It’s that time of year again. Given the plethora of original content Netflix creates, we could rank the media provider's best productions every month and still be behind the times. In the last twelve months, a slew of Netflix favorites have returned: House of Cards hit its fourth season, as did Orange is the New Black, while Marvel’s Luke Cage got us one step closer to The Defenders. As for original series in their maiden voyage, Stranger Things enraptured us all, The Crown is pure cinematic royalty, and clever comedies like Lady Dynamite and Easy earned well-deserved spots on our Netflix queues.
On the film front, The Siege of Jadotville made waves in the war genre, Ava Duvernay’s 13th dominated the documentary world, and Paul Rudd continued his winning streak with The Fundamentals of Caring. Netflix is setting the pace with premium content in every possible way, and we’re doing our best just to try and keep up.
Here are The Best Netflix Original Series And Movies Of 2016, Ranked.
15 Lady Dynamite
Maria Bamford deserved her own show many moons ago, but we’re glad she had to wait until now. Lady Dynamite is the comedian’s magnum opus, a one-of-a-kind story with a vibrant sense of humor matched only by the tenderness (and likability) of its characters. A fearlessly autobiographical series, Lady Dynamite tells the story of the aspiring actress’ triumphant return to Los Angeles.
Having lost her way in the city of angels, Bamford took a six month-long leave of absence to combat her bipolar disorder away from the pomp and circumstance of Hollywood. Back in LA, Bamford resumes her mission of making it in showbiz, and through a series of deftly timed (and often hilarious) flashbacks, we learn more about her complex history and family. It’s a bold piece of entertainment that, were it not for the golden age of television, might have never been made. Due to the show's growing fan base, Netflix has doubled down on its commitment to comedy and recently renewed Lady Dynamite for a second season.
14 The Siege of Jadotville
In 1961, an Irish outpost of United Nations soldiers were ambushed by thousands of Katangese soldiers in Central Africa. Despite being grossly outnumbered and low on ammunition, the Irish army survived a six-day siege before being taken captive by the Katangese. Thrillingly depicted in The Siege of Jadotville, the Irish fought not just against native soldiers but against Belgian, French and Rhodesian hired guns, surviving all manner of mortars and machine gun fire as they waited for backup.
Led by their brave commander, Pat Quinlan (Jamie Dornan), the band of Irishmen (and the actors that portray them) show tremendous heroism and humor in the face of death (while under siege, they are rumored to have radioed, “Could do with some whiskey.”). Though not quite on the same cinematic level as Netflix's awards-darling Beasts of No Nation, The Siege of Jadotville recalls a similar aesthetic to Blood Diamond and provides an engaging portrayal of this lesser known conflict in the Congo. In regards to war epics, The Siege of Jadotville may also be a taste of what’s to come, as Netflix prepares to release the upcoming Brad Pitt-led movie, War Machine.
13 Bojack Horseman, Season 3
Bojack Horseman proves that horses can make men cry. From a distance, Netflix’s stellar dramedy may look like your average animated show: light on substance, heavy on crude jokes and eminently forgettable. Instead, creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and star Will Arnett have created a hard-hitting show that entertains viewers while shining a blinding light on the inner decay of Hollywood. As a washed-up sitcom star, Bojack (Arnett) battles his crippling depression and stalemated career through the ephemeral antidotes of drugs, sex and alcohol.
While the first two seasons established Bojack as a breakable horse-man who uses his celebrity to mask his depravity, season 3 is the undisputed apogee of the show. The industry commentary is particularly incisive as Bojack rides a new wave of popularity through his attempted career resurgence. While countless live-action films have attempted to depict the emotionally barren world of Los Angeles (Damien Chazelle’s new La La Land does it admirably well), few can compete with the brilliant narrative of Bojack Horseman.
12 House of Cards, Season 4
Political shows are a dime a dozen, but House of Cards has redefined the genre. While the first season currently remains the series' best, the latest episodes have helped return the show to its primary selling point: getting inside the twisted and conniving mind of Frank Underwood (the inimitable Kevin Spacey). Season 4 also gives his wife Claire (Robin Wright) more autonomy than ever, which threatens Frank’s power while simultaneously providing avenues to enhance it. Throughout the show’s arc, the Underwoods have been steadily driven apart, as they slowly turn into modern Macbeth-monsters with a dwindling supply of compunction. Frank himself is confronted with the specters of his murderous past, when his two most famous victims, Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes, besiege him in a hallucination of Shakespearean intensity.
Underwood even dares to brag about his seeming immunity to Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson), “because that’s how good we are.” Frank's comeuppance is seemingly imminent, and it will be glorious. As the most recent season drew to a close, we witnessed the total eclipse of the Underwood Union. Backed into a political corner, both Frank and Claire broke the proverbial fourth wall and fired the first shots of their rebellion that will surely be the focus of the upcoming fifth season.
