What do you do when you’ve already watched all the good movies on Netflix Instant?
Reevaluate your life, maybe? No, you move on to the digital movie library at Amazon Instant Video. Like Netflix, Amazon.com offers a subscription service for unlimited streaming access to a collection of thousands of movies and TV shows, including its own original content.
Over the past few years, various antisocial people have hotly debated the relative merits and flaws of Netflix and Amazon Prime (their costs, their interfaces, their video quality, and their content), along with those of competitor Hulu, with which I’m less familiar. My own view, with regard to Netflix and Amazon, is that the cost is about the same (Amazon Prime is 26 cents more per month, but it comes with free two-day shipping on many of the physically tangible products sold at Amazon.com), the interfaces are about the same, the video quality is about the same, and therefore the only thing that really matters in this debate is the content.
It’s hard to say how much content Netflix and Amazon really have: both companies have been extremely unforthcoming—neither wants to state exactly (or, in Netflix’s case, even approximately) how many movies their servers hold. Amazon claims to have “more than 40,000” TV shows and movies, but it reaches this tally by counting each episode of each TV series individually, which means the number is a joke. Netflix tells us nothing at all, but the rogue website Instantwatcher.com, the best place to browse Netflix titles (don’t bother with whatever algorithm is feeding you selections of “quirky, realistic horror dramedies that you might enjoy”), lists 9,739 discrete properties. This number, of course, will change frequently, as Netflix acquires new content and loses old content; Amazon’s library is equally fluid.
My own perception is that Netflix’s library is a lot bigger than Amazon’s, and others seem to agree—I’ve seen a couple of sources state that Netflix Instant carries “three times” more movies than Amazon Prime, and although no one can back up that figure, it feels about right to me (though others say the discrepancy is much larger). So, once you’ve exhausted Netflix’s possibilities, you may have a harder time than you’d like to find new, high-quality movies to watch amid this lesser treasure trove, especially since some of the titles overlap with Netflix.
Which is why I’m here to help—I’ve been doing some “research” lately, and from the depths of Amazon Instant Video, I’ve culled ten recommendable Amazon Prime movies that you have not yet seen. Of course, I have no idea what you personally have or haven’t seen, so the criteria for this exercise were “fewer than 25,000 votes on IMDb” and “not available on Netflix Instant.” Here we go, in alphabetical order:
1. “Atlantic City” (1980): Not just one of the better little-known movies on Prime but one of the most magical, understatedly breathtaking movies ever made, simultaneously gritty and whimsical. Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon meet at the end of his career and the beginning of hers.
2. “The Big Country” (1958): Classic (but overlooked) William Wyler. A big, well-made Western epic from the death throes of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
3. “The Big Kahuna” (1999): Three salesmen talking in a hotel room. Adapted from a stage play, the movie admirably declines to make any effort to hide its origin. My first experience with contemporary theater (in a way), and Kevin Spacey’s most entertaining film performance.
4. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (2012): A dignified tearjerker about Belgian bluegrass singers. The music is lovely.
5. “Ernest & Celestine” (2012): A touching, adorably simple French cartoon about a bear and a mouse who become friends.
6. “Hard Times” (1975): Walter Hill’s directorial debut, starring Charles Bronson. At once a violent, pulpy action movie and stark Depression-era period piece.
7. “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1994): Woody Allen’s lightest, most charmingly disposable comedy, purely for fun.
8. “This Property Is Condemned” (1966): Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (from a Tennessee Williams one-act), starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, this romantic drama is nevertheless almost completely forgotten and all the more romantic as a result.
9. “The Singing Detective” (2003): Adapted from a British TV series that supposedly was way better, but I liked the pre-redemption Robert Downey Jr. performance here. Watch it alongside “The Princess Bride” and “The Fall” (2006) when you’re sick or injured in bed.
10. “You Can Count on Me” (2000): How this—one of the essential modern indie dramas, beautifully written and impeccably performed—has fewer than 25,000 votes on IMDb is beyond me.
If you have the money for just one digital movie service, go with Netflix, which, by virtue of putting only movie theaters and video stores out of business (as opposed to Amazon, which I guess is destroying our entire economy), is the lesser of the two evils anyway. But if you’re a student, you can get Amazon Prime for 50 percent off—hard to pass up. Watch “Atlantic City” in any case, seriously.