The best movies on Amazon Prime may not compare to the best movies on Netflix, but they’re starting to catch up. Netflix has shown the way. The streaming giant offers a monster selection of horror movies, thrillers, romances, controversial films, and great documentaries. Amazon does its best to keep up. Netflix has also become a major distributor of original content in recent years. The site pumped out over 80 new movies in 2018, and have plans for more this year. While Amazon Prime can’t match Netflix’s movie selection, it’s a major player in the world of original films and TV shows.
Amazon Studios is already more successful than Netflix when it comes to distributing major motion pictures. They’ve seen films like Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro, and The Big Sick garner Oscar acclaim. And Amazon was behind some of the best movies of 2018 also: You Were Never Really Here, Cold War. The difference is Amazon Studios films are usually co-distributed in theaters before they land on Prime. Netflix streams their stuff right away, and Amazon would be wise to follow suit if they want to stay competitive.
While Amazon Prime may not be as instantly gratifying as Netflix, it does pretty well. Every new month brings more new selections and you’ll be hard-pressed to watch every great movie on Prime. There are many to choose from. We can help guide the way. Nobody wants to spend hours clicking through menus. These are the best movies to watch on Amazon Prime right now:
Note: Documentaries not included.
1. All the President’s Men (1976)
Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook
One of the greatest procedural movies ever made, All the President’s Men takes you inside the Washington Post‘s investigation of the 1973 Watergate scandal. Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) were two eager young reporters President Richard Nixon didn’t count on. After five men are arrested for burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters, Woodward checks it out and discovers they all had bugging devices and they’ve got a too-expensive lawyer. He goes down the rabbit hole and discovers a story that will rock the country and unseat the most powerful man in the world. All the President’s Men is a must-see film if you want to be an American adult.
2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin
Wikipedia calls Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “a dystopian crime film.” That’s a fraction of what it is. Based on Anthony Burgess’s prescient novel, the story centers on a chelloveck named Alex (McDowell) and his droogs, who’re always up for a bit of the old ultra-violence — rape, robbery, murder. They’re desensitized thugs in a new world order, but a cure is on the horizon. Alex is eventually imprisoned and subjected to “treatments” which train his body to reject even the thought of violence. Devoid of free will, Alex becomes the center of the story’s philosophical and moral debate.
3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E. G. Marshall, Jack Warden
You may find it hard to believe a film set in one room can be thrilling, but director Sidney Lumet makes it happen in 12 Angry Men. The titular 12 make up the jury deciding the fate of an 18-year-old man accused of stabbing his father to death. The case is seemingly cut and dry, as most of the jury members have made up their mind to find him guilty. Some are just as eager to simply get home. But one man (Fonda) refuses to enter a guilty verdict. He can’t escape reasonable doubt and all the circumstantial evidence. As the case is broken down by each of the men, arguments are won and lost, and minds are changed and made up. 12 Angry Men is a complex, beautifully acted film that remains a courtroom classic.
4. In the Heat of the Night (1955)
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant
In the Heat of the Night remains a highly watchable film for a couple reasons: It’s an early version of a modern homicide procedural, and Sidney Poitier is in it. Poitier plays a Philly cop traveling through the south when he’s wrongfully accused of killing someone while waiting for his next train. He soon convinces the local racist sheriff of his innocence, and then his smarts as he looks into the murder himself. He’s soon officially lending a hand while fending off the local knuckle-draggers who want to lynch him for the color of his skin. There are moments of sheer grace in this film thanks to Poitier, whose restrained performance is just as poignant now as it was in 1955.
5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear
If a world made out of candy doesn’t thrill you, then you must never have been a child, or human, or alive. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is simply one of the greatest children’s stories ever conceived, filled with boundless imagination. It’s only right the movie version contains some of that same magic. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory brought Roald Dahl’s novel to brilliant life in 1971 and the movie remains a childhood favorite. The underdog story of poor Charlie Bucket, who finds a rare Golden Ticket and gets to meet Willy Wonka himself, is filled with immense drama, huge laughs, and touching friendships.
