Netflix has been making movies for 7 years out of the 25 they’ve existed (at least under the Netflix Original banner). It’s weird to believe that this company has been in our lives for this long. They have come a long way since the “Red Envelope” days and one of the most significant steps they’ve made to date was starting to produce their own films.
After their first big move to offer streaming content in 2007, the next logical step was to skip the licensing process altogether and start making their own series and films. With successes on the TV side with critical hits like House of Cards & Orange is the New Black, Netflix turned to make their own Original Films in 2015.
Since Netflix started its journey into movie-making, they’ve gone on to produce over 1,000 Netflix Original movies.
As a critic & podcaster who has covered Netflix Original Films since the end of 2018 with retrospective reviews of films since their inception, I thought I would celebrate Netflix’s massive commemoration with a list of my favorites for every year of their studio’s existence.
2015 – Beasts of No Nation
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
In their inaugural year, Netflix made two Original Films: Beasts of No Nation & The Ridiculous 6.
While the 250 Million Dollar mega-deal for Sandler was grabbing all the headlines to start, it was “True Detective” Season 1 standout director Cary Joji Fukunaga. They gave Netflix their first taste of critical success with their release of Beasts of No Nation in October 2015.
Based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, the film follows a young boy, Agu, played by Abraham Attah. He becomes a child soldier in his country as it undergoes a brutal civil war. In a harrowing coming-of-age tale that no one should have to endure, the film gives an unflinching look at the grooming of child soldiers in war-torn regions of the world, including the use of drugs, sexual abuse, & fear of death.
Beasts launched Netflix into the film festival & awards season that they would become perennial mainstays. The film was in the main competition at the prestigious Venice Film Festival and a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival. Attah and Idris Elba would be recognized for their work as winners at the Film Independent Spirit Awards in 2016, and Elba won Best Supporting Actor at the SAG Awards.
2016 – The Fundamentals of Caring
Director: Rob Burnett
With Netflix expanding to 17 Original Films in 2017, the field may have crowded a bit for this pick, But, to me, only one film stood out as one of the most heartwarming films this studio has ever made: The Fundamentals of Caring.
Taking full advantage of Paul Rudd’s entrance into the ultra-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe with his leading role in Ant-Man the year prior, Netflix snatched up the rights to this film before its Closing Night premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
Based on Jonathan Evision’s novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”, this incredibly moving & hilarious road dramedy follows the story of Ben, an out-of-work writer sunken by a family loss and avoiding his wife’s impending divorce papers, who becomes a registered caregiver to 18-year-old Trevor (Craig Roberts) who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. While that may not sound like the start of fun & poignant tale, I assure you the chemistry and dark, sarcastic humor is what makes the film rise above the fray. Paul Rudd may be the bankable star attraction (and maybe the glue in this talented ensemble), but the movie belongs to its young stars Craig Roberts and pop singer-actress Selena Gomez.
Gomez’s wayward Dot character opens up the film as an awakening for Roberts’ Trevor. He is often open about his sexual frustration as a wheelchair-bound young man dealing with his disease.
2017 – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Director: Noah Baumbach
While I am an elder Millennial who was raised on the outrageous 90s comedies of Adam Sandler (Stop looking at me, Swan!), I am constantly impressed by the range of characters & film projects the Sandman has given us over the past 20 years. Since his work in Punch Drunk Love in 2002, he has been surprising critics and fans with his more serious roles that blend his trademark rage & ire with a more deeply felt contemplative essence.
Under the guidance & direction of indie film god Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale), Sandler leads an impressive cast as Danny Meyerowitz, the recently unemployed son of moderately successful sculptor & retired professor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman). The latter has to move in with his father following his separation from his wife.
If you are a fan of dysfunctional families or are suffering through one of your own, this film should be a must-watch. While Dustin Hoffman performs Harold Meyerowitz’s indignant narcissism to an elite level, it is the maladjusted siblings played by Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel that make this movie shine. In 2017, this film was most certainly my favorite Baumbach offering (later surpassed) and my favorite of Sandler’s more serious roles (later surpassed by his role in 2019’s Uncut Gems).
