The Best Apple TV+ Original Shows and Movies
The streaming service has quietly built a solid list of titles, from star-studded movies to underrated series.
So Apple wants to take on Netflix. And Disney. And HBO Max. And countless other streaming services. With $1 billion invested in original content, a reasonable subscription price, and a captive audience on its devices, we wouldn't count Apple out in the streaming wars. With those big Silicon Valley bucks now investing in Hollywood, the streaming service has been able to tap exciting talent for its original content, leading to a handful of gems. While it may not have as extensive of a library as its competitors, it still has a handful of shows and movies worth watching. Below, find our recommendations of the best series, movies, and documentaries available on Apple TV+.
BEST APPLE TV+ ORIGINAL SHOWS
Defending Jacob (2020)
This limited series stars the retired Captain America himself (Chris Evans) in an adaptation of William Landay's crime novel of the same name about an ADA's son suspected of killing a classmate. Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell co-star for the miniseries, which proved to be the streaming service's surprise hit with its eerie tone and many twists and turns upon its spring 2020 release.
The phrase "Emily Dickinson comedy" might sound like a misnomer, but this show is more so an utterly weird, but true-to-itself poetic response to the poet than a biographic drama about her. Pop star and True Grit actress Hailee Steinfeld plays the literary icon in her younger years as a wild socialite, remixing the 1850s-set show to feel like a contemporary teen series (she speaks like a 20something from this century, Wiz Khalifa plays Death, you get the picture). It may take a lot of creative license, but it's downright amusing, witty, and has its own sense of genius.
For All Mankind (2019– )
For All Mankind starts off in the summer of 1969, with every nuclear family in America gathered around their TV sets to see the first human being set foot on the moon—except, instead of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, it's a Soviet cosmonaut who hops out of the spacecraft, hoisting a hammer and sickle flag into the lunar soil. What For All Mankind does that is so remarkable, not to mention insanely fun to watch, is imagine what would have happened if such a grand failure had driven us to achieve much more than we did. Creator Ronald D. Moore, who also brought us a little show called Battlestar Galactica, fashions a creatively designed alternate timeline for the space program and American politics, creating a space freak's playground chock full of historical what ifs.
Foundation (2021– )
Isaac Asimov's Foundation is not the sort of book you read and wonder, Why hasn't this been adapted into a laser-blasting, spaceship-exploding blockbuster space opera yet? The best way to describe the first book in Asimov's centuries-spanning series is "groups of guys sitting in rooms and discussing events that you never actually get to see," which is not exactly material that lends itself to the neon light show sci-fi entertainment we've grown to expect, and not the sort of thing you want to hear about a new science fiction television series. But trust that Apple TV+'s adaptation of Foundation, set in the far future of humanity at the beginning of the end of a galaxy-wide empire, and starring Jared Harris as psychohistorian Hari Seldon, has pulled off the unenviable task of adapting the core ideas of what made the books so revolutionary in the first place, while adding new notes of emotion and excitement to expand the world.
Home Before Dark (2020– )
This mystery is inspired by Hilde Lysiak, a young girl who publishes her own newspaper in Pennsylvania and got the scoop on a murder case. She's helped by her father, a former New York Daily News reporter. You can try to make this stuff up, but it's not recommended. The Florida Project's precocious star Brooklynn Prince portrays Lysiak, and she's supported by Jim Sturgess, Abby Miller, and Louis Herthum.
Lisey’s Story (2021)
Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore) has been a widow for two years since her husband, the famous novelist Scott Landon, died, and her home is overrun with boxes and crates of his books, writing materials, and unpublished manuscripts, the latter of which is highly desired by Professor Dashmiel (Ron Cephas Jones), who hounds Lisey at every opportunity. Procrastinating on her cleanup, she and her sister Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) attempt to care for their nearly nonverbal sister Amanda, who speaks in coded nonsense and seems to reside in a world totally apart from our own. Dashmiel sics obsessive Scott Landon fan Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) on Lisey to try to wear her down, but Jim's attempts to liberate Landon's stuff become increasingly more violent. When Lisey finds a hidden message from her late husband promising to send her on a "bool" hunt with a hidden prize at the end, all the disparate threads start to converge. The miniseries, with episodes written by Stephen King himself and directed by Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Ema) keeps its true intentions hidden, lingering on sweeping, atmospheric shots and scenes that go on for just long enough to get uncomfortable.
Little America (2020– )
The Big Sick co-writers and real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon created this anthology series about immigrants in America. Each episode tells a singular story, some funny, some romantic, about unique immigrant experiences, like of a young man from Nigeria who finds a connection to Oklahoma cowboy culture or a woman from Uganda set on making it as a baker.
