Whether you’re in the market for a great western or superhero movie, Netflix has a little something for everyone, but what if you want something multi-generic — something a little more avant-garde, if you will.
Well, my friend, what you want is an indie movie, part of an eclectic and increasingly undefinable category of film where the ambition of a project relates to more than its special effects budget.
These movies are smart, deep, and often very funny. There are a lot of them out there, but don’t worry. We have a list of 10 of the best indie movies on Netflix for you, in no particular order.
Best Indie movies on Netflix:
Editor’s note: This list will be updated as indie movies leave and other new arrivals debut on Netflix.
1. Obvious Child
Obvious Child follows standup comic Donna (Jenny Slate) as she navigates getting dumped, meeting someone new, and getting pregnant in relatively short order. It’s an awkward, honest, and charming take on a sensitive subject, and it made Jenny Slate an overnight comedy star (previously her most notable role was as the voice of Marcel the Shell).
This film is a great option for anyone looking for a light, yet thoughtful and relatable story, and it’s damn funny. Without a doubt it’s one of best indie movies on Netflix, or anywhere else, in years.
Now let’s switch from comedy to drama, with the stunning one-man-show that is Locke. Written and directed by Stephen Knight, it stars Tom Hardy as a construction foreman whose entire life begins unfolding when he finds out that a woman he had a one-night stand with seven months prior has gone into premature labor. The entire film takes place in his car as he drives to the hospital, where he makes some difficult phone calls to his wife, sons, boss, and hospital staff.
It isn’t easy to make a film in such a small space with a single actor on screen, but Tom Hardy’s performance carries it through. Check this one out if you’re looking for a compelling indie drama about tough life choices.
3. Band of Robbers
A modern retelling of the classic Mark Twain works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Band of Robbers follows Sawyer (Adam Nee) and Finn (Kyle Gallner) as adults, still hunting for Murrell’s treasure.
In this adaptation, Tom’s grown up to be a milquetoast small-town cop who gets pulled back into the wild life of his childhood friend after releasing him from jail. With their other friends Joe Harper (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress), the gang hatches a plan to rob Injun Joe’s pawn shop, where they think the treasure is hidden.
This is a fun twist on a classic story, and definitely one of the best indie movies on Netflix.
4. While We’re Young
Noah Baumbach really has a knack for making great indie movies. While We’re Young follows middle-aged Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) as they come to grips with getting older and the disappointment that can accompany it.
A documentary filmmaker, Josh’s life is turned upside down when he meets young aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried), both living what seems like the quintessentially spontaneous bohemian lifestyle of a hip young person in New York.
For awhile Josh seems to live vicariously through Jamie and Darby, but nothing is as straightforward as it first seems.
While We’re Young is a film about growing up, oddly from the perspective of people who have been grownups for a long time. It’s funny and poignant, and absolutely worth watching.
If someone ever had to pick a director to crown king of the indie film, Richard Linklater would surely be in contention. The director of films like Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and School of Rock brought out his most ambitious projects with Boyhood.
Shot over 12 real-life years, the film follows the childhood and adolescent life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up in Houston with his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).
The production shot for a few days every year from 2001 to 2013, and chronicles all the awkwardness, curiosity, and heartache that comes with going through adolescence. If you’re anywhere near the age of the main character, expect to get hit with some real nostalgia for what pops up in the background too. It’s ambitious and fascinating.
6. Ex Machina
From the brilliant mind of writer/director Alex Garland (Sunshine, Dredd), Ex Machina is a unique sci-fi film that explores the themes of AI and big data.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer at tech giant Blue Book (think Google/Facebook) who wins a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the private residence of the company’s reclusive genius CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When he gets there, he finds out he’s been chosen to find out if a new AI humanoid robot (Alicia Vikander) is capable of passing the Turing test.
The result is a fascinating dive into what makes us human, and the film’s commentary on big data is even more relevant today than it was when the film was first released in 2014.
7. Frances Ha
Oh look, another Noah Baumbach movie! This is the last one, I swear (it’s also the best one). Co-written by the film’s star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha follows aspiring dancer Frances (Gerwig) as she struggles to live and work in New York City. Despite her often dire circumstances, Frances’ upbeat can-do mindset makes this movie a charming experience throughout.
Everything from the acting and writing, to the music and striking black and white aesthetic is a real treat. This is one of the best indie movies on Netflix, and my personal favorite. Seriously, watch this film.
8. Wet Hot American Summer
Imagine if a movie came out in 2019 starring Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Joe Lo Truglio, H. John Benjamin, and a ton of other big name actors. You’d probably be expecting some kind of comedic Avengers movie — heck, Rudd and Cooper are involved, so maybe it’d just be a regular Avengers movie.
When Wet Hot American Summer came out in 2001, these were all just talented, little-known actors, who came together to play high school and junior high kids at summer camp. It’s wacky and weird, and definitely worth watching.
Paddleton follows neighbors and best friends Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), as they struggle to come to grips with Michael’s new diagnosis of terminal cancer.
The film takes place over the few days after Michael decides not to seek treatment and instead take medication that will end his own life. Much of the story finds the two watching kung-fu movies, making pizza, and fighting over Michael’s decision.
It’s a touching and heartbreaking story of friendship, loss, and all the inside jokes and habits that accumulate when two people have been friends for years. It’s without a doubt one of Netflix’s saddest comedies.
Roma is the only foreign language movie on our list, and it takes place in a 1970’s home in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The black and white Spanish-language drama follows the life of an indigenous housekeeper and live-in nanny (Yalitza Aparicio) of a middle-class family.
Without giving too much away, events in both her life and the family’s bring them all together, even as the world around the falls apart.
The semi-autobiographical take on writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City is made even more authentic by the performance of lead actress Yalitza Aparicio, who was raised by a single mother working as a maid. Her first film netted her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, despite having no formal acting training.
That’s it for our list of the best indie movies on Netflix. There are tons of other options to watch once you get through this list, and no doubt more on the way.