What to watch on Netflix – for families, kids and adults
With many of us trapped indoors for much of the day right now, streaming TV services are more in demand than ever.
There are dozens to choose between, including Amazon Prime, NowTV, Britbox and the recently launched Disney+, but the original, and arguably still the best, is Netflix.
Whether you’re plonking the kids in front of it to buy yourself an hour of work time – and there’s no need to feel guilty if you are doing that – or curling up on the sofa with a film once they’ve gone to bed, it’s ideally suited to a week spent in lockdown.
The only problem is that with so much content on offer, it’s hard to know where to start. Fortunately, we can help – we’ve pulled together a list of 40 TV shows and movies that all come recommended by the Parent Zone team.
Films and TV shows for the whole family
More than a dozen Studio Ghibli movies (U and PG)
If you need to do an hour's work, you can leave your kids to find beautiful, wholesome messages in the visually stunning movies created by Japanese film company Studio Ghibli. Our favourite is Spirited Away, a story about a girl called Chihiro who wanders into a magical world full of spirits, ruled by a powerful witch. But if that doesn’t tickle your taste buds there are plenty more options on Netflix for your family to choose from – we’d also recommend the brilliant My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Plus, another seven will be added on 1 April, including the breathtaking Howl’s Moving Castle.
Peter Rabbit (PG)
Who doesn’t know and love the charming story of Peter Rabbit? Based on the original stories created by Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit faces new competition in his continuous battle for goodies from Mr. McGregor’s garden. Featuring a mixture of live action and CGI, this wonderful film doesn’t disrespect the original stories as we so often see with remakes - and is a great way for your kids to kill an hour and a half if you’re busy.
Shrek One and Shrek Two (U)
The Shrek films offer up the wonderful message that no matter who you are, you deserve a happy ending. They tell the story of the ogre Shrek, played by Mike Myers, who lives in happy solitude until his home is invaded by pestering fairytale characters. He goes on a quest with an annoying, yet affectionate Donkey to rescue a princess from a tower in exchange for his home back – and the story progresses from there. Both films are absolutely deserving of the multiple awards they have won, including an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Hotel for Dogs (U)
Despite its measly 5.4 rating on IMDB, Hotel for Dogs tells the wonderfully heartwarming story of 16-year-old Andi and her younger brother Bruce, who turn an abandoned hotel into a refuge for stray dogs. With Andi and Bruce being foster children themselves, the film quietly illustrates the message that everyone deserves a home - and with more dogs on screen than you can shake a stick at, this film is guaranteed to fill any canine lover with warmth and optimism.
Free Rein (U and PG)
Are there any horse fanatics in your family? Look no further than the child-friendly drama Free Rein, which follows 15-year-old American Zoe as she spends her summer on an island off the coast of the UK, visiting her British grandfather. Her summer is anything but drama free as she creates a bond with a mysterious horse called Raven, who is under threat from horse thieves and money-grabbing opportunists at every turn. Plus she also has to deal with the usual teenage turmoil of navigating friendships and developing crushes - something we can all relate to. The show spans three series and has two spin-off films, so it offers plenty of watch time to keep the kids occupied.
Horrible Histories (PG)
Based on the bestselling books by Terry Deary, the Horrible Histories comedic sketches bring historic events to life as they explore multiple eras rich with history. It’s a truly superb show that masterfully blends razor-sharp satire with slapstick humour and genuine educational value – all of which makes it ideal for a family telly-watching marathon.
Frozen Planet (PG)
Is there anything more relaxing than settling down to a David Attenborough documentary with a nice cup of tea? The Frozen Planet docuseries (narrated by Sir David, of course), takes us on a journey to the ends of the earth, as we watch only the hardiest of animals tough it out, survive and thrive in the coldest regions of our planet.
Samurai Gourmet (PG)
In this comedic miniseries, 60-year-old retiree Takeshi Kasumi finds a new meaning to life as he explores the food of his neighborhood. Aided by a fantasy companion who encourages him to embrace this new chapter with boldness and enthusiasm, this heartfelt comedy will not fail to cheer the whole family up if you’re feeling a bit low.
