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Amazon vs. Netflix: An Itemized Guide to What You Should Be Streaming This Year

By  · Published on April 4th, 2017

You time is valuable, and so are both services for different reasons.

War Machine (Netflix)

Although there may be a competition going on between Amazon and Netflix for subscribers, the truth is that both company’s streaming services are essential for anyone who watches a lot of movies and TV and who wants to be part of the pop culture conversations as they happen.

There’s no denying that Amazon Prime is worth the $99/year, which not only gives you access to many movies but also a good amount of music streaming and digital media access, plus faster shipping for when you actually want some sort of physical product (you can also just get video content for $8.99/month, which oddly means paying more for less).

And Netflix is still a must-have for both its exclusive and nonexclusive content, though depending on one’s usage could be best for sporadic membership rather than continued subscription — now at $120/year, and no savings for loyalty, it’s obviously the much pricier of the two, for just video.

With both Amazon and Netflix being big dealmakers at Sundance and with both announcing new production deals and series all the time, if there is competition, it’s benefiting movie and TV fans in the quality and quantity and variety of fresh, original content available on a regular basis. Here’s what we’ve come to expect and can look forward to from each:


Original Narrative Features

The Wall (Amazon)

Definitely the more prestigious of the two labels, especially with its Oscar wins for Manchester by the Sea, Amazon is going after more auteur filmmakers and other well-known directors.

They’ve got new movies coming from Woody Allen (Wonder Wheel), Leo Carax (Annette), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck), Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria), Richard Linklater (Last Flag Flying), Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Liz Garbus (Lost Girls), Mike White (Brad’s Status), Susanne Bier (Tropicana), and Terry Gilliam (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote).

Plus these films that already have release dates: Terry Zwigoff’s Budding Prospects (in theaters March 17th), James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (in theaters April 21st), Doug Liman’s The Wall (in theaters May 12th), and Marc Webb’s The Only Living Boy in New York (in theaters August 11th).

Amazon also picked up some hot properties at Sundance, such as The Big Sick (out in theaters June 23rd), Crown Heights, and the latest collaboration of Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate, Landline (out in theaters July 21st).

Their issue for subscribers is that they are very much focused on theatrical releases, so if anyone wants to see something right way, they still have to go out and pay to see it. And that also goes for when these movies hit Amazon Video; they’re not immediately free for Prime members. The newly released Paterson, for instance, is currently a $6 rental, even if you have Prime.

Sandy Wexler (Netflix)

The two biggest pieces of news for Netflix Originals lately has shown how wide-ranging the service is in terms of audience and appeal. One is the extended deal with Adam Sandler, adding four more movies on top of their original order of four. Sandler is so far responsible for Netflix’s two most popular originals ever. His third title, Sandy Wexler, hits Netflix April 14th.

The other big news item is the plan to finish and release the final film by Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind. Shot back in the ’70s, this will be a curiosity for the TCM crowd, for sure, but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a good movie just because it’s from Welles.

Their other original movies on the way include less famous names, though more women filmmakers. Already this year we got the latest from Emily Hagins (Coin Heist), plus a Bob Oedinkirk comedy (Girlfriend’s Day), and Sundance selections Burning Sands and The Discovery.

Soon we’ll see new work from Tamara Jenkins (Private Life), Angelina Jolie (First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers), Duncan Jones (Mute), McG (The Babysitter), David Wain (A Futile & Stupid Gesture), Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game), Joshua Marston (Come Sunday), and Tommy Wirkola (What Happened to Monday?).

And more already with release dates: Joe Swanberg’s Win It All (April 7th), Fernando Coimbra’s Sand Castle (April 21st), Spike Lee’s Rodney King (April 28th), Jeff Garlin’s Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (May 5th), David Michod’s War Machine (May 26th), Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (June 28th), the Marlon Wayans-penned comedy remake Naked (August 11th), Adam Wingard’s Death Note (August 25th), the anime feature Godzilla: Monster Planet (November), and David Ayer’s Bright (December).

Some of those aren’t Netflix productions but were picked up at some point in their development or post-production. Joining them are the dramatic features acquired at Sundance: Berlin Syndrome (releases May 26th), Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, The Incredible Jessica James, Fun Mom Dinner, Mudbound, My Happy Family, and Marti Noxon’s To the Bone.

Netflix also has a lot in the works coming in 2018 and beyond, such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Gareth Evans’s Apostle, and Andrew Dominik’s War Party.

Of course, the great thing about all these releases for subscribers is they hit Netflix first and exclusively, save for something like Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, for which they only have VOD rights. Things could possibly change if the company wants a more competitive edge when it comes to Oscars, though, since they’re required to give contenders a theatrical push.


Long Strange Trip (Amazon)

At Sundance, Amazon picked up the acclaimed City of Ghosts (in theaters July 14th) and premiered Amir Bar-Lev’s Grateful Dead film Long Strange Trip, which they also produced.

