Our guide to the best Netflix films and documentaries on Netflix UK.
In the mood for some Netflix films and documentaries? Even in this golden age of TV shows, we sometimes yearn for our entertainment to come in compact, two-hour slices.
Which is why we’ve put together a list of the best movies and documentaries on Netflix, for those times when binge-watching just isn’t on the cards.
So allow us to be your guide to the stream-scape and make sure to check back each week for our film of the week.
Film of the week
Now that Bad Neighbours 2 has arrived at UK cinemas, you might try catching up with the first one, which has just hit the Netflix library. This is a standard Seth Rogen effort, made better by the addition of a genuinely funny Rose Byrne, and some great interactions between Rogen and co-star Zac Efron. Yes, this is a film actually improved by the inclusion of Zac Efron.
The plot is just an excuse for the usual Seth Rogen hijinks, but basically involves a rowdy fraternity, led by Efron, moving in next to a happily settled couple played by Rogen and Byrne. This one’s definitely worth watching if you like Apatow-esque comedy with an extra helping of crassness, but there’s also something charming about Bad Neighbours. Check it out and see what you think.
Best Films on Netflix
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Gervais has made a return to our screens, and he’s brough Eric Bana with him this time. This Netflix movie sees the ‘chubby little fat man’ (to quote the late, great Bowie) play one half of a ‘bickering radio team’ alongside Bana. The plot revolves around the pair losing their passports and deciding to make up phony reports from a combat zone – a plan which predictably goes awry fairly quickly.
With a new The Office movie coming later this year, this will be a good chance to see whether Gervais can finally make a decent movie (remember Ghost Town?) ahead of Brent’s return. However, judging by the looks on both their faces in the poster for this one, it looks like both these guys know this might not be their finest moment.
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One of Mr Pitt’s lesser known but better recent performances comes via Moneyball. This 2011 drama tells the true story of how former Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, used an unconventional method to assemble a team which would change the beleagured baseball franchise’s fortunes.
If you’re put off by the whole Baseball thing, or think the plot sounds somewhat dull, you’d be forgiven, but this one really is worth your time. Both Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill received Oscar nominations for their efforts in Moneyball. The writing is sharp, acting top-notch, and you’ll also see Philip Seymour Hoffman as the delightfully grumpy coach who clashes with Beane on numerous occasions, to both dramatic and comic effect.
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This was also the first time we got to see Jonah Hill in a serious role, ahead of his memorable turn in The Wolf of Wallstreet, and he’s really brilliant in this one. The film’s just hit the Netflix roster so check it out while you can.
Always nice to see a reasonably new release hit the Netflix roster. Though this one failed to wow the Academy, it was well-received by critics and is noteworthy for featuring Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman in a dead serious role, which he more than manages to pull off.
Bateman plays Simon, who moves from Chicago to the Hollywood hills with his wife after landing a new job in LA. Once there, an old school friend of Simon’s named ‘Gordo’, played by Joel Edgerton, reappears and attempts to ingratiate himself into the couple’s life. In the interest of not giving anything away, we’ll just say that things get weird.
The Gift establishes a tense tone very quickly, and manages to tap into that Hitchcock mood with impressive ease. Fresh off a great turn in Black Mass alongside Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton not only delivers a subtly creepy performance, he also wrote, produced, and directed this one. It didn’t get much publicity in the UK but it’s definitely worth catching on Netflix.
The Ides of March
This new addition to the Netflix lineup sees Ryan Gosling play Steven Meyers, a campaign press secretary supporting Presidential hopeful Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. As a crucial vote nears, Meyers finds himself at the centre of a scandal which could ruin his candidate’s chances.
Gosling is fantastic in this one, and Clooney’s measured demeanour serves him well as the Democratic front-runner. If you like a bit of political intrigue give this one a go.
