We used to talk about arthouse movies quite a bit on this site. In particular, we talked a lot about how the term ‘arthouse’ is misleading at best and exclusionary at worst.
What is and what is not considered to be an arthouse movie ultimately comes down to some fancy people and how they happen to feel about a specific movie.
Even worse, once a movie is labeled as arthouse, there’s a good chance that many people not super familiar with the genre (category? label?) won’t want to watch it.
Arthouse movies have a reputation for being boring, strange, and confusing. Thankfully, this isn’t actually true.
Arthouse movies can cover a huge range of genres and tones, and they can be made absolutely anywhere, even right here in the good ol’ United States.
If you’re looking around for the best arthouse films on Netflix to get yourself started, then you’ve come to exactly the right article.
We’ve got some great picks here for you that we can personally approve, as well as some additional movies that we haven’t seen but which we heartily recommend all the same.
So check these movies out, or don’t. It’s all in your hands.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson, though he’s still working today, was a major cinematic force in the 2000s, and There Will Be Blood is considered by some to be his best movie yet.
It’s also probably the most well-known movie he’s ever made thanks in large part to the meme-ification of “I drink your milkshake.”
But all that aside, this movie features one of the most astounding Daniel Day-Lewis performances ever. Full stop.
Just keep in mind that this is stereotypically masculine filmmaking in many ways. It’s loud, long, and not incredibly subtle.
Still, it’s a modern American classic that Netflix is just letting people watch.
The Florida Project (2017)
Director Sean Baker got a great deal of indie fame thanks to his micro-budget debut film, Tangerine.
The Florida Project is once again about some folks living below the poverty line, just in Florida this time instead of East Hollywood.
It’s a challenging movie at the best of times, and you shouldn’t expect great things for the main characters.
Visually, it’s quite nice, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy looking at all the things at which they pointed the camera.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
So we made a video about this movie on the day of release, and with several more months to think on it, we can confirm that it’s actually pretty great.
That said, this movie embodies some of the more difficult aspects of arthouse that we were talking about at the top.
It is meant for a specific audience, and, at a certain level, you’re expected to keep up with a pretty dense script.
Even if you’re a smarty-pants professional film critic, you probably won’t get all of the references the first time through, and the main story itself ducks and twists and turns.
The average viewer could definitely get a lot from a surface viewing, but it’s a movie whose primary love language is quality time.
We will probably keep talking about Roma for years and years, and that refers both to us here at the site and the film community at large.
This is a miracle movie that puts Cuaron’s decades of filmmaking experience to the test, and it also shows off his incredible ability to string together long lingering takes to create a range of tones and emotional colors.
Since this is a Netflix original, it’s safe on the platform for foreseeable future, though it might get the occasional theater screening every so often at arthouse theaters around the globe, because it deserves it.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Here’s an arthouse movie that crossed over into mainstream appeal, probably thanks to the great-looking monsters.
There aren’t many movies that accurately capture the horror and fascination of old-style children’s tales and folklore.
There’s something sinister in these morality tales, and del Toro nailed it on the head in one of his most well-known movies.
Weaving historical drama into what is otherwise kind of a coming-of-age story was a masterful move, and it works well even if you don’t get all of the political context.
This movie comes from Todd Haynes, a highly-skilled director who’s been on the scene since the early 90s.
His deeply personal dramas tend to be extremely subtle in their execution, and that applies to Carol as well.
An upper-class woman finds herself attracted to another woman and struggles to resist the temptation to explore that attraction, worried of the ruin it could bring to her otherwise-appealing life situation.
A Ghost Story (2017)
A Ghost Story will forever be seen as an unapologetically hipstery film, but that’s ok because the movie is great.
It’s about a couple living in a small house. Then one of them dies and becomes a bedsheet ghost.
It’s surreal and cerebral and very well-shot. Still, it’s not very forthcoming with answers or traditional story beats.
You really have to commit to watching this one and paying careful attention to tiny details that might slip past when you leave the room for a cup of tea.
But if you stick with it, you’ll get the full impact of this unique and cherished movie.
Honorable Mentions That We Haven’t Seen (Yet)
Here are some quick picks that are very good movies we (shamefully) haven’t watched yet.
Ava DuVernay is one of the best filmmakers working today, and this documentary remains vital to our understanding of racial inequality in America.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut received all the praise a movie can get and it’s worth checking out if you missed it.
Moonlight is Barry Jenkins’s most well-known movie, and it also helped establish the trend of ‘bisexual lighting.’
It’s undoubtedly an important contemporary film and having access to it on Netflix is a real treat. Check it out before they remove it and put some awful European animated movie in its place. Please.