Fuelled by vast tracts of subscriber cash, Netflix now wields the power of a Hollywood studio and has produced some incredible Netflix Originals: its own programmes, documentaries and movies. With the resources to buy in the best new shows, acquire beloved brands, commission original series and hire the likes of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Florence Pugh 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.
- What’s new on Netflix? Plus our complete guide to the best streaming service for US 2023: all the top platforms compared
We’ve scoured through Netflix’s hundreds of original series, documentaries and movies to pick out our favourites. If you’re struggling to find something brand fresh and new to feast your eyes on, read on.
Blue Eye Samurai (S1)
Set in Edo-period Japan, when the borders were closed, foreigners were expelled and any hint of racial difference was regarded with fear, hatred and revulsion, this blood-drenched animated tale follows a young orphan seeking to track down and kill all four of the white men left in the entire country. Why? Because one of them must be her father, from whom she inherited the steely blue eyes that mark her out as a permanent outsider – even a monster – in her own homeland.
With gorgeous animation, a compelling cast of characters (not to mention voice actors) and some of the goriest fight scenes on Netflix, Blue Eye Samurai is a scintillating show that seemingly came out of nowhere.
Arthouse portrait of an emotionally repressed man or noir-tinged international action thriller? “Why not both?” asks director David Fincher in this stylish made-for-Netflix original, in which Michael Fassbender comes out of semi-retirement to play an elite assassin on a bloody revenge mission.
Forced to stray from his painstaking M.O. (which includes using The Smiths songs to soundtrack his assignments), this hyper-disciplined hitman finds himself careening out of his comfort zone. But hey, at least he’s heavily armed, highly trained and conscience-free.
The Deepest Breath
This feature-length documentary explores the sport of freediving, in which swimmers descend to astonishing ocean depths without any specialised gear – merely the air in their lungs. It’s an extreme sport by any definition, being potentially deadly but also meditative and transcendent – almost a form of therapy for its proponents – and it tends to attract a certain type of driven personality. Two such people – champion freediver Alessia Zecchini and expert safety diver Stephen Keenan – form the focus of the film, and their shared story is inspiring, emotional and ultimately heart-breaking.
Netflix’s best new show of 2023 (so far) stars Ali Wong and Steven Yeun as a pair of strangers who, in the first few minutes of the first episode, become mortal foes. On the surface, this shared animosity starts because of a simple road rage incident, but as the series goes on the true motivations behind the pair’s quickness to anger and escalate emerge – even as the duo’s lives start to unravel as a result of the ongoing feud.
If this all sounds a bit heavy, don’t be put off; Beef is also funny, stylish and ultimately ends in a very different place to where it begins. A welcome reminder that Netflix can still make a great TV series. More of this, please – although that’s not to say we want a second season; Beef is basically perfect all on its own.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (S1)
Anime and cyberpunk have always gone hand-in-hand thanks to cult classics like Ghost in the Shell and Akira, the latter of which came out in 1988 – the same year as Mike Pondsmith’s influential pen-and-paper RPG Cyberpunk 2020. Developer CD Projekt Red would adapt the RPG for video game platforms 30 years later, and now things have come full circle with spinoff series Edgerunners.
You don’t need to have played the game to enjoy it, thanks to an all-new cast of characters, but the way it reimagines locations from Cyberpunk 2077 is a treat for those that have. It’s uncompromisingly gory in places, and visually stunning in others courtesy of Japanese animation team Studio Trigger. It can be seriously bleak too, but there’s a relatable story behind the dystopian setting. A must for genre fans.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
He may have upset millions of basement-dwellers by directing the first genuinely interesting Star Wars film in over 30 years, but thankfully for the rest of us Rian Johnson’s movies tend to be fun, topical and packed with twists. Glass Onion, the sequel to Johnson’s own Knives Out, is no exception.
The film retains Daniel Craig as dapper private detective Benoit Blanc but switches out the rest of the original’s all-star cast for an entirely fresh set of A-listers. When Blanc is summoned to a tech billionaire’s private island for a murder mystery party only for a real murder to occur, his legendary powers of deduction are put to their toughest test yet. The cast includes Dave Batista, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monae and Edward Norton.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Director Guillermo Del Toro has assembled an eight-strong horror filmmaking dream team including the creators of Mandy, The Babadook and Splice. Each member of this Monster Squad has been tasked with serving up their own hour(ish)-long tale of terror.
