The streaming wars seem destined to rage on for the foreseeable future, which is great news for cinephiles eager to expand their horizons. Hulu, once merely a repository for network television, now features a particularly robust library of films to choose from. As with any catalog, however, Sturgeon’s Law still applies, and it might seem difficult to find the real gems housed within Hulu’s massive library. But we’ve got you covered. Our carefully curated list is a one-stop guide to the best movies on Hulu. So turn on your favorite streaming device, have Alexa dim the lights, and let the credits roll.
This list is continually updated to reflect recent Hulu offerings, as films are frequently added and removed.
‘The Elephant Man’
David Lynch’s second feature film, 1980’s The Elephant Man, is a remarkably straightforward film in the director’s surreal oeuvre, a film distinct for its lack of strangeness. The film tells the story of Joseph Merrick (John Hurt), a man afflicted with severe deformities throughout his body. A surgeon named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) finds Merrick while visiting a freak show in Victorian London, and takes him to London Hospital. As Treves gets to know Merrick, he finds him to be an intelligent, soulful man, and Merrick soon attracts visitors from London’s upper classes. Although Lynch is associated with the nightmarish visuals and mercurial plots of films like Mulholland Drive, The Elephant Man employs a light touch, letting Merrick’s quest for dignity, and the stellar performances by Hurt and Hopkins, stand center stage.
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Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise was an unlikely film to spawn a trilogy, focusing as it does on one mundane, emotional night between two lovers. With the sequels, however, Linklater — and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — have crafted a remarkable, decades-long tale of love and aging. The third film, Before Midnight, opens nine years after Before Sunset, with Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) married, traveling Greece with their two daughters. It’s an idyllic setting, and as in the first two films, Jesse and Celine spend much of the film talking, with themselves and others, about subjects great and small. Unlike the first two films, however, Before Midnight is no longer about two people deciding to be together; they already are, and the film explores the sacrifices and impositions required of their marriage, and the passage of time. Jesse mourns his relationship with his American son, whom he rarely sees, while Celine wonders if her career has any meaning. Shot in Linklater’s restrained style, letting the characters and dialogue take center stage, Before Midnight is an honest exploration of what it means to grow old with someone else.
Tonya Harding is one of the most notorious figures in sports history. Once a shining star in the world of figure skating, she transformed into a villain after her ex-husband and bodyguard conspired to injure her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), a conspiracy many believed Harding had a hand in. I, Tonya follows Harding (Margot Robbie) from her sad childhood to her rise as a figure skater, to her eventual fall.
What elevates the film above most biopics, however, is its willingness to play with reality; I, Tonya filters events through the perspectives of its characters, leaving the audience questioning whether Harding is simply a misunderstood person with some flaws, or a devious villain. Robbie’s standout performance — and that of Allison Janney, who plays Harding’s mother — is simply the foundation that supports the entire endeavor.
Film scholar Kogonada has spent years crafting beautiful film essays on some of cinema’s greatest directors, so it should come as no surprise that Columbus, his directorial debut, shows a keen focus on composition, how people and things fit within the frame of every shot. The film isn’t just a showcase for his skill with a camera, however; it also tells an emotional story about two kindred spirits who meet by chance. Jin (John Cho), an American living in Korea, returns to the U.S. (Columbus, Indiana, specifically) after his father falls into a coma. Jin meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young, aspiring architect, who is languishing in Columbus, taking care of her mother. The two explore the town together, discussing their love of architecture and their own pasts.
Martin Scorsese spent decades trying to make his adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s classic novel; in a sense, Scorsese was not unlike the film’s protagonist, stumbling through hardships without any promise of success in the end. Set in the 17th century, Silence follows two priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), who venture to Japan in search of their mentor, Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who renounced his faith after enduring torture. The shogunate has outlawed Christianity, and the priests must seek out rare, hidden enclaves of Japanese Christians while evading samurai enforcers and witnessing atrocities committed against the Christian villagers. Measured, contemplative, and beautifully shot, even in moments of violence, Silence is a tremendous experience.
In the Ozark Mountains, teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her family in a spartan existence. Her mother is mentally ill and her father is a meth dealer, which leaves Ree to look after her young two siblings. One day, the sheriff comes to their ramshackle house, informing Ree that her father skipped bail, in exchange for which he put up their house. If she doesn’t find him in a week, the state will evict the family. So Ree sets off on a quest to find her father, a journey that will take her through desolate landscapes, occupied by people who would prefer to maintain silence and secrecy. Although many films about rural America treat their subjects with scorn or fear, Winter’s Bone presents them as people, flawed like any others, whose attitudes are tied inextricably to the land where they live.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the classic play Fences, by August Wilson, is a well-crafted drama built around powerful performances. The movie follows a man named Troy Maxson (Washington). Troy works as a trash collector in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is an angry man; he grew up in poor circumstances, and managed to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, but never made it to the majors due to segregation. He nurses grudges against the world and everyone in it, including his family. Fences is a focused character study, examining how his anger eats away at his relationships.
