Apple TV+ first launched back in 2019, but has quickly made a name for themselves in the constantly growing streaming landscape. Of course, this was no spunky upstart. Apple TV+ is a company with insanely deep pockets and, over their three years of existence, they’ve shown a willingness to invest heavily in their film production. What’s perhaps most impressive is the wide-range of films, both fiction and non-fiction, they’ve produced over that time. Not content to stay in one lane, they’ve released everything from deep animated folktales to feel-good indie dramas with pretty successful results. We ranked the 10 best movies Apple TV+ has released, from worst to best.
10. Come From Away (2021)
Come From Away stands out not only on this list but in Apple TV’s catalog as a whole. A filmed version of the hit Broadway musical, Come From Away tells the story of 7,000 airline passengers who were stranded in Newfoundland, Canada following the horrors of September 11, 2001, when all airplanes, for a time, were forced to the ground. But dour and intense, this musical is not, instead focusing on the way tragedy and fear can bring out the best in people, as the residents of this small Canadian town group together to aid in the stranded foreigners. What’s impressive about Come From Away, aside from its well-told story, is the way director Christopher Ashley cuts the film, not simply giving us a static view of the musical but immersing us in its production.
9. The Sky Is Everywhere (2022)
The Sky Is Everywhere, an interesting if flawed young-adult drama, directed by Josephine Decker (Shirley), tells the story of Lennie (Grace Kaufman), a teenager reeling from the sudden loss of her older sister. Grief, and its far-reaching effects, are the primary concern of this film, which sees Lennie wallow in the loss of her sister to a debilitating degree. The story becomes a bit stifled from there but Decker keeps things interesting enough with some genuinely surprising and adventurous flourishes, allowing us into Lennie’s world in experimental ways. The Sky Is Everywhere was met with middling reviews at the time of its release, but both Decker and Kaufman were praised for their abilities despite some flawed source material.
8. The Tragedy Of Macbeth (2021)
Denzel! McDormand! Joel Coen! Shakespeare! 2021’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth was a big deal and, given the names listed here, you can see why. There have been dozens (hundreds?) of Shakespeare adaptations over the years, but given the star power involved here, The Tragedy Of Macbeth had the chance to be one of the best. It didn’t quite reach that level, but that doesn’t mean it is without its charms. For his adaptation, Joel Coen decided to put the focus on the actors, creating a dull, drab setting in which everything is in stark and brutal black and white. This puts Macbeth, and his descent into madness and bloodshed, into even greater focus. Denzel Washington is predictably excellent as Macbeth, so too McDormand as Lady Macbeth, but things don’t always move with brevity in this adaptation, which suffers because of its very stolid presentation.
7. Swan Song (2021)
Swan Song, written and directed by the relatively unknown Benjamin Cleary, plays a bit like an extended episode of the television series Black Mirror. That is, to be clear, mostly a compliment. The action begins when husband and father Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is diagnosed with a terminal illness. In this vaguely futuristic world, however, he is given the option of cloning himself, leaving his wife and child unaware of his death. You can see how this moral quandary would torment anyone tasked with making this decision and this is mainly what Swan Song is concerned with exploring. Ali is predictably excellent as Turner and, in what may be a spoiler, his identical clone.
6. On The Rocks (2020)
On The Rocks is a movie chock-full of charming and likeable people, even if they aren’t always doing things you like. Starring Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans as a tentatively married couple and Bill Murray as Jones’ slick, wealthy, and morally problematic father. When Jones’ Laura suspects her husband of cheating, she turns to her father — a questionable decision, to say the least. The two then begin a misguided and bumbling investigation into the matter, attempting to catch her husband stepping out. At only 90 minutes, On The Rocks has a decidedly light touch, featuring little of the pathos of Lost In Translation, the last collaboration between Murray and director Sofia Coppola, but is not without its charms.
5. CODA (2021)
By now you are likely familiar with CODA, the coming-of-age drama that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards less than six months ago. For those not familiar, who just haven’t gotten around to checking it out, CODA is an absolute treat of a film, one that will genuinely make you feel all of the feels without manipulating whatsoever. CODA centers on Ruby, a teenage girl whose entire family, aside from her, are deaf. Because of this, a lot of pressure falls on Ruby, who, when she isn’t at school, works as a translator for the family fishing business. This leaves little time for singing, a budding passion for which Ruby has an obvious skill. Her parents, understandably, don’t and largely cannot understand. Why would she pursue an art form they intrinsically cannot enjoy? Things come to a head as you might expect, but CODA does such a good job of fleshing out its characters as to make everything feel real and earned.
4. Boys State (2020)
Apple TV+ have quietly built an impressive library of original documentary films to go along with their narrative collection. The most accomplished and fascinating of these might very well be Boys State, a film capturing a week in Austin, Texas in which a group of boys come together in an attempt to create a system for self-governance. This exercise, which has been going on for nearly a hundred years as part of the American Legion organization, is meant to give the boys a chance to transcend political parties and establish, for themselves, a government they believe works best for the group. Of course, the idea of separating the current political climate from what happens at Boys State proves to be naive. It isn’t long till we begin to see just the kind of moral bankruptcy and political vitriol that is the American governmental system.
3. Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)
Cha Cha Real Smooth might end up being the best romantic comedy of 2022, a title for which, unfortunately, there exists less competition than ever. Written, directed, and starring Cooper Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth follows the story of Andrew (Raiff), a drifting post-graduate with a quick-wit and severe lack of motivation. When we meet him, he is working at the hilariously-named mall joint, Meat Sticks, with little on the horizon. By accident, he soon lands a gig as a Bar Mitzvah party-starter, serving as both dance instructor and DJ for his younger brothers’ many mitzvahs. It’s there that he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola, with whom he has an immediate connection. From there, we hit many of the more typical rom-com beats, with Domino and Andrew slowly circling each other as things heat up. There are, though, some wrinkles that make this such a well-executed film. Domino, for one, is engaged and much older than Andrew, making for a dynamic we might expect to be swapped in a lesser film. Also, her daughter Lola is autistic, making Lola’s budding friendship with Andrew all the more heartfelt and complicated. What’s clear, more than anything, is Raiff’s assuredness as a filmmaker and, impressively, as a performer. Even at the ripe age of 25, Raiff is able to create a more nuanced depiction of infatuation, love, and flirtation than you might well expect from a filmmaker of any age.
2. The Velvet Underground (2021)
The Velvet Underground have always been described as a band’s band, a music writer band, a band for people who want to know why their other favorite band’s sound the way they do. The new documentary, directed by Academy-Award nominee Todd Haynes, doesn’t exactly attempt to explain this phenomenon as much as give us a first-hand experience of what it must have been like to actually hear The Velvet Underground play — something few people actually got to do during their short time as a band. To do this, Haynes does not rely on typical rockumentary tropes like re-enactments or overly-simplistic, lengthy biographical passages. Instead, Haynes goes for something more palpable, using experimental cutting and framing techniques to mirror the experience of listening to a band like The Velvet Underground, who similarly cut and pasted rock and roll history to create something wholly their own.
1. Wolfwalkers (2020)
Wolfwalkers is, in a way, the culmination of a decade-long project. Directed by Tomm Moore, cofounder of Irish-based production company Cartoon Saloon, Wolfwalkers is the third installment in Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” following The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. While those were certainly successful, both artistically and critically, Wolfwalkers marks the director’s greatest accomplishment to date. Both beautifully animated and touchingly told, Wolfwalkers is the story of two young girls, Robyn and Mebh. Against the backdrop of English colonialism in Ireland, and with a healthy dash of magical realism, we get a kind of twist on forbidden love in the form of the girls’ budding friendship which must develop under auspicious circumstances. It’s a familiar framework for a story but is done with such specificity and deftness as to bring about themes rarely present in what is ostensibly a film for children. Add this to the truly mesmerizing artwork present throughout the movie, hand drawn and tactile, and you get the best movie Apple TV+ has yet produced.