The result is a Twilight Zone-style anthology series, with weightless CGI wizardry reduced (if not ditched entirely) in favour of good old-fashioned practical effects. Del Toro himself describes the worlds and stories created as ‘beautiful and horrible’ and having watched them all we agree heartily. From ghastly rituals to ravenous aliens to bizarre beauty products, there’s so much here for horror lovers to enjoy.
Midnight Mass (S1)
A man leaves prison after serving time for the drink-drive killing of a teenager, returns to the tiny island he grew up on and finds that little has changed in the past decade – and certainly not for the better. This is a place in sad decline, with few ways to help him escape his unending guilt, but a rash of apparent miracles following the arrival of a young Catholic priest injects a sense of hope into the community, alongside a renewed bout of religious fervour. But what’s the secret behind the priest’s power, and does it truly come from a holy place?
Midnight Mass is the brainchild from horror writer/director Mike Flanagan (previously responsible for The Haunting of Hill House and Doctor Sleep), so you know where it’s going from the off – but quite how it gets there comes as a pleasant surprise. Flanagan likes to create human dramas that wear the clothes of the horror genre and this wears them lightly for the most part, but don’t get too comfortable…
Squid Game (S1)
Subtitle-despisers, you’re slipping if you choose to swerve this dark drama series on account of it being Korean (yes, we know you can watch it dubbed into English, but please… just don’t). The gripping tale of a life-or-death tournament in which desperate contestants compete in lethal playground games for the prospect of a huge winner’s cheque, Squid Game has already become not only one of Netflix’s most popular foreign language series, but its most popular debut series full stop. A grim commentary on late capitalism and how it encourages screwing each other over to get by? For sure, but it’s also entertaining as hell.
The Lost Daughter
Actor Maggie Gyllenhaal moves behind the camera for her first feature film as writer-director with this tense adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel. A prickly middle-aged academic (Olivia Colman) arrives on a Greek island for a solo working holiday, but her peace and quiet is quickly disrupted by the arrival of a large and brash family group – including a young mother (Dakota Johnson) who seems to sit strangely apart from the rest, and who causes the academic to re-examine her own youth and motherhood with a critical eye.
Sex Education (S1-4)
Using the word “raunchy” to describe a comedy-drama series makes us feel like 1970s tabloid journalists, but what better term to sum up a bunch of teenage sexcapades tied up by a fun plot and relatable, well-drawn and likeable characters? We’ll be calling it a “romp” next (which it also is) – but Sex Education is a genuinely inventive, engaging, insightful and occasionally moving series, and extremely easy to binge-watch.
Cobra Kai (S1-5)
It might be a small field, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that Cobra Kai is definitely the best TV spin-off from a film made 30-odd years before… ever! Reuniting the main players from The Karate Kid and its sequels several decade later could have been nothing more than a lazy nostalgia cash-in, but this show gives the old rivalries and friendships extra spice, offers fresh perspectives on things we thought we had all figured out and confidently tells its own modern-day story.
The Queen’s Gambit (S1)
It might have arrived with little fanfare, but The Queen’s Gambit was Netflix’s best original series of 2020. Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, it stars the excellent Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon, an orphan with an almost otherworldly inclination for the game – not to mention a tendency for self-destructive behaviour.
Set mostly in the 1960s, the magnificent period details (so many gorgeous hotel lobbies!) and soundtrack occasionally bring to mind Mad Men, but this miniseries is much more focussed on a single character. Heart-wrenching, funny and evocative, its quality and attention to detail reminds us of Netflix’s superb early run original shows, where everything the company touched felt special.
The Crown (S1-5)
The Crown‘s appeal is partly down to the astronomical production values that have been instilled in this retelling of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Many millions have been invested in this period extravaganza, and that all adds up to a dizzying amount of convincing detail.
Even those of a staunchly republican bent will find themselves sucked in to the four full seasons, which chart a series of major national events as well as delve deeply into the personal lives of the Windsors and those surrounding them.
With a superb cast including Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Matt Smith, Helena Bonham-Carter and John Lithgow injecting plenty of humanity into their larger-than-life roles, it’s rumoured that even some of the real-life royals have become huge fans.
I Think You Should Leave (S1-3)
Sketch shows are a bit like luncheon meat, tank tops and hostess trolleys: unwanted, outmoded relics from the 1970s. But I Think You Should Leave is proof positive that there’s life in the old format yet – it just needed a refreshing jolt of surrealism forced down its gullet.
Former Saturday Night Live star Tim Robinson co-writes and appears (along with a parade of familiar guest faces) in a collection of crude, inventive and ultimately hilarious skits that rarely end up where you expect them to.