The Square, the latest award-winning film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, follows a man named Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a modern art museum whose exhibits, he assures an interviewer, must be “cutting-edge.” Running such a museum is a difficult job, and over the course of the film, Christian trudges through setback after humiliating setback, some of which are his own making. As in his previous film, Force Majeure, Östlund is a vicious satirist, slowly chipping away at his protagonist and the larger, bourgeois world of modern art. As absurd as it is scathing, The Square is a sharp comedy that manages to keep topping itself from beginning to end.
‘Ingrid Goes West’
A delightfully dark comedy about the hazards of social media, Ingrid Goes West follows Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a troubled woman who develops an unhealthy fixation on an Instagram celebrity, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). In awe of Taylor’s sunny, sublime life, Ingrid moves to California and conspires to worm her way into Taylor’s orbit. Ingrid Goes West has a sharp script with snappy lines that capture the dialect of the social media age. Each character feels absurd in their own unique way, and Plaza’s performance as the bubbly-yet-dangerous Ingrid is among her finest.
A dark subversion of the high school films that dominated in the 1980s, Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), one of the popular girls — a member of a clique called the Heathers — at Westerburg High School. Weary of the group’s tyranny, Veronica teams up with dangerous misfit J.D. (Christian Slater) to pull a prank on the Heathers’ leader, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). When the prank turns deadly, Veronica realizes she may be in over her head, as J.D. wants to keep killing the school bullies. Very dark, but also funny, Heathers is an excellent, unique comedy.
‘In the Loop’
A feature film spinoff of the popular U.K. comedy series The Thick of It, In the Loop follows government officials from Britain and the U.S. as the two countries lurch toward a war in the Middle East. When Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) flubs an interview, the Prime Minister’s acerbic, foul-mouthed director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), steps in to manage the scandal. Meanwhile. a pair of State Department employees, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her assistant, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), try to weaken support for military intervention. What follows is a tangled web of political missteps and scathing insults. In the Loop is a venomous satire, one in which government is a congregation of the amoral and the foolish.
Action and Adventure
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy novels were the most spectacular films of the aughts, and more than a decade after the final installment of the trilogy, they remain the pinnacle of fantasy cinema. Set in Middle-earth, a land of humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and other fantastical creatures, the story concerns a hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood), who inherits a mysterious ring from his uncle. The traveling wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) reveals to Frodo that the ring is an ancient artifact of great power, forged by the dark lord Sauron, who has lain dormant for millennia after he last tried to conquer the world. Now, Sauron’s armies are stirring once again, and Frodo, along with a band of adventurers, must journey to the volcano where Sauron forged the ring, the only place it can be destroyed once and for all. It’s a grand tale, beautifully brought to life by Jackson and the special effects company Weta, who assembled startlingly realistic costumes and props for the films’ lavish set pieces.
The classic anime film Ninja Scroll follows a wandering swordsman named Jubei and a ninja named Kagero, whose paths cross when they run afoul of one of the Eight Devils of Kimon, a group of ninja with demonic powers. Jubei and Kagero, along with an old spy named Dakuan, must fight their way through the Eight Devils and stop a conspiracy to overthrow the shogunate. Ninja Scroll moves from fight scene to fight scene, set piece to set piece, with ruthless efficiency. The action sequences are the main attraction, particularly the fights with the Eight Devils, each of whom has unique powers that make for creative battles.
A sci-fi film that eschews big space battles for linguistic diagrams, Arrival begins (after a short prelude) with alien ships arriving at various spots on Earth. The nations of the world are unsure what to do, scrambling to figure out who the aliens are and what they want. A U.S. Army colonel, Weber (Forest Whitaker), recruits linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try and communicate with the aliens. Along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise opens a line of communication with the aliens, who communicate via inky drawings. As she tries to decipher their language, other countries are doing the same, but coming to very different, very dangerous conclusions.
The seminal anime film Akira has had a huge impact on sci-fi since its release, but despite how many films and video games have drawn on Akira for inspiration, the movie itself still feels fresh. The film begins in Neo-Tokyo circa 2019, decades after the start of World War III. Far below the towering skyscrapers, gangs of motorcycle-riding youths fight in the streets. A leather-clad hotshot named Kaneda leads a gang called the Capsules. While evading the police, Kaneda’s comrade Tetsuo runs across a mysterious being with psychic powers, and after crashing his bike, ends up in the government’s custody. After enduring strange experiments, Tetsuo develops psychic powers, and a mighty ego to match. As Tetsuo’s powers grow, Kaneda must try to stop him before he destroys Tokyo. Akira is a slick action film full of striking imagery and stylish violence.
