45 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2023 On Amazon Prime

Staff & contributors
Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2023. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

At once intimate and sweeping, A Thousand and One seamlessly weaves Inez's personal turmoil and familial troubles with the systemic inequality that was rampant in '90s New York. The hideous faces of gentrification, poverty, and police brutality are constantly appearing in the film, not merely because they lend weight to the story, but because they are inevitable for people like Inez. People who, despite their best efforts at achieving upward mobility are continually pushed down by self-serving institutions. 

It's easy for social issue dramas like this to buckle under the weight of their lofty goals, but nothing about A Thousand and One feels forced. Just the opposite, the film has an authentic quality to it—almost documentary-like in its precise depiction of Harlem throughout the years. It's deeply personal and achingly tender, and everything else—the social commentary and the political beats—stems from that specificity. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Amelia Workman, Aven Courtney, Delissa Reynolds, Jennean Farmer, Josiah Cross, Terri Abney, Teyana Taylor, William Catlett

Director: A.V. Rockwell

Rating: R

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Katia Tchenko, Kayoko Shiraishi, Kento Nagao, Kou Maehara, Léa Bonneau, Makoto Nakamura, Marie Iitoyo, Masanobu Ando, Minami, Robin Barde, Ryo Ikeda

Director: Kazutaka Watanabe

Kill Bill meets Bend It Like Beckham in this wild ride about a martial arts-obsessed British-Pakistani teenager who views her older sister’s impending marriage as a catastrophe to be averted at all costs. Aspiring stuntwoman Ria (Priya Kansara) can’t stomach the idea of free-spirited Lena (Ritu Arya) giving up on her creative dreams to marry a nauseatingly perfect man — not least because art school dropout Lena is her hero for refusing to conform to their community’s traditional ideas about respectability and success.

Polite Society makes room to sensitively explore Ria’s disappointment and the loneliness of rebellion, but writer-director Nida Manzoor doesn’t stop there, throwing in a sharp allegory disguised as a zany twist. Rather than upending our expectations for upending’s sake, the surprise metaphor refigures the movie as perceptive cultural commentary on the age-old devaluation of women as mere vessels for the next generation. What’s more, Manzoor takes the analogy full circle to thoughtfully imagine how this kind of dehumanizing misogyny might have affected previous generations, suggesting that the real villains lie offscreen. Movies as inventive and intelligent as this don’t come around often, but one that’s this funny, visually bold, unabashedly feminist, and full of stars-in-the-making is rarer still.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akshay Khanna, Ella Bruccoleri, Eunice Huthart, James McNicholas, Jeff Mirza, Jenny Funnell, Nimra Bucha, Rekha John-Cheriyan, Ritu Arya, Seraphina Beh, Shobu Kapoor

Director: Nida Manzoor

Abel Ferrara's protagonists have always searched for higher meaning in a flawed, messed-up world of pain and violence. If 1992's Bad Lieutenant took Harvey Keitel to church for one of American indie cinema's most spectacular endings, Padre Pio doesn't offer such solace. Ferrara (who's been living and working in Rome for years now) teamed up with Italian screenwriter Maurizio Braucci to direct a period piece that brings together the real life of a Catholic Church saint (the titular Padre Pio) and the rise of socialism after WWI. What seems like a straightforward historical approach turns first gruesome and then profound to capture the contradictions at the heart of Italy as a nation. A character study that breaks free of its biographical chains, Padre Pio shows that Ferrara has still got it, 50 films in. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Asia Argento, Brando Pacitto, Cristina Chiriac, Ignazio Oliva, Luca Lionello, Marco Leonardi, Martina Gatti, Roberta Mattei, Salvatore Ruocco, Shia LaBeouf, Vincenzo Crea

Director: Abel Ferrara

Rating: R

Many people lament the decline of the mid-budget drama with Hollywood A-listers in the lead roles, and for good reason: when the charms of an inspirational, feel-good true story work, they really work. The Burial seems to have been made with this same, unabashedly sentimental attitude, and it makes for an endlessly watchable courtroom underdog tale. The film moves with real energy between its more comedic asides and its more urgent themes of underprivileged people being taken advantage of by wealthy companies. And while it still would've probably been effective as just a straightforward legal drama, the movie makes the effort to seek out a bigger picture—deepening its own title by grounding all its characters against complicated race relations in Mississippi.

