At first, the idea of Netflix – essentially a video rental site – making its own TV shows and films sounded bizarre. This simply wasn’t how the industry worked, right?
Wrong. Fuelled by its vast piles of subscriber money, Netflix now wields the power of a Hollywood studio. With the resources to buy in the best new shows, acquire beloved brands, commission its own original series and hire Brad Pitt and Will Smith to star in its movies, the company is currently creating some of the best streamable stuff around. In fact, some of the best stuff around full-stop.
We’ve scoured through Netflix’s hundreds of original series, documentaries and movies to pick out 26 favourites. If you’re struggling to find something brand new on which to feast your eyes, read on.
Helmed by True Detective co-creator Cary Joji Fukunaga, Maniac stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as emotionally damaged strangers who, desperately seeking solace from their tortured psyches, enter a strange experimental drug programme.
This trial plunges the pair’s minds into fantastical situations, each designed to force them into facing down their fears – but as you can probably guess, things don’t quite go to plan. It’s powerful, thought-provoking stuff, and its recreation of modern day New York – set in a parallel universe, seemingly – is a visual triumph.
The Haunting of Hill House (S1)
Horror movie maestro Mike Flanagan nails the tricky transition to television with this glossy 10-part ghost yarn about a weird old mansion and its effect on a seemingly regular family who moves in.
Flitting deftly between the past and present, it’s as much a family melodrama as it is a horror story, delving into the troubled adult lives of five siblings and the traumatic childhood events that shaped them. Horror aficionados needn’t fret, however: there’s plenty of supernatural creepiness on show – we just get a heap of context to go along with those jump scares.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
This brisk and breezy teen rom-com makes for a welcome antidote from the usual Netflix Original fare of gross-out comedies or gloomy sci-fi epics.
Based on the insanely beloved YA novel by Jenny Han, it tells the story of a reserved high school girl whose life is turned upside down when the secret love letters she’s written to her various crushes – never intended to be sent – end up in said crushes’ hands.
Aside from the ensuing crippling embarrassment, the main issue is that one of the boys is her sister’s ex, sparking off a series of events including subterfuge, jealousy, heartbreak, self-discovery and, eventually, true love. Awwww.
Better Call Saul
The best spinoff since Frasier puts the spotlight on Breaking Bad’s sleazy-yet-likeable lawyer Saul, in a series (now four seasons deep) that begins seven years before Walter White’s descent into crime and mayhem.
Bob Odenkirk slips into Saul’s garish 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 easy 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 the while being aware of the dark things to come.
"Created, written and executive produced by Judd Apatow" is a phrase that's a lot more exciting to some people than to others, but if you're even slightly drawn to his particular brand of mumbly, honest, relationship-based humour, you'll almost certainly enjoy this comedy drama series, now three seasons strong.
Love is a story of two useless, directionless, loveless people at opposite ends of the loser spectrum, who bumble into each other's lives and begin a relationship that at many times doesn’t seem particularly healthy for either of them. This isn't laugh-a-minute stuff, but spending time with the substance-abusing Mickey (Community's Gillian Jacobs) and pathetic pushover Gus (Paul Rust) is an occasionally painfully awkward, occasionally guffaw-inducing pleasure.
As a sport in which a 70-year-old woman once gave birth to a human hand, wrestling isn’t exactly known for its nuanced storytelling. Thankfully, Glow isn’t really about wrestling at all, but a gang of kickass women rallying against their demons and the dudes who’d rather keep them down.
Featuring a stellar lead turn by Alison Brie, this is Netflix's best original series since Stranger Things. Even if you've no idea of the difference between a duplex and a powerbomb.
Altered Carbon is a neo noir journey 300-odd years into the future, where Earth is an overpopulated, dirty, decadent, neon-lit Bladerunner-esque mess – but outright death is a rarity.
That’s because everybody has their consciousness digitally backed up in a “stack”, a tiny disc-shaped computer stored where the skull meets the spine. Flattened by a truck? No biggie: the paramedics can prise out your stack and – provided it hasn’t been destroyed – put it in safe storage until a new body (or “sleeve” in the show’s vernacular) is available. If this sounds like a utopia, be warned: rampant capitalism has ensured that only the rich can afford good quality sleeves, with others being kept in storage for decades or transferred into the first available body, regardless of its suitability.
To this grim new world returns Takeshi Kovacs, released from prison and dropped into a new sleeve after a couple of hundred years on ice. Why has Kovacs been brought back from the dead after so long? In order to solve a murder, of course – a mystery that the immensely wealthy victim (now himself reincarnated in a new cloned sleeve, natch) believes only Kovacs’ unique skills can solve.
