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15 of the Best Original Movies to Watch on Apple TV+

Though relatively new on the Hollywood scene (its first original film was released in 2019), Apple’s deep pockets have been enough to ensure that the Apple TV+ streaming service’s slate of original films has included not just charming indies, but award-winning prestige pictures. CODA was Oscar’s best picture just a couple of years ago (the first film from a streaming service to claim the honor), and the streamer’s movies earned it 13 nominations this year, even if neither Killers of the Flower Moon nor Napoleon actually took anything home.

Given the complexities of film financing today, you might be excused for believing that many of these movies were typical theatrical releases rather than Apple originals—but, strictly speaking, these are all Apple TV+ originals. Sometimes they’re only available through the app, but other times they have small (or significant) theatrical releases built in to their distribution model, if only to ensure they’re eligible for major awards like the Oscars.

Here are 15 of the best films to watch on Apple TV+ right now.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Though it didn’t take home Oscar gold (let’s put Lily Gladstone in more movies, please), Martin Scorsese’s latest has more than proven the octogenarian filmmaker hasn’t lost a step. A story of creeping dread and existential terror in the American west, it chronicles the injustices that follow the discovery of oil on Osage tribal land in the 1920s. A good thing quickly goes bad when white political leaders plot a string of murders to keep the wealth from staying where it belongs. The film might have gone deeper in presenting the true story from its natural Indigenous perspective, but the finished product still represents an important and harrowing story well told.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Joel Coen’s sole (thus far) solo directing project represents a bold choice: a beautiful, strikingly minimalist adaptation of the Scottish play—lean and mean in its production and its impact. Only a director of Coen’s confidence would mount a production like this without feeling the need to reinvent the wheel, letting Shakespeare dialogue and the performances of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand do the heavy lifting. During the 2021/22 awards season, it received far more nominations than wins, but still stands as one of the best cinematic takes on Macbeth since Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

Come from Away (2021)

A full cinematic adaptation of this musical about the events that unfolded at a rural airport on 9/11 was in the works before the pandemic put a stop to them. Thus, a special stage production was mounted using members of the original cast, filmed before an audience of 9/11 survivors and frontline workers. While it’s impossible to know what that other version might have been like, this one is probably better. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2017, takes place in the Newfoundland town of Gander following the 2001 attacks. Gander had once been a major refueling hub, but that changed over time, leaving the town with an enormous airport and relatively little traffic…until airplanes were diverted there in the wake of the terrorist attacks. The stranded plane passengers briefly more than doubled the town’s population, and Gander leaders and residents pulled out all the stops to care for the unexpected guests. Based on a true story, the show has a smart sense of humor and, while it’s not cynical, it never succumb to schmaltz either.

Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

You might have missed Cooper Raiff’s 2020 indie Shithouse, a movie that earned great reviews on a $15,000 budget but couldn’t overcome its unfortunate title. His follow-up, Cha Cha Real Smooth, got a bit more attention. Andrew is a bat mitzvah party planner who falls for Domino, a mom 10 years his senior (Dakota Johnson). It’s occasionally cloying, but Raiff’s complex script and range of characters make for a charming movie from a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023)

The easy route would have bee a tearjerking portrait of an inspirational American figure—one-time Hollywood golden boy bravely faces life with a debilitating illness. There’s a bit of that in this documentary, but whenever that mood does overtake the film, it feels earned. Director Davis Guggenheim documents Fox’s life with a thematic narrative throughline (an actor who could never be still in body or mind now struggles to do just that), even as it refuses to shy away from the knocks and bruises that attend any life with Parkinson’s, nor from Fox’s own complicated personality. The film works best when dealing with the overlaps, and disconnects, between Fox as a person and Fox as a public face of Parkinson’s.

CODA (2021)

I’m not sure it was the most worthy Best Picture Oscar winner, that doesn’t detract from CODA as a charming and altogether likable film about Ruby (Emilia Jones), a young musician the only hearing member of her family. She struggles with the demands of the family’s fishing business even as she discovers a passion for singing and a new boyfriend. The premise involves a worn and silly trope about deaf people not understanding music, but it also depicts its characters as capable, complicated community leaders with actual sex lives. Emilia Jones is great in the lead, as are Marlee Matlin and Oscar-winner Troy Katsur as her parents.

