The best crime movies on Netflix right now
There are few things more compelling than crime. Just ask filmmakers, who, since 1903's The Great Train Robbery, have understood the built-in dramatic possibilities of people doing things they should not. But there are all kinds of crime (and all kinds of criminals), some with more reason than others to steal, rob, murder, and otherwise wreak havoc. In this list of the best crime movies currently on Netflix (as of May 2023), you'll find home invaders, bank robbers, long cons, and spur-of-the-moment sprees, all for your viewing pleasure.
The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese is a master of the crime genre, and The Departed is one of his more entertaining demonstrations of his strengths as a director. A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, The Departed centers on the fine line between cop and criminal, as a spy working for an Irish Mob boss and an undercover officer play a high-stakes game of cat and mouse...er, rat.
With an all-star cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Jack Nicholson, the crime saga was a big hit with critics and audiences upon its 2006 release. The Departed finally got Scorsese his overdue Oscar for Best Director, while the film won Best Picture in addition to awards for its screenplay and editing. —Kevin Jacobsen
Léon: The Professional (1994)
Natalie Portman made her film debut in this stylized crime thriller about a hitman (Jean Reno) who looks after a 12-year-old girl (Portman) whose family's murder was orchestrated by a corrupt DEA agent (Gary Oldman). Hungry for revenge, the girl asks him to teach her his trade as the pair begin to forge an unlikely bond.
Much of the appeal of Léon: The Professional is in seeing French director Luc Besson bring his visual flair to the streets of New York City. As EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum praised in 1994, "Besson sees marvelous visual possibilities in the existence of crummy tenement hallways strewn with mowed-down bodies. He sees cinematic romance in the fluorescent-lit downtown offices of corrupt drug-enforcement agents, in hole-in-the-wall eateries in Little Italy." —K.J.
Lost Girls (2020)
Based on true events, Lost Girls focuses on the aftermath of unspeakable crimes rather than the crimes themselves. Amy Ryan stars as Mari Gilbert, the real-life mother who pressured investigators to find her missing daughter, leading to the uncovering of several murders by the still-unknown Long Island serial killer.
The mystery drama, directed by Oscar-nominated documentarian Liz Garbus, drew raves for its humanizing of the victims. "To the people who love them," wrote EW's Leah Greenblatt in her review, "they're still daughters and sisters, mothers and friends. And Garbus, a much-awarded documentarian...works hard to make them seen in her narrative-feature debut." —K.J.
Steven Soderbergh's sprawling crime drama does not offer easy solutions to the War on Drugs. The film examines the many players in the system, from Mexican cartels to drug traffickers to the U.S. drug czar — whose daughter happens to be addicted to cocaine and heroin. The result is an engrossing epic with no clear division line between heroes and villains.
Traffic earned widespread acclaim from critics, with EW's Owen Gleiberman writing, "It's as eye-opening as yesterday's headlines but with a tingly panoramic excitement, an unabashedly movie-ish wallop." The film won four Oscars, including Best Director for Soderbergh, Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing. —K.J.
American Hustle (2013)
An all-star cast comes together with 'late-70s garb and frizzy hair in this 2013 crime comedy that's loosely based in truth. Christian Bale and Amy Adams star as a pair of con artists who are tasked with a sting operation by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper). The dizzying film also stars Jennifer Lawrence as a bored, impulsive housewife and Jeremy Renner as a desperate mayor.
American Hustle was a big hit at the box office, grossing over $150 million in the U.S., and scored 10 Oscar nominations, with Golden Globe wins for Adams, Lawrence, and Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. —K.J.
Inside Man (2006)
A Wall Street bank heist leads to a game of cat and mouse between the scheme's ringleader (Clive Owen) and an NYPD hostage negotiator (Denzel Washington). Complicating matters is the bank's founder (Christopher Plummer), who hires a fixer (Jodie Foster) to procure secret documents he doesn't want people to know about, which are hidden away in one of the bank's safe deposit boxes.
Acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee directed the tense action thriller, which was seen as a slight departure from his provocative dramedy style. But don't be alarmed: Inside Man still has plenty on its mind, especially as a portrait of post-9/11 New York. "Inside Man is a hybrid of studio action pic and Spike Lee joint," said Lisa Schwarzbaum in her review. "Or else it's a cross between a 2006 Spike Lee joint and a 1970s-style movie indictment of urban unease." —K.J.
The Last Stand (2013)
A sleepy town in Arizona becomes a battleground when a drug lord escapes FBI custody. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the town sheriff who finally gets some action, recruiting a local gun enthusiast (Johnny Knoxville) to help put a stop to the wanted kingpin.
