Here are the best streaming movies of the decade. The past decade has been one of extreme flux in the entertainment industry. Over ten short years, the rulebook was rewritten countless times over, from the establishment of a new model of franchise blockbuster filmmaking as seen through the MCU to the changes in power through the historic Hollywood studios via mergers and acquisitions. Perhaps the most dramatic evolution happened with the undisputed power shift in the home market streaming industry. Netflix went from that company you ordered DVDs from by mail to the dominant leaders in global on-demand Internet streaming media.
Only six short years ago, Netflix decided to start producing original films, series, documentaries, and stand-up specials, with the aim of having their platform be 50% original content in the near future. What seemed like a costly novelty at the beginning has now become a model of business and creativity coveted by traditional studios and auteur film-makers alike. Their offerings have won Emmys, Golden Globes, and Oscars, as well as having competed in some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals.
Focusing on movies, these are the streaming exclusive films that defined the decade, as well as offered the best the medium had at a time when the idea of being a streaming-only movie was considered a major step down. To make things easier, this list will only include films that were explicitly designed to be viewed primarily, if not exclusively, on a streaming service. Films that had brief festival or theatrical runs do count, but not ones that were given traditional runs elsewhere while being streaming exclusives to a particular territory (for example, Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro or Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth.) Some films are Netflix exclusives and were purchased to be such but also received theatrical releases in smaller territories, so they're counted too.
15. I Lost My Body
This 2019 French animated film features one hell of a hook: A severed hand escapes from a dissection lab and goes on a journey to find its lost body. Imagine if Thing from The Addams Family had an existential crisis and you’re halfway there. As you can imagine with a story featuring a body-less hand scuttling around the streets, this is a proudly weird movie but I Lost My Body is also deeply and unexpectedly moving in ways that take you by surprise. Often disgusting (this hand fights street rats and picks noses), sometimes very funny, and often immensely tragic, I Lost My Body is one of the truly great animation achievements of both streaming and cinema at large.
14. Beasts of No Nation
Cary Joji Fukunaga kicked off Netflix’s new age of original movies with this bleak but beautifully told drama about child soldiers living through a brutal civil war. Idris Elba gives one of his best performances in Beasts of No Nation as the Commandant of a child soldier battalion, and the deeply uncompromising view into an oft-overlooked cost of war offered the perfect starting point for Netflix to show just what they were capable of.
13. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, the directorial debut of Green Room screenwriter Macon Blair, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize. That can often mean big things for an indie movie but most people didn't even seem to notice this one once it debuted on Netflix. The streaming service was criticized for not promoting it enough, which is a shame because the film itself is a fascinating blend of laughs and thrills with a brilliant leading turn from Melanie Lynskey. She plays a woman whose house is burglarized, leading her to decide to track the crooks down and exact her own form of justice with her oddball neighbor (Elijah Wood) who has a soft spot for nunchucks. It's a low-key gem very much worth a visit if it passed you by.
Before he set the world alight with the astounding drama Parasite, Korean director Bong Joon-ho took a more fantastical turn with this environmental table about a young girl and the ridiculously adorable genetically modified super-pig she befriends. Okja is hugely imaginative and deeply political in a way that manages to balance each element without one overwhelming the other. There's a welcoming sense of mischief to Okja that harkens back to classic family films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, albeit with a much darker undertone. It's worth seeing alone if only for Jake Gyllenhaal's utterly demented performance.
11. First They Killed My Father
Angelina Jolie, when she isn’t too busy making Marvel movies and being one of the most famous women on the planet, is also a damn good director. Despite her megastar appeal, Jolie has never gone for the easy stories with her directorial efforts, be they romantic dramas set during the Bosnian War or World War II biopics featuring POW camp torture. First They Killed My Father, her fourth film as director, is easily her best and the one closest to her heart. Based on the biography of Cambodian activist Loung Ung, the film depicts a five-year-old girl's time as child soldier during the Khmer Rouge regime. Jolie pulls no punches in documenting this atrocious period of history but never loses sight of the human cost. Utterly uncompromising and the work of a director with so much to offer First They Killed My Father is a real hidden gem in streaming exclusive cinema.
French actress Mati Diop made history when she became the first black female director to have her film premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. There, Atlantique took home the Grand Prix prize, and deservedly so. Set in a suburb of Dakar, where unpaid workers on a futuristic tower decide to leave the country by the ocean for a better future, this romantic drama takes some unexpected turns that you have to see to believe. Atlantique is beautifully haunting and expertly helmed by Diop in a way that makes its genre-bending twists seem easy. Hopefully, this is the start of a long and storied career for her.
Netflix has found a strong niche in documentaries, be they long or short form. They’ve won and been nominated for Oscars and Emmys, and a few of them have even made a tangible difference in the real world. In terms of political impact and filmmaking prowess, no Netflix documentary succeeds more than Ava DuVernay’s 13th. Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, DuVerney's stunning documentary examines how the abolishment of slavery in America, except as a punishment for conviction of a crime, helped lead to the modern-day prison-industrial complex. It's an immensely convincing piece of work that lays out a complex thesis in succinct terms and encourages viewers to stay angry about a decades-long injustice that has all but criminalized black Americans as a whole. Deservedly, 13th landed a Best Documentary Feature nomination at the Oscars.
