HBO Max may be putting out all of Warner Bros’ blockbuster films throughout 2022, but now is a great time to kick back and watch some independent classics. The streaming wars may be in full effect, but Netflix is still the undisputed king at the moment and is chock-full of quality films that everyone should watch.
The phrase “independent film” may conjure up artsy images for some, but these films can range in any genre or budget range. Some of the best films of all time were distributed by independent studios, and some of the most acclaimed directors started their careers cutting their teeth with independent filmmaking, so mining the indie classics is definitely a must for any film buffs. Check out our rundown of the 26 best indie movies currently available to watch on Netflix.
In Daniel Day-Lewis’ first film appearance since his iconic role as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012), he takes on the role of Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Lewis is a couture dress designer who uses Vicky Krieps’ character, Alma Elson, as the main inspiration for his designs. As a whole, the film was extremely well-received, earning six nominations at the Academy Awards.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Notable Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Runtime: 2h 11m
Olivia Colman portrays Leda in The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama about a professor who comes face-to-face with her tumultuous past after encountering a mother-daughter pair while on vacation. While critically the film received fairly high marks, quite a few people were left a bit puzzled and unhappy with the ending, which could possibly be why it didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Despite that, Colman was widely praised for her performance, earning herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Notable Actors: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal
Runtime: 2h 1m
At her Staten Island elementary school, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal)—a kindergarten teacher—comes to the realization that one of her students, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), is a child genius after hearing him read a poem he wrote. Because of this, she decides to devote all of her time to nurturing his talent as she’s fairly unhappy with how her life is going otherwise.
Director: Sara Colangelo
Notable Actors: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar
Runtime: 1h 36m
It may be odd to consider the Netflix original an independent film. Still, before the streaming giant purchased the film’s distribution rights, it was conceived and shot as an independent feature. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is based on his childhood experiences growing up in Mexico City and the intense bond his family develops with Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), one of the family’s live-in housekeepers.
An extremely emotional and raw look at the need for connection, loneliness, and indigenous rights, the film is beautifully shot, and it takes its time, making sure the audience connects with the lead characters to understand their pain. Touching and heartbreaking simultaneously, the 2019 best picture Oscar winner is a must-watch for anyone ready to feel some emotions separate from the despair associated with the pandemic.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Notable Actors: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Runtime: 2h 15m
This Netflix original dramedy hones in on Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) who are struggling to conceive a child, having tried basically every option to no avail. However, when their step-niece comes to stay with them in New York City, Sadie (Kayli Carter), she offers to donate her eggs, which gets things into motion very quickly for the couple.
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Notable Actors: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon
Runtime: 2h 7m
Being a local news pundit may look like a flashy job, but Nightcrawler shines a light on the hidden darkness inherent in the broadcast news industry. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief termed “stringer,” the term for someone who collects footage of terrible occurrences on a freelance basis and sells it to local news outlets.
In order to constantly chase his next paycheck and fulfill his sick need for adrenaline, Bloom starts to manipulate situations and people to create even more juicy footage and produce a name for himself in the business. Featuring a stellar supporting performance by Riz Ahmed, among other talented actors, Nightcrawler is a fast-paced romp that perfectly breaks down the horrors behind why local news is so addictive and manipulative.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Notable Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Runtime: 1h 57m
Based on a true story, The Grizzlies tracks a group of prep school kids in a cold, small Canadian town who are introduced to the sport of lacrosse. After a string of suicides occurs in the area, a new teacher, Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), decides to form a lacrosse team at the school in order to give students purpose and bond as a team.
Director: Miranda de Pencier
Notable Actors: Will Sasso, Ben Schnetzer, Tantoo Cardinal, Eric Schweig, Natar Ungalaaq, Booboo Stewart
Runtime: 1h 42m
Paddleton finds two neighbors and best friends, Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), in a bit of a conflict as Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants to end his own life. Eventually, Andy comes around to the idea and agrees to help Michael, though on their journey to make this happen, they go on a number of smaller adventures.
