The Best Amazon Original Movies (May 2021)

Since 2015’s Chi-Raq, Amazon Studios has been a significant player in the original movie game. While it doesn’t have quite the volume as Netflix, Amazon has a great selection of high-quality, award-winning originals like Manchester by the Sea, The Big Sick, and Sound of Metal. With a wide array of films that will appeal to everyone, it can be tough to choose from Amazon’s selection. So, to help you out, we’ve put together a list of the best originals currently on Amazon Prime Video.

All things Amazon

Coming 2 America (2021)

Coming 2 America is not particularly good, but it still makes this list because the original is such a classic. Amazon revived Prince (now King) Akeem of the lush African nation of Zamunda nearly 25 years later and brought him on a whole new adventure. Once again with his trusted confidante Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem embarks on a brand new adventure to the heart of American civilization: Queens, New York.

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Wesley Snipes
Director: Craig Brewer
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 109 minutes

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Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021)

Mark (Kyle Allen) is stuck in his very own time loop, contentedly living the same day over and over again. But when he meets Margaret, he discovers his time loop isn’t just his. She’s living the same day over and over again, too. No longer alone, the two form a magnetic partnership as they set out to make the single most perfect day. Eventually, the question becomes not how to break the never-ending day, but whether they even want to.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Genre: Drama, Romance
Stars: Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Al Madrigal
Director: Ian Samuels
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Small Axe

Small Axe (2020)

This is the most unusual entry on this list because Small Axe isn’t just one film, it’s five. The anthology series hails from Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen and tells the stories of London’s West Indian community throughout the 1960s and 1980s. It has a similar feel to playwright August Wilson’s Century Cycle, albeit with a focus on a different community in a different country.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Letitia Wright, John Boyega, Shaun Parkes
Director: Steve McQueen
Rating: R
Runtime: Varies

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One Night in Miami in Amazon Prime

One Night in Miami (2020)

One Night in Miami is a fictionalized account of one incredible night in 1964 when four civil rights icons all meet in Miami. Sports, music, and activism collide on the night of one of the biggest boxing upsets in history after Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats heavyweight Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. Clay — soon to be known as Muhammad Ali — is memorialized after the event by Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree
Director: Regina King
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Tessa Thompson in Sylvie's Love

Sylvie’s Love (2020)

A classic love story for a modern age, Sylvie’s Love is undeniably familiar, but that familiarity works in its favor. In the summer of 1957 in New York, Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) — who dreams of a career in television — meets Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a saxophonist who hangs out in her father’s record store. When Robert takes a part-time job at the store, the two strike up a friendship that sparks a deep passion. But when the summer winds down, life takes them in different directions. Years later, Sylvie is thriving as a TV producer as Robert copes with the world of jazz fading into obscurity for the bopping beats of Motown. In a chance meeting, they find that despite the drastic changes in each of their lives, their feelings for one another remain the same.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Genre: Drama, Romance, Music
Stars: Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eva Longoria
Director: Eugene Ashe
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Sound of Metal on Amazon Prime

Sound of Metal (2020)

You may come across this film and start thinking Whiplash, but that would be a mistake. The critically acclaimed Sound of Metal is less about music and the sacrificial pursuit of art than it is about deafness and the sudden demolition of one’s identity. Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who suddenly and unexpectedly loses his hearing, forcing him to completely re-evaluate his life.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Drama, Music
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Darius Marder
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Lovie Simone in Selah and the Spades

Selah and the Spades (2020)

An East Coast boarding school drama with a perspective twist, Selah and the Spades is a largely familiar story, but told with a wholly unique voice. Five factions run the underground life of their prestigious Pennsylvania school, each vying for popularity, power, and influence. Selah (Lovie Simone), the head of The Spades is a somewhat Machiavellian character, walking a fine line between being feared and being loved in a world that she’s only beginning to understand.

