As if you needed another excuse to watch more Netflix. But here are 12 essential films & TV series that aspiring screen actors have to check out! In this article, we take a look at our favourites from Netflix and explain why they should be on your watch list as an actor.
Note: not all of these are available in all locations around the world.
#1 Marriage Story
For anyone who has experienced a breakup, this movie will sting. It is one of the rawest depictions of love, loss, and divorce I have ever seen on screen. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are masterful, and the supporting cast is arguably even more impressive. Laura Dern won best supporting actor for her role in it. A great watch for those of you working on raw, emotional, and dramatic pieces. Adam and Scarlett are unrelenting in their pursuit of high stakes, but never drift into overacting, and present an eerily truthful relationship.
#2 Uncut Gems
This movie is (pun fully intended) a gem. Growing up on ridiculous Adam Sandler movies, I thought he was saved for nostalgic trips into my teens, not into award-winning dramatic roles. This is one of the most chaotic, gripping films I have seen in a while. Adam’s presence on screen is captivating and I think it’s a must-watch for all actors. It’s also inspiring to see an actor, known for one particular brand of comedy, switch into a role like this. It’s transformative and great for any of you working on big characters at the moment.
#3 The Crown
You probably didn’t need this recommendation, because who hasn’t watched this show by now! However, for anyone who has yet to pour themselves a nice cup of tea and watch this modern classic, it’s time. Whenever a big production comes to the U.K., they seriously step up. I mean come on: Oliva Colman, Claire Foy, and Helen Bonham Carter.
#4 Drinking Buddies
This film takes four strong actors and throws them into a weekend-long double date at a lakehouse. The actors were asked to improvise their dialogue and use these improvisations to determine where the story went next. It is a brilliant example of allowing the performers, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston, to have full autonomy over their narrative. It’s intriguing to see them inhabit their characters, and examine how this approach affects the overall pace and tone of the narrative. Director Joe Swanberg usually works with first-time, emerging actors. This is an experiment in celebrity; we’re seeing how actors’ off-screen personas can influence their onscreen personas when acting in a naturalistic style.
#5 The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit was the show to watch amidst the binge-watching pandemic frenzy in early 2021. And for good reason! Anya Taylor-Joy is captivating and gives an incredible performance as chess genius, Beth Harman. This is a masterclass of acting with your eyes, and inner monologue work. The show is centred around Chess: something we wouldn’t have expected to be a riveting viewing experience, but it totally is.
#6 Black Mirror
This is one of the most ominous, gripping shows of the last few years and each episode leaves a haunting impression on the viewer. It’s a masterclass in creating suspense and playing under extreme circumstances. This dark glimpse into the future also shows the power of modern storytelling to affect change, something we sometimes undervalue in the modern binge-watching culture.
The dry humour of this British classic highlights the importance of trusting your script. What affords this show it’s outrageousness is the actors’ ability to play it straight. By paying attention to the inner life of your character, making them believable first, and playing the scene for laughs later, the awkwardness and ugliness of the characters really shine through. Especially in comedy, it is a character’s flaws and the actor’s commitment to being a truly scummy version of themselves that really draws us to a performance.
#8 The Incredible Jessica James
Jessica Williams elevates this rom-com to undeserving heights. If you’re looking for a lesson in how to literally lead a film, this is a great example, but an isolated example. Most romantic comedies rely on a great hook that detracts from the importance of the actor (think 500 Days of Summer), or a whole ensemble of pure charisma (like, Crazy Stupid Love). But in The Incredible Jessica James it is clear that the genre relies entirely on the top billed actor. The charm and charisma that makes a rom-com endlessly re-watchable is, in this instance, provided entirely by the captivating Williams.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney show the art of simplicity in Ozark. Sometimes as actors we get caught up in “creating characters” and, especially on film, it can be overbearing. This strong ensemble of actors demonstrates the power of strong, simple acting choices. Ozark is dark, brooding and yet still has plenty of heart. The show is in the vein of Breaking Bad, and follows the journey of family man/money launderer Jason Bateman. It it’s an easy and enjoyable binge watch.
#10 Please Like Me
We couldn’t help adding in a local recommendation. This Aussie gem is a masterclass in naturalism and vulnerability. Josh Thomas has helmed a show that represents some pretty extreme characters but still manages to show them as more than stereotypes or caricatures. Watch for the beautiful moments of being in relationship and the dynamics between mothers and sons. Close friends, lovers, crushes, and exes bring out the worst and the rawest in these personalities. More often than not, the scenes are written sparingly, and the actors performance is what delivers the scene. Emotional dialogue is more rare than conversational dialogue, yet the show covers some deeply relatable themes of sexuality, mental health, existentialism and young love.
#11 Schitt’s Creek
Comedy is continually evolving and changing, but the principles of good comedy will never die. This show is a testament to the power of great character work and solid storytelling. It’s a simple classic comedy that reminds us of how fundamental comedy acting must be. Schitt’s Creek is a show that seems to have resonated widely across a number of demographics and shows the power of simplicity. The show was produced by father and son combo Eugene and Dan Levy, and is the shining light of the “create your own work” movement. Yes, Eugene Levy is a very successful actor, but this show was no walk in the park to create and is not a big-budget undertaking.
#12 Bojack Horseman
‘But this is an animated show’ I hear you wailing from the back! Well, yes. But it is just so good. As actors, understanding story, and becoming great storytellers is essential. This show does that so well. It manages, even through the facade of animation, to create the most palpable and raw performances. It’s also a voice-over masterclass, which is an area of the industry I encourage all actors to explore.
How do I get on Netflix?
Watching these shows is going to have your inner actor salivating for an audition. Well, though this is no easy feat, we have put together a comprehensive guide how to land an audition for a Netflix show.
Well, there you go, permission to binge. Enjoy!