15 of the best and 15 of the worst Netflix originals that came out this year
Netflix originals like "Sweet Tooth," and "Shadow and Bone" got rave reviews from critics.
Others, like "The Woman in the Window" and "Thunder Force," missed the mark.
Editor's note: All scores were current on the date of publication and are subject to change. Netflix's originals generally consist of both content created by the streaming service and content exclusive to the platform.
Critics loved the stylish French series "Lupin."
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Summary: Inspired by the exploits of fictional thief Arsène Lupin, Assane Diop (Omar Sy) uses his wits and tricks to avenge his father's name.
"Lupin" has gotten rave reviews from critics and tops a lot of critical lists for best TV shows of 2021.
"'Lupin' ranks among the most bingeable TV series ever made," Judy Berman wrote for TIME Magazine.
Critics are praising "Sweet Tooth" across the board.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Summary: In a dystopian future, a boy born with deer antlers (Christian Convery) befriends a wanderer named Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) as they traverse a wild, new America.
From the direction and writing to the talented cast, "Sweet Tooth" earned praise across the board.
"The performances are strong throughout — Anozie is particularly remarkable — but it's the consistently inventive writing and robust filmmaking that makes the project stand out," Brian Tallerico wrote for Roger Ebert.
"The Power of the Dog" was praised as an incredible modern Western.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Summary: In 1925, callous rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) infiltrates and manipulates his brother George's (Jesse Plemons) family.
Critics said "The Power of the Dog" was a slow-burn Western that benefited from its masterful direction.
"Jane Campion's eighth feature film, her first in 12 years, 'The Power of the Dog' reconfirms the director as a powerful force in contemporary cinema," David Stratton wrote for The Australian.
"Squid Game" was a game-changer for critics.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Summary: After falling deeply into debt, Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae) puts his life on the line in a violent competition for the chance to win millions.
Boasting strong social commentary and brutal action sequences, "Squid Game" was hailed by critics as an innovative Korean drama that changed the game for Netflix.
"'Squid Game' is deservedly one of the hottest shows of the year, and it highlights the good streaming can do in regards to breaking down cultural barriers and exposing viewers to masterworks from across the world they would otherwise not have access to," Mitchell Chapman wrote for InReview.
Critics called "The White Tiger" a captivating thrill ride.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Summary: In this dramatic thriller based on the novel by Aravind Adiga, Balram (Adarsh Gourav) sees an opportunity to escape poverty when he becomes the driver for a wealthy couple (Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkummar Rao).
Critics fell in love with "The White Tiger," calling it mesmerizing, funny, and surprisingly dark.
"'The White Tiger' is a kinetic excursion into darkness with Balram as our charismatic guide," Anupama Chopra wrote for Film Companion.
Critics said "Passing" was a powerful adaptation.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Summary: Based on a novel by Nella Larsen, this drama centers on two former childhood friends Clare and Irene (Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson) and their relationship with race and identity in 1920s New York.
Packed with compelling acting performances, "Passing" was received as a thoughtful and intense drama.
In a review for Newport This Week, Loren King described the film as a "powerful period drama that delicately imagines the interior lives of two women as they grapple with issues of race, identity and belonging."
"The Dig" earned high praise for its lead actors.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Summary: Set in pre-World War II England, "The Dig" centers on a young widow (Carey Mulligan) as she tasks an archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes) with excavating the grounds of her estate.
Critics were charmed by the historical romance and praised the performances of the cast.
"This well-acted, carefully constructed film is a pleasant, crowd-pleasing, word-of-mouth surprise," Eddie Harrison wrote in his review for Film Authority.
"Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal" was commended as a compelling documentary.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Summary: Through documentary footage, wiretaps, and stylized reenactments, "Operation Varsity Blues" shows how wealthy American families bought their way into top universities and were subsequently charged by the FBI.
Reviewers agreed that "Operation Varsity Blues" was compelling and ambitious.
"It's all fascinating stuff, perfect material for a documentary to dive deep into," Adam Graham wrote for the Detroit News.
Critics were impressed by "Shadow and Bone."
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Summary: Based on the young-adult series by Leigh Bardugo, "Shadow and Bone" whisks viewers away to Ravka, where mapmaker Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) harnesses a power that may help her kingdom in its battle against a shadowy void.
"Shadow and Bone" earned rave reviews from critics, who praised it as a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre.
"In a time when we're all pretty much over grim dystopias, the show has a human heart, a rollicking pace, and an honest-to-god sense of humor," wrote Jenna Scherer in a review for Rolling Stone.
"Finding 'Ohana" earned solid praise as a fun family adventure.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Summary: After moving to O'ahu with their mother, siblings Pili Kawena (Kea Peahu) and Ioane (Alex Aiono) go out looking for buried treasure in an attempt to save their grandfather's home.
Using references to family favorites like "The Goonies" (1985) critics praised "Finding 'Ohana" stirring up nostalgia and ushering in love for Hawaiian culture.
"'Finding 'Ohana' is a family-friendly adventure that's sure to be treasured," Kristy Puchko wrote in a review for IGN Movies.
Reviewers called "The Chair" a smart satire with heart.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Summary: Single mother Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) balances work and life as she becomes the first woman to lead the English department at Pembroke University.
A heartfelt series with a strong lead, "The Chair" won over most critics and left them wanting more.
"In a year full of strong female roles on screen ... Oh has eclipsed them all," Thomas Mitchell wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"Concrete Cowboy" was applauded as a well-told drama.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Summary: After Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is sent to live with his estranged father (Idris Elba) in Northern Philadelphia, he uncovers a community of modern cowboys.
With gorgeous cinematography and a top-notch cast, "Concrete Cowboy" didn't have a hard time winning critics over.
"'Concrete Cowboy' is a well-done and timely coming-of-age film in the era of the Movement For Black Lives," Frantz Jerome wrote for Black Nerd Problems.
Critics felt like "To All the Boys: Always and Forever" brought its trilogy to a satisfying end.
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Summary: In the third "To All the Boys" film, Lara Jean (Lana Condor) returns from a family trip and dreams about what lies for her and Peter (Noah Centineo) after high school.
Critics weren't wowed by the sequel, but they largely agreed that it served as a fitting end to the hit trilogy.
"The affectionate energy between stars Condor and Centineo keeps the sparks flying," said Monica Castillo in her review for Roger Ebert.
Critics said "Bad Trip" was fun if you let your guard down.
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Summary: "Bad Trip" blurs the lines between scripted comedy and hidden-camera prank show in this movie about two best friends (Eric Andre and Lil Rel Howery) and their misguided road trip across America.
Critics said the broad humor might be too much for some viewers, but it was a fun comedy if you allowed yourself to go along for the ride.
"'Bad Trip' might be a dumb, gross candid-camera comedy, but don't be surprised if it makes you feel a little better about your world," Bilge Ebiri wrote in a review for Vulture.
Critics said "Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell" shed light on an icon.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Summary: "Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell" is an intimate look into the life of iconic rapper Notorious B.I.G. through the eyes of his closest friends and collaborators.
Critics felt like the music documentary separated man from myth while giving Biggie his due credit for his influence on the industry.
"We have plenty of information about the idea of the Notorious B.I.G., but 'Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell' offers a rare look at the actual human being behind the legend," Jeff Ihaza wrote for Rolling Stone.
On the other hand, critics were less kind to "Country Comfort."
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Summary: After her career as a country singer is derailed, Bailey (Katharine McPhee) starts working as a nanny for a widowed cowboy (Eddie Cibrian) and his five kids.
"Country Comfort" split critics, with some finding it sweet and others finding it cloying.
"It may not be great art, but for certain kinds of viewers it's the comfort the title promises," Joyce Slaton said evenly for Common Sense Media.
"Yes Day" was called harmless and largely forgettable fun.
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Summary: After years of saying "no," parents Allison (Jennifer Garner) and Carlos Torres (Edgar Ramírez) treat their kids to a day where they say "yes" to a day of endless adventure.
Critics said "Yes Day" was geared more toward kids than parents, but it largely amounted to harmless fun.
"It gets very very silly ... but for much younger kids, they may enjoy it," Christy Lemire wrote in her review for Film Week.
Despite the cast's best efforts, "Firefly Lane" fell flat with a lot of critics.
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Summary: "Firefly Lane" traces the tight-knit friendship between Tully Hart (Katherine Heigl) and Kate Mularkey (Sarah Chalke) over the course of three decades.
Critics felt like the accomplished actresses at the series' helm couldn't overcome a boring script.
"The two actresses, along with the two who play them as teens, are as good as they can be, given the flatness and redundancies of the script," Matthew Gilbert wrote for the Boston Globe.
Most critics said "The Crew" was riddled with clichés.
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Summary: After years spent running his NASCAR crew his way, Kevin Gibson (Kevin James) butts heads with his daughter Catherine (Jillian Mueller) when she shakes things up.
Most critics said "The Crew" relied heavily on tired clichés from a bygone era of television entertainment.
"Not that long ago, 'The Crew' would have felt like a conventional sitcom," Sadie Gennis wrote for Variety. "But now, it feels like a relic from an era we are lucky to have left behind."
The critical consensus for "Pretty Smart" was pretty low.
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Summary: On this sitcom, Harvard graduate Chelsea (Emily Osment) reluctantly moves in with her air-headed sister Claire (Olivia Macklin) and her three unconventional roommates.
Although "Pretty Smart" could be painfully unfunny, some critics saw a hint of potential in the series.
