Netflix isn’t known for short films and they don’t make them easy to find (a search for ‘short films’ won’t bring them all up), but you shouldn’t sleep on the quality of their catalog, which contains some true gems.

Sure, these are not free-to-view films like our normal picks, but if you’re one of the 213M people who subscribe to the global service, or one of the uncountably greater number of folks who have access to an account, it sure feels free doesn’t it?

Below we’ve gathered our ten favorite shorts that are currently available worldwide. Netflix’s catalog is in a constant churn as titles cycle in and out, so if you spot something interesting, you better watch it soon: already notables like 2016 Oscar nominee Chau, Beyond the Lines, acclaimed independent animator Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow and S/W 2016 Short of the Year Kung Fury have departed from the platform. 

As titles depart and new ones arrive we’ll occasionally update this list [Current update: November 2021], so be sure to check in periodically.

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1. Robin Robin

Dir: Dan Ojari & Mickey Please

The charming tale of a robin raised by mice, this Christmas special from S/W alums Mikey Please (The Eagleman StagMarilyn Myller) and Dan Ojari (Slow Derek) follows its avian lead as she tries to prove her worth to her adopted rodent family. Sporting adorable needle felt characters, catchy songs and the magical stop-motion craft you always associate with an Aardman production, Robin Robin looks set to become a new festive tradition in households worldwide.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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2. Anima

Dir: PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON

Released in 2019, alongside Thom Yorke’s album of the same name, this silent movie homage sees the Radiohead frontman strut, stutter and swirl through a well-choreographed universe of drone-like humans. Directed by one of the most famous names on this list, Anima isn’t included solely on reputation alone, as its grand production, unique premise and hypnotizing choreography make it one of the most exciting short films in recent years. A strange little island in a sea of documentary, it’s a real standout piece in the Netflix short film catalog.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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3. The White Helmets

Dir: ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL

If you’re looking to satisfy a short film fix on Netflix, hopefully you love documentaries. Netflix’s acquisitions to-date are highly focused on sourcing Oscar contenders, and with this Syrian War film Netflix finally scored a win. 

2 years after being nominated for the feature film Virungavon Einsiedel took home an Oscar, beating out fellow Netflix pickup Extremis. A deserved win, we have been captivated by media coming out of the Syrian conflict, and this film is a wrenching portrait of the bravery of a corp of non-aligned citizens dedicated to pulling survivors out of the rubble in the wake of bombing attacks. Relevant and affecting.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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4. Two Distant Strangers

Dir: Travon Free & Martin Desmond Roe

Winner of the 2021 Live Action Short Film Academy Award, Two Distant Strangers uses the “Groundhog Day” time-loop formula to create a social advocacy film where the fantastical plot device ends up being crucial to reinforcing its message. After all, in America, these stories—stories of systemic racism and police brutality against Black men and women — just seem to keep happening, don’t they? A horrifying newsreel on repeat. And, so, Two Distant Strangers feels not only like a parable for this particular moment, but also a culmination of all that has come before it, forcing us as viewers to reckon with our own prejudices and biases, refusing to let us off easy with a neat and safe conclusion.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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5. In Vitro

Dir: Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind

Set decades after an ecological disaster has engulfed the biblical city of Bethlehem, this black and white speculative sci-fi short blends stunning visuals with a number of complex themes to make for an original, absorbing watch. Screened at the BFI London and Locarno film festivals in 2019 and co-directed by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour and Danish author Søren Lind this slow-paced, dialogue-driven approach to science-fiction won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s one of the most memorable and distinct genre shorts we’ve seen in some time.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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6. Zion

Dir: FLOYD RUSS

The film that spurred the creation of this list, Zion was a favorite of ours at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival before it premiered on Netflix later that year. A portrait of Zion Clark, a teen born without legs and raised in foster care, who finds confidence through competitive wrestling, the film is a visually dramatic, hi-energy, hi-inspiration affair—practically the platonic ideal of an internet profile doc. Yes its arc is a bit rote and the film can be accused of being more flash than substance, but if you love these kinds of pop docs (like I do) you’ll be hooked—and at only 11-mins, it is a welcome relief from the 40min docs that are the usual Oscar short subject fare. 