This action-packed sci-fi thriller takes place in a not-too-distant future where the hottest sensation on the internet is a game called Nerve, in which the audience issues dares to contestants, who must complete them for money. Timid high school student Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts) enters the game on a whim, meeting another contestant, Ian (Dave Franco), with whom she partners up. As the night unfolds and the challenges start getting more dangerous, Vee and Ian must do their best to survive the game. Nerve is a frantic rush of a film, with a great concept and good execution.
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Horror and Suspense
The surreal horror film Jacob’s Ladder follows a man named Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), a Vietnam veteran working as a postal clerk in New York City, where he lives with his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña). Memories of Jacob’s previous family — particularly his dead son, Gabe — haunt him, as do visions of terrifying figures, grotesque, faceless humanoids stalking him wherever he goes. As Jacob’s hallucinations grow more vivid, and he comes into contact with one of his former war buddies, he confronts the possibility that his nightmare may not be entirely in his head after all. Jacob’s Ladder is a masterfully paced example of psychological horror, one that creeps along toward its disturbing climax. The film’s visuals, which draw on the twisted bodies and oppressive structures of Francis Bacon’s paintings, are unsettling without relying on jump scares.
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Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Harron’s American Psycho examines the decadence of modern consumer culture through the lens of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a New York investment banker whose lifestyle and, indeed, his very identity, are constructed to project superiority. Bateman and his colleagues, all similar in appearance and attitude, are constantly trying to one-up each other through their suits, the restaurants they can get into, and even the aesthetics of their business cards. The vapid gamesmanship takes its toll on Bateman, who periodically erupts into murderous rages. Although it may sound like a horror movie (and in many ways it is), American Psycho is a comedy more than anything else, satirizing the soulless preening of its affluent subjects. Bale delivers one of the greatest performances of his career, alternating frequently between psychopathic emptiness and childlike glee.
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‘Let the Right One In’
A horror film with a heart, Let the Right One In follows a meek boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) who lives in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Bullies prey on Oskar, and he leads a lonely life, dreaming of revenge, until one night he meets a pale girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson), who lives next door with a man named Håkan (Per Ragnar). Although Eli is distant at first, the two become friends, but Eli has a dark secret, and a string of murders follows her arrival. Let the Right One In is a somber, methodical film, and a fresh take on a classic horror premise, but it’s also strangely touching. Despite their youthful personalities, Oskar and Eli are two lonely souls who find a sort of comfort in each other.
’10 Cloverfield Lane’
The second film in the loosely-connected Cloverfield franchise, 10 Cloverfield Lane opens on a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who loses consciousness in a car accident and later wakes up in a bunker. The bunker’s owner is a man named Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that a disaster has left the world outside contaminated, unfit for human life. Michelle, Howard, and another survivor named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) live together in the confines of the bunker, but tensions and secrets threaten the peace. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut, character-driven thriller built around great performances and a general sense of unease.
There have been many adaptations of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels, and while much acclaim has gone to the version of The Silence of the Lambs and the TV series Hannibal, Michael Mann’s film Manhunter has dwelt in obscurity. That’s unfortunate, since it is a stylish crime thriller, with expert direction and a synth-heavy soundtrack. An adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, Manhunter follows former FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen), who retired after nearly dying while capturing an infamous cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lectr (Brian Cox). When a new, vicious serial killer known as the “Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan) evades the police, the FBI brings Graham back out of retirement, but as he struggles to find leads, he realizes he may need Lecter’s help. Mann’s finely tuned shots and brilliant use of color make Manhunter a flashy take on a grim franchise.
If there is one lesson to take away from horror movies, it is to never spend a weekend in a secluded cabin, a lesson newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) learn in Honeymoon. The movie wisely builds up their relationship in the first act, and their affection makes it all the more unsettling when things start to go wrong. Honeymoon is a character-driven horror movie, and while it is light on jump scares, it does a great job of creeping out the audience, slowly escalating the action until it reaches a disturbing climax.
Weiner, a documentary from Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, began as a redemption story, chronicling former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s campaign to become mayor of New York City a couple years after a sexting scandal forced him out of politics. As the campaign progresses, and Weiner becomes embroiled in another scandal with similar details, Weiner becomes an eyewitness account of a campaign (and a marriage) imploding. Weiner is a fascinating subject, overflowing with bravado but prone to moments of self-doubt; he cuts a tragic figure, his wild energy causing both his rise and downfall. Weiner is a strikingly intimate portrait of a complicated public figure, and how quickly a political campaign can go off the rails.
James Bond is one of the most prestigious roles in cinema, one several great actors — Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig, among others — have stepped into. One man who got a taste of the Bond lifestyle, however, stepped away from it after just one film: George Lazenby, who starred in the underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In Becoming Bond, director Josh Greenbaum sits down with Lazenby to hear the story of how a young car mechanic from Australia came to play a British icon, and why he walked away from it all. Lazenby is a charming storyteller, and Greenbaum wisely lets him take the lead, as he tells a tale as full of drama, sex, and luxury as any Bond film.
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