One of the best-kept secrets in streaming is Hulu's assortment of Criterion Collection titles. Though Hulu doesn't usually have much in the way of movie offerings (that's more Netflix's jam), the streaming service's partnership with the Criterion Collection, today's pre-eminent publisher of re-releases of some of the most significant films of all time, is definitely a nice feather in Hulu's cap.
A subscription to Hulu will allow you to access more than 900 Criterion Collection films from around the world and throughout the history of cinema, including classics from Charlie Chaplin, Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini, among many other masters of cinema. More film titles are also being added all of the time.
The vast amount of Criterion Collection movies available to stream on Hulu is impressive, but it's also a bit daunting, especially if you're not that well-acquainted with Criterion and can't tell your Ingmar Bergman from your Ingrid Bergman. What's more, Hulu's collection of Criterion films is incredibly diverse, spanning genres, styles and eras.
That's why I've decided to highlight some of the best Criterion Collection movies on Hulu according to five categories (Essential Films, Deep Cuts, Documentaries, Surprising Criterion Collection Titles and Before They Directed Blockbusters) to help guide you through your journey watching these classic films. While you're likely to be entertained on some level by every Criterion Collection movie available on Hulu, some definitely stand out more than others. Here are 15 of Hulu's Criterion Collection titles that are sure to make an impression on everyone from the weekend streamer to film geeks.
These are classic films that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima
Perfect for fans of: The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Braveheart (1995)
Few directors have been more influential on contemporary filmmakers than Akira Kurosawa. George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are all admirers of his work. Obviously, Kurosawa made many exceptional films, but Seven Samurai is his finest. Though this samurai epic is about three-and-a-half hours long, its thrilling tale of the titular group hired to protect a small village from bandits is sure to keep you entertained for every minute of it. Seven Samurai also provided the inspiration for the classic 1960 western The Magnificent Seven, which Antoine Fuqua is remaking with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke for release in movie theaters next year, so if you've never seen Seven Samurai, you're running out of excuses not to watch it.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand
Perfect for fans of: It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Forrest Gump (1994), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
You'll find many films from renowned Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman as part of the Criterion Collection on Hulu, but I recommend Wild Strawberries, which is one of the easier-to-digest yet still complex films in his repertoire. The movie follows an elderly man named Professor Isak Borg as his road trip traveling to accept an honorary degree becomes a journey through the experiences and choices of his life. Like many of Bergman's films, Wild Strawberries provides a thought-provoking commentary on life and death, ultimately showing how complicated the meanings of both can be.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy
Perfect for fans of: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The 400 Blows is one of my favorite films of the French New Wave, the name given to the group of films created by young French directors in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The film is partly autobiographical, recreating the troubled childhood of director François Truffaut in the form of a young boy named Antoine Doinel, whose lack of connection and respect for authority figures, such as his parents and teachers, eventually leads to him to get into some mischief. Though The 400 Blows may have you feeling like a kid again, this isn't just kids' stuff. The 400 Blows is also a meditation on the roles we play in life — both those that we choose and those that are thrust upon us from birth — as well as societal injustice.
These may not be the most recognizable titles in the Criterion Collection, but after watching them, you'll definitely think they should be.
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Machiko Kyô, Mitsuko Mito Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka
Perfect for fans of: Ghost (1990), Let the Right One In (2008)
Though Kurosawa is the most famous Japanese director of all time, he was slightly preceded by Kenji Mizoguchi, whose films are more than worth checking out. Mizoguchi's 1953 film Ugetsu is a haunting masterpiece filled with love, war and ghosts. It tells the story of two brothers in feudal Japan who have to deal with the consequences of their blind ambition. Though the story of Ugetsu is one you'll probably never forget, it's the beautifully creepy mood Mizoguchi creates in this film that will continue to give you goosebumps long after it's over.
Cléo From 5 To 7 (1962)
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothée Blanck
Perfect for fans of: Before Sunrise (1995), Amélie (2001)
Another favorite of mine from the French New Wave is Agnès Varda's Cléo From 5 To 7. There isn't much of a plot to this movie. After the opening scene where a fortune teller predicts main protagonist Cléo will soon perish, she roams around Paris for the day as she awaits the results of a biopsy. Along the way, Cléo does normal, everyday things like going shopping, rehearsing with her band and sitting in the park. However, Cléo From 5 To 7 isn't just fluff. Varda uses these seemingly quotidian actions to provide powerful commentary on life, gender and war.
La Jetée (1962)
Director: Chris Marker
Stars: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux
Perfect for fans of: 12 Monkeys (1995), Minority Report (2002)
If you've seen a sci-fi movie in the past 50 years, you have Chris Marker's La Jetée to thank for that. This short film uses only still images, a technique that was kind of unheard of at the time. It details a post-apocalyptic tale of time travel that you should really see for yourself and not just have described to you. What starts with a prisoner in a World War III POW camp recounting a memory of watching a man die at Orly Airport in Paris quickly makes you question everything. La Jetée's influence on the modern sci-fi film can be most clearly seen in the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys, which is based on Marker's film.
Anyone who thinks a captivating film has to be fictional hasn't seen these documentaries.
