At this point in the pandemic, we’ve probably all exhausted our Netflix watch lists a few times over. It gets dark early, nights are long, and there’s nothing to do but be bored in the house. How many rewatches of Stranger Things can one person truly handle?
Luckily, Netflix’s expansive offerings go beyond reruns of mediocre sitcoms: the streaming service actually seems to have a near-endless amount of content despite much of it being hidden by the company’s algorithm.
We’ve picked out 40 films and TV shows that might not pop up on your “Recommended” list if you haven’t been searching specifically for them. From unexpected reality competitions to obscure anime to underground LGBTQ+ cinema, here’s our (unranked!) list of Netflix’s best-hidden gems.
An impeccably-choreographed martial arts tetralogy that traces the legendary career of Bruce Lee’s master as he defeats Westerners and Japanese foes alike. Sure, the whole series is not-so-subtle Chinese propaganda, but it’s worth watching for the exciting action sequences.
Who’s in It: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To
Forget Game of Thrones. Dark Crystal is the high fantasy series worth watching. The Jim Henson Company’s high-concept puppet show is a dazzling example of a dying medium. The content is more adult than you’d expect from literal muppets, and the Tolkienesque world’s lore is both dense and allegorical.
Who’s in It: Taron Egerton, Mark Hamill, Lena Headey, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sigourney Weaver, Anya Taylor-Joy
Black Mirror became a viral hit with its prescient predictions about the panoptic power of social media. The short animated film collection Love, Death + Robots covers a lot of the same territory as Charlie Booker’s infamous sci-fi series, but with a bit more humor. Although it’s occasionally juvenile and sometimes overtly sexist, each episode takes on a different aspect of our nightmarish future with a totally different visual aesthetic.
Who’s in It: Madeleine Knight, Topher Grace, Emily O’Brien
Comedian Maria Bamford uses surreal humor to explore a recent nervous breakdown in this honest, creative, and self-reflexive series about living with bipolar disorder. Your average comedy aficionado might find Bamford’s aesthetic too off-beat, but there’s a lot of smart commentaries and earnest emotionality in this show.
Who’s in It: Maria Bamford, Fred Melamed, Mary Kay Place, Ana Gasteyer
Cuties faced a bizarre media cycle after receiving backlash from American conservative critics who objected to the sexual content of the film, and then it faded into semi-obscurity. That being said, it’s easily one of the best films of 2020—dealing with the complex emotional lives of teenage girls navigating a deeply misogynistic world.
Who’s in It: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Maïmouna Gueye
A beautifully shot short documentary film about female Sumo wrestlers and their commitment to their sport. It’s only about 20 minutes long, but it’s impossible not to form an immediate attachment to the impossibly strong and impossibly adorable protagonist.
Who’s in It: Hiyori Kon
Although the content is extremely disturbing, Shot in the Dark is a fascinating delve into the lives of stringers: videographers who capture footage of car crashes and violent crimes to sell to news stations at frighteningly high prices. The rogues gallery of people featured are patently deplorable, yet absurdly compelling.
Who’s in It: Zak Holman, Howard Raishbrook, Austin Raishbrook
Laverne Cox is a heavily featured talking head in this exhaustive and insightful exploration of the history of transgender people in Western cinema. The movie traces specific tropes of anti-trans violence and how they developed within a culture that is largely intolerant of sexual difference—but it also shows how there’s hope for the future as more trans people take to the big screen.
Who’s in It: Laverne Cox, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, Chaz Bono
This ultra-violent, dystopian thriller serves as a poignant metaphor for the inhumanity of capitalism. A student voluntarily enters a near-future disciplinary complex, but it seems likely he won’t survive the impossible cruelty of this system. It’s a frightening allegory and a warning about the power of unchecked greed.
Who’s in It: Iván Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale
Directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold focuses on the eponymous journalist and author in her decades-long career in writing. It weaves together her early days in Sacramento with her ultimate breakthrough in journalism at Vogue, while also having Didion candidly speak about specific moments and read through passages of her work.