Little Voice (2020)
After singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles took her talents to Broadway where she adapted Waitress as a musical, among many other projects, she headed to Apple TV+ to co-create this coming-of-age series. Little Voice follows a young hopeful singer named Bess (played by Brittany O'Grady of The White Lotus) as she moves to New York and tries to make it in the Big Apple. Cliched as it may be, it'll find its way to warm your heart and you won't be able to get its original tunes out of your head.
The Morning Show (2019– )
The Morning Show is about, well, a morning show… and all of the behind the scenes drama and dynamics that viewers don't see when they're enjoying those network programs with their morning coffee. It's also become one of Apple TV+'s most shiny, award-winning pieces. Much of its acclaim and half of the fun watching the dramedy is due to its star-studded cast, led by Jennifer Aniston as a Katie Couric-like anchor and Reese Witherspoon as the spitfire from down South who haphazardly finds her way co-hosting alongside Aniston's character when a Matt Lauer-esque scandal erupts regarding her former co-host played by Steve Carell. Although the show might not have anything entirely new to say about gender dynamics in the workplace, it's an addicting watch that will keep you pressing play, like viewers have been tuning into The Today Show for years.
Mosquito Coast (2021– )
Apple gave an update to this Paul Theroux's seminal 1981 novel about American idealism gone to rot (after an 1986 movie adaptation starring Harrison Ford). In this version, the author's own nephew Justin Theroux plays Allie Fox, an inventor who uproots his family. Unlike in the source material, where the trouble starts for Allie when he arrives in Central America, showrunner Neil Cross, of Luther fame, reimagines the saga as a chase. Here, Allie is being pursued by authorities for reasons that are initially unknown to the audience and enlists the help of coyotes, smugglers, to get his brood into Mexico, where more trouble awaits.
Mythic Quest (2020– )
Mythic Quest is a comedy series from the brains of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia veterans Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz, and it's co-produced by Ubisoft (yes, the video game development company). The series follows a group of devs working on the eponymous Mythic Quest, a wildly successful MMORPG on the cusp of releasing its first major expansion. McElhenney stars as Ian Grimm, a gifted creative director with "an ego the size of a bus," alongside a great ensemble cast that always finds a way to push the limits of comedy TV.
Physical (2021– )
For all of its neon colors and being pegged as a show about the '80s aerobics craze, you might think that Physical is a peppy comedy. But then the show retreats into the lead character Sheila's head where a voiceover makes it evident that this housewife has turned to the fitness movement because of an all-consuming eating disorder, and it's clear the show is about a much darker topic. Created by Annie Weisman (Desperate Housewives) and starring the always excellent Rose Byrne, the show is a deeply uncomfortable but necessary viewing experience that, underneath all of the spandex, operates as a dual portrait of a woman in the throes of a disease, and an era crumbling under the allure of capitalism.
Schmigadoon! (2021– )
Schmigadoon! was made for musical theater nerds. In the musical-comedy, Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key play Melissa and Josh, two doctors in a relationship, who get trapped in the strange town of Schmigadoon on a camping excursion. They quickly learn that they are in a Golden Age musical and the only way out is to cross a bridge with their true love. Unfortunately, Melissa and Josh are on the fritz, and they have to brave a series of romantic misadventures before they realize they are perfect for one another. It's ripe with fun songs, appearances by stage veterans like Kristin Chenowith, and references galore from The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Sunday in the Park with George, and many other shows. Even if you aren't able to catch the very dorky Easter eggs, it's a show that's simply a joy (as long as you can stomach the cast constantly breaking into song).
Servant (2019– )
This psychological thriller, created and written by Tony Basgallop and executive-produced by M. Night Shyamalan, stars Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebbell, Nell Tiger Free, and Ron Weasley (AKA Rupert Grint) and tracks a troubled couple after a nanny arrives to take care of their infant son. Given Shyamalan's involvement, you can probably guess that things are not exactly what they seem.
Ted Lasso (2020– )
If you're looking for a show that'll do nothing short of warm your heart (and inspire you to look up how to get specific tea and biscuits imported into the US), Ted Lasso is it. The series has become a full-blown phenomenon for Apple because of how damn wholesome it is. The plot may sound similar to anyone who has seen Major League, as it follows the mission of the new owner (Hannah Waddignham) of the AFC Richmond football club as she tries to take down the team her ex-husband loves by hiring Wichita State football coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis). While the plan is sly because Lasso isn't a total joke but doesn't know anything about soccer, what he lacks in skill he makes up for in kindness and heartfelt desire to help the team. Its lack of cynicism makes it the utmost comforting watch. So find some biscuits, make a cup of tea, and curl up with Ted Lasso.