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If you fancy watching a film starring Michael Fassbender where you don’t get to see him for most of the time, Frank is just the ticket. Domhall Gleeson plays Jon, a musician who joins a band led by the somewhat unstable but brilliant Frank (Fassbender). Also, Frank just happens to wear a giant papier-mache mask all the time.
Sounds a bit weird doesn’t it? Well it’s supposed to be funny as well as affecting. It’s also got Maggie Gyllenhaal who does a great job as Frank’s girlfriend. If you’re looking for something a bit different, give Frank a go.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
While we’ve had a load of TV goodness to contend with over the past few weeks, from House of Cards to Daredevil, we’re yet to be blessed by the Netflix gods with a great round of new movies. No doubt the US version of Netflix is swimming with the latest film releases (this licensing stuff really needs to get sorted). And as we await the latest films that Netflix has managed to pry from the hands of greedy studio executives, we may as well catch up with the Marvel cinematic universe ahead of Captain America: Civil War’s April 29 release.
And you can do that by streaming the last film, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ right now. It’s a lot better than the first one and merits another watch if you saw it when it first came out. Basically the world is threatened in some way and Captain America solves it. Hey, what else are you looking for from a superhero film? Catch up now before those licenses run out again.
If you haven’t seen Tarantino’s best film yet, now’s your chance. What’s that? Pulp Fiction is the best? Reservoir Dogs? Time to open your mind and embrace the idea that Tarantino might just have gotten better with time.
Django’s best performances come from the supporting cast. Christoph Waltz is on perfect form as German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, while Samuel L Jackson’s sycophantic house slave Stephen is both unsettling and darkly hilarious. It’s also got DiCaprio who does a great job as Calvin J. Candie, the callous owner of the Candyland ranch.
It’s just been added to Netflix so if you missed this one, what are you waiting for?
Natural Born Killers
Netflix has gone and added another classic to its roster of content. Arguably one of Woody Harrelson’s best roles, Natural Born Killers sees him team up with Juliette Lewis for an all-out killing spree.
It’s got all you want from a film. Violence, sex, and Woody Harrelson. Plus, Robert Downey Jr is thrown in for good measure.
So give this one a go before it’s snatched away cruelly by the Netflix overlords.
Related: Amazon Video vs Netflix
Until they put Ace Ventura on Netflix, this is the best Jim Carrey film you’re gonna get. And it’s actually a pretty good one. There was that golden Carrey era where we got such memorable characters as The Mask, through to Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, and ending with Bruce Almighty himself.
Somewhere in there, Carrey also had time for this gem. We’re sure you remember Liar Liar so we won’t go into too much detail. Simply put, Carrey’s physical comedy was a perfect match for this family comedy in which a laywer can’t lie for 24 hours.
Netflix, for bringing Liar Liar to the streaming generation, we salute you.
Wolf of Wall Street
For those yet to sample Scorsese’s superb ode to Wall Street excess and hedonism, we humbly recommend this as your next movie of choice. It’s based on a memoir by former stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who actually lived all the wild stuff you see in the film.
DiCaprio is great, but even better is Jonah Hill, who took a severely reduced pay check just so he could co-star in a Scorsese film. And he’s brilliant as Belfort’s colleague and friend Donnie Azoff. In fact, the whole thing is brilliant, and manages to keep its characters sympathetic and charming even though they are possibly some of the worst people you’re likely to encounter.
Technically a documentary, Rubble Kings tells the story of how Hip Hop culture helped stem the flood of gang violence that plagued The Bronx in the 70s. It’s a story that has yet to be told in a definitive way and Shan Nicholson’s well-crafted doc will introduce you to a side of the culture that often gets overlooked in favour of the whole ‘Hip Hop glamourises violence’ thing. You’ve heard that a million times but have you ever heard about Hip Hop stopping violence?
Here’s a classic you might not have seen sneak into the ‘Recently Added’ section. John Candy’s finest moment came with Uncle Buck. Not only is this a classic family film from the mind of Home Alone writer John Hughes, it features a pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin in his second-best role ever as the smart aleck nephew.
