34 Best Original Movies On Netflix

Staff & contributors

Thanks to technological and artistic innovations, in the past couple of decades inventiveness in film has become truly limitless. From novel formats to unusual scripts and cinematography, here are the most original movies and shows to stream now.

Difficult but essential viewing, Procession tracks the progress of six men undergoing art therapy—specifically, by creating short filmed scenes to process their trauma from being sexually abused by Catholic priests. The resulting films we get to see are wildly varied in the emotions they express, forming a rich and powerful tapestry of the effects abuse can leave on individuals. And to see these men confront the worst events of their lives through filmmaking begins to feel like validation for filmmaking itself, that it can truly be an art form that changes and saves lives. But even more striking, somehow, is the unbreakable bond that forms among these survivors throughout this entire process, captured with reverence and overflowing compassion by director Robert Greene.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dan Laurine

Director: Robert Greene

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon, Samart Payakaroon, Sornchai Chatwiriyachai, Sukollawat Kanarot, Waratta Watcharatorn, Yothin Mapobphun

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anna Wintour, Billie Eilish, James Taylor, Jon Batiste, Jonathan Dinklage, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, Louis Cato, Questlove, Simon Helberg, Stephen Colbert, Stevie Wonder, Suleika Jaouad, Trevor Noah

Director: Matthew Heineman

Rating: PG-13

The debut feature by Palestine’s most well-known director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is an unusual movie about the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict in that it's closer to absurdist comedy than anything else. The only physical violence we see here are men cat-fighting in the street or arm-wrestling each other in cafes, and Israeli presence is limited to a couple of bumbling police officers. Chronicle is full of slapstick cinema touches — right down to the Buster Keaton-esque eyes of director Elia Suleiman, who appears here as a silent wanderer — and yet we feel the bitter reality of the occupation framing every deadpan gag. 

Structured as a series of vignettes, Chronicle’s loose form is both a way to depict the stagnation and dry repetition in which Palestinians are stuck and a wry metaphor for all this listlessness. Suleiman speaks plainly in some chapters — such as the one following a woman who is repeatedly turned down from renting an apartment in Jerusalem because she’s Arab — and more obliquely in others, forcing you to recall the movie’s setting to understand his often-understated commentary. A singular film from an utterly unique director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is both a portrait of a country’s erosion and a quietly defiant act of resistance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Fawaz Eilemi, Fuad Suleiman, Iaha Mouhamad, Jamel Daher, Juliet Mazzawi, Leonid Alexeenko, Nazira Suleiman, Ola Tabari, Ula Tabari

Director: Elia Suleiman

A healthy mix of despair and self-deprecation has always been Bo Burnham's signature, but Inside takes it to the next level. It's a deconstructed film, rather than a simple one-night special; a one-man-show that constantly undercuts itself. Even more so, it sabotages its own immersive qualities and explores the depths of self-loathing by turning oneself into comedy material. Some may say, it's a classic move, but the pandemic reality and Burnham's unkempt look predispose us to embrace all the cringe (YouTube reactions), quirkiness, (the sock puppet), and frightening angst (suicide jokes) he puts forward. Emotional rawness and a polished DIY look fits the Netflix bill, but as far as the content goes, this one goes straight to the world heritage lockdown archives.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bo Burnham

Director: Bo Burnham

Rating: R

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga

Director: Sam Esmail

Rating: R

Spike Lee burst onto the filmmaking scene with this, his groundbreaking debut feature. Low in budget but high in confidence, She’s Gotta Have It fizzes with unadulterated energy and style, from its kaleidoscopic opening montage of stills depicting life in Brooklyn (where the film is set) to the joyous direct addresses of its credits sequence.

The film helped to kick off the independent movie movement in the US, and it’s not hard to see why: Lee and his collaborators (including members of his own family) do so much with so little here. Along with its visual and formal inventiveness — including ample fourth wall breaks and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s momentary, audacious switch from black-and-white to vibrant color — She’s Gotta Have It also broke new ground with Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns), the young, Black, unapologetically polyamorous artist whom the film’s forthright exploration of sexuality and feminism is centered on. Lee has since expressed regret about one scene in the film — an ill-judged moment that unavoidably dilutes some of its brilliance — but this aside, She’s Gotta Have It stands overall as a radical, exuberant, and impressively assertive lightning bolt of an entry into the medium that Lee changed forever.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Bill Lee, Cheryl Burr, Eric Payne, Erik Dellums, Ernest R. Dickerson, Fab 5 Freddy, John Canada Terrell, Joie Lee, Monty Ross, Raye Dowell, Reginald Hudlin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Spike Lee, Tiziano Cortini, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Tracy Camilla Johns

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

There’s a lot of good to be found in the charming, poignant, and endlessly quotable Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It follows a documentarian named Dean, who has as his subject the one-inch talking shell that is Marcel. Marcel looks after an empty house along with his grandma Connie, and together they run a delightfully intricate system subsisting on electric mixers, tennis balls, and the occasional human hair.

Despite his small size, Marcel unwittingly makes big observations about life and the world around him, often moving Dean (and this writer) close to tears. It’s a simple film with a grand message, with lots to say about the importance of participating in life as opposed to merely observing it. But ultimately this is a movie with a precocious talking shell at the heart of it all, so really, what’s not to like?