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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7. Ghosts of Sugar Land

Dir: BASSIM TARIQ

A favourite of the festival circuit from 2019, Tariq’s Sundance-winning doc invites you into the lives of a group of young Muslim’s and they attempt to understand the disappearance of a close friend. With a story that plays out like a true-crime narrative, as the interviewees try to unravel whether their friend was an extremist or an informant, Ghosts of Sugar Land finds the perfect balance between entertainment and insight, making it one of the most accessible short docs on Netflix (the 21-min runtime – short for Netflix standards – helps).

Alongside its Sundance win for Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction, Tariq’s doc was also nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the festival and awards at SXSW and Sheff DocFest in the same year. With his debut feature Mogul Mowgli making a splash on the festival circuit in 2020, Tariq’s filmmaking stock is rapidly rising.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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8. A Love Song for Latasha

Dir: Sophia Nahli Allison

We labelled Allison’s 20-minute doc as “most deserving” of an Oscar nomination when we discussed is part of our awards coverage in March 2021 and were excited to see it make the cut, from the 10-film shortlist to the five final nominations for the Documentary Short Subject Academy Award. Examining the injustice surrounding the shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in 1991, it’s a surprisingly dreamy evocation of 90’s Los Angeles filtered through anachronistic video technologies and interspersed at times by abstract animation. With the short doc Oscar nominations usually saturated with slick pieces firmly planted within mainstream modes, it’s exciting to see something that exists outside of these realms in the running for one of the biggest documentary prizes around.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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9. What Did Jack Do?

Dir: DAVID LYNCH

Another example of a prestige director with a short film on Netflix, but where PTA felt like he was breaking new ground with Anima, Lynch goes full Lynchian in this 17-min short that surprise dropped on Netflix earlier in 2020. With the director taking a starring role in his film, alongside a monkey in a suit, that he’s subjecting to a stern line of questioning about a murder, What Did Jack Do? is steeped in Lynch’s trademark non-sequiturs and absurd sense of humor. Like most of the director’s work, this won’t be for everyone and you’ll get as much from it as you’re willing to put in.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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10. Fire in Paradise

Dir: ZACKARY CANEPARI and DREA COOPER

Documentary filmmakers Canepari and Cooper made a name for themselves with their series California is a place – a collection of short films (of which we featured Aquadettes and Uppercut) celebrating the Golden State. While their Netflix doc Fire in Paradise shares a familiar location, the tone of their latest short couldn’t be more different from their earlier work.

A devasting and often shocking account of how the deadliest wildfire in California, in over a century, swept through the titular town of Paradise, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Constructed from distressing first-hand footage filmed from those struggling to escape the fire, alongside talking-head interviews with survivors and responders, this 40-min short is an emotive and impactful watch. It’s the kind of scenario you’d see in a feature-length disaster film and find difficult to believe, except this time the tension and risks are real.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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Short Film Anthologies

1. Love, Death + Robots

Dir: Various

With Blur Studio co-founder Tim Miller (Deadpool) as creator and David Fincher as an Executive Producer, this high-profile animated anthology of science fiction short films is far too significant to leave off any list of short films on Netflix. Though the quality of the shorts varies throughout Volume 1 and the series received criticism for its representation of women, the highs in this 18 film collection are stunningly high, and, importantly, as an exciting and popular anthology for Netflix, the series is proving to be an important milestone for mature-themed animation in television.