Candy plays the slobbish Buck who babysits for his upper-middle class brother and sister-in-law when they are suddenly called away. Hilarity, as you’ve guessed, ensues. If you never saw this classic it’s time to catch up.
It’s time to enter the Cage. There are so many ways in which to do so but for this excursion we’d like to suggest some serious, dramatic Cage. In ‘Joe’, he plays Joe, an ex-con who runs a lumber company in the American south. But this isn’t Con-Air Cage. Joe takes on 15-year-old Gary to help with the business only to discover the young boy is being abused by his alcoholic father.
This sober look at the hardships endured in the working class south is kind of like that slightly better film Mud with Matthew McConaughey. But the bond between Joe and the kid is convincing and what’s more, Gary Poulter who plays the abusive father was an actual homeless man living on the streets of Austin. The film-makers cast him in the movie and it paid off. His presence lends Joe a striking authenticity, made all the more memorable due to the fact that Poulter was found dead near a homeless campsite just before the film’s release.
The Babadook is a horror which manages to be a bit clever. It’s about single mother, Amelia, who lives with her six-year-old son Sam. The dad died in a horrible and violent car crash years ago and as Sam gets older and becomes increasingly volatile, Amelia finds it more and more difficult to hold it together. It doesn’t help that Sam, who might get on your nerves a bit, keeps talking about ‘The Babadook’ and once a mysterious book turns up in the house which depicts some pretty disturbing events, things get downright freaky.
If you like your horror cerebral and your kids irritating then this is for you. The conclusion is a bit silly but if you get symbolism and all that then you might find the Babadook a satisfying watch.
Beasts of No Nation
Idris Elba again. This time he stars as an African warlord who oversees the transformation of a young boy into child soldier in this slickly produced Netflix original film. Directed by Cary Fukunaga, of True Detective, Season 1, fame, Beasts of No Nation has prompted Oscar buzz upon its arrival – not bad for a film that saw an extremely limited theatrical release and was mainly intended for streaming.
If you’re looking for something for the family, you may want to avoid the masterfully glib Half Nelson.
Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of a highly intelligent high-school teacher held back by his addiction to all manner of narcotics will stay with you. As will the bond between him and one of his students which interjects a note of hope into an otherwise bleak narrative and makes for the kind of film that won’t be on most of these lists but should be.
Again, this dark exploration of the miseries of drug abuse isn’t the best family film, but stick in on anyway and throw the wife and kids a curve ball. For those watching alone, Half Nelson’s authentic writing and unapologetic depiction of personal anguish may surprise you with its hopeful ending.
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly hit peak ridiculous with this modern comedy ‘classic’. It hasn’t garnered quite the following that Anchorman has, but among those in the know, Stepbrothers is legend.
Ferrell and Reilly star as Brennan and Dale – two adults who still live with their parents. Once Brennan’s mom and Dale’s dad get together, the two are thrown into a bitter and hilarious rivalry. It’s absurd humour at its best.
Julianne Moore won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a linguistics professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice. It’s always nice when Netflix gets a relatively recent release, even if it is a harrowing depiction of the ravages of Alzheimer’s.
Still Alice also has some decent supporting performances from the likes of Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth. Even that perpetually lugubrious girl from Twilight puts in a believable turn as Moore’s daughter.
Best documentaries on Netflix
Seen Foxcatcher? If so, you’ll no doubt remember Steve Carell’s eerie performance as real-life weirdo and heir to the du Pont fortune, John E. du Pont. The self-styled wrestling coach’s story has now been retold in Netflix’s new documentary, which, using home video footage, details the lonely millionaire’s journey into madness and eventual killing of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.
If you liked Making a Murderer, or even the pre-eminent podcast of the last few years Serial, this insightful documentary will give you something to devour before the next big true crime series hits.
What Happened Miss Simone?
