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The 93 Good Movies on Netflix
Out of the, oh, roughly 3,700 available
This is the first in an occasional series of what I’m calling platform overviews, where I take a look at all the movies a streaming service has to offer and gauge the depth and breadth of its programming. It makes sense that I’d start with Netflix, with 203 million subscribers worldwide the most popular subscription VOD service by far. Netflix is so successful that is has effectively become the generic name for the industry as a whole, like Kleenex or Jacuzzi. You don’t Amazon Prime ’n’ chill, do you? No, you do not. (Maybe you Hulu ’n’ chill, but that’s between you and your significant other.)
Second, and more to the point, the dirty little secret of Netflix, the streaming service, is that – shhh – it doesn’t have many movies at all, far fewer than some of its rivals. And the movies it does have are a remarkably motley bunch, uncurated and plopped onto the service seemingly at random. For a company whose name is literally a portmanteau of “Internet” and a slang word for “movies,” this seems … odd. Maybe even a consumer bait-and-switch.
Before I break down the numbers, let’s pause and ask why this might be so. It’s worth noting that Netflix’s original core business – DVD rentals by mail – is still active under the name DVD Netflix, with a slowly shrinking subscriber base that currently sits at about two million. That service will still deliver you just about every movie that’s out there on disc; it’s over on the streaming version of Netflix that things get funky.
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There the company has struck pay dirt with its original programming: TV series (some plucked from abroad, some produced in-house) and movies (some picked up at film markets or festivals and some bankrolled by Netflix) that have come to dominate the awards circuit. When the most recent Emmy nominations were announced, Netflix had 129 for buzzy shows like “The Crown,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” and “Bridgerton.” At the 2021 Academy Awards, the company had 37 nominations for films like “Mank,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” It doesn’t even matter how popular these titles are – “Mank” was a feast for old movie fanatics like me and a bore for everyone else – so long as they polish the luster of the house brand and keep the monthly subscriptions rolling in.
Netflix, the streaming company, is therefore no longer a distributor nor a broadcaster, or not only those things. It is a studio that from certain angles looks quite like one of the old school titans, with high-profile directors and even actors tied to exclusive deals. As such, other people’s movies are now only a small part of what they do.
This explains why when you search Netflix on demand for movies, it feels like there’s nothing there. That’s an illusion, though. There are, at any given time, around 3,700 films playing on the service according to What’s On Netflix, an independent UK-based company that tracks the service’s offerings in the US market and elsewhere. If the data on the site isn’t complete – the current dateline is April 21, 2021 – it’s awfully close, and a careful comb-through reveals some interesting nuggets.
First, of those 3,700 movie titles, just under 2,000 of them are in English. The second most common language is Hindi, with 390 titles, followed by Spanish (159), Arabic (99), Japanese (88), and French (87) – although if you combine titles counted as Cantonese (49), Mandarin (45), and “Chinese” (7), the world’s largest market comes in third with 101. My knowledge of Bollywood films is embarrassingly scanty, so perhaps someone can weigh in on the merits of Netflix’s Hindi offerings in the comments, but a glance at the French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Korean line-ups reveals a preponderance of commercial crowd pleasers from those countries and not the more artistic or challenging movies that show up at film festivals or get exported to U.S. art houses. This is programming to an audience that wants to be taken home, and it’s a smart niche.
Of the 1,959 titles in English listed on What’s On Netflix, the majority are not, shall we say, known quantities: Straight-up genre product – action, horror, romance, suspense, family – predominates. Few have seen a theatrical release, in this country at least. A great number are made-for-TV films, with TV content ratings. Netflix comedy specials account for around 220 “movies.” Typical film titles include “3 Days to Kill,” “6 Bullets,” “Bobbleheads the Movie,” and something called “#cats_the_mewvie.”
When all is said and done, there are about 230 movies on Netflix, in English or otherwise, that you might have heard of – meaning they were released to theaters at one point and/or are one of the more high-profile “Netflix Originals.” By which I mean, honestly, they’re ones I’ve heard of, and I do this for a living.
They include a few Oscar winners from decades past: “Rain Man,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Departed.” A helping of Coen brothers (“The Big Lebowski,” “Hail, Caesar!”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood”), and lesser (but still pretty good) Spielberg (“The Terminal,” “Catch Me If You Can”). There’s 80s nostalgia (“The Karate Kid,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), two of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies, and, to round things out, a handful of notable disasters (“Battlefield Earth,” “The Last Airbender,” “The Lovely Bones”). Of actual classics over 50 years old, there are precisely two: “White Christmas” and “My Fair Lady.” As I said, random.
But there is also a smattering of titles where everything, or enough of everything, comes together for an experience that reminds you of what movies can do when they’re not treated like cans of sardines on a shelf. Some are independent dramas and comedies, others are studio films where the craft has risen to match the story. Some have the unique voice of a single filmmaker, others are an example of how great movies can be made by a gifted crowd. Some are just chowderheaded fun.
Here are the 93 good movies on Netflix right now. That’s in my opinion, of course; you’ll have your own list. But this one’s a start.
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