Netflix has been steadily putting out original content since 2013. While they have bought the rights to many properties throughout the years, they’ve also self-commissioned a number of original TV shows, films, and documentaries. Starting with House of Cards, they’ve since released shows like Orange is the New Black, Bloodline, and Stranger Things, which have gone on to win Golden Globe and SAG awards, making them competitive with the major networks and studios.
Ever since 2015’s Beasts of No Nation was released, Netflix has been steadily snatching up distribution for a number of indie films as well as providing funding for their own interesting projects. More and more filmmakers are choosing Netflix over traditional theatrical releases because of its accessibility in over 190 countries around the world. They’ve also been known to allow a lot more creative freedom on behalf of the filmmakers, which obviously makes them more attractive than restrictive movie studios. In 2017 alone, they’ve slated over 35 original films for release on their streaming platform. Here are the 15 you need to keep an eye out for.
15 Small Crimes
Picked up ahead of its SXSW debut, Small Crimes features Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Joe, a corrupt ex-cop who went to jail for, you guessed it, his “small crimes.” Newly freed, Joe tries to start over, but he can’t seem to shake his past deeds and the people affected by his crimes. It’s a classic scenario of will-he-won’t-he, as Joe’s tempted by the constant lure of criminal activity and corruption.
Based on a novel of the same name by Dave Zeltserman, the film was adapted by E.L Katz (Cheap Thrills) and Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore). Both filmmakers got their start in the horror genre and have transitioned into black comedies of the indie crime persuasion. The film also stars House of Cards star Molly Parker as Joe’s love interest, along with Office Space’s Gary Cole as Joe’s former police superior. Look for it to hit Netflix later this month, on April 28th.
14 Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie
Known for his supporting roles in The Goldbergs, Arrested Development, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jeff Garlin finally has a chance to shine in the lead role for Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie. Garlin co-wrote the film along with Andrea Seigel, the screenwriter for Laggies, which Garlin also appeared in. It seems like a strange pairing since Seigel mainly delves into the minds of teenagers (both on film and in her novels), but coming of age stories aren’t just about growing up—they’re about evolving into your full potential. There lies the comedy (and tragedy) for Handsome, as he doesn’t seem to have gripped this concept, even in middle age.
Set in the 1980s, Garlin plays Gene Handsome, a quirky detective who’s good at his job, but frequently gets in his own way (especially when it comes to his personal life). While Handsome’s no Adrian Monk, his comedic chops take center stage as he sets out to solve a woman’s murder. Garlin also directed the film, which drops May 5th, and co-stars Natasha Lyonne and Amy Sedaris among other familiar comedic faces.
13 War Machine
Brad Pitt’s first foray into Netflix territory comes in the form of War Machine, a film loosely based on the late Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stones exposé (later a New York Times bestselling novel) about General Stanley McChrystal. While not a direct adaptation, the film throws a satirical slant on McChrystal’s role during the war in Afghanistan as commander of US and NATO forces. To separate truth from fiction, the McChrystal character has been renamed McMahon, and the White House staff bears no resemblance to the Obama administration it’s based on.
Like his real world counterpart, McMahon (Pitt) is determined to accomplish the task he was hired for: winning the war in Afghanistan and getting America’s troops the hell out of there. However, even as a military man, McMahon doesn’t always play by the rules or know when to keep his big mouth shut. War Machine features an all-star cast including Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Michael Hall, and Topher Grace—premiering May 26th, exclusively on Netflix.
Joon-Ho Bong’s newest endeavor, Okja, sees the return of Snowpiercer alum Tilda Swinton, along with appearances from Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Netflix allegedly handed over a cool $50 million to finance the film while also giving Bong complete creative control (something he struggled with on Snowpiercer).
The film focuses on the relationship between a young Korean girl, Mija (played by Seo-Hyun Ahn), and a mysterious creature named Okja. Although we only see a close-up of the creature’s eye and part of its face in the trailer, it looks pretty harmless, especially in comparison to Bong’s creature in The Host. According to the official synopsis, it seems humans are the terrorizers this time, as a large multi-national company tries to kidnap the creature, probably with the intention of exploitation.
Touted as a coming-of-age film, Mija’s journey is the central focus as she’s exposed to the “harsh realities of genetically modified food experimentation, globalization, eco-terrorism, and humanity’s obsession with image, brand, and self-promotion.” Definitely ranking as one of the most highly anticipated Netflix original films for 2017, Okja is available for streaming on June 28th, and it will also receive a limited theatrical release.
Fans of the Wayans family’s films will be excited to know that Netflix is set to release Marlon’s newest creation, Naked, on August 11th. While his last productions were spoofs of popular American films, Naked is actually a remake of the 2000 Swedish film, Naken. It's basically Groundhog Day, but naked in an elevator, the film focuses on a man who’s forced to repeat the morning of his wedding until he can get things right. Hilarity ensues as he’s humiliated over and over again, much to the delight of the audience.
