The 26 Best Indie Movies on Netflix to Watch Right Now

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'Lady Bird' / A24

With wintertime here, that can only mean one thing: Indoor movie season. As the weather gets colder and people are forced inside yet again, it’s time to kick back and stream some classics. HBO Max may be putting out all of Warner Bros' blockbuster films throughout 2021, 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 chop full of quality films everyone should watch.

The phrase "independent film" may conjure up artsy images for some people, but these films can range 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 career cutting their teeth with independent filmmaking, so mining the indie classics is definitely a must for anyone wannabe film buffs. Check out a rundown of the 25 best independent movies currently available to watch on Netflix!

1. ‘The Florida Project’ (2017)

Disney World doesn’t look like the happiest place on Earth from outside the gates. The Florida Project, set in the motel-jammed suburbs outside Orlando, follows Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year old girl, and her young, party-loving mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), two people who are part of a community of individuals living in these motels. The motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), is constantly pushing them for their rent and making sure that Halley is actually able to watch Moonee. No matter how difficult and desperate life may be, kids will be kids, and The Florida Project shows how important connection and just being silly kids with other kids truly is for their social well-being. Incredibly humanizing and deeply touching, the film knows how to make the audience care for a character and empathize with their deepest struggles.

Not only is it one of the best movies on Netflix period, but The Florida Project was actually my favorite movie of 2017 and earned Dafoe a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.

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2. ‘Fargo’ (1996)

When the small town of Fargo, North Dakota, is rocked by murder, everything falls to Officer Marge Gunderson to figure things out. Fargo, written and directed by the Coen brothers, is an incredibly dark film that tracks one bad decision’s grim repercussions, but it’s also packed full of laughs and heart. The film has an incredible ensemble, including William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Still, lead Frances McDormand, who won the best actress Academy Award for her work, carries the clever movie on her back and shines every time she’s on-screen.

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3. ‘Moonlight’ (2016)

Most people likely know Moonlight for its dramatic, last-second win for best picture over La La Land at the 2017 Oscars, but it is truly one of the best movies made in years. A coming of age tale about one man, Moonlight follows how societal and personal pressures impact Chiron from the time he is a small, powerless child all the way up to his days as a drug dealer who still hides from his own emotions. Director Barry Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney complement each other in every way here as the beautiful and painful story comes through in every shot.

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4. ‘Roma’ (2018)

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.

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5. ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007)

Oil. Greed. Faith. Those are some of the defining factors of the American West during the late 19th century and writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson perfectly encapsulated all of them with There Will be Blood, an epic story that borrows from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a ruthless business/oilman who is overseeing the building of a new series of wells on a property. Nothing, not fatal accidents nor the charismatic church leader Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), can stop this ruthless capitalist from coming out on top and draining the resources from his newly acquired land.

There are countless reasons to watch this film, but the most basic and essential one is Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance. The method actor truly loses himself in the role, throwing himself into every line and commanding total respect from everyone around him in each scene.

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6. ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014)

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.

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7. ‘Lady Bird’ (2018)

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who gives herself the name Lady Bird, doesn’t quite fit into her hometown of Sacramento. Set in 2002, Lady Bird follows the titular star as she maneuvers through senior year in high school and a tense, overbearing relationship with her mother. A nostalgic story about perspective and appreciating the important things in life, Lady Bird is one of the best movies of the 20th century and establishes writer/director Greta Gerwig as one of the strongest voices currently working in Hollywood.

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8. ‘Fruitvale Station’ (2013)

Director Ryan Coogler is used to working with iconic fictional characters, but for his first feature film, he told the tragic story of former Oakland resident Oscar Grant. Portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, the film follows Grant on New Year's Eve in 2009, and everything he did that day before having an interaction with a BART transit officer cost him his life.

Touching and still far too relevant today, Fruitvale Station is a must-watch. Coogler and Jordan work so well together that the director has relied on him to fill prominent roles in both of his follow up features, Creed and Black Panther.

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9. ‘Hunt for the Wilder People’ (2016)

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.

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10. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004)

When most people hear Jim Carrey’s name, they probably imagine silly classics like Ace Ventura or The Mask, but there’s a whole other world of extremely dramatic, emotionally intelligent Jim Carrey movies out there. The strongest of the pack is certainly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a heart-wrenching film about how hard it can be to let go of past love. Joel Barrish (Carrey) meets Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) on a train, or so he thinks, and the two of them quickly develop a passionate relationship.

From the mind of writer Charlie Kauffman, this “romance film” focuses on the mental ramifications of going through a procedure that actually lets someone physically remove an individual from all of their memories.

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11. ‘Good Time’ (2017)

The world may be falling apart, but if for some reason you want to add some more stress to your night, Good Time is the movie for you. Directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, Good Time is a dark, insanely fast-paced movie about a crime-filled night gone wrong.

Starring Robert Pattinson as Connie Nikas, a protective yet ultimately bad influence over his mentally challenged brother Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie), the film immediately descends into utter chaos once Connie robs a bank, and it never slows down. Extremely memorable and uncomfortable all at once, this is the film to watch for anyone worried about Pattinson being the next Batman.

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12. ‘Swiss Army Man’ (2016)

What happens when you shove Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe on a deserted island? A lot of farting.

Hank Thompson (Dano) is about to end it all before he notices what looks like a dead body in the water. The man (Radcliffe) is far from dead though, as it is slowly revealed that he has the ability to do… well just about anything. Swiss Army Man is a strange, touching tale about finding friendship and connection that is chop full of silly, immature humor and touching moments.

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13. ‘Blue Ruin’ (2013)

After his parents were murdered, Dwight Evans’ (Macon Blair) life went adrift. Years later, as Evans is essentially homeless, he is told that the man who killed his parents is being released from prison. Overwhelmed with grief and anger at the world, Evans decides to enact his own form of personal revenge on the man who ruined his family’s life. Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier has an uncanny ability to draw a scene out and produce an uncomfortable amount of tension, so if anyone is ready for their adrenaline to spike this is the movie to watch.

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14. ‘Free Fire’ (2017)

A group of people, some wanting to buy guns and some ready to sell them, all end up in a giant warehouse together. The only problem is, some of these people recently had some run-ins with folks on the other side and things go off the rails QUICKLY. Free Fire, directed by Ben Wheatley, is an explosively fast-paced romp that is both hilarious and incredibly tense. This ensemble, including Armie Hammer and Brie Larson, is packed to the brim with talent and every member gets a moment to shine in this batshit crazy comedy.

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15. ‘American Honey’ (2016)

A beat movie for the modern generation, American Honey follows Star (Sasha Lane ) as she wanders across the country and tries to make some money. She quickly links up with another group of young people who claim to sell magazine door-to-door and finds herself in a strange, exciting relationship with one of the men in the group, Jake (Shia LaBeouf). An extremely introspective movie filled with loss and adolescent wonderment, writer/director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a must-see for anyone ready to be shocked and emotionally wowed

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16. ‘A Single Man’ (2009)

Set in 1962, A Single Man follows George Falconer (Colin Firth) as he reels from the loss of his partner eight months earlier. George is a University Professor, trying his best to present a cool, level headed presentation of himself to the world, but his emotions and needs slowly lash out as he forms unique, risky relationships and spends time with his equally miserable and confused best friend Charley (Julianne Moore). Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, the film is directed and co-written by Tom Ford and is an incredibly impactful film about how grief and depression impact people.

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17. ‘Being John Malkovich’ (1999)

It’s tough being an actor, but it’s even tougher being John Malkovich. Another Charlie Kaufman concept, Being John Malkovich sees puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) discover a mystical door at his work that leads directly inside Malkovich’s brain.

After 15 minutes, anyone who enters the door is randomly dropped next to a highway, but their time experiencing and controlling life as the actor changes their perspective on things. A deep conversation about self and personal fulfillment, Being John Malkovich is an incredibly unique film that everyone needs to see.

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18. ‘20th Century Women’ (2016)

An A24 film about what can constitute a family, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning), an older, single mother who is trying to raise her young son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and run a boarding house. Set in 1979, Fields turns to some young women to help Jamie get a new perspective and have some exciting experiences during this change-filled era. Directed and written by Mike Mills, 20th Century Women is a touching film about masculinity and change that is both silly and emotionally heavy. 

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19. ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981)

Five college kids vacation at an old cabin in the woods, and upon reading an old book spirits start to haunt them down one by one. Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), the survivor of the group, is forced to watch in horror and do everything he can to survive. Sounds like a classic B-Movie, but The Evil Dead, written and directed by Sam Raimi, is an exciting romp that shows just how creative the physical-effects loving filmmaker can be. Over the top and borderline hammy in all the best ways, the film is still exceptionally spooky and lays the foundation for Raimi and Ash himself to both establish themselves as horror icons.

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20. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012)

Life is hard for everyone, but nothing is more awkward and uncomfortable than the middle school/early high school phase. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on Stephen Chobsky’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, is a charming tale about Charlie’s freshman year of high school in a brand new city. An introspective story about breaking your own personal boundaries, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has an incredibly talented ensemble and may feature the most emotionally impactful use of a David Bowie song in any movie.

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21. ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (1986)

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.

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22. ‘The Death of Stalin’ (2018)

The death of a state’s leader usually isn’t a laughing matter, but when Armando Iannucci, co-creator of political satires like Veep and The Thick of It, is part of the equation that’s definitely not the case. An adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name, the film tracks the bureaucratic madness and infighting that occurred in the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. An absurdly silly movie for how much it talks about torture and methods of controlling citizens, Death of Stalin is so casually funny it doesn’t even make its fantastic ensemble do fake accents to match the setting.

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23. ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (2017)

After collaborating on The Lobster, director X and Colin Farrell reteamed for The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Gripping and tense, the film follows Steven Murphy (Farrell), a surgeon who befriends a young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan). What first looks like a cordial relationship becomes increasingly deranged as Martin embeds himself into the Murphy family and reveals his dark connection with Steven. Dark and disorienting, the film excels at making the audience feel Steven’s confusion and dismay as he tries to get a grip on the terrible, unexplainable things happening to him and his family.

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24. ‘The Master’ (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the closest things to a blockbuster arthouse director Hollywood has, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that another of his films makes this list. The Master presents audiences with a distorted version of Scientology but an emotionally real story about how cults emotionally use people.

The story and the character’s manipulations of one another are all interesting and engaging, but what really holds the film together is the fantastic ensemble. Cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and wandering veteran Freddie Quill (Joaquin Phoenix) are presented as the film’s oppositely charged co-leads, but it’s really Amy Adams' performance as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster’s assertive wife, and right-hand-partner, that is the most impactful. Either way, the audience is the real winner here as the three performers all turned in some of the best work of their careers and were all rewarded with Oscar nominations.

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25. ‘Uncut Gems’ (2019)

At this point, if it isn’t clear to you that A24 is the new powerhouse of independent cinema, nothing will convince you. The Safdie brothers' fascination with crime resurfaces with Uncut Gems, an adrenaline-filled ride through New York City’s diamond district. Featuring a fantastic performance from Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, Uncut Gems is a raw look at gambling addictions and how one’s emotional descent can quickly lead to dangerous decision making. If you’re a fan of crime movies or basketball star Kevin Garnett, this is a must-watch.

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26. ‘What Did Jack Do” (2017)

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.

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