The Last Stand marked Schwarzenegger's first leading role in 10 years, following his reign as governor of California. As EW's Owen Gleiberman wrote in his 2013 review, "The Last Stand, while it acknowledges Arnold's age and weary old action-movie bones, never reduces him to a joke. He gives a controlled and brutally charismatic performance that restores his dignity as a star." —K.J.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino exploded onto the scene with the cult classic Reservoir Dogs, his feature directorial debut. Following a diamond heist that takes more than a few wrong turns, a colorful group of gangsters squabble over whether one of them might be an undercover police officer. Paranoia leads to tense standoffs (and a healthy amount of gunfire) at a warehouse gathering point.
Reservoir Dogs proved to be a strong introduction to Tarantino's idiosyncratic style, with numerous elements that would become trademarks in his filmography, including sharp dialogue, dark humor, and a whole lot of bloody violence. Plus, with a strong ensemble that included Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and more, it established Tarantino's strong eye for casting. —K.J.
The kidnapping of two children leads to a father seeking vengeance on his own terms in Denis Villeneuve's thrilling crime drama. Hugh Jackman stars as Keller, the father of one of the missing kids who is dissatisfied with the police response and proceeds to torture the suspected kidnapper. But there are no easy answers here, leading Keller down a dark path while Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to get to the bottom of the case himself.
EW's Owen Gleiberman praised Prisoners in his 2013 review, calling it, "a breed of thriller that's exciting, cathartic, and powerfully disturbing." The morally complex film also stars Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. —K.J.
Emily the Criminal (2022)
This is what happens when student loan debt is so insurmountable that it causes you to take drastic action. Aubrey Plaza plays Emily, a woman working as a delivery driver for a catering service whose minor criminal record prevents her from attaining a better job. With crippling debt, she turns to a life of credit card fraud, which provides fast money and she soon finds herself having a knack for the business and her ambitions inevitably grow larger.
Plaza pulls off one of her best performances yet, with a distinct New Jersey accent to boot. "She makes Emily's tumble into the underworld believable — and more importantly, interesting," hailed EW's Leah Greenblatt. "She may be a wanton criminal, but she's also a woman very much for these times: Not the antiheroine we knew we needed, maybe, but one that we deserve." —K.J.
The Bad Guys (2022)
While most crime movies trend toward more adult fare, The Bad Guys is a family-friendly (but no less entertaining) option. After a criminal gang of animals is caught and apprehended, they are given the opportunity to reform their ways. While most of the group fails to make any genuine effort to do so, their leader, Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) is surprised to find satisfaction in going the straight and narrow.
The DreamWorks-animated film is as stylish and thrilling as the live-action heist films to which it pays homage, from Pulp Fiction to the Ocean's franchise. The Bad Guys also features stunning animation that combines 2D and 3D, evoking the style of the children's book series of the same name. —K.J.
The Harder They Fall (2021)
Against the backdrop of the Old West, outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) is ready for revenge. Having witnessed his parents' murder at a young age by the villainous Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), Love and his gang seek out the dastardly criminal, recently freed from prison. Together with his gang and his lover, Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Love prepares to finally seek justice for his childhood trauma.
Propelled by kinetic energy, committed performances, and a dynamic soundtrack, The Harder They Fall also made headlines as one of the only mainstream Westerns to feature an all-Black cast among its principal characters. The film assembled newer stars like Majors and Beetz with familiar favorites like Elba, Regina King, and Delroy Lindo, and the cast earned numerous ensemble award nominations among critics' groups. —K.J.
Side Effects (2013)
Mixing Hitchcockian psychological thriller with chilly crime drama, Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects is a potent cocktail that keeps the audience guessing. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes New York socialite Emily (Rooney Mara) an experimental medication following an attempted suicide — medication that seemingly causes her to then murder her husband. But was it really the drug that made her take such action?
What unfolds is a twisty examination of the perils of Big Pharma when it comes to mental health, and how easily exploitable the system proves to be. Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones costar as Emily's husband and former psychiatrist, respectively. —K.J.
The White Tiger (2021)
An enterprising Indian man does whatever he can to break free of a life of servitude in this sprawling crime drama. Young Balram (Adarsh Gourav) works as a chauffeur for a rich couple (Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas), who treat him with respect but still keep the boundaries of their different classes in place. One night, a deadly accident leads to Balram having to take the blame for it, which sends him down a path of exploiting his boss and trying to find a way out so that he can be his own boss.
The White Tiger earned huge critical acclaim, with EW's Leah Greenblatt praising the central performance by Gourav, "whose soulful combination of sheer will and vulnerability should, in a just world, win him the kind of accolades that helped make Slumdog's Dev Patel a star." Gourav received a BAFTA nomination for his turn, while writer-director Ramin Bahrani earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. —K.J.
The Good Nurse (2022)
This slow-burn crime drama is all the more chilling knowing it's based on a true story. Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, an ICU night nurse who discovers that her friend and colleague, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), has been secretly killing patients. A pair of police detectives on the case convince Amy — who is also dealing with a heart condition — to find a way to get Charlie to reveal the truth.
