Updated on 04.06.11

75 Things Worth Watching on Netflix Streaming

Trent Hamm

I consider Netflix streaming to be one of the best bargains out there in entertainment. For $9 a month (assuming you have a home internet connection), you gain access to an enormous libraries of commercial-free films and television series. You can choose what you want and, if your internet connection is fast, you’ll be watching it within a minute or so.

One problem-within-a-blessing with Netflix streaming, though, is that there is a mountain of content on there – and a fair amount of it is awful. You have to dig around to find good stuff on there, but if you can dig a bit, there’s a lot of good stuff.

Which brings us to a reader email. Tom writes in:

You’ve mentioned great finds on Netflix streaming several times on The Simple Dollar. Why don’t you collect all of them into one place, so we can book mark it?

Your wish is my command.

Below are 75 things I’ve found on Netflix streaming that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, from television series to documentaries, from comedies to dramas. I’m positive that somewhere on this list, there are a few things that you haven’t seen that you’ll love. Some of these you’ve seen me mention before. Others are new.

I’ve broken the list down into some arbitrary categories. Also, all television series are linked to the first season of the series – many series have multiple seasons on Netflix streaming. I’m also going to challenge myself to describe each entry in the length of a tweet – 140 characters or less. (You can, of course, click through to read more information.)

It’s also worth noting that this list is current as of early April 2011. Netflix constantly makes small adjustments to the programs they offer on streaming, so inevitably a few of these will disappear over time, while other interesting stuff is added.

Films – Animation
Ponyo: A wonderful coming-of-age story that my two older children absolutely love.
The Iron Giant: This is my all-around favorite animated movie of all time.
Up: If the first five minutes of this Pixar movie doesn’t tear you up, you haven’t experienced deep love yet.

Films – Comedy
Bill Hicks Live: Bill Hicks is my favorite stand-up comedian of all. This provides four vintage stand-up sets from him.
Chicago: A comedy-musical-drama that won the Best Picture Oscar several years ago.
Duck Soup: This is, in my opinion, the vintage black and white comedy.
Fargo: Extremely dark humor all throughout this film.
Groundhog Day: One classic debate I’ve had with my wife is figuring out how many years pass during this film.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: If you’ve ever enjoyed Shakespeare, this is absolutely hilarious. It turns Hamlet on its ear.

Films – Documentary
Capturing the Friedmans: An utterly gripping picture of a family in crisis.
Down on the Mountain: A wonderful summary of bluegrass and Americana music. I’ll turn it on and just listen to the music.
Exit Through the Gift Shop: An amazing (and often hilarious) documentary on the commercialization of art.
Hoop Dreams: A great perspective on the challenges and exploitation in youth sports.
In Debt We Trust: A deep look at the challenge of personal debt in America.
Jesus Camp: Incredibly insightful and polarizing look at the practices at a church camp.
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery: Beautiful coverage of the discoveries that Lewis and Clark made on their journey.
Man on Wire: A look at how a high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 was pulled off.
Maxed Out: Much like “In Debt We Trust” (above), a great look at personal debt in America.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan: A musically and artistically rich look at the impact of Bob Dylan on American music and art.
Restrepo: A documentary about life on the ground for a platoon in Afghanistan.
Super Size Me: An insightful and very entertaining look at the impact of fast food on health.
The One Percent: What does the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America really look like?
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price: A look at how Wal-Mart keeps their prices low and profit high through pushing the costs off onto other aspects of business.

Films – Drama
Amadeus: A very entertaining look at the sometimes seedy life of Mozart.
Barton Fink: A very dark look at the life of a writer with an extreme case of writer’s block.
Bonnie and Clyde: A spectacular classic film about the escapades of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
Charade: One of the best thrillers of all time. The less I tell you, the better.
Everything Is Illuminated: A quirky look at someone coming to terms with their ethnic heritage.
Following: Christopher Nolan’s (Inception) first movie, a dark look at the challenges of writer’s block.
Gangs of New York: A powerful movie about the early days of gangsterism in America.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Jack Nicholson’s performance as a psychiatric ward patient is one of the best things ever put to film.
Precious: A heartbreaking story about personal redemption.
Sling Blade: Billy Bob Thornton is amazing as a developmentally-challenged man in a small town.
The Graduate: One of the small handful of movies I’d call essential viewing.

Films – Foreign
Amelie: A quirky French romantic comedy. If I weren’t married, I’d fall in love with the main character.
Blind Shaft: A bleak but powerful Chinese film about life in the Chinese coal mines.
Oldboy: An amazing South Korean action film that is best if unspoiled at all.
Seven Samurai: A classic Japanese Kurosawa film upon which the American film “The Magnificent Seven” was based.
The 400 Blows: A French film with a very memorable main character about the challenges that juvenile offenders face in their lives.
Yojimbo: A classic Japanese samurai film about a lone warrior caught between two gang bosses.

Films – Sci-Fi/Fantasy
District 9: A powerful film about loss of identity through the eyes of humans and alien refugees.
Escape from New York: One of my favorite films as a teenager, this is a classic sci-fi action film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: A gorgeous epic film about the harrowing journey of an individual with a great burden to bear and those who help him.

Series – Comedy
30 Rock: A quirky comedy about the production of a television show.
Archer: An animated humorous take on James Bond style spy movies.
Arrested Development: A wonderfully self-referential comedy about a clueless rich family.
Better Off Ted: A comedy about the challenges of working for a soulless corporation.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog: A short musical series about the emotional conflicts of a supervillain.
Futurama: What will the year 3,000 look like?
Scrubs: A great series about hospital workers… for the first five or six seasons or so.
The Guild: A warped look at the lives of obsessive players of online RPGs (a thinly-disguised World of Warcraft).
The IT Crowd: A darkly comical look at how IT workers deal with life.
The League: An amusing but sometimes serious look at the members of a fantasy football league.
The Office: A great series about professional life at a “typical” office environment.
The Office (UK): The superior (in my opinion) British predecessor of the above series.

Series – Documentary
Cosmos: The best documentary I’ve ever seen. Carl Sagan looks at the universe.
Frontline: Not a single series, but a large collection of short documentaries on various subjects.
God in America: How Religious Liberty Shaped America: A great look at the ties between religion and the history of America.
Ken Burns’ The Civil War: Moving coverage of America’s Civil War, and surprisingly effective at humanizing it.
Ken Burns’ The War: An emotionally (and factually) powerful look at the second world war.
Ken Burns: Baseball: A deep look at the history of baseball and how it’s intrinsically tied to American history.
Ken Burns: Jazz: A look at the history of jazz music and the deep ties it holds to the twentieth century in America.

Series – Drama
Bones: A great series about forensic anthropology and human relationships.
Damages: The single best legal drama I’ve ever seen.
Friday Night Lights: If you think this show is about football, you haven’t watched it.
Sons of Anarchy: A harrowing look at an anarchist motorcycle gang and the conflicts they create.

Series – Sci-Fi
Battlestar Galactica: The single best sci-fi television series I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever even considered watching one, watch this one.
Doctor Who: A quirky British series about a time traveller who pops up at different points and locations.
Firefly: The second best sci-fi series I’ve ever seen, and a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the first.
Flashforward: A great series about the consequences of being able to see six months into the future.
Lost: A wonderful (and deep) series about isolation, life, death, and hope.
Stargate SG-1: A very fun and light series about humans who visit other planets and cultures.
The X-Files: You couldn’t pay me enough to miss this series throughout the 1990s. This is the grandaddy of modern sci-fi on TV.
Torchwood: A great series about a team that investigates abnormal events.
Twin Peaks: A very quirky series about a strange small town and a murder investigation.

Grab some friends (or your honey), pop some popcorn, and settle in for some low-cost entertainment!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Robert Muir says:

    “Fat Head” is an outstanding, educated, reply to “Super Size Me”.

  2. Maureen says:

    Most of these are not available on the Canadian Netflix.

  3. Lisa says:

    Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me made a show called 30 Days, it’s on Netflix (3 seasons) and it’s pretty good. Another TV show I like is Taboo (a National Geographic show).

    Some interesting movies on instant: Toy Story 3, Food, Inc., This Film is Not Yet Rated, This is Spinal Tap, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also, a Japanese film called Infection.

  4. Lisa says:

    They also have a lot of the 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons like Rocko’s Modern Life, Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, etc.

  5. jen says:

    Also: 9 Seasons of X-Files + the the first X-Files movie!!!

  6. Becca says:

    I watched Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 last night, which was a wonderful look at the year long process of making a grand piano by hand.

  7. marie says:

    Agreed with the other Canadian; we have a much smaller selection. I am considering signing up anyways when I move and ditch cable in May, but it would be to watch certain series like Firefly and Prison Break that I’ve always meant to, and obviously some movies. But I’m not sure that there is enough content there to keep me there indefinitely.

    BTW, I cannot say enough good things about Battlestar Galactica and LOST. I’m not really in the demographic they are after since I’m 24 and a woman, but they are GREAT shows, and after I’ve lent my seasons to them, other women my age enjoyed the shows, even though they weren’t normally inclined towards sci-fi (and I barely count LOST as sci-fi, it’s more of a drama).

  8. Mark says:

    “The One Percent” is an awful film. It is clear the director feels guilty about inheriting wealth and has really no grasp on the subject at all.

  9. Gretchen says:

    Boy, that TV is a terrible thing, isn’t it?

  10. con says:

    #9 Gretchen: Ha, that’s funny. For someone who’s always talking about the evils of wasting your time in front of TV, kinda weird.

  11. Kate says:

    I have always thought that Trent thought mindlessly watching TV, i.e. surfing idly was not such a good thing. But Gretchen and con…I’m sure that you read this blog much more critically than most, so I might be wrong. Not much on the list would qualify as junk but it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

  12. deb says:

    “North Face” is fabulous. It’s a German film about mountain climbers shortly before WWII.

    If you’re into dystopian stuff “The Survivors” is a British series about a flu pandemic and life afterwards for the small number of survivors. I just finished the first season, it’s very good.

  13. con says:

    I was being a little snarky, I’ll admit. You might be right, Kate, but my take on things was that any time not working toward your goals, spending time with your children, exercising, reading (I could go on and on)was a waste of time (like TV). I am not saying one shouldn’t watch TV or Netflix. It just seems like a long list if you’re preaching against it.

  14. Mercedes says:

    Check out the movie District B13. Its a french movie with english subtitles. It watched it on a whim and really enjoyed it!

  15. Kelly says:

    Dexter didn’t make the list? I thought you mentioned you watch that on Netflix- I love that show!

  16. NewReader says:

    For Comic series, I also suggest Parks and Rec, it’s hilarious!

  17. Janis says:

    For those who suggest there is a conflict between Trent’s comments about TV and his Netflix viewing habits, why suppose he is single tasking when he watches wonderfully commercial-free Netflix? When I watch Netflix, I’m likely to be working out on my exercise bike or knitting or watching a movie with family and friends.

    Unrelated: I don’t know why I’m suprised by the amount of overlap in what Trent and I both watch, but I am.

  18. con says:

    I stand corrected.

  19. Julie says:

    That looks like a bunch of very negative documentaries. How about some recommendations of shows about what is good/right about America/Americans.

  20. SwingCheese says:

    Kelly: Dexter isn’t on instant viewing.

    Also: The Millennium Trilogy, the subtitled, Swedish versions – I know the first is on instant viewing, and I think the others are now, too.

  21. Korea Beat says:

    Another great feature of Netflix streaming is that a majority of the best Korean movies of the past 15 years are available.

    I wish that Netflix had a category for movies under one hour. That would really be great.

  22. Kate says:

    I would definitely add All Creatures Great and Small to the top of the queue. An amazing series of books, written by an English vet and set in the Yorkshire Dales–it was made into a truly charming and entertaining series with larger than life characters.
    Also a darkly humorous series (definitely not for the kiddos) is Dead Like Me.

  23. Brian S. says:

    If you think BSG is the single best science fiction series you’ve ever seen, you haven’t seen much sci-fi. IMO, Babylon 5, Farscape, and Firefly are all considerably better than BSG.

  24. Hunter says:

    Dr. Who is the coolest time-lord ever. That sonic screwdriver is the bomb, & the Tardis…blows my mind, especialy when they time travel. 80’s special effects are so cool.

  25. Stacey says:

    what, no Spartacus??

  26. Peggy says:

    I don’t know if either of these stream on NetFlix as I’m overseas, but two of our favorite comedy series are Psych and Castle.

  27. Peggy says:

    The Testament of Dr Mabuse is a great movie I found on Netflix a few months ago

  28. Peggy says:

    (27 is not the same Peggy as 26)

  29. Sonja says:

    #1 Robert Muir
    I heartily agree re Fathead. I watched it about a month ago and decided to change my eating habits accordingly. Amazing changes in a short time. I suspect that Morgan Spurlock was less than honest in his documentary.
    #8 Mark
    Yes, my 17-year-old son watched The One Percent and his comments made me suspect there was a lot of guilt about money at play. He wants me to watch it, and I will, but I think you’re right.

  30. Sara A. says:

    I think you should put some kind of disclaimer on your recommendation for Oldboy… a lot of people would find that movie seriously disturbing. (I liked it.)

  31. Tracy says:

    I was going to comment on the hypocrisy of the constant “TV is Shallow, You Could Be Doing So Much More Meaningful Things With Your Life” refrain in light of this post, but I see someone beat me to it. So. Yeah. I guess it’s okay if it’s “quirky” TV.

    Also agree that BSG is not the best Sci-Fi series ever (Farscape and Doctor Who beat it handily), and after the first two seasons that show just became a huge mess. One of my greatest personal TV disappointments.

    Other great things on streaming: BBC’s Robin Hood, Wire in the Blood, Party Down, and Rescue Me.

  32. Sonja says:

    Great post, thanks Trent and others with suggestions. I would recommend these nature documentaries: “March of the Penguins” and “Dogs Decoded” – the latter especially if you have a dog. A documentary that predates “Food, Inc” is “King Corn”. There is some very enlightening information in it about modern farming practices, genetically modified foods, and HFCS. It is presented in a very engaging/entertaining way.

  33. AndreaS says:

    I am about as frugal as it gets (rarely buy new clothes, rarely eat out etc) but I am a huge Netflix fan. If I watch a Netflix the same day it comes in the mail, I can get 10 mailed to me a month… not including what I watch streaming. An upside of Netflix is that I get to be pickier and so tend to watch better quality stuff than if I watched “TV” in any other way. Watching “good” movies is as useful as reading books, playing games and other forms of recreation. However I can do productive things while I watch a Netflix, which can’t be said for reading a novel.
    I agree though that one has to be in the right life stage to justify this much movie watching. I am an empty-nester with loads of free time. In contrast I have a son-in-law who decompresses playing computer games and watching his same DVD collection of zombie movies over and over. I would prefer to see him use that same time to develop a second income stream, as Trent often speaks to. My daughter’s a family is like many families where it would not take a whole lot to have the legs kicked out from under them economically.

  34. deRuiter says:

    Good for you Julie 19! Sadly the leftist schools / teachers unions teach “America bad / capitalism bad / socialsim good / unions good” and the young who are exposed to this propaganda through the public school system absorb it like the little sponges they are. Can’t wait until everyone in America works for the public sector unions and no one produces anything of value so there is no one to fund the whole scheme.

  35. deRuiter says:

    If this is a list of your favorites Trent, you’ve spent an awful lot of non -productive hours in front of a flat screen.

  36. Andrew says:

    I’m sorry, but Ken Burns anything is the best cure for insomnia.

  37. Julie says:


    I understand what you mean. We consistently have to counter the negative messages my children are being taught in the public schools. No wonder depression is such a problem in this society…especially amongst our youth.

    And of course it makes you wonder why so many people are still willing to risk their lives to get to the USA if we are a country full of evil/fat/materialistic/judgmental/wasteful/exploitive citizens.

  38. GayleRN says:

    I have been watching Top Gear (British version) with my son and we both love it. The Tudors, and various documentaries. Latest one is the Cartel, which is about the education system in the US and why we get less for our money than any other country.

  39. Jill says:

    Thanks for these. I highly recommend “Better Off Ted,” a comedy series that I missed when it was on air a few years ago. Jamie Johnson also made “Born Rich,” which I enjoyed much more than “The One Percent” — much more personal.

  40. DrLT says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes on Friday Night Lights! One of THE greatest TV shows of all time. We are just sick that this season is the last. American Experience on PBS is also excellent. We also streamed a nifty little independent film the other night: “Arranged”; it’s about a young orthodox Jewish woman and a young muslim woman who become friends as each is facing the prospect of an arranged marriage.

  41. Borealis says:

    Whenever anyone talks about TV shows, there is always some vegan womyn-studies major who suggests she is too good to watch TV, yet she she still has time to comment on a hundred blogs a day.

  42. Georgia says:

    You mentioned the grand daddy of all sci fi shows. That would actually be Star Trek. Until it came along in 1966, almost every tv show and movie sci fi was about monsters from outer space. Actually, Star Trek was so good that they almost put themselves out of business. Other networks, movie producers etc. found out that sci fi would sell if done well. Star Trek has a great legacy. My favorites after all ST is Babylon 5, Crusade, Space Above and Beyond. I never considered X-files as sci fi. To me it is in the fantasy category, as was Lost-which I never watched but a few minutes.

    Most of what you mentioned would be junk to me. I am very picky about comedy. I have never liked slapstick in any way, shape or form. Although I have had to revise my opinion of Steve Martin somewhat. I have discovered that he is a great expert on the banjo. I was flabbergasted at how well he played.

    I have watched movies and tv for over 66 years and I do not feel we are always moving forward. Most of the remakes of movies are far short of the originals – for instance: Oceans 11, A-Team, and others.

    I do like documentories such as March of the Penguins.

  43. anna says:

    My goodness, give Trent a break! He’s a parent of young children. I think he and his wife could use a bit of downtime once in a while. 75 recommendations on Netflix do not mean he is lazy and mindless. It means he might watch stuff a couple times a week.

  44. Interested Reader says:

    @Borealis – please point the comment that you are refering to because honestly I can’t find it.

    @anna people aren’t giving a Trent a hard time because he’s having down time and watching Netflix. People are commenting because Trent has made some pretty hard anti TV remarks in the past and, yet, he watches tv.

  45. Interested Reader says:

    I want to add I don’t have a problem with Trent watching Netflix or tv I have a problem with Trent’s inconsistency.

  46. I love Netflix! We just cancelled our (very pricey) satellite today!

  47. Meg says:

    I’d like to add “Fat Head” which is another take on what SuperSize Me is all about. I found it humorous.

  48. JS says:

    Stand-up comedy on Netflix is awesome for doing housework, especially food prep work. If I turn up the volume, I can hear it anywhere in the apartment. Off the top of my head, they have performances from George Carlin, Daniel Tosh, Lewis Black, Ron White, Bill Engvall and Jeff Dunham.

  49. Jennifer says:

    Maybe Battlestar is not for sci fi purists but I loved it. I wish I could watch it again without knowing everything. I will try out Firefly next.

    Love netflix!

    For kids: Word world (PBS show), Sesame Street & Dora are all streaming. And some Eloise movies.

    Also Netflix on the iphone is awesome.

  50. ChrisD says:

    If you are in the UK then some UK shows are available for free. For example, the IT crowd is on 4OD (with adverts though). If you are abroad then you can watch mini snippets of the IT crowd, but beware watching all of them, you will find you have seen all the best bits. (Also worth checking to see if they have expanded abroad yet).

    I think Trent has discussed the difference between mindless vegging out and channel surfing for several hours every evening, and meaningful leisure where you rest and recharge doing something specific and enjoyable, for a planned period of time.

    For multitasking, personally I find TV combines very well with ironing.

  51. jim flynn says:

    Bill Hicks, very disappointing “comedian”. I watched one routine on youtube (actually didn’t watch the whole thing, not funny) and it seemed to me his “comedy” was saying the f-bomb as often as possible. Not much work in coming up with a routine like that nor is it funny. Perhaps it is the crowd he was playing to since I’ve been told that comedians, such as Robin Williams, do the same thing if that is what they deem the crowd will laugh at. Sorry state of humanity in my opinion.

  52. Jeremy says:

    “Fathead” is the stuff. The way to stay in shape is high intensity weight lifting once-twice per week, and keeping carbs under 40% of your calories. By “high intensity” I mean you should feel like you’re going to throw up at the end of a set. Takes a lot of mental discipline, but it works. If you’ve been a hardgainer, you will pack on the pounds of muscle. Google the “Colorado Experiment” for more info (Tim Ferris of 4 Hour Work Week did a personal repeat of the Colorado Experiment called from Geek to Freak).

    By making fats and protein 60% of your calories, you won’t feel hungry and won’t overeat.

    That’s all it takes.

    Running on a treadmill for 3 hours is for hamsters.

  53. Leisureguy says:

    Barton Fink: In my view, the movie shows a nightmare (obviously not reality, and the movie begins with a loud ringing telephone—an outside sound intruding into the nightmare) of a teen-age boy (the imprecise and fearful sex images: something happens in bed, what is unclear, there’s blood…) on a summer night (the heat) in a tenement (all the plumbing sounds intruding into a nightmare). The young man wants to be a writer (the successful play, of which the dream has but one line), but doesn’t quite know what to do (the difficulties in Hollywood). We do see some of Hollywood’s history, refracted through the dream, but we also see the agonies of adolescent uncertainty. Watch the movie as you would analyze a nightmare.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *