Twenty years ago, Hollywood studios released some of the most famous, formative, and original movies in the history of the medium, including, but not limited to 1999 classics Fight Club, Magnolia, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, Cruel Intentions, The Blair Witch Project, Office Space, Eyes Wide Shut, American Beauty, and Three Kings. Maverick filmmakers like David Fincher, David O. Russell, Sam Mendes, the Wachowski siblings, M. Night Shyamalan, and Paul Thomas Anderson broke out, while veterans like Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, and Michael Mann showed new facets to even their biggest fans. It was such a big year for film that a large majority of 2019 has been spent reliving the highs. As journalist Brian Raftery's book on the 12 months of 1999 put it: Best. Movie. Year. Ever.
Will people look back on 2019 with the same reverence? Through the first eight months of the year, it seems unlikely: Despite a handful of quality films — including Quentin Tarantino's towering Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is not yet available to stream — this year has felt like a step back from 2018 and 2017, both of which featured numerous memorable releases. But what 2019 lacks in caliber, it makes up for in conversation and innovation, with Netflix leading the streaming charge and scoring its first-ever Best Picture nomination (for Alfonso Cuarón's 2018 movie Roma) in the process. At the 2020 Oscars, Netflix could be an even bigger player, thanks to forthcoming releases such as Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson.
But Netflix isn't the only game in town. Just almost. Ahead, a list of the best movies of 2019 to stream right now — from Netflix to Amazon to Vudu and beyond.
(Disclosure: Links to retailers may earn money to support our work.)
Alita: Battle Angel (dir. Robert Rodriguez); Metacritic Score: 53
James Cameron isn't King of the World for nothing. The filmmaker's first official screenplay since 2009's Avatar was Alita: Battle Angel, a movie that has no right to be as entertaining, bizarre, and engrossing as it ended up. Credit for that goes to Cameron, who adapted the famed manga series alongside Laeta Kalogridis and turned Alita into a rollicking sci-fi hoot that feels like as close as we'll ever get to another The Fifth Element. Cameron's knack for storytelling and world-building mixes perfectly with director Robert Rodriguez's underdog pluck and savvy with actors. As the title character, Rosa Salazar holds it all together behind her big, visual effects-assisted anime eyes, but it's the exceptionally overqualified supporting cast (including Oscar winners Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Mahershala Ali), who really sell what's happening on screen. This one is a blast. Rent it via numerous digital platforms, including Amazon.
Always Be My Maybe (dir. Nahnatchka Khan); Metacritic Score: 64
The romantic comedy isn't dead, it's just where it belongs: on Netflix. The streaming service reengaged with rom-com fans last summer thanks to Set It Up and To All the Boys I've Loved Before and has doubled down on the formerly lucrative format this year. Films like Someone Great and Perfect Date were perfectly fine, but Always Be My Maybe is what we might call an instant classic of the genre. Written by stars Randall Park and Ali Wong, it's as predictable as any Julia Roberts movie from the '90s but still warm, funny, and totally charming. Props too for having Keanu Reeves play himself in an uproarious send-up of Reeves' movie star persona. Stream now on Netflix.
Avengers: Endgame (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo); Metacritic Score: 78
As it turns out, the biggest movie of all-time is also one of the year's best. Avengers: Endgame was positioned as a celebratory victory lap for Marvel Studios following 22 movies of cinematic universe mishegas. But a funny thing happened on the way to unseating Avatar as the globe's highest-grossing movie: Avengers: Endgame was actually awesome, a pure jolt of popcorn entertainment and a reminder of why audiences fell in love with the mighty heroes created by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner in the first place. Avengers: Endgame brought the Marvel Cinematic Universe full circle, traveled through time and space to replay some of the franchise's greatest hits, and stuck the landing in spectacular fashion. It feels like the cast knew this was a winner too: Downey, in particular, hasn't been this engaged since Iron Man 3 and if anyone deserves a thinly veiled "lifetime-achievement award" in the form of an Oscar nomination, it's him. Give Tony Stark the supporting actor nod he so richly deserves. Rent it via numerous digital platforms, including Amazon.
The Beach Bum (dir. Harmony Korine); Metacritic Score: 55
We're long past the peak of the McConaissance, but that doesn't mean Matthew McConaughey can't still surprise audiences. Take The Beach Bum, which puts McConaughey into full bloom as a stoner ne'er-do-well who stumbles through life to great, unlikely, absurd success. Harmony Korine's long-awaited follow-up to Spring Breakers is similarly Florida set and bathed in neon, but where Spring Breakers went dark, The Beach Bum keeps things relatively light. At least on the surface. Underneath the jokes and weed smoke is a searing satire of male privilege and the notion no one can succeed like a mediocre white man. (It also doubles as a thinly veiled autobiography of Korine himself, whose own issues with drugs and addiction are well documented and who, judging from The Beach Bum, might sometimes feel like an imposter to his own success.) But if the layers don't spark a high, there's still McConaughey, the beachiest beach bum of them all, reaching what might be his final form. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Vudu or stream now with a subscription to Hulu.
Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde); Metacritic Score: 84
A fully formed classic, right out of the box. Booksmart takes the structure and core relationship of Superbad and mixes it with the heart and sincerity of Lady Bird to create a coming-of-age movie that transcends gender and time and finds room to turn Beanie Feldstein into a giant movie star. She gives a god-level performance in Olivia Wilde's teen comedy, paying off what everyone hoped would happen after Feldstein stole scenes in Lady Bird. She's the alpha here and tears the movie to shreds. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Amazon.
High Flying Bird (dir. Steven Soderbergh); Metacritic Score: 77
Time for an oxymoron: Steven Soderbergh has been a Hollywood maverick for decades. How does he stay ahead of the curve while being ensconced as part of the establishment? By gleefully putting up a middle finger to expected decorum. That means while Christopher Nolan is out here championing actual film stock, Soderbergh is making a feature on his iPhone. Literally. The director's latest, Netflix's High Flying Bird, was shot exclusively on the Apple device — and the digital sheen gives Soderbergh's movie both an energy and intimacy film maybe could not. It helps that High Flying Bird is aided by a crackling script from Moonlight Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney and an aces lead performance from André Holland. Picture Michael Clayton but funny and mixed with Billions and NBA free agency. High Flying Bird is relentless entertainment. Stream now on Netflix.
Her Smell (dir. Alex Ross Perry); Metacritic Score: 69
"'People are gonna compare this to Boogie Nights,' but when we're done, people are gonna forget how to even say the words 'Boogie' and 'Nights,'" Robert Greene, director Alex Ross Perry's longtime editor, recalled with a laugh during an interview with Indiewire when asked about his initial thoughts on Her Smell. "We're gonna erase that sh-- from history because of what we're doing!'" Greene and Perry didn't, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Part Paul Thomas Anderson's breakout film on the rise and fall of a '70s porn star, part Raging Bull, part Steve Jobs, part Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Perry's Her Smell is one of 2019's very best films — a sweat-soaked descent into the hell of addiction and the portrait of an artist as a young riot grrl. That's Elisabeth Moss, playing Becky Something, the lead singer of the fictional '90s alt-rock act Something She and a self-destructive force who brings everyone in her orbit down to the murk. Told in five sections (reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin's script for Steve Jobs in the way the film drops into moments in Becky Something's life), Her Smell gives Moss her best film role to date and she cashes in with a transcendent performance that creates both empathy and disgust in equal measure. Rent it via numerous digital platforms, including Amazon.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (dir. Beyoncé); Metacritic Score: N/A
Documenting Beyoncé's now-legendary Coachella performance from 2018, Homecoming is a peek behind her carefully curated curtain. The singer, actress, and icon directed Homecoming and shows her full process in bringing the Coachella performance to the stage after giving birth to twins, Rumi and Sir. Homecoming brushes up against the ceiling of hagiography, but when it comes to Beyoncé, that actually feels warranted. Stream it now on Netflix.
Knock Down the House (dir. Rachel Lears); Metacritic Score: 80
It's not only easy to be cynical about politics in 2019, but it's also essential. How else could one be expected to get out of bed in the morning? So it's pretty impressive that Rachel Lears' documentary about four women who ran for Congress in 2018 is able to burst through that shield of natural distrust; this is more than just Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Movie. Knock Down the House does a great job of showing how all politics are local and reminds viewers that the stuff people actually care about is universal. A note: Political conservatives are encouraged to give this one a try if only to remember that there should be more to life than owning the libs. Stream it now on Netflix.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (dir. Mike Mitchell); Metacritic Score: 65
Make The LEGO Movie 3 a full musical. This is a fun sequel, one with LOTS of ideas about growing up, toxic masculinity, brother-sister relationships, and how to maintain a positive attitude when the world is a burning pile of garbage. But its biggest strength is Will Arnett's Batman, who rules and should probably get a LEGO Batman sequel sooner rather than later. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Amazon.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (dir. Martin Scorsese); Metacritic Score: 86
When legend becomes fact, print the Scorsese. Rolling Thunder Revue is a documentary that toys with the notion of reality, which feels appropriate for a time when a term like "fake news" (which has seen its definition perverted to the point of being fake news) is the president's preferred exclamation. As the title suggests, this is a Bob Dylan "story," one about the singer's famed Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975-1976. Scorsese does the telling here, weaving incendiary and incredible live footage with flights of fancy, including a fake director who sounds like Werner Herzog, a congressman originally created by the late Robert Altman, and Sharon Stone as "herself," in a performance that rivals Keanu Reeves' winking turn in Always Be My Maybe. Even if those narrative flourishes don't work for everyone, Dylan's power as a performer certainly will. What a legend. Stream it now on Netflix.