Who’s in It: Joan Didion, Griffin Dunne
The ebullient and colorful Walter Mercado was the most beloved astrologer in Latin America before disappearing from the public eye. This earnest documentary traces his career with deep love and respect, positioning the fortune-teller as a queer legend and a beacon of kindness.
Who’s in It: Walter Mercado
How, exactly, did a married heterosexual couple come to own one of the most infamous gay porn shops in the entire United States? Circus of Books tells the story of unlikely homosexual icons, Barry and Karen Mason, at the final moments of the eponymous adult shop’s closing. The story shows the conflicted morality of the Masons and is directed by the duo’s daughter as she explores the psychology of her parents who stunningly rejected their own gay child before seeing the error of their ways.
Who’s in It: Jeff Stryker, Larry Flynt
It would be easy to dismiss glass sculpture as a kind of decorative kitsch but Blown Away, a competition reality show about glass blowing, showcases the artistry, talent, and intellectual thought put into this misunderstood art form.
Who’s in It: Katherine Gray, Nick Uhas
While it only ended up getting two seasons, Friends From College might be one of the most slept-on series to ever hit Netflix. The show tracks a friend group who reunites in New York City after having been apart for many years after graduating from Harvard.
Who’s in It: Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders, Annie Parisse, Billy Eichner, Jae Suh Park, Nat Faxon
David Lynch interviews a very creepy monkey in this 17 minute, black and white, non-narrative short. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the beloved auteur, whose noir-influenced surreal works have spawned a cult following amongst arthouse cinephiles. Don’t expect a coherent story, just spooky vibes.
Who’s in It: David Lynch
A twist-filled horror-thriller, The Perfection is a very strange revenge story filled with deeply unexpected moments and extremely bizarre celebrations of bloodshed. It somehow feels like eight movies are packed tightly into this 90-minute nightmare, and the ending is sure to leave you both nauseated and satisfied.
Who’s in It: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman
What begins as an extremely caustic critique of the high art world devolves into an unsettling supernatural thriller. Starring an inexplicably buff Jake Gyllenhaal as a bisexual art dealer haunted by murderous painting, Velvet Buzzsaw combines smart satire with campy thrills.
Who’s in It: Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Rene Russo
Tracking the nature of show business from quite a few different angles in the late 1940s, Hollywood is a limited series that ended up flying a bit under the radar when it first premiered in 2020. In one sense, we’re following an aspiring actor, Jack Castello (Corenswet), an aspiring Black screenwriter, Archie Coleman (Pope), and a veteran studio executive, Ellen Kincaid (Taylor). On top of that, we see the more gritty side of things and how actors have to both support themselves and hide who they really are.
Who’s in It: David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Dylan McDermott, Holland Taylor, Jeremy Pope, Jim Parsons, Laura Harrier, Rob Reiner, Maude Apatow
Shonen anime (Japanese cartoons meant for teenage boys about plucky fighters learning new skills to defeat outsized foes) can be somewhat predictable — Food Wars! switches up the formula by using cooking battles instead of samurai sword fights as its main set piece. Many scenes are absurdly sexual (sometimes misogynistically so) but the culinary combat is both exciting and mouth-watering.
Who’s in It: Risa Taneda, Shizuka Ishigami
Directed by Chris Bolan and produced by Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum, A Secret Love is an in-depth documentary about Terry Donahue, who was a player in the All-American Girls Professional League, and her relationship with Pat Henschel that she was forced to keep a secret from their families and friends.
Who’s in It: Terry Donahue, Pat Henschel
A young sex worker’s life begins to unravel when she spots her doppelganger gaining popularity on cam shows. Is she losing or mind, or is someone trying to destroy her life? Both erotic and extremely frightening, Cam is intelligent feminist horror for the 21st century.
Who’s in It: Madeline Brewer, Melora Walters
Derry Girls has been a bit of a sleeper hit among fans, following a group teenage girls in Derry, Ireland during the Troubles in the mid-late 1990s. The show plays into the overall political conflict while mixing in absolutely hilarious dialogue and situations for the group of girls attending Catholic school.