8. Private Life
Tamara Jenkins is one of the best and most sinfully overlooked directors working in independent American cinema today, and Private Life is the sort of sensitive but unflinching drama that would have swept up every award of the season had enough people paid attention to it. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as a pair of celebrated writers who are desperately trying to have a child. This tough time in their lives, involving medical exhaustion and awkward familial interactions, is deftly portrayed in ways that are seldom seen in film, remaining both funny and frequently tragic.
7. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Last Summer, Netflix helped to revive the fortunes of the romantic comedy genre in Hollywood by reminding producers everywhere that there is indeed a hungry and sizeable audience for such films, long after the industry declared them to be dead. The jewel in the crown of their “Summer of Love” was the immensely charming To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Lana Condor and Noah Centineo became stars via this super sweet story of a high school girl whose secret crushes are revealed to the world, forcing her to fake a romance to keep people off her back. It’s not hard to see why millions of people were bowled over by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s essentially a full house bingo card of rom-com joy executed in a manner that makes it wholly irresistible. Other Netflix films may have been better received but few were as influential and widely embraced as this one. A sequel is on the way.
6. High Flying Bird
The immensely prolific and varied director Stephen Soderbergh wasn’t satisfied with dropping just one Netflix exclusive this year: He had to release two. Of the pair, High Flying Bird is the one that got the least attention but is far superior a piece of work (with apologies to The Laundromat.) Shot using an iPhone 8 and starring André Holland, Zazie Beetz, and Kyle MacLachlan, High Flying Bird is a sports drama about a top agent working to break a basketball lockdown with the help of a rookie basketball player. Along with its technical ambition (you would never think this film was shot on a phone if you didn't already know), High Flying Bird is also bold in its take on the intersections between race and the sporting world, thanks to a sharp screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright behind Moonlight.
5. Dolemite is My Name
After a few years out of the spotlight and a few more before that spent languishing in mediocre family comedies, Eddie Murphy made his much-anticipated comeback in the comedic biopic Dolemite is My Name. He plays Rudy Ray Moore, a struggling artist, and musician who decides to fund and make his own movie that helps to bring blaxploitation to the mainstream. Murphy is clearly having the time of his life playing Moore and hasn't been this gut-bustingly hilarious in years. As was true to life, Dolemite is My Name is brash and sharp and a truly earnest tribute to the do-it-yourself approach to storytelling in the face of a world of naysayers.
4. The Other Side of the Wind
It feels strange to call The Other Side of the Wind a Netflix movie given its near-legendary status in Hollywood as one of the great unfinished movies. Yet finished it was in large part thanks to the streaming service. Shooting began in 1970, with writer-director Orson Welles working intermittently on the project well into the '80s until legal and financial complications prevented it from ever being completed. John Huston stars as a Welles-esque director who hosts a screening party for his latest unfinished film. Shot in a mockumentary style with rapid editing that feels startlingly ahead of its time, The Other Side of the Wind is both a love letter and vicious takedown of the end of classic Hollywood as well as the hot young auteurs who replaced the old studio hands. Netflix is frequently criticized for its seemingly apathetic stance towards hosting and preserving films older than 30 years old, but The Other Side of the Wind probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t thanks to them, and that’s something worth celebrating. It helps that the finished product is genuinely brilliant too.
3. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach stayed at Netflix following The Meyerowitz Stories to tell his most personal story to date. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play married creatives whose split exposes deep-seated resentments and the impossible agony that accompanies the institution of divorce. Marriage Story is guaranteed to have you in floods of tears with its too-real examination of something that so many of us have experienced or bore witness to in our own lives. Driver and Johansson do some of their finest work here and it’s no wonder Marriage Story is currently one of the major frontrunners for the upcoming Oscars.
2. The Irishman
When it was announced that Martin Scorsese would make one of his passion projects, The Irishman, with Netflix, it felt like an indelible tipping point for the streaming service. One of the undisputed legends of 20th-century American cinema making the jump to Netflix over a traditional studio seemed like the beginning of a new age for cinema, one where auteurs could circumnavigate the old way of business to reach audiences more directly and wield more creative control. The Irishman is, in many ways, the exemplification of Scorsese’s five decades as a director. He hasn’t lost his magic tough either, as the three and a half-hour-long drama takes on the mythology of the gangster movie (something he partly created) and rips it of any shred of glamor. This is a movie about old men coming to terms with their pasts and where those dark decisions will take them in the future. It’s a true thrill to see Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in their prime and reminding all the young copycats how it’s done.
Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical drama Roma may be the true jewel in the crown of streaming movies. A true passion project for the multi-Oscar winning director (he directed, wrote, co-produced, co-edited, and shot the film), Roma is a near-epic emotional portrait of a live-in housekeeper's live with the family she has committed her life to. Yalitza Aparicio gives one of the best debut performances of recent times as Cuarón pours his heart into showing the intimate and multi-layered details of seemingly ordinary lives. While it was sadly snubbed for the Best Picture Oscar, Roma still went home with three awards and symbolizes the tipping point where the Academy could no longer afford to ignore the streaming revolution.