Director: Alexandre Lehmann
Notable Actors: Mark Duplass, Ray Romano
Runtime: 1h 29m
Before Thor: Ragnarok and JoJo Rabbit turned Taika Waititi into one of the hottest directors currently working, he put out an equally fantastic film called Hunt for the Wilder People.
Adapted from a novel, the film is an adventure-comedy of the highest degree. Wilder People sees youngster Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his quasi-foster parent Hec (Sam Neill) depart into the New Zealand wilderness to avoid their problems, and eventually the law, as a national manhunt starts for the child. Full of sharp dialogue, likable characters, and heart-touching moments, this is a must-watch for anyone needing a dose of positivity in their day.
Director: Taika Waititi
Notable Actors: Taika Waititi, Sam Neill, Julian Dennison
Runtime: 1h 41m
Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who has just had his entire life upended after being fired from his job of almost 20 years due to his alcohol abuse. Upon returning home, he finds that his wife has abandoned him, his credit cards have been cut off, and his car is taken away. Left with basically nothing, Halsey decides to sell all of his belongings over the course of three days at a yard sale.
Director: Dan Rush
Notable Actors: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña
Runtime: 1h 37m
Sorry to Bother You takes place in an alternate reality of Oakland, California, with Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finding this new place after discovering a secret key. While in reality he’s having a tough time paying rent, his new reality is one where everyone values and celebrates him, leading him into a spell of success that he becomes absorbed in.
Director: Boots Riley
Notable Actors: LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thomspon, Steven Yeun, Danny Glover
Runtime: 1h 52m
While Tallulah is technically labeled as a dramedy, it’s definitely more so a drama as it deals with some pretty heavy stuff. Elliot Page plays the eponymous Tallulah, a struggling, homeless teenager who ends up becoming the caretaker of Maddy, a random toddler whom she meets at a hotel. As the child’s mother is clearly unfit, Tallulah takes the child and heads out on a new journey.
Director: Sian Heder
Notable Actors: Elliot Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Uzo Aduba
Runtime: 1h 51m
A classic Taylor Sheridan western, Wind River brings an FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent (Jeremy Renner) together to solve a murder mystery on a reservation in Wyoming involving an 18-year-old girl. An important story to tell, Sheridan wanted to shine a light on the fact that many indigenous women suffer crimes of sexual assault and murder.
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Notable Actors: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Wilson, Gil Birmingham
Runtime: 1h 47m
Friends With Money follows a friend group where almost all of the women have extreme amounts of wealth, except for Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), who works as a house cleaner in Los Angeles. Though her friends lead successful lives and marriages, not everything is as good as it seems on paper; the bulk of the film focuses on the group as they travel on through their various different struggles.
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Notable Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener
Runtime: 1h 28m
It’s no surprise that this western was written by Taylor Sheridan; Hell or High Water is about two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) whose main goal is to save their family’s ranch as they’re out of money to keep it going. In an effort to save it, they rob multiple banks, all the while being tracked by Texas Rangers portrayed by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham.
Director: David Mackenzie
Notable Actors: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham
Runtime: 1h 42m
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford pair up for one last film in Our Souls at Night, which is about two neighborhood widows who get to know each other over their shared bond of loss. After deciding to sleep together each night (platonically), they realize that they have more in common than just loss—and that something more might actually be there.
Director: Ritesh Batra
Notable Actors: Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern, Judy Greer
Bill Murray portrays the eponymous character of this film, Vincent MacKenna, who lives a particularly interesting life, posing as a doctor to visit his wife with Alzheimer’s, befriending a Russian sex worker, and fostering a new friendship with his neighbor, Melissa McCarthy, and her son, Oliver. After a branch from his neighbor’s tree ruins his car, the two get to know each other a little better, with Vincent striking up a close bond with Oliver, who struggles in school.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Notable Actors: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Martell
Runtime: 1h 43m
Based on the life of Margaret Keane and her husband, Walter, Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz portray the couple, respectively, in Big Eyes, a historical drama based on their life. The entire premise revolves around the fact that Walter has taken full credit for the paintings that she has made, which affects their relationship and shifts the overall dynamic of things.
