Ask some Netflix users and they’ll tell you that Netflix UK pales in comparison to Netflix US, that America has all the new, good stuff, while British streamers are left with the bargain bin rejects from old Blockbuster stores.
Take a closer look, though, and there’s a whole heap of quality there just waiting to be discovered. Whether they’re unfairly maligned, or just criminally under-seen, here are 21 underappreciated films on Netflix UK.
(We’ll keep this list updated as things arrive or leave the service to make sure you don’t run of new things to try. Last update: October 2019)
If you think a film about Anne Hathaway playing an alcoholic who can control a giant, city destroying kaiju sounds like a strange prospect, then you would be right – although probably not in the way you expect. Hathaway is predictably brilliant, and comedy nice guy Jason Sudeikis might surprise you by definitely not playing to type. Funny, dark and beautifully observed, Colossal starts with a simple premise but takes it to unforeseen places.
Global warming might be the big issue of the day, but in Snowpiercer‘s world, it’s a permanent winter that forces the last survivors of mankind onto a train that endlessly circles the frozen equator. Why? We’re not sure, but director Bong Joon-ho throws so many weird and beautiful things at the screen, that it’s hard to sweat the small stuff. Snowpiercer gives Chris Evans a chance to show off his non-Captain America acting chops, and Tilda Swinton’s role might be her weirdest ever (no, really).
This incredibly tense British drama looks like it’ll be another scrappy Brit horror movie (nothing wrong with those) but instead manages to traverse genre from folk horror to crime thriller as two old friends embark on a hunting weekend in the Scottish Highlands. But an accident involving one of the locals causes tensions to heighten. Town vs country tropes are explored in a totally fresh way, and Jack Lowdon and Martin McCann as the out of towners are terrific. Directed by Matt Palmer, Calibre is oppressive, stressful and totally thrilling. Check out our review.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives arguably his best performance ever as a sleazy freelance photojournalist who luck into the industry but filming the aftermath of a fatale car jacking and begins tampering with crime scenes to get better footage which he sells on to a major news channel. It’s a grimy thriller exploring the moral vagaries and the symbiotic relationships between paps, news channel desperate for ratings and viewers hungry for ever more sensationalist imagery. Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed co-star.
Ellen Page delivers a remarkable performance in this indie film from writer/director Sian Heder. A veteran of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, it’s perhaps no surprise that she delivers a drama that nudges you to sympathise with every person on screen. That includes Tallulah, a homeless girl who finds herself kidnapping a baby who’s being neglected, her boyfriend’s mother (Allison Janney), who takes them in, and even the baby’s self-absorbed mother, who panics when she finds her child has gone. What emerges is a complex, nuanced study of motherhood that raises questions and tugs at heartstrings with subtle skill.
You know that feeling when you go to dinner with your ex and everything’s really awkward? Karyn Kusama takes that to the umpteenth degree with this highly effective little genre flick, which deftly captures the horrors of uncomfortable social interactions – and slowly turns the dial to something more sinister.
Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer’s psychedelic sci-fi novel made headlines simply for going straight to Netflix in the UK (after a very short theatrical run in the US). Quite well known on Netflix then, but unappreciated in that many feel it didn’t get the release it deserved. Natalie Portman stars as a biologist who embarks on an expediation into a strange place know as ‘Area X’ which has suddenly appeared behind a sort of shimmer. She’s joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson, all women who have experience extreme loss. It’s a gorgeous, cerebral and ambiguous movie but it absolutely demands to be seen. Check out our review.
In the early ’90s, young filmmaker Sandi Tan and her friends shot hours of footage across Singapore for their surrealist student film. Then their mentor stole the film and disappeared. This documentary tells the strange and unexpected story of what happened to Tan’s work and how she finally recovered it. Shirkers is a tale of thwarted artistic expression and the strange tricks that the world can pull on us.
If that tickles your fancy here are some more great documentaries to watch on Netflix.
Set in a remote Mexican bus depot on a stormy night, The Similars follows the strange adventures of the group of people who find themselves trapped there. To say more would be to give the game away – just imagine a feature length Twilight Zone episode with a particularly twisted sense of humour.
Don’t you hate it when you finally invent a machine that generates free energy for everyone, only for bad people with guns to turn up and try to steal it? And, to make matters worse, the machine then makes time loop back on itself so the whole thing happens again? And again? And again? That’s all you need to know about Tony Elliott’s brilliant sci-fi, which combines Chain Reaction and Source Code to dizzying effect. There’s the gradual learning of our scientist, as he figures out how to use the cycles to get one step ahead of his enemy – but there are twists aplenty to unravel along the way, which soon leave everything open to manipulation from everyone, allowing for unexpected detours and unpredictable hijackings. The script doesn’t always land its dialogue and it lacks Edge Of Tomorrow‘s witty humour, but this is thrillingly imaginative stuff.
Win It All
Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson team up once again for this hugely likeable drama about a gambler trying to get his life into shape. Given money to look after by an old friend going into prison, he inevitably spends most of the cash, leaving him rushing about to recoup his debt – all the while dealing with his brother (Joe Lo Truglio) and starting a romance with a kind nurse he meets in a bar. Swanberg’s surprisingly structured script makes for his most accessible film yet, but Johnson and the cast elevate a conventional screenplay to make for something as engaging as it is bumbling.
