Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 11, Jun 2023
Stuck with that tricky “What should I watch next on Netflix?” decision? With the streaming service adding new titles all the time, it’s increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, help is at hand, as there’s nothing we love more at VODzilla.co than throwing some great film recommendations your way. Here then, are Netflix UK’s best hidden gems.
This list will be updated regularly to reflect new releases and removals.
If you think watching a film on a TV, tablet, or some other Netflix-equipped device can’t give you serious dizzy spells, think again. Director Scott Mann’s vertiginous thriller stars Grace Carloline Currey and Virginia Gardner (both superb) as two daredevil friends who climb to the top of a 2,000ft tower in the middle of the California desert, only to get stranded there when the flimsy ladder falls away. The gripping script maintains a nail-biting sense of pace and manages to serve up both dark humour and strong emotion alongside genuine terror, while the superb effects work and cinematography ensure an all-too-palpable sense of location and perspective. Bloody terrifying, even if you’re not afraid of heights.
The Imposter (2012)
This utterly riveting true crime documentary tells the story of Frederic
Bourdin, a 23 year-old French-Algerian man who passed himself off as missing blond blue-eyed Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay and was accepted by the boy’s family, despite the fact that he had dark stubble, different coloured eyes and a pronounced French accent. However, when dogged private investigator Charlie Parker (a true hero who deserves his own series) looks into the case and proves Frederic can’t possibly be Nicholas, events take a much darker turn. Skilfully structured and superbly directed by British film-maker Bart Layton – who allows Bourdin to narrate his own story – the film exerts a powerfully hypnotic grip and is by turns chilling, shocking and disturbing. Bump it right to the top of your Netflix queue.
Based on the novel by Natalia Osinska, this engaging Polish teen movie centres on 17-year-old Toska (trans actor Alin Szewczyk), a fan fiction-obsessed high schooler, whose friendship with charming, secretly gay new student Leon (Jan Cieciara) convinces her to come out as trans and be known as Tosiek. Director Marta Karwowska gets the tone exactly right, infusing the film with warmth and sensitivity throughout, while the touching script explores compelling LBGTQ+ themes of self-expression and acceptance. Szewczyk puts in a star-making turn as the lead and there’s terrific support from Dobromir Dymecki as Tosiek’s widowed father, who undergoes his own emotional journey in a moving subplot.
Co-written and directed by Oriol Paulo, this superb Spanish mystery-thriller explores one of the key staples of time travel movies – the consequences of messing with the timeline. Adriana Ugarte (Julieta) stars as a woman who saves the life of a boy 25 years in the past when a freak storm allows her to communicate with the previous occupant of her house through a video camera. However, when she wakes up, all traces of her previous life (including her daughter) have disappeared. Impressively directed and superbly acted, this is complex, consistently fascinating and powerfully emotional.
Monster House (2006)
Expertly mixing horror and comedy throughout, director Gil Kenan’s spooky animated tale centres on three teenagers who discover that their neighbour’s house is actually a living, breathing monster. With spectacular animation, a witty script and strong comic performances from the likes of Kevin James, Jason Lee and Steve Buscemi (as cranky old Mr Nebbercracker), this is a thoroughly entertaining adventure, heightened by believable, three-dimensional detail in the backgrounds and a handful of exciting, frequently scary set-pieces.
The Sea Beast
Released on Netflix to very little fanfare – read our review here – this is a terrific animated adventure that deserves to be much more widely seen. Zaris-Angel Hator voices young orphan Maisie Brumble, who stows away on a ship and joins a crew of sturdy sea monster hunters as they search for the elusive Red Bluster. Combining stunning visuals, an excellent voice cast (Karl Urban, Jared Harris) and thrilling action sequences, this is a thoroughly delightful swashbuckler with a surprisingly political central theme that delivers an unexpectedly powerful punch. One of the best animated features of the year.
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood
Loosely based on the childhood of writer, producer and director Richard Linklater – with a dash of fantasy thrown in – this wonderful animated feature tells the story of the first Moon landing in the summer of 1969, from the perspective of 10 ½ year old Stanley (Milo Coy, with Jack Black narrating as older Stanley), who grows up with his five siblings in a Houston suburb. Using the gorgeous rotoscope animation he pioneered in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Linklater turns the nostalgia factor up to 11, lovingly recreating every tiny detail of his formative years, from the delights of the local ice cream parlour to brutal playground games to all the music, movies and TV shows that coloured their daily lives. An absolute treat.