Director and co-writer Maggie Betts doesn't stray too far from the template that these kinds of films operate with (perhaps to a fault, especially during its climactic moments), but the cast she's assembled is unimpeachable. Jamie Foxx turns in the kind of funny, energetic, deeply felt star performance that earned him an Oscar almost 20 years ago, while Tommy Lee Jones brings a powerful sense of modesty and centeredness to a role that could've easily taken a back seat to his flashier co-lead. Supporting turns from Jurnee Smollett and Alan Ruck round out a uniformly great ensemble that gives this small movie a commanding air of prestige.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren, Bill Camp, Dorian Missick, Jamie Foxx, Jurnee Smollett, Mamoudou Athie, Pamela Reed, Teisha Speight, Tommy Lee Jones

Director: Margaret Betts

Rating: R

Just like with his mentor and contemporary, Fred Rogers, there are no dark secrets to Ernest Coombs' earnest belief in giving children the space to be gentle and creative. Even with relatively little "drama" throughout the life of the man called Mr. Dressup, it's still profoundly moving to see him put in the work to make the world a kinder place. Director Robert McCallum keeps this documentary exactly as straightforward as it needs to be, moving through Coombs's life with total reverence but plenty of modesty—making sure not to inflate the idea of Mr. Dressup into something Coombs himself would have disagreed with.

In its act of honoring this person with an everyman personality and a trunk full of quaint costumes, the film also serves as a tribute to low budget educational television. Working within a very small studio, with simple puppets and no strict script to follow, Coombs and his friends found any way possible to stick to their original idea of teaching very young kids that being kind and communicating one's feelings clearly were the best things one could achieve. Behind Mr. Dressup's softness is a remarkable work ethic, a deep respect for children, and a commitment to thoughtful, universal values.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Andrew Phung, Bif Naked, Bruce McCulloch, Eric McCormack, Ernie Coombs, Fred Rogers, Graham Greene, Jonathan Torrens, Lynn Coombs, Michael J. Fox, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Peter Mansbridge, Scott Thompson, Yannick Bisson

Director: Robert McCallum

Judy Blume, the author behind enduring classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Superfudge, and Forever, gifts us with her comforting presence and precise insight in Judy Blume Forever, a delightful documentary about a delightful woman.

Here, Blume looks back and lets us in on the eventful private life that inspired her prolific work life. Each book has a behind-the-scenes story, which the documentary pairs with commentary from well-known fans like Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Additionally (and most memorably), the documentary also features the years-old correspondence Blume has kept with the children who wrote and confided in her. Whether or not you’ve read her work, watching this film is a heartwarming experience that will soon have you grabbing the nearest Blume classic.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Konkle, Judy Blume, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Samantha Bee

Director: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok

Rating: 16

Silver Dollar Road isn’t a new story– it’s one of many that comes as a consequence of systematic Black land loss that continues to happen to this day. Director Raoul Peck tells it in a new way, completely focusing on the Reels family and hearing their story entirely, from the initial confusion to two of the homeowners’ incarceration, and remembering the good old days when they used to enjoy the land. The land dispute has escalated to years of harassment, imprisonment, and being taken advantage of from opportunistic legal counsel. While it could have benefitted from from detailed legal proceedings, Silver Dollar Road still powerfully depicts an intimate family story that outlines the systemic racism enabling Black land loss today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Kim Renee Duhon, Mamie Reels Ellison

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG

There's a cruelty to In My Mother's Skin that may seem off-putting at first, but one must reckon with the sheer scale of the violence already occurring before these characters are even introduced to us. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines was a particularly vicious period in the country's history; if Filipinos weren't fighting or hiding from their invaders, many of them were trying to maintain a precariously submissive, neutral existence, or they were being turned against each other due to the conflict of war trickling down between the social classes. All these things are implicit throughout Kenneth Dagatan's film, which doesn't try to reenact World War II but capture the total absence of hope during this period.

Dagatan's style of horror insists on a very slow pace, emphasizing every footstep leading to a horrifying reveal, and not just the main scare itself. This choice doesn't always work, especially as certain beats begin to repeat themselves, but the film's incredibly confident visual style fills every moment with an eerie paranoia. Gothic, shadowy interiors, nasty gore, and one opulently costumed fairy make everything perpetually unsettling—gradually forcing us to accept that these contradictions are just the reality of life under war.

Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Arnold Reyes, Beauty Gonzalez, Brian Sy, Felicity Kyle Napuli, James Mavie Estrella, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Ronnie Lazaro

Director: Kenneth Lim Dagatan

As biopics go, Cassandro skews towards the conventional. It follows a template familiar to anyone who has seen a life-story movie about the underdog climbing up the ranks thanks to their unmatchable heart and talent. But it’s also a template that’s elevated by Bernal’s wonderful performance and Roger Ross Williams’ careful and naturalistic direction. Save for a few melodramatic moments, many parts of Cassandro feel fresh and authentic, not least of which is Saúl's heartwarming relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa). It’s unapologetic joy is another element that sets it apart: instead of being punished for his flamboyance and cheer, Saúl is rewarded for it. This seems like a rare triumph in LGBTQ+ stories, and on that merit alone Cassandro deserves to be seen. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bad Bunny, El Hijo del Santo, Gael García Bernal, Joaquín Cosío, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

In the vein of classic 80s films, Totally Killer is an homage to the genres that got its heyday in the decade. This film happens to be a serial killer mystery, a time-travel sci-fi adventure, and a teen comedy all at once. With mentions of Back to the Future and Molly Ringwald, the new addition to the Prime Video’s current horror roster makes a throwback to when these genres were at its peak. But these throwbacks aren’t just for style – like how true crime rehashes old cases for content, the small town of Vernon still rehashes the serial murders for entertainment, as if stuck and unable to move on from its glory days. Admittedly, this film does the same sin. Plenty of the twists and turns can feel predictable to those familiar with 80s movies. But the multi-genre mix still feels like a fun ride, even when it contradicts the point it’s making.

