The House of Mouse entered the streaming space three years ago and since then it hasn’t messed about. Disney+ is a major platform with over 150 million users and plenty for those subscribers to get their teeth into – including loads of glorious Ultra HD content for 4K TV owners.
Despite being a TV-on-demand newbie compared to Netflix and Prime Video, Disney+ is stuffed with entertainment, from animated classics to Pixar, Star Wars and the MCU. And with new adult-focused (no, not THAT kind of adult, you filthy-minded dogs) hub Star having recently arrived, bringing with it a truckload of additional movies and series, there’s enough to keep you going for months. Here are some handpicked choices to start you off.
Additional words by Matt Tate and Tom Morgan-Freelander
The Bear (S1-2)
If film and TV is to be believed, a restaurant kitchen is one of the most stress-inducing places on the planet – and this comedy-drama does a fantastic job of conveying the chaos, anger, injuries and, yes, joys that come with running an eatery. It’s fast-paced, intense and funny, and will might just make you glad for your dull, dreary nine to five office job.
Following award-winning stints at some of America’s finest restaurants, young chef Carmy returns to his native Chicago to take over his dead brother’s Italian sandwich shop. The accounts are a mess, the food is mediocre, the staff are restive and set in their ways, but Carmy is determined to transform the place’s fortunes – if he can sort out his own problems first.
Only Murders in the Building (S1-3)
Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play neighbours brought together by a mutual obsession with true crime tales – only to find themselves in the middle of one when a shocking murder occurs in the exclusive New York apartment block they share. Even if this weren’t a well-written whodunnit series with plenty of laughs along the way, it’d be worth the price of admission simply to see those beloved old comedy warhorses Short and Martin sharing screen time again.
Come for Olivia Colman’s triumphant turn as Queen Anne, stay for Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s almost-as-memorable performances as two courtiers competing for the troubled monarch’s affections in Yorgos Lanthimos’ sumptuous black comedy. Nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2019 but winning only one (Colman, deservedly, for Best Actress), The Favourite is a strange, striking period movie that’ll be viewed as a classic by future cinema nuts.
Named after Peckham’s raucous shopping thoroughfare, this loveable and light-hearted modern romcom follows two lonely Londoners over the course of one wild, adventure-filled day. Meek accountant Dom is struggling with post-breakup despair, while extroverted Yas seems to be dodging her own demons, but following an awkward meeting the unlikely pair find solace in each other’s company as they navigate South London’s hotspots.
Director Raine Allen-Miller invests Rye Lane with a real sense of time and place, portraying a vibrant London that feels both fresh and – if you’re a Londoner, at least – warmly familiar.
In Mark Mylod’s devilishly enjoyable satire, Ralph Fiennes glowers as world-renowned chef Jeremy Slowik, a culinary perfectionist who makes Gordon Ramsay look like Tinkerbell.
When a young couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travel to Slowik’s hyper-exclusive private island restaurant alongside a host of wealthy luminaries, the multi-course meal on offer isn’t quite what they expected: the dishes come with a side-order of terror, bloodshed and righteous score-settling. Will anyone survive Slowik’s culinary masterpiece, or is this a last supper for the whole party?
Inspired by an Elmore Leonard short story, this long-running series stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a modern-day US Marshal who brings an Old West mentality to his job. After upsetting his bosses, he’s shipped back to his rural Kentucky hometown in an effective demotion, only to find himself dragged into a feud with an old friend turned new enemy, played with career-defining aplomb by Walton Goggins.
Justified manages to successfully mix long-running plotlines with monster-of-the-week style self-contained episodes, making it prime binge-fodder. And it’s still highly regarded today, hence the imminent arrival of Justified: City Primeval, an all-new series bringing Olyphant back to his career-defining role.
Michael Mann’s iconic 90s thriller is probably best known for cramming movie legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino into a scene together for the first time. That being said, it’s also a stylish, shrewd and culturally significant movie that everybody should watch at least once. Oh, and it features arguably the best heist scene ever captured on celluloid.
