The Abyss, streaming on Paramount+.

The Abyss, streaming on Paramount+.
Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

This article will be updated as movies move on and off streaming services. An asterisk indicates a new addition to the list.

Don’t we all deserve to watch something that’s actually great? Too often, the competing streaming algorithms at Netflix, Max, and Amazon Prime Video push a smattering of undifferentiated piffle. So many of the major services seemingly just want to highlight their own latest acquisition or buzzy project. But we at Vulture have no horse in the streaming race: Our job is to help you figure out what to watch by recommending the best movies each of these services has to offer at any given time. To that end, we have gone over the must-see titles on each platform and winnowed them down to the list below. It could easily be 100 movies long, but we tried to keep it manageable — a tight 30! — and if you come back every month, you can expect to see it updated with new selections. Read on to find something to watch, starting with this week’s critic’s pick.

Year: 1989
Runtime: 2h 20m
Director: James Cameron

James Cameron’s stunning underwater sci-fi film, released 35 years ago and starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, is one of the most prominent films never to have been released on Blu-ray in the United States. But that finally changed in March with a 4K release, and it’s now more readily available on streaming too. People who love this movie really love this movie, and it’s great to see it coming to the fans who have deserved it for so long.

Year: 1995
Runtime: 1h 41m
Director: Carl Franklin

Carl Franklin wrote and directed one of the most underrated Denzel Washington performances of all time in this 1995 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Walter Mosley. Washington plays Easy Rawlins, a World War II vet in 1948 who gets drawn into a mystery that classic noir filmmakers would have adored. Charming and riveting, the only crime here is that there wasn’t a whole franchise of films with Washington playing Easy.

Year: 2006
Runtime: 2h 8m
Director: Spike Lee

Yes, Spike Lee once made a great action movie. The director of Do the Right Thing and Da 5 Bloods put his spin on the heist film with this great 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle. The regular collaborator plays an NYPD hostage negotiator, called in when a bank heist goes down on Wall Street. Tight and effective, this is just further evidence that Spike Lee can nail any kind of movie he chooses to make. This might be Lee’s most underrated movie. It hums.

Year: 2007
Runtime: 2h 9m
Director: Judd Apatow

The movie’s gender politics seem shakier than when it came out, but Judd Apatow’s biggest hit still works because of the intelligence of its screenplay and commitment of its cast, especially Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. The story of a man forced to grow up when his one-night stand gets pregnant errs a bit too much on the side of the male view, but one can’t deny the pure laughs-per-minute ratio. It’s fun to contrast this with the more recent Long Shot to see how much Rogen has changed (and how much he really hasn’t).

Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 57m
Director: Todd Haynes

Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman star in the latest from Carol and Far from Heaven director Todd Haynes, a stunning character study of an actress who discovers that some people are impossible to figure out. Portman plays a star who tries to get under the skin of Moore’s character, a woman who raped a child when she was a teacher, and later married that young man. Charles Melton is phenomenal as the now-grown victim, stuck in perpetual adolescence.

Year: 2005
Runtime: 2h
Director: Doug Liman

The fun new reboot series starring Donald Glover and Maya Erskine may be over on Prime, but Netflix has the one that started it all: The movie that gave the world Brangelina. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star as a seemingly ordinary suburban couple who discover that they both have secret identities as competing assassins. As Angelica Jade Bastién put it, it’s a straight shot of movie star charisma.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 2h 20m
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson

This is how you do a big-budget blockbuster sequel, developing the themes of the first movie and setting up the stake for what now appears will be one of the best trilogies in superhero history. Packed with so much detail and creativity, it’s a film you’ll want to watch over and over again.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 44m
Director: Jordan Peele

This is the one that really changed the current state of horror, reminding studios how acclaimed and popular it could be if treated with the right respect. It also won its creator an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, launching one of the most interesting careers of the current era. It’s held up remarkably well, and it’s hardly ever available on streaming services, so take this chance while you can to rewatch a movie whose influence is still shaking the industry.

Year: 2014
Runtime: 2h 49m
Director: Christopher Nolan

The most underrated film from the director of The Dark Knight and Oppenheimer remains this 2014 sci-fi epic, a film that’s better if you approach it as an emotional journey instead of a physical one. Matthew McConaughey gives one of the best performances of his career as an astronaut searching for a new home for mankind, and realizing all that he left behind to do so. It’s a technical marvel with some of the most striking visuals and best sound design of Nolan’s career.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director: Greta Gerwig

One of the biggest films of 2023 has landed on Max. Greta Gerwig’s daring blockbuster is a comedy that works both as a reminder of the power imagination and the fight for equality. Anyone who thinks this movie is anti-male isn’t paying any attention. The theme of the movie is that no one — not even Barbie or Ken — should be defined by traditional roles. We should all be free to play however we want. It’s a wonderful film that will truly stand the test of time.

Year: 2003
Runtime: 1h 42m
Director: Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola exploded onto the filmmaking scene with her second film, this dramedy about a fading movie star who meets an American girl in Tokyo and both of their lives change. Bill Murray does career-best work in the film (and should have won an Oscar), and he’s matched by Scarlett Johansson, but Lost in Translation really is Coppola’s film, a tender, brilliant character study with personal resonance.

Year: 2021
Runtime: 2h 10m
Director: David Lowery

An adaptation of the 14th century poem, The Green Knight is one of the most visually striking films of the decade so far. David Lowery directs Dev Patel as Gawain, who sets out on a journey to face the title character. More than just a mere tale of heroism, this is a surreal, gorgeous piece of work that challenges preconceptions of fantasy dramas and feels vitally fresh.

Year: 2019
Runtime: 2h 12m
Director: Bong Joon-ho

Remember not that long ago before the world changed, and we could all rally around a South Korean film becoming the first foreign flick ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture? It really was a crazy time. At one point Hulu was the only place you’ll find Bong Joon-ho’s hysterical and thrilling study of class conflict for a long time, but the beloved thriller is now on Max, too.

Year: 2001
Runtime: 2h 4m
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Almost all of the Studio Ghibli films are on Max, the exclusive home to them when it comes to streaming. The truth is that we could write thousands of words about the impact of Hayao Miyazaki and his colleagues (and we have: here’s a ranking of the entire output of the most important modern animation studio in the world), but for now we’ll recommend starting with Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky. You won’t stop.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 45m
Director: Andrew Haigh

One of the best films of 2023 is exclusively available on Hulu thanks to the relationship between the company and Fox Searchlight—both owned by Disney, essentially. Andrew Scott is stunning as a man who essentially travels in time to visit the parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) who died when he was young, all while starting a relationship with one of his neighbors (Paul Mescal). Imagine getting to say what you never could to those you lost and allowing them a chance to see how you’ve changed too. It’s a beautiful, moving piece of work.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 2h 31m
Director: Justine Triet

The latest Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay is already exclusively on Hulu thanks to their relationship with Neon. The great Sandra Huller stars as a woman whose husband dies from a fall at their home. Was it suicide or murder? More than a mere courtroom drama, this is a dissection of a marriage that’s raw, brutal, and real.

Year: 1998
Runtime: 1h 57m
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Well, that’s just like your opinion, man. Joel and Ethan Coen followed up the biggest hit of their careers win Fargo with the story of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, unforgettably played by Jeff Bridges. In one of his most iconic roles, Bridges captures a kind of lazy L.A. style that turned this flick into a comedy classic, a movie that’s being quoted somewhere in the world on every minute of every day.

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 48m
Director: Chloe Zhao

The Oscar winner for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, this 2020 drama is one of the most moving films of the young decade so far, and it’s exclusively on Hulu thanks to the company’s relationship with Searchlight (they’re both owned by Disney). Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a woman displaced by the loss of her husband and job, sending her out on the road. Blending non-fiction filmmaking choices like the use of non-actors telling their own stories with a deep sense of character-building, this is a phenomenal film.

Year: 2019
Runtime: 2h 42m
Director: Quentin Tarantino

It’s hard to believe it’s already been almost a half-decade since Quentin Tarantino’s last movie, one of the last greats of the 2010s. Wildly misunderstood during production (and even a bit after release), it’s way more than just a reclamation of the Sharon Tate murders, it’s a funny, scary, smart alternate version of Hollywood history with some of the career-best performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, and Oscar winner Brad Pitt.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Year: 2023
Runtime: 3h 26m
Director: Martin Scorsese

One of the most acclaimed films of the 2020s is now exclusively available for subscribers of Apple TV+. Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, and Robert De Niro star in an epic drama that’s about nothing less than the violent formation of this country. When the Osage people became the richest per capita in the country, the white power figures in the region did everything they could to take it from them. As well-made as any streaming original of all time, it’s not only the best film on Apple TV+, it’s one of the best films you could watch on any streaming service, anywhere.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 43m
Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

Wolfwalkers should have won the Oscar in early 2021. It’s a lyrical and gorgeous final act to Cartoon Saloon’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” the story of a girl named Robyn Goodfellowe, whose father has been hired to hunt wolves. Robyn befriends a shapeshifter, a girl who is both wolf and human, in a story that incorporates modern storytelling with Irish folklore and inspired visual style.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 2h 13m
Director: Alexander Payne

Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph won Golden Globes, and Randolph won an Oscars, for this phenomenal holiday comedy, exclusive to Peacock. The ‘70s-set story of a boarding school over holiday break already feels like a comedy classic, a movie that people will be watching, especially around the end of the year, for generations to come.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 3h
Director: Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer is a proud biopic: a dense, big-swing condensation of a 600-page biography about one of the most important men of the 20th century and about (in the movie’s own words) “the most important fucking thing to ever happen in the history of the world.” But Oppenheimer is also the opposite of a standard-issue Great Man movie: The achievement here is monstrous, and the psychic dissolution of the main character before our very eyes is heartbreaking. —Bilge Ebiri

Year: 1974
Runtime: 2h 10m
Director: Roman Polanski

Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown. One of the best movies of the ’70s, this Best Picture nominee (and Best Screenplay winner) tells the story of Jake Gittes, played unforgettably by Jack Nicholson, as he investigates an adulterer and finds something much more insidious under the surface of Los Angeles. It’s a must-see, as important as almost any film from its era.

Year: 1972
Runtime: 2h 55m
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

It’s only the film that made Al Pacino a star and kicked Francis Ford Coppola’s career into the stratosphere — maybe you’ve heard of it? In all seriousness, the entire Godfather trilogy is available on Paramount+, including the superior recent cut of the third film. You could then slide from some of the best filmmaking of all time into the streaming service’s original series The Offer, about the making of Coppola’s masterpiece.

Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 45m
Director: Celine Song

This phenomenal Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominee isn’t on any of the other streamers. It stars the excellent Greta Lee and Teo Yoo as a couple who were close as children but reunite years later after she immigrated to the United States. It’s as much a story of what people leave behind when they change their entire lives as it is a traditional story of unrequited love. It’s beautiful and unforgettable.

Year: 1952
Runtime: 2h 23m
Director: Akira Kurosawa

Even if Criterion had only a handful of Kurosawa films, it would still be difficult to choose between The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ran, to name a few. So why Ikiru? Well, it’s an unqualified masterpiece, about a man with stomach cancer coming to terms with the end of his life. It’s hard to believe Kurosawa made it when he was just over 40.

Year: 2000
Runtime: 1h 38m
Director: Wong Kar-wai

Movies don’t get more hypnotic than this, a story of love and longing set in Hong Kong in 1962. Gorgeously shot by cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, In the Mood for Love also features career-defining performances by Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk. The two play neighbors who develop an attraction to one another in a way that feels both deeply cinematic and completely human.

Year: 1975
Runtime: 3h 21m
Director: Chantal Akerman

The 2022 Sight & Sound critics poll named Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece the best film of all time, and it’s sitting on the Criterion Channel waiting for you to find out why. This 1975 examination of the gradual breakdown of the routines of an ordinary life turns everyday detail into something unforgettable, even transcendent. Critics have loved this film for decades and now it’s had an incredible resurgence almost six decades after its release.

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