The Good Nurse drew praise particularly for its central performances by Chastain and Redmayne. "Chastain, tremulous yet determined, brings something gratifyingly grounded to her everywoman hero," EW's Leah Greenblatt wrote in her review, "and an eerie, pitch-perfect Redmayne, wearing Charlie's nice-guy drag like a battering ram, lets his mask slip so incrementally that the final scenes feel like a true terrifying rupture." Redmayne earned nominations at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTAs for his performance. —K.J.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are an unexpected yet perfect buddy-cop pairing in this underrated 2016 gem. The crime comedy follows private investigator Holland March (Gosling) and fixer Jackson Healy (Crowe) as they look into the disappearance of the daughter of a high-ranking Department of Justice official. Along the way, they come across colorful characters aplenty as they navigate 1970s Los Angeles.
Directed and co-written by Shane Black, who made a name for himself with other smart-alecky films like 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2013's Iron Man 3, the film crackles with wise-guy banter and rich atmosphere. As EW's Chris Nashawaty put it, "Basically, it's Inherent Vice without the highbrow aspirations, or The Big Lebowski with two Dudes." —K.J.
22 July (2018)
Based on true events, 22 July reconstructs one of the worst days in Norwegian history when a white nationalist terrorist killed 77 people via explosives and gunfire. Director Paul Greengrass, who helmed such pulse-pounding thrillers as United 93 (2006) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), delivers another tense experience here as we follow the terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie), as he shows no mercy to his victims.
Be warned, though, EW's Chris Nashawaty noted in his review: "22 July is exceptionally choreographed," but "tough to sit through." The film is a harrowing look at the banality of evil in its most dangerous form. —K.J.
The Highwaymen (2019)
Bonnie and Clyde stunned audiences when it premiered in the summer of 1967, revolutionizing cinema with its casual broadcasting of gratuitous sex and violence. The Highwaymen (2019), the story of the two Texas rangers charged with hunting down the bank robbers, doesn't take the same guns-blazing approach, but remains a worthy follow up to one of Hollywood's best-known crime stories. Less of an action film than a character study with occasional stunt sequences, The Highwaymen stars Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner as past-their-prime patrolmen, pulled out of their desultory retirements and returned to the job — and their old partnership — by a put-upon Texas governor (Kathy Bates). Directed by John Lee Hancock with an eye towards authenticity — the crew filmed the climactic showdown on the same stretch of road where the outlaws were ambushed in May of 1934 — Costner says the experience of shooting the final scene was "haunting."
A slow-burn Depression-era buddy cop film with historical roots, EW critic Chris Nashawaty wrote, "The Highwaymen is a leisurely ride with a pair of actors who know how to do a lot by not doing too much." —Dennis Perkins
The Irishman (2019)
Now that Netflix has cited this Martin Scorsese Mob movie as one of the "expensive vanity projects" the streamer will no longer be producing, it's about time to check out the old-timer filmmaker's collaboration with longtime muse Robert De Niro. Based on a biography of supposed Mafia hitman (and self-professed murderer of Teamster head Jimmy Hoffa), Frank Sheeran, The Irishman sees Scorsese once more returning to that specific criminal underworld, legendary stars in tow. In addition to De Niro's Sheeran, Hoffa himself is played by Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel plays mobster Angelo Bruno, and Joe Pesci (lured out of retirement by De Niro) plays mob boss Russell Bufalino.
And if you're wondering how those septuagenarian stars can play middle-aged, 1950s–1970s versions of their real-life characters, you can thank that Netflix money. The streamer allowed Scorsese to experiment with groundbreaking (and mostly successful) de-aging tricks as De Niro's elderly assassin looks back on his improbably eventful life of crime. So, does The Irishman qualify as a "vanity project?" Possibly. But it's not vanity when you're Martin Scorsese, continuing the career-long exploration of the links between power, violence, greed, and the American dream. —D.P.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
Sure, this sequel film following Jesse Pinkman's struggle to leave his criminal past behind (after escaping those neo-Nazis in the Breaking Bad finale) might be little more than another few episodes of the hit series. But who's complaining about that? Especially as Aaron Paul returns to his career-making role, and series creator Vince Gilligan returns as writer and director. As Gilligan proved with his equally showstopping spin-off series Better Call Saul, he's adept at fleshing out his characters' pasts and futures with equal skill.
Returning shattered to an Albuquerque reeling from his meth-cooking work, Paul's Pinkman is as weighed down by guilt over his actions as he is by the gathered forces hunting him. Seeking out old allies and accomplices (among others, this marked the last on-screen appearance of Robert Forster as criminal "disappearer" Ed Galbraith) as he plots his next move, Pinkman must contend with the damage he's done to himself and everyone in his life, all while contemplating whether he deserves a fresh start at all. Paul has never been better than as the tortured Pinkman, whom EW's critic praised for "impressively juggles multiple eras of Pinkmania: 'Yeah, bitch!'-ing meth student, wuvvy romantic, wrecking ball of soul-scabbed vengeance." —D.P.