Home Latest News The 21 best movies to watch on Hulu – Polygon

The 21 best movies to watch on Hulu – Polygon

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From anime classics and hard-hitting action to moving romances and taut thrillers
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Though it may not garner the same level of attention as Netflix or HBO, Hulu is home to a wealth of options when it comes to its breadth of critically-acclaimed new releases and classic movies. If you’ve popped open the streamer on your TV or computer, you’ve probably scrolled for a couple of minutes before asking yourself: how can I find the best movies to stream on Hulu? The answer is simple: right here.
From classics like Akira and The Princess Bride to modern marvels like A Portrait of a Lady on Fire and If Beale Street Could Talk, we’ve pulled together a list of 21 of the best movies currently streaming on Hulu. The selections run the gamut of genres, from horror movies and erotic thrillers to comedies, action movies, romances, and heartfelt dramas. Our hope is anybody visiting this list is going to find something they like.
We’ll continue updating this list as new releases come to the platform, so feel free to check back next month to see what new recommendations we have in store.
Let’s just cut to the chase here: Akira unambiguously slaps, full stop. Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic, adapted from his influential manga series of the same name, is a certified “must-see” film for any discerning anime fan. The story of biker gang ne’er-do-well Kaneda and his best-friend-turned-psychic powered nemesis Tetsuo has loomed unconquerably vast over the collective imagination of Japanese pop culture in the decades since the film’s release. Japan was even originally planning on organizing the 2020 Olympic Games around Akira’s iconic visuals (until COVID-19 happened). With a live-action Hollywood adaptation perpetually ensnared in production hell and a new Akira anime series currently in development, now’s as perfect a time as any to either revisit or experience for the first time one of the most indelible touchstones of anime cinema ever produced. —Toussaint Egan
Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight sees Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine; the French-American couple who met on a train in Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise. Set nine years after rekindling their relationship in 2004’s Before Sunset, the film follows the now-married parents of two daughters while vacationing in the Greek Peloponnese peninsula with their children. Over the course of their day, Celine and Jesse begin to consider the choices they made throughout their lives, ruminating over the nature of love and its relationship to time. Elevated by masterful performances, beautiful cinematography, and subtle moments that land with tremendous emotional weight, Before Midnight is the capstone to one of the most remarkable cinematic trilogies ever conceived and a magnificent film all its own. —TE
Few filmmakers have made a name for themselves violently confronting the nigh-puritanical state of modern cinema the way Paul Verhoeven has. His signature style is all about doing the most when it comes to depicitions of sex and violence, marrying gratuitous aesthetics to uncommon thoughtfulness. Benedetta, his first film since 2016’s acclaimed thriller Elle, is perhaps the most openly provocative movie of 2021, and maybe of Verhoeven’s filmography as well.
The story is set in 17th-century Italy, where the nun Benedetta (Virginie Efira) has felt the touch of the supernatural in her life since childhood. A belief that God speaks to her has been continually reaffirmed by small miracles that spared her and her family in childhood, leading her family to commit her life to God and send her to a convent. When she comes of age, her daily life in the convent is upended by the arrival of Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), as they begin a secret love affair. At about the same time, her visions take an erotic turn, and her sexual awakening is entangled in a spiritual one.
Some may find Benedetta too exploitative to take seriously. That criticism has its merits: The movie’s lasciviousness can be read as being meant for the camera as much as it is for the characters. Its queerness can come across as something purely meant to titillate straight men. But in the context of the rigid confines of Catholicism at the peak of its powers, Verhoeven’s argument for Benedetta’s extremes is compelling. He presses the sacred against the profane, and brings the religious denial of the human experience into question. —Joshua Rivera
Adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s highly acclaimed manga, Blade of the Immortal stars Takuya Kimura as Manji, a ruthless swordsman who wanders the countryside of feudal Japan on a quest to kill enough “evil” men in order to undo the curse that renders him immortal, yet still susceptible to injury and pain. Enlisted by Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), an orphaned teenager whose family was slaughtered by a villainous band of sword fighters to be her bodyguard, Manji swears to protect her on her own quest for vengeance with the hopes that her vendetta will eventually set him free. Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer) is the perfect director to tackle this material, rendering Manji’s many mutilations at the hands of his opponents with gleeful physical humor, gory detail, and stylish grace as he and Rin cut a bloody swath through their adversaries. —TE
Set in an alternate 2010 where the outlying neighborhoods of Paris have been surrounded by fortified walls and abandoned to crime lords, the 2004 parkour action film District B13 follows Leïto (David Belle), an athletic ex-thug who must work with an undercover cop (Cyril Raffaelli) to infiltrate his old neighborhood and recover a compromised neutron bomb from a deadly crime boss before it explodes and save his sister. While written and produced by Luc Besson (Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element), the plot and writing aren’t really anything to write home about. It’s the fast action, breathless chase scenes, and explosive gunfights that make District B13 an absolute must-watch, with professional stunt choreographer and Parkour pioneer Belle deftly eluding pursuers while weaving through concrete compounds with the raw athleticism and on-the-fly creativity one would expect from Jackie Chan or Bugs Bunny. —TE
Jesse V. Johnson is one of the best filmmakers working in the direct-to-video action space today, and his latest film Hell Hath No Fury is one of the high points of his prolific career. Marie DuJardin (Nina Bergman), a French woman, has been marked as a traitor for her relationship with a Nazi officer (Daniel Bernhardt). As World War II comes to a close and Marie’s place in the future French society is uncertain, she is rescued by a group of American soldiers on one condition: she must reveal the location of a secret stash of Nazi gold and lead the group there.