11 Daredevil, Season 2
The sophomore season of Daredevil really missed the menacing presence of Wilson Fisk. That burly and bald kingpin helped streamline the story and provide a clear backdrop against which Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) could hone his crime-fighting skills in Hell’s Kitchen. Still, season 2 was a far more ambitious response to its predecessor, introducing Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal in total beast mode) and Daredevil’s violent lover, Elektra (Elodie Yung), while furthering the supporting arcs of characters like Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson).
Though Daredevil temporarily lost sight of the finish line, the second batch of episodes grew progressively more compelling, as the characters were able to explore their complexities in increasingly heightened situations. In the absence of a clearly defined villain, Daredevil laid the groundwork for its cast of power players, setting up The Punisher standalone series, The Defenders, and what is sure to be a rousing third season.
10 Orange is the New Black, Season 4
Since day one, Orange is the New Black has been a provocative and daring drama. Hailing from the creative mind of Jenji Kohan (Weeds), the prison epic has managed to juggle its sweeping story and sprawling cast time and time again. After three increasingly bold seasons, fans were wary that the wheels would come off the series, and that their beloved characters would make choices more suitable for the extension of the show than the development of the plot.
All of those fears were allayed when Orange is the New Black flipped the tables on the narrative, upped the stakes for nearly every major character, and left us devastated by some serious cliffhangers. More than ever before, OITNB has seized on the cultural zeitgeist in a way that complements Ava Duvernay’s searing documentary, 13th. Though the series has been unafraid to dive headfirst into conflict, it still possesses the gift of raw comedy thanks to Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) and the rest of the top-tier cast.
9 Narcos, Season 2
Where season one of Narcos got our attention, season two grabbed us by the throat. Indeed, Netflix’s ambitious portrayal of the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar was a massive undertaking that most other studios wouldn't dare tackle. While the first season eventually hit its mark, its voiceover-heavy and dual-language narrative demanded a good deal of patience from the audience. The excellent cast shouldered the story until the plot gained steam, and Wagner Moura’s portrayal of the cocaine kingpin kept audiences appropriately hooked on the series.
Every fuse lit in season one led to a series of explosions in season 2, where Pablo Escobar’s rise to power is finally threatened by the DEA and the Colombian government. It’s a game of cat and mouse, where agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) dedicate their lives to destabilizing the elusive Escobar. Though the grand finale is already written in history, Narcos keeps the tension high from beginning to end.
8 The Fundamentals of Caring
Films about caretaking have almost become a genre unto itself. The success of the French sleeper-hit, The Intouchables helped pave the way for the romantic book-to-screen adaptation of Me Before You and Netflix’s The Fundamentals of Caring. Built with a lovable cast, Fundamentals stars Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle and Craig Roberts, around whose character the whole movie hangs. Roberts plays the wheelchair-bound British expat, Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and lives a remarkably uneventful life. He and his mother have had a revolving door of caretakers, so they try their luck on the washed-up writer and divorcee, Ben (Rudd).
Ben and Trevor quickly form a connection, albeit one built on sarcasm, crudity and Slim Jims, and it doesn't take long until they break from convention (and Trevor's recommended health regimen) and embark on a road trip of epic proportions. Though the movie is fairly innocuous, it’s lovingly made and well acted, with the cast delivering equal doses of humor and heart. If you’re looking for an indie movie with a Zach Braff, Garden State kind-of vibe, The Fundamentals of Caring should do the trick.
7 The Get Down
Between Daredevil, Luke Cage and The Get Down, Netflix has cornered the marketplace for shows set in New York City. Indeed, Baz Luhrmann’s (The Great Gatsby) sprawling and imaginative new series breathes life into the birth of hip-hop and disco in the 1970s. Though rooted in a very real time and place, The Get Down takes a distinctly fantastical approach to the scene, and Luhrmann spares no expense in raising the stakes. As we’ve come to expect from the ostentatious director, more is never enough, and The Get Down delivers the most energetic and exciting new Netflix series of the year.
The show is a visual treat that also boasts some of the best musical dance numbers this side of Saturday Night Fever and West Side Story. Every member of the cast, from the younger players to the veteran actors, bring their A-games to match Luhrmann’s demanding and breakneck narrative speed.
Joe Swanberg is one of the most creative filmmakers on the market, and his improvisation-heavy flick, Drinking Buddies, made him a known quantity in Hollywood. When Easy got the greenlight at Netflix, Swanberg took his visionary eye for relationships and applied it to an eight-part series of engaging vignettes. Based in Chicago, Easy follows the lives of several couples and singles searching for satisfaction in the Windy City. Swanberg writes and directs all eight episodes (creating a tangible uniformity), and his remarkable cast includes Kiersey Clemons (the upcoming Iris West), Dave Franco, Marc Maron, Orlando Bloom, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, and many others. From top to bottom, the actors are at once funny, sexy and questionably believable.