Fast and Feel Love
Under the influence of his girlfriend J (outrageously charismatic Thai superstar Urassaya “Yaya” Sperbund), slacker Kao (Nat Kitcharit) competes to become the fastest cup stacking competitor in the world. However, when she dumps him, he has to learn some basic adult skills in order to win her back. A goofy blend of sports drama, romcom, coming-of-age comedy and, as the title suggests, knowingly meta action movie spoof (there are some inspired gags), this is frequently very funny, with delightful comic performances from the two leads. It’ll also make you wonder if you’ve got what it takes to stack cups at high speed.
Barbaric Genius (2012)
By turns heart-breaking, sobering and inspirational, Barbaric Genius is a documentary portrait of the remarkable life of John Healy, who was a boxer, a homeless alcoholic, a chess master and finally a best-selling author before a fall-out with his publisher lead to his book being forcefully taken out of print. Director Paul Duane tells Healy’s astonishing story through a mixture of archive footage, photographs, written excerpts and talking heads, as well as spending a large amount of time with Healy himself, which brings its own set of problems. A remarkable film.
The Core (2003)
Forget Armageddon. If it’s a big, dumb, save-the-world blockbuster you want, look no further than this overlooked disaster flick. When the Earth’s core mysteriously slows to a halt, likeable college professor Aaron Eckhart leads a rag-tag team of scientists on a mission to, er, bury down into the Earth’s core and detonate a bunch of nuclear weapons to jump-start it back to normal. Along for the ride is astronaut Hilary Swank, who clearly has the Right Stuff, because she’s introduced crash-landing a space shuttle in the Los Angeles concrete river and barely breaking a sweat. The effects and dialogue may have their dodgy moments, but this is a highly entertaining disaster flick in the best B-movie tradition. Sample highlight: Aaron Eckhart setting fire to a peach, for science. Enormous fun.
Young Adult (2011)
If there were any justice in the world, Charlize Theron would have received an Oscar nomination for her jaw-dropping performance in this criminally overlooked black comedy that reunites Juno scriptwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Theron plays Mavis, a messed-up teen fiction novelist who returns to her home town with the intention of winning back her happily married high-school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). With its surprisingly dark comedy firmly rooted in the characters, the film has a lot of fun subverting standard rom-com tropes and remains refreshingly unpredictable throughout.
The Summit of the Gods (2021)
Directed by Patrick Imbert (The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales), this animated mountaineering drama is based on the best-selling manga of the same name. It tells the story of Fukamachi, a young Japanese journalist who obsessively pursues reclusive mountain climber Habu Joji, in the hope that a camera Habu found on Everest might reveal whether George Mallory really became the first man to scale the summit in 1924. Thematically rich, gripping and stunningly beautiful, this is a moving story that perfectly captures the psychology of its subjects. It’s a testament to Imbert’s gripping direction that, whenever anyone loses their grip on a mountainside, you gasp just as hard as you would if you were watching a live-action documentary.
Outside In (2017)
Jay Duplass (who co-wrote the script with director Lynn Shelton) stars as Chris, a 38 year old man who returns to his home town of Granite Falls, Washington after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Estranged from his younger brother (Ben Schwartz), Chris has become fixated on forging a romantic relationship with his former high school teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), who helped campaign for his release. Meanwhile, Carol struggles with her stagnant marriage and becomes resentful of Chris’ burgeoning friendship with her teenage daughter (Kaitlyn Dever). Beautifully understated and superbly acted, this is a stirring smalltown out-of-prison drama that ranks with Shelton’s best work.
Mr Roosevelt (2017)
The debut feature from writer-director-star Noël Wells (Master of None), this charming indie comedy centres on twenty-something Emily (Wells), a would-be comedian who returns from Los Angeles to her home town of Austin, Texas when her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) informs her that the cat they once shared is very sick. Upon arrival, Emily is shocked to discover that Eric is now co-habiting with his new girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower), to whom she takes an instant dislike. Wells proves a real talent to watch, both in front of and behind the camera – the script is frequently funny and there’s a real feel for the time and place. Above all, the film is worth seeing for a white hot supporting turn from Daniella Pineda (as a waitress-slash-musician who befriends Emily) and for Wells’ inspired impressions of Holly Hunter and Kristin Wiig.
