The 50 best movies on Stan (January 2024)

Critic Craig Mathieson has combed the Stan archives to deliver the mother of all guides to great movies available on the platform. In this list you will find modern masterpieces, 20th century classics, arthouse sensations, essential world cinema, and more.

See also
* All new movies & series on Stan
* All new streaming movies & series
* The 50 best movies on Netflix Australia

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

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Steven Spielberg mixes voice work, motion-capture footage and digital effects to create this rip-roaring adaptation of the much-loved Hergé comic character. There are action sequences here the equal of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Jamie Bell’s boy reporter and Andy Serkis’ salty sea captain taking on Daniel Craig’s globe-trotting villain. Great, great fun.

American Gigolo (1980)

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In this gilded, prescient thriller—complete with a Robert Bresson homage—from Paul Schrader that foresaw the decade to come, Richard Gere plays a Los Angeles escort whose sense of physical and emotional control is tested after he’s drawn into a criminal conspiracy.

American Hustle (2013)

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Recreating an FBI investigation from the 1970s with a cast that includes Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a never-better Christian Bale, David O. Russell’s love of antagonistic energy and abrasive personalities finds a melancholic heart amidst the self-destructive cons of this brittle drama with a heartbreaking sting.

Animal Kingdom (2010)

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One of the great Australian movies of the 21st century, David Michôd’s debut is a coming-of-age thriller set in the Melbourne underworld. Fear takes hold of a murderous clan whose destructive towers are memorably played by Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

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The Vietnam War was but a few years past when Francis Ford Coppola—who nearly died making it—unleashed this mesmerising study of personal and national collapse. Martin Sheen is the Green Beret sent beyond any boundaries, including reality, to assassinate Marlon Brando’s rogue American general, leading to vast set-pieces and dreamy invocations that bind the story together.

Arrival (2016)

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Directed with menacing wonder by Denis Villeneuve, this is compelling and original hard science fiction, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as two experts trying to communicate with obliquely intentioned aliens landed on an increasingly panicky planet. The story folds in on itself, so that triumph is tragedy and vice-versa in an elegiac requiem.

Birdman (2014)

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Alejandro G. Inarritu’s dexterous and dazzling comic drama about the untold performances that comprise a life finds Michael Keaton’s fading Hollywood star on Broadway with Emma Stone, Edward Norton, and Naomi Watts offering complications and support. Come for the gorgeously fluid long takes, stay for the flights of celestial hope.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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Endowed with the scrupulous teenage passion of Timothée Chalamet and the gilded restraint of Armie Hammer, Luca Guadagnino’s exquisite coming-of-age gay romance, set against the backdrop of a 1980s Italian summer, is a ravishing study of sensuality, connection, and ultimately loss.

Chinatown (1974)

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A defining vision of Los Angeles, written by a native (Robert Towne) and directed by an outsider (Roman Polanski), this neo-noir mystery stars Jack Nicholson as a private eye caught up with Faye Dunaway’s widow. The wielding of power—over people and property—is dissected with sun-drenched menace. As a feared patriarch, John Huston gives one of the greatest supporting turns in Hollywood history.

Clueless (1995)

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While the best lines from Amy Heckerling’s knowingly sweet teen comedy live on as memes, the film itself remains a perfectly calculated pleasure with Alicia Silverstone as the teenage sophisticate who sails through her privileged L.A. high school life while the ageless Paul Rudd waits in the wings.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

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Set in a constrictive, decaying Parisian society rife with indolent personal machinations, Stephen Frears’ 18th century drama follows the intrigue summoned by Glenn Close and John Malkovich’s amoral aristocrats, who use seduction as a weapon in plots that entangle the characters of Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, and Keanu Reeves. It is a savage, scything feature, complete with love as the ultimate downfall.

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

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An emblematic breakthrough for Gus Van Sant—with never better performances by Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch—this vividly observed depiction of the early 1970s drug milieu and addiction’s grasp helped redefine arthouse cinema towards the American experience. Van Sant’s eye for the human failings of his characters and the memoir-like detail combine in tremendous ways.

The Dry (2021)

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An outback noir thriller about culpability and regret, Robert Connolly’s box-office hit stars Eric Bana as a financial crimes police officer who returns to the hometown he fled as a teenager to investigate a horrific crime attributed to his best friend. Less interested in plot twists than allowing the drought-stricken landscape and its frayed inhabitants to take hold, it’s a masterful Australian genre piece.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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Still the most influential anime ever produced—The Matrix doesn’t exist without it—Mamoru Oshii’s neo-noir animation is set in a cyberpunk Japan of 2029, where a police cyborg, Motoko Kusunagi, is pursuing a hacker who targets human brains online. The feature is wildly atmospheric, and existentially tormented: both the body and mind are symbols of resistance and yet vulnerable to the whims of others.

The Godfather (1972)

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Strip away the long-celebrated gangster film tropes and Francis Ford Coppola’s breakthrough is a study of family and country, specifically Italian immigrants and America, that reveals how each shapes the other. It’s both immense and woundingly intimate, with scenes that redefined the crime epic.

Goodfellas (1990)

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With cocaine pans and Keith Richards riffs, this organised crime epic from Martin Scorsese was based on the (low) life and (bad) times of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a wiseguy from his youth sequestered with the calculating Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and the violent Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci). Magisterial filmmaking, damning anthropology.

Groundhog Day (1993)

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A comedy so perfectly crafted that it appeals after countless viewings, Harold Ramis’ classic stars Bill Murray as an abrasive weatherman whose outside broadcast traps him in a day that he lives in on endless repeat. The existential conundrum is both hilarious and telling, complete with Andie MacDowell as the perfect foil.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2022)

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A sparse, compelling thriller for the age of climate crises, Daniel Goldhaber’s follow-up to Cam unfolds in the west Texan backblocks, where a disparate group of young activists execute a plan to sabotage oil company infrastructure. Suffused with existential urgency and nail-biting tension, the film conveys both the defiant mindset of its characters and the risks they face.

Kill List (2011)

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Ben Wheatley’s low-budget second feature remains his best work, matching occult machinations to domestic undercurrents in the story of a troubled British soldier turned hitman (Neil Maskell) who accepts a contract for three killings only to find himself immersed in a conspiracy focused on his involvement. Workplace banter and gruesome executions combine to make an eerie summoning.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

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A bleak, astute modern tragedy, Andrew Dominik’s New Orleans crime film is about worlds in collapse. America’s economy implodes as the 2008 election plays out, while a hitman (Brad Pitt) sent to punish thieves and a mob functionary finds that his colleague (James Gandolfini) has lost his nerve. Amid the violent punctuation the two men—respectively silent and shattered—are compelling together.

Lady Macbeth (2017)

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Florence Pugh delivered her breakthrough performance in William Oldroyd’s chilling 19th century noir, which reinvents the period drama with violent excess and psychological duress. Pugh invokes the darkest desire for freedom as a young bride on an English country estate who refuses to stay under the control of her husband and his family.

La La Land (2016)

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Both incandescent and heartbreaking, Damien Chazelle’s update of the classic Hollywood musical is dazzling but never oppressive—the everyday tips over into the extraordinary as Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s Los Angeles hopefuls perform with heart but never mere technical mastery. It’s a film about creative endurance and personal sacrifice that’s both thrilling and painful.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

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Michael Mann drew gripping momentum from unbridled passion and raw physicality in this compelling depiction of a bloody 18th century frontier war in North America, connecting Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe’s magnetically attracted characters.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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The best action film of this century, or simply of all time? Either way, George Miller rebooted his post-apocalyptic franchise with Tom Hardy as the taciturn anti-hero and Charlize Theron as a feminist rebel for the ages to create a magisterial automotive experience.

Moonlight (2016)

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Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award winner for Best Picture is a work of lyrical, incisive filmmaking, seemingly wrenched from three ages—an uncertain boy, a vulnerable teenager, and a hardened young man—in a single Black life. Flourishes of high art and tender realism refute clichés, as does the healing required to vanquish deeply felt trauma.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

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One of the best—and most deeply inexplicable and hauntingly resonant—movies of this century, David Lynch’s film noir journey is a mystery about identity that resides in the subconscious of the filmmaker and his characters, especially Naomi Watts’ new-to-Los Angeles ingénue.

My Brilliant Career (1979)

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One of the defining classics of the Australian New Wave, Gillian Armstrong’s debut feature is built around a compelling lead performance by Judy Davis as a young woman coming of age at the close of the 19th century. Bridling against her lack of choices, though tempted by Sam Neill’s presence as a suitor, her actions still resonate today.

Mystery Road (2013)

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Ivan Sen’s modern outback western has a classic screen inquisitor—Aaron Pedersen’s Indigenous police detective Jay Swan—who ventures into the unknown against his better judgment. Divided from his community and his colleagues, Jay’s murder investigation involves an elite supporting cast, including Jack Thompson, Jack Charles, and Hugo Weaving, before culminating in a finale rife with exquisite tension.

Nightcrawler (2014)

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Dan Gilroy’s debut feature captures the eerie nocturnal ecosystem of Los Angeles, where a freelancer cameraman capturing bloodshed (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals himself as a sociopath obsessed with self-advancement. Beautifully shot, acridly funny, and totally unnerving.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

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Situated both on the U.S.-Mexican border in 1980 and in a realm of eternal, otherworldly violence, Cormac McCarthy’s novel became a terrifyingly taut neo-western pursuit as a Vietnam War veteran (Josh Brolin) attempts to hold onto drug cartel cash he has found even while a nightmarish assassin (Javier Bardem) pursues him. Tommy Lee Jones’ closing monologue is the definitive scene in his entire career.

Orlando (1992)

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Sally Potter’s Virginia Woolf adaptation doesn’t so much compress time and bend gender as treat both sets of parameters as starting points from which to examine worlds both real and fictional, exulting in the cinema’s ability to make images as a way of breaking down and retelling a story. Tilda Swinton is exceptional as an Elizabethan noble whose journey through love and time redefines the historical epic with a bold structure and barbed humour.

Paddington (2014)

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The best family film of the last decade, rich with inviting design and repellent of xenophobia, allows the gentle antics of a Peruvian bear new to London (voiced by Ben Whishaw) to save a family, bestow a purpose, and defy Nicole Kidman’s cartoonish villain. An absolute delight.

Personal Shopper (2016)

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A psychological horror for the 21 st century, Olivier Assayas’ compelling film positions Kristen Stewart’s American in Paris as a tremulous link between different worlds, whether serving as a conduit between fashion houses and her movie star employer, or a medium contacted by the dead. The ghostly texting scene on the train to London is one for the ages.

The Piano (1993)

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With the fiercely unyielding New Zealand landscape as its backdrop, Jane Campion’s masterful period drama is a story of female agency told through a 19th century newcomer (Holly Hunter), the fiancé she doesn’t know (Sam Neill) and his employee who pursues her (Harvey Keitel). It’s a ravishing film: evocative and, like its lead, defiantly inexplicable.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

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“Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something?” A romance for the ages, Celina Sciamma’s French period drama is an invocation of love, the study and capture of image, and the deep reserves of the female gaze. A 19th century portrait painter (Noemie Merlant) is drawn to her wary subject (Adele Haenel) and the result is a wrenching union filled with anguish and pleasure.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

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The best of John Hughes 1980s teen movies—directed with yeoman-like attentiveness by Howard Deutch—is a coming-of-age tale for high school senior Andie (Molly Ringwald) that is alert to class, attraction and the sheer uncooperative struggle of adolescence. Plus the soundtrack slays.

Promising Young Woman (2020)

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Writer/director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature has an exacting command of tone: as a black comedy that serves as a cultural inquisition, its romantic tropes have nightmarish outcomes. Unfolded through trauma’s hold, it follows Carey Mulligan’s Cassandra, who presents herself to men as a vulnerable victim and then takes command. Retribution and reconciliation have no chance to coexist here.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

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A before and after line for American filmmaking. Over a quarter century old, Quentin Tarantino’s joyous dive into the mores of L.A. crime, narrative illusion, and actual conversations between men and women still crackles with delectable energy. An ensemble cast that includes John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis enjoy the juiciest of parts.