6. Boogie Nights (1995)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Thomas Jane, Alfred Molina
Want to see a talented writer/director at work? Watch Boogie Nights, the movie that announced the arrival of Paul Thomas Anderson in 1995. The style, the music, the writing, it’s all poetry in motion as Anderson weaves the tale of Dirk Diggler, dishwasher-turned-porn star, through the Los Angeles Valley subculture in the ’70s and ’80s. The film made a star of Mark Wahlberg, who gives the performance of his life. And he’s surrounded by amazing character actors in every scene.
7. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller
Saturday Night Fever contains the most John Travolta John Travolta performance of all the actor’s projects. And there’ve been many contenders — Welcome Back, Kotter, Grease, Pulp Fiction. But Saturday Night Fever has them all beat… for sheer cockiness. Travolta rules Brooklyn as Tony Manero, a hardware clerk who comes alive on the weekends when he can take over the dance floor at the 2001 Odyssey. He and his buddies are kings for those hours. But there’s plenty of trouble in the neighborhood, too. And Tony thinks he’s met his match when he discovers a talented new girl at the club.
8. Shotgun Stories (2007)
Starring: Michael Shannon, Barlow Jacobs, Glenda Pannell
We forgive you if you’ve never heard of Jeff Nichols’s (Loving) debut film. It’s an independent treasure that never got much love theatrically. Shotgun Stories, aside from having the greatest title ever, is a powerful film about explosive resentment and the immense bond of family. Set in Arkansas, the film tells the tale of two sets of half brothers. Son (Michael Shannon) remembers his father leaving he and his brothers to start a new life with new kids. After Dad dies, emotions boil over and the two worlds collide at the funeral, setting off a violent feud that ends in tragedy. But it’s how Nichols tells the story that will move you.
9. Hereditary (2018)
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Not just a horror film, but a true horror experience, Hereditary is the most visceral scary movie of last year. Watch it alone late at night. You’ll hear sounds. You’ll feel a presence in the room. You’ll probably have to turn the movie off. Without spoiling anything, Hereditary follows a normal family who loses their grandmother and immediately starts experiencing weird occurrences. When tragedy strikes, their world becomes even smaller and they’re all in immediate danger. How do you reconcile pure evil when it enters your life? In Hereditary, you don’t.
10. Philadelphia (1993)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Antonio Banderas, Joanne Woodward, Mary Steenburgen, Bradley Whitford, Ann Dowd
Before Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks won his first Best Actor Oscar for his role as lawyer/AIDS patient Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia. While the country was fretting over the disease, Hanks and director Jonathan Demme put a human face on it for everyone to see. Fired by his exclusive law firm for contracting HIV, Beckett sues his former employers with the help of fiery injury attorney Joe Miller (Washington), the only lawyer who’ll take the case. As Beckett’s condition worsens, the case goes on, and the truth comes to light. If you’re looking for a good cry, look no further. Philadelphia is a vivid human drama.
11. First Reformed (2018)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles (Cedric the Entertainer)
Written and directed by film legend Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), First Reformed continues the filmmaker’s career theme of lone wolves in the midst of crisis. Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) narrates First Reformed. He’s keeping a journal in the loneliness after his son’s death in Iraq and his wife leaving him. Tending to a historic church, Toller has a crisis of faith. However, First Reformed is about much more. Toller has his own secrets and he becomes involved with a local couple, Mary and Michael, who change his way of thinking about the powers that be. In his quest to help them, he only sees his problems multiply and his morality shifts in a final act that’s as dark and powerful as any you’ll see.
12. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin
Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in a broken family in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is touching and viciously funny. Raised by his insufferable, intellectual father and his philandering mother, Walt Berkman (Eisenberg) doesn’t really take after either. Although he thinks he’s like Dad. (Which isn’t a good thing). Divorce leaves scars. Walt searches for himself while trying to win over girls with plagiarized songs. Frank (Kline) is entering the dangerous world of puberty. And their mother is sleeping with her tennis coach (a hilarious William Baldwin). Baumbach’s dialogue is true and funny, and his cast is marvelous.
13. Memories of Murder (2003)
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, Byun Hee-bong
Director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) is the box office king in South Korea, but Memories of Murder may be his best movie. Based on the true story of the country’s first documented serial killer, Bong’s film follows three detectives as they try to outwit the killer before he murders another girl. Meanwhile, the investigators themselves can barely get along. Park (Song) is a lazy cop operating on instinct while Seo (Kim) is only interested in the facts. Their clashes hinder things, but the two cops agree on one particular suspect that fits the pattern. Whether they can prove he did it is another story.
14. Moonlight (2016)
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s drama school project entitled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, this film has true vitality that lives and breathes with every scene. You can feel the dread in Moonlight as director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) traces the story of Chiron, a young black male, through three difficult periods of his life using three different actors. Thanks to the stylized method of the director and the intense acting performances, Moonlight works on a visceral level. It feels important and heavy and true.
15. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Logan Lerman, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Vinessa Shaw
Severely underrated, 3:10 to Yuma is one of the best remakes ever made and a great western in its own right. Buoyed by the talented duo of Bale and Crowe, the latter of which as an all-time scoundrel, 3:10 to Yuma hums with danger. The plot is labyrinthian, full of double crosses and deceits we won’t ruin. But Bale plays a hard luck cowboy tasked with delivering the outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to the 3:10 train out of Contention. Along the way, they need each other to stay alive and a tentative partnership forms. For fans of the genre, it doesn’t get much better.
16. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges, Kara Hayward
Named his teenage nephew’s legal guardian after his brother’s death, Lee (Affleck, in an Oscar-winning performance) searches for the reason why. He’s living alone in another city and has to change everything. But, as Lee returns home to settle things, Manchester by the Sea slowly reveals why Lee left in the first place. Director Kenneth Lonergan’s acute attention to human emotion has always added serious weight to his films and this one may be his heaviest. For serious drama, check out Manchester by the Sea.
17. You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman
Director Lynne Ramsay only makes feature films once every six or seven years so we must be thankful when they come around. Her latest, You Were Never Really Here, contains true visual storytelling. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as a hitman with a damaged past, the movie follows his hunt for a kidnapped girl. But the story is psychologically driven by his inner struggle, brought to life through Ramsay and Joe Bini’s furious editing. It’s a subversive film at every step, and one you’ll never forget.
18. Bernie (2011)
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Unassuming title, star-less cast, Jack Black — Bernie has a few reasons for you to hate it. The thing is, you’ve gotta look at the director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Slacker, the Sunrise trilogy). This guy does not make bad movies. Based on a true story, Bernie stars Black in his greatest performance. (Seriously, he was considered a dark horse Oscar candidate in 2011.) He plays the title character, a beloved community leader and nice guy who befriends the town grump (MacLaine) out of empathy and eventually kills her when he can’t take her anymore. How he hides the crime is amazing. It’s Linklater’s darkest comedy and a true gem.
19. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline
Nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Kline, who won) Oscars, A Fish Called Wanda is one of the most beloved comedies of the ’80s. With a plot centered around a trio of diamond thieves and the barrister they’re hoping will lead them to the jewels, the movie is a slapstick farce that’s plenty of fun.
20. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Starring: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly
Another favorite from the ’80s, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels features vintage Steve Martin at the height of his powers. He plays a con man trying to endear himself to a wealthy heiress (Headly), but he’s got competition. Another, more suave operator (Caine) sets his eyes on the same woman and the two enter a competition for her money. Martin poses as a disabled veteran who learns to walk again thanks to her love and Caine becomes a world-renowned doctor who can “help” him along the way.
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