Blumhouse has made its name with a string of promising low and micro-budget horrors, but the peril of that approach is that some can simply go unseen. Exhibit A: Creep, which failed to get a theatrical release and instead went straight to Netflix in the UK. Patrick Brice’s horror follows a videographer (Brice) hired to film a guy, Josef (Mark Duplass), for a day in his home in the woods. What follows is a deft two-hander that relies on the uneasy chemistry between the men to drive up the tension. An impressive demonstration that found footage can still scare, is Josef (with his animal mask and tendency to jump out at his guest) the titular creep? Is it the stranger who’s prowling about with a camcorder? And whose footage have we found anyway?
The Fundamentals Of Caring
This super-sweet road movie premiered at the Sundance film festival and launched as a Netflix original. It stars Craig Roberts from Submarine as a teenager who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy and Paul Rudd as his new caregiver who take a trip to see the world’s deepest pit, meeting various misfits along the way. Cute and kooky though that sounds, The Fundamentals of Caring has a serious dark side, and a very black sardonic sense of humour. Fans of smart indies like Little Miss Sunshine should love it.
Get Me Roger Stone
How on earth did Donald Trump become President of the United States? Introducing Roger Stone, a political player, puppet-string-puller and strategical shyster, who was the one to nudge the Apprentice judge in the direction of the White House. Netflix’s new original documentary takes us behind the news headlines surrounding the White House to give us a glimpse of the mechanics behind Trump’s rise to power, revealing Stone’s involvement with every major political event in the US going back to Nixon’s Watergate. Described by one as a sinister Forrest Gump of American politics, it’s an astonishing, eye-opening, important watch – and will make you very angry.
Felicity Jones’ star has shot up in recent years, but before one of Britain’s best young actors landed the lead in a Star Wars film, she starred in Chalet Girl. A film about a girl who gets a job cleaning up after a rich family in a resort? It might sound generic, but this is more sports movie than rom-com, creating a story about a fully-fledged character with agency, humour and sick snowboarding skills. Ignore the badly Photoshopped poster and take to the slopes. Did we mention that Felicity Jones is in it?
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Snapped up by Netflix at this year’s Sundance, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is the directorial debut of Macon Blair. The film follows polite nurse Ruth (the always-excellent Melanie Lynskey), who, upon arriving home to find her house burgled and the police indifferent, decides to take the law into her own hands.
A regular collaborator with Jeremy Saulnier, the brutal horror of Green Room echoes throughout the bursts of violence, but there’s a surreal, offbeat tone that feels all his own, as the mood shifts from dark to light without skipping a beat – a blend of mundane suburbia and the nastiness lurking beneath. In a strange, foreign world where people no longer seem to care about each other, what emerges is a touching, frequently amusing campaign for empathy amid a quest for revenge that doesn’t quite have the stomach for vigilante justice. “What do you want?” Ruth’s asked halfway through. She pauses. “For people to not be assholes.” And how.
Wet Hot American Summer
Another underrated movie simply because it’s been seen by so few people, this cult comedy by David They Came Together Wain has only arrived in the UK because Netflix added it ahead of their own spin-off series. The original sees stars ranging from Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd to Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Banks play people at a summer camp in the US – despite being way too old for their roles. The prequel series sees them do the same, despite being even older than they were when they originally played them. This surreal, exceptionally silly 97-minute outing is the ideal warm-up – and the best episode of Before They Were Famous in 19 years.
Joshua: Teenager Vs Superpower
When China’s Communist Party go back on its promise of giving Hong Kong autonomy, attempting to introduce its state-mandated curriculum to the city’s schools, one teenager decides enough is enough. Meet Joshua Wong, a 14-year-old who begins a campaign that stands up to one of the world’s superpowers, moving from success into a growing movement that attracted media attention from around the world. This is an informative documentary about the workings of a country far removed from our own – and a rousing reminder that young people engaged in politics really can make a difference. Mad for more Netflix docs? Check out this list of our favourites.
Holding The Man
Neil Armfield’s heartfelt drama, based on a memoir by Timothy Conigrave, tells the true story of two men’s romance – a romance that began when Tim and John met at school during a production of Romeo And Juliet and went on to span 15 years. Armfield captures that length of time with a huge sense of scale and an absorbing attention to detail, from the soundtrack to the performances, as we see the couple grow older in front of our eyes. This is sweeping, universal, swooning cinema.
Snapped up by Netflix for global streaming after Cannes 2016, Sacha Wolff’s film follows a young rugby player who moves from his New Caledonian home to France, after a talent scout spots him on the pitch. That move abroad gives him an escape from an abusive father, but his new home is no more welcoming, as his career goes awry and his hulking shape stands out from the crowd. Newcomer Toki Pilioko is remarkably intense in the lead, without barely saying a word, building to a blistering, moving Haka that sees him unleash all of his pent-up rejection, frustration and anger. A powerful sports drama, even if you don’t like sport.
You might not know Mike White’s name, but you probably know his face. Often turning up as a bit part actor in other people’s films (Jack Black’s drippy roommate in School Of Rock, for example) he seems to take acting jobs so he can carry on being a writer and occassional director. He made his debut back in 2007 with Year Of The Dog, which was actually great, but isn’t on Netflix so we’ll stop talking about it. His second film, though, is on Netflix UK and is also well worth a look – an indie comedy about a middle-aged guy whose life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to. To make things worse, all of his all friends found fame, fortune and happiness, and his own son has just been accepted to Harvard. Ben Stiller takes the lead alongside the likes of Michael Sheen, Jenna Fischer and Luke Wilson, and the whole thing hums along really nicely to a smart, funny script about failure and family.