What to Watch When You’re New to Netflix

I recently got a request for Netflix recommendations, which isn’t in itself unusual. Turns out, she’d just signed up for an account for the first time in years (the last time she was a subscriber, it was to receive DVDs), and she needed a little guidance on what to queue up first. To likely no one’s surprise, I went a little overboard. As the list got longer and longer, organizing it by what someone might be in the mood to watch seemed like a good way to bring order to the chaos. And because we could all use something new to watch these days, I thought I’d share the list here, too.

Family Friendly

Hugo – A boy living in a train station meets a legendary filmmaker and adventure and wonder ensue. Martin Scorsese’s love letter to movies (though I suppose all his movies are a love letter to movies).

Mary Poppins Returns – Disney revived this classic title and managed not to muck it up entirely. Emily Blunt makes a wonderful Mary, and the songs are super fun, too!

Uncorked – A young man is expected to take over his family’s BBQ restaurant in Memphis but he has dreams of becoming a sommelier. 

Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse – Reimagines the Spider-man story and then re-imagines it again, and again, and again.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Probably meant for high schoolers, but a delightful coming-of-age story of a teen figuring out how to fall in love.

For Funsies

The Incredible Jessica James – starring Jessica Williams (used to be on The Daily Show) as a struggling playwright and an unlikely blind date. Doesn’t always go where you expect it to, which keeps things interesting.

Snowpiercer – by the same filmmaker who made Parasite that won this year’s Best Picture Oscar, but this one is in English and so crazy it’s fun. It all takes place on a train.

Julie & Julia – based on a blog (yes a blog) by a woman named Julie (Amy Adams) who decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) cookbooks, and what she learns along the way.

Meryl Streep as Julia Child? Perfection.

Obvious Child – a bit serious at times, but ultimately a really charming, funny story about a woman having to figure out what kind of life she wants to live and if that involves having a baby.

Wine Country – a recent addition to Netflix’s originals, starring Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, all those great ladies of comedy as they take a girls trip to…well, to wine country.

Get Serious

Mudbound – honestly, one of my favorite films maybe of all time, it’s the story of two soldiers (one white and one black) who return home after WWII and their very different experiences. It is sad and painful and sometimes hard to watch, but it is masterfully done and an incredibly important story.

Marriage Story – ostensibly about the end of a marriage, it’s actually funnier than you’d imagine and more about how to retain some sense of connection even through separation. Impressive performances, too.

Drive – starring Ryan Gosling as a stunt and getaway driver, he meets a pretty young neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her young son who might just win him over. Full of moody neon colors and a great soundtrack.

Molly’s Game – Based on a true story about a woman (Jessica Chastain) who runs an illicit, high-stakes poker game…until she gets caught.

The Florida Project – a beautifully rendered, if heartbreaking story of kids growing up in the shadow of Disney World and the poverty just outside, but worlds away from, the Magic Kingdom. 


Anna Karenina – a lush adaptation of the novel, about a beautiful Russian aristocrat (Keira Knightley) and the affair she enters into and its ramifications. Acceptable alternative: The Duchess, also starring Keira Knightley.

About Time – a personal favorite, one I rewatch again and again. About a man who discovers an interesting family secret and the impact it has on his life; but really, a truly wonderful meditation on life, love, relationships and how fleeting it all is.

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleason in love in About Time

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – based on the book of the same name, this one is a lot more than a romance, but that’s one (of many) reasons to love it. Set in and after WWII, about a community on an island off of England and the woman who uncovers their story.

Foreign Films

Roma – an absolutely mesmerizing story of a family in Mexico City, the young woman who cares for them and the way their lives intertwine. A slow burn, but absolutely breathtaking if you let yourself get swept up in it.

Burning – a Korean film where not everyone is who they seem to be. A man bumps into a friend from high school who asks him to watch her cat…and things just get weirder from there.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) goes all in on his monster mythology in the story of a girl who escapes her scary home life for a fairly scary, but fascinating, imaginary one. 

God’s Own Country – set in the English countryside, a young man passes the time on his family farm any way he can, until a migrant worker from Romania arrives and awakens something new in him.


Room – based on the book, about a woman and her son’s improbable and impressive escape from their captor; won Brie Larson an Oscar, alongside a remarkable performance by young Jacob Tremblay.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – based on a true story, about a boy inspired by his science book to create a wind turbine to power—and save—his village. 

Dumplin’ – Jennifer Aniston stars as a former beauty queen who wants her overweight daughter to be prettier, so Dumplin’ joins one of her mother’s pageants to prove a point. Features a stellar soundtrack with lots of Dolly Parton.

Artsy & Independent

Ex Machina – a talented AI programmer gets recruited to a week-long retreat at the futuristic compound where the eccentric company CEO needs him to work on a new, very real experiment.

Her – if you ever wonder if technology is taking over too much of our lives, Her will convince you it is. Joaquin Phoenix manages a compelling performance opposite…a computer operating system.

Moonlight – one of the most beautiful, heartrending films you’ll ever see, about a young black man growing up and coming to terms with his sexuality. Simply masterful. 

Barry Jenkins’ Moonight is a masterpiece.

The Two Popes – about the curious time in recent Catholic history when one pope resigned and another was voted in, and their peculiar relationship. Very strong performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce.

The Lobster – directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who’s known for being…weird; this one is the film that happens when a weird (in a good way!) director tries to make a romance. 


Best Worst Thing that Ever Could’ve Happened – about the doomed production of Merrily We Roll Along from the now grown cast who lived it. It should all be a hot mess, but it is one of the best documentaries on Netflix.

Crip Camp – a film that starts as the story of an anything-goes summer camp in the ’60s for kids with disabilities becomes the inspirational story of the Disability Rights movement.

20 Feet from Stardom – won an Oscar a few years ago; about the singers who stand just feet from greatness as back-up singers, artists often as talented as the stars they support.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – about the rigorous and painstaking art of making real, traditional sushi, one of the greatest Japanese chefs in the industry and his small eight-seat restaurant.

Maya Angelo – And Still I Rise – the life and work of one of America’s greatest writers is explored in a stirring chronicle populated by those who knew her and were inspired by her.

Bathtubs Over Broadway – the absurdly true story of mid-century corporate musicals written to promote and entertain at company meetings, conferences and sales events.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – the screen siren was a woman much more talented than her movie roles let on, and this fascinating documentary explores all her many sides.

Period. End of Sentence. – a stirring documentary about an organization working to de-stigmatize periods in India and bring pads and tampons to girls who would otherwise miss school for lack of them.