13 Best Movies to Watch From Screen Australia

Staff & contributors

The Royal Hotel sees Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) resorting to take up a dire live-in job behind the bar in a remote desert part of Western Australia. Although they're warned that they'd "have to be okay with a little male attention" in the outcast mining town, their financial precarity overrides the potential fear. Curiously enough, the fiction film is based on a real story, already told in the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie by Pete Gleeson, but The Assistant director Kitty Green pulls no punches when representing how suffocating it must feel to be encircled by such unmediated male aggression. The brawls, the spilled beer, the c-word as a greeting all form the unnerving paraphernalia of life then and there. For Australian independent film devotees, there is actor Toby Wallace, who reprises his bad boy role from Babyteeth, and he's joined by the ranks of Herbert Nordrum (The Worst Person in the World) and an utterly terrifying Hugo Weaving (The Matrix).

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Malone, Barbara Lowing, Baykali Ganambarr, Bree Bain, Bruce R. Carter, Daniel Henshall, Herbert Nordrum, Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Jessica Henwick, Julia Garner, Kate Cheel, Patrick Frost, Toby Wallace, Ursula Yovich, Valerie Berry

Director: Kitty Green

Rating: R

One of the most original time-travel thrillers since 12 Monkeys. A brilliant subversion of the Time Paradox trope, with enough plot twists to keep you entertained until well after the movie is finished. Predestination is an amazing movie with great performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. It's a movie that will feel like Inception, when it comes to messing with your mind and barely anyone has heard of it. It is highly underrated and unknown, sadly.

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alicia Pavlis, Annabelle Norman, Arielle O'Neill, Ben Prendergast, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Cate Wolfe, Christopher Bunworth, Christopher Kirby, Christopher Sommers, Christopher Stollery, Dennis Coard, Dick York, Elise Jansen, Eliza D'Souza, Eliza Matengu, Ethan Hawke, Felicity Steel, Finegan Sampson, Freya Stafford, Giordano Gangl, Grant Piro, Hayley Butcher, Jim Knobeloch, Katie Avram, Kristie Jandric, Kuni Hashimoto, Lucinda Armstrong Hall, Madeleine West, Maja Sarosiek, Marky Lee Campbell, Milla Simmonds, Monique Heath, Noah Taylor, Noel Herriman, Olivia Sprague, Paul Moder, Raj Sidhu, Rebecca Cullinan, Rob Jenkins, Sara El-Yafi, Sarah Snook, Sharon Kershaw, Sophie Cusworth, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Tyler Coppin, Vanessa Crouch

Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, The Spierig Brothers

Rating: R

In an age where recent horror films mostly use the jump-scare as a crutch to make their CGI-spawned (not to mention generic) creatures seem scary, The Babadook portrays real scares, relatable characters and a moving story. Jennifer Kent (director and writer) sets this on the backdrop of heavily Lars von Trier-inspired cinematography, elevating The Babadook from a shot at an amazing horror to a resemblance of an art house film. The unease felt during this film only increases as it creeps towards its conclusion. Whenever the Babadook (the monster of the film) is seen lurking in the peripherals of the camera, appearing in television sets and the shadows to create a sense of omnipresence that disturbs the viewer on a deeper, more primal level than that of so many recent horror films could even hope to reach. It leaves the audience with the sensation that they are being lowered onto a lit candle, spine-first. In short; the seamless acting, the beautiful shots, the slow-burning terror together creates a masterpiece that strides past any horror film of the past decade (maybe even further) and stands toe-to-toe with the greats without even breaking a sweat.

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Adam Morgan, Barbara West, Ben Winspear, Benjamin Winspear, Carmel Johnson, Cathy Adamek, Chloe Hurn, Craig Behenna, Daniel Henshall, Essie Davis, Hayley McElhinney, Jacquy Phillips, Michael Gilmour, Michelle Nightingale, Noah Wiseman, Peta Shannon, Pippa Wanganeen, Stephen Sheehan, Terence Crawford, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Tim Purcell

Director: Jennifer Kent

Rating: Not Rated

A cracking cast including Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton elevate this dark and gripping Australian crime drama, which was received with glowing reviews from critics but was sadly forgotten with time.

