16 Movies On Netflix To Stream In The Background

Sometimes, you’re not in the mood to give a film your full attention.

by Johnny Brayson and Katherine J. Igoe
Originally Published: 
Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as the bowling teammates Dude, Walter and Donny, protag...
Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Netflix has it all. Whether you're in the mood for comedy, romance, horror, action, drama — basically anything — the streaming service will deliver. But what if you don't actually want to watch a movie? What if you just want to have something on while you're busy doing something else? Well, the site delivers there as well, as there are some great movies to stream in the background.

What makes for a good passive watch? For starters, it should be the type of movie that can be enjoyed even if you're not really paying attention. (Bonus points if it can be enjoyed with your full attention, but it’s definitely not a requirement. You’ll see.) Films that are presented in a vignette style are all pretty good at fulfilling this requirement, as are time travel films (they tend to repeat key scenes) and movies that follow a predictable-but-satisfying plot. Movies that aren't exactly must-sees — due to campiness, terribleness, or lack of originality — actually function better as something that you're just half-watching, and are prime picks for this list. And lastly, there are beautiful films, which can add either visual or auditory splendor to your living room while you're busy doing whatever it is you're doing besides watching it. So without further ado, here are 16 movies on Netflix that are great choices to have on in the background.


About Time

The whole point of this movie (aside from the sweet romance between leads Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson) is the time travel: scenes are literally replaying over and over again. So there’s a nice repetition that makes for a perfect “in the background” watch.

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This Netflix original about a man who wants to be a sommelier — despite his family’s hopes otherwise — is as delicious as the wine featured onscreen, with humor and heart and Courtney B. Vance. Best for watching as you prep for hosting a party.

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The Big Lebowski

Everything and nothing happens in this surreal comedy, and that’s the whole point: the Dude abides, after all. Let this film wash over you, and you’re sure to feel oddly soothed by the serene presence of John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Jeff Bridges. Watch it while doing as little as possible (like the nihilists!).

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A Secret Love

This is a sweet documentary about a gay couple who were together for over six decades before coming out to their families (and the world). It’s about love and acceptance, and it’ll totally tug at your heartstrings no matter which scenes you catch. Best to have on in the background while you’re having a deep conversation.

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Jupiter Ascending

This film is admittedly bonkers, but it looks incredibly cool and the acting is hilariously over the top. It’s a journey, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense, so there’s no need to try and piece it together — just look over and shake your head it every once in a while. Watch while you organize your closet by color.

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Always Be My Maybe

It’s a modern rom-com, starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, with a hilarious cameo from Keanu Reeves, and an appearance by fan favorite Michelle Buteau. What more do you want? Put this on right now and catch the occasional gut-busting joke or sight gag while you order takeout.

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Never knock the classics, and it doesn’t get more classic than Holy Grail. (One of) the brilliant things about Monty Python is that their movies are broken out into shorter, standalone skits — so you don’t need to follow along the whole time to get the jokes. If you’ve never watched, be prepared to hear some classic lines and laugh a whole bunch. Watch while you’re doing a chore you absolutely hate; this is sure to make it bearable.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love.

OK, so, the plot doesn’t totally work, but you’re really here for the cast (Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, yes please) and the quick, punchy dialogue. Oh, and the hemistry between Stone and Gosling is on fire. Ideal for watching while you get ready for a date.

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Bee Movie

This movie is so weird and so ... uh, not good ... that it's best if you don't pay too much attention, other than the occasional glance up to say, "Huh?" This would be great for watching while you tend to your plants.

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The Bling Ring

Speaking of terrible (for totally different reasons), The Bling Ring is about bored