BEST APPLE TV ORIGINAL MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES
The Beastie Boys Story (2020)
The Beastie Boys Story is an amalgamation if you will—a movie hybrid that's one part documentary, one part concert film, and one part live, two-man play. The simple formula, which finds remaining Beastie Boys bandmates Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock) and Mike Diamond (aka Mike D) sharing the story of their lifelong friendship with the late Adam Yauch (aka MCA), and their rise, fall, and subsequent rise again as trend-setting icons in the music world. The scaled-down storytelling formula of the doc offers an off-the-cuff, intimate experience which shines a light on the ups and downs the group hit in their career—from their embarrassing early days as Def Jam's hit party boy rap group to the experimental jam sessions that sparked an evolution that propelled the Beastie Boys to new heights, both creatively and spiritually. Directed by Spike Jonze, the film takes the formula of a Behind the Music episode and elevates it with humor and heart.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry (2021)
The World's a Little Blurry is not the hagiography one expects as a film made with the full participation of the pop star that inspired it. It's instead a deep portrait of a truly unusual current icon encountering a truly unusual type of fame. Director R.J. Cutler buoys the narrative with concert footage and clips of the songwriting process that showcase Eilish's natural talent, but the most astounding moments are the ones when he captures her as a teenager caught in a maelstrom. She throws a Louis Vuitton sweatsuit in the backyard washing machine of her childhood home where she still lives with her tight-knit family; her dad gives her a kind-hearted, almost spiritual lecture about responsibility before she takes her car out for the first time by herself after getting her license. Even as she's reaching new peaks, she's dealing with typical teenage stuff, including a shitty boyfriend who refuses to come see her following her major Coachella performance. A touch of fear hangs over The World's a Little Blurry, the notion that it could all go wrong very quickly, but it's also a look at someone who almost has no choice but to be a star.
Boys State (2020)
Since 1937, the American-Legion has assembled two yearly gender-segregated programs—Boys State and Girls State—to walk young people through America's political process. Boys State follows a large swath of teenage boys on the verge of adulthood as they converge to assemble their own mock government. What transpires is reminiscent to Lord of the Flies in the sense that the young people are in charge. But the real entry-point to the story is the multiple characters the camera crews decide to follow. While the documentary takes place in Texas and is filled with the expected conservative views that come with living in the red state, the movie does its best to explore the views of the next generation without bias. In turn, it shows how handed-down ideologies can impact our young people, and thusly shines a light on our country's political strengths and weaknesses. While audiences will most certainly be yearning for the female perspective once all is said and done, Boys State acts as a reminder that the children are indeed our future—and that concept plays out in both a terrifying and inspiring light.
CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults, which is an acronym that applies to the main character, Ruby, of this family dramedy. Ruby is the only hearing member of her working class family and has acted as their interpreter most of her life in their small New England town. Although she's been ostracized for years, once she discovers she has a gift for singing, the coming-of-age film follows the high schooler as she tries to find her own voice. It's the kind of family film that's unabashedly sentimental and will undoubtedly make you cry, but with a story this sweet, you'll welcome the waterworks.
On the Rocks (2020)
Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks is a sweet, melancholic midnight rendezvous around the upper echelons of Manhattan. The film sees her reunite with Bill Murray, who plays a dashing playboy art dealer named Felix who unexpectedly crashes back into the life of his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones) as she's in a midlife crisis and suspects her husband is having an affair. A few cocktails, joy rides in vintage red hotrods, and ice cream sundaes at members-only clubs later, and the two are sleuthing across the City (much to Laura's dismay). It's a world that's surprising, and also shockingly intimate.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)
For his first time directing without his brother, Joel Coen turned to one of Shakespeare's most mystical tragedies, at the suggestion of his wife, star and producer Frances McDormand. In the set, tone, and performances, from Denzel Washington as the titular cursed king to stage actress Kathryn Hunter playing all three witches, the filmmaker leans into the text's eeriness—resulting in a deeply haunting movie. Doom seeps through every frame of the film. It's there in Washington's eyes and Hunter's chapped lips issuing curses. Like the knocking Macbeth hears, it's an adaptation that will beguile and plague you.
The Velvet Underground (2021)
Todd Haynes' documentary of the coolest rock band there ever was is a comprehensive overview of The Velvet Underground’s most groundbreaking material, as well as an empathetic and unflinching portrait of the volatile personalities and the experimental pressure cooker that made it all happen. From Lou Reed to Andy Warhol to Nico, Jonathan Richman, David Bowie, Amy Taubin, from 56 Ludlow St to the Cafe Bizarre, the film paints a picture of subversive artists obsessed with music, film, sex, counterculture, and the 60-cycle hum of their apartment fridge, incorporating it all into some of the best music ever written.
This gorgeous animated movie from directors Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore, and Moore's team at Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon will have you longing for days when 2D was the norm. The folk tale-esque film retells a classic Irish fable about wolfwalkers, or humans that could transform their souls into great wolves, bringing them to stunning, cinematic life. The story here follows a young girl named Robyn and her father, a talented hunter, as he's tasked with hunting down the last of a pack that's ravaging an Irish city—all of which is complicated with Robyn meets the pair of wolfwalkers who are actually leading the tribe.