Breakout star James Frecheville plays J, a teenager who goes to live with his grandmother, the head of a Melbourne crime organization. As the heat closes in and things go awry, J finds himself caught between his family and a detective who wants to save him.

Jacki Weaver is outstanding as the conniving grandma and the film put Ben Mendelsohn on the road to Hollywood stardom. Animal Kingdom is a superior crime saga with plenty of emotional depth to match the tense drama.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Andy McPhee, Anna Lise Phillips, Anthony Ahern, Anthony Hayes, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Ouwehand, Bert LaBonté, Brenda Palmer, Bryce Lindemann, Chris Weir, Christina Azucena, Clayton Jacobson, Dan Wyllie, David Michôd, Dom Phelan, Guy Pearce, Jack Heanly, Jacki Weaver, Jacqueline Brennan, James Frecheville, James Saunders, Joel Edgerton, Josh Helman, Justin Rosniak, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Laura Wheelwright, Luke Ford, Michael Vice, Mirrah Foulkes, Paul Smits, Sullivan Stapleton, Susan Prior, Tim Phillipps

Director: David Michôd

Rating: R

The directorial debut of Australian twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou—more popularly known together as the YouTube creators RackaRacka—Talk to Me finds a surprisingly unique way of exploring themes that contemporary horror films have made commonplace. At its heart this is still a movie about one's inability to come to terms with loss, but the emotions that come with this experience are filtered through suburban ennui and the numbing effect that social media has on depictions of tragedy. It's in this specific milieu where Mia (a terrific Sophie Wilde) feels compelled to act irresponsibly and continue inviting a malevolent presence into her life. Her feelings are real, but because her peers and the adults around her aren't the best at being vulnerable, Mia begins to underestimate how destructive her grief really is.

Talk to Me only grows more despairing the longer it goes. But impressively, the film doesn't rely on the usual jump scares and excesses that would normally make a YouTube horror short go viral. The situations escalate organically (if you can suspend a little disbelief for the moments when the characters simply watch terrible things happen) and as the supernatural forces haunting these teenagers get stronger, so do Mia's isolation and her desperation to make up for her mistakes. It's bleak stuff, but sharp direction and great performances (especially from Wilde and young Joe Bird) make this a particularly exciting vision of horror.

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Jensen, Alexandria Steffensen, Ari McCarthy, Chris Alosio, Ethan Payne, Harli Ames, Harry Lewis, Jacek Koman, Jodie Dry, Joe Bird, Josh Bradley, Kelly Butler, KSI, Leeanna Walsman, Marcus Johnson, Mark Duncan, Miranda Otto, Otis Dhanji, Robin Northover, Simon Minter, Sophie Wilde, Tobi Brown, Vik Barn, Zoe Terakes

Director: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou

Rating: R

Relationships mostly come and go, but to some lucky people, they find love early, hold onto it, and never let it go. Holding the Man is a drama based on a memoir on a fifteen year love affair between John Caleo and writer Tim Conigrave, who first met in high school, and chose to stay with each other despite parental disapproval, diagnoses, and same-sex activity being illegal. While Ryan Corr and Craig Stott do seem unconvincing as high school students, they share a realistic, endearing chemistry that makes you hope for a happy ending for the two, despite the knowledge of what they would have to face that decade. The film captures the nostalgia of the times in such a relaxed way, while also sticking to the frank tone of the book. Holding the Man reminds us to cling to the people we love, because there might be a time where we cannot.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony LaPaglia, Craig Stott, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Jacob Collins-Levy, Kerry Fox, Lee Cormie, Ryan Corr, Sarah Snook, Tony Rickards

Director: Neil Armfield

Rating: NR

This artistic Australian coming-of-age drama stars Eliza Scanlen (Little Women, Sharp Objects) as Milla, a teen from a dysfunctional family. The father is a psychologist and the mother suffers from depression, so he medicates her under the table. Meanwhile, Milla, a 16 year old, starts dating a charismatic almost-homeless 24 year old drug dealer. Unusual circumstances make the family tolerate the relationship in this story where every character feels like the main one. 

