Fall is here. Almost. Technically we’re in the last grips of summer’s dog days right now, with Americans gearing up for a three-day weekend by the grill. But Netflix at least isn’t ready to leave the sunniest months alone, as indicated by a number of the major films coming to streaming in the next few weeks, including iconic summer spectacles like Jaws… plus Jaws 2 and all those other seaside sequels.
But there’s more than red dye in the water to enjoy in the below outings for those content to stay home as things continue to stay weird out there. From cult classic science fiction to a Spike Lee masterpiece, here is the best of what to expect from your favorite streaming service.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Of the many versions floating out there in the ether of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, this is the best one. Only a slight reworking of the director’s cut—complete with new footage being shot to fix a particularly troublesome wig during one stunt—the Final Cut is a refined distillation of the science fiction thriller that increasingly looks like a masterpiece with each new iteration. Dense, evocative, and strangely beautiful in its fatalism, Blade Runner remains the quintessential blending of sci-fi and noir, and a haunting work about what it means to be human.
Harrison Ford plays Deckard in the film, a laconic cop in an apocalyptic and rain soaked Los Angeles. His beat? To hunt down and exterminate replicants (robots) who disobey their programming and go rogue. Yet to the frustration of early 1982 audiences, and the film’s producers, Blade Runner is not a movie particularly concerned with plot. It’s about the mood evoked by its exquisite nightmare of tomorrow, and the realization that our toasters can be more soulful than you or I.
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
We know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Jack Ryan over on Amazon? That may be true of his current iteration with actor John Krasinski, but if you want to see Tom Clancy’s originally not-so-super spy done right, we recommend this delightfully dated ‘90s action classic. Starring Harrison Ford at the peak of his grumpy dad phase, Clear and Present Danger is the third Jack Ryan movie and arguably the best one after The Hunt for Red October. Like that other Ryan high bar, there is a winsomely nerdy fascination with the technical side of spycraft at the end of the 20th century here, as well as the political undercurrents which can leave even the most well-meaning spooks high and dry.
The ostensible plot is about the then-popular drug war, with Ford’s noble if weary Ryan finding himself swept up in the politics of Colombian drug cartels. However, the film’s real villain in the U.S. president whom Ryan serves, a man who uses the U.S. intelligence and military as his personal hit squad to settle scores, and then leaves them stranded when it becomes politically convenient. In many ways this is a prescient film about the 21st century to come. Which is to say that Clear and Present Danger has just enough brains to make its explosions matter. And yes, there are ‘splosions.
Cold Mountain (2003)
A movie that it’s hard to imagine folks making today, Cold Mountain is a Civil War epic which eschews the usual trappings of dramas set during that era. The film’s main characters are North Carolinians who find themselves drawn into the Confederate cause of secession (and thereby slavery), although Jude Law’s Inman is no slaveholder. In fact, he has no real reason to be fighting the war, which is why after seeing years of carnage he goes AWOL, embarking on a Homeric quest to return to his Cold Mountain home and the sweetheart waiting there for him, Ada (Nicole Kidman).
Not that things are much better back in the poverty of Appalachia where Ada’s land has fallen on hard times. Living under the tyranny of the home guard, Ada and her own sorrows on the domestic front complement Inman’s, revealing the horrible futility of war from many perspectives. A bit overwrought in places (Cold Mountain was clearly designed to win Oscars), there is nevertheless an earthy authenticity about this yarn which is impossible to ignore.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s seminal masterpiece is as potent 32 years later as the day it was released. A funny, heartbreaking, infuriating, and ultimately thrilling experience, Do the Right Thing proves as elusively complex as its misleadingly optimistic title. It’s also just a blast to watch.
An ensemble piece, Do the Right Thing primarily focuses on Lee as Mookie, a delivery man for his neighborhood’s pizza joint owned by Sal (Danny Aiello). The relationship between the white business man and the Black employee, and what that means for the predominantly Black Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant, is explored from every angle as both men, plus Mookie’s whole community, endure the hottest day of the year. Tensions rise, prejudices are exposed, and an ending involving a young Black man and violent police officers, and a trash can and a window, remains as poignant as ever.
Green Lantern (2011)
Ah, Green Lantern. Remember when this movie was supposed to be the launching pad for the DC Cinematic Universe or whatever it ended up being called? Following the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan’s first two Batman movies, the loopy cosmic vibe of this would-be epic was just not what audiences were expecting to see. And even with all the visual pyrotechnics, an earnest try from a somewhat miscast Ryan Reynolds in the title role, and a great turn by Mark Strong as anti-hero Sinestro, the movie just came across as uninspired and unfocused.
Part of the problem may have been hiring Casino Royale director Martin Campbell—known for bringing Bond back to Earth—to helm what is essentially an uneasy mix of superhero origin story and space opera. Campbell does his best, as do actors like Reynolds, Strong, Tim Robbins, and Angela Bassett, but the script is too saddled with stuff. The primary villain is a cloud and the secondary villain—Peter Sarsgaard in a puffy head—is chewing the scenery in another movie entirely. We may get a good Green Lantern movie one day, but this one is best enjoyed while cleaning the house or getting drunk.