This low-key indie romance-slash-crime caper has a huge amount of charm, thanks to director / co-writer Adam Leon’s lightness of touch and lovely performances from its two leads. Callum Turner plays Danny, a naive young New Yorker whose older brother (Michal Vondel) coerces him into carrying out a shady bag-swap deal at a subway stop. Danny’s designated getaway driver is Ellie (Grace Van Patten), who’s agreed to take part in order to get dodgy friend Scott (Mike Birbiglia) off her back. When Danny messes up and snatches the wrong bag, the pair frantically try to correct his mistake, growing closer in the process. The central crime may appear ridiculously contrived (its true nature is only revealed later), but this has real heart at its centre and the chemistry between Turner and Van Patten is genuinely touching.
Little Boxes (2016)
Rob Meyer’s feel-good indie comedy-drama stars Melanie Lynskey and Nelsan Ellis as Gina and Mack, an interracial New York couple who move to an overwhelmingly white suburban neighbourhood in Washington state with their 11-year-old son, Clark (Armani Jackson). The plot revolves around each member of the family attempting to forge connections in their new community, with exquisitely awkward results, particularly in the case of poor Clark, whose precocious new friend Ambrosia (a scene-stealing Oona Laurence) immediately decides she’s going to make him her boyfriend. All three leads are utterly charming, sparking likeable chemistry with each other, as well as their various co-stars, while the subtle script squeezes in various points about privilege, presumption and prejudice alongside plentiful low-key laughs.
Wild Bill (2011)
In a just and fair world, Dexter Fletcher’s wonderful directorial debut would have been deluged with awards attention back in 2012. Charlie Creed-Miles delivers a terrific performance as “Wild Bill” Hayward, an ex-con who gets out of jail after an eight year stretch to discover that his two young sons – 15-year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) – have been abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Bill’s ex-cohorts (Leo Gregory and Neil Maskell) are keen to draw him back into a life of crime, forcing him to take a stand or risk going back to jail and losing his kids. Essentially, this a council estate Western fused with an emotionally engaging father-son story and the brilliantly written script dovetails those two elements in a way that feels natural and organic. Gripping, heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny, this is one of the best British films of recent years.
Love & Friendship (2016)
If there were any justice in the universe, Kate Beckinsale would have been Oscar-nominated for her career-best turn in this deliciously witty Jane Austen adaptation from writer-director Whit Stilman (with whom Beckinsale previously made The Last Days of Disco, alongside Love & Friendship co-star Chloe Sevigny). Beckinsale’s seductive and manipulative Lady Susan schemes to win the heart of a wealthy bachelor (Xavier Samuel) originally intended as a suitor for her own daughter. Stilman’s script crackles with delectable dialogue and there’s a wonderful, film-stealing comic performance from Tom Bennett (as chuckle-headed aristocrat Sir James Martin), whose line readings alone are a constant delight.
Shimmer Lake (2017)
Written and directed by Oren Uziel, this clever crime thriller unfolds in reverse order over the course of a week, as a small town Sheriff (Benjamin Walker) tries to get to the bottom of a bank heist that’s gone horribly wrong. The strong cast includes reliable character actors such as Rainn Wilson (as the Sheriff’s ne’er-do-well brother), Ron Livingston, Rob Corddry and John Michael Higgins, while Narcos’ Stephanie Sigman impresses as a key figure in the mystery. Uziel clearly knows his way around a tricksy thriller and he ensures that his reverse-time gimmick has a satisfying pay-off that rewards close attention.
Co-directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin, this French-Canadian animation (known as Leap! on its US release) is surprisingly charming, despite its slightly rocky start. Set in the 1880s, it centres on Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), an orphan girl who flees rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes herself off as her bullying rival and gains a place as a student at the Paris Opera Ballet. The story hits all the expected notes, but it’s enhanced considerably by some gorgeously detailed production design (making strong visual use of an under-construction Paris), likeable characters and lively animation that pays close attention to authentic ballet moves.
