The streaming wars seem destined to rage on for the foreseeable future, which is great news for cinephiles eager to expand their horizons. Hulu, once merely a repository for network television, now features a robust library of films to choose from. As with any catalog, however, Sturgeon’s Law still applies, and it might seem difficult to find the real gems housed within Hulu’s massive library. But we’ve got you covered. Our carefully curated list is a one-stop guide to the best movies on Hulu. So turn on your favorite streaming device, have Alexa dim the lights, and let the credits roll.
This list is continually updated to reflect recent Hulu offerings, as films are frequently added and removed.
Darren Aronofsky has made a number of controversial movies, but none has been so polarizing as 2017’s Mother! — a film that had critics and filmgoers dividing into camps based on whether they thought the film was a brilliant biblical parable or a trainwreck carrying some neat ideas. The film begins with a married couple, known only as Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), living in a secluded house. Him is a poet, trying to compose his next work, and Mother tends the house. Their life seems routine, until Man (Ed Harris) arrives, eager to meet Him, and takes up residence in their house. Soon, Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), comes as well, and then more strangers follow in her wake. As their house swells with uninvited guests, Mother struggles to maintain her composure. As that relatively simple explanation of the premise might suggest, Mother! is a strange film, an increasingly tense, frightening drama that makes heavy use of allegory.
‘The Elephant Man’
David Lynch’s second feature film, 1980’s The Elephant Man, is a remarkably straightforward film in the director’s surreal oeuvre, a film distinct for its lack of strangeness. The film tells the story of Joseph Merrick (John Hurt), a man afflicted with severe deformities throughout his body. A surgeon named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) finds Merrick while visiting a freak show in Victorian London, and takes him to London Hospital. As Treves gets to know Merrick, he finds him to be an intelligent, soulful man, and Merrick soon attracts visitors from London’s upper classes. Although Lynch is associated with the nightmarish visuals and mercurial plots of films like Mulholland Drive, The Elephant Man employs a light touch, letting Merrick’s quest for dignity, and the stellar performances by Hurt and Hopkins, stand center stage.
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise was an unlikely film to spawn a trilogy, focusing as it does on one mundane, emotional night between two lovers. With the sequels, however, Linklater — and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — have crafted a remarkable, decades-long tale of love and aging. The third film, Before Midnight, opens nine years after Before Sunset, with Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) married, traveling Greece with their two daughters. It’s an idyllic setting, and as in the first two films, Jesse and Celine spend much of the film talking, with themselves and others, about subjects great and small. Unlike the first two films, however, Before Midnight is no longer about two people deciding to be together; they already are, and the film explores the sacrifices and impositions required of their marriage, and the passage of time. Jesse mourns his relationship with his American son, whom he rarely sees, while Celine wonders if her career has any meaning. Shot in Linklater’s restrained style, letting the characters and dialogue take center stage, Before Midnight is an honest exploration of what it means to grow old with someone else.
Tonya Harding is one of the most notorious figures in sports history. Once a shining star in the world of figure skating, she transformed into a villain after her ex-husband and bodyguard conspired to injure her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), a conspiracy many believed Harding had a hand in. I, Tonya follows Harding (Margot Robbie) from her sad childhood to her rise as a figure skater, to her eventual fall.
What elevates the film above most biopics, however, is its willingness to play with reality; I, Tonya filters events through the perspectives of its characters, leaving the audience questioning whether Harding is simply a misunderstood person with some flaws, or a devious villain. Robbie’s standout performance — and that of Allison Janney, who plays Harding’s mother — is simply the foundation that supports the entire endeavor.
Film scholar Kogonada has spent years crafting beautiful film essays on some of cinema’s greatest directors, so it should come as no surprise that Columbus, his directorial debut, shows a keen focus on composition, how people and things fit within the frame of every shot. The film isn’t just a showcase for his skill with a camera, however; it also tells an emotional story about two kindred spirits who meet by chance. Jin (John Cho), an American living in Korea, returns to the U.S. (Columbus, Indiana, specifically) after his father falls into a coma. Jin meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young, aspiring architect, who is languishing in Columbus, taking care of her mother. The two explore the town together, discussing their love of architecture and their own pasts.
Martin Scorsese spent decades trying to make his adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s classic novel; in a sense, Scorsese was not unlike the film’s protagonist, stumbling through hardships without any promise of success in the end. Set in the 17th century, Silence follows two priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), who venture to Japan in search of their mentor, Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who renounced his faith after enduring torture. The shogunate has outlawed Christianity, and the priests must seek out rare, hidden enclaves of Japanese Christians while evading samurai enforcers and witnessing atrocities committed against the Christian villagers. Measured, contemplative, and beautifully shot, even in moments of violence, Silence is a tremendous experience.
In the Ozark Mountains, teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her family in a spartan existence. Her mother is mentally ill and her father is a meth dealer, which leaves Ree to look after her young two siblings. One day, the sheriff comes to their ramshackle house, informing Ree that her father skipped bail, in exchange for which he put up their house. If she doesn’t find him in a week, the state will evict the family. So Ree sets off on a quest to find her father, a journey that will take her through desolate landscapes, occupied by people who would prefer to maintain silence and secrecy. Although many films about rural America treat their subjects with scorn or fear, Winter’s Bone presents them as people, flawed like any others, whose attitudes are tied inextricably to the land where they live.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the classic play Fences, by August Wilson, is a well-crafted drama built around powerful performances. The movie follows a man named Troy Maxson (Washington). Troy works as a trash collector in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is an angry man; he grew up in poor circumstances, and managed to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, but never made it to the majors due to segregation. He nurses grudges against the world and everyone in it, including his family. Fences is a focused character study, examining how his anger eats away at his relationships.