De Niro plays it low-key as a stoic but highly driven master thief seeking out one final big bank job with his crew, while Pacino soars in full scenery-munching mode as the veteran cop trying to stop him. It’s a simple setup, but the two leads’ performances, the grudging respect between their characters and the film’s exceptional action sequences add depth aplenty.
Mr Inbetween (S1-3)
This black comedy-drama follows the travails of Ray Shoesmith (played by show creator and writer Scott Ryan), a loveable Aussie bloke and criminal-for-hire. Ray’s services range from collecting protection money to full-on murder, but this dark side of him sits alongside a kinder, thoughtful side – and it’s this dichotomy, alongside the deadpan antipodean humour, that makes this three-season series so engaging. Mr Inbetween is a bit of under-the-radar brilliance that shouldn’t be missed.
Arrested Development (S1-3)
Brilliant comic performances from the likes of David Cross and Will Arnett, coupled with reams of quotable lines and a healthy, hectic pace (episodes run to about 20 minutes apiece) make Arrested Development a must-watch and an easy binge for any sitcom fan. The show’s first three seasons (widely regarded as the best) are now available on Disney+ after a long stint on Netflix, and even though the Netflix-funded fourth and fifth seasons haven’t joined them there’s still hours of brilliantly written entertainment here.
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on TV, but the Bluths are up there with the most self-centred, destructive and, thankfully, consistently hilarious bunch of the lot. Jason Bateman’s sensible middle brother Michael desperately tries to keep his family business intact and his selfish, squabbling family united as his father is jailed and the company targeted by the US government for embezzlement.
The Mandalorian (S1-3)
The obvious one. The Mandalorian was Disney+’s flagship launch show, and if you’ve somehow managed to stay away from spoilers since our friends across the pond got hold of it, you’re in for a treat. Pitched as a space Western, the first live action series in the Star Wars franchise is set five years after Return of the Jedi and 25 years before the first film in the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens.
It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter known as Mando (Pedro Pascal), who suddenly finds himself the guardian of a very important youngling. Three seasons are now available to stream, and dedicated viewers may also want to watch the first season of The Book of Boba Fett, as it features some crossover with this series (including explaining the events that occur between seasons two and three).
Sons of Anarchy (S1-7)
All seven seasons of Kurt Sutter’s ultra-violent biker gang drama are now exclusively streaming on Disney+, so if you haven’t yet binged on the bloody adventures of SAMCRO, there’s no time like the present.
While there’s more than enough in the way of gunfights, punch-ups and car chases to keep thrill-seekers glued to the screen, the true appeal of Sons of Anarchy lies in its Shakespearean family saga, replete with dark secrets, jealousy, sins of the father and backstabbing (both figurative and literal).
While often far from perfect (the ill-advised stint of episodes in Northern Ireland, given their own fiddle-dee-dee remix of the opening theme tune, spring to mind), the show offers more than enough compelling drama and complex characterisation to keep you hooked right through to its harrowing conclusion.
Fleishman is in Trouble (S1)
Based on Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s bestselling novel, this sharply witty eight-part comedy drama stars Jesse Eisenberg as Toby Fleishman, a New York surgeon whose efforts to embrace newfound singledom are confounded when his ex-wife Rachel (Claire Danes) drops off their kids then vanishes off the face of the earth.
Treating this disappearance as an inconvenience rather than a sinister mystery, Toby decides he’s not going to find future happiness until he’s confronted their shared past. It’s through this lens of self-reflection the show amusingly interrogates various facets of modern life: divorce, parenting, ageing and romance. Lizzy Caplan and Adam Brody also star.
Superpowers sound awesome. But would they be quite so super if everyone in the world had one? Especially when we don’t all get Hulk-like strength or the power of flight. Maybe you’ll wake up with the ability to 3D print any object… from your arse. Jen’s mum can control electronics with her mind – it’s a shame she doesn’t know how any of it works. Jen herself? She’s the only person she knows that didn’t get a power when she turned 18.