Michael Tiddes, Haunted House and Fifty Shades of Black director, returns for Naked, as does writer, Rick Alvarez. Expect the same outrageous, gross-out humor as their other films, possibly with some male full frontal shots thrown in (the original film was full of them). Also starring alongside Marlon is Regina Hall, who has appeared in all four Wayans-produced Scary Movie films to date.
10 To the Bone
To the Bone was one of eight feature films acquired by Netflix that premiered at Sundance this year. It stars actress/singer Lily Collins as a twenty-year-old anorexic who goes to live in a group home for girls with eating disorders. While writer/director Marti Noxon based the story on her own struggles with both anorexia and bulimia in her teens and twenties, Collins also revealed that she too struggled with an eating disorder in her teens as well. Despite dealing with such intense subject material that hits so close to home for those involved, To the Bone manages to find humor in the darkness as well. It currently sports a healthy 80% rating over on Rotten Tomatoes.
Much of the narrative centers on Collins’ character confronting her illness with the help of an unconventional doctor, played by Keanu Reeves. Since there’s no trailer yet, we’re unsure of the dynamic that exists between Collins' and Reeves' characters, but, according to an interview conducted by Kevin Smith during Sundance, Reeves won’t be John Wick-ing the anorexia out of his patient. Bummer.
9 Death Note
Another manga adaptation stirring up controversy for “whitewashing,” Death Note, like Ghost in the Shell, cast primarily white actors in a story originally featuring Asian characters. Luckily for Death Note, it won’t suffer from embarrassing box office numbers, like Ghost in the Shell has, since it’s only scheduled for a streaming release on August 25th. Still, the film, which stars The Fault in Our Stars’ Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Light Yagami in the manga) may face a boycott from diehard fans who aren’t thrilled with the casting. In fact, the only role they don’t seem to have a problem with is the death demon Ryuk, voiced by Willem Dafoe.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Death Note follows a high school student who finds a supernatural notebook owned by a Shinigami, or death demon. According to the notebook, “The human whose name is written in this note shall die,” which makes it an incredibly dangerous weapon and a much quicker way to off undesirables than hiring a Faceless Man to do it for you. Unfortunately, Light is tempted by the notebook’s power, making life and death decisions that blur the lines of morality and free will.
8 What Happened to Monday?
How can seven identical twins possibly exist in a world where overpopulation has run rampant and families are limited to one child? That’s the question that Tommy Wirkola intends to answer in his new sci-fi thriller, What Happened to Monday? Noomi Rapace plays all seven of the twins, which is no easy feat (just ask Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany—although her twins were really clones). Seven body doubles were hired just to make rehearsals flow better and blocking easier to visualize.
Originally, the script was written for seven male identical twins, but because Wirkola had always wanted to work with Rapace, he changed them to female. According to Wirkola, he also took inspiration from Blade Runner, Looper, and Children of Men when visualizing the script. Due to the high concept, What Happened to Monday? pre-sold in Europe before Netflix came on board for distribution, so it will have a cinematic release in certain countries, but not in the US. It’s set to premiere in November 2017, with Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close also set to star alongside Rapace.
Chronicle writer Max Landis has written another film in the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum, which he hopes will spawn a Star Wars-like franchise. Bright was originally conceived as a supernatural cop thriller, but has since evolved into more of a love letter to J.R.R. Tolkien and down-and-dirty law enforcement films. Netflix purchased the film for a whopping $90 million, even after Ayers (the director) took it to studios like Warner Brothers, who just couldn’t compete with that price tag and the promise of creative freedom.
The film stars Will Smith, who plays a cop partnered up with the first Orc officer (Joel Edgerton) to join the LAPD in a world where humans and fantasy creatures co-exist. They set out to find a weapon of immeasurable power and darkness that threatens to change the future and life as they know it. Along with Smith and Edgerton, both Noomi Rapace and Lucy Fry also star. Details of the movie have been kept pretty tight under wraps, but both Landis and Ayers have confirmed the film will be a “hard-R.” Things are definitely looking promising for the film thus far, which is set to drop in December.
6 A Futile & Stupid Gesture
If you grew up in the 1980s, you’re probably familiar with the various National Lampoon films that came out during that time. Before they were making movies, however, National Lampoon was a humor magazine that was created by three Harvard alumni looking to push the envelope a bit. A Futile & Stupid Gesture tells the story of National Lampoon’s success, along with that of one of its founders, Doug Kenney. The film is based on a book of the same name published in 2006 by journalist Josh Karp.
Along with Doug Kenney (played by Will Forte), the film also features appearances from other Lampoon contributors—many who went on to appear on Saturday Night Live. Joel McHale plays a young Chevy Chase, an oddly appropriate choice considering the two starred opposite one another on Community. Domhnall Gleeson, Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne, and Seth Green round out the cast. Currently, the film is still in post-production, but it's set to release by the end of the year.