Who’s in It: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell
When a struggling student accidentally finds herself accepted into a secret society, she begins unfurling a series of mysteries about the cult’s practices and her own lineage. This Dutch horror series is masterfully suspenseful and beautifully shot. You don’t need to pick up on the social criticism pertaining to the villainies of colonialism to be enthralled by the show’s dark story.
Who’s in It: Jade Olieberg, Tobias Kersloot, Lisa Smit and Robin Boissevain
The Politician takes big stakes to the small stage of an affluent high school in California as Payton Hobart (Platt) is running for class president against the more popular favorite, River Barkley. However, the running mates they choose end up becoming major conflicts of the entire story.
Who’s in It: Jessica Lange, Ben Platt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judith Light, Theo Germaine, Zoey Deutch, David Corenswet, Julia Schlaepfer, Rahne Jones
It’s hard to imagine that the frivolous world of flower arranging could be even remotely exciting, but The Big Flower Fight uses the formula of The Great British Baking Show to display the immense skills and aesthetic power of landscaping and floristry. The diverse cast are imminently lovable and you’ll absolutely have a favorite by the finale—even if you don’t care about plants at all.
Who’s in It: Natasia Demetriou, Vic Reeves, Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht
One of Stephen King’s lesser-known works was transformed into a deeply eerie horror movie by director Mike Flanagan in 2017. In it, a married couple’s experiments in BDSM are interrupted when the husband suddenly dies, leaving the wife handcuffed to her bed. As she struggles to escape, she is visited in the night by wolves and giants: Is she going insane or is she being stalked?
Who’s in It: Carla Gugino, Chiara Aurelia, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken
The Great British Baking Show became a viral sensation in the USA: the kind and gentle approach to reality competition was so starkly different from the bitchy, drama-filled spectacles we have on this side of the pond. Beloved contestants return for one-off Holiday-themed episodes in this spinoff showcase. Even viewers who vehemently oppose Christmas cheer can’t help but be charmed.
Who’s in It: Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Matt Lucas, Noel Fielding
The true crime genre is often mind-numbingly violent and thoughtlessly sensationalist, but Casting JonBenet provides a sensitive and intelligent, postmodern twist on the standard formula. This documentary about the actors who play victims and murderers in true crime reenactments hits on the human element of crime stories in ways few other movies really can manage.
Who’s in It: John and Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Karr
We all remember the cultural shunning of Paul Reubens following a series of overblown non-scandals, but Pee-Wee gets the last laugh with this triumphant return. The wacky world of perpetual childhood remains heartwarmingly innocent even decades after the eponymous hero’s Big Adventure.
Who’s in It: Paul Reubens
Blending supernatural themes, comedy, and coming-of-age, I Am Not Okay With This follows Sydney Novak (Lillis), who has started to notice something a little different about herself: she has telekinetic powers. Equally weighing on her brain is the confusing relationships she has with her neighbor, Stan (Oleff), and her best friend, Dina (Bryant).
Who’s in It: Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Sofia Bryant, Richard Ellis
Basically, the entire premise of Pretend It’s a City is just listening to Fran Lebowitz go off on anything and everything that she perceives is wrong with the world and New York City. We follow alongside her as she struts around the city, answers audience questions at live events, and is interviewed by people including Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Olivia Wilde.
Who’s in It: Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese
Starring Elliot Page in the namesake role of Tallulah, the film revolves around Tallulah as she finds herself as a slightly-accidental mother when she takes the child of a random woman, Carolyn, from a local hotel as she had irresponsibly passed out. The rest of the film follows Tallulah and the child as they head over to Margo, Tallulah’s mother’s, place.
Who’s in It: Elliot Page, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba, Tammy Blanchard
In Tibet’s Mount Kailash, Scott Lindgren kayaks away in the hopes of becoming the first person to make it through the four major rivers that flow from the mountain. The River Runner is not only a profile of the man behind this massive mission, but always shines a spotlight on the trials and tribulations that come along with the sport.