Finch (2021)

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a dying engineer named Finch (Tom Hanks), works to build a robotic companion—not to serve as his companion, but to take care of his dog when he dies. Which is 1000% relatable, and more or less the extent of the plot. As end-times movies go, this one is surprisingly charming and family-friendly—Tom Hanks is a genial companion at the end of the world, and you won’t be surpriseda story of a man having adventures just to make sure that his dog has a friend is definitely going to make you cry.

Napoleon (2023)

Sandwiched between 2021’s superior The Last Duel and the upcoming Gladiator 2, Ridley Scott’s 2023 somewhat accurate biopic about the one-time emperor of France proves his is the only name in town when it comes to historical epics, once one of Hollywood’s most beloved genres. This one is a slightly muddled affair, turning on a sly, subtly comedic lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix while also building to a number of massive, more traditional set pieces (Scott smartly doesn’t ask us to be overly enamored of the man himself). When it works, it offers up the old-fashioned thrills of a gorgeously designed period drama, with the types of grand battle sequences that we don’t get in a world where every movie fight involves superheroes and spaceships. And who knows, maybe the rumored four-hour cut will be better.

The Pigeon Tunnel (2023)

The great Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) turns his camera on writer David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, one-time spy and preeminent writer of espionage novels. The title comes from a memory from the author’s youth: visiting his father who was part of a pigeon-shooting concession—the pigeons were bred in captivity and then forced through a tunnel so that they’d be right in line for rich men to shoot them, just at what seemed like their moment of freedom. The metaphor of an escape that’s actually a trap became a potent one in the author’s life and work, and Morris drives into that lifelong theme with his typical depth and style.

Wolfwalkers (2020)

Robyn Goodfellowe is apprenticed to her father as a hunter, the two of them traveling to Ireland to wipe out the last of the land’s wolves. Going off on her own, she encounters a free-spirited girl who needs Robyn’s help to find her mother; the girl’s tribe is rumored to have the ability to change into wolves, and Robyn’s alliance with her new friends threatens her relationship with her father. This stunningly hand-drawn animated film received a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and follows a thematic trilogy that began with the same filmmakers’ The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). They’re all independent of one another story-wise, but if you love this one, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy all three.

Hala (2019)

Most audiences seemed to overlook Apple’s first original narrative movie when it was released back in 2019, and that’s too bad. Written and directed by Minhal Baig, a native of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, the movie has a distinctive sense of place, particularly for anyone who grew up in the Chicago area. But its primary strength is as a smart, sensitive coming-of-age story. Geraldine Viswanathan plays the title’s Hala Masood, a teenager from a strict Muslim family who falls for a non-Muslim boy at school, setting up a conflict that also brings a few family secrets out into the open.

The Elephant Queen (2018)

Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates this nature documentary from directors Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, following 50-year-old mother elephant Athena as she leads her family from its bucolic home into more treacherous terrain after a drought threatens their survival. The team kept track of the family in the African savannah over the course of four years, charting the intelligence and familial bonds of the animals, as well as the harsh choices imposed on them by the natural environment.

Swan Song (2021)

Writer/director Benjamin Cleary presents a poignant existential dilemma in this low-key science fiction drama starring Mahershala Ali as Cameron Turner, a husband and father suffering from a terminal illness. To spare his wife (Naomie Harris) and children from the trauma and pain of his impending death, he’s considering a new procedure offered by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close): He’ll continue to hide his illness from his family, and be replaced by a clone with all of his memories. He’ll spend his last months alone, but knowing his family won’t have to confront his loss. In the best sci-fi tradition, the film explores the questions of identity, meaning, and loss that such hypothetical technology raises—without feeling like an overlong episode of Black Mirror.

The Velveteen Rabbit (2023)

It’s only around 40 minutes, so this blend of live-action and animation is more of a short than a feature, but its length and refusal to belabor its own point are strengths, not weaknesses.Seven-year-old William (Phoenix Laroche) moves with his family to a new home, where he struggles to settle in and make friends. A Christmas gift of the titular rabbit sets William’s imagination free, and the boy’s love gives the rabbit a life of its own alongside the other toys in the playroom. When William gets sick, the Velveteen Rabbit has a tough choice to make and, if you know the story, this is approximately when the tears start welling up in your eyes. The animated segments use a variety of gorgeous animation styles, which really sells the complexity and variety of William’s imagination.

Sidney (2022)

Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Marshall) directs this straightforward, nevertheless essential portrait of actor, director, and diplomat Sidney Poitier. One of the most significant and consequential figures in film and American culture in the 20th century, the film not only captures the scope of Poitier’s life, it also has the poignant virtue of being his last onscreen appearance before his death at the age 94.

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