In a review for Processed Media, Randy Dankievitch wrote that "there's still a long way for 'Pretty Smart' to go before it can really be considered in the Pantheon of Good Sitcoms."
"Things Heard & Seen" was viewed as a poor adaptation of the novel that inspired it.
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Summary: Catherine Clare (Amanda Seyfried) starts to question reality as ghosts stir at the edge of her vision and her marriage with her husband (James Norton) slowly falls apart.
Critics said that the horror fell short of its riveting source material, "All Things Cease to Appear" by Elizabeth Brundage.
Film critic Richard Roeper called it an "overwrought horror starring an overqualified cast" in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times.
"The Unforgivable" received poor reviews despite Sandra Bullock's strong performance.
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Summary: After being released from prison for a 20-year sentence, Ruth Slater (Bullock) desperately tries to reconnect with the younger sister she once raised.
Critics said Bullock deserved praise for breathing life into the film, but even her powerhouse performance couldn't overcome the drama's uneven storytelling.
Gary M. Kramer called the film "a dreadful and dreary melodrama" in a review for Salon.
"Outside the Wire" failed to measure up to better sci-fi thrillers.
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Summary: In the near future, drone pilot Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) partners up with an android officer named Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) as the world teeters on the edge of a nuclear war.
Critics admitted that there were worse films to waste a Saturday watching, but they wanted more from the cast and crew.
"Despite strong lead performances and some intriguing themes, this rarely rises above being a serviceable action thriller," Amon Warmann wrote in his review for Empire Magazine.
Critics said "The Woman in the Window" suffered from messy tonal shifts.
Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Summary: In this horror drama based on A.J. Finn's 2018 novel, agoraphobic ex-therapist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) takes it upon herself to solve her neighbor's murder while trapped in her New York apartment.
Despite a talented director, screenwriter, and cast at its disposable, "The Woman in the Window" failed to enthrall critics.
"[Director] Joe Wright can't seem to choose between making this a melodramatic, campy movie, or a taught thriller," Claudia Puig wrote in her review for Film Week.
The sitcom "Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!" failed to engage critics.
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Summary: Bran Dixon (Jamie Foxx) enlists the help of his family and friends when his teenage daughter (Kyla-Drew) comes to live with him.
Critics had love for the cast but felt like the sitcom's humor was too outdated.
"Jamie Foxx is a funny guy," Bill Goodykoontz wrote in his review for the Arizona Republic. "You'd just never know it from 'Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!'"
Critics called the thriller "Hypnotic" over the top.
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Summary: Overcome with grief, Jenn (Kate Siegel) seeks counsel from a renowned therapist (Jason O'Mara) who specializes in hypnotism. But soon after their sessions start, reality begins to slip away.
By riding a thin line between wacky and pretentious, the thriller failed to charm reviewers.
"The performances from this wonderful cast go well beyond the shallow script and illogical story," JK Sooja wrote for Common Sense Media. "Slickly produced and coolly shot, 'Hypnotic' is all surface."
Wild transformations couldn't distract critics from the boring dates on "Sexy Beasts."
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Summary: On this unique dating show, singles looking for love don monstrous prosthetics, dolphin fins, and devil horns as they go on blind dates.
Critics found humor in Rob Delaney's quippy narration, but that was the only thing they seemed to like about the cringe-worthy dating show.
"At every juncture, every big reveal ... I thought to myself: this is genuinely the worst television I have ever seen," Emily Bootle reviewed for New Statesman.
Critics felt like "Thunder Force" did its leading ladies a disservice.
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
Summary: Two estranged friends — Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) — reunite as a crime-fighting duo after Emily devises a serum that gives ordinary people superpowers.
Critics said that McCarthy and Spencer gave it their all, but they couldn't distract viewers from the film's humorless jokes and meandering plot.
"McCarthy here is tasked with fighting off a band of cosmically enhanced criminals wreaking havoc on Chicago, but the bigger challenge is how to wring any comedy from Falcone's supernaturally unfunny script," Raphael Abraham reported for the Financial Times.
For most critics, "The Starling" ultimately fell flat.
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Summary: Lilly (McCarthy) and Jack Maynard (Chris O'Dowd) try to find their way back to normalcy after the sudden loss of their infant daughter.
"The Starling" had the groundwork of a good drama but critics said that the film was less than the sum of its parts.
In a review for Lola On Film, Milana Vujkov wrote that it was "written as if it were a collection of random ideas for characters" and directed at the "pace of a wellness seminar."
"The Minimalists: Less is Now" came across as cluttered and cheap.
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Summary: In this documentary, lifelong friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share advice for cutting down on consumerism and living life with a minimalist mindset.
Infused with the subtlety of a long Ted Talk, "The Minimalists: Less is Now" felt cheap in the eyes of film reviewers.
"[It's] a cluttered and messy documentary that feels much longer than its running time," Glenn Sumi wrote for NOW Toronto.
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