5 Little Evil
From the director who brought us the highly underrated Tucker and Dale vs Evil, comes a new horror-comedy called Little Evil. Eli Craig wrote and directed the film, which stars Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly. It’s the story of a man (Scott) who marries the woman (Lilly) of his dreams, only to find out some disconcerting facts about her young son—like that he’s the actual Antichrist. From the sounds of it, Scott’s character will presumably end up in over his head, forced to choose between his wife and saving the world from eternal damnation.
Judging by Craig’s previous endeavors, Little Evil will likely include a mix of situational humor and gore. Lots of gore. It’ll also be refreshing to see Lilly tackle a decidedly indie film (and a horror one at that) after starring in huge blockbusters like The Hobbit and Ant-Man franchises. She’s at her best during intensely emotional scenes, which also makes her an odd, but interesting pairing with Adam Scott, of Parks and Rec fame.
Apparently, Duncan Jones had the idea for Mute many years ago, even before his directorial debut, Moon, came out. Although Moon was a sci-fi film, its small cast and isolated setting made it an easier movie to start with than Mute. However, both films are actually part of a trilogy set in the same dystopian future universe. Jones has mentioned Blade Runner as inspiration for his latest effort, but based on concept art shared on Twitter, it also resembles The Incal—a space opera in graphic novel form written by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Indeed, Mute nearly became a graphic novel itself when it didn’t look like a cinematic version was ever going to get made. Perhaps Jones will still release it in conjunction with the film (coming out by the end of the year on Netflix, along with a limited theatrical release), a la Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain.
Like Blade Runner, Mute is a futuristic neo-noir with a romantic subplot. A mute bartender, played by Alexander Skarsgard, searches for his missing girlfriend, which leads him to the city’s seedy underbelly and two surgeons who may know what happened to her. If Mute takes cues from Blade Runner, it’s possible that the girlfriend is a clone or replicant, like Sam Rockwell’s in Moon. In fact, Rockwell has a brief cameo as Sam Bell, so who knows what kind of connections will be made between the two films. Justin Theroux (pictured above) and Paul Rudd also star.
Sci-fi is enjoying a huge resurgence right now, which may or may not have something to do with the recent success of comic book movies. As such, many of the same faces are appearing over and over again within the genre. Originally, Dakota Fanning and Diego Luna were set to play the starring roles in Jonathan Helpert’s IO, but Margaret Qualley (also seen in Netflix’s Death Note) and Captain America star Anthony Mackie replaced them at the end of last year.
Developed by screenwriter Clay Jeter at the Sundance Institute’s Writers Lab, not much has been released on IO currently, except for its basic plot. From what we know, it’s a coming of age story about a teenage girl, Sam, searching for a cure for Earth before the last shuttle leaves the planet forever. In her idealistic frenzy, Sam, who’s one of the only survivors left post-global catastrophe, comes across Micah, a refugee who makes her question whether she should stay or go. The film was still in post-production as of February, but hopefully, it will be available for streaming by the end of the year.
2 Shimmer Lake
Screenwriter Oren Uziel makes his directorial debut this year with Shimmer Lake, a crime drama starring Benjamin Walker, Adam Pally, Wyatt Russell, and Rainn Wilson. It sounds vaguely reminiscent of films like Reservoir Dogs or The Usual Suspects with its non-linear narrative and botched heist premise. Basically, it’s a film told in reverse, as a sheriff unravels what really happened during a bank robbery--and to the three criminals involved.
Shimmer Lake has been in the works since 2009, when it ended up on Hollywood’s Blacklist of buzzworthy screenplays. Uziel’s other talked-about-script, originally called God Particle, recently had a name change to Cloverfield Movie and was confirmed as a part of J.J. Abrams Cloverfield universe. As such, the new name created a lot of buzz around him as a filmmaker. Previously, Uziel worked on the screenplays for Freaks of Nature and 22 Jump Street, but he seems to have found his footing in the sci-fi genre.
1 Hold the Dark
Jeremy Saulnier, director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, returns with another dark story that will inevitably reach a kind of cult status like his other films. Hold the Dark was originally a novel by William Giraldi adapted by Saulnier’s frequent collaborator, Macon Blair. As he has in Saulnier’s other films, Blair also has a role, although not a starring one. Alexander Skarsgard plays the nature writer, Russell Core, who’s hired by the mother of a boy who has gone missing in the Alaskan wilderness. Local wolves have been taking children, and Core is determined to find out why.
According to a New York Times review of the novel, “If dust jackets were more than paper and ink, this one would bear blood and frost.” As such, it looks like we can expect another bloody thriller from Saulnier, although somehow this film already seems more complex than his previous efforts. Seeing how the film only got started with production in February, it probably won’t be available for streaming until year's end, if that. At least we'll all have something to look forward to besides Marvel and Star Wars films, right?
What other Netflix original movies should cinemaphiles be keeping an eye out for in 2017? Let us know in the comments!