Shazam! (dir. David Sandberg); Metacritic Score: 70
A stealth reboot of The O.C. disguised as Big with superheroes with grace notes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Man of Steel, Superbad, Spider-Man, The Mummy, Shane Black's Christmas fetish, Jingle All the Way, Chuck, and George Miller's shelved attempt at Justice League, Shazam! is a sum of its many pop culture parts. That it mostly works is a credit to the winning cast (Zachary Levi is very, very good) and devil-may-care pace. The plot barely holds together — certain things happen seemingly with no explanation and characters know things no one has told them? — but with so much bang-snap-pow on the screen at all times, what does it matter? Not as good as either Aquaman or Wonder Woman, but as good as any mid-range Marvel movie (like Thor: Ragnarok). Just put Captain Oats in the sequel, you cowards. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Amazon.
Triple Frontier (dir. J.C. Chandor); Metacritic Score: 61
The road to Triple Frontier was as long, winding, and dangerous as our anti-heroes' escape route following the film's central heist. Back in 2010, Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were set to star in this movie with Kathryn Bigelow as director. That never happened, and neither did versions with Hanks and Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum, Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck, and Mark Wahlberg. Eventually, Ben Affleck came back and joined Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam, and Pedro Pascal for J.C. Chandor's thriller — and what was once a Paramount production became a Netflix film. We're better for that. It's doubtful Chandor would have gotten the budget from a major studio to pull off the kind of movie "they don't make anymore": an adult drama free from intellectual property. On the surface, Triple Frontier is a "dad movie," the kind of band of brothers war heist that fathers fall asleep watching on the couch. But what separates Chandor's film from TNT is the subversive streak: This is a movie that deconstructs America's more interventionist foreign policies and the country's treatment of its veterans, while also finding room for some Metallica. It also features a truly great BenAffleck performance, playing a character on the downside of his peak who must reconcile with being left behind by the changing world around him. I wonder how he connected to the material. Stream it now on Netflix.
Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell); Metacritic Score: 59
Is Under the Silver Lake the year's most misunderstood film? The cinematic equivalent of "retweet does not equal endorsement," David Robert Mitchell's It Follows follow-up focuses on a deeply misogynistic white knight (Andrew Garfield, gleefully playing against type) who falls down a rabbit hole of Easter eggs in pursuit of a deeper meaning to his pop culture. Here's one of his many rants: "Why do we just assume all of this infrastructure and entertainment and open information that is beaming all over the place, all the time, in every single home on the planet is exactly what we are told it is? Maybe there are people who are more important than us, more powerful and wealthier than us, that are communicating things and seeing things in the world that are meant for only them and not for us. I think it's f---ing ridiculous to assume that media has just one purpose, right?" Under the Silver Lake investigates the deeply corrosive effects culture produced by straight white men for straight white men has had on straight white men — all while focusing on a character who treats women as objects because he thinks it's what he deserves. It's no wonder people on all sides of the political spectrum hate this movie. Here's guessing in 10 years, it will be remembered as one of this era's Rosetta Stones. Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.
Us (dir. Jordan Peele); Metacritic Score: 81
Jordan Peele reinvigorated the Twilight Zone brand on CBS All Access this year (sign up for the service here; TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation), but his greatest contribution to the venerable allegorical series might be Us. This is a Twilight Zone episode come to screen life, filled with huge ideas about American identity and the country's class structure. It's also one helluva good time, anchored by two Lupita Nyong'o performances that stand together as the year's best acting work (seriously, give her another Oscar already). Us is scary, fun, and scary fun — a dangerous blank check movie that only someone coming off the industry-changing success of Get Out could get made. On screen, 2019 has failed spectacularly when compared to the operatic heights of 1999 — except for Peele's instant classic, which feels ripped out of 20 years ago in the best way possible. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Vudu.