Netflix offers a range of content for all age groups. Old and young alike will find plenty to enjoy in Netflix’s streaming database, and based on the way the company continually updates its online roster of movie and TV titles, that fact will hold true for Netflix subscribers in the years to come.
In facing Netflix’s wide library and the many categories and subcategories that organize it, it’s always helpful to narrow down the kind of film you’re looking for to a few categories so as to maximize the potential of finding something you’ll actually want to watch. If you don’t do this, you’ll spend as much time on Netflix as you would watching a movie in the first place. For those old or mature enough to view the films that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) assigns an “R” rating, the list of Netflix options runs long, but if one is judicious in her choices she can narrow the list down to some top-tier titles.
The list below encompasses 10 of the best R rated movies on Netflix, though this list is by no means exhaustive. Netflix could end up adding 10 more great R-rated titles in the coming months as the company continues to update its roster.
The R rating, short for “restricted,” refers to films whose content is understood to be inappropriate for people under the age of 17. In looking up film ratings (which one can do through sites like filmratings.com), one will see that below the rating (G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17), there will be reasons provided for the rating. For example, Killing Them Softly (see below) is rated R for “violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use.” The standards that determine the ratings are nebulous, if not impossible to identify.
The enlightening 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated — which was available on Netflix for a time — reveals that those responsible for rating films are anonymous and thereby unaccountable. This lack of accountability results in arbitrary and sometimes unjust standards for ratings. This Film is Not Yet Rated points to the case of sexual pleasure in films; male sexual pleasure is typically put in the R-rated camp, but for some reason female sexual pleasure often pushes a film into the prohibitive NC-17 category.
Furthermore, these unknown standards for ratings results in a weakening of the rating categories. Once upon a time, the PG-13 rating only allowed one use of the “f-word,” but over time some PG-13 films have been able to include two or three. With all of this in mind, it is helpful to go into R-rated movies with an eye and ear for what “passes” as R-rated content; some R-rated films seem like they could be PG-13, while others tread close to NC-17 territory.
My mom was very strict. She didn’t let me watch anything rated R or anything with cussing.- Kevin Hart
1. Killing Them Softly (2012, 97 minutes)
The crime novels of the late George V. Higgins won’t read like novels to some. His writing consists almost entirely of dialogue that heavily incorporates dialect and argot, i.e. the slang of criminals. His stories, typically set in the seedy underworld of Boston, focus on lowlifes and crime lords talking to and at each other for what seems like hours on end. For that reason, it is not surprising that Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade — renamed Killing Them Softly — doesn’t feel quite like it belongs to its medium, either. Cogan’s Trade and Killing Them Softly both exude the back-and-forth of dramatic stage dialogue; with some alteration, either one could work as a stageplay. Fortunately, Dominik does not simply employ shot-reverse-shots throughout Killing Them Softly‘s extensive dialogues; the scenes of horrific violence in this film are shot artfully (and, in one memorable case, slow-mo), and a scene set during a drug trip is shot in a striking, hallucinatory fashion. Both Dominik’s direction and his superb realization of Higgins’ rich dialogue inject vitality into the bare-bones plot of Killing Them Softly, which follows Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) as he tracks down two hoodlums that robbed an illegal card game.
2. In Bruges (2008, 107 minutes)
While we’re on the subject of crime films with top-notch dialogue, Martin McDonagh’s 2008 existential black comedy In Bruges has to be mentioned. Like Killing Them Softly, In Bruges employs a sparse plot: after botching a hit on a priest, hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) is told to wait in Bruges — a city in Belgium — with his partner-in-crime Ken (Brendan Gleeson) until he has received “further instruction” from his boss Harry (a delightfully unhinged Ralph Fiennes). From this simple premise McDonagh explores the deep issues of the soul, from finding meaning in seeming meaninglessness to figuring out how to right one’s life. Featuring hilarious, highly quotable dialogue (“You’re an inanimate f–king object!”) and a strong meditative streak, In Bruges is a genius turn from McDonagh, who after years of causing controversy in the English and Irish theatre scenes broke into the world of cinema with this modern crime classic.
3. Bronson (2008, 92 minutes)
One could call Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson a “crime film” and to some degree be correct. Much like the previous two films on this list, however, Refn and lead actor Tom Hardy offer up an interpretation on the world of crime that is anything but conventional. Bronson tells the story of one of modern Britain’s most famous criminals, “Charlie” Salvador, who changed his name to Charles Bronson at the behest of a boxing promoter. Bronson’s infamy comes not from the crimes he committed to put him in jail (and, for extensive periods of time, solitary confinement), but instead the crimes he committed in jail. His rambunctious, fight-seeking behavior resulted in him being moved over 100 times in British prison. Hardy, who at this point in his career had not reached the international fame he would acquire through pictures like The Dark Knight Rises, gives the performance of a lifetime with his interpretation of Bronson. Both Refn and Hardy take Bronson’s identity and utilize it to make points rooted both in metafilm and political critique. The world loves to watch a criminal, Bronson tells us, even as it condemns him.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992, 99 minutes)
1994’s Pulp Fiction is the film that cemented Quentin Tarantino as the most distinctive auteur of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, but Tarantino’s debut flick did some heavy lifting in establishing his cinematic reputation. Owing a great deal to Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and the films of Jean-Pierre Melville, Reservoir Dogs is a document of bad men behaving badly. A failed diamond heist results in a crew of misfits and malcontents turning on each other, instigating conversations with blunt force and Mexican standoffs. In comparison to some of Tarantino’s later entertainments (Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds especially), Reservoir Dogs may seem to be Tarantino at his simplest, but he would be nothing without this heist flick, which pulls off the tricky task of tipping its hat to its influences while simultaneously reinventing them.
