11 Best Existential Movies on Netflix (April 2024)

What is an existential movie? Any film that deals with the truth of life without the materialistic set of rules, governmental systems, or societal norms can be defined as existential. They revolve around the theme of individuals trying to discern the real meaning of life in a strange world as they try to embrace one’s true selves and use one’s own free will. Such thoughtful films teach us that society cannot dictate our beliefs; it’s we who should realize that all these prohibitions are futile and it is only our personal freedom that matters. So today, we will take a look at some of the best films on Netflix that explore this philosophy.

11. Can You See Us? (2022)

Directed by Kenny Mumba, this is a Zambian film based on the life of Zambian artist John Chiti (born on 24 February 1985) who faced prejudice as a kid because he was born with albinism, a congenital skin condition where the skin has no pigment anywhere on the body. Chiti was rejected by his father and was brought up by his mother. The film authentically showcases the struggles of Chiti and the bullying he faced in an African society where people with albinism are often persecuted because it is believed that they have supernatural powers. ‘Can You See Us?’ also addresses Chiti’s optimism that kept him going. Eventually becoming a singer/songwriter, his songs became a way for him to express his feelings. You can watch the film here.

10. The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

In ‘The Pale Blue Eye,’ a cinematic masterpiece helmed by director Scott Cooper, Christian Bale delivers a strong performance (as always) as seasoned detective Augustus Landor investigating a series of macabre murders (victims’ hearts are removed) at the U.S. Military Academy in the 19th century. Landor hires the services of cadet Edgar Allan Poe, played equally brilliantly by Harry Melling, as he can reach people, including other cadets, and get his hands on clues that Landor cannot. As the detective delves into the shadowy corners of the academy, the narrative unfolds as a captivating blend of mystery, psychological intrigue, and horror. Cooper skillfully navigates the complexities of morality, guilt, and the intricacies of the human mind, making ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ not only a gripping thriller but also an existential exploration of the consequences that haunt individuals long after their choices are made. You can watch the film here.

9. A Man Called Otto (2022)

A Man Called Otto‘ follows Otto Anderson, a disillusioned grump after losing his wife, contemplates ending it all. However, his plans take an unexpected turn when a vibrant young family moves in next door. Enter Marisol, a quick-witted force who challenges Otto to see life anew, sparking an unlikely friendship that transforms his perspective. This heartwarming and humorous tale explores themes of love, loss, and rediscovering the joys of life, demonstrating that family can emerge from the unlikeliest corners. ‘A Man Called Otto’ is a poignant reminder that sometimes, our most meaningful connections arise from unexpected encounters. Feel free to stream it here.

8. Ram Dass, Going Home (2018)

‘Ram Dass, Going Home’ is a touching documentary directed by Derek Peck that offers a heartfelt glimpse into the final days of spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass. Formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert, a Harvard psychology professor turned spiritual pioneer, Ram Dass shares reflections on life, death, and his spiritual journey in the serene surroundings of Maui. The film provides an intimate portrayal of his wisdom, humor, and acceptance of mortality as he navigates the later stages of life. Through insightful conversations and moments of contemplation, ‘Ram Dass, Going Home’ becomes a soul-stirring exploration of the human experience, leaving audiences with profound insights into the nature of existence and the transition into the great unknown. You can watch it here.

7. Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage Story‘ taps into existential themes by exploring the complexities of human relationships and the inherent struggles of identity within the context of marriage. Directed by Noah Baumbach, the film navigates the dissolution of the marriage of Charlie, a theater director, and Nicole, an actress, with profound introspection. As the two try to make the family work due to their eight-year-old son Henry, bitterness arrives in numerous forms to shake the very base of their otherwise mutual divorce and love seems to take the fall. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver deliver compelling performances, unraveling the emotional intricacies of love, loss, and self-discovery. The narrative transcends the conventional divorce drama, offering a reflective examination of the existential questions that arise when the familiar structures of life disintegrate, making ‘Marriage Story’ a deeply resonant and thought-provoking cinematic experience. You can watch the movie here.

6. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’ taps into existential themes through a darkly comedic lens. Directed by Macon Blair, the film follows Ruth, played by Melanie Lynskey, on a quest to find her grandmother’s silverware, which she has been robbed of from her house. In the endeavor, she is joined by her neighbor Tony. One thing leads to another, and they find themselves in the company of deranged criminals. As Ruth confronts the absurdities of human behavior and societal indifference, the movie explores the dissonance between personal expectations and the chaotic reality of the world. Its existential core lies in Ruth’s journey to find meaning and connection in a seemingly indifferent universe. Feel free to stream the movie here.

5. The Killer (2023)

In ‘The Killer‘ by David Fincher, a lone and calculated assassin, devoid of remorse or moral qualms, lurks in the shadows, patiently selecting his next victim. Yet, as the waiting stretches on, he grapples with a creeping sense of insanity and an eroding composure. This is why when a job goes awry, and his ladylove Magdala almost loses her life as punishment, he sets off on a path of revenge that is devoid of either sanity or self-control. This noir narrative unfolds as a visceral and stylish exploration of a professional hitman adrift in a morally ambiguous world, armed to the hilt and teetering on the edge of mental unraveling. The film masterfully portrays the psyche of a solitary figure navigating the blurred lines between sanity and ruthlessness in a chilling tale of existential descent. You can watch the film here.

4. My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Directed by Lotje Sodderland and Sophie Robinson, this documentary film follows 34-year-old Sodderland, who suffered a massive brain stroke in November 2011. While she began losing her ability to read, write, and express stuff verbally, a whole new world opened in front of her, one that allowed her to experience colors and sounds in a never-before manner. This made her write to David Lynch as the way she looked at the world made her feel like she was in one of Lynch’s films. Lynch would meet her and even came on board as an executive producer. The film sews together self-recorded videos and interviews of Sodderland’s loved ones to give us a surreal exploration of Sodderland’s “beautiful broken brain.” You can watch the film here.

3. Melancholia (2011)

A monumental and ambitious achievement by Lars von Trier, ‘Melancholia’ is an apocalyptic…wait for it….psychological…wait for it…art film. Starring Kirsten Dunst as Justine and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Justine’s sister Claire, the film explores the relationship between the two sisters and Justine’s depressed self (that seems to be a result of her strained relationship with her parents and her employer). These two heavy states of Justine are pinned against an impending apocalypse as a planet named ‘Melancholia’ is heading towards Earth. How the film seamlessly sews together its psychological and apocalyptic aspects makes it a must-watch drama, especially due to its stunning visual quality. Alongside Dunst and Gainsbourg, the cast includes Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, and Udo Kier. You can watch the film here.

2. Society of the Snow (2023)

This Spanish drama is directed by J. A. Bayona and has been adapted from Pablo Vierci’s book of the same name. It showcases the days of survival of the passengers of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (from Uruguay to Chile), which crashed in the Andes Mountains on October 13, 1972. Out of the 45 passengers, only 14 were able to survive after having spent 72 days in the middle of nowhere amid freezing temperatures and avalanches underscored by starvation, declining health, and subsequent cannibalism (the survivors fed on the flesh of those who died).

The disaster and the survival of those who made it out alive led to the event being named not just the Tragedy of the Andes but also the Miracle of the Andes. The horrifying depiction of what the people went through during those days proves the prowess of the makers big time. If there’s one thing that this film will remind you of, it is existentialism, which is the only thing that remains after humanity is stripped of all its aspects, one that transcends society and culture. The film stars Enzo Vogrincic, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Esteban Kukuriczka, Felipe Gonzalez Otaño, and Simón Hempe. You can stream ‘Society of the Snow’ here.

1. The Dreamseller (2016)

‘The Dreamseller,’ directed by Jayme Monjardim and Luca Bueno, a disillusioned psychologist teeters on the brink of suicide, only to find an unexpected lifeline in the form of an unlikely savior. The plot unfurls as their friendship deepens, revealing a transformative journey where the psychologist learns to embrace a novel way of living. Against the backdrop of despair, the film navigates the complexities of human connection and resilience, offering a poignant exploration of redemption and the profound impact of unexpected bonds on the trajectory of one’s life. Feel free to stream it here.

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