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Alex Pychtin, Amy Goodmurphy, Andy Thompson, Anna Diaz, Charlie Gillespie, Conrad Coates, Eliza Norbury, Ella Choi, Fred Henderson, Jonathan Potts, Julie Bowen, Kelcey Mawema, Kiernan Shipka, Kimberly Huie, Liana Liberato, Lochlyn Munro, Olivia Holt, Pam Kearns, Patti Kim, Randall Park, Shahrokh Ferdowsi, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Tate Chernen, Tommy Europe, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Valin Shinyei, Zachary Gibson

Director: Nahnatchka Khan

Rating: R

Sophia Castuera's first feature after two indie shorts seems like a low-key affair, but it fits neatly into a canon of post-mumblecore, or a Gen Z mumblecore. It features a fumbling protagonist named Cal and played by Ali Edwards (who also wrote the script), a wanna-be actress fresh out of college who finds herself stuck between two people. Not just any people, but her childhood best friend Jay and his long-term girlfriend Emily. August at Twenty Two queers the love triangle trope and makes the most of the characters' anxieties, their hopes, and awkward daily sacrifices to climb up into each other's good books. Appearances are key, of course, since everyone's delightfully immature. The good thing is that the film knows all this very well and even sneaks a post-ironic hint or two. That said, its self-assurance is also its Achilles heel: you cannot convince me that twenty two year olds would call each other often enough to have voicemail. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ali Edwards, Clay Singer, Jorge Felipe Guevara, Lilli Kay, Mia Rose Kavensky

Director: Sophia Castuera

Based on four different books by Colombian author Mario Mendoza, The Initiated (or Los Iniciados) is perhaps too much of a good thing at times, as it struggles to have its many different pieces cohere into one thematic idea. These separate pieces are intriguing on their own, for sure: poisoned water supply, underground activists, the mayor potentially being involved in mysterious disappearances of bodies. But by the end, the film's noir elements seem to be mostly ornamental in nature, with the supposedly twisty narrative arriving at an overly tidy conclusion.

With that said, even just spending time in The Initiated's gloomy city streets and grimy underbelly should be a joy for anyone who already enjoys hardboiled crime dramas. Solid performances and strong technical craft all around keep this world immersive no matter if the central investigation is actually progressing logically or not. It's a film that, impressively, manages to still be suspenseful just on the strength of its mood and atmosphere alone. All the danger feels raw and threatening, and leads us to imagine an even harsher world outside of what we see on screen.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ana Wills, Andrés Parra, Aria Jara, Francisco Denis, Jorge Cao, Juan Pablo Urrego, Julio Pachón, Patricia Tamayo

Director: Juan Felipe Orozco

One wouldn't expect to see Count Dracula's youthful-looking helper at your local 12-step self-help group for people in codependent relationships, but Renfield holds more than one surprise up its sleeve. By translating the working relationship (or master-slave, since the latter doesn't get any pay) into the vocabulary of common relationship counselling parlance, the film actually elevates its symbolic status. Even more, I'd dare call it a hoot. Not that many vampire films have managed to make a proper comedy out of the figure in question, and Renfield with its simplistic appeal puts to shame even the artsy Netflix production El Conde, which also came out earlier this year. With Awkwafina in the mix and iconic lines such as "I don't want your murder cookies", how can you resist?

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Adrian Martinez, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Bess Rous, Camille Chen, Caroline Williams, Gabriel 'G-Rod' Rodriguez, James Moses Black, Jenna Kanell, Joshua Mikel, Lucy Faust, Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Shohreh Aghdashloo, T.C. Matherne, William Ragsdale

Director: Chris McKay

Rating: R

Those who grew up watching baseball legend Reggie Jackson will know that his was a name you read all over the news. One of America’s first athlete superstars, Jackson had a reputation that preceded him—he was a celebrity you’d just as soon find in Studio 54 than in the gym, wearing diamond bracelets more than baseball mittens. But in his self-titled documentary Reggie, he finally tells his story in his own words. 

Reggie tracks his career in the context of the constant racism he and his fellow Black players in the league faced for many years. He explains why building the tough persona the media condemned him for years was necessary. It’s as autobiographical as it is historical, with Jackson often discussing how race informed every part of the sport, whether he wanted it to or not. The documentary is fascinating and informative, and it serves as an essential reminder of the inequality and double standards POC players faced and continue to face today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Hank Aaron, Julius Erving, Reggie Jackson

Director: Alex Stapleton

Rating: PG-13