The Last Dance (S1)
Arguably the biggest team sporting icon in history, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a series of NBA championships in the 1990s. By 1998, however, it seemed like the Bulls’ era of dominance – and Jordan’s place at its heart – was in real danger as backroom intrigue started to take a toll. This engrossing, masterfully made 10-part documentary tells the story not just of that fateful season but of Jordan’s rise from green rookie to global superstar, and of how the Bulls planned and built their hegemony after years of underachievement.
The Last Dance will appeal not only to basketball and sport fans, but to anybody who appreciates a story well told and a glimpse into the strangely singular mind of mercilessly driven individuals like Jordan. Those looking for a nostalgic trip back to the 90s won’t be disappointed either – the era-appropriate soundtrack is superb.
A jeweller addicted to gambling and danger darts around 2012 New York in this frenetic drama from indie darlings Josh and Benny Safdie. The brothers’ shaky, handheld camera gives us an up-close window on this anti-hero’s attempts to juggle the demands of his celebrity clients, wife, mistress and a circling group of loan sharks.
If you’re looking for a relaxing watch, Uncut Gems ain’t it – the camerawork, Daniel Lopatin’s electronic score and Adam Sandler’s fantastic lead performance (he’s always found it easy playing a man teetering on the edge – but mostly in bad films) conjure a feeling of unease and anxiety that barely lets up over the two-hour running time. It’s delirious, manic, vital stuff: Netflix’s finest film since Roma, and Sandler’s best performance since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love.
The Irishman isn’t just Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited return to the world of organised crime, it also unites the cinematic Holy Trinity of tough guy gangster movie stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and an out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. Kind of like The Expendables, but with people who can actually act – and it’s undeniably great to see these legendary thesps delivering the best work of their late careers.
With a story spanning decades (this movie is showcase for how far CG de-aging technology has come – and perhaps proof that there’s still room for improvement) the film explores the events leading up to the disappearance of mercurial union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), a powerful figure with links to the mob and mainstream politics. It’s mainly told through the recollections of De Niro’s eponymous “Irishman” Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who becomes first a thief and then a ruthless enforcer for both Hoffa and Pesci’s Russell Bufalino, a Philadelphia mafia boss.
Stranger Things (S1-4)
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 – at least, that’s the first season, and there are now three more on offer. And such is the popularity of Stranger Things, we can see one or two more arriving in the next few years.
Russian Doll (S1-2)
The brainchild of Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, this comic drama series is like Groundhog Day by way of Girls: an acerbic, substance-abusing New York video game designer (Lyonne) finds herself living the same day over and over, repeatedly dying in increasingly bizarre accidental deaths merely to wake up once again in a bathroom at her own birthday party. Has she taken something trippy, simply lost her mind – or is there something more profound at work?
Funny, outrageous and inventive, this is precisely the type of series that cuts through the piles of cookie cutter filler now accumulating on streaming services – a reminder of those halcyon days when every Netflix-made series was a top notch banger. At just eight half-hour episodes, it’s also refreshingly brisk, so you won’t need to live the same day over and over just to get it finished…
Arguably the finest Netflix-produced movie yet, Roma is the company’s first film to make the Hollywood establishment really sit up and take notice. The evidence? Its clutch of 2019 Academy Award nominations (10 in all), which resulted in wins for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.
As you’d expect from Alfonso Cuarón, previously responsible for the likes of Gravity and Children of Men, Roma is both immensely impressive on a technical level (beautifully shot by Cuarón himself in black and white) and emotionally rich, resulting in a movie that’s every bit as powerful as anything made primarily for the cinema screen. Inspired by Cuarón’s own childhood in Mexico City, the film follows an indigenous maid to a wealthy middle-class family as she experiences a series of events – at first, seemingly unlinked, but which create a moving tapestry that expertly blends life on a personal and macro scale.
“How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?”
This drama series tracks the efforts of two FBI agents to better understand the inner workings of serial killers’ minds. It was a field of research not considered useful by law enforcement top brass in the late 1970s, when the show is set, but our protagonists believe that learning how murderers’ brains function is key to being able to catch them.
If the subject matter sounds overly grim, don’t worry – Mindhunter isn’t all doom and gloom, being peppered with moments of comedy (often black comedy, admittedly) and underpinned by the interesting dynamic of the main characters’ often-strained relationship.
Better Call Saul (S1-6)
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.
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.
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.