If you're looking for something different, you will love Babyteeth. Something happens to Milla in the 10 minute mark that descriptions and reviews online all mention - but is definitely a spoiler. Just know that it's not all romance and coming-of-age, there is slow-burning darkness to this movie. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Andrea Demetriades, Arka Das, Ben Mendelsohn, Charles Grounds, Eliza Scanlen, Emily Barclay, Essie Davis, Eugene Gilfedder, Georgina Symes, Jaga Yap, Justin Smith, Michelle Lotters, Priscilla Doueihy, Quentin Yung, Renee Billing, Toby Wallace, Zack Grech

Director: Shannon Murphy

Rating: MA-17, Not Rated

From The Babadook director Jennifer Kent comes another horror, although this one is more about the horrors of humanity. Set in 1825 Tasmania, The Nightingale follows Irish settler Clare as she seeks bloody revenge on the monsters who wronged her and her family. She teams up with an Aboriginal guide named Billy to accomplish her goal.

Because of its often violent and disturbing tone (the film is rated R for its potentially triggering scenes), The Nightingale understandably polarized audiences upon its release. But it's also an excellent conversation piece, best watched with friends or anyone up for a discussion-filled movie night.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Aisling Franciosi, Alan Faulkner, Anthony Phelan, Baykali Ganambarr, Ben McIvor, Charlie Jampijinpa Brown, Charlie Shotwell, Christopher Stollery, Damon Herriman, Eloise Winestock, Ewen Leslie, Harry Greenwood, Huw Higginson, James O'Connell, Luke Carroll, Maggie Blinco, Magnolia Maymuru, Matthew Sunderland, Michael Sheasby, Nathaniel Dean, Sam Claflin, Sam Smith

Director: Jennifer Kent

Rating: R

Jane Campion’s biographical drama about the poet John Keats derives its name from one of the latter’s greatest love sonnets: Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art… / Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath/ And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Keats remains one of the most celebrated and adored Romantic poets. His writing challenged the poetic form, and revered the world for what it is at its best: wondrous, surprising, sublime. Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of Keats is rightfully distant, as we encounter the poet’s incredible aloofness through the perspective of interested suitor Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Brawne’s relationship with Keats was short but intense, providing great artistic inspiration and devastating devotion. Campion perfectly captures their fleeting relationship in this deft, crushing drama.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abbie Cornish, Adrian Schiller, Amanda Hale, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Ben Whishaw, Claudie Blakley, Edie Martin, Eileen Davies, Gerard Monaco, Jonathan Aris, Kerry Fox, Lucinda Raikes, Olly Alexander, Paul Schneider, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Samuel Barnett, Samuel Roukin, Sebastian Armesto, Theresa Watson, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Vincent Franklin

Director: Jane Campion

Rating: PG

, 2016

Lion is the award-sweeping movie based on the true story of a kid in India who gets lost in a train and suddenly finds himself thousands of kilometers away from home. 25 years later, after being adopted by an Australian couple, he embarks on a journey through his memory and across continents to reconnect with his lost family. Dev Patel plays Saroo, and Nicole Kidman plays his Australian adoptive mother. Two truly amazing performances that will transport you to the time and place of the events, as well as its emotions spanning tear-jerking moments and pure joy. An uplifting, meaningful, and beautiful movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abhishek Bharate, Anna Samson, Arka Das, Benjamin Rigby, David Wenham, Deepti Naval, Dev Patel, Divian Ladwa, Eamon Farren, Emilie Cocquerel, Garth Davis, Keshav Jadhav, Khushi Solanki, Lucy Moir, Menik Gooneratne, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nicole Kidman, Priyanka Bose, Riddhi Sen, Rooney Mara, Sachin Joab, Sunny Pawar, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Tegan Crowley

