Stop me if this sounds familiar: It’s a Friday night, you’re in the mood for a movie, you’ve fired up Hulu…and now you’ve spent 40 minutes racked with indecision, just trying to decide which of the endless options in front of you feels right for right now.
Well, we can’t tell you what your heart wants. But we can tell you what our hearts want — what movies we love the most, which ones we never get sick of, which ones we still think about, which ones we’d happily recommend to anyone asking. Like, you know, yourself. Here are the best films on Hulu.
1. Gone Girl
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and adapted by Gillian Flynn based on her own bestselling book, stands out as one of the sharpest dissections of modern gender roles put to the big screen. Nominally, it’s a thriller about a twisted cat-and-mouse game played out between a heterosexual married couple, and it’s a spectacularly entertaining one at that. But in the process of puzzling out exactly what happened to Amazing Amy, Gone Girl becomes so much more. It delves into the impossible standards placed on women, the expectations we have of men, the unknowability of a marriage’s secrets, our national obsession with dead white girls, and the vast chasm between public perception and private truth, in ways only fiction can. (*)
2. Romeo + Juliet
Countless filmmakers have tried to modernize Shakespeare for the big screen, but for our money, few have managed to do it more memorably than Baz Luhrmann with Romeo + Juliet. His is an adaptation that goes way over the top on every single level, and then keeps going several more miles for good measure: Everything, from the flamboyantly colorful costumes (by Catherine Martin), to the unimpeachably cool soundtrack, to the tongue-twisting delivery of the Bard’s best lines, seems to be taking a more-is-more approach. What grounds it is the believably raw passion between its star-crossed lovers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes at the respective heights of their teen-idol powers. Is it maybe a bit cheesy? Yes. Do we fall for it every single time? Also yes.
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi’s last New Zealand-set film, released after What We Do In The Shadows but before Thor: Ragnarok, follows a spiky, defiant young teenager named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who finds himself and his dog Tupac on the lam in the New Zealand bush with a cantankerous and reluctant carer (Sam Neill), pursued by a dogged but well-meaning child services agent. Dennison is a gift in this, his toughness and sweetness and indignant speeches creating one of the most instantly memorable, lovable teenage characters in recent memory. And Neill’s gruff “Uncle” Hec traces the contours of the “taciturn old fella comes to care for the scrappy kid” arc with so much nuance it feels made anew. The utter genius Rachel House, meanwhile, whom Waititi rightly yoinked into the MCU with him in Ragnarok, almost steals the show as the hysterically relentless “villain” of the film. (“I’m like the Terminator. You’re like Sarah Connor. In the first one, before she could do chin-ups.”)
It’s an occasionally devastating coming-of-age tale for both main characters, a story of the revelation that you can go much farther when you let other people in. But more than anything, it’s hysterically funny. — Caitlin Welsh, Australia Editor (*)
Big Waititi fan? Boy, from his early career, is also streaming on Hulu.
Credit: Dino De Laurentiis / Summit Ent / Kobal / Shutterstock
Before The Matrix, before Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, there was Bound. The Wachowskis’ directorial debut is a slick neo-noir thriller centering on an ex-con (Corky, played by Gina Gershon) and a mobster’s girlfriend (Violet, played by Jennifer Tilly) who fall first into a dangerous affair, and then into an even more dangerous scheme to steal from the Mafia. Compared to the sprawling, effects-heavy epics the sisters became known for later on, Bound feels positively tiny — but what it lacks in scope and budget, it more than makes up for with style, swagger, and seductive allure.
5. Die Hard
Die Hard may be a Christmas movie, as a certain subset of its fans are all too eager to point out each December, but its appeal endures year-round. Bruce Willis lends an everyman charm to John McClane, a New York City cop caught in the crosshairs of a terrorist plot during one extremely stressful office holiday party. But it’s Alan Rickman who very nearly steals the show as the slick, scornful villain Hans Gruber. Though John McTiernan’s action classic has inspired several sequels and countless knockoffs in the years since, few have matched or surpassed the 1988 original for sheer, simple fun. (*)
6. Fast Color
Julia Hart’s Fast Color is set in a dystopian, drought-struck near future, and centers on a family with special powers: Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), and her young daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). But it’s not your typical sci-fi superhero movie. It’s less interested in explosive action or intricate mythology than in nuanced character work, charting the family’s emotional journeys as they work to heal the bonds between them and learn to harness their gifts for good. The results are thoughtful, moving, and — in a sea of same-y blockbusters about great powers and great responsibility — refreshingly unique.
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is a shapeshifter: Just when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the thing, it has a way of slipping through your fingers and transforming into something else entirely. It’s a heist film, a black comedy, a thriller, a horror, a satire, a tragedy, and part of the fun is simply sitting back to see what new shades it might take on next.
Through all these turns, though, the one thing that’s never in doubt is that we’re in the hands of a master. Every frame, every line, and every twist of Parasite feels considered and deliberate, and yet it never feels clinical or contrived, because the twin engines driving the whole thing forward are empathy and rage — specifically, class rage, directed not so much at the 1% (though they do get a healthy skewering) as at the entire rotten system that makes a story like this plausible in the first place. Parasite is one of the most entertaining movies in recent memory, and one of the cleverest, and one of the most deeply affecting. Simply put, it’s the best. (*)
Plenty of people have heard of Akira, or have at the very least seen enough of the sci-fi anime classic’s iconic motorcycle to have an association with that title. But have you ever sit down and watched it? It’s time to correct that if not. Akira isn’t just one of the best anime stories ever told, it’s also a shoe-in for virtually any “greatest sci-fi of all time” round-up that gets put together. The story, adapted from the manga created by Katsuhiro Otomo (who also directed), follows Shotaro Kaneda, leader of the Capsules biker gang, as he fights to save his telekinetic friend Tetsuo Shima from forces that want to exploit those abilities. The plot eventually spins outward into a much bigger cyberpunk-fueled story set against the backdrop of a dystopian “Neo-Tokyo” in 2019. — Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter (*)
9. If Beale Street Could Talk
So much of Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the novel by James Baldwin, plays out in the way people look at each other: with love, with longing, with expectation or anger or pride. All those gazes make the film breathtaking in its intimacy, even as it connects a large cast of characters across years and even countries.
The plot is explicitly about racial injustice — it concerns a young Black man (Stephan James) sent to jail on a false accusation, as his fiancée (Kiki Layne) discovers she is pregnant — and the film does not shy away from the ugliness of their ordeal. But what’s most striking about it is its insistence on joy. Beale Street is a film concerned not just with the hardships of life, but in the big and small blessings that make it worth living anyway. (*)
10. The Virgin Suicides
To watch The Virgin Suicides is to fall, as its narrators do, under the dreamy spell of the Lisbon sisters — five beautiful but untouchable teenage girls in 1970s Michigan — and then to be haunted, as its narrators are for decades to follow, by the unknowable mystery of the tragedies that befell them. But what the teenage boys miss even in their obsessive scrutiny of the Lisbons, writer-director Sofia Coppola catches. There are no satisfying answers to be found here. But in the questions, there emerges an empathetic portrait of growing up female in a world that seems more interested in projecting its fantasies and fears onto you than in trying to see you for who you truly are.
11. Palm Springs
When Palm Springs arrived in 2020, most movie releases had been postponed because of the pandemic — yet here was a movie, a new movie, a festival darling, about people going quietly insane with monotony and losing grip on time itself.