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O’Connor
Director: Tayarisha Poe
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Blow the Man Down, Original Movies on Amazon Prime

Blow the Man Down (2019)

Blow the Man Down is something of a reimagining of the Coen Brothers’ classic, Fargo. Based in rural Maine, the story follows ordinary sisters who get in over their heads when trying to cover up an accidental crime. Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) Connolly accidentally kill a dangerous man in a confrontation while grieving their father’s death. To conceal their crime, they must go deep into the criminal underbelly of their seedy little fishing town, discovering the town’s deepest, darkest secrets and learning that their own crime may not be all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Stars: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, June Squibb
Director: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Jim Gaffigan in Troop Zero

Troop Zero (2019)

Amazon acquired this raucous family-friendly comedy after it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019. In rural Wiggly, Georgia, in 1977, a group of elementary school misfits band together to create their own troop of Birdie Scouts and enter a national talent show. Led by Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), the Birdies aim to win the competition so they can have their voices included on the Voyager Golden Record, which will be broadcast to outer space. Despite the Birdie powers-that-be maneuvering against Troop Zero and nobody taking them seriously, they band together to battle through and discover the best within themselves.

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Genre: Comedy
Stars: McKenna Grace, Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan
Director: Bert & Bertie
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The Women of CHI-RAQ

CHI-RAQ (2015)

It makes sense to begin with the very first film ever to be acquired by Amazon Studios, which also helped solidify its position as a hit movie studio. The film, dubbed a musical crime comedy-drama, is co-written by Spike Lee and sheds the spotlight on gang violence on the south side of Chicago. Based on the Classical Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes (where women withheld sex in a desperate attempt to end the Peloponnesian War), it’s yet another project that demonstrates Lee’s tremendous creativity and utter genius.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Stars: Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
Rating: R
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night (2020)

This sci-fi flick premiered at the Slamdance Festival in 2019 before Amazon acquired the exclusive distribution rights and released it online and at some drive-in movie theaters in 2020. Drive-in theater is especially appropriate for this eerie ’50s-era sci-fi thriller. One night in 1950s New Mexico, a young switchboard operator, Fay (Sierra McCormick), and radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that threatens to change the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape, crossed patch-lines, and an anonymous phone call hurtle Fay and Everett on an unwitting mystery to be unlikely heroes.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Stars: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
Director: Andrew Patterson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick

The Big Sick (2017)

Most known for his role as Dinesh on the HBO series Silicon Valley, Kumail Nanjiani proved his immense talent as a screenwriter as well with this touching rom-com he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. Loosely based on their own life, it follows the story of an interracial couple who struggle with their cultural differences. But when Emily (Zoe Kazan) falls ill, everything is put into perspective. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, it was one of the highest-grossing independent films that year.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Director: Michael Showalter
Rating: 16+
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in Manchester-By-The-Sea

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

One of Amazon Studios’ first film acquisitions for the Prime Video streaming service, this heartbreaking story remains among the best thanks to its poignant plot and convincingly emotional performances. After returning to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, to see his sick brother, Lee (Casey Affleck) finds himself revisiting old trauma that led to him leaving town in the first place and facing a tough decision about his nephew and his brother’s final wishes. It’s a tearjerker but worth the watch to learn why the film received numerous nominations and wins, including one for Affleck.

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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James Baldwin in I Am Not Your NegroRobert Elfstrom / Villon Films

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

This film based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson looks at recollections of stories of various civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. and observations on American history. Baldwin, a novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, was close friends with the three aforementioned leaders and wrote the manuscript throughout the ’70s as a collection of notes and letters. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, it has an almost perfect rating by critics who refer to it as an “incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin’s crucial observations on American race relations” and a “sobering reminder of how far we’ve yet to go.” This title leaves Amazon Prime on November 5.

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Genre: Documentary
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson (narrator)
Director: Raoul Peck
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Shia LaBeouf in Honey Boy

Honey Boy (2019)

Actor Shia LaBeouf has always been open about his unconventional childhood, and this screenplay he wrote is based on his time growing up and, most critically, his turbulent relationship with his father. LaBeouf wrote the film as a form of therapy, with a premise that begins when a young man named Otis (Lucas Hedges) is forced to revisit his troubled past to uncover the root of his severe alcohol addiction. It takes you through a troubling, eye-opening, and emotional journey, which The A.V. Club called a “fascinating … glorified form of drama therapy.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs
Director: Alma Har’el
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in Late Night

Late Night (2019)

After experiencing a steady decline in her ratings, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a once-popular talk show host, hires a new writer to shake things up. She hopes that Molly (Mindy Kaling), an Indian American woman, is exactly who she needs to help develop the kind of fresh material she isn’t getting from her current team of all white men. Not only does Molly help Katherine boost her ratings, but her talented work leads to an expanded audience base. Thompson was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role.