Netflix isn’t just about slickly produced dramas starring Kevin Spacey, it’s also got some great documentaries. On this occassion the Netflix suits decided it was time to delve into some music history with a profile of the inimitable Nina Simone.
And it paid off. What Happened Miss Simone? gained an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary feature for it’s insightful and revealing look at a musical legend. So take a break from binging House of Cards and find out exactly what did happen with Miss Simone.
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All
Sinatra is one of the few people deserving of the ‘legend’ label, and hats off to Netflix for helping to keep the crooner relevant by adding this great documentary to their roster. Directed by Alex Gibney, of ‘Going Clear’ fame, Sinatra: All or Nothing at All is the definitive Sinatra documnetary.
If you love Sinatra, you’ll love this documentary. If you don’t know anything about him, this is the best introduction you’ll get to Ol’ Blue Eyes.
The Look of Silence
The Look of Silence has been unanimously celebrated as one of the greatest documentaries of modern times. It’s a companion piece to director Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ and focuses on the Indonesian killings of 1965-66. It uses the unorthodox approach of following a man whose brother was killed in the ‘purge’ as he visits the murderers.
It makes for a gripping film, which unfortunately only currently has two stars on Netflix. But it was nominated for an Oscar so depending on whether your tastes align with the Academy or the discerning Netflix viewership, this one may or may not be for you. But it’s really good.
Best of Enemies
This one’s for the intellectuals. Anyone interested in 20th Century American politics should know about about the intense rivalry between political commentators and authors William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. If you’re still reading after that last sentence, then please hear us out.
These two titans of wit and writing were essentially archetypes for their respective political ideologies. Buckley was the best thing that had happened to conservative America for some time and Vidal’s effortless erudition gave the left the only icon they ever needed. And the two hated each other.
Best of Enemies is a documentary which chronicles the increasingly bitter conflict between the pair through interviews and footage of their on-air spats during the 1968 US presidential election. If you care even slightly about the nuances of wit and language, you should watch these two masters basically conduct a workshop on clever-sounding passive aggression.
The House I Live In
Don’t care about the legacy of Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the US? You will after watching this. There’s no reason you can’t keep up to date with hot button topics in the midst of a Flix sesh.
This documentary is produced by Eugene Jarecki and won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Insights from David Simon also feature heavily. He’s the guy that wrote arguably the greatest hour-long drama series to ever grace our screens: The Wire.
Here, Jarecki crafts an eloquent and sobering narrative which exposes the ‘War on Drugs’ as one the biggest failures in the history of US domestic policy. It may sound dry, but it’s genuinely gripping stuff. And you’d do well to learn something between episodes of The League.
Indie Game: The Movie
Here’s one to fulfill the tech angle. It’s about independent game developers and the struggles they encounter while trying to get their games to market. Some fairly objectionable personalities among the central cast can’t detract from what is a well-made and insightful documentary which explores a topic very few outside of the gaming world will be familiar with.
So, whether you’re a fan of gaming or not, give Indie Game: The Movie a try. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. And if you hate it, there’s always the comments section, where we definitely can’t wait to hear why we’re wrong.
News Editor Sean Keach wants you to sample the hard-hitting food documentary that is Cowspiracy. Depicting the decimation that factory farming has caused on our planet, and the baffling indifference of environmental groups to this injustice, Cowspiracy aims to get you angry so you’ll get off your couch and do something about it.
We’re sure you’ll be seized by a desire to save the planet after watching, but try and contain yourself until you’ve at least finished watching all the things on this list – it took us a while to write it and the planet can wait.
Another staff recommendation, Virunga tells the story of rangers who risk their lives to save endangered gorillas in Africa’s Virunga National Park. It got an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature and received overwhelming praise from critics upon its release.
So there you have it. More than enough to keep you contented. Make sure to check back as we’ll be updating this list over the coming weeks and months with the latest additions deserving of your attention.
Got any suggestions of your own? Let us know in the comments box below.