This British twenty-something comedy drama is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking, asking what life would be like if your job interviewer had the power to force you to tell the truth, and what effects turning back time to save a relationship has on the significant other that wants to call things off. It’s brilliantly cast, fast-paced and, at only eight episodes, brilliantly binge-worthy. Here’s hoping Disney commissions a second series.
The Banshees of Inisherin
What happens when your best friend decides they no longer like you? Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black tragicomedy reunites the In Bruges pairing of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two former pals on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin. Farrell’s wide-eyed Padraig is abruptly ‘dumped’ by Gleeson’s gloomy Colm; even when eventually given the reason he refuses to accept this situation, leading the duo down a darker and darker path.
Set in 1923 against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War (which some have claimed the film is an allegory for – far too simplistic a take for us), this is a beautifully written, shot and acted film that might be McDonagh’s most accomplished yet. The critics certainly think so, with the film attracting glowing reviews and armfuls of award nominations (including nine Oscar nods). It might well deserve them all.
It’s hard to discuss this hit indie horror movie without revealing its secrets and lessening its impact, so we’ll just say Barbarian starts with a young woman arriving at an Airbnb in a desolate and menacing Detroit suburb – only to find the house already occupied by another guest who claims to have booked it through another short letting app.
Does she take up the stranger’s offer to come in and work out what’s going on, or give up and look elsewhere for accommodation, with no guarantee that she’ll find anywhere to stay at all? It’s a situation it’s easy to imagine finding yourself in, which makes what happens next all the more disturbing. We’ll say no more, save to advise you to ensure you have some big cushions nearby to hide behind while you watch.
Rogue One’s swashbuckling master thief Cassian Andor (the excellent Diego Luna) gets his own 10-part series, giving us a fresh perspective on the nascent uprising against the Empire that eventually became the Rebel Alliance.
If you were left somewhat disappointed by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lack of stakes and strangely ‘lifeless’ feel, Andor could be the show to reignite that Star Wars spark. Created by Tony Gilroy (who also wrote the Jason Bourne movies and, yes, Rogue One), it’s a lot more gritty, grounded and grown-up than the previous Star Wars series we’ve seen, with characters that feel real, flawed and drawn in shades of grey.
The latest film in the somewhat patchy Predator series takes things back to basics, and it’s all the better for it. Skipping cinemas and landing straight on Disney+, Prey is set in 18th Century America and its lead is a young Comanche woman determined to prove her worth as a hunter. She’s about to come up against one of the best in the galaxy though: a two-metre tall alien with an array of lethal gadgets, the ability to all but disappear and a hankering for trophies.
What follows is arguably the best Predator film since the Arnie-starring 1987 original, as our heroine must use all her wiles and cunning to avoid becoming the next prize skull in the monster’s cabinet.
Expectations may have been set low for this series centring on the continuing adventures of The Most Boring Avenger, but thanks to its Christmas cheer, a bright and breezy tone (that some of the more po-faced Marvel series would do well to emulate) and the comic chemistry between Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, it may actually be the best MCU TV series around. And that’s without even mentioning the superb cameo that will delight those familiar with small-screen Marvel shows of old.
The best horror sci-fi movie ever made (not to mention one of the best horror movies full stop) and one that spawned a sprawling franchise based around its iconic titular “xenomorph”, Alien is a masterpiece of tension and visuals.
When the crew of commercial deep space vessel the Nostromo (a fantastic cast of “normal”, highly relatable working joe characters rather than exaggerated, OTT personalities) detect a transmission from an unexplored moon, they land to investigate and discover a strange derelict craft full of large eggs. When one of these hatches, it sparks off a deadly sequence of events. It’s fantastic cat-and-mouse stuff, and – courtesy of director Ridley Scott’s mastery of lighting and the stellar production design, looks so, so good for a 40 year-old movie.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Based on three novels from Patrick O’Brian’s beloved Aubrey-Maturin series, this rollicking Napoleonic Wars epic is probably one of the most historically accurate depictions of early 19th century naval life (and death) ever put on screen. You can practically smell the sea salt, boiled cabbage, unwashed bodies and gunpowder as the HMS Surprise’s crew, led by Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his faithful physician friend Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), pursue a French privateer across the South Atlantic and Pacific.