Night And Fog (1955)
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Michel Bouquet (narrator)
Perfect for fans of: Shoah (1985), The Act of Killing (2012)
French filmmaker Alain Resnais was perhaps best known for feature films like Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. However, it was his 1955 documentary short Night and Fog that initially got him noticed. Night and Fog juxtaposes footage of the abandoned concentration camps that were used during the Holocaust with that of actual footage from when they were in use. As an early cinematic analysis of World War II, complete with explicit footage from the Holocaust, Night and Fog did not sit well with the French government, eventually being pulled from the country's Cannes Film Festival lineup. It did, however, get an official screening at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1956 and lives on as a sobering reminder of the atrocities humans are capable of commiting against other humans, never fully leaving out the possibility of it happening again.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
Stars: The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman)
Perfect for fans of: Woodstock (1970), The Last Waltz (1978), Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)
Gimme Shelter is one of the best music documentaries of all time, and that's probably because it chronicles one of the most famous — or rather infamous — events in the history of rock 'n' roll. The film follows The Rolling Stones on their 1969 U.S. tour, ending with the violent, shocking and tragic events during a music festival at Altamont Speedway in August of that year, which the band headlined. With the Hells Angels acting as something of security at the event, the festival quickly became a violent scene with the killing of one concertgoer and three accidental deaths. Gimme Shelter has forever documented one of the wildest and tumultuous times in rock 'n' roll ever.
Grey Gardens (1976)
Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
Stars: Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale
Perfect for fans of: Capturing the Friedmans (2003), The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Grey Gardens has become one of the most iconic documentaries of all time simply because the story is just too bizarre to believe. The film gives a glimpse into the lives of Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale and her mother Edith Bouvier Beale, two recluses who just also happened to be cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. However, life for the Bouvier Beales was anything but glamorous. Though they lived in an East Hampton mansion, it was basically uninhabitable with the place falling apart and cats running around. The Bouvier Beales somehow still managed to look on the bright side of life, and their kooky enthusiasm would eventually make Grey Gardens a cult classic and help these ladies live on in American pop culture forever.
SURPRISING CRITERION COLLECTION TITLES
The stereotypical Criterion Collection film is a high-quality and artsy endeavor, so you may be surprised to see these movies on the list. However, each brings something that makes them fitting additions to the Criterion Collection.
The Blob (1958)
Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Stars: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe
Perfect for fans of: It Came From Outer Space (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Mars Attacks! (1996)
The Blob is your quintessential 1950s B-movie, so what's it doing in the same category as critically acclaimed pieces of cinema like 8 1/2, Breathless and The Seventh Seal? Well, the Criterion Collection is about preserving important films in the history of cinema, and it's The Blob's status as an exemplar of schlock that actually makes it a no-brainer to add to this group of films. With its plot about a growing alien lifeform wreaking havoc on a small town, The Blob will be an entertaining 90 minutes, if nothing else.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Director: Richard Lester
Stars: The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr)
Perfect for fans of: Singin' in the Rain (1952), Monty Python comedy, Spice World (1997)
A Hard Day's Night wasn't the first rock 'n' roll movie, but it is one of the most iconic. The Beatles' first film presents a fictional account of Beatlemania in 1964, but once you stop laughing at its satirical view of fame and show business, you actually might want to cry a little over how eerily accurate its portrayal is of one of the most significant periods in music history. With the comedic genius of director Richard Lester and talent like actor Victor Spinetti, A Hard Day's Night is a good time even if for some reason you're not a Beatles fan.
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Perfect for fans of: Blade Runner (1982), The Thing (1982)
Scanners might not be David Cronenberg's best movie, but it did help put the Canadian director on the map in the U.S. The movie is set in a world with 237 scanners, or people with telepathic powers, who eventually end up in a battle between those wanting to take over the world and those trying to stop them. It's a freaky film with loads of special effects and gross-out moments, but hey, that's Cronenberg for you.
BEFORE THEY DIRECTED BLOCKBUSTERS
Many filmmakers directing some of the biggest Hollywood movies today got their start at the helm of smaller films that showed their potential.
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning
Perfect for fans of: Rear Window (1954), The Conversation (1974)
Before he became famous for directing such films as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible, one of Brian De Palma's earliest films was Sisters, about a journalist who gets caught up with the wrong pair of separated conjoined twins after suspecting one of them of murder. With women behaving badly and explicit violence, Sisters gives an early glimpse at some of De Palma's trademarks that we would continue to see in his later films.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook
Perfect for fans of: Poltergeist (1982), The Babadook (2014), It Follows (2014)
Cronos is Guillermo del Toro's feature film debut, and it also marks the start of his longtime collaboration with actors Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. This film tells the tale of antiques dealer Jesús Gris (Luppi) who stumbles upon an old golden device in the shape of a scarab that ends up giving him powers and also makes him the target of an American named Angel (Perlman). Cronos is full of the nuanced, fantastical horror that del Toro is known for today in such acclaimed films as the Hellboy franchise and Pan's Labyrinth.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Steven Soderbergh, Betsy Brantley, David Jensen
Perfect for fans of: Pink Flamingos (1972), Office Space (1999), Adaptation. (2002)
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most revered directors working in Hollywood today, but his films like Erin Brokovich, the Ocean's Eleven series and Magic Mike seem downright conventional compared with his early film Schizopolis, in which he wrote, directed and starred. In the film, Soderbergh plays both Fletcher Munson, a speechwriter for a New Age guru, and his doppelganger, dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek, who is having an affair with Munson's wife. All the while, an insane exterminator by the name of Elmo Oxygen is plotting against Munson's boss. No, no. Your mind is OK. Schizopolis is just as off-the-wall as it sounds.