Apple TV+ may not have the title count of foes like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, but that doesn’t mean you should steer away from the service. Packed to the brim with award-winning Apple original films, documentaries, and other cinema classics, there are movies from nearly every genre to choose from and plenty more on the way. To help you wade through the platform’s numerous entries, we’ve put together this roundup of the best movies you can watch on Apple TV+ right now.
For many, Peanuts is as traditional as perfectly-wrapped presents on Christmas morning. Charles “Sparky” Schulz, the creator of the original comic strip, may not be, though Apple TV+ aims to set this straight. Director Michael Bonfiglio’s short documentary shines a spotlight on the life and career of Schulz, with narration provided by Lupita Nyong’o and featuring interviews with Peanuts fans, from Drew Barrymore to Kevin Smith.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Jean Schulz, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Smith
Director: Michael Bonfiglio
Runtime: 54 minutes
During the initial lockdowns of COVID-19, humanity stockpiled rations and took shelter with loved ones, leaving much of the outside world untouched. Narrated by David Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed chronicles the reemergence and proliferation of nature during the pandemic. An uplifting film that paints a harmonious picture of what life could be like if we kept beaches closed a few days every year and reduced cruise ship traffic, director Tom Beard’s vision of a thriving Earth doesn’t have to be far from fruition.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: David Attenborough
Director: Tom Beard
Runtime: 48 minutes
Director Drew Xanthopoulos’ Fathom follows Ellen Garland and Michelle Fournet, a pair of scientists studying humpback whales with a focus on whale song and communication amongst the species. Seeking to illustrate the deep research process and field observations that go with an in-depth nature study, Fathom may not be breaking new ground in the documentary genre, but the film itself is a sincere homage to the hardworking, often unrecognized efforts of the scientific community the world over.
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Stars: Ellen Garland, Michelle Fournet
Director: Drew Xanthopoulos
Runtime: 87 minutes
Not to be confused with the 2019 drama Coda, in which Sir Patrick Stewart plays a concert pianist, the lead of Apple’s 2021 original CODA is also passionate about music, but the title has another meaning as well. Emilia Jones plays 17-year-old Ruby, a CODA, or a Child of Deaf Adults. As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby helps her parents as they struggle to keep their fishing business alive, while in her high school choir club, her talent attracts the attention of the choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez), who pushes her to leave her hometown behind in favor of a prestigious music school. CODA is a sweet and hilarious coming-of-age film that not only features deaf characters but casts an impressive number of deaf actors, including Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God).
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Eugenio Derbez
Director: Sian Heder
Runtime: 111 minutes
Even in the relatively young life of Apple’s streaming service, they’ve earned a reputation for great music documentaries. Their latest is Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry. Clocking in at over two hours, it’s the longest of Apple’s music docs by a wide margin, but it doesn’t drag. Eilish and her singular path to stardom are fascinating enough subjects to keep you engaged, whether she’s on stage, in her brother’s room recording her debut album, or sleeping in her parents’ bed because she’s afraid of monsters.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Genre: Documentary, Music
Stars: Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell
Director: R.J. Cutler
Runtime: 141 minutes
In 17th-century Ireland, hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) is tasked with ridding the forest of the wolves who continue to harass nearby farmers. His daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is eager to help her father, but that’s before she meets the wild and irreverent Mebh (Evan Whittaker) — one of the legendary wolfwalkers who transform into wolves when they sleep. Robyn and Mebh soon become friends, Robyn discovers a stronger connection to her new companion than she ever could’ve imagined, and soon she’s stuck between her father, Mebh, and the tyrannical Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney). Charmingly funny, touching, exciting, and gorgeously animated, Wolfwalkers won’t leave you wondering for long how it attracted so much acclaim — including a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars: Sean Bean, Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker
Director: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Runtime: 103 minutes
Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Elephant Queen places a documentary crew on the heels of Athena, the majestic, tusked matriarch of an elephant herd comprised of adult females and their offspring. When a drought strikes the idyllic oasis known as “The Kingdom” that the pack resides in, it’s up to Athena to lead her family over 200 miles across the harshest African terrains in pursuit of a new home. An intimate and heartfelt depiction of one herd’s struggle for survival, The Elephant Queen more than does its job in reminding us that man and beast are not so different, especially when it comes to heart and soul.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Mark Deeble, Victoria Stone
Runtime: 96 minutes