Kantaro: the sweet tooth salaryman (PG)
Can you imagine loving desert so much that you’re willing to put your job on the line? Well, for magazine sales rep Kantaro, skiving off work to secretly pursue his quest to indulge in the most decadent sweets is a normal part of his nine-to-five routine. This bizarrely brilliant live-action comedy is unique in its execution, as the people who serve Kantaro genuinely work in those cafés, mixing fiction with fact all in one.
For your older children
Death in Paradise (12+)
In this “so bad it’s good” crime series, we follow the life of a detective inspector as he finds himself transferred to the murder-prone fictional island of St Marie in the Caribbean. Spanning nine series (with S1-6 on Netflix), Death in Paradise gives you all the holiday feels while somehow making its frequent and unrealistic murders humorous in their nature. It’s up to the DI and his team to solve each murder in record time, so get your detective caps on and see if you can catch the killer before the end of each episode.
Dr Who (12+)
This TV show needs no introduction as its dramatic sci-fi plots have graced our screens intermittently since the 1960s. Taken off air in 1989, the show returned in 2005 and has been a roaring success ever since. We follow the somewhat unconventional life of a timelord from a distant planet - who goes by the name ‘The Doctor’ - as they find themselves tasked with saving the Earth from ending on a (usually) daily basis. If you have older children who love the supernatural, this show is for them.
In this 1980s British sitcom, we explore the world of the same characters in different historical periods. The sarcastic and hilariously witty ‘Blackadder’ and his dysfunctional, gullible companion Baldwick navigate the eras between 1485 and 1917, never far from complete comedic catastrophe. So grab a cup of tea and be prepared, as we can guarantee your sides will hurt from laughter at this brilliant British comedy.
Chef's Table (15+)
This docuseries is so good it was nominated for an Emmy - and you can see why. The show takes you on a journey to connect with culinary masters around the world who have made it their mission to redefine what makes food ‘gourmet’. It’s beautifully made, and tells us fascinating stories about people and their relationship to food. An uplifting watch on a rainy Sunday.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (15+)
A great watch for older teens, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a black comedy that follows a group of misfit friends who run an Irish bar, ‘Paddy’s Pub,’ in South Philly. ‘The Gang’ are unethical, dishonest and narcissistic and spend their time doing appalling things to cause each other and other people mental, physical and emotional pain.
The Haunting of Hill House (15+)
Flashing between past and present, The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural horror drama following a group of siblings who grew up in what would become one of the most famous haunted houses in the country. Forced back to Hill House after a tragic event, the now grown-up siblings are forced to confront the ghosts that haunted their childhood. Great if you and your older family are into horror.
Dark (German speaking) (15+)
In this mind-bending, supernatural drama, the disappearance of two young children exposes a remote German town’s sinful past and a deep connection between four families who all have hidden secrets. It’s like a particularly bleak version of Stranger Things, so if your (older) children love that, they’ll most likely enjoy this too. Speaking of which…
Stranger Things (15+)
One of the best ‘Netflix Originals’, Stranger Things is an unmissable sci-fi series which follows four schoolmates who stumble across – and into – a seriously spooky mystery. It’s a beautifully made show which harks back to Steven Spielberg’s glory days; there are hints of everything from E.T to Indiana Jones and from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Goonies and its 1980s setting is impeccably observed.
Better call Saul (15+)
In this award-winning prequel to Breaking Bad, ex-con artist Jimmy McGill reinvents himself as a small-time attorney. The spin-off is set six years before the events of Breaking Bad, and follows the central character’s transformation into Saul Goodman, criminal for hire. A bleakly funny series that many see as a worthy companion to the original show.
Making a Murderer (15+)
A true-crime documentary, Making A Murderer tells the story of the case of Steven Avery, who was charged and convicted with murder only a few years after being released from prison following a previous wrongful conviction. The twists and turns in the story are worthy of any Hollywood script and it’s sure to spark plenty of thoughtful debate about the US justice system.