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Stars: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

If you’re in the mood for comedy, this hilarious one marks the directorial debut for Paul Downs Colaizzo as he tells the story of an overweight woman living in New York who parties too hard and abuses Adderall until her doctor warns her that she needs to lose weight. Through a series of events, she decides to take up running and, alongside some new friends, commits to training for the annual marathon. Colaizzo says the story was inspired by his own roommate, who is featured in photos at the beginning and end credits of the film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Stars: Jillian Bell, Michael Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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The Report on Amazon Prime

The Report (2019)

Based partly on the Vanity Fair article “Rorschach and Awe” written by Katherine Eban, this film delves deep into the investigation of torture used by the CIA following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The focus is the 6,700-page report by Daniel Jones of the Senate Intelligence Committee. With a star-studded cast, it’s no surprise the film has been heavily lauded for both its story and performances.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama, History, Thriller
Stars: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, a mercenary traumatized by his past who has found rewarding work in rescuing kidnapped girls, including the daughter of a politician who was taken by a network involved in human trafficking. Joe’s specialty? Using any means necessary to get the job done, often drawing from his own troubled past to do heinous things to kidnappers in the name of rescuing the victims. Phoenix deeply commits to the haunting role as he does with every performance, keeping you at the edge of your seat the entire time.

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Adam Driver in Paterson

Paterson (2016)

In the second Adam Driver film on this list, he stars as a bus driver and poet who lives a typically boring life, contrasted by his wife’s ever-changing ambition. As he goes about his mundane daily tasks, however, like walking the dog and grabbing a beer at the local bar, he takes in the seemingly insignificant moments around him and turns them into beautiful poetry. The entire film takes place over the span of just one week, and while it has been described as undramatic, that is precisely what makes it so satisfying to watch.

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam in The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z (2016)

British explorer Percy Fawcett traveled to Brazil to try and find a lost city in the Amazon, and this film looks at his journey. It is based on the 2009 David Grann book of the same name and looks at Fawcett’s exploration efforts through many years as he became obsessed with finding this lost city. While the movie actually didn’t perform very well at the box office, critics praised the story and Charlie Hunnam’s performance, so it might be worth checking out when you have the time to sit through the two-plus-hour film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Director: James Gray
Rating: R
Runtime: 141 minutes

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The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden (2016)

Also known as Ah-ga-ssi, this erotic psychological thriller hails from South Korea and tells the story of a con man who sets up to seduce and marry a Japanese heiress. His intention? To have her committed to an institution so he can inherit her riches. The film is inspired by Fingersmith, a novel by Sarah Waters, which was set in the Victorian era versus the Japanese colonial rule depicted in this film version of the menacing story.

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller
Stars: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Director: Park Chan-wook
Rating: R
Runtime: 145 minutes

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Dakota Johnson in Suspiria

Suspiria (2018)

Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 Italian film is a perfect blend of rhythmical allure and psychical horror, offering a uniquely gratifying feeling. Dakota Johnson plays the role of Susie, a protected, religious American woman who journeys to Berlin toward the end of the ’70s with aspirations of joining an avant-garde dance organization she’s admired for some time. As with many other dance movies, Susie develops under her instructor, Madame Blanc’s (Tilda Swinton) guidance, and quickly becomes the leading dancer. However, Susie possesses a mystical and bewitching power over her audience, which Blanc eventually uses for her own benefit. Unfortunately, when Susie discovers her exploitation, but by then, it’s much too late.

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Rating: R
Runtime: 152 minutes

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Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy (2018)

Movie viewers loved this film much more than the critics. This captivating film is based on two powerful memoirs, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, and was also co-produced by the legendary Brad Pitt. The movie examines a father and son’s relationship as they battle a serious addiction.

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Genre: Biography, Drama
Stars: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
Director: Felix van Groeningen
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Joaquin Phoenix in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018)

This film’s grievous yet hope-filled storyline is based on a memoir by a man named John Callahan. John became a quadriplegic after a car accident at age 21 and became a problem drinker as a result. Once he began to reclaim some movement in his upper body, John found comfort in drawing hilarious newspaper cartoons by clasping his hands together to clutch his utensil. His suggestive humor often incorporated uncommon topics such as physical disabilities and disease, which made him a hit among readers and helped him discover a new sense of purpose. 

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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