Stranger Things is undoubtedly one of the TV highlights of 2016 - and it's exclusive to Netflix
Video-streaming service Netflix gives you a vast number of films, TV shows and documentaries to choose from – and that can be a problem.
More often than not, you find yourself spending your entire evening shuffling through the selection trying to pick something to watch – before realising that you no longer have time to actually watch a film.
Never fear; we've rifled through the Netflix catalogue to bring you our top picks, from chucklesome comedies to action-packed adventures. Let Stuff be your guide on your cinematic odyssey.
If you're after the best new stuff on Netflix we've also got you covered with our New on Netflix UK feature, and if you want to get a bit more specific, try these:
While there's a growing sensation that Marvel's cinema outings are getting steadily less appealing, its output for the small screen continues to impress, with Daredevil remaining the finest example.
Blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox) turns crime-fighter by night, taking on the slum lords and gangsters that populate Hell’s Kitchen – but where the Avengers sketches in its four-colour heroics with a broad brush, Daredevil’s vigilantism is painted in shades of grey.
Murdock’s nocturnal outings sit uneasily alongside his legal profession, while the show’s big villain in the first series (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to raise Hell’s Kitchen out of the dirt by any means necessary.
Making the most of its extended running time, the show’s able to show the wider consequences of its hero’s actions – not all of which are positive. And as of 18 March 2016, there's a second series of the show to watch, introducing new Marvel stalwarts to Murdock's murky world in the shape of Elektra and The Punisher.
Only 80s kids will understand this. Actually that’s not true at all, but Stranger Things is a love letter to many of the movies, TV shows and books that children who grew up in that decade will cherish: it’s replete with references to E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Poltergeist, and the mood and feel is sure to dredge up nostalgia aplenty.
Take away the retro vibes though, and the show can still stand on its own as a decent sci-fi drama-thriller. And it doesn’t mess about too much – unlike a lot of Netflix Original Series, its episodes are reasonably tight (around 40 minutes each), and there are only eight of them in the entire first season. Expect a second to arrive at some point in 2017.
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.
The most critically acclaimed Netflix original series of 2015 (now two seasons strong) tells the bloody story of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and the man tasked with taking him down. Sounds like a laugh riot, right?
While Narcos lacks much in the way of light-relief, watching American DEA agent Steve Murphy submerge himself in a viciously amoral cesspit is a constant thrill. What could well be a high-minded exercise in true crime melodrama is elevated to nerve-shredding nirvana via some classy performances and the disturbing use of archive footage. Escobar’s brutal legacy lives on through your telebox, and the horror of it all will make you wince in anguish.
Cowboys in space! The premise sounds sublimely daft, but Joss Whedon's short-lived series is packed with character.
Nathan Fillion heads a rag-tag crew of ne'er-do-wells as they struggle to stay one step ahead of the law – and keep their spaceship flying. In its 14-episode run, it doesn't put a foot wrong; witty scripts, tension, memorable characters – Firefly's got them all. The Fox network didn't think so, though, and axed the series before it got off the ground.
A one-off film, Serenity – also available on Netflix – wraps up the dangling plotlines and provides a satisfying coda to the show.
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.
Working both as a compelling crime-thriller and a brutal examination of the United States’ War on Drugs and its latent effects on the cartel-run Mexican border cities, Sicario certainly isn’t one for the faint-hearted or weak of stomach. Taut and tense, the plot works chiefly due to Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, who sell their somewhat implausible characters through sheer force of performance. Del Toro’s character is probably the film’s most disturbing and disquieting, so it might be little surprise to learn that he’s returning in a sequel, Soldado.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss bring Sherlock Holmes into the present day in slick, stylish fashion. Benedict Cumberbatch shot to fame on the strength of the title role, but Martin Freeman's performance as the down-to-earth John Watson is just as important to the show's success, with a thousand Tumblrs now dedicated to capturing their interplay in GIF form.
Netflix now has all three series available (only the recent Christmas special is missing), and while they may be short at just three episodes each, those episodes are just as long (and packed with twisty-turny plotting) as any movie. Pace yourself and space them out for maximum enjoyment.
House of Cards
House Of Cards is still perhaps the jewel in Netflix's crown. With David Fincher behind the camera and Kevin Spacey in front of it as scheming Democratic Majority Whip Frank Underwood, its depiction of the White House as a cesspool of self-interested career politicians is light years away from The West Wing – and seeing Spacey's Machiavellian plots unfold is a delight.