From tense evasive manoeuvres to ship’s dinners to battles filled with smoke, flame and splintered wood, this movie’s authenticity and attention to detail shines through – and almost all of it achieved without CGI chicanery, too. It’s a real pity no more Aubrey-Maturin movies followed – with 21 books in O’Brian’s series, there’d have been no shortage of source material.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer and director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges offers a similar mix of pathos, violence and pitch-black comedy, as Frances McDormand’s grieving mother challenges the cops of her small southern US town to step up and catch her daughter’s murderer.
Such direct action – she purchases space on the three advertising billboards to publicly shame the police – brings her into conflict with Woody Harrelson’s respected chief and his bigoted, immature and angry deputy Sam Rockwell, sparking off an unpredictable sequence of events and an unforgettable conclusion. We won’t spoil any of that, but suffice to say the Oscars won by McDormand and Rockwell for their roles were well-earned, and this movie will likely stay in your head for a long time after the credits roll.
The Beatles: Get Back (S1)
Originally conceived as a feature-length movie, this intimate look at the recording sessions that resulted in Let It Be eventually spiralled into a three-part docu-series. Director Peter Jackson has been handed the keys to a vault of almost 60 hours of unseen footage (recorded over 21 days in 1969 for an abortive documentary) and over 150 hours of unheard audio that tracks the creative process that led to some of The Beatles’ most beloved songs – and reveals the bust-ups and banter of a band both under strain and in its prime.
Netting 2021’s Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress Oscars, Nomadland is a quietly powerful drama about Frances McDormand’s Fern, a van-dwelling widow who roams the American West in the wake of 2008’s financial crisis.
Based on Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book about her own life as a “houseless” wanderer, Chloe Zhao’s movie is far from the sort of hand-wringing poverty porn it could have become in less empathetic hands. Fern’s rootless lifestyle is never romanticised, but it’s clear she feels most at home on the road, warmed by the kindness of her fellow nomads and the simplicity of living off the grid. McDormand’s much-lauded performance (she says more with just her facial expressions here than most actors could in ten movies’ worth of dialogue) is worth the price of admission alone, but Nomadland will leave any viewer with much to think about.
If a comedy drama about the struggles of an aspiring rap star and his manager sounds too similar to something awful like Entourage, don’t worry: Atlanta is a decidedly different and far more interesting kettle of fish.
Produced by and starring Donald Glover, it’s a disarming, slick, offbeat, observant and endlessly charming comedy series about, to paraphrase Glover, “what it’s like to be black in America”. Funny as Atlanta is, it shies away from very little in this quest for veracity. But it would be a crime if we revealed too much about this weird and wonderful show – better just to watch it and find out for yourself.
Star Wars: A New Hope
The original (and probably second-best) Star Wars movie, A New Hope is now well over 40 years old. There are few signs of a mid-life crisis here: it still looks and sounds fantastic (partly due to director George Lucas’s inability to stop tinkering with it years after its release), but this trailblazing space opera adventure is beloved for more than just the spectacle of zero-g dog fights and light saber duels. Star Wars’ enduring characters and mythology are introduced and established in this movie, but it also serves as a fantastic self-contained adventure story about a simple farm boy who becomes the heroic figurehead of a revolution. It’s simple stuff at its core, but done so brilliantly that you can’t help but be sold.
Captivating and terrifying in equal measure, this remarkable film documents the ever-so-slightly bonkers free solo climber Alex Honnold, whose lifelong dream is to scale the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes or equipment. Those who aren’t keen on heights are advised to watch from behind the sofa, but for everyone else, the Oscar-winning Free Solo is a thrill ride that not even Star Wars and the MCU can compete with. But thanks to Disney’s ownership of National Geographic, Disney+ subscribers can have all three.