Who’s in It: Scott Lindgren
In The Chair, Ji-Yoon Kim (Oh) portrays a younger professor who has just been promoted to chair of the English Department at a fairly prestigious fictionalized college, Pembroke University. While there, she faces a slew of ups-and-downs stemming from a publicized scandal involving one of the professors at the college.
Who’s in It: Sandra Oh, Holland Taylor, Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban
In this wild horror-comedy, a sexy babysitter is revealed as the leader of a Satan-worshipping crew of ghouls. The only hope for their defeat is a pre-teen boy who must outsmart the demonic gang — but can he overcome his crush on his governess to thwart the devil? Director McG’s penchant for eye-popping visuals and Tarantino-esque hyper-stylization help uplift the movie’s extremely silly story.
Who’s in It: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne
Japanese reality dating shows are far quirkier than the endless slog of Western romantic travesties like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. In Love Wagon, singles have their phones taken away during weeks of international travel. The socially awkward men and women navigate competing crushes while visiting tourist attractions, complete with over-the-top narration and absurd commentary.
Who’s in It: Becky, Mayuko Kawakita, Toshiaki Kasuga
This documentary is probably exactly what it sounds like in your head: it’s about fantastic fungi. Zooming in close to various mushrooms and other types of fungi, Fantastic Fungi paints an extraordinary picture of a fairly overlooked eukaryotic organism.
Who’s in It: Brie Larson, Andrew Weil, Giuliana Furci
We’ve all heard of climbers like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, but the more introverted Canadian climber and alpinist, Marc-André Leclerc, made incredible first ascents and solos without practically anyone realizing it. The Alpinist is the first (and last) time we get to see Leclerc up close, often times not letting producers and directors know what he has planned until the climb is over, taking a more purist approach to the sport.
Who’s in It: Marc-André Leclerc, Brette Harrington
Anime purists might balk at the 3D CG animation of this science fantasy series but the fight scenes and endearing characters make a few questionable stylistic decisions forgivable. It’d be impossible to explain the show’s absurd and whimsical story in this summary. Suffice it to say, the main plot point is a magical battle between high-class sorcerers and the slums.
Who’s in It: Wataru Takagi, Reina Kondou
These guys can beat a Rubik’s Cube—and fast. The Speed Cubers documents the people behind the cube who make the sport what it is, from deep rivalries and complicated friendships to the championships in Australia.
Who’s in It: Max Park, Feliks Zemdegs, Schwan Park, Philipp Weyer
Documenting the beauty and sadness that comes with coral reefs, Chasing Coral is raw look into the real dangers that our coral reefs face due to climate change. We track a large group of scientists, photographers, and divers whose goal is to both shed a light on what’s happening and deliver a breathtaking snapshot of coral reefs.
Who’s in It: Andrew Ackerman, Neal Cantin, Pim Bongaerts
Having had a nice three-season run, GLOW is a dramedy that is a fictionalized take on women’s professional wrestling in the 1980s. Specifically, we hone in on the Goregous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), and the various tactics used in the promotion of the wrestling circuit.
Who’s in It: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young
In classic Oprah-sit-down-interview-fashion, Oprah Winfrey interviews Viola Davis about her memoir, Finding Me. Davis talks in depth about her childhood and growing up, the trauma she went through and the shame that has still stuck with her today.
Who’s in It: Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis
With three seasons under its belt, The Kominsky Method pairs up Michael Douglas with Alan Arkin as two aging best friends; Douglas is Sandy Kominsky, a semi-successful actor who owns and teaches at his own acting school, and Arkin plays Norman Newlander, who serves as Kominsky’s agent. The two get into various conflicts and antics both between one another and separately with their respective family and friends.
Who’s in It: Michael Douglas, Alan Arkin, Sarah Baker, Paul Reiser, Lisa Edelstein
Mick Jagger might be the frontman of The Rolling Stones, but Keith Richards is not to be forgotten. Getting into the psyche of Richards, Keith Richards: Under the Influence unveils a much-different man than the one we’ve heard about and seen on stage. Sure, he’s got all the grittiness that we’ve seen, but there’s a much softer side to him than he leads on.
Who’s in It: Keith Richards