What follows is a gripping, tense thriller almost entirely set in a cemetery, with a palpable air of uncertainty throwing everything you think you know into question. Bergman is excellent in a complicated, layered role, and Bernhadt brings an uncanny combination of menace and charm in one of the richest roles he’s had the opportunity to play. There are no heroes in this story, only survivors. —PV
Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight is this tender adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Set in Harlem in the early 1970s, the film follows young Black couple Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) who are simply trying to live their lives: apartment hunting, dealing with squabbling families with a child on the way, and looking towards the future. When Fonny is arrested for a crime he could not have possibly committed, their lives are thrown into turmoil. Featuring terrific supporting performances from an all-star cast including Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Aunjanue Ellis and Brian Tyree Henry, Beale Street is an instant masterpiece with a transcendent score to match. —PV
Martin Scorsese’s 1982 follow-up to Raging Bull was this dark comedy starring Robert De Niro as Rubert Pupkin, an aspiring stand-up comedian who meets famous late night talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and becomes obsessed with him. Pupkin launches a plan to kidnap Langford in order to get air time on his show. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly go as planned. De Niro and Lewis are both terrific in their respectively unhinged roles, as is Sandra Bernhard as Masha, who helps Pupkin with his twisted plan. The movie was also a major influence on 2019’s Joker (if it weren’t obvious from the plot description, De Niro basically plays Lewis’s character in that movie), but in my estimation is significantly, significantly better. Whether that makes one more or less likely to check this out depends on the viewer. —PV
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette) as Justine, a young bride-to-be who experiences a depressive episode on the eve of her wedding. When a rogue planet known as Melancholia appears hurtling towards Earth on a crash-collision course, Justine’s sister Claire struggles to maintain composure in the face of imminent disaster, while Justine navigates a strange euphoric resignation that washes over her in the planet’s last days. Melancholia is an achingly beautiful, somber, and harrowing journey through depression and ennui and one of von Trier’s finest films to date. —TE
Before Parasite, before Snowpiercer, even before The Host, Bong Joon-ho burst onto the scene with Memories of Murder. Loosely based on the true story of the first confirmed serial murders in Korea, Bong’s second feature film won dozens of Korean film awards, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Song Kang-ho) at the 2003 Grand Bell Awards. Song plays Park Doo-man, the overmatched local detective in charge of solving a spree of violent crimes. His methods clash with Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), a younger detective from Seoul who volunteers to help with the case. Memories of Murder is a haunting film that stands as one of the great serial-killer mysteries and detective thrillers of this century. —PV
This 2018 documentary about three young men in Rockford, Illinois is a heartfelt, thoughtful meditation on masculinity in America. A confident debut by filmmaker Bing Liu, the movie follows Liu and his friends as they grow from a group of skateboarding-obsessed teens to troubled young adults. Filmed over the course of 12 years, it’s an impressive and powerful work filled with the moments of joy and anguish that make up life. Content warning: the movie deals explicitly with domestic violence. —PV
While frequently compared to 2014’s John Wick when it was first announced, Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is anything but a hyper-violent revenge thriller. Instead, the story of a former chef-turned-truffle hunter and his single-minded quest to recover his stolen pig is a highly affecting drama, replete in moments of stunning vulnerability and grace as quietly unassuming as they are powerfully devastating. Nicolas Cage delivers an all-time career best performance as Rob; the aforementioned truffle farmer whose beleaguered appearance and world-weary tone belies a lifetime of regrets and loss. —TE
I wish I could watch this movie again for the first time, but I’ll settle for watching it over and over. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is absolutely exquisite, gorgeous, and cheeky — telling the tale of a woman hired to paint the portrait of another, for the sake of sending to a potential suitor. Of course, the two fall for each other — over the course of thorny portrait sessions, coastal walks, discussions of Eurydice and the nature of art and memory. The quiet longing! The marvel of seeing desire fulfilled! Finally, a period piece about queer women that is firmly rooted in the female gaze, and one that does not fixate on the tragedy of separation but in the joy of passion, intimacy, and companionship. The placement of that mirror! (If you know, you know.) The filmmaking is crisp, considered, and full of life — the slow burn made me consider both the nature of seeing and being seen; and what it means to make intentional choices about how that impression of love is preserved, even as memory erodes all. —Nicole Clark
Brandon Cronenberg takes a page out of his father’s playbook with the sci-fi psychological horror film Possessor. Andrea Riseborough (Birdman) plays Tasya Vos, an assassin who infiltrates the minds of her target through a machine that inserts her consciousness into their own. When her latest target (Christopher Abbot) begins to resist Tasya’s conditioning, the two consciousness battle with one another as she desperately attempts to fulfill her mission and return to her own body. As sleek as it is grotesque, cerebral as it is visceral, Possessor is a stylish and unnerving body-horror nightmare well worth experiencing. —TE
The Princess Bride has it all: swashbucklers, epic adventures, incredibly quotable humor, Cary Elwes, and a lovely romance that ties it all together. It’s a fairytale fantasy that plays with familiar tropes and breathes new life into them, a parody born out of love. The amount of pop culture references and quotes birthed from this movie is frankly inconceivable.
Yes, it is funny, but the heart of The Princess Bride is the swoon-worthy romance between Buttercup and Wesley. The loyalty, the dedication, the reconnection, the devotion — as you wish, indeed. Witty, funny, and deeply romantic, The Princess Bride is a fun fantasy romp with a very sweet framing device of a grandfather reading his grandson a bedtime story, which preserves the narrative of the William Goldman book a little better than a straightforward adaptation. —Petrana Radulovic
The follow-up to the smash (and we do mean smash) 2011 hit The Raid, Gareth Evans’ 2014 sequel packs a heavy punch as well — plus some hammers. Set just after the events of the first movie, Rama (Iko Uwais, reprising his lead role) goes undercover to expose corruption in Jakarta’s police. This involves getting himself sent to prison, surviving a prison riot, and ingratiating himself to members of the Jakarta underworld. Filled with high-octane action sequences, plenty of gore, and jaw-dropping displays of the Indonesian martial art pencak silat, fans of The Raid should also check out the second iteration. —PV
After the tragic death of his wife in a train accident, soldier Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) is surprised to meet mathematician Otto at his doorstop. Otto is working on an algorithm that he claims can predict the future, and he tells Markus his wife’s death was no accident. Welcoming the opportunity to make sense of tragedy, Markus joins Otto and his friends on a quest to get to the bottom of things. Riders of Justice subverts the traditional expectations of revenge thrillers in ways I will not spoil. With great performances by Mikkelsen and the crew of math nerds that accompany him (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, and Nicolas Bro) and a deft balance between action and comedic beats, Riders of Justice is one of the finest movies of 2021. —PV
Pablo Larraín’s (Jackie) latest film takes a different angle at a biopic of a woman in the public eye: instead of attempting to tell the story of her life, it focuses in on one horrible weekend. Kristen Stewart’s incredible performance as the near-mythic Princess Diana grounds the now larger-than-life figure with an incredibly human and raw portrayal. Seamlessly blending in horror aesthetics to heighten the anxiety-provoking atmosphere of a weekend getaway with the Royal Family, Larraín and Stewart both manage to evoke the feelings of being surrounded, being perceived at all times, and of standing out while also being completely ignored. —PV
A satirical adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel of the same name, Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 biting sci-fi film Starship Troopers takes place in a far off future where the Federation, a fascistic military organization that rules the Earth through a planet-wide system of mandatory conscription, instigates a full-scale war against a fearsome race of giant alien insects. Though derided when it first released, the film has since experienced a reappraisal in the decades since to such a point that it’s now championed as one of the best and most perceptive science-fiction films of its era. Would you like to know more? —TE
The late Tony Scott’s last film is one of his very best, a working-class drama with a lot of thrilling action and even more heart. Denzel Washington stars as Frank Barnes, a veteran railroad engineer who begrudgingly has to train Will Colson (Chris Pine), a newly hired young train conductor. When a runaway train threatens an entire Pennsylvania town, the two have to work together to stop it, against all odds. Washington and Pine are superb in a complicated working dynamic, with Pine representing a younger class of worker unknowingly pushing Washington’s older group out of jobs. An exciting 98-minute thrill ride, Unstoppable is loosely based on a true story. —PV
Damien Chazelle delivers a remarkable ode to the uneasy relationship between obsession, talent, and so-called “greatness” with the 2014 drama Whiplash. The film follows Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), an ambitious jazz drummer whose natural aptitude makes him the target of Fletcher (JK Simmons), a ruthlessly exacting bandleader who will accept nothing less than perfection. The ever-escalating antagonism at the heart of Neiman and Fletcher’s mentor-mentee relationship draws the audience in like a vortex, culminating in a climactic performance that will leave viewers to wonder whether or not everything the former went through was worth it. —TE
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