With Volume 2 released in May 2021, you can check out our guide to the eight standalone shorts  – featuring giants, robotic servants and Michael B. Jordan – and their directors for more information.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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2. Modest Heroes

Dir: YOSHIYUKI MOMOSE, AKIHIKO YAMASHITA & HIROMASA YONEBAYASHI

Founded in 2015 by ex-Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (Studio Ghibli halted production in 2014 after Miyazaki temporarily retired), Studio Ponoc released their first feature – Mary and the Witch’s Flower – in 2017. For their second release they deliver this trilogy of short films, featuring stories centred around a tiny family who live underwater, a boy with a serious egg allergy and an invisible man. This almost hour-long anthology, all directed by ex-Ghibli employees, feels like a solid showcase of what we can expect from this exciting new animation studio on the Tokyo block.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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3. Oats Studios

Dir: Neill Blomkamp

With Blomkamp one the most famous names to have made the jump from short film to feature, it makes sense that South African director would return to the world of shorts when he set up Oats Studios in 2017. Described by its employees as a “giant playpen” and a “collection of ideas to feed the internet”, Oats was created with the aim of experimenting with production techniques and introducing a dedicated fanbase to worlds filled with development potential. Having featured two of the shorts already on S/W – Rakka and Zygote – although the films already racked up millions of views on YouTube, with them now added to the extensive Netflix universe, I’m sure their fanbase is expanding with every new view.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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4. Homemade

Dir: Various

Probably the most topical and recent entry in this article, the Homemade anthology features COVID-19 stories from a host of recognisable names, all created during a period of lockdown. Curated for Netflix by Jackie director Pablo Larraín, who acts as producer for the anthology, episodes are helmed by acclaimed directors (Paolo SorrentinoDavid Mackenzie), famous actors (Maggie Gyllenhall, Kristen Stewart) and recognisable names that have recently graduated from the world of short film and into features (Ladj LyRungano Nyoni).

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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5. Six Windows in the Desert

Dir: Various

A collection of six short films from Saudi directors, this anthology collection looks to depict life in Saudi Arabia through a number of different lenses. From a science-fiction set around the survivors of a plane crash to a story about a theatre play attacked by extremists (inspired by real-life events), Six Windows in the Desert presents a diverse mix of Middle-Eastern films.

 

WATCH ON NETFLIX
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Previous Top Tens

Nov 25 2021:

  1. The White Helmets
  2. Anima
  3. Two Distant Strangers
  4. Zion
  5. Ghosts of Sugarland
  6. The Present
  7. A Love Song for Latasha
  8. What did Jack do?
  9. Fire in Paradise
  10. We Love Moses

Nov 25 2020:

  1. The White Helmets
  2. Anima
  3. Zion
  4. Ghosts of Sugarland
  5. Heroin(e)
  6. Long Shot
  7. What did Jack do?
  8. Fire in Paradise
  9. Resurface
  10. Period. End of Sentence
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Updates

Nov 25 2021

This article was updated on the above date, the following changes were made:

  • Removal: The Present
  • Addition: Robin Robin
  • Removal: We Love Moses (Offline)
  • Addition: In Vitro
  • Addition: Love Death + Robots Vol. 2 (anthology)
  • Addition: Oats Studios (anthology)

April 9 2021

This article updated on the above dats, the following changes were made:

  • Removal: Heroin(e)
  • Addition: Two Distant Strangers
  • Removal: Long Shot
  • Addition: The Present
  • Removal: Resurface
  • Addition: A Love Song for Latasha
  • Removal: Period. End of Sentence
  • Addition: We Love Moses

Nov 26 2020

This article was updated on the above date, the following changes were made:

  • Removal: The House of Small Cubes (Offline)
  • Addition: Anima
  • Removal: The Gruffalo (Offline)
  • Addition: Ghost of Sugar Land
  • Removal: Golden Time (Offline)
  • Addition: What Did Jack Do
  • Removal: Little Witch Academia (Offline)
  • Addition: Fire in Paradise
  • Removal: Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection (Offline)
  • Addition: Period. End of Sentence
  • Addition: Short Film Anthologies section