Easy is an anthology series, so each episode is vaguely connected to the next, and as you approach the series’ conclusion, many of the characters begin to overlap. Thanks to its grounded dialogue and humor, the show doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks to be great. When taken as a whole, Easy paints an epic landscape portrait of modern urbanity and the lives of its diverse inhabitants.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed by the United States Congress with the intent of abolishing slavery once and for all. Unfortunately, as Ava Duvernay argues in her award-winning and scathing documentary, the 13th Amendment provided a loophole for a modern form of subjugation in the form of mass incarceration. While tracing the history of America, Duvernay interviews a host of activists across the political spectrum to better understand the failure of the justice system and the American incarceration machine. The finished product will leave you disturbed and more appreciative of your freedom than ever before.
From interviews with Van Jones and Henry Louis Gates, to Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich, 13th makes the case that slavery is not only alive and well, but that corporations and private interest groups have commoditized the prison system and the free labor within it. From ensuring the penitentiaries are at maximum capacity, to monetizing surveillance systems, 13th casts a pall over a major part of the American justice system. Duvernay and others seek to dig up these twisted roots, and though much of the film is hard to stomach, it ends with the hope for a more equal future where prisons are filled only with individuals who truly deserve to be there.
4 The Crown
The international community has long been enamored with British royalty. Countless films have been made on the subject, but few match the beauty, authenticity and tension in The Crown. The pedigree behind the Netflix series is top shelf, created and written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Rush) with Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) on board as the executive producer. Not only does the show look and sound incredible (thanks to the Hans Zimmer-led theme song), but it treats the audience with great respect as it pulls back the curtain on the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II.
Led by the lovely and expressive Claire Foy, The Crown features a first rate cast with Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Jared Harris as the stutteringly vulnerable King George VI and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. Despite his American heritage, Lithgow captures the essence of the Lion of Britain, from his physicality, to his mannerisms, to his raspy, cigar-laden voice. With an aesthetic not dissimilar to House of Cards, The Crown throws more than a few emotional haymakers along with its taut and tense narrative.
3 Luke Cage
With Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix solidified their partnership and succeeded on all counts. By introducing the the character of Luke Cage, however, they had the opportunity to hone their craft and enhance the franchise. Their third outing may very well be their best yet, and with the Luke Cage series, Marvel and Netflix took their expanding universe to new heights. And sweet Christmas, does Luke Cage deliver a timely piece of entertainment that captures the essence of Harlem with unbridled swagger. Where Marvel has been cautious to take creative or stylistic liberties, Luke Cage dares to defy expectations.
This is a smart show, and creator Cheo Hodari Coker wants you to know it. Mike Colter’s Luke Cage is not only a bullet-proof and nearly invulnerable hulk of a man, but he’s a superhero with a philosophical bent. He reads Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in between bouts with Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), a villain worthy of the venomous nickname. Though Luke Cage may drag in places and occasionally suffer from a desultory structure, it’s a tremendous addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fact that it's also the the streaming service's biggest hit of the year should come as no surprise to anyone who tuned in.
2 Black Mirror, Season 3
However horrific its reflection, no one can stop watching Black Mirror. Indeed, Charlie Booker’s dystopian series proved so good that Jon Hamm (Don Draper himself) asked if he could get involved with the show. Though the program has been on British airwaves since 2011 and has steadily gained a rabid fan base in the process, it's reached new levels of success with the most recent third season. In one of the entertainment company’s most brilliant moves to date, Netflix dropped down on one knee and brought Black Mirror into the family fold (paying a high price in the process).
The third season is as frightening as ever. By taking modern sci-fi and technological concepts and playing them out to the extreme, Black Mirror is the binge-watching embodiment of reductio ad absurdum. Watch just one episode of the series, and you’ll never look at your smart phone, Facebook or dating app the same way again. Science fiction shows and movies typically occupy the safe space between the present and the future, but Black Magic posits that the Skynet apocalypse is much nearer than we'd like to think.
1 Stranger Things
Prior to catching fire with millions of viewers in the summer of 2016, Stranger Things was rejected by over fifteen movie studios. That’s a lot of negativity for the epic story of Will Byers and the Demogorgon, and the show’s success is a testament to the Duffer Brothers and their commitment to executing their sci-fi vision. Would Stranger Things have even worked on network television? Probably not, and that’s perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the show. It feels like a lost ‘80s Spielberg tale rediscovered by the Duffer Bros. and retrofitted with all the bells and whistles required for binge watching.
From the opening theme song right down to the cast, Stranger Things deserves every ounce of hype it has earned. The kid-driven cast is on point, the heroic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is a scene stealer, and veteran thespians like Winona Ryder and David Harbour round out the bench. If you haven’t seen Stranger Things, we strongly suggest you move it to the top of your Netflix queue. Season two is on its way, and when that train leaves the station, you’ll want to be on board.
What are your favorite Netflix original series and movies from 2016? Let us know in the comments!
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