- Netflix offers a varied collection of short films that are often underappreciated but offer compelling storytelling, direction, acting, and thought-provoking content.
- Short films on Netflix have become more accessible and popular thanks to series like Black Mirror and Love Death + Robots. They can evoke emotions and provoke thoughts in a short amount of time.
- The best short films on Netflix cover a wide range of topics and themes, from refugee life to the illegal ivory trade, from surreal journeys to the representation of marginalized characters. They offer unique perspectives and storytelling styles.
Netflix boasts some of the best movies, television show, and anime choices — but what’s not as well known is that the best short films on Netflix are also more than worth watching. Short films are sometimes underappreciated and neglected, but they are treasures for cinephiles. The varied library of short films on Netflix offers almost everything in a bite-sized package, whether it’s a compelling storyline, astute direction, powerful acting, thought-provoking sequences, or brilliant dialogue.
Short films have traditionally been a showcase for up-and-coming or underappreciated directors but were often hard to see outside of film festivals. Netflix has invested significantly in short films and made them more accessible. Several Netflix series such as Black Mirror, Love Death + Robots, and Cabinet of Curiosities have helped to popularize short-form storytelling, and the best Netflix short films pack the same punch in a stand-alone package. The best part is that short films can alter actual emotions in 40 minutes or less, and sometimes as little as 11 minutes. They communicate important ideas to the audience and contribute to provoking necessary thoughts in the mind of the viewers.
35 The After (Releases October 25)
A meaningful meditation on grief and human connection, The After stars David Oyelowo as Dayo, a London rideshare driver coping with tragic loss. When he picks up a passenger, he is forced to confront his past, but in doing so is able to see a path to healing.
Oyelowo is joined by an impressive company of actors, including Jessica Plummer (EastEnders), Sule Rimi (Andor), and Izuka Hoyle (Persuasion), and the short film is also the debut of renowned photographer Misan Harriman, with his photos of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests shared internationally. With Harriman at the helm, The After is sure to be a visually stunning, even haunting short film.
34 Flashback (Releases October 20)
From Us to The Strangers, home invasion movies are some of the scariest offerings in the horror genre, and Flashback delivers the chills in just 16 minutes. Experiencing the home invasion in this short film is a yoga teacher, and as it happens her life flashes before her eyes. From there, she must race against time to save the man she loves.
Director Jed Shepherd is no stranger to the horror genre, as his credits include co-writing Host (2020), and he brings back Host stars Jemma Moore and Haley Bishop. If Flashback is any indication, all three are set to be the next big names in horror, and the short film is perfect for delivering the chills during spooky season.
33 Amsterdam To Anatolia (2019)
A tale of forbidden love, Amsterdam to Anatolia stars Adam Bakri and Clara Khoury as a pair of star-crossed lovers who meet for a dangerous romantic rendezvous. In just six short minutes, Bakri and Khoury establish a winning chemistry that takes some A-list actors an entire feature film to establish.
Under Susan Youssef’s deft direction, Amsterdam to Anatolia unflinchingly shows the heartbreaking violence than can result from two people simply daring to love each other. Much is left to interpretation, but that makes this fantastic short film all the more thought-provoking.
32 Animal (2016)
Nayla Al Khaja’s semi-autobiographical short film Animal is a story of domestic abuse told from a seven-year-old girl’s point of view. The child lives a life of fear and contradiction under the thumb of her domineering father, as she and her meek mother are seemingly helpless against him.
Animal is Al Khaja’s tenth short film, and it’s one of her best. Al Khaja is the United Arab Emirates’ first female film director, and she’s clearly got a bright future in filmmaking ahead of her. Like Animal, her films tend to focus on themes of abuse, and while the subject matter is disturbing, her incredible talent makes these movies worth the watch.
31 Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2022)
One of the most intense short films on Netflix, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the harrowing tale of a boy with a limb difference in 1930s Nazi Germany. When the Nazis begin hunting people with disabilities, the young Paul (Knox Gibson) must run for his life.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses proves that action doesn’t need to be big-budget or bombastic, as the chase scene between Paul and the Nazis is as breathtaking as it is horrifying. Gibson delivers a powerful performance in the film’s 14 minutes, underlining Forgives Us Our Trespasses‘ message about the importance of humanity.
