Netflix’s expansion of original movies continues in 2019, with an array of major titles and hidden gems to be excited about. In 2018, Netflix released a massive amount of new original content across the board, from television series to documentaries, to stand-up specials and movies. Yet it was their continued development of their original films that raised so many eyebrows. While the streaming service has managed to dominate the world of television, both critically and commercially, in such a short amount of time, there has remained a great degree of cynicism directed towards their films.
They’ve struggled to break free of that stereotype that Netflix original movies are a step below the output of the traditional studio system, and even when they have breakout titles, there’s still that sense of pessimism around their release. Critics have complained that the streaming service often seem uninterested in their own titles, especially indie productions that may not have the appeal of, say, a Marvel movie. However, the tide seemed to slowly change in 2018. When the Cannes Film Festival announced that Netflix titles would no longer be able to compete for the Palme D’Or, more people in the industry seemed to side with Netflix than Cannes. And then, films like Roma, Outlaw King, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs became event movies, while the service struck unexpected gold with their pivot to romantic comedies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
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Now, they’re leading the Oscar race with Roma, which remains a frontrunner for Best Picture at the 2019 Oscars. Furthermore, 2019 looks set to be Netflix's busiest year yet, with big blockbusters on the slate alongside titles by some of the industry’s most respected filmmakers. With that in mind, here are some of the 2019 Netflix original films to be excited about in the coming year (in no particular order). As of the writing of this post, these titles were designated as 2019 releases, but that may change.
14. Velvet Buzzsaw
The last time writer-director Dan Gilroy worked with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (who is also his wife), they made the brilliant noir thriller Nightcrawler. Now, they have reunited for another thriller, this time with horror influences that's set in the high-stakes world of modern art. Velvet Buzzsaw, which also stars John Malkovich and Toni Collette, centers on a supernatural force that haunts a series of paintings by an unknown artist. Gilroy described the film as having a large ensemble cast akin to the works on Robert Altman.
13. Triple Frontier
The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal has had Triple Frontier, his drama about a group of military veterans who unite to rob a South American drug lord, in pre-production hell for over eight years. Originally, the film was to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow, with Tom Hanks starring, then J.C. Chandor took over directorial duties and everyone from Hanks to Will Smith, to Tom Hardy to Channing Tatum, was attached to the film. Eventually, it went into production with Ben Affleck (but not before he briefly dropped out), Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal.
Jonas Åkerlund is probably best known for directing music videos, including Madonna's Ray of Light and Lady Gaga's Paparazzi, among many others. He's also an acclaimed tour documentary maker, but he's recently dipped his toes into narrative features. Lords of Chaos, his death metal horror film, premiered at Sundance in 2018 and will be released in early 2019, but Polar is his Netflix debut. Based on the graphic novel by Victor Santos, Polar centers on a hitman (played by Mads Mikkelsen) forced out of retirement when an assassination attempt is made on his life. The comic is notable for its minimalist style and lack of speech bubbles, which could make for a striking film by the auteur of music video maximalism.
11. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s jump to Netflix felt like a real sign that the times were a-changing in Hollywood. If one of the industry’s most beloved figures, an Oscar winning icon whose work has influenced generations of film-makers, is fine with making a streaming exclusive movie then why isn’t everyone else? But Scorsese’s move was as big a deal for Netflix as it was for him. Not only would the platform give him the money to make one of his long-awaited dream projects (a reported $175 million budget, making it the most expensive film of Scorsese’s career), but they’d support him in getting the movie into film festivals and into the inevitable awards conversation. But separate from all of that noise, The Irishman is still one of the most anticipated films of 2019; it's a biographical mob drama starring Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, the man who claimed to have killed Jimmy Hoffa. Al Pacino will reunite with his Heat co-star to play Hoffa, while Joe Pesci has come out of retirement to join his Goodfellas director.
10. High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh remains one of America's most fascinating and prolific auteurs. He has no fewer than two Netflix original films premiering in 2019. The first one, which will also screen at the Slamdance Film Festival a month before it drops on the platform, is High Flying Bird. Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, one of the Oscar winning screenwriters of Moonlight, the film stars Andre Holland, Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2), and Kyle MacLachlan in a sports drama about an agent who pitches a rookie basketball player client on a risky and controversial new deal. Reportedly, Soderbergh shot High Flying Bird on an iPhone 7, as he did with 2018's Unsane.
One of Netflix's greatest hooks is its international appeal, allowing viewers to access the entertainment of other countries that were previously unknown to them. So far, the platform has had great success with Spanish language film and drama (and remain hopeful that Roma could bring them Oscars glory), as well as Korean and Japanese programming. Now, 2019 sees Netflix premiering their first Nigerian acquisition, Lionheart, thus giving them a foothold in an oft-ignored and major cinematic market. Lionheart is about a woman who must fight to save her father's company from debt.