In addition to older original films like Gleason, Gimme Danger, and I Am Not Your Negro, the last of which is still in theaters, Amazon has a good bunch of essential nonfiction features (see the Nonfics list of 100 must-see docs), including Cameraperson, Stories We Tell, and a ton of Nick Broomfield films.

Also included are a bunch of World War II propaganda films, which is interesting because they offer many that Netflix doesn’t have, in spite of Netflix releasing a new documentary miniseries about such works (see below). For instance, Amazon has all seven of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight docs, whereas Netflix only has two of them.

The main issue with Amazon’s doc selection is they have too much junk mixed in, including informercials and others that probably shouldn’t be classified as docs or even as films, and subscribers likely have a harder time weeding through that stuff to find the good titles while browsing.

Get Me Roger Stone (Netflix)

At Sundance, Netflix picked up more docs, including Casting JonBenet (releasing April 28th), Icarus, Chasing Coral, and Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. They also just announced the timely doc Get Me Roger Stone (releasing May 12th), and the company recently revealed plans to produce and pick up many more nonfiction originals than they have been.

They definitely have more prestige when it comes to docs, having just won an Oscar for their short film The White Helmets. They also had another short, Extremis, and a feature, 13th, nominated this year, and in the past, the Academy nominated their doc features The Square, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Virunga, and What Happened, Miss Simone?

Netflix also more consistently features new doc releases, as well as more must-see classics, currently including a number of Werner Herzog titles (see the Nonfics list of 100 must-see docs). However, more and more are disappearing each month. Also, as noted above, it’s weird they didn’t license more of the World War II films referenced in their new doc series Five Came Back, with their incomplete Why We Fight titles being particularly glaring.

They too have some junk mixed in and continually license very easily sold doc titles, such as those that appeal to specific niches and fandoms. They like foodie docs and true crime films and series, for instance. And if you’re simply browsing without looking for something specific, those basic and conventional nonfiction titles tend to have better placement.


I Love Dick (Amazon)

One of the graphs made for a CNBC report comparing Amazon to Netflix last year shows how each ranks with critically acclaimed series, and Amazon does have a few very notable titles, namely Transparent, The Man in the High Castle, and Mozart in the Jungle. Not on there but certainly noteworthy is their acquisition title, one of our favorites of last year, Fleabag.

There are also a few that aren’t as successful with the critics and awards groups, like Hand of God, but they do have an interesting process of sharing pilots with subscribers, who can then participate in choosing which go to series, meaning those ongoing shows are presumably going to be popular.

As we criticized recently, however, the latest batch of Amazon pilots are unfortunately not up to snuff. But the previous bunch were all selected for series, including The Tick, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, and I Love Dick, which is from Transparent creator Jill Solloway and debuts May 12th.

Like with their movie plans, Amazon is also very interested in auteur television. They’re not only continuing to work with Solloway, who additionally has a limited series about an all-women’s rodeo in the works, but also Yorgos Lanthimos, who is doing an Iran-Contra Affair show, Nicolas Winding Refn (Too Old to Die Young), Barry Jenkins (The Underground Railroad), and David O. Russell, who is doing a mafia-based series.

Also in the future, we can expect series based on Philip K. Dick’s work, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, and the movies Tremors, The Departed, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

Dear White People (Netflix)

That CNBC graph shows that Netflix had the most acclaimed series of the bunch with Masters of None and a lot more series in general. They definitely seem to have the more talked-about shows, likely because more people have Netflix, and many of the series that wind up in the zeitgeist, such as Stranger Things, The OA, and now 13 Reasons Why, seem to drop out of nowhere.

Others have been big awards contenders, like Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and The Crown, the prestige of which keeps them going strong with fans, and their continued seasons being among the most anticipated TV programs of each year. And like with their Welles acquisition, Netflix has also been favored for picking up TV orphans, such as Arrested Development, which could return, and the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival.

But Netflix also clearly has more series that aren’t acclaimed or award-worthy, like the very popular but very mediocre sitcom reboot Fuller House. We can add to that the latest Marvel series, Iron Fist, which is disappointing given that the MCU franchise shows on Netflix started out so promising. Hopefully for their sake and viewers’, The Defenders will turn things around.

As for the future, besides the hit series that will eventually have to end, Netflix has tons of exciting possibilities on the way, including the Mary Harron-helmed Margaret Atwood adaptation Alias Grace, the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed Maniac miniseries, a reboot of Lost in Space, and shows based on Spy Kids and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It.

Plus there are those with very near upcoming release dates: Dear White People, which is based on the movie (April 28th), Niki Caro’s “Anne of Green Gables” adaptation, Anne (May 12th), GLOW, from OitNB’s Jenji Kohan and based on the real-life women’s wrestlers of the 1980s (June 23rd), and the David Fincher-produced Mindhunter (due in October).

Netflix also tends to have decent nonfiction series, including the new Five Came Back and the true crime hit Making a Murderer, and quality animated series, which is fortunate for parents given how easily used and easily controlled the service can be for young children. Of course, the next big series at Netflix is probably, like Stranger Things, something nobody even knows about right now.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.