The 10 Best Los Angeles Movies On Netflix
Los Angeles doesn't always play itself in the movies. But when it does, no other city captures the imagination of filmmakers quite like it can. New York City might get top billing more often, but it doesn't have the range. L.A. can be a place of dreams, a nightmarish sprawl, infested with criminals, a cultural void or sunny paradise—sometimes all within the same film.
There is an endless number of films where the L.A. setting is an integral part of the film, and thankfully many are on Netflix for your instant satisfaction. Here are the best films on the platform that celebrate our fair city.
(Please note that every month there are dozens of films that are added and removed from Netflix. This list is just a snapshot of what's available as of publication.)
CLUELESS (directed by Amy Heckerling)
Clueless is like totally one of the best films of the 1990s, if only for the big screen introduction of Paul Rudd as an affable, mostly-responsible heartthrob. In this riff on Jane Austen's Emma, Alicia Silverstone plays Cher Horowitz, a wealthy, teenage Angeleno preoccupied with matchmaking and the mall. Her drama is very Los Angeles—much of it takes place while driving (in convertibles, duh), from arguing about directions, the struggle to merge onto the freeway, and trying (and failing) to avoid the Valley. Plus, we get one of the gnarliest burns when Tai (Brittany Murphy, R.I.P.) tells Cher, "You're a virgin who can't drive." Way harsh, Tai, indeed. — Devon McReynolds
SUNSET BOULEVARD (directed by Billy Wilder)
Hollywood devours itself in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic. When two individuals kicked to the curb by the biz (a down-on-his-luck screenwriter and a forgotten star of the silent era) find their way into each other's orbit, the film dives into the dark side of Hollywood: the one of past glories hung onto for far too long and hapless attempts at fame. That Paramount Pictures was willing to not only produce Sunset Boulevard, but also serve as a setting goes to show that the industry has a sick and twisted sense of humor about itself.
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (directed by Robert Zemeckis)
The announcement of the Space Jam sequel captured the imagination of nostalgic millennials, so now is as good a time as any to revisit the underrated live-action/cartoon mashup that predated the first Space Jam by eight years. Who Framed Roger Rabbit's reimagining of the mythic demise of the Red Car is a perverse, cartoonishly (of course) violent and immaculately crafted film whose enduring legacy is, sadly, a ride for children at Disneyland.
PULP FICTION (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
With Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino managed to make an eternally cool film set in Los Angeles without venturing into any of its glamorous spots (save for the Wallaces' house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills). Its sharp-dressed hitmen get their jobs done at the drab, postwar apartment buildings we all live in, and they settle for the same diners we eat at when we also find ourselves in an unfamiliar part of the Valley or South Bay. Tarantino's L.A.-set Reservoir Dogs is also available on Netflix.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
The gangster saga by way of crumbling porn empire saga Boogie Nights (also on Netflix) is the most popular Paul Thomas Anderson film, but I'll take Punch-Drunk Love (and the not-on-Netflix Inherent Vice) as the quintessential PT(L)A film. Shunning the sexier, more glamorous corners of the town for his old stomping grounds of the San Fernando Valley ("[N]o other director has ever portrayed the Valley as Anderson does: lovingly," wrote Molly Lambert in Grantland), Anderson turns the suburban sprawl and cookie-cutter concrete blocks into a colorful, wildly romantic Tatiesque playground. A passing truck on Lankershim Boulevard literally sings along to the tune of the film, and the sprawling grid of streetlights creates an atmosphere that is at once both eerie and beautiful.
ASHES AND EMBERS (directed by Haile Gerima)
One of the great injustices of cinema is that the black voices of the L.A. Rebellion still haven't received their due, no matter how many times Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep gets lauded or Thom Andersen champions their work. As a result, the majority of it remains unavailable outside of occasional screenings. Thankfully, Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust is headed back to the big screen this year and Haile Gerima's Ashes and Embers is now available on Netflix. As described in the New York Times as exploring, "the experience of a black Vietnam veteran trying to come to terms with American life," it's in Los Angeles "where he hopes to find his future, and instead winds up in police custody." Also available on Netflix is Burnett's The Glass Shield, starring Ice Cube as a man whose arrest is the catalyst for the uncovering of corruption and racism within the LAPD.
SWINGERS (directed by Doug Liman)
Swingers the film and the real-life story of the film are a quintessential Only In L.A. tale. "Like a prequel to Entourage (but way more tolerable), Swingers follows a group of struggling actors in Los Angeles who hang out, swing dance, bemoan the state of their careers, and try to get laid" as they jaunt about Los Feliz haunts like The Dresden Lounge and the departed Derby, writes Kyle Buchanan in Vulture. With its critical success, modest box office and eventual cult following, Vince Vaughn would go on to become a star and co-star and screenwriter Jon Favreau would become a blockbuster director. Favreau would come back to Los Angeles, writing, directing and starring in 2014's Chef (also on Netflix).
RED HOLLYWOOD (directed by Thom Andersen and Noël Burch)
Unfortunately, Thom Andersen's superb film essay Los Angeles Plays Itself is no longer on Netflix, but we still have Red Hollywood (co-directed and co-written by Noël Burch). While the common narrative of the Hollywood blacklist (served to Oscar voters recently as Trumbo) is one of martyrs punished for doing nothing wrong, "It would be an injustice to those who were blacklisted to say they did nothing to deserve it" Andersen and the film argue. Instead, Red Hollywood argues that the Hollywood screenwriters, actors, and filmmakers that were shunned by the House Un-American Activities Committed truly were the subversive men and women they were feared to be. The version on Netflix is a re-edit and remaster of the original 1996 documentary.
ESCAPE FROM L.A. (directed by John Carpenter)
John Carpenter's vision of a future (2013, in this 1996 film) Los Angeles is probably how Tea Partiers see us: a Sodom and Gomorrah separated from the mainland by natural disasters of Biblical proportions. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) just can't keep himself away from these places. It's probably not too far removed from reality, anyway, depending on how this upcoming election goes. Vote wisely.
SOMEWHERE (directed by Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola's divisive Somewhere is the ultimate Chill L.A. Weekend movie—what could be a more perfect way to relax than poolside at the Chateau Marmont and do absolutely nothing. For Somewhere, Coppola was given rare and complete access to the landmark hotel, L.A.'s own shining castle upon a hill. Somewhere was shot by the late Harry Savides, whose outstanding work of capturing L.A.'s hazy sunlight also includes Noah Baumbach's Greenberg (also on Netflix) and Coppola's Bling Ring.
Also on Netflix: Nightcrawler, Changeling, Tangerine, Beginners, The Canyons, Beyond The Lights
And we'd be remiss to not mention...
Netflix's own animated series is a cynical skewering of celebrity culture and a brutally honest depiction of depression, done through the lens of anthropomorphized animals whose names are dadjoke-level puns. Both melancholic and laugh-out-loud hilarious, all while being downright bizarre. Everything in L.A. is made an easy target for jokes: Hollywoo (not a typo), bad sitcoms, Crossfit, Scientology, improv comedy troupes and c-list celebs (did you catch the Angelfish billboard?) to name a few. Can't wait for the third season.
Related: Los Angeles' Best Romantic Comedies