Congratulations Netflix subscribers, the greatest movie of all time is now available to you to stream. David Bowie and his conspicuous codpiece stars in this fantasy adventure from Jim Henson and his creature workshop. Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah, a teenage girl who has to solve a labyrinth to rescue her baby brother after she wishes him away. Packed with the coolest critters, the bangingest tunes and the most confusing feelings about David Bowie’s Goblin King, this is an absolute delight from start to finish.
Mystery Men (1999)
Made in a time before superhero films became a Hollywood mainstay, Mystery Men is an artifact from a bygone era. The admittedly overstuffed superhero comedy made by “Got Milk?” commercial director Kinka Usher flopped at the box office, despite having an ensemble cast that included Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Lena Olin, Geoffrey Rush, Eddie Izzard, and Claire Forlani. Perhaps 1999 wasn’t ready for a superhero satire about a team of lesser superheroes who are asked to save the day?
Likely, this concept would do much better today in a pop culture climate where superhero subversions like The Boys and Watchmen have thrived. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the fate for Mystery Men, which made only $33 million at the box office against a budget of $68 million. The cult classic may yet find its time to shine on the Netflix Top Ten and, if not, it will always be able to boast its connection to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” music video, which features characters from the film.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
The story behind the last film ever directed by the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone is as fascinating as the picture itself. Having made his reputation as the king of spaghetti Westerns—and then transcending the genre with films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West—Leone set his sights on gangsters in 20th century America. But his nearly four-hour epic was severely truncated down to 139 minutes and rendered almost incomprehensible in America where it failed spectacularly. Meanwhile the original version remained largely unseen until it was restored in 2012.
Leone’s methodical and occasionally dreamlike esthetic might still be a tough sit for some audiences, but we hope that Netflix is indeed showing the full-length version (this is the company that backed The Irishman, for Chrissakes, which probably wouldn’t exist without Leone’s influence). It’s an expansive, truly gripping epic that stretches across a 50-year span, encompassing Prohibition, Italian, and Jewish criminal mobs, plus politics and more in a vast portrait of a corrupt American dream. It’s been called one of the greatest gangster films of all time, and rightly so.
School of Rock (2003)
Bless the movie gods above for a filmmaker like Richard Linklater. Typically an indie darling known for time-bending cinematic experiments such as the Before Sunrise trilogy and Boyhood, the Dazed and Confused filmmaker can still also do genuinely great mainstream entertainment when he wants to. Hence his partnering with the oft-underrated talent of Jack Black. Together, they made an all-time family classic between them in School of Rock.
The plot, if you somehow haven’t seen it, involves Black playing an out-of-work rocker who cons his way into becoming a prestigious private school’s new music teacher—one who’d rather teach his kids about the awesomeness of KISS or Led Zeppelin than Mozart and Beethoven. He even gets the kids to start a rock band! The supreme appeal of the movie, however, is the interest and affection Linklater showers onto Black as well as his entire cast of talented youngsters, who all get to shine and help build this Zoomer touchstone. That includes future iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove as Black’s pint-sized nemesis turned frenemy.
Arguably the greatest summer blockbuster ever made, there is no debate over the fact that Jaws kickstarted this type of summer spectacle. Which makes returning to it now kind of remarkable when one realizes how grounded and real Steven Spielberg’s primal horror still feels. And we’re not talking about the killer shark; Great Whites do not behave this way, nor do they look like that rubber monstrosity fans affectionately refer to as “Bruce.”
Rather the film’s paradox of being a thriller intended for adults during New Hollywood’s golden age in the 1970s, as well as being the accidental creation of the summer blockbuster, means the film maintains a surprising degree of naturalism and complexity among its three central characters, and their various motives for getting in a boat to do primordial battle with a fish like something out of a Hemingway book. Plus, in addition to the terror of not seeing the shark for most of the movie and Spielberg instead relying on John Williams’ nerve-shattering score, the film’s depiction of politicians who will let their voters get eaten before listening to the scientists hits especially close to home these days.
Jaws 2 (1978)
The making of Jaws 2, which was inevitable following the unprecedented success of Steven Spielberg’s classic 1975 original, was beset with as many problems as the first film. The first, of course, was that Spielberg did not return to direct; that task fell to John D. Hancock (Let’s Scare Jessica to Death), who was replaced prior to filming by Jeannot Szwarc. The script was constantly revised as well, and star Roy Scheider was apparently unhappy that he was contractually obligated to show up.
In the end, Jaws 2 isn’t a bad film; it’s just a pointless one. The town of Amity is plagued, improbably enough, by a second shark, and once again the mayor (Murray Hamilton, somehow reelected after pulling a Ron DeSantis in the first movie) idiotically refuses to heed Chief Brody’s warnings. The film’s centerpiece is the shark’s relentless attack on a bunch of teens headed out to sea in a small flotilla of boats, and Szwarc generates some real tension and horror even if we see way more of the monster this time. There’s no way Jaws 2 can match the greatness of its predecessor, but considering what came afterward, we’ll take what we can get.