Adapted by Tom Hanks from the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, Greyhound stars Hanks as Navy Commander Ernest Krause. Carrying out a mission to escort an Allied defense battalion across the Atlantic, Captain Krause’s fleet enters enemy radar as a legion of German U-boats unleash a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Stuck at sea, Captain Krause and his team must do everything in their power to complete their mission in one piece. Nominated for Best Sound at the 93rd Academy Awards, Greyhound is a gripping historical war film featuring a top-notch performance from Tom Hanks — although, by this point, we’ve all come to expect nothing but brilliance from everyone’s favorite Hollywood leading man and CGI-cowboy doll voice actor.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Genre: Action, Mystery & Thriller, History, War, Drama
Stars: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue
Director: Aaron Schneider
Runtime: 92 minutes
In Bryce Dallas Howard’s heartfelt Dads, the actress-turned-director points the lens at fathers the world over. Featuring talking-head interviews with the likes of industry figures like Judd Apatow and Jimmy Fallon, along with the stories and testimonies of six non-industry dads, Howard crafts an intricate portrait of modern fatherhood and what it takes to be a parent in the challenging world of today.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Ron Howard, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon
Director: Bryce Dallas Howard
Runtime: 87 minutes
Based on the real-life story of two Black businessmen who not only thrived in the Jim Crow era, but managed to help other Black business owners who had nowhere else to turn, The Banker asks “How do you win a rigged game?” While Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant financial prodigy, his skin color stops him from making the kinds of high-level deals he was built for. So Garrett and his street-smart business partner Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) recruit Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to be the white face of their investments. The money rolls in, but things get a lot more complicated when Garrett convinces his partners to follow him to Texas to buy up white banks so they can offer loans to Black businesses. The Banker is a worthy drama with humor, an eye-opening crash course in business, and a message that sadly remains relevant.
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicholas Hoult
Director: George Nolfi
Runtime: 120 minutes
Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You feels less like a documentary and more like a music video for an entire album, and that’s OK. Presented in black and white, Letter to You chronicles the making of the album of the same name — the first Springsteen has recorded with his old friends in the E Street Band since 2014’s High Hopes. Springsteen narrates the documentary with stories from his life, memories from the E Street Band, and lead-ins to each song. It’s an intimate look at the construction of an album, complete with brief and always friendly disagreements between Springsteen and the E Streeters. It often feels less like they all came together to make an album, and more like they got together for drinks, occasionally plugged in their guitars just for fun, and eventually forget to do anything else.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Genre: Documentary, Music
Stars: Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band
Director: Thom Zimny
Runtime: 90 minutes
One of the best pieces of news any film fan could get in 2020 was that Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray — who collaborated on 2003’s Lost in Translation — were working together again, this time with the Apple TV+ original comedy On the Rocks. Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a wife and mother who doesn’t know whether or not her marriage is in trouble. She begins to think her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her, and it’s her charming, restless father Felix (Murray) who pokes at those fears and manipulates her into nightly adventures speeding through New York City in a dying convertible and even secretly following her husband to Mexico. While at heart the film is a comedy, there is an unspoken but brilliantly conveyed sadness to Felix, who seems to care less about whether or not his son-in-law is faithful and more about spending time with his daughter. On the Rocks is funny, sweet, and quietly heartbreaking.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans
Director: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 96 minutes
In the 2020 documentary Boys State, one thousand boys descend on Austin, Texas, to build a mock representative government, and sadly their youth doesn’t make things any less divisive than they are on the floors of the actual Congress. As a result, you probably won’t leave Boys State feeling particularly hopeful about the future of politics. Still, it’s an incredibly compelling look at boys learning to become young men, and if nothing else, it’s both a sobering portrayal of the political landscape the youth are in store for and a reminder of how badly things need to change.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Ben Feinstein, Steven Garza
Director: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
Runtime: 109 minutes
If you’ve been around long enough to remember hits like “Fight for Your Right” or “Sabotage” when they were first released, there is something surreal about watching Beastie Boys Story. For example, yes, that really is Mike D and Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock, up there on stage narrating things, but you may have to keep reminding yourself that Ad Rock in fact is not being played by Martin Freeman. The documentary presents one night of a stage show in which the rappers present the history of their group, from their early days as a hardcore punk act to the passing of their absent friend Adam Yauch. For already invested fans, it’s fun to see the group’s history retold from their perspective, and for the uninitiated, it’s a treasure trove. Make sure to keep watching through the credits for surprise celebrity cameos and some hilarious clips that include old MTV appearances, and at least one heated argument about dog-washing.
Stars: Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz
Director: Spike Jonze
Runtime: 119 minutes