8. All the Bright Places
Adaptations of young adult novels have done well for Netflix in 2018, as evidenced by To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Dumplin'. Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Things is a darker alternative to this story, more in line with Netflix's successful YA drama 13 Reasons Why, but that could also spell good ratings for the service. All the Bright Things two teens bound by their obsessions with death and the dangerous ways they deal with that. Elle Fanning and Justice Smith star as the lead duo. With material this tricky, the project could cause major controversy, but that didn't stop 13 Reasons Why from becoming so popular and beloved with its target demographic.
7. Always Be My Maybe
Netflix found their true calling over the much-hyped summer of love thanks to their savvy focus on romantic comedies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Sierra Burgess is a Loser. Those films saw record viewership numbers for the streaming service and they’ll undoubtedly be hoping to replicate that success with Always Be My Maybe. Directed by Nahnatchka Khan, the TV writer and producer behind Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and Fresh off the Boat, the film is co-written by comedians Ali Wong and Randall Park and tells the story of two childhood friends who fall in love as adults while living in vastly different socioeconomic situations. Alongside Wong and Park, the cast includes Daniel Dae Kim, Charlyne Yi, and Keanu Reeves.
6. Murder Mystery
The phrase “Adam Sandler Netflix original” typically inspires fear in the hearts of movie lovers. Sandler may have broken new ground by becoming one of the first major Hollywood talents to sign an exclusive Netflix deal, but movies like The Ridiculous 6 did little to change anyone’s minds of the star. However, this film isn’t technically An Adam Sandler Movie, in that it’s not produced by the Happy Madison lot. Sandler is just the star of this comedy mystery, which also features Jennifer Aniston and Luke Evans. The film’s screenwriter, James Vanderbilt, is better known for work like Zodiac and The Amazing Spider-Man, so this could be a strong new direction for Sandler on Netflix, although that honor could also fall on Uncut Gems, the drama Sandler is working on with the Safdie Brothers (Good Time), which will be distributed internationally by Netflix (A24 have domestic rights on that one).
5. Six Underground
Michael Bay is coming to Netflix; the highly divisive auteur of bombastic carnage may have hung up his boots on the Transformers series but there's no chance of him slowing down any time soon. Six Underground will follow a team of criminals (headed by Ryan Reynolds) who fake their own deaths and form an elite vigilante squad designed to target the world's most notorious criminals. In addition to Bay, Zombieland and Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are also involved with Six Underground. Will this film see Bay go in a more actively comedic direction? Either way, Bay on Netflix is another sign of the streaming service's continued efforts to dominate the big budget market in a way that traditional studios are refraining from nowadays.
4. The King
Outlaw King may not have set the world on fire as Netflix had hoped it would, but it still signaled the platform’s evolution into more serious storytelling on a grand scale. And what says that more than Shakespeare? David Michôd and Joel Edgerton team up to translate the Bard's most iconic history plays for the big screen in The King. Timothée Chalamet is Henry V, Ben Mendelsohn is Henry IV, and a murderer's row of talent are their respective courts, including Robert Pattinson and Edgerton himself as Falstaff. Historical epic combined with literary prestige and a cast headlined by a beloved Oscar nominee could spell great things for Netflix.
3. The Last Thing He Wanted
Dee Rees helped Netflix to break through the Oscar ceiling with Mudbound, a critically acclaimed drama that landed four Academy Award nominations, thus proving that a Netflix movie could indeed bypass the traditional studio system and still garner industry legitimacy. While they’ll be hoping to repeat that this coming awards season with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Rees will return to Netflix with another potential critical darling. Based on the novel by the iconic writer Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted follows a journalist (Anne Hathaway) who quits her job covering the 1984 Presidential Election to care for her arms dealer father (Willem Dafoe). Ben Affleck will play Hathaway's love interest.
2. The Laundromat
Steven Soderbergh remains intensely prolific as a filmmaker. Since returning to cinema following his brief retirement, the Oscar and Palme D’Or winner has continued to cover a wide array of genres across various levels of budget, star power and mainstream appeal. Of his two Netflix films, The Laundromat seems more traditionally prestigious, as he fictionalizes the story of the journalists who uncovered the Panama Papers and the various tax avoidance schemes used by the world's rich and famous. The ensemble cast includes Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer, and Will Forte.
1. First Ladies
Jennifer Aniston has found new creative ground as an actress, via Netflix, thanks to films like the immensely charming teen comedy Dumplin'. First Ladies signals a more adult direction with a unique twist on a familiar tale. Aniston will play the first woman President of the United States, while comedian Tig Notaro will play her wife. It’s the kind of story we consistently hear is unmarketable or would never be made in the studio system, and what is Netflix if not a platform to try those new ideas? Notaro, whose stand-up specials are available on Netflix, will co-write as well as star.