In 2018, Netflix continued to elevate itself as one of the best streaming services in terms of original content, with plenty of exciting new films across a broad spread of genres. This approach is only set to continue and become more ambitious, as we recently learned that the platform is aiming to release 90 Netflix Original movies per year, with budgets as high as $200 million.
Over the past several months, Netflix has released numerous high-profile feature films, of which not only affect pop culture, but also represent viable contenders during awards season. Modern filmmakers understand the value and importance of a theatrical release, but they also realize that audiences can have an impactful cinematic experience at home as well. Moreover, distribution on streaming service allows indie and arthouse films that might otherwise have been little-seen to reach a greater number of people.
If you have a Netflix subscription and are wondering where best to dive into the pile of Netflix Original films released last year, here's our guide to the best of the best.
- This Page: The Top 10-6 Best Netflix Original Films of 2018
- Page 2: The Top 5 Best Netflix Original Films of 2018
10. MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU
Based on Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto's career trajectory, he will be a streaming superstar in the near future. For this supernatural horror film, Tjahjanto features two strong female leads in Pevita Pearce and Chelsea Islan, both of whom need and deserve more international exposure. May the Devil Take You marks a departure from the director's pencak silat-themed movies Headshot and The Night Comes for Us, as it’s primarily a haunted house story about a wealthy man who makes a deal with the devil, leaving his daughters and third wife to sort through the mess when he falls sick. In that sense, May the Devil Take You is a traditional horror featuring the usual scare tactics, but it's more viscerally impactful than most 2018 films of the same genre.
Visually, May the Devil Take You will remind some viewers of Hereditary, thanks to a wall-crawling demon and the inherent familial dread. But Tjahjanto pushes a bit harder with his imagery, and he lingers on certain shots for maximum effect. May the Devil Take You seems most interested in fluid, extended chaos rather than sudden jolts. In other words, Tjahjanto's scariest visuals are purely unnerving, designed to find a place in the audience's subconscious. Scene by scene, Islan's Alfie retreats further within her own mind, while Pearce’s Maya becomes increasingly animated, creating a powerful character dynamic while allowing each actress to showcase different aspects of their skill sets as performers.
9. HOLD THE DARK
If you’re familiar with Blue Ruin, Green Room, or even the first two episodes of HBO’s True Detective Season 3, then you know that Jeremy Saulnier is one of American cinema’s most talented filmmakers. In his Alaska-set Netflix movie Hold the Dark, Medora Sloane (Riley Keough) recruits a writer (Jeffrey Wright) to help find her son, who is presumed dead after being taken by wolves. When her partner Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) returns from war, the narrative takes a complex and dark turn, as Saulnier contrasts moody, meditative sequences with one of the most disturbing shootout scenes of 2018.
Based on William Giraraldi’s 2015 novel of the same name, Hold the Dark's screenplay was written by Macon Blair, a frequent Saulnier collaborator and one of the film’s supporting actors. Together, the two create a stunning portrait of dread and unbreakable bonds, infusing supernatural elements to suggest that life up north requires a spiritual connection with the land and the past. The costume and set design is especially on-point, but it's the collective performances and Saulnier's pacing that creates a world of which feels at once welcoming and threatening.
Given director Gareth Evans’ genre-focused resume, a film like this comes with high expectations. In the past, the Welsh director has stunned viewers with pencak silat films like Merantau, The Raid, The Raid 2: Berandal - and even with the chaotic V/H/S 2 segment “Safe Haven,” in which he collaborates with the aforementioned Tjahjanto. But Apostle isn’t a martial arts film, nor does it move along at a quick pace. It’s a period horror production starring English actor Dan Stevens, featuring a mix of naturalistic science fiction and graphic violence.
The bleak cinematography immediately stands out, along with the immersive narrative. As for the script, Evans' story construction may not be for everybody: a man travels to a remote Welsh island, hoping to rescue his sister from a cult, and he soon becomes aligned with a powerful figure, thus creating relationships built upon loyalty. Compared to the director's past films, Apostle shows a willingness to try to something new, and it's indeed full of big moments and powerful extended sequences, with the score and camera angles playing a crucial role in the scene execution. Viewers will recognize familiar genre tricks, and Apostle doesn't offer a thought-provoking social commentary a la Get Out, but the film shows a filmmaker in tune with his craft.
If you’re not already familiar with this British thriller, it's best to experience the film with little context. But here are a few reasons why Matt Palmer’s Calibre stands out amongst other Netflix Originals.
One, the primary conflict is grounded in reality. Two friends, portrayed by Jack Lowden and Martin McCann, schedule a weekend hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. Naturally, they both have some familial and personal drama to discuss, and their lives change dramatically when someone gets killed in the woods. Rather than relying on trendy horror aesthetics or cheap gimmicks, Palmer plays it straight by examining the immediate consequences of not owning up to one’s actions. Scene by scene, the two friends are forced to make quick decisions that will forever change their lives, all the while trying to act normal as the locals slowly connect the dots. In Calibre, the central performances are crucial, as the director makes it painfully clear that the inciting incident could happen to anybody, thus bringing out raw character interpretations from the two leads. Lowden and McCann capitalize on the human element with their harrowing performances, and Calibre’s final act includes one of the most effective fourth-wall shots of 2018.
6. 22 JULY
Based on the 2011 Norway attacks, this film will leave a mark on your psyche. 22 July was directed by Paul Greengrass - the director of three Jason Bourne films, United 93, and Captain Phillips - who typically excels at depicting high-stress situations in which characters must act decisively.
To play the film's monster, Greengrass enlists Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who made a name for himself by portraying a suicidal character in Joachim Trier’s 2011 drama Oslo, August 31. In 22 July, Lie’s Anders Behring Breivik looks like a regular guy, which makes his pre-meditated actions so incredibly shocking, especially when he arrives at a Norwegian island and terrorizes the inhabitants. Stylistically, Greengrass doesn’t hold back when depicting the inevitable violence, and Lie shines as a truly despicable character. 22 July doesn’t have a cast full of A-listers, and it’s a film that most people will probably not want to revisit. But it’s an effective and challenging Netflix Original, and one that offers some perspective after a long day.