5. The Hunter (2011, 101 minutes)
In 2011, two philosophical meditations in the guise of action thrillers were released. The most widely publicized of the two is The Grey, directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson, is set in the icy environs of Alaska, where a group of oil rig workers must fight for their survival after their plane to USA mainland crash-lands. The Grey‘s tense scenes of violence between men and wolves allow Neeson to channel his post-Taken action hero bonafides rather convincingly, though it’s not all punches and rifle shots. The men of The Grey
ponder the nature of survival, masculinity, and meaning. These subjects are also explored in the less popular of the two films: the Australian production called The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe, who gives a fine and oft-overlooked performance. Whereas Neeson in The Grey is hunted by wolves, Dafoe in The Hunter is tasked with tracking down and killing the last remaining Tasmanian wolf (thylacine), a species which some consider to be extinct. As Dafoe’s character goes on his brutal mission, he finds himself facing a larger question: is there a stopping point to the chain of hunters? Does it infinitely regress? Is destruction inevitable? A quiet but palpably tense film, The Hunter is a sleeper gem in Netflix’s R-rated lineup.
6. Clerks (1994, 91 minutes)
Ennui defines Kevin Smith’s 1994 masterpiece Clerks, which many still consider to be his best film. Shot entirely in black and white, Clerks documents the banalities and hilarities of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two New Jersey store clerks who look for anything to distract themselves from their mundane lives. Like the immortal ’90s sitcom Seinfeld, one can say Clerks is a film “about nothing,” but in its nothingness there is profundity to be found, even amidst the stream of absurd and laugh-out-loud dialogue (see the still above for one example).
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, 107 minutes)
What is worth remembering? Is there anything worth forgetting, excising from one’s life completely? Are our failed loves worth the spaces in our brains they take up, especially given how much they haunt us? Any one of those questions is worthy of a book-length treatment, but director Michael Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman take them all on in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the great films of the ’00s. The philosophical events of the film are set in motion when Joel (Jim Carrey) decides to undergo a treatment devised by the fictional Lacuna, Inc, wherein all memories of his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) are erased from his memory — a procedure she had done to herself without Joel knowing about it for some time. What unfolds is an unforgettable reflection on love and sacrifice, with career highlight performances by Carrey and Winslet. With Gondry and Kaufman at the helm, it’s no surprise that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an unconventional kind of romance film. That is not to say the film itself has stopped surprising, though — far from it. Apropos of its subject matter, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is unforgettable once you’ve watched it, yet years later, watching it feels like seeing it for the first time.
8. Fruitvale Station (2013, 85 minutes)
Of the many reactions Fruitvale Station is likely to inspire, a call to justice is undoubtedly the most likely one. Brief in length yet deep in emotional storytelling, Fruitvale Station is a fictionalized account of the last day of Oscar Grant, a young man who in 2009 was unjustly killed by police officers at a BART train station near San Francisco. Up-and-coming director Ryan Coogler deftly builds dramatic tension up until the fateful moment that Grant is shot (despite not resisting arrest, or having done anything worth being detained for), which allows the audience — who already knows Grant’s fate — to feel the outcome anew. Grant is brilliantly realized by Michael B. Jordan, who along with Coogler has continued in his film excellence with 2015’s boxing flick Creed. Fruitvale Station is a reminder that injustice can happen even on the most ordinary of days.
9. Oldboy (2003, 119 minutes)
Revenge has rarely been portrayed in the cinema as well as it has in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, the second in his “Vengeance Trilogy.” Choi Min-sik stars as Oh Dae-su, a man who is kept locked away in a hotel room for 15 years by a mysterious individual, during which he finds out that his wife was killed and his daughter left to be orphaned. After being let free under cryptic circumstances, Oh Dae-su blazes a war path to figure out the circumstances that led to his imprisonment and find his daughter. Just like the reasons for his imprisonment, the truth proves elusive. Chan-Wook’s most memorable picture is a bloody, unforgiving thing — anyone squeamish should be sure to avoid — but for those willing to stick through it, they’ll discover an exploration of revenge and motivation that is compelling from beginning to end.
10. V for Vendetta (2005, 132 minutes)
Even if you find politics boring, it’s hard to find it boring in the context of V for Vendetta, James McTeigue’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, where explosions abound. In a futuristic, dystopian Britain, a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) is saved from government thugs by a masked man, V (Hugo Weaving). V, who enlists Evey to his cause, aims at a total overthrow of Britain’s corrupt government, which is headed up by the maniacal Adam Sutler (John Hurt). V’s violent methods are not in the moral clear, despite his valid critique of Sutler’s government; the things he does in the name of his just cause would be controversial even to those who share his motives. McTeigue’s take on Moore’s vision can be a bit simplistic in its freedom vs. oppression politics, but with a dynamic performance by Weaving and a whole run of cool action setpieces, V for Vendetta is a fine way to spend two hours on Netflix.
If you’re looking for the kind of mature content that the R-rated films typically contain, any of the above options will make for a great movie night. If you’re feeling adventurous and are new to Netflix, you can even view all 10 films above during a 30-day free trial of Netflix. With these 10 of Netflix’s best R-rated films, you’ll never go wrong.