The fourth season was added in its entirety in March 2016, so if you haven't already checked it out, now's the time to start.
Once you've finished that, you might want to check out the 1990s BBC drama that it's (loosely) based on. Where Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood is all smooth Southern charm, Ian Richardson's Francis Urquhart is positively reptilian – a Shakespearian villain in a post-Thatcher Britain.
Don’t call this the seventh Rocky movie. Even though it features Sylvester Stallone reprising his most famous role, the real star is Michael B Jordan as the son of Rocky’s old ring rival and friend Apollo Creed. Jordan’s fantastic in the role – all muscle-aching physicality in the boxing sequences, but no less impressive in the dramatic scenes as a man struggling with the idea of following in the footsteps of a father he never knew – while Stallone provides superb support as the ageing, lonely former champ.
Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War satire is a masterclass in absurdity. As with its close cousin Catch-22, it takes a deadly serious subject (in this case nuclear annihilation) and offers it precisely zero respect – with genuinely hilarious results.
Every character here is an absolute idiot, from the deranged general whose obsession with ‘precious bodily fluids’ kicks off the whole crisis, to the uppity British captain who tries to stop him (but without disobeying orders of course) to the yee-hawing bomber pilot to the prevaricating president to the goose-stepping Dr Strangelove himself.
Peter Sellers plays three of the roles - to perfection, obviously - while George C Scott excels as the xenophobic General Turgidson. Oh, and underneath all the funny stuff it’s still quite terrifying, even today.
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.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Paul Newman and Robert Redford star as the titular outlaws in this classic Western caper, on the run from a faceless posse of lawmen that relentlessly pursues them to Bolivia.
While the likes of Sam Peckinpah were taking the Western genre in an unrelentingly grim direction, screenwriter William Goldman (later to script the equally quirky The Princess Bride) opted for a jovial, lighthearted tone.
Newman and Redford’s easy charm and chemistry sell us on their antics - attempting bank robberies with the aid of a phrasebook, and accidentally blowing up their booty when they’re trying to crack a safe. Katharine Ross’ Etta Place, meanwhile, is no mere 60s love interest; she’s a complex, nuanced member of their outlaw gang.
The film’s wit and whimsy - exemplified by the infamous “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” sequence - make its denoument all the more shocking.
Ghost in the Shell
Back in the '90s, Ghost In The Shell realised a shade of Neuromancer-style cyberpunk so cool that it went on to inspire the Wachowskis' Matrix trilogy.
In fact, traces of this anime classic can be found far and wide across popular culture, so far does the hand of Ghost In The Shell reach. Its vision of a future in which humans can transfer their consciousness to machines tapped into all the questions people were asking about our newfound love for computers and the internet. GiTS is no cyborg romp designed to induce cheap thrills, it’s a philosophical inquiry that asks us what it means to be an individual.
As if brains weren’t enough, this film has beauty to match. Its aesthetic, as much as its big ideas, is what has allowed Ghost In The Shell to withstand the sands of time. So many of its visual elements have been borrowed over time that any watcher will be familiar with them: glowing reams of green code, filthy tower blocks in a vertical city, wire-strewn bodies spewing silicon and plastic, its world is so evocative and yet so unknown. You’ll be mesmerised.
Of course, if you are looking for a cyborg romp then you’re in luck, as Ghost In The Shell also features fistfights, hackathons, and guns. Lots of guns.
Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store
The Bostonian comedian’s latest hour-long special brings his trademark awkwardness and self-examination to one of the world’s most famous standup venues. Now among the best-known comedians in the world, C.K.’s years of on-the-circuit obscurity, as well as his advancing age, children and divorce, make him more adept than most of his peers at exploring his own shortcomings, insecurities and failures. It might sound pretty depressing, but it’s far from that – in fact, there are few funnier standup specials on Netflix (and there’s lot of competition on there, believe us).
I’m Alan Partridge
There are two types of people in the world. 1) Those who have seen I’m Alan Partridge and love it 2) Those who haven’t seen I’m Alan Partridge. Logically, we suppose, there could be a third type - those who have seen it but didn’t like it - but frankly, it seems too far-fetched to waste time on.
So, if you’re a type 2 person - maybe you’re too young, or were in some kind of coma throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s - here’s your chance to catch up on The Greatest British Comedy Of All Time. And if you’re a type 1 person, watch it again anyway - seeing the faux-pas-prone chat-show host attempt to navigate such real-world situations as a romantic meal and a trip to the garage for some tungsten-tipped screws will never grow old.