You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this must-watch doping exposé. Icarus is really two documentaries in one, with the first third of the film a kind of Super Size Me for performance-enhancing drugs. The filmmaker, a semi-pro cyclist, embarks on a hardcore doping program to show how flawed the drugs-testing process is.
But when his advisor, scientist Gregory Rodchenkov, suddenly finds himself in the eye of an international storm over a state-sponsored doping program, Icarus turns into an enthralling fly-on-the-wall thriller about being a whistleblower in Putin’s Russia. Cue mysterious deaths, tense interviews and a lots of hand-wringing as Rodchenkov goes into hiding from the new KGB.
This series features some of the most bum-clenchingly tense scenes witnessed on a TV screen since Breaking Bad, as Jason Bateman and Laura Linney’s squabbling Chicago couple launder money for a ruthless drug cartel.
When Bateman’s put-upon financial advisor happens on a risky plan to “wash” (not literally) the dirty cash in rural Missouri, his entire family must immediately up sticks in the ‘burbs for a brand new life in one of America’s most deprived places. All of a sudden, angry Mexican narco-barons become only one of many problems for the family.
Filmed in muted, washed-out tones with bags of brooding and squalor on show, Ozark doesn’t always make for a pretty watch. But if you like your drama perpetually poised on a knife edge, it’ll be right up your (dark) alley.
Arrested Development (S1-5)
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on both the big screen and TV, but the Bluths are arguably the most self-centred, destructive and, well, downright hilarious bunch of the lot.
When their company is hit by the US government for embezzlement, and patriarch George imprisoned, it falls to “sensible” Bluth son Michael to both run the business and keep his squabbling siblings and mother from making matters far, far worse.
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 – especially as Netflix has served up a great fifth season in which all the characters are brought back together again.
Orange is the New Black (S1-7)
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 begins as a fish-out-of-water drama (very loosely based on a true story) in which a yuppie Brooklynite winds 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-incarceration lives of the superb cast, Orange Is the New Black has proved such a hit that it’s already – like House of Cards – six whole seasons strong.
BoJack Horseman (S1-6)
This animated sitcom features Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a… er… “horse man” who found fame in a beloved 1990s sitcom but now lives in a haze of booze and self-loathing.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood where humans coexist with anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd), and offers a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of the “washed-up former star” trope. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s really, really funny. With 50 episodes available (four seasons plus two specials), its perfect for binging.
Looking for a lazy comparison? Then Dark is the German version of Stranger Things: both largely follow a group of kids trying to unravel a supernatural mystery; both feature a missing child and frantic parents; both are set (at least partly) in the ’80s. And both are fantastic.
But there the similarities end, because Dark is, as the name might suggest, a far more difficult watch than its US counterpart (and not just because of those German subtitles). This is a complex series that delights in constantly pulling the rug out from under you just when you think you know what’s going on; we guarantee it’ll leave you with brain-ache at times. It’s also seriously gruesome and really puts its characters (and viewers) through the emotional wringer. Don’t let that put you off though, because this is one Netflix Original you’d be daft to miss.
Black Mirror (S1-5)
Black Mirror has made the move from Channel 4 to Netflix in sumptuous, unsettling style.
Not only has the platform given Charlie Brooker and his team the freedom to tell more stories (the two Netflix-funded seasons each have six episodes rather than the usual three), it’s also given them a budget big enough to expand the scale, scope and special effects. The feature-length final episode, “Hated in the Nation”, is a perfect case in point.
What hasn’t changed is the overall theme: the perils of humanity’s relationship with technology, the internet and social media.
It’s unnerving stuff, enhanced by the fact that the stories are generally set in a very near future that’s all too recognisable. But fear not, the trademark blacker-than-black humour has also been retained, so you’ll guffaw almost as much as you’ll squirm. This is must-see television for anyone who’s obsessed with tech.
And as a bonus, the first two Channel 4-made seasons can be found on Netflix too.
Chef’s Table (S1-6)
It might not feature Greg Wallace shovelling food into his maw every ten minutes, but that doesn’t make Chef’s Table any less appealing to hardcore foodies.
This documentary series (now six seasons strong) follows world-renowned chefs as they take viewers on a personal journey through their culinary evolution, providing an intimate, informative glimpse into what gets their creative juices flowing.
Presented in pristine 4K, you can almost smell the food seeping through your screen and tickling your nostrils; from glistening, perfectly-cooked pieces of meat to mouth-watering steaming pasta dishes, this is food porn of the highest order. Wearing a bib while you watch is highly recommended.