Written and directed by Onur Turkel, this acerbic, jet-black satire is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) and Anne Heche star as a pair of former college friends who get into a vicious, life-changing fistfight after running into each other at a party. From there, the film gets progressively darker and stranger – suffice it to say there are more fights to come, as the cleverly structured story goes to some extremely dark places, with both actors delivering fully committed performances. The fights themselves are superbly choreographed and given an extra wallop by some punchy sound design and some inspired soundtrack choices. Outrageous, shocking and weirdly moving, this is a cult movie waiting to happen. (Read our full review)
The textbook definition of an under-the-radar gem, this unsettling found footage horror stars co-writer-director Patrick Brice as a videographer who answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job. When he arrives at his remote mountain town destination he finds that the creepy client, Josef (co-writer Mark Duplass), has a series of increasingly unusual requests, and he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems. Effectively a two-hander, the film is heightened by an appropriately tense chemistry between Brice and Duplass, while the clever script finds some interesting ways to pay off the found footage conceit. Read our full review.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Destined to be a teen classic, this heartfelt comedy marks a brilliant debut for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, an anxiety-ridden high school outsider whose life is plunged into chaos when her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). The witty script skilfully subverts expectations, cleverly playing on echoes of previous troubled teen movies (eg. Ghost World, The Diary of a Teenage Girl), while Steinfeld is an utter joy as Nadine, finding deep sympathy for the character even when we disapprove of her behaviour. Moving, laugh-out-loud funny and packed with great scenes and dialogue, this is a treat from start to finish.
Debut director Houda Benyamina won the Camera d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for this superb crime drama-slash-coming-of-ager that plays like a cross between La Haine and Girlhood. Newcomers Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumuena star as a pair of 15 year-old best friends who decide that the fastest way out of their run-down, outskirts-of-Paris neighbourhood lies in going to work for their local drug dealer. Benyamina draws terrific performances from her two young leads, while her stylish direction (which extends to some exceptional sound design work) marks her out as an exciting new talent to watch. Read our full review
Love and Other Drugs (2010)
Part raunchy rom-com and part disease-of-the-week movie, this engaging true-life drama is based on Jamie Reidy’s 1990 drug rep expose Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a smooth-talking pharmaceutical rep who meets his match when he falls for sharp-tongued firecracker Maggie (Anne Hathaway), only to discover that she’s suffering from stage-one Parkinson’s disease. The two leads have smoking hot chemistry and the witty script skilfully avoids the expected nosedive into mawkishness, instead presenting a refreshingly unconventional (by rom-com standards) relationship and asking some provocative questions along the way. It’s further heightened by a top-notch comic supporting cast that includes Josh Gad, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer and Hank Azaria.
What Happened to Monday (2017)
This dystopian sci-fi thriller stars Noomi Rapace as seven identical sisters (named after the days of the week) who’ve spent their lives in hiding, taking it in turns to pose as one woman in the outside world, because the authoritarian state has outlawed siblings due to overpopulation. Director Tommy Wirkola skilfully blends impressive world-building with thrilling, fast-paced action sequences and compelling character development, which unfolds in a series of fun twists and turns. To that end, Rapace delivers seven great performances and there are strong supporting turns from both Willem Dafoe (as their father) and Glenn Close as the sinister head of the Child Allocation Bureau.
Written and directed by Matt Palmer, this cracking thriller won the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature at the 2018 Edinburgh Film Festival and promptly went straight to Netflix. It stars Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) and Martin McCann (The Survivalist) as two best friends who head to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands for a hunting trip. After a tragic accident, the pair decide to cover it up, rather than reporting it to the authorities, leading to a tense situation with the increasingly suspicious villagers. Palmer’s impressive direction ensures the film grips like a vice, as the unbearable suspense gradually descends into sickening horror. A must-see for genre fans. (Read our full review – or click here to read our interview with director Matt Palmer.)
Directed by Alex Holmes, this powerful, moving documentary centres on Tracy Edwards, the British sailor who made history in 1989 by skippering the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World yacht race. Combining terrific archive footage with present day to-camera interviews, Holmes tells a gripping story that documents not just the challenges of the round-the-world race itself, but Edwards and her crew’s uphill struggle against institutionalised sexism and a shockingly hostile media. Their glass-ceiling-shattering achievement was truly inspirational, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to come away from this with tears in your eyes.
Carrie Pilby (2016)
Based on the novel by Caren Lissner and directed by Susan Johnson, this utterly charming comedy-drama stars Bel Powley as Carrie Pilby, a socially awkward, highly intelligent 19 year-old who begrudgingly takes the advice of her therapist (an excellent Nathan Lane) and attempts to tick a few simple goals off a list, such as going on a date, making a friend and doing something that made her happy as a child. Powley’s performance here is every bit as assured as her turn in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, consistently unearthing unexpected and touching layers in what could have been just the standard quirky girl performance. (She also nails the rather specific accent, perfectly capturing a Londoner who’s been raised in New York). In addition, the dialogue is often very funny and there’s strong comic support from Vanessa Bayer (as an over-sharing co-worker) and Jason Ritter as Carrie’s blind date.