2018 – Roma
With all due respect to the ultra-popular Bird Box and the film that started my Netflix Original Movie journey, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Netflix’s first Best Picture nominee, Roma, which would go on to win 3 Oscars for Best International Feature, Best Director, & Best Cinematography.
In this incredibly personal film from Mexican-born filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, Roma takes us through a year in the life of a middle-class maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuaron’s upbringing in the Colonial Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. With the backdrop of civil unrest & violent protests against paramilitary groups, Roma explores themes of class, gender inequality, & indigenous people assimilation in the most visceral and intimate ways.
2019 – Marriage Story
Director: Noah Baumbach
Remember how I said The Meyerowitz Stories would later be surpassed on the Baumbach filmography rankings? Well, this is that film! Marriage Story is not only my favorite Baumbach film, but I believe it to be the best Netflix Original Movie to date.
In what would probably be described as an extremely personal film, Noah Baumbach’s sometimes gut-wrenching and always raw depiction of a marriage falling apart takes us through the subtle & painful nuances of uncoupling, the struggles of co-parenting during a divorce proceeding, & the introduction to a singing Adam Driver we didn’t know we needed.
Though Laura Dern finally won an Oscar for her supporting role in this film, the film is a standout showcase for its co-leads, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Clearly, the internet agrees as the most intense argument scene in the film has been memed a million times over, including my favorite version of the dispute with Driver replaced with a Velociraptor. The internet always wins.
2020 – His House
Director: Remi Weekes
So glad to highlight a non-prestige genre film! His House is a film that caught me completely off guard back in 2020. While garnering some buzz out of Sundance that year, I barely had this film on my radar. However, after watching the film, I was rendered speechless.
With haunting visuals and strong performances, this unique take on the “haunted house/ghost story” horror subgenre brings the immigrant experience into a new light … or darkness … depending on your perspective.
Themes of loss, class, & race make this one of the most important & distinctive horror movies I’ve seen in years. Remi Weekes’ directorial debut made me an instant fan and I can’t wait to see what he might do next.
2021 – Tick, Tick … BOOM!
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
An amazing recipe of Lin-Manuel Miranda magic, an elite-level leading role performance, & one of the most unique angles on the artist’s struggle to the top, Tick, Tick … BOOM! became one of the most rewatchable and infectious films Netflix has done to date. Andrew Garfield leaps off the screen in his frenetic and deeply moving portrayal of Broadway legend Jonathan Larson on the cusp of his 30th birthday.
While this movie takes on the classic mold of a struggling artist breaking through, it doesn’t take us to his career’s highest heights (Creating RENT) or his untimely death. The film focuses more on balancing the relationships with the people who help you get through and the massive pressure of living up to your expectations in your early career. Add in the backdrop of New York City in the 1980s AIDS epidemic and it may be the most grounded and heartfelt musical adaptation I’ve ever seen.
2022 (so far) – Hustle
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
OK! OK! I can’t get enough of The Sandman when he gets all serious!
I also may be an incredible sucker for a well constructed sports drama, which is why Hustle was a sight for sore eyes in a spectacularly dull summer movie season for 2022.
Set in the modern NBA and filled with a ton of today’s stars, the film centers around Stanley Sugarman, former college basketball player and NBA scout, who discovers a phenomenal streetball player while in Spain and sees the prospect as his opportunity to gain back respect and favor amongst his former colleagues in the league.
While the film presents all the classic beats of a quality rise-to-fame sports tale, what makes the film more unique is putting the role of scout on display and showing the parallel relationship of two men at different stages of their careers who need each other desperately to survive the rigors of professional sports and the mental toll that the draft process can take on anyone involved.
As a known basketball fanatic, this was the type of film Sandler was dying to get a hold of and it shows. With impressive performances from current NBA players Juancho Hernangomez & Anthony Edwards, Hustle may be one of the best basketball films we’ve seen in a long time.
Honorable Mentions for Best Netflix Movies
- The Irishman (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
- The Life Ahead (Dir. Edoardo Ponti)
- Time To Hunt (Dir. Yoon Sung-hyun)
- The Mitchells vs The Machine (Dir. Michael Rianda)
- The Lost Daughter (Dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal)
- The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)
What’s been your favorite Netflix Original movies since 2015? Let us know in the comments.