Results (2015)

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No-one expected an offbeat independent romantic comedy from American mumblecore maven Andrew Bujalski. But he delivered one with this Austin gym ensemble that boasts a remarkable performance from Cobie Smulders—opposite Guy Pearce—as a personal trainer with a furious certainty about what she doesn’t want in life.

Romper Stomper (1992)

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A Nazi skinhead gang in a Melbourne squat—memorably commanded by a young Russell Crowe—self-destructs amidst violence and unspoken desire. The best B-movie ever made in Australia.

She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

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The COVID era got the horror film it deserved with this mordant pandemic tale, which intuitively tracks in reverse an infection that leaves sufferers convinced their death is imminent. Filmmaker Amy Seimetz uses a fierce formal technique to create slow drip existential despair, seeping into the performances of Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina and Michelle Rodriguez.

Sicario (2015)

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A Denis Villeneuve horror film about a woman—Emily Blunt’s door-kicking FBI agent—trying to survive in a male world, lodged inside a drug war thriller featuring Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. It is set on the merciless border between America, Mexico, and obliteration.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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A riveting action film and an incisive metaphor for capitalism, Bong Joon-ho imagines humanity’s remnants trapped on a train where the poor, led by Chris Evans’ guilt-ridden revolutionary, rise up against the rich and those they use to maintain control. Be eternally grateful that Harvey Weinstein’s U.S. edit was never released.

Step Brothers (2008)

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Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play entitled 11-year-olds in adult bodies in Adam McKay’s finely revved comedy about two cosseted grown men forced to share a room by their parents’ relationship. The stars make the concept ludicrously believable, and the irrepressible escalation turns their idiocy into one lunatic man-child moment after another.

Stories We Tell (2012)

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Canadian actor turned filmmaker Sarah Polley (Women Talking) delves into her parents’ marriage and her own conception in a fascinating and shape-shifting documentary whose reach becomes all-encompassing. It’s best to know little about this revelatory film before watching it, but like its subjects it contains multitudes.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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Paul Thomas Anderson captures America’s transformation from frontier into industrial powerhouse with the tale of an obsessive oilman (Daniel Day-Lewis). Frame after frame evokes a furious wonder that can’t be stilled by success, family, or victory.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

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Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro (wonderfully indecipherable), Kevin Spacey and Stephen Baldwin are members of a criminal crew thrown together by official vindictiveness who decide to strike back…only to find themselves in so deep that there are boats full of bodies and a witness who makes Hungarian sound like the most fearful of languages. It’s an updated noir thriller—where hopes of survival flicker and fade.

Widows (2018)

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Feminism is a life-or-death fight against powerlessness and inequality in Steve McQueen’s modern-day successor to 12 Years a Slave. In this Chicago rewiring of the heist drama, Viola Davis headlines an impressive cast that runs deep—Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Colin Farrell—as the beleaguered partner of an armed robber killed on the job who recruits the wives of his slain colleagues to pull off a lucrative job.

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

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Self-discovery has rarely had a sharper edge than in Joachim Trier’s immersive Norwegian black comedy, which surfs the moods, men, and emotional faultlines of Julie (Renate Reinsve), who is making the uncertain transition from her twenties to her thirties. Whether farcical or tragic, each chapter tugs at our expectations of the character, leaving you wondering what the questions truly were for these answers.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Warfare in the information age comes into brutal focus in Kathryn Bigelow’s magisterial action-thriller, where a Pakistan-based CIA analyst (Jessica Chastain) accepts torture and drone strikes in her obsessive post-9/11 hunt for Osama Bin-Laden. Revenge is consumptive, and history exists in the torrid, unfiltered moment.


This guide is regularly updated to reflect changes in Stan‘s catalogue. For a list of capsule reviews that have been removed from this page because they are no longer available on the platform, visit here.