Wild Wild Country
This slick, stylish six-part documentary series will gleefully suck in anyone with more than a passing interest in cults, utopian visionaries, counterculture and power struggles.
It tells the story of Indian religious leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who brought his band of red-robed followers to a Manhattan-sized tract of land in the Oregon wilderness with the intention of founding a self-sustaining city based on “love and sharing” rather than ownership and individualism.
Unsurprisingly, this band of free love-advocating New Age nudists didn’t hit it off with the local townspeople – God-fearing, conservative and mostly old – and the amazing true story of this rapidly escalating culture clash is told masterfully through new interviews and hours of archive footage. With the tale taking incredible twists and turns (Germ warfare! Arson! Attempted murder! The FBI! The co-founder of Nike!), this is the most compelling original documentary series in Netflix’s library.
Writer-director Alex Garland’s follow-up to the fantastic Ex Machina was originally supposed to get a full release in cinemas worldwide, but in the end studio Paramount decided to give it a limited theatrical release in the US only, with the rest of the world getting their first chance to see it on Netflix. Why? Because they probably thought it’d flop in cinemas – it’s chilly, dark, complex and challenging and, rightly or wrongly, big studios don’t credit the average filmgoer with much intellectual curiosity.
Don’t let Paramount’s decision to offload Annihilation onto a streaming service put you off watching it though, because this is one of the most accomplished and interesting science fiction movies of recent years. It’s a visually and sonically brilliant film that’ll leave you with more questions than answers, but enough clues to work everything out, too.
When a strange “shimmer” engulfs a tract of land in the southeastern United States, the government is at a loss to explain it. Everything and everybody they send inside disappears, never to return – with one exception. Natalie Portman’s biologist finds herself personally drawn into the mystery, joins a team venturing into the Shimmer and slowly uncovers the shocking truth at its centre.
Stranger Things is a love letter to many of the movies, TV shows and books that children who grew up in the 1980s will cherish: it’s replete with references to E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Poltergeist, packed with period music, and the mood and feel is sure to dredge up nostalgia aplenty.
Take away the retro vibes and the show still stands up as a fine sci-fi drama-thriller, concerning a small town, a missing boy and his friends and family’s attempts to find him.
It doesn’t demand too much of a time investment, either: unlike a lot of Netflix Originals, its episodes are reasonably tight (around 40 minutes each) and there are only eight of them in the first season, with nine in the second.
This seven-part miniseries is a dark, character-driven Western set in a tiny New Mexico mining town inhabited almost entirely by women.
Any mystery surrounding this demographic curiosity is cleared up quickly - the real pull of this story comes from the sense of impending doom as a merciless outlaw band (led by a magnificent, malignant Jeff Daniels) homes in on a defector seeking shelter among the women. Can the town’s ailing sheriff and the rest of its odd assortment of characters avert the incoming carnage?
Godless is a fantastic tension builder, and its colourful cast, snappy script and impeccable production values will please fans of similar series like Westworld, Deadwood and Lonesome Dove.
In the seven years that Prairie Johnson has been missing she's regained her sight and apparently changed her name to 'The OA' - and that's really just the start of this sci-fi drama series' unusualness.
Comparisons to Stranger Things come easily: most of the protagonists are young, and there's a hearty helping of fantasy mixed in with the sci-fi. Those comparisons aren't particularly favourable towards The OA, either, which lacks the coherence, charm and pace of the D&D-inspired sleeper hit. But just because The OA isn't as good as Stranger Things doesn't mean it's not worth a watch (after all, what is as good as Stranger Things?).
You will have to be prepared to go with some very out-there ideas and some unexpected shifts in tone. The OA definitely won't work for everyone, but it really is worth giving at least the first of the eight episodes a go to find out if it's up your street.
The End of the F***ing World
If you prefer your quirky comedy-drama to remain mired on the bleak, dark and murderous side of the fence, this one-season Brit series co-created by Netflix and Channel 4 deserves to sit high up on your shortlist.
When a couple of misfit teenagers embark on an impromptu road trip, things quickly take a chaotic turn – and little wonder, given that one of them, believing himself to be a psychopath, plans on killing the other as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
With episodes running to around 20 minutes in length, it’s ridiculously easy to find yourself drawn into the pair’s deranged adventure and binge on this show – but just make sure you don’t miss out on the superior direction, camerawork, soundtrack and production design when your blitz through it in a weekend – because this is as well-made as it is addictive.