Max Barbakow’s film showcases a cheerfully nihilistic Andy Samberg, along with Cristin Milioti in her best work to date as his increasingly frenzied companion, in “one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard of.” Their chemistry makes Andy Siara’s script soar, leaving ample room for J.K. Simmons’ sinister interludes and just the right amount of time travel interrogation. It’s a sharp, original comedy worth revisiting again, and again, and again. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter (*)
12. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
There’s a reason Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has a reputation as a stone-cold classic: It’s really that good. The story, which centers around two outlaws on the run after a train heist gone bad, provides plenty of thrills, but what really the film special is the chemistry between its two leads, Paul Newman as the charismatic Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the sardonic Sundance Kid. Bolstered by witty dialogue from screenwriter William Goldman, their friendship set the gold standard for countless buddy films to come — and remains irresistibly endearing to this day. (*)
13. The Princess Bride
Based on the fantasy novel by William Goldman (yes, the same William Goldman from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid entry), The Princess Bride spins a fairy tale that’s equal parts sweetly sincere and cheekily self-aware. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright star as the dashing Westley and the beautiful Buttercup, a pair of star-crossed lovers who — alongside allies like the gentle giant Fezzik (André the Giant) and the vengeful fencing master Inigo Motoya (Mandy Patinkin) — must prevail over countless sword fights, Rodents of Unusual Size, an evil count, and even death itself on their way to happily ever after. (*)
14. 28 Days Later
Ah, the fast zombies movie. There’s a lot that stands out about 28 Days Later, from it being the sweetest fruit of a collaboration between director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland to the credit it’s gotten for reviving the zombie genre of horror movies (Robert Kirkman’s comic The Walking Dead arrived a year later). But the thing that most people remember about 28 Days Later is a new, fast-moving breed of zombie that’s inherently more terrifying and also rooted in the deeply unsettling fiction — especially in 2021! — of a global pandemic setting off a different kind of zombie apocalypse. — A.R. (*)
15. Jennifer’s Body
Jennifer’s Body may have received a chilly reception upon its release in 2009, but as it turns out, it wasn’t so much a bad movie as one that was ahead of its time. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, the feminist cult classic stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried as teenage BFFs whose lives are ripped apart when the former becomes possessed by a demon and starts killing local boys. Alternately creepy and hilarious (“You’re killing people!” / “No, I’m killing boys” will never not be funny), but shot through with an undercurrent of heartbreak, Jennifer’s Body speaks volumes about sexual abuse, female friendships, and the hell that is a teenage girl.
25 years after its release, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo remains so beloved, there’s a whole TV series that keeps trying to recapture its magic. But there’s still nothing like the original, with its mix of bleak humor, unexpected warmth, and “Minnesota nice.” Frances McDormand leads Fargo as Marge Gunderson, a small-town police chief investigating a spectacularly bungled kidnapping perpetrated by a desperate used car salesman (William H. Macy) and two career criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare). You’ll groan at the grisly kills (one involves a wood chipper), laugh at the awkward details, and maybe come away realizing that Marge is right — there is more to life than a little money.
17. MLK / FBI
Directed by Sam Pollard and produced by Benjamin Hedin, MLK/FBI explores the damning relationship between its title subjects — the FBI’s consistent harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. at the height of his role as a civil rights activist. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI spied on King, exposed his personal affairs, and planned to discredit him in the eyes of the American people and thereby destroy the civil rights movement from within.
The full story has yet to be told — more documents will be declassified in 2027 — but Pollard’s film sets your teeth on edge, exposing the insidious actions of institutions that are supposed to protect and uphold American values. The system is broken, and MLK/FBI reminds us that it has been that way for a long time. — P.K. (*)
Fascinated by the late ’60s? Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is also streaming on Hulu.
18. Galaxy Quest
This loving parody of, and tribute to, Star Trek‘s storytelling tropes and obsessive fandom has a heart of gold that would make Gene Roddenberry himself proud. Galaxy Quest sees the has-been cast of the eponymous cult sci-fi TV serial plucked off the regional fan-convention circuit by a people from a far-flung world who believe the show to be documentary footage of their heroics — making the pissy, self-absorbed, and cynical actors the very real last hope of the adoring (and adorably literal-minded) aliens.
A stacked cast — including Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, plus Rainn Wilson and Justin Long in their first film roles — is armed with a sweet and sly script that remains one of the best Hollywood stories ever about the power of falling in love with a fictional world. — C.W.
(*) indicates write up adapted from previous list.