Spring has sprung. Depending on what part of the country (or world) you’re in that’s either true or a deceptive lie no matter what scientists say about the equinox. But whether temperatures are really starting to thaw for you or it’s another six, long, cold weeks of winter, there’s one thing we can all depend on: streaming content.
And like the veritable Bo Burnham once said on a Netflix project last year, daddy’s made your favorite with a slew of genuine classics and plenty of crowdpleasers, new and old, coming to the service. Enjoy a preview of the best of the selection below.
Released the same year as Starship Troopers (see below), Gattaca attacked a different kind of fascism than that film–one built on eugenics instead of military superiority. In Andrew Niccol’s cerebral, intense debut as a director and writer, children are genetically manipulated to ensure that they will be born with the best characteristics of their parents. The result is a society built on an underlying discrimination, in which non-manipulated Vincent (Ethan Hawke) works to prove himself worthy of joining the space program by passing off a superior specimen’s genetic material as his own.
Some of Niccol’s themes are explored in heavy-handed fashion (Vincent’s last name is Freeman, get it?), but he still approaches them for the most part with intelligence and energy, the mark of truly interesting science fiction. The Hawke-led cast (also featuring Uma Thurman and Jude Law, among others) is impeccable and the film suggests a world not far off from ours. In fact, Gattaca reputedly helped spark a debate among geneticists on the ethics involved in their research–and if a single, little movie can do that, it’s a film worth seeing even decades later.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. It seems like everyone knows the rhyme from this slasher movie classic. Yet nearly 40 years since its release, the original A Nightmare on Elm Street has been seen by a surprisingly small amount of the horror genre’s younger fanbase. So if you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t experienced this yet—or if it’s been a long time—now’s your chance to visit Wes Craven’s first nightmare… which is still the best in the series.
The appeal of A Nightmare on Elm Street is as simple as it is ingenuous: there’s a killer who comes for you in your dreams. There’s no escaping Mr. Sandman, right? And as personified by Robert Englund in a truly nasty makeup design, he is a shadow worth dreading, particularly in the original movie which sympathized with its victims (particularly Heather Langenkamp’s all-time great final girl, Nancy) and feared its boogeyman instead of turning him into a comedian. This remains an evocative, dreamy, and infinitely creative chiller.
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The first of two movies based on Stephen King prison stories and directed by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption was thrown immediately into box office jail upon its release but has since become a modern classic. There’s good reason for it too: the movie is almost perfect from start to finish, a riveting, moving melodrama about hope and the endurance of the human spirit that builds to one of the most satisfying payoffs in all of film.
Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman star as two lifers stuck in Shawshank prison: Freeman’s Red has already been inside for a while and doesn’t expect to be released until he’s bent and elderly, if at all, while Robbins’ newcomer Andy Dufresne insists he’s innocent (of the murder of his wife and her lover) and keeps a flame of hope alive that he might one day get out and prove it.
What happens along the way tests both men’s beliefs, and the camaraderie and chemistry between Robbins and Freeman is palpable and endearing. Darabont’s script is faithful to King’s novella in both spirit and incident, making this easily one of the best of the author’s adaptations ever. But more than that, it’s just an outstanding movie, the kind you can watch over and over and never get tired of.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Boots Riley’s directorial debut remains a marvel: a twisty, challenging, hilarious, and ultimately horrifying allegory about class—and all in a movie where LaKeith Stanfield’s anguished eyes belie the humor of David Cross’ voice coming out of his mouth. You see, Stanfield plays Cassius Green, an ambitious young Black man who learns he can go far in the world of telemarketing if he affects a white voice. And we mean a literal white voice.
It’s the first of many magical realism conceits in Riley’s fevered vision of late stage capitalism, culminating in a role played by Armie Hammer that makes so much more sense in retrospect.
Starship Trooper (1997)
Mad director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic 1959 novel was immediately misunderstood upon its release: critics didn’t quite get at first that Verhoeven was satirizing the widely debated authoritarian and fascist aspects of Heinlein’s book. Hopefully by the time Neil Patrick Harris turns up in a long black overcoat as the head of a sort of space SS, it started to sink in that this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill sci-fi actioner from the man who brought us RoboCop.
No, Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier had other things on their minds, namely poking fun at Heinlein’s rather dated political views, all while delivering a knockout military sci-fi thriller that’s incredibly kinetic, gory, and exciting (Heinlein’s tale itself is one of the templates of the military sci-fi novel). The cast—Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Jake Busey—is perfectly vacant, while Michael Ironside brings welcome gravitas as their instructor-turned-sergeant. Meanwhile, the battles on the ground and in space with the bugs–the horrific-looking, vicious aliens–still hold up pretty damn well. Underrated and largely ignored at the time of its release, this is another movie that has grown in stature with time. Deservedly so.
V for Vendetta (2006)
Remember, remember the Fifth of November. Folks on both sides of the Atlantic have been saying that like it’s a real seasonal holiday greeting ever since this subversive studio movie dropped in 2006. Even so, it seems the world has crept ever closer to the horrible neo-fascist nightmare endured by V (Hugo Weaving) and Evey (Natalie Portman). More depressing still, actual real life fascists have adopted V’s iconography of the chic Guy Fawkes mask, as have self-proclaimed anarchists, communists, and most every other kind of “ist.”
Perhaps that’s because the movie, which is loosely adapted from an Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel, speaks to the fundamental need folks have to distrust authority. Yet the dystopia fashioned by the Wachowskis’ screenplay is still specifically aimed at a fear of far-right extremism running unchecked, and a West falling to authoritarianism. It’s also a rip-roaring swashbuckler in that grim and entirely relatable anxiety.
“Maybe there’s more to life than being really, really ridiculously good looking?” / “That Hansel’s so hot right now.” / “You should listen to Billy Zane, he’s a cool dude.” / “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
Zoolander remains one of the most quotable and silly comedies of this young century. The image of Ben Stiller, who also directed and co-wrote the picture, and Owen Wilson competing in a “walk off” is still hilarious. More than 20 years later, Derek and his buddies dancing to “Jitterbug” with orange mocha frappuccinos lingers on as a popular meme. It’s a classic for a reason.
Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic feels more timely than ever as it comes to Netflix this March. Based on the real evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk after the fall of France, the film is both a relentless exercise in tension and a celebration of Western resolve, particularly in the face of authoritarian force. Mostly though, Nolan eschews all conventions of traditional narrative (including his often remarked upon reliance on exposition) to put viewers in the shoes of multiple vantages and timelines during these titanic historic events.
There is the nameless soldier on the beach (Fionn Wolfhard) who just desperately wants to survive; the older and younger civilians (Mark Rylance and Barry Keoghan) who risk their lives to trek across the English Channel during a time of war to save strangers; and the ace RAF pilot (Tom Hardy) who may not survive the hour in his own intercut narrative. It all comes together in a fittingly Nolan-esque use of fractured timelines, and it all looks viscerally stunning in its IMAX photography.