Netflix rolled out some amazing streaming exclusives this year in both movies and TV, across all genres.
2020 may have seen the birth (and death, RIP Quibi) of some extremely high-end, competitive streaming services, but Netflix still held fast as one of the most popular and ubiquitous options for streaming content.
From streaming original TV shows like The Haunting of Bly Manor, season pick-ups like the upcoming Cobra Kai (which moved from its original home on YouTube for Season 3), and big-name theatrical debuts like David Fincher’s Mank or Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Netflix helped soothe our lockdown and quarantine woes with absolutely non-stop releases across all formats and genres imaginable. Docu-series? Comedy? Horror? Drama? It’s all here—and then some.
We’ve compiled a list of our favoriteNetflix original releases of the year in no particular order, in case you missed any while trying to get your last few binges of . If that’s the case, don’t worry—these originals aren’t going anywhere so you’ve got plenty of time to work backwards through anything you may have skipped.
And while you’re at it, check out our other 2020 year-end coverage:
Sex Education Season 2
The second season of Netflix’s Sex Education continued the hijinks of high schooler Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), his sex therapist mother Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), and their various friends, colleagues, and lovers. Like Big Mouth (another entry on this list), Sex Education presents an unflinching look at things like sex (duh), puberty, and other such topics. However, Sex Education sets itself apart with its diverse cast of complex characters and unique sense of humor. Both seasons are worth binging while we wait for Season 3.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Bly Manor had some big shoes to fill after 2018’s breakout hit, The Haunting Of Hill House, which set expectations for the newest entry in Netflix’s horror anthology series understandably high. But thankfully, Bly met the challenge head-on by weaving an intricate, emotional gothic romance story that honored the ambience and energy of its precursor while setting itself apart with new characters, scares, and of course . Bly Manor’s touching tragedy was the perfect binge for 2020’s dreary, party-free Halloween season and an instant classic.
The Queen’s Gambit
Netflix’s period piece chess drama seems like an unlikely success on paper—unless you’re a chess superfan, of course. But The Queen’s Gambit subverted expectations by blending deeply emotional human drama with all the strategy and inside baseball of competitive chess tournaments. You probably won’t actually learn much about playing the game itself as you work through the mini series, but that’s more than alright—you’ll still find yourself tearing up or cheering along as Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon makes her finishing moves and puts her opponents in checkmate.
Don’t feel bad if you missed the conclusion of Dark’s 3-season run this year; it dropped over the summer, when everyone was more concerned about small things like the global pandemic and the looming presidential election. Besides, the whole thing was in German and the dub sucked, meaning you basically need to watch it with subtitles, which turns some viewers off. But this pitch-black time travel drama managed to weave one of the most complex, but somehow still cohesive, sci-fi stories we’ve ever seen.
The Great British Bake-Off
The odds were against another season of The Great British Bake-Off, or GBBO, being made this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the cast, crew, and contestants came together and put forth extraordinary effort, establishing their very own months-long quarantine bubble in the British countryside to make it happen. The result was a much-needed burst of good energy and positivity for fans of the most kind-hearted cooking competition around—something the rest of the year sorely lacked.
The Untamed has all the campy, low-budget charm of old school action shows like Xena as it follows the fictionalized, fantasy world of ancient Chinese cultivators—people who blend deep religious practice and spirituality to gain magical powers and work towards immortality. It stars two pop idols-turned-actors, Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan, as star-crossed lovers from two diametrically opposed cultivator sects as they are swept up in all the political and social drama of the world around them.
Think Game of Thrones mixed with a little Avatar: The Last Airbender, plus some of The Witcher for flavor and you’re on the right track as far as the overall feel.
In Season 4, Netflix’s historical biographical drama The Crown has begun to «catch up» with much more recent decades—which means finally digging into the infamously troubled marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Without flinching or pointing fingers at either spouse, the show puts on full display the tragic cruelties and infidelities that ultimately drove the couple apart. Meanwhile, Diana’s inability to assimilate into the royal family through no fault of her own begins to tell a bigger story about how while the ruling class might be comfortable, life on the inside can be unfeeling and hollow. The show also impressively pushes this theme and explores that contrast by showing what life beyond the palace walls is like—easily at its most poignant and entertaining in showing Michael Fagan’s break-in to Buckingham Palace and his conversation with the queen.
Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee scored one of his biggest hits in years with 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, so anticipation was high for his next movie. Thankfully, the Netflix original Da 5 Bloods didn’t disappoint. It’s a sprawling drama in which five Vietnam vets reunite four decades later and return to ‘Nam to find a stash of gold they buried there. Lee throws a lot of genres into the blender—it’s a war movie, heist thriller, social drama, and a moving meditation on grief and aging—and while the film is a bit uneven at times, at its best it’s an ambitious and powerful experience. There’s some fantastic performances too, in particular Delroy Lindo and the late Chaswick Boseman.
The Old Guard
Based on the limited comic book series of the same name, The Old Guard ought to have been your run-of-the-mill action flick. The set-up is simple—a close-knit group of immortal warriors, some of whom have been around since ancient times, work as mercenaries in the modern era. They’re discovered by a pharmaceutical mogul hoping to use their bodies to unlock the key of eternal life. But rather than falling down the forgettable rabbit hole of pointless fight scenes and explosions, The Old Guard subverted expectations with an emphasis on characters and their connections to one another, making the whole movie feel both fresh and exciting.
Umbrella Academy Season 2
Umbrella Academy’s second season proved even better than the first as it continued to deviate from its source material in unexpected ways and allowed for new characters to enter the fray. This season saw even more time-traveling absurdity, absolutely bonkers musical cues (like a Swedish cover of Adelle’s «Hello»), and wackadoo family drama that has kept us wanting to come back again and again for more.
Cobra Kai is a Netflix original and, thus, belongs on this list. Yes, so far the service has only released episodes that were previously available on YouTube Premium, but who cares? Cobra Kai is, hands down, one of the best shows on TV and deserves the recognition. Who could have guessed a TV series that picked up 30 years after The Karate Kid would be any good? Now, with the move to Netflix, the series has been opened up to a much larger audience, with a tidal wave of new fans taking to social media to tout their new discovery. Now we’re all waiting eagerly for the arrival of Season 3 in January, which will no doubt be on this list next year.
Big Mouth Season 4
Big Mouth Season 4 may have been the raunchiest season yet of the animated adult series about kids going through puberty, but it was also the funniest. It featured all the talking vaginas and songs about pubes that fans have come to expect, but several fantastic new additions to the cast. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you can appreciate how ballsy it all is, Big Mouth continues to be great.
David Fincher’s black-and-white ode to Golden Age Hollywood is an unexpected gem. Exploring the behind-the-scenes writing and subsequent production drama that went into Citizen Kane, specifically revolving around the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), Mank is a nostalgic, high-stakes drama disguised as a biopic, and well worth the time if you’re a fan of Hollywood history.
The Spanish film El hoyo (which translates to The Hole) may have hit international theaters in late 2019, but it arrived as a Netflix exclusive in March under the new title The Platform. The futuristic horror/sci-fi film follows a man in a vertical prison where there is a giant meal served on a platform that goes from the top of the prison to the bottom, and prisoners have to eat what’s left from after people above get their fill. While the film isn’t a straight-up jump-scare horrorfest, the idea of eating other’s leftovers is revolting enough. And while the movie’s concept has a short shelf life—much like the food everyone is eating—director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia makes this an intense and interesting experience, keeping you glued to the TV until the credits roll.
2020 started great when Bojack Horseman’s final season hit Netflix in January. The final batch of episodes managed what felt like an impossible task as it gave all the major characters fitting endings without letting Bojack Horseman himself off the hook. One particular episode, The View from Halfway Down, stands out as an example of everything that makes Bojack one of the very best shows on Netflix; it manages to be funny, artful, and heart-wrenching all at once, examining suicide and regret from a first-person perspective while still managing to make fun of Zach Braff.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman made his name by writing the scripts for brilliantly weird movies Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and if anything, the films he has directed himself are even stranger. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is based on Iain Reed’s novel of the same title and stars Jessie Buckley as a young woman who is making the trip to visit the parents of her new boyfriend, played by Jesse Plemons.The movie’s early scenes suggest it is going to be an unnerving but more traditional horror movie, but it quickly ends up in deeply surreal psychological territory as past, present, and dreams collide and it becomes hard to know if what we are watching is real or the fractured memories of its main characters. Like the films of David Lynch, at a certain point you have to give up trying to figure out exactly what is happening and surrender to Kaufman’s mad vision. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who get the vibe, it’s a funny, terrifying, and stunningly-directed experience unlike any other this year.
Love On The Spectrum
Originally broadcast in Australia in 2019, this reality show about young Australians on the autism spectrum navigating dating and romance was one of 2020’s surprise bright spots. Thankfully, this five-part miniseries prioritized a tasteful and thoughtful version of the concept—there were so many ways this show could have been exploitative. Instead, this isn’t a dating show, but many short documentaries about young people who want to learn to improve at their ability to connect with others. It’s a lovely, moving, and uplifting show that feels especially relevant when right in this moment, we can’t be with everyone we love.
Floor is Lava
In the grand tradition of ’80s-’90s Nickelodeon game shows like Double Dare, Floor is Lava was essentially a big, messy obstacle course. Instead of subjecting kids to getting slimed, though, it was teams of adults tasked with working their way through recreations of rooms in a house, from bedrooms to kitchens, without touching the floor, which was actually a lake of «lava» (red, frothing water, with plenty of geysers exploding throughout the course). Floor is Lava is entertaining because of how simple it is.
Dave Chappelle: 8:46
On June 11, Dave Chappelle posted his latest stand-up material to Netflix’s YouTube channel: a 30-minute performance revolving around the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent civil unrest that swept the country. «Normally I wouldn’t show you something so unrefined,» wrote Chappelle. «I hope you understand.» 8:46 is the comedian at his most heartfelt and conscientious—using humor and his unmatched storytelling abilities to make us laugh before hitting us in the gut with devastating truths. It’s an editorial, a history lesson, and an evening’s entertainment all rolled into one.