30 The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar (2023)
Wes Anderson made four short films based on Roald Dahl stories for Netflix, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is the first and most publicized. Leading a small ensemble cast of A-list actors, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Henry Sugar, a gambler who discovers meditation and uses it to help him win money at blackjack, only to be faced with philosophical consequences.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is one of Dahl’s lighter stories, and its magical realism is perfect for Anderson’s whimsical filmmaking style. The 41-minute movie was universally praised by critics and with its all-star cast and director, Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar may bring more audiences into the wonderful world of short films.
29 The Swan (2023)
While The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar was warm and light-hearted, The Swan, Wes Anderson’s second short-film Dahl adaptation, is the darkest story the filmmaker has ever told. Rupert Friend plays the adult Peter Watson who, in the third-person, tells the tale of the sweet, bird-loving boy Peter (Asa Jennings), who is tormented at gunpoint by two bullies.
Even with its brief 17-minute runtime, The Swan is a difficult watch as Peter’s bullies make him perform a series of increasingly disturbing acts. However, this is one of Anderson’s deepest films. The filmmaker’s detractors often accuse him of favoring style over substance, particularly in terms of his characters, but The Swan at its core is a rich character study of Peter, and it’s a cinematic triumph for Anderson.
28 The Rat Catcher (2023)
Wes Anderson’s third Roald Dahl Netflix adaptation, The Rat Catcher centers on the titular rodent hunter (Ralph Fiennes) who is enlisted in dispensing with a local infestation of rats. But what starts out as a simple premise about an unpleasant yet thoroughly unremarkable situation becomes so much more.
Like The Swan, The Rat Catcher is only 17 minutes long but it doesn’t need longer to take the audience on a dark, twisty journey. Most people have a disdain and/or fear of vermin, but The Rat Catcher manages to evoke sympathy for the rat. It paints a picture of the rat as a creature just minding its own business and happens to be arbitrarily feared by humans. When imagining people on the outskirts of society being treated this same way, it all goes to make The Rat Catcher‘s ending all the more thought-provoking and heartbreaking.
27 Poison (2023)
Poison is the fourth and final film in Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl series for Netflix, and it is a dark-humored three-hander between Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley. Cumberbatch plays Harry, a man lying in bed who informs his friend Timber (Patel) that a krait, a venomous snake, is on his stomach beneath the covers. Timber seeks the help of Dr. Ganderbai (Kingsley) and together they work to remove the separate the snake from Harry.
Anderson’s 17-minute short film isn’t actually the first adaptation of Dahl’s “Poison” story. It was a radio play in 1950 on the Escape show, and both TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected adapted the story for an episode. Poison asks a lot of questions about fear and its relation to human perception, and this short film again shows the depths of Anderson’s filmmaking that he isn’t given nearly enough credit for.
26 Cops And Robbers (2020)
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, many turned to art to tell share their experiences and thoughts on police brutality and how it relates to racial injustice. In Timothy Ware-Hill’s Cops and Robbers, the filmmaker ties together the double meaning of the title — a schoolyard kids’ game and how Black people are perceived and treated by the police.
In Cops and Robbers‘ seven-minute runtime, Ware-Hill uses mixed animation to show the contrast between these two concepts. This artistic choice reflects not only the all-encompassing urgency of the situation but also how children are robbed of innocence at such a young age. This is Ware-Hill’s most recent film, but if it’s any indication, he has many more stories to share.
25 A Drowning Man (2017)
A Drowning Man is a 15-minute short film that follows a protagonist known only as The Kid (Atef Alshafei), who is a Palestinian refugee in Athens just trying to make it through his day. It’s a hard film to watch, but A Drowning Man pulls no punches in its depiction of what refugee life can be like.
The short is director Mahdi Fleifel’s debut narrative film, and it went on to screen in several prominent film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.
24 Poacher (2018)
Not many short films are thrillers, and that’s precisely what makes Poacher stand out. It follows a daring farmer in Africa who finds himself in grave danger after he steals an international terrorist group’s stash of blood ivory. With its gripping story, the 28-minute Poacher easily has enough layers to be extended to a feature film.
In addition to shedding light on the illegal ivory trade in Africa and its effect on the elephant population, Poacher is notable for being the first Kenyan film to be released on Netflix. It also went on to win Best Short Film at the 8th Kalasha TV & Film Awards, hosted in Nairobi, Kenya.
23 Canvas (2020)
Animated short films don’t waste any time hitting viewers at their emotional core, and the nine-minute Canvas is no exception. Written and directed by Frank E. Abney III, Canvas tells the story of an elderly man who emotionally closed off after the loss of his wife, but through his granddaughter, he finds joy in painting again.
Abney III was inspired to make this film based on his own experience of losing his father at the age of five and how that profoundly affected his family (via Variety). And though the image of a blank canvas as a metaphor for starting over isn’t exactly subtle, the short film is so uplifting that it truly does not matter.
22 Condom Lead (2013)
Condom Lead is a darkly funny 14-minute short film about a married Palestinian couple (Rashid Abdelhamid and Maria Mohammedi) whose repeated attempts to make love are interrupted by a military drone outside, in what is ultimately a parody of the Gaza War.
It takes a certain amount of bravery to find comedy in times of hardship and brutality, and to do so without being insensitive is a special art in itself. Directors Arab Nasser and Tarzan Nasser achieve this with aplomb, and Condom Lead proudly screened at the 66th Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film.
21 Aziza (2019)
Aziza is a 13-minute short film about a displaced Syrian couple (Abdel Mounaem Amaayri and Caresse Bashar) in Lebanon. The film begins with them in their titular car with the husband teaching his wife to drive. When they do make it out onto the streets of Beirut, they go on a surreal and nostalgic journey.
The two lead actors instantly establish their chemistry, which only builds throughout their fantastical adventure. While it wasn’t recognized at the Oscars, Aziza did win the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
20 Sitara: Let Girls Dream (2020)
An animated silent short film from Pakistan, Sitara: Let Girls Dream sees 14-year-old Pari living in 1970s Lahore. Pari idolizes Amelia Earhart and yearns to be a pilot, but this is in direct conflict with her father, who plans to marry her off to a much older man. Sitara is sure to make the audience aware of the devastating number of yearly child brides, but the film itself ends on an optimistic note.
The 15-minute Sitara was screened by Gucci at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival as part of their #LetGirlsDream campaign, and Netflix released it on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Sitara also screened at the Los Angeles Animation Film Festival where it won three awards, including the Humanitarian Award.
19 Maradona’s Legs (2019)
Set during the 1990 World Cup, two young Palestinian boys are huge football fans, and they’re eager to complete their sticker album in order to win an Atari. The final sticker they need is the titular image, of football player Diego Maradona’s legs, so the boys set out to Nazareth in order to find it.
Short films with a focus on children are primarily animated, but the 23-minute Maradona’s Legs manages to evoke a tone of whimsy and optimism thanks to its two young protagonists. With its clearly defined quest, Maradona’s Legs feels like a true hero’s journey.
18 Ave Maria (2015)
Directed by Basil Khalil, Ave Maria finds a family of Israeli settlers dealing with car trouble in the West Bank near a Palestinian convent. There they seek assistance from five nuns who have taken a vow of silence. There are a lot of serious short films about Israel and Palestine, and though they are important, Ave Maria stands out as being pure satire.
Typically, short films have very small casts, often only two actors, if that. However, between the nuns and the family, eight characters share the screen, and in just 14 minutes, the ensemble is able to create a fully realized story that impressed enough for Ave Maria to be nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
17 If Anything Happens I Love You (2020)
Written and directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, If Anything Happens I Love You is a 12-minute 2D animated short film about two parents who grow alienated from one another after the tragic loss of their young daughter in a school shooting. It’s heavy subject matter, but by creating a deeply personal story, McCormack and Govier make the viewing experience powerful and poignant.
The short film was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, garnering 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. A TikTok hashtag about the film, #IfAnythingHappensILoveYou, in which creatives shared their reactions before and after watching the short, went viral. If Anything Happens I Love You was also deservedly awarded Best Animated Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
16 Bonboné (2017)
In Bonboné, a Palestinian woman goes to visit her husband who is being held in an Israeli prison, their physical contact is restricted, so they resort to unusual measures in order to conceive a child.
While the circumstances are harrowing, wanting romantic intimacy and to have a child are desires that many people can identify with, bringing universal relatability to the 15-minute short film. Bonboné had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to be featured in more than 10 other film festivals.