5 Underrated Netflix Original Movies

Andrew Buckle,

Netflix has evolved dramatically over the years. At first it was their original TV series that hooked customers in, but as their influence grew they started to invest in the streaming rights for movies that premiered exclusively on the platform.

But just how good are these films?

While Netflix have been well-represented in recent awards seasons with Roma, The Irishman and The Trial of the Chicago 7 being just some that scooped up a haul of Academy Award nominations – there is also a brewing reputation that Netflix movies have become disposable. They draw enormous early viewership, but quickly fall away when the next new attention-grabbing title lands, and then often vanish into the deep library without a trace.

So how many of Netflix’s original movies have proven to be truly memorable? Classics.

We’ve done a deep dive into their catalogue – trust us, we’ve watched a lot – and picked out five gems that we certainly haven’t forgotten and we believe deserve some more love.

The Dig

  • What’s it about?The Dig is an adaptation of the 2007 novel of the same name, itself a re-imagining of the 1938-39 excavation of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Hired by landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to excavate the mounds on her property, amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) and his team make the find of a lifetime – a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon ship.
  • Why you should dig into the library to seek this movie out – Directed by Australia’s Simon Stone, this is an unassumingly lovely, respectful and quietly moving story. Every member of this cast, which also includes Lily James and Johnny Flynn, portrays an evolving character whose relationships to one another are as essential to the story as the discovery itself. Fiennes is wonderful and the recreation of the dig site is stunning, but the way this archaeological landmark altered the lives of the people involved through Brown’s uniting passion is what makes this film truly special.

Uncut Gems

What’s it about?: Saddled with mounting debts, a fast-talking and charismatic New York City jeweller (Adam Sandler) makes a series of high-wire bets that could lead not only to a huge windfall, but also keep his business afloat and protect himself and his family from unscrupulous collectors.

Why this gem should be top of your watchlist: The Safdie Brothers (see also: Good Time) have made it their mission to create the most stressful movies imaginable. Sandler’s career-best work is a fascinatingly grotesque concoction of unpleasant-but-sympathetic, as Howie scrambles to keep a grasp of all of his risky enterprises. He ropes in his supportive girlfriend (Julia Fox) to help, but draws the ire of everyone else in his life including ex-wife (Idina Menzel) and an especially difficult customer in Kevin Garnett (more words on this man here). Blurring the line between documentary and fiction – this feels like it has been pulled out of some dusty archives from 2012 – a thoroughly authentic film that is set at a very specific time, which makes it feel truly unique and original.

Tramps

What’s it about?: Two young millennials, Danny and Ellie, become tangled up in a mischievous cross-city odyssey when their courier responsibilities in a shady suitcase swap result in it ending up in the wrong hands. Without any knowledge of the potentially-criminal contents of the suitcase, both are lured by the payday they desperately need to jump start their lives, so they attempt to track it down together. Along the way they discover they sorta, kinda like each other.

Why it is a crime this film hasn’t been seen by more: This simple and contained story is set over the course of a day and is fuelled by the sweet and likeable chemistry of the pairing; a meet-cute scenario that harks back to old-fashioned romance stories and a Woody Allen-esque walk-and-talk eavesdrop style. It captures the gritty NYC urban realism, but it has a majestic quality to it as otherworldly-feeling phenomenon of coincidence and (mis)fortune playfully push-and-pull them along. A charming story made with a scrappy fascination, with improv banter and fleeting detail. Keep an eye out for young stars Grace Van Patten (The Violent Heart) and Callum Turner (Green Room), as well as filmmaker Adam Leon (his debut feature Gimme the Loot is also excellent) in the future. These youngsters are going places.

Private Life

What’s it about?: Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn (both sensational) star as a couple struggling with infertility. The film documents them as they try and keep their marriage together while navigating the world of assisted reproduction and adoption.

Why this private story should be more public knowledge: The rarely dramatised for the screen, but very common, struggle of infertility is told with profound sincerity and honesty by filmmaker Tamara Jenkins (The Savages). The journey to creating a family, and the psychological preparation involved in becoming a parent is a bumpy and emotionally-draining ride for couples. Many struggle with it privately, afraid of the stigma of failure or an embarrassing feeling of inadequacy. This film doesn’t hide the scars, but makes this journey relatable and ultimately hopeful when Rachel and Richard get a new lease on their dream when their step-niece comes to visit them.

Dolemite is My Name

What’s it about?: Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer in the ’70s who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious and obscene alter ego, Dolemite, became a phenomenon. The film captures Moore’s rise to fame centered around his amateur, self-promoted production of his groundbreaking film, Dolemite.

Why this movie puts some respect back on Eddie Murphy’s name: We’re not saying that Eddie Murphy had lost his mojo, but the recently lightly-worked comic legend made a welcomed return for this personal dream project and swiftly reminded us all that he’s one of the most gifted comic performers of all time. Completely disappearing into the Blaxploitation trailblazer Moore and his stranger-than-fiction journey through his eccentric Dolemite character, Murphy was awarded a Golden Globe nomination. The film takes advantage of Murphy’s charisma and timing as a stand-up comedian, while being one of the funniest and most genuinely uplifting movie-within-a-movie stories since Murphy’s own Bowfinger. The film is a glorious tribute to Moore, and you can’t help but get swept up in this lavish document of a man who bet on himself and inspired others (just as Murphy has cultivated stunning performances from the supporting cast including Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and a period of creative renaissance for black artists.

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