Tiger King (15+)
At first sight, Tiger King - the show everyone is talking about, which has been described as bringing nations together during Coronavirus - seems to be simply a documentary about a guy who owns a lot of big cats. But it’s about so much more. Funny and horrifying, with a plot that comes at you at the speed of an attacking tiger, it’s also about some profoundly eccentric people, attempted murder, botched presidential election campaigns and terrible country music. Over seven episodes, Tiger King is a rollercoaster of a docuseries chronicling the rise and fall of the big cat world’s most eccentric character, Joe Exotic.
The Staircase (15+)
Another true-crime offering, The Staircase is a French miniseries that follows the trial and conviction of crime author Michael Peterson, who found himself accused of murdering his wife Kathleen following a call he made to the police claiming she had fallen down the stairs.
The Pharmacist (15+)
Fancy another true-crime show? The Pharmacist sees Danny Schneider recount the great lengths he went to to identify his son's killer from a drug-related shooting, which would eventually lead to his gathering of evidence against the notorious doctor behind America’s opioid epidemic. A harrowing insight into the illegal ‘pill mill’ business and how it can tear families apart.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (15+)
At the other end of the scale from all that true-crime fare, this light-hearted comedy explores the life of Kimmy Schmidt following her rescue from a doomsday cult. Kimmy moves to New York to take back her life, and tries to make sense of a world that’s changed a lot in 15 years. Created by the genius that is Tina Fey, the show has been nominated for more than 18 Emmy Awards.
Designated Survivor (15+)
A political drama at its core, Designated Survivor compels you to imagine what life would be like if you were forced to step into the shoes of the President of the United States of America. The (often fairly outlandish) plot follows the story of Tom Kirkman, who, following a catastrophic attack on the night of the State of the Union address, finds himself thrown into the Oval Office and left to unite his country. A great after-dinner watch if you have older kids to entertain.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (15+)
In this Japanese anthology TV series, customers of a humdrum diner in Tokyo find intense connections with each other based on a shared love of an individual dish. Cooking up recipes that look delicious enough to get even the fussiest foodie’s stomach rumbling, these beautiful stories illustrate the power of human connection and how a shared love of food can go a long way. It’s also a great watch for older kids, providing they don’t mind sharing the frustration of being unable to reach into the screen and grab the amazing looking food this TV show tortures us with. Worth its awarded 8.4 stars on IMDB.
Friday Night Dinner (15+)
In this quintessential British sitcom, dinner time is anything but normal for the outlandish Goodmans. Whether it’s the delivery of a schmoigle (that’s a basket full of green fruit), locking grandma in a car boot full of yoghurts or hiding a frozen fox from mum, this eccentric Jewish family is never far from complete disaster. Oh, and the dad’s the weirdest man you’ll ever meet - until you bump into their neighbor, Jim.
Derry Girls (MATURE)
Described as the Northern Irish version of The Inbetweeners, this British sitcom follows the shenanigans of four Irish girls and one English boy as they navigate teenage life through the turbulent Troubles of the 1990s. While the show is brilliantly humorous in its nature, it doesn’t fail to highlight the devastation that gripped Northern Ireland in the ’90s and how ordinary families were forced to continue day-to-day life despite the constant threat of a civil war.
Netflix Explained (12, 15 and 18+ depending)
Netflix Explained does exactly what it says on the tin: it explains stuff. Giving you straightforward answers to the big questions that occupy our minds, you’ll finish each episode feeling either enlightened… or unsettled. Our favourite episodes are billionaires, cults and political correctness - but there are plenty more topics this show covers. Make sure you check the age rating, though, as they can massively vary by subject.
Mad Men (15+)
With 91 episodes spread over seven seasons, Mad Men would certainly eat up a few of those quarantine days: watched back-to-back, it would last for around 70 hours. And what hours they’d be – because it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest ever TV dramas. A masterclass in characterisation, it traces the lives and loves of the staff at a Madison Avenue advertising firm through the turbulent 1960s, taking in everything from gender inequalities to the civil rights movement along the way. Seriously, just watch it.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (15+)
The fact that it’s based on the novel by Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams should be all the reason you need to give this madcap fun-fest a whirl. Samuel Barnett is outstanding as the titular detective who solves crimes by just letting life happen to him and Elijah Wood provides solid support as his frequently bewildered sidekick. It’s a riot of colour, comedy and craziness, though the high body count and lashings of gore mean it’s not suitable for most kids; it’s rated a 15, and with good reason.
Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge/I’m Alan Partridge s1 and s2 (12+ and 15+)
It’s testament to the razor-sharp writing team behind the various Alan Partridge series that it’s barely dated in the 26 years since Knowing Me, Knowing You… first aired. Then again, it’s not like the concept of a hopelessly-out-of-his-depth TV host is any less relevant now than it was then. Partridge – impeccably played by Steve Coogan – is simply one of the greatest comic creations in British history and is guaranteed to lighten the mood.
Purists might baulk at the liberties taken with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, but there’s no denying that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ 21st century update is a work of genius in its own right – albeit one that’s sometimes a little too clever for its own good. The plots are fast moving, the characters well drawn and the dialogue frequently dizzying. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief from time to time, but who cares when it’s this entertaining? It offers great family-viewing potential too, so long as your children are old enough to cope with some fairly adult themes.
Line of Duty (15+)
This police procedural drama has won rave reviews for its blend of suspenseful plots, sharp writing and powerful acting performances. It follows an anti-corruption unit across four separate cases (one per series, with a fifth available on BBC iPlayer) and packs more twists and turns than the average rollercoaster. True edge-of-the-seat viewing.
For when the kids have gone to bed
Breaking Bad (18+)
Often at the top of lists of best drama series ever, Breaking Bad explores the life of an unassuming chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-lord after a diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer tempts him to make and trade methamphetamine to pay his medical bills and provide for his family. Just your everyday suburban story, then.
People Just Do Nothing (18+)
Want to know what it takes to run an illegal business while juggling hectic family life? The eccentric mockumentary sitcom People Just Do Nothing follows the lives of the quirky staff that make up a West London pirate radio station, Kurupt FM. Awarded a British Academy Television Award for Best Scripted Comedy, People Just Do Nothing represents big dreams and the steps people take to get to the top, even when they’re not very good at what they do.
The chilling psychological thriller series You explores the world of “creepy creeper” Jo Goldberg as he seeks out women to obsess over and manipulate. Season two is widely regarded to be better than season one: both explore hidden abuse in apparently perfect relationships.
Altered Carbon (18+)
In this cyberpunk web television series, we visit a future dystopia where humans can digitally store their consciousness in a robot. The show follows the story of a prisoner who returns to life in a new body, but must solve a perplexing murder in order to win his freedom.
Inside no.9 (18+)
It’s no overstatement to suggest that Inside no.9 might be the most innovative show currently on television. Written by award-winning writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen fame, this twistedly funny show features a different story each episode, with their only connection being that all of them take place behind a door marked ‘no.9’. That gives it plenty of scope for creativity, with episodes exploring everything from an exceedingly awkward game of sardines at an engagement party, to a one-night baby-sitting job from hell to an appointment with a crossword wizard. It’s brilliantly unhinged, brilliantly acted and just plain brilliant.
Black Mirror (18+)
Now so well established in popular culture that “like an episode of Black Mirror” has become a catch-all term for dystopian tech, this collection of standalone mini-films all share a preoccupation with the profound effect technology can have on society and individuals. Some are set in the present, some in the not-too-distant future, but all will get you thinking – and maybe you’ll look at your phone in a slightly different light afterwards. The innovative Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is always well worth checking out; somewhere between a film and a game, it’s a choose-you-own-adventure-style affair with multiple endings.
This slick series is based on the 1996 book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, but is much more gripping than that might sound – hardly a surprise, given that much of it is directed by David ‘Fight Club’ Fincher. This dark thriller follows a team of FBI agents who are researching the criminal mind and what drives a person to kill. It’s based on real events, and even reenacts chilling interviews from serial killers such as Charles Manson.
Salt Fat Acid Heat (PG)
In this documentary, master the four elements of Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat as renowned chef Samin Nosrat takes us on a journey across Italy, Japan and Mexico before returning to Berkeley's Chez Panisse - where she started her culinary career - in order to define what makes food delicious and how we can help our cooking come to life.