Director: Tim Burton
Notable Actors: Amy Adams, Christopher Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston
Runtime: 1h 46m
This musical dramedy pairs up Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo who play Gretta and Dan, respectively, a singer-songwriter and down-on-his-luck record label executive. The two work together to produce an album that’s recorded throughout various parts of New York City. The director, John Carney, is well-known for Once, which follows a slightly similar story, though in different regards.
Director: John Carney
Notable Actors: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld
Runtime: 1h 44m
A true coming-of-age film, Edge of Seventeen stars Chris Stafford as Eric Hunter, a high school teenager who is trying to figure out his sexual identity in the mid-1980s. He and his best friend, Maggie (Tina Holmes), take on senior year together, though their friendship becomes more muddled as Maggie develops feelings for Eric at the same time as he’s getting involved in the local gay club scene and is trying to understand himself more.
Director: David Moreton
Notable Actors: Chris Stafford, Tina Holmes, Andersen Gabrych
Runtime: 1h 43m
Spike Lee’s first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It is a hilarious film about the confinements relationships put on people. The notorious she, Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), is living her best life in Brooklyn, dating three very different men who all adore her. Rather than treat the sex-positive Nola as a slut, the film positions her as a free-thinker who is trying to enjoy herself and her time as much as possible. The film was adapted by Netflix and Lee into an equally entertaining, modernized TV series with the same name that lasted two seasons.
Director: Spike Lee
Notable Actors: Tracy Camilla Johns, Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell
Runtime: 1h 24m
Though this film has remained relatively under the radar, The Meyerowitz Stories has earned itself respect from critics and has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, to boot. The movie revolves around a slew of siblings who have varied relationships with each other and with their father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman). As Danny (Adam Sandler) ends up moving in with Harold after separating from his wife, the entire movie tracks the changing relationships that occur as a result of that.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Notable Actors: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Grace Van Patten, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Dustin Hoffman
Runtime: 1h 52m
With quite a stacked cast of headliners, The Land of Steady Habits is a Netflix original film that centers around Anders Harris (Ben Mendelsohn), who is struggling to figure out who he is now that he’s alone and newly retired. We see him through a number of trials and tribulations with his drug-addicted son and rough family, though he has one glimmer of hope in Barbara (Connie Britton), a woman he met at a strip club.
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Notable Actors: Connie Britton, Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann
Runtime: 1h 38m
A new foray into the Sci-fi genre, Fast Color takes on the future while melding with superhero and thriller genres as it tracks Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the seizures that she experiences causes earthquakes to occur. On top of that more supernatural aspect of things, we get a look into her home life, as well, as Ruth reconnects with her mother and daughter. Apparently, there’s also a series being developed based on the film for Prime Video—so stay tuned.
Director: Julia Hart
Notable Actors: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney
Runtime: 1h 41m
Another Netflix original, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind follows 13-year-old William (Maxwell Simba) after he’s forced to leave a school that he genuinely loves because the cost is too high for his family to pay. Despite not being able to attend, he sneaks into the library and teaches himself how to build a windmill in order to save his entire village.
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Notable Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Aïssa Maïga
Runtime: 1h 53m
David Lynch is likely best known for his TV series, Twin Peaks, and strange movies like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, but he is also a prolific creator of short films. What Did Jack Do, a 16-minute short, is hypnotic, witty, and strange to the core. If a tuxedo-clad Lynch smoking a cigarette and interrogating a monkey sounds interesting to you, do yourself a favor and go check this one out immediately.
Director: David Lynch
Notable Actors: David Lynch, Toototabon, Emily Stofle
Runtime: 16 minutes