Remember when Netflix made headlines by announcing it would release 80 original films in 2018? Today that number seems almost small. This past March, the streaming service released about 60 movies and series, and nobody blinked an eye.
The sheer volume of content on Netflix is impressive but, as you might expect, quality is another matter. The range is wide, from unwatchable rom-coms to Oscar-nominated features from some of Hollywood’s best directors. Talk about hit or miss.
Netflix seems to be finding a sweet spot in the middle, though. Many Netflix Originals may not have that big-screen sheen — maybe the script is unfocused or the performances a tad wobbly — but they still have a certain energy and creative impulse that makes them too good to ignore. The Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” is a perfect case in point: In a theater this ramshackle production might disappoint, but in your living room, it’s a smash hit.
Here’s a list of ten recent Netflix Original movies, from the artful to the simply pleasurable, worth watching right now:
10. DUMPLIN’ In a small Texas town, plus size Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), daughter of local beauty-queen Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), decides to enter a pageant herself and winds up starting a revolution. As formula goes, it’s as familiar as Gerber — but it’s also irresistible, thanks to spirited performances, a sensitive script by Kristen Hahn and a lovely soundtrack by Dolly Parton. Directed by Anne Fletcher (“Step Up,” “27 Dresses”).
9. TRIPLE FRONTIER For macho action with a dark edge, this is your best Netflix bet. It’s a heist film about five mercenaries (Oscar Isaac and Ben Affleck play the leaders) who go off-script and steal millions of dollars from a drug kingpin. Director J.C. Chandor (“All Is Lost”), working from a script by Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”), sometimes loses his way in the moral murk of it all, but the production values are Hollywood-caliber and Isaac’s performance is ironclad.
8. HIGH FLYING BIRD Sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) hatches a plan to take professional basketball out of the hands of the white oligarchs who run it — if only for a moment. The screenplay, by Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”), can feel scattered, but the dialogue is zippy, the ideas resonate and Steven Soderbergh directs with cool panache. Starring Zazie Beetz, Bill Duke and Kyle MacLachlan.
7. THE HIGHWAYMEN In 1934, as the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow crisscross the country leaving dead policeman in their wake, two retired Texas Rangers are hired to solve the problem the old fashioned way: Kill 'em. John Lee Hancock’s crime drama benefits from Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson in rock-solid turns as the aging lawmen, plus a richly detailed script by John Fusco. It’s a Western at heart, tackling themes of romantic myth, rough justice and morality.
6. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS The Coen brothers’ oddball feature — maybe that’s redundant — is an anthology of six stories set in the Wild West. The moods vary wildly, from tragic (“Meal Ticket,” starring Liam Neeson as a traveling impresario) to cartoon lunacy (the title segment, which features a singing Tim Blake Nelson). Ask anyone who’s seen the movie, though, and you’ll hear raves about Tom Waits, who dang near deserved an Oscar as a grizzled prospector in "All Gold Canyon."
5. UNICORN STORE Brie Larson plays Kit, a floundering art school dropout who receives an offer to obtain the thing she’s wanted since childhood: A real live unicorn. Larson, in her directorial debut, and screenwriter Samantha McIntyre are responsible for this utterly charming slacker fairy tale, which brims with off-kilter humor and kooky details. The cherry-picked cast includes Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford as Kit’s well-meaning parents, plus Larson’s “Captain Marvel” co-star Samuel L. Jackson as The Salesman.
4. FYRE In 2017, something called Fyre Festival began appearing on social media — an upscale version of Coachella that promised live music, supermodels, gourmet cuisine and luxury villas on a private Caribbean island. Ticket holders shelled out upward of $12,000 for the experience but instead found themselves sleeping in FEMA tents and eating baloney sandwiches. Chris Smith’s documentary on the debacle is a delicious feast of schadenfreude, a howlingly funny and occasionally jaw-dropping story of fraud, wealth and gullibility in the internet era.
3. THE DIRT This biopic of the 1980s hair-metal band Motley Crue is as hokey as one of their music videos, and every bit as fun. Join lead vocalist Vince Neil (a rather good Daniel Webber) and the gang as they tear through a decade of groupies, drugs and trashed hotels. Directed by “Jackass” co-creator Jeff Tremaine, “The Dirt” glosses over some of the Crue’s uglier behavior; not everyone around them survived. Still, this rock-and-roll tale is everything “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t -- rowdy, rude, funny and filled with adolescent joy.
2. SHIRKERS In 1992, Singaporean filmmaker Sandi Tan and friends poured their meager savings and youthful energy into “Shirkers,” a kooky comedy-drama that could have been their country’s contribution to the indie-cinema boom. Instead, the footage inexplicably vanished — only to surface again decades later. Tan’s introspective documentary about her head-spinning experience is utterly riveting: part mystery, part tragedy and ultimately an attempt to salvage some beauty from the wreckage.
1. ROMA Alfonso Cuaron’s drama about the personal struggles of a housemaid (nonprofessional actress Yalitza Aparicio) and her employer (Marina de Tavira), is head and shoulders above anything the streaming service has offered yet. It’s an artful and moving slice of life, with some of the most spectacular black-and-white photography you’ll ever see. There’s a reason “Roma” became Netflix’s first-ever Oscar nominee for best picture.
CORRECTION: Vince Neil is the lead vocalist for Motley Crue. A previous version of this story misstated his position in the band.