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Kids

Actor: Andy Richter, Avan Jogia, Blake Hottle, Brian Williams, Conan O'Brien, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Isabella Rossellini, Jamie Leonhart, Jenny Slate, Jeremy Evans, Jessi Klein, Joe Gabler, Lesley Stahl, Nathan Fielder, Peter Bonerz, Rosa Salazar, Samuel Painter, Sarah Thyre, Scott Osterman, Shari Finkelstein, Thomas Mann, Victoria Justice

Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp

Rating: PG

Frybread Face and Me is a little indie gem: though rough around the edges, it’s full of charm and heart. Drawn from its director's own childhood experiences, the movie charts a formative moment in the life of Benny, a city boy of Navajo, Hopi, and Laguna Pueblo heritage who’s carted off to his grandmother’s ranch on a Navajo reservation for a summer. It's suffused with all the specificity of real memories in a way that never distances us from it, only enfolding us closer into its nostalgic embrace. That effect largely comes from the tender bonds between Benny and his cousin Dawn (unsympathetically nicknamed Frybread Face and played by newcomer Charley Hogan), who acts as translator between him and their non-English-speaking grandmother (Sarah H. Natani, also a non-professional actor). Though he’s constantly berated by male family members for not being “masculine” enough, Benny finds unconditional acceptance from his grandmother and misfit camaraderie with Frybread, who also gives the film a dry comedic edge — a welcome touch in a usually saccharine genre. Ultimately, though, it’s the movie’s soft sweetness and intimate depths that are most distinctive: it’s so gently told, and with such genuine feeling behind it, that it’s impossible not to be swept away by its charms.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Charley Hogan, Jeremiah Bitsui, Kahara Hodges, Keir Tallman, Leilani Taliaferro, Martin Sensmeier, MorningStar Angeline, Nasheen Sleuth, Sarah H. Natani

Director: Billy Luther

Rating: R

This animated movie is absolutely wonderful. It’s an Irish production, and the drawings/graphics are so beautiful and different from what you usually see in this genre. This alone, along with the music, would be good reasons to watch this.

But what really makes this worth your time is the story – it’s about a boy dealing with the loss of his mother. He embarks on an adventure into a parallel world of feelings to save his sister.

I found it to be refreshingly original, sometimes quite intense (I cried, but I easily cry), and heartwarming. The details are great. And I love the way the story was interwoven with Irish mythology, making it magical.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Brendan Gleeson, Colm ÓSnodaigh, Colm O'Snodaigh, David Rawle, Fionnula Flanagan, Jon Kenny, Kevin Swierszcz, Liam Hourican, Lisa Hannigan, Lucy O'Connell, Pat Shortt, Paul Young, Tomm Moore, Will Collins

Director: Tomm Moore

Rating: PG

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Brett Eidman, Fredi Bernstein, Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

Stutz is Jonah Hill’s loving tribute to his therapist Phil Stutz, a smart and empathetic man who’s dedicated his entire life to helping people. The conversations between them, deeply personal and vulnerable, are meaningful in themselves, but Stutz also works as a helpful instruction on how to be your best self and as a metanarrative on telling honest stories on a medium as seemingly artificial as film (it is similar to Bo Burnham’s Inside in that way).

Stutz is at once experimental and comforting, a real gem especially for people with an interest in psychoanalysis and alternative psychiatry. It’s at its best when the two men deal with uncomfortable truths in the kindest of ways, and it's sure to be something people will return to often for advice and solace. Fun fact: the documentary was co-produced by Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Jonah Hill

Director: Jonah Hill

Rating: R

In the early 1990s, Singaporean teens Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie set out to make the country’s first indie movie. Incredibly, in between college, day jobs, and very limited funding, they manage to do just that with the help of their wise but mysterious mentor, Georges. Shirkers, as the project came to be called, seemed primed to revolutionize the burgeoning Singaporean film industry. It was ambitious and bonkers, unlike anything the country has seen before, and it lovingly contained tributes to the makers' cinematic heroes (among them Wim Wenders and David Lynch). But before it could see the light of the day, before it could even be viewed and edited by the girls who conceptualized it, Shirkers’ raw footage was whisked away by Georges, who fled the country without a trace. 

The potentially pioneering film was never to be seen again—that is, until 20 years later when it resurfaces in near-mint condition (sadly, the audio could not be recovered). Fascinated by the journey of the lost film and mystified by Georges’ motives, Sandi decides to remake Shirkers as a documentary. The result is an artistic and personal interrogation into what made their small beloved film possible, how its loss affected the people behind it, and how this all led to Shirkers, the documentary, which is a testament to how art always prevails in the end. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Georges Cardona, Jasmine Ng, Jasmine Ng Kin Kia, Sandi Tan, Sophia Siddique Harvey

Director: Sandi Tan

Rating: TV-14

A quirky little movie about a reporter trying to get a story about a man who posted an ad looking for someone to travel in time with. The movie's main strength is the fantastic casting of talents that usually live in the series world (Jake M. Johnson from New Girl, Aubery Plaza from Parcs and Recreation, Mark Duplass), and although it might seem a little bit slow at the beginning, it is worth every second spent watching it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Aubrey Plaza, Basil Harris, Colin Trevorrow, Eli Borozan, Jake Johnson, Jeff Garlin, Jenica Bergere, Karan Soni, Kristen Bell, Lauren Carlos, Lynn Shelton, Mark Duplass, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Tony Doupe, William Hall Jr.

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Rating: R

This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will enjoy this small, well-acted film.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Asha Sawyer, Audrey Walker, Chris Doubek, Christine Woods, Dana Millican, David Yow, Derek Mears, Devon Graye, Elijah Wood, Gary Anthony Williams, Jana Lee Hamblin, Jane Levy, Jared Roylance, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Jeb Berrier, Lana Dieterich, Lee Eddy, Macon Blair, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Matt Orduna, Maxwell Hamilton, Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Moreno, Myron Natwick, Ray Buckley, Robert Longstreet, Sharae Foxie, Taylor Tunes, Wrick Jones

Director: Macon Blair

Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA