Netflix may be facing an uncertain future as it attempts to retain its subscribers while making sure that you’re not sharing your login information, but it's hard to discount what a successful year they had in 2022. Between returning favorites like The Crown, Stranger Things, Ozark, and Peaky Blinders alongside new hits like Wednesday and The Recruit, it’s easy to see why the service has been so valuable to fans. However, their film slate was just as strong, and this year provided some interesting developments on the future of Netflix’s franchises.
While The Gray Man was a disappointing attempt at being a “blockbuster” that could spawn a new franchise, the surprising box office sensation of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery added a new layer to Netflix’s distribution method. While the service screens some of its films in select theaters in order to qualify for awards ceremonies, Glass Onion’s astounding per-theater average signified that interest in Rian Johnson’s mystery series was high. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more Netflix films in wide release, as 2023 projects like Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, David Fincher’s The Killer, Gareth Evans’ Havoc, and Niki Caro’s The Mother all deserve the chance to be seen in the cinema.
Looking back at the Netflix films of 2022, there was something for everyone; you had comedies, awards contenders, documentaries, thrillers, indies, and horror films. Here are the top 15 best Netflix movies of 2022, ranked.
One month after Joseph Kosinski won the box office with Top Gun: Maverick, Netflix dropped his highly unusual science fiction thriller Spiderhead. Its emphasis on scrutinizing tech geniuses felt particularly timely, and the premise of a test subject (Miles Teller) tormented by a strange inventor (Chris Hemsworth) felt particularly timely in 2022. Hemsworth’s scenery-chewing performance is worth watching on its own, but Kosinski shows the same incredible action filmmaking techniques he did in Maverick in a confined, intimate environment.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has never been a filmmaker who has avoided excess, and Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, may be his most self-aggrandizing film to date. However, it’s also his most sincere and personal; the story of a documentary filmmaker (Daniel Giménez Cacho) wrestling with his critics, his new fatherhood, and his heritage in Mexico feels as if Inarritu is contemplating the issues that he’s dealt with personally. It’s a fascinating work of self-therapy on the part of a filmmaker who can always deliver spectacle.
Windfall may feel like a leftover from the “pandemic era” of intimate thrillers shot in isolated locations, but the film’s minimalist approach only makes it more thrilling. Jason Segal gives a hapless, yet emphatic performance as a robber who desperately tries to negotiate with a kidnapped billionaire (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (Lily Collins). There’s a great sense of brittle humor that arises from their award interactions, but the dark twist the film takes during its third act serves as a cautionary reminder of the reality of economic inequity.
Munich: The Edge of War
Sometimes, you just need a great “dad movie,” and Munich: The Edge of War is the perfect old-fashioned World War II chamber piece that works as an informative and entertaining glimpse at the past. The always likable 1917 star George McKay gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Hugh Legat, a British agent tasked with negotiating with old friend, the German worker Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner). Can a friendship prevent bloodshed? Munich: The Edge of War looks at these underseen heroes whose story is often left out of historical accounts.
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Undercover cop movies deserve a comeback, and The Stranger might be the closest thing we’ll get to Donnie Brasco in 2022. Based on a shocking true story, the film follows the Australian policeman Mark Frame (Joel Edgerton) as he explores a child abuse case related to the suspect Harry Teague (Sean Harris). While it's simply a riveting two-hander where Frame is constantly on the edge of being discovered, Edgerton’s exploration of the anxiety of being a parent showed that the film had a heart too.
The Good Nurse
The true story behind The Good Nurse is so shocking that if it was fiction, it would have been dismissed as completely unbelievable. While it would have been easy to sensationalize the story, director Tobias Lindholm creates an earnest procedural that follows the nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) as she steadily realizes that her coworker, Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), may be a serial killer. Chastain taps into the anxiety of being a mother and uncovering her employer’s coverups, but it's Redmayne’s hauntingly creepy performance that deserves serious award season attention.
Blonde may be the most controversial film of the year, and many may have tuned the film out entirely due to Andrew Dominick’s callous remarks to the press. Yet, there is incredible craftsmanship that has been buried; Blonde isn’t as much a biopic about Marilyn Monroe as it is an analysis of her image, and what values were projected on her by a cruel, unsympathetic society. Ana de Armas’ performance is graceful and moving, and Dominik recreates moments of terror that feel plucked right out of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Florence Pugh may have been getting more attention for the Don’t Worry Darling controversy than anything else this year, but she’s much stronger in this underrated British independent film. The Wonder follows the 19th century English nurse Lib Wright as she struggles to care for a child forcing herself to fast to the point of malnourishment. Like The Good Nurse, this is a film that could have easily been either stigmatizing or sensationalized, but it's a respectful examination of mental health issues that benefits from one of Pugh’s best performances ever.
Adam Sandler has made several standard Happy Madison movies at Netflix, but surprisingly he took on a serious role as a basketball scout in Hustle. It’s great to see Sandler make the type of movie that you don’t really see anymore; it’s an old-fashioned, inspiring sports drama that puts its emphasis on the characters. Sandler takes himself seriously and shows his genuine love of the game through his chemistry with breakout star and actual NBA player Juancho Hernangómez.
Apollo 10 ½
Richard Linklater returns to the world of animation for this slice-of-life story about a child’s experience during the summer of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s obviously inspired by Linklater’s own experiences growing up in Houston, Texas, and rather than trying to summarize everything into a more structured narrative, Apollo 10 ½ simply feels like a collection of memories, observations, and funny stories. It’s just as personal as a film like Boyhood, but uses animation to show the playful nature of a child’s imagination.
Sr. is the type of movie that makes you immediately want to call your parents. Robert Downey Jr. had intended to make a documentary about his father’s very odd films and career, but this turns into a riveting look at healing and acceptance as Robert Downey Sr. suffers from a terminal diagnosis. The banter between these two idiosyncratic artists gives the film an enjoyable sense-of-humor, and the intimacy that is captured could only be done so by a family that gets to tell its own story. While it’s hard to imagine a movie about death to be “inspiring,” Sr. shows why it's important to celebrate the time we have and the people we share it with.
All Quiet on the Western Front
Remaking a film as iconic as 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front is an ambitious undertaking, but this German-language reimagining of the conflict and its dehumanizing impact on soldiers is one of the most riveting war films in years. There is not an inch of the film that attempts to find meaning in the conflict; war makes fascists of everyone, and the film shows that in a war between governments, it's the young men forced into lines that have to pay the price. All Quiet on the Western Front is deservedly one of the frontrunners this year for the Academy Award for Best International Feature.
Noah Baumbach has never made anything like White Noise before, so it's interesting to see a filmmaker best known for intimate character dramedies take on a disaster movie with a razor-sharp comedic edge. White Noise doesn’t lack the emotional authenticity of Baumbach’s work, and despite the idiosyncratic humor, it goes in a surprisingly sincere route with the romance between Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig in the final act. Additionally, Don Cheadle’s role as a professor obsessed with Elvis is absolutely delightful in every way imaginable.
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
The same year we got Robert Zemeckis’ nightmarish live-action remake of the animated classic, Guillermo del Toro delivered one of the most stunning stop-motion animated films ever made with his gripping adaptation of the original novel Pinocchio. Del Toro doesn’t shy away from the themes of fascism and loss, but the musical numbers are just as delightful as you would expect from the industry’s most likable director. It’s a stunningly crafted visual masterpiece, and although voice acting isn’t always considered “serious,” David Bradley’s role as the heartbroken Gepetto is one of the most riveting performances you’ll see all year.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Unsurprisingly, Glass Onion had very high expectations from fans of the first Knives Out, but Johnson somehow delivered a follow-up that was even funnier, more clever, and more insightful about the egocentric personalities of wealthy people than the first one. The film is stacked with standout performances (including more than a few memorable cameos), and although Edward Norton’s performance as an Elon Musk-esque influencer is hard to ignore, it's Janelle Monae who steals the film. There will be even higher expectations for Knives Out 3, but if Glass Onion is any indication, we’d be lucky to get as many adventures with Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc as we can.