7 best Netflix original movies of 2023, ranked by Rotten Tomatoes scores

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in May December on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been eight years since Netflix premiered its first-ever original movie. Now, the streaming service churns out dozens of original feature films every year, and the truth is that most of them are shoddy and forgettable. There are plenty of gems amid all the formulaic romances and thrillers, though, from artistically accomplished indie movies picked up at festivals to awards-courting auteur projects to genre fare that brings a fresh approach to familiar formulas.

The best Netflix original movies of 2023 encompass all of those niches and more, with something for every type of viewer. Whether you like to sit down with a new Netflix movie every week or have been dismissive of the streaming service’s original productions, here are seven movies from this year that are worth your time and attention in descending ranked order by their Rotten Tomatoes scores.

For more recommendations, check out 15 new shows and movies to watch in January 2024 on Netflix, Hulu and more

7. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

Twenty-plus years after the original Chicken Run, this sequel offers a slight but satisfying variation on the first movie’s plot. The chickens who previously escaped from a farm where they were being prepared for slaughter now find themselves trapped in a high-tech chicken processing facility, once again planning an elaborate escape, this time with the daughter of main characters Ginger and Rocky on board. 

Unlike Wallace and Gromit or Shaun the Sheep, their fellow stars from stop-motion studio Aardman, these cheerful but resourceful chickens are pretty much only good at one thing. There’s no need for a radical reinvention of the franchise, though, because the characters remain delightful, and the story is clever and fun, with Aardman’s typically gorgeous, intricate animation.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%
Watch on Netflix

6. Maestro

Bradley Cooper both directs and stars in this biopic about the legendary conductor, composer and public advocate for classical music Leonard Bernstein, which covers nearly 50 years of Bernstein’s life. That’s a lot to take on, and the structure of Maestro is sometimes unwieldy, jumping across many years at a time in its overview of Bernstein’s career and artistic achievements. 

Cooper is more interested in Bernstein’s complicated relationship with his wife Felicia, played by Carey Mulligan. Mulligan is excellent as the talented and intelligent woman who was overshadowed by her famous husband, in their public and private lives alike. Shooting in both black and white and color and in multiple aspect ratios, Cooper brings a striking visual style to what could have been a conventional biopic.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 80%
Watch on Netflix

5. Fair Play

Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich have palpable chemistry whether they’re tearing each other’s clothes off or tearing each other apart emotionally, in this tense drama about office politics and toxic romance from writer-director Chloe Domont. Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich) work at the same high-powered Wall Street hedge fund, and they’re also secretly engaged. The blissful façade of their relationship is shattered when Emily is promoted over Luke, who becomes increasingly jealous and vindictive.

Although it’s been classified as a thriller, Fair Play is more about the characters’ psychological breakdowns, rather than sensationalized suspense or violence. The movie builds to a final confrontation, but the wounds that the characters inflict are more mental than physical. Domont incisively examines precarious modern-day gender dynamics within the microcosm of this fractured relationship.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 86%
Watch on Netflix

4. Ballerina

There’s no need for sophisticated plotting in a streamlined revenge thriller like this brutal action movie from Korean filmmaker Lee Chung-hyun. Jeon Jong-seo stars as a former security operative who vows vengeance on the sex traffickers who exploited and threatened her best friend. When she finds that friend dead by suicide, Jeon’s Ok-ju systematically tracks down and takes out the men responsible for ruining the young woman’s life.

It’s easy to root for Ok-ju to destroy these unrepentantly evil men in the most violent manner possible, and Lee follows through on that desire with expertly staged action scenes that rival anything in a big-budget Hollywood movie. Jeon plays Ok-ju with a mix of steely determination and wistful melancholy, channeling her sadness and rage into savage beatdowns of dirtbags who deserve what’s coming to them.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%
Watch on Netflix

3. May December

Director Todd Haynes delivers a complex and riveting drama about a seemingly salacious subject in this deconstruction of the societal obsession with trashy tabloid fodder. Natalie Portman plays actress Elizabeth Berry, who’s researching a role in a movie based on a past scandal in which a middle-aged woman was arrested for having a sexual relationship with an underage boy. Twenty years later, that relationship has turned into a marriage with three kids, as Gracie (Julianne Moore) and the now-adult Joe (Charles Melton) seem to have built a life together, away from the controversy. 

Elizabeth spends time with Gracie and the people in her life, attempting to understand the often inscrutable woman she’s set to portray. Portman and Moore both give mesmerizing performances in a layered, challenging movie that’s always questioning the preconceived judgments of both its characters and its audience.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%
Watch on Netflix

2. Nimona

Based on ND Stevenson’s popular graphic novel, Nimona takes place in a world that’s part sci-fi future, part medieval fantasy, where the title character is a teen girl with shapeshifting powers who teams up with a disgraced knight to help him clear his name. Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) has been framed for an attack on the queen, and the chaotic, gleefully destructive Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz) insists on becoming his partner, whether he likes it or not.

Moretz plays Nimona with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and the animation is detailed and expressive. The fast-paced story can come off as a little disjointed, but it’s creative and funny, with some simple but valuable lessons about tolerance, and a refreshingly upbeat, matter-of-fact approach to LGBTQ representation.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 95%
Watch on Netflix

1. They Cloned Tyrone

Combining sci-fi, social commentary, and Blaxploitation parody, director and co-writer Juel Taylor’s debut feature aims for a lot, both aesthetically and thematically, and at times it ends up with a bit of a mess. But it’s a stylish, ambitious mess, with a real sense of passion and outrage. Jamie Foxx, John Boyega, and Teyonah Parris play a trio of stock characters from “urban” dramas whose deliberately stereotypical presentations point to darker secrets about their impoverished community. 

When Boyega’s drug dealer Fontaine wakes up perfectly fine the next day after apparently being shot and killed, pimp Slick Charles (Foxx) and prostitute Yo-Yo (Parris) join him to investigate the strange local phenomena that lead them to a wider conspiracy. Taylor uses his absurd premise to make sharp insights about institutional racism and economic inequality, without losing the movie’s goofy sense of humor.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 95%
Watch on Netflix

More From Tom's Guide

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.