Director: Garth Davis

Rating: PG-13

Robyn Davidson decided to cross 1,700 miles in the Australian desert with four camels and her trusty dog, and this film recounts her real-life journey. In many ways this is a companion piece to Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, also released in theaters in 2014. While I enjoyed Wild, it went out of its way to make the protagonist’s journey understood to audiences. Tracks gives Robyn some light shading and backstory, but unlike Wild it almost focuses solely on her journey across the desert. And what a desert it is! The scenery is shot beautifully and we feel as though we are truly on this daring journey with her, traveling alien landscapes with little to depend on beyond our animal companions and our wits. We know the outcome (since this is a true story) but we are still thrilled to see how it unfolds. What does it all mean, and what was the journey’s purpose? Thankfully, in the end, the answer is left as enigmatic as the heroine herself.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Bryan Probets, Daisy Walkabout, Emma Booth, Evan Casey, Felicity Steel, Fiona Press, Ian Conway, Jessica Tovey, John Flaus, Lily Pearl, Melanie Zanetti, Mia Wasikowska, Philip Dodd, Rainer Bock, Robert Coleby, Rolley Mintuma

Director: John Curran

Rating: PG-13

While this documentary may not provide the level of insight or as cohesive a narrative as other films from recent years about children's entertainment, Hot Potato benefits from the sheer charm and approachability of The Wiggles themselves. It's inspiring to see these men and women be perfectly ordinary people who just patiently put in the work to get to where they are today. The film doesn't necessarily find a central idea or philosophy behind The Wiggles' music, but their creativity and enthusiasm for performing manages to turn the simplest things (like fruit salad) into a celebration of life. The documentary isn't particularly good at balancing its tones, especially when it deals with the struggles that various Wiggles have faced in their personal lives, but it remains likable and wholesome all the same.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Anthony Field, Bindi Irwin, Caterina Mete, Emma Watkins, Evie Ferris, Greg Page, Jeff Fatt, John Travolta, Lachlan Gillespie, Lucia Field, Matthew Broderick, Murray Cook, Paul Field, Paul Paddick, Robert De Niro, Sam Moran, Sarah Jessica Parker, Simon Pryce, Steve Irwin, Terri Irwin, Tsehay Hawkins

Director: Sally Aitken

, 2022

You can tell that Blaze director Del Kathryn Barton is an award-winning visual artist first and foremost. The images that she puts together in this film are frequently stunning—making use of the camera in fascinating, freeing ways, and with lots of practical and computer-generated/animated effects that paint her young protagonist Blaze's world in glitter and feathers and lush colors. The imaginary dragon, which acts as a shorthand to symbolize Blaze's complex psychological response to her trauma, is a wonderfully tactile life-size puppet that lead actress Julia Savage responds to in an entirely convincing way.

But you can also tell that this is Barton's debut feature. Ultimately her visuals don't do enough to shake off or give meaning to the graphic scene of rape and murder that occurs at the beginning of the film. And the way she structures the movie threatens to make it feel like a series of music videos or video art pieces. Despite its originality and the level of commitment displayed by both Savage and Simon Baker, Blaze has difficulty communicating a coherent message about trauma—the film strung together by heavy-handed scenes that spell out various ideas and lead to the most obvious conclusions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Bernie Van Tiel, Heather Mitchell, John Waters, Josh Lawson, Julia Savage, Morgan Davies, Neal Horton, Rebecca Massey, Remy Hii, Simon Baker, Stephen James King, Will McDonald, Yael Stone

Director: Del Kathryn Barton