Looper is a superb, mind-bending, futuristic, time-travelling action-thriller that sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt assume the role of an assassin whose job consists of putting a bullet in the head of people teleported to his time by a future mob organisation (holy plot line, Batman).
But when the poor sap that appears before him is his future self (played by Bruce Willis), things get rather, well, complicated.
The intricate plot is strongly complimented by plenty of action and strong performances from all, although Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis-like prosthetic nose is initially a little distracting.
Orange Is the New Black
Arguably 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 has proved such a hit that it's already four seasons strong.
A James Bond-esque secret agent with the womanising, drinking and love of casual violence turned right up to 11, Archer is one of the greatest anti-heroes we’ve seen in an animated show. He's in good company at private spy agency ISIS (in hindsight, an unfortunate choice of name) staffed as it is with a collection of selfish, bungling agents and perverts.
Perfect for Netflix binge-watching, thanks to its 20-minute episodes, it's generously packed with snappy one-liners and Arrested Development-esque in-jokes. It’s just as good as it sounds.
What, did you think we'd forgotten? Breaking Bad has been praised to the heavens by critics and those members of the public who clap their hands over their ears and shriek "spoilers!" when you start talking about it. Of course we were going to put it in this list.
Bryan Cranston's Walter White is one of the great characters of modern fiction; a mild-mannered chemistry teacher whose cancer diagnosis prompts him to turn his skills to creating crystal meth – with the help of his former student Jesse. Series creator Vince Gilligan claims that he pitched the show as being the story of "a man who transforms himself from Mr Chips into Scarface." And where the early episodes play up White's hilariously incompetent attempts to enter the drugs trade, as the series progresses he develops into a genuinely chilling character.
Watch it. Now. If only so that you don't have to keep clapping your hands over your ears and shrieking "spoilers!" whenever anyone mentions it.
Making a Murderer
While the filming of this 10-part documentary clearly started a long, long time ago (it's been 10 years in development), one suspects that the success of the Serial podcast is what got Netflix to buy and promote it as much as it has.
The comparisons are almost too easy and obvious, but there are differences and - more importantly - Making a Murderer stands up on its own. Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for a horrible crime that he didn't commit, and the revelations about the police handling of that case could be a 10-part series of their own, but here that's just the start. You see, just two years after his exoneration, he's charged with a new crime: the brutal murder of a young woman. Given the circumstances of the previous case, the local Sheriff's involvement is under serious scrutiny, and to say there are suspicious inconsistencies is a massive understatement.
It's a long, often slow series, but it's also fascinating, deeply troubling, and will send shivers down your spine.
A Netflix exclusive, this animated series features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a, er, “horse man” who enjoyed success while in a popular 1990s sitcom but now lives in a haze of booze and self-loathing as a washed-up former star.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood in which humans live alongside anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd) and strong writing, and there are now 38 episodes available (three seasons plus two specials): perfect for binging.
One of the Coen brothers’ early and (unjustifiably) lesser-known films, Miller’s Crossing is rich with the snappy script, intricate plotting, symbolism and visual flair that characterise their later hits like Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men.
Set in an unnamed American city during the Prohibition era, it’s a slick gangster tale about the nature of friendship and betrayal, and features stellar performances from Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and frequent Coen alumnus John Turturro.
The witty, hard-boiled dialogue might be the film’s best asset, but the sequence in which Finney’s pyjama and robe-clad mob boss fights off an assassination attempt to the strains of Danny Boy is nothing less than one of the great moments of '90s cinema.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m not someone who loves every Wes Anderson film - The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic can bugger off for starters - but I challenge anyone to not be taken in by the utterly delightful Grand Budapest Hotel.
It’s typically whimsical and gorgeously presented, with eye-popping colours and patterns, but this tale of a dapper, deliberate, disarmingly foul-mouthed and extremely accommodating hotel concierge who's framed for murder is also easily the most gripping and downright hilarious film he’s made, thanks in no small part to the superb Ralph Fiennes in the lead role.
Fargo (TV series)
Not to be confused with the Coen brothers’ (also highly recommended, also on Netflix) movie that inspired it – and from which it draws its winning blend of dark deeds, intricate plotting, looming dread and comic “Minnesota nice” dialogue – this is yet another TV series that begs to be binge-watched over a weekend. And at a relatively modest eight episodes, that’s entirely doable.
Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman all deliver fine performances as residents of the snowbound titular town, but it’s Billy Bob Thornton, oozing malevolence and menace as drifter Lorne Malvo, who lingers longest in the memory.
The second series (which tells a completely different, also brilliant story) has recently been added, with Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson and Patrick Wilson providing great work. Many would argue it's even better than the first - us included.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Even if you don’t think much of superhero movies (and let’s face it, after Marvel and DC’s recent over-saturation of the market, even erstwhile fans might be getting a bit sick of costumed capers by now), Guardians of the Galaxy is well worth a couple of hours of your time.
Yes, it’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, but (a) it’s set in space and (b) it takes itself way less seriously than even The Avengers. With the all-star cast not afraid to be incredibly silly (well, they’re probably getting paid enough), there’s an air of gleeful irreverence that keeps you entertained between the epic action sequences.
The Shawshank Redemption
Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sent down for two life sentences for a crime he didn’t commit - and in the grim confines of Shawshank Penitentiary, he’d be forgiven for giving in to despair. But a series of small victories against the soul-crushing bureaucracy, the mentorship of old lag Red (a never-better Morgan Freeman) and his interest in geology help to chip away at the walls that threaten to engulf him.
Frank Darabont’s adaptation of a lesser-known Stephen King short story failed to set the box office alight on its initial release, but - appropriately, given its theme of persevering against the odds - it’s since found a strong following on home video. Its story of hope in the face of impossible odds - and a slow-burning style that recalls the classics of the ‘30s and ‘40s - has won it a place at the top of countless best films lists. You owe it to yourself to watch this one.
Gareth's obsession with lesbians. Tim's hat radio. That dance. Fray Bentos. Keith eating a scotch egg. Monkey Alan in the warehouse. Brent's Princess Diana song. Gareth Keenan 'invetigates'. A stapler in jelly. The difference between dwarves, midgets and elves. Mr Sidney Poitier.
If you've never seen the original UK version of The Office, none of these things will be in the slightest bit funny. If you have, the mere mention of them should be enough to make you break out in a smile and decide to rewatch every episode. Right now.
Truly one of the greatest of all British comedies, The Office was hugely influential, unrelentingly hilarious and incredibly poignant, often all at the same time. Watch it. Right now.
Once Upon A Time In America
When people debate the greatest gangster movies of all time, this is the one they forget. That’s a crying shame, because Once Upon A Time… is every bit as epic as The Godfather parts I and II, every bit as human as Goodfellas, every bit as brilliant as any of its cultural cousins.
Director Sergio Leone’s final film stars Robert De Niro long before he demeaned himself in the likes of Dirty Grandpa and James Woods long before he demeaned himself regularly on Twitter, and follows a group of Jewish friends growing up in Noo Yoik.
It’s easy to see why it gets overlooked: it flits about the twentieth century, spending times in the ’20s, ’30s and ’60s but rarely doing so in chronological order; it’s nearly four hours long and has a cast of thousands; it’s horribly violent even by mob movie standards; and its original release was marred by a disastrous edit.
Forget all that though - restored to full length it’s a thing of wonder and beauty, with breathtaking cinematography, a moving score and some great actors at the top of their game combining to make it a true classic.
Fantasy football doesn't sound ripe for comedy, especially when you take into account that the football being referred to is that silly American version that hardly involves any foot-to-ball action. But you soon realise that in The League fantasy football is just a vehicle for hilariously OTT, non-PC sledging.
Over the course of the seven seasons that are on Netflix, there are occasional episodes that lack particularly fresh ideas, but the characters are so likeable, and their behaviour so outrageous and childish, that it's always a chucklesome pleasure to watch.
Yeah, we know you’ve already seen this. But you’ve eaten pizza before too, and it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy that large pepperoni tonight.
Come on, it’s one of the best action movies of all time. You’ll love it. Again.
City of God
Based on real-life events in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and with a cast drawn largely from the same slums, City Of God deals with life on society's margins.
The film spans several decades and follows a diverse bunch of characters as they come of age in the city. Some attempt to deal with their dangerous surroundings by blending into the background (shy, wannabe-photographer Rocket), some through exerting fear on those around them (sadistic drug dealer Li'l Zé), some through natural charisma (ladies' man Ned).
It's often brutal and frequently heartbreaking but never less than a thrilling, compelling watch.
