of the least consequential department (Parks and Rec) of the council of madeup middle- American town of Pawnee, Indiana.
Like The Office, its brilliance lies in its characters and their relationships, although its comic set pieces are also ingenious. But unlike The Office, it’s not tragic – it’s bright, touching and will leave you grinning from cheek to cheek. It takes until season 2 to really hit its stride, but Parks and Recreation is a true must-see.
Who knew the life of an 18th century composer could be so devilishly interesting? Milos Forman’s sumptuous film isn’t so much a biopic of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but more a dramatic exploration of the prodigious one’s relationship and rivalry with fellow harpsichord-botherer Antonio Salieri, played here by F Murray Abraham in fine, Oscar-winning form.
Yes, it’s three hours long and features more wigs than the Old Bailey, but even if you have zero interest in classical music, Amadeus is a compelling (and beautifully made) journey into obsession, jealousy, betrayal and all those wonderful things that make human history so fascinating.
Better Call Saul
Everyone's favourite sleazy-yet-likeable lawyer Saul Goodman (well, Jimmy McGill) returns to Netflix, in a series (now in fact two series) that throws us back seven years before the explosive events of Breaking Bad.
Bob Odenkirk slips into his cheap suit with remarkable ease, and his superb performance allows his character's desperation, tenacity and humour to seep through the screen and grab our attention with both hands.
It's always fun to root for the underdog, and from the very first episode you're right there alongside Goodman, wanting him to fight to the top - all while being aware of the dark things to come. Yet another belting Netflix Original.
Best in Show
How the hell do you explain collateralised debt obligation to the 99% of the population that doesn’t work on Wall Street? Stick Margot Robbie in a bathtub, of course.
Adam McKay’s scathing retelling of the 2007-2008 financial crisis is jam-packed with these little explainers. Just in case Ryan Gosling’s acerbic narrator hasn’t boiled it down enough for you already.
Don’t let the subject matter turn you off - The Big Short takes a complex money minefield and turns it into a devilishly funny and genuinely exciting tale. You’ll tune in for the incredible cast, but stay to the end for the dissection of adjustable-rate mortgages.
The best TV show ever? That’s arguable, but Breaking Bad certainly belongs in the top ten: it’s an utterly, utterly compelling six-season masterpiece that’ll shock you again and again with its twists, its turns and its fantastically drawn characters.
Walter White, played to perfection by Bryan Cranston, is without a doubt one of television’s greatest characters, by turns vulnerable and menacing, pathetic and triumphant. As a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who turns to methamphetamine production in order to pay his medical bills and safeguard his family’s future, you’ll be cheering him every step of the way… until suddenly you’re not anymore.– Sam Kieldsen
In The Loop
Before he was the twelfth Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi was the fantasically foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, government spin-doctor extraordinaire. In this feature film – spun off from the BBC series The Thick of It – Tucker is part of a delegation sent to Washington to deal with rising tensions in the Middle East.
Writer Armando Iannucci's take on the build-up to the Iraq War is at once farcical and bleak, as backstabbing politicos massage the evidence to create a case for intervention, and scrabble to exclude each other from committees and action groups. Capaldi's baroque swearing is the undoubted highlight; James Gandolfini's turn as an Army general is a close second.
Derived from the life and mind of comedian Louis C.K., Louie almost defies categorisation. It's a comedy, sure, but it's also dramatic, heartbreaking, and absurd. It plays with format and style, offering small, unrelated vignettes at times, but also deeper dives and multi-episode arcs.
Louie is rarely exactly what you expect it to be, but even though the show is a semi-fictionalised take on his own life as a recently divorced dad and standup in New York, it often speaks real truths about the human condition – for better or worse. In any case, like nearly all of Louis C.K.'s work, it's essential viewing.
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men always felt like the most screen-adaptable of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, and with the Coen brothers at the helm it would have taken some kind of disaster to stop this movie from becoming an instant classic.
And it is, thanks to not only the source material and its sympathetic treatment by two of America’s finest filmmakers, but due to strong performances from Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Tommy Lee Jones and, most memorably, Javier Bardem as a philosophising, seemingly unstoppable mass murderer. If you like your thrillers as contemplative and lyrical as they are nail-biting, look no further.
If you’ve already decided you don’t like Wes Anderson’s movies, stop reading here – because Moonrise Kingdom is typical of the writer/director’s work. Precise, stage-y camera work; quirky characters and dialogue; careful use of pop music; the clear influence of a form of cinema long since disappeared – it’s all here. But if you love those things, you’ll find much to admire in this coming-of-age tale with a star-packed cast.
It’s worth it just to see Bruce Willis reciting Anderson’s dialogue, in all honesty.
Dark like the centre of a black hole is dark, Heathers is a teen movie for grown-ups. It stars Winona Ryder in full-on crazy/kooky mode as the odd-one-out in a high school clique whose relationship with boyfriend Christian Slater spells bad news for anyone named Heather.
The late-'80s period details are enthralling, but the film itself hasn't dated one bit - after all, its themes of love, hate, jealously and peer pressure are timeless.- Marc McLaren
Pulp Fiction has an amazing legacy: not only did it thrust writer and director Quentin Tarantino into the Hollywood pantheon, but it also made Samuel L. Jackson a household name (and a total badass), revived John Travolta's crumbled career, and provided one of the all-time great Christopher Walken monologues.
Above all that, it's an amazing film no less: this non-chronological series of interrelated stories about mobsters and crooks delivers a cavalcade of brilliantly unforgettable scenes. It's as eminently quotable as it is perfectly framed and executed, and it's the kind of film you can watch over and over again and find some small new detail to love. Luckily, that's exactly what Netflix is for.