When it comes to deciding what you want to stream next on a service like Netflix, the staggering amount of content on offer can be both a blessing and a source of frustration. With an endless amount of Netflix series and movies to watch — including both original and licensed titles — you’ll never want for lack of selection. The issue is finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, something that the huge selection of content makes a challenge.
Inevitably, that means there’s plenty of quality fare on Netflix, both series and movies, that can slip through the cracks and escape people’s attention. Some of those titles, though, are exactly what we’re going to spend some time walking through in this post.
Netflix hidden gems to check out (TV series)
First up, on the TV side of the app, we’ve got 9 hidden-gem Netflix series to check out, many of which are international releases that didn’t necessarily make a huge splash with American audiences. Below, you’ll find everything from docuseries to dramas, comedies, and much more.
Stars include: David Stakston, Herman Tømmeraas, and Theresa Frostad Eggesbø
Summary: In this series’ fictional Norwegian town, the gods Thor and Loki are reincarnated as two brothers who learn how to use their power and strengths to battle the forces of evil (the forces of evil presented here in the form of environment-destroying corporate titans).
As of this writing, there’s been no word of when a Season 3 will arrive on Netflix. But we’re definitely getting one (and it will bring the series to a close). Additionally, the show currently has a strong 86% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the review site’s critics’ consensus summary adding that “its intimate scale grounds Norse folklore in an approachable way that ought to appeal to young adult viewers.”
Friends from College
Stars include: Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, and Nat Faxon
Summary: Per Netflix, “A group of friends from Harvard played by Keegan-Michael Key (Ethan), Cobie Smulders (Lisa), Annie Parisse (Sam), Nat Faxon (Nick), Fred Savage (Max) and Jae Suh Park (Marianne) are facing down their forties. With interwoven and oftentimes complicated relationships with one another Friends from College is a comedic exploration of old friendships, former romantic entanglements and balancing adult life with nostalgia for the past.”
In Season 2, It’s been a year since Ethan & Sam’s affair was exposed to the other friends, and the group is still fractured because of it. Moreover, no one has heard from Lisa — while Ethan has been writing a YA novel, and Sam has been trying to repair her marriage. As if all that wasn’t complicated enough, Max’s wedding is coming up — which is to say, the friends won’t be able to keep avoiding each other much longer.
Stars include: Evin Ahmad, Dada Fungula Bozela, and Alexander Abdallah
Summary: If you loved a classic crime saga like Breaking Bad, you need to put this Netflix gem from Sweden on your watchlist right now. Here’s what I’ll say about the series, to quote myself from a prior post: The Sweden in Netflix’s compulsively bingeable crime drama Snabba Cash is a land of the endless hustle, a place where entrepreneurs fetishize bling and quick cash, and where swaggering business titans with outsized egos make pronouncements like I am the system.
From hungry startup founders to ruthless dope dealers, everyone in this tense drama is after the same thing: The big score. More territory, edging out rivals, launching the next Spotify — it’s all part of the same frantic endgame.
Stars include: Gina Rodriguez, Jake Johnson, and Jonathan Groff
Summary: Lost Ollie is a Pixar-like ode to toys and growing up — an absolute gem that will take your heart and break it into a million pieces (before putting the broken pieces back together). This series was inspired by the book Ollie’s Odyssey by author and illustrator William Joyce.
Netflix describes it as “an epic adventure about a lost toy who braves the many dangers of childhood as he searches the countryside to reunite with the boy who lost him.” It’s also “the story of the boy who lost more than a best friend. It’s a heartwarming tale for the child in us all, remembering those special souls that we’ve lost but who forever changed our lives.”
Vendetta: Truth, Lies, and the Mafia
Stars include: N/A (it’s a docuseries)
Summary: “If you want to stop me,” the old man with the glasses and huge mustache says to the camera in Netflix’s Vendetta: Truth, Lies, and The Mafia, “you have two options. Either you arrest me, or you shoot me.”
One of my favorite docuseries available on Netflix, Vendetta is a show about a small Sicilian TV news station that decided to go head-to-head with the mob. The TV station founder is Pino Maniaci, the man who said the quote above and who stirs up a hornet’s nest while, as he puts it, “fighting the Mafia with no ifs or buts.”
In a place where gangsters kill over the slightest provocation, here’s a guy who delivers TV news reports in which he bellows at the camera, snarling at any mafioso who might be watching, “You pieces of s**t.” Where this Netflix series really gets wild, though, is when Pino accuses a judge of being on the take, while the judge, in turn, levels the charge right back at Pino. Her claim is that, no, he’s the one who’s too cozy with the gangsters, and that his whole anti-mafia schtick is just a charade.
The Billion Dollar Code
Seasons: 1 (miniseries)
Stars include: Mark Waschke, Mišel Matičević, and Leonard Scheicher
Summary: This Netflix series easily filled the Halt and Catch Fire hole in my heart. It’s set in 1990s Berlin, when a scrappy startup invents a new technology that allows people to see the whole world from their computer. They eventually get into a nasty patent dispute with Google over Google Earth. From Netflix:
“From the hacker scene in post-reunification Berlin in the 1990s to the idealistic world of early Silicon Valley and the harsh reality of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, The Billion Dollar Code tells of a great friendship, loyalty, and the question of justice in the digital age.”
Love, Death & Robots
Stars include: N/A
Summary: This anthology of animated short stories includes some of the most incredible visuals I’ve ever seen in a Netflix release. The content itself ranges from horror to fantasy and science fiction, and the creators herein include Mindhunter’s David Fincher and Deadpool’s Tim Miller.
Stars include: N/A (since this is a limited documentary series)
Summary: In this three-part docuseries from the makers of Netflix’s Don’t F**K With Cats, documentarian Sam Hobkinson dives deep into the organized crime investigation brought against the formidable bosses who once led the 1970s- and 80s-era “Five Families” of the New York mafia (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Luccese).
Piecing together a jaw-dropping narrative about how the mafia once used industries like high-rise construction to reap billions of dollars, the series uses news and archival material in addition to previously unheard surveillance audio, and much more.
Stars include: N/A (since this is a limited documentary series)
Summary: The only thing I love watching as much as a solid spy drama is anything that involves a heist. This Netflix series takes a deep dive into a few different instances of heists, recreating and walking through scams that included stealing millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino, as well as a separate theft of pricey luxury bourbon. As soon as the old lady slips off her wig in episode one and starts vigorously making out with her partner in crime, you know the game is on.
Per Netflix: “Viewers will see how the subjects select their targets, the meticulous planning that goes into the job, the sweet glory of success … and the boneheaded errors that lead investigators straight to the truth. The perpetrators sit down for in-depth, frequently emotional conversations, alongside family members, accomplices, and the law enforcement officers who eventually brought them to justice.”
Netflix original movies
Now, let’s take a look at some great movies to stream on Netflix, in addition to the series above, that all also fall under the category of underrated titles and hidden gems — basically, anything that hasn’t really gotten the love that it deserves and that more people need to see.
Stars include: Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and Elizabeth Olsen
Summary: This might be my favorite Netflix original movie I’ve ever seen. The streaming giant can keep all the splashy films like Don’t Look Up and all the terrible Kevin Hart movies it keeps cranking out — a title like Kodachrome, however, is what I want more of. In this 10/10 movie, Jason Sudeikis plays a son reuniting with his cantankerous and dying photographer father (Ed Harris), and they go on a road trip to help him get to the last photo store still developing Kodachrome photos.
The great thing about a movie like this is that, in spite of the fact that you know with 100% certainty what’s going to be on that roll of the father’s undeveloped film, the quality of all the actors here makes this an enjoyable story to watch unfold all the same.
“We’re all so frightened by time,” Harris’ character tells a group of fellow photogs at one point in the Netflix movie. “The way it moves on. The way things disappear. But that’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time. To commit moments to eternity. Human nature, made tangible. About as good a definite of art as any, I guess.”
Stars include: Jung Woo-sung, Kwak Do-won, and Kim Gap-soo
Summary: Don’t ask me how I found this one, because I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it. I’m so glad that I did find it, though. This Korean thriller, with non-stop action throughout, is built around a buddy comedy of sorts. A frumpy South Korean espionage official and an elite North Korean soldier team up to save the life of a certain North Korean dictator — a keeping-the-status-quo kind of thing, because if they don’t, the North Korean generals will no longer be kept in check and can unleash all sorts of hell.
My favorite scene is of the North and South Korean spies riding together in a car, still a bit wary of each other. The South Korean starts playing some K-pop from South Korean rapper G-Dragon, while the North Korean feigns “I can’t believe this is called music” disgust, dad-style.
Stars include: N/A
Summary: Documentarian Bryan Fogel, an amateur bike racer, set out with a simple idea: To investigate doping in sports, Fogel decided to dope himself, observe how his performance changed, and see if he could evade detection. Per Netflix: “In doing so, he was connected to a renegade Russian scientist, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a pillar of his country’s ‘anti-doping’ program.
“Over dozens of Skype calls, urine samples, and badly administered hormone injections, Fogel and Rodchenkov grow closer despite shocking allegations that place Rodchenkov at the center of Russia’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program.”
Eventually, the two men come to realize they are on the cusp of revealing the biggest international sports scandal in years.
The Incredible Jessica James
Stars include: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, and LaKeith Stanfield
Summary: From Netflix’s official description of the movie, which hit the streamer back in 2017:
“Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show”) stars as a young, aspiring playwright in New York City who is struggling to get over a recent breakup. She is forced to go on a date with the recently divorced Boone, played by Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) and the unlikely duo discover how to make it through the tough times in a social media obsessed post-relationship universe. Lakeith Stanfield (FX’s “Atlanta”, Straight Outta Compton) and Noël Wells (Netflix’s “Master of None”) co-star.”
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Stars include: N/A
Summary: Teenager Joshua Wong steps up to fight, with passion in lieu of any kind of organized or long-term plan, when the Chinese Communist Party alters its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong. He rallies thousands of school-age children to skip school and fill the streets in this compelling portrait of courage and the idealism of youth.
I Used to be Famous
Stars include: Ed Skrein, Eleanor Matsuura, and Leo Long
Summary: Per Netflix, “A former boy band star unexpectedly gets a second shot at success when he forms a bond with a gifted young drummer.”