It gets more preposterous as it goes on and makes the council estates of London look more dangerous than trying to put lipstick on a crocodile but Idris Elba’s gritty cop show is one of the better things he’s done post Stringer Bell.
Elba’s he-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules-but-god-damn-he-gets-results schtick is a little clichéd but with an excellent parade of nutters to apprehend over the course of three series (the fourth is showing on the BBC now, so look out for it to arrive on Netflix in the future) it’s that little bit cleverer and creepier than most British police procedurals churned out these days. Just don’t watch it when you’re home alone.
The French Connection
He’s a renegade cop that gets results – where have we heard that before? That’s right, absolutely everywhere, but back in 1971, when Gene Hackman starred in The French Connection, the lengths Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle would go to to smash a transatlantic heroin smuggling ring shocked cinema audiences. And it’s still grittily thrilling today.
If nothing else, The French Connection has one of the best car chases ever filmed – and one of the cars is a train.
The Thick Of It
You know how The Day Today made it impossible to watch the news without thinking it was a spoof (“Portillo’s teeth removed to boost pound”) and Brass Eye did the same with current affairs (“People say that alcohol’s a drug. It’s not – it’s a drink”)? Well, after watching The Thick Of It you’ll never again take anything a politician says seriously.
The unifying factor in those three shows is of course the supremely talented Mr Armando Iannucci, creator of TTOI and The Day Today and, given that he also worked on the various Alan Partridge shows, a man surely deserving of the title Greatest Living Briton.
But we digress. The Thick Of It could be described as a satire were it not so accurate in its depictions of jobsworth civil servants, careerist politicians and their clueless advisors. A must-watch for many, many reasons not least the virtuoso swearing abilities of Malcolm Tucker.
There’s a reason why this film is one of the highest grossing films in history. Well, seven super-powered reasons, to be precise - Earth’s mightiest heroes and their Asgardian foe.
As Tom Hiddleston's Loki leads a Chitauri invasion on the Big Apple, SHIELD's heroes try to combine their powers, brains and witty banter to hold off the alien army.
It’s filled to the brim with the escapism regularly found in the Marvel Universe, action, laughs and plenty of jealousy about the fact your hair will never match up to that of Chris Hemsworth. Family fun at its finest.
Beverly Hills Cop
The 80s were rife with comedy action films, and Beverly Hills Cop was the funniest, most action-packed of the lot. And it still stands up now.
A huge part of it is Eddie Murphy's cheeky charm as Axel Foley, a reckless Detroit detective who goes off the books to investigate the death of his friend. His enquiries take him to Beverley Hills, where he's very much a fish out of water, butting heads with the local police and aristocratic criminals.
If you haven't already seen it (seriously?!) you must rectify that immediately. If you have, Beverly Hills Cop really is every bit a brilliant as you remember. The two sequels aren't much, er, cop, but they're also on Netflix if you want to complete the trilogy.
Say ‘sci-fi’ and most people think of robots, spaceships and flesh-eating aliens. The Lobster is a sci-film about dogs, flamingos and a plump, bespectacled Colin Farrell living in a lakeside hotel. Farrell plays David, a single man sent to a home for other single people, where he must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choice and set free into the world. It’s wonderfully eccentric, hilariously funny and strangely touching, with a contemporary world that, in its own weird way, is far more discomforting than 100 of the same old dystopian wastelands.
Love him or hate him, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs is one of the most important and influential films of the last 50 years.
It was the brutal, Stuck In The Middle With You-soundtracked torture scene that got people talking about this low-budget independent film by a first-time director, but there's a lot more here besides headline-grabbing violence (although that remains a Tarantine hallmark).
This is a super-stylish, fabulously shot and quick-witted heist movie that never shows the actual heist, and it's packed with the musical and filmic homages and brilliantly meandering, inconsequential dialogue for which Tarantino is now famous. This should be part of everyone's cinematic education... as long as they're over 18.
Shot over 12 years using genuinely ageing humans, Richard Linklater’s tale of growing up often succeeds in feeling more like documentary than fiction, particularly in the way the boy of the title becomes an irritating, self-righteous student by the end. He’s so convincing, you’ll be convinced he needs a slap. The odd American quirk aside, as screen representations of the passage into the adult world go, this is spot-on.
Additional words: Marc McLaren, Andrew Hayward, Tom Wiggins, Tom Parsons, Esat Dedezade, Kyle Pittman, Justin Mahboubian-Jones