Amazon isn’t about to let Netflix have all the fun (and funds) when it comes to making superb original television series and films – and it’s already given its Prime subscribers some award-winning stuff to stream.
While Amazon’s in-house production library isn’t as extensive as Netflix’s, there’s still piles of great material to get your teeth into, from glossy crime shows to affecting dramas to sweeping period epics.
And what’s more, a good amount of it is available in 4K Ultra HD and/or HDR at no extra cost – perfect if you want to see what your flashy new 4K TV can do.
Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman brings another of his cult comic books to the screen. This animated series concerns a young superhero coming to terms with his newfound powers – and dealing with the fact that his dad is the most powerful and famous masked crusader on the planet. If that sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times before in superhero fiction, we urge you to give it a chance anyway: the plot throws a curveball early on that is guaranteed to make you sit up and pay attention. Stephen Yuen, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Mahershala Ali and Mark Hamill are among the star-studded voice cast.
Nine Perfect Strangers (S1)
The brains behind glossy, somewhat trashy Nicole Kidman-starring drama series Big Little Lies and The Undoing have reunited for, you guessed it, another glossy and somewhat trashy drama series starring Nicole Kidman.
In Nine Perfect Strangers, Kidman plays a mysterious life coach who lures nine stressed-out city dwellers to her isolated luxury retreat with a promise to revitalise their bodies and refocus their minds. If they’re expecting a bit of yoga, a massage and a gong bath, they’ve got a shock in store, because this guru’s techniques are a little more unconventional. The star-studded cast also includes Melissa McCarthy, Samara Weaving, Luke Evans, Regina Hall and Michael Shannon.
The Expanse (S1-5)
Game of Thrones with spaceships? That’s a lazy and reductive way to describe The Expanse, but also pretty accurate: it has a massive cast of characters, many of whom are shaded with more grey than an army of raccoons; its story is based around conflict and scheming as various factions vie for power while potentially ignoring a much greater existential threat; and it’s packed with graphic sex, violence and language. Hell yeah!
Set in a period when humanity has conquered the solar system and a war between Earth and Mars seems to be looming, The Expanse is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi space opera in a largely believable representation of the future. It was set to be prematurely cancelled by original maker SyFy after three seasons, but Amazon not only acquired full rights to broadcast the show but has already made two more seasons – great news for the millions of fans already addicted to its twisty plot lines.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, a couple of strangers who happen to be guests at the same wedding, find themselves stuck in an infinite time loop in this offbeat romcom. If they fall asleep or die, they wake up and live the entire day through again. The pair decide to make the most of their temporal purgatory, indulging in wilder and wilder behaviour in the knowledge that whatever happens, they’ll just end up back at square one. Everything, it seems, has become meaningless.
It might sound like a hackneyed idea but Palm Springs feels different by dint of focussing on a pair of people rather than just one. The chemistry and tensions between the two keep the film nicely involving – and it’s very funny to boot.
I Care a Lot
Proof that it’s possible to make an engaging and enjoyable film even when none of the main characters are noble or particularly likeable, I Care a Lot stars Rosamunde Pike as professional legal guardian Marla Grayson: a ruthless charlatan who makes a handsome living by preying upon the elderly people she claims to be looking after.
Her latest ward appears to be a potential goldmine but turns out to be a whole heap of trouble, thanks to some unlikely connections with a deadly criminal group. Peter Dinklage and Eiza González also star in this viciously black but deliciously entertaining comedy.
The visuals of Amazon’s first animated original series are startlingly realistic, because they use the rotoscoping technique: seemingly hand-drawn images “traced” over live actors. It’s perfect for relaying the slightly unreal life of protagonist Alma, a young woman whose monotonous, directionless routine is shattered by a near-death experience that allows her to see and speak to her late father – who is seemingly urging her to uncover the mystery of his death.
Shia LeBeouf wrote the screenplay to this affecting drama, a fictionalised retelling of his early life as a child TV actor and his subsequent breakdown as a slightly older movie actor. He also stars, essentially, as his own father – an alcoholic former rodeo clown who now works as his son’s on-set chaperone. If this all sounds a touch self-regarding, it’s easily forgiven when watching the film. Well-acted and thought-provoking all round, it serves as a compelling fable about finding peace, confronting the past and moving forward.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Kazakhstan’s favourite son returns. Sacha Baron-Cohen is once more poking fun at Americans, this time in the midst of a tumultuous Trump presidency and spiralling COVID-19 pandemic. While Baron-Cohen’s civilian targets often seem a touch undeserving (many are possibly being polite and accommodating to what they see as an eccentric foreigner, rather than outright agreeing with the bigoted sentiments Borat comes out with) it’s still hard to feel sorry for any of the subjects. As with the original movie, Baron-Cohen’s hidden camera setups delivering giant levels of cringe plenty of laughs (yes, the guilty chuckles count too).
This may not be scorching satire – it simply reinforces what most right-minded viewers think about bigots, sexists, gun nuts and Republicans, but Borat’s latest batch of antics are undoubtedly entertaining.
Truth Seekers (S1)
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost both created and star in this Amazon Original series – the pair’s first television reunion since Spaced ended almost two decades ago. Truth Seekers is a spooky sitcom that follows a team of enthusiastic but decidedly amateur paranormal investigators. When they stumble upon a shadowy supernatural conspiracy, the crew must bring all their skills and gadgets to bear to avert disaster.
The Vast of Night
A telephone switchboard operator notices a mysterious sound on her headset, sparking off a series of creepy revelations in this gem of a retro sci-fi movie from rookie director Andrew Patterson.
From its late 1950s small town America setting to its sound design and music, The Vast of Night gleefully channels classic mystery shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, not to mention films like Super 8 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but its snappy dialogue and stylish camerawork make it stand out on its own. The plot is simple, the cast small and unknown, but Patterson wrings the most out of his tiny budget.
The Boys (S1-2)
What if superheroes were not only real, but as full of fears, doubt and crushing character flaws as the rest of us? That’s the premise behind this superb comic book adaptation from the producers of Preacher, in which a bunch of world famous costumed crusaders are owned and controlled by Vought, a ruthless corporation that keeps their bad behaviour – which ranges from voyeurism and drug abuse to outright murderous psychopathy – under wraps to keep the cashflow moving.
When one super-powered outrage leaves a young man bereaved and hellbent on revenge, he joins a group of like-minded vigilantes with the aim of bringing Vought down once and for all. Effortlessly blending humour, action and drama, The Boys manages to be Amazon’s best original series in ages.
Good Omens (S1)
Lovers of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s cult fantasy novel have for years been crossing fingers, toes and other body parts in the hopes that one day, somebody would take a chance on a screen adaptation of Good Omens – and that somebody turned out to be Amazon. The result is this glitzy, star-studded six-part miniseries.
Set in modern day England, it focusses on a demon and an angel (the very watchable David Tennant and Michael Sheen) whose eons-old friendship faces obliteration (along with the rest of the world) as the Antichrist comes of age and Armageddon looms. With the supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson and Michael McKean, and Amazon's deep pockets providing the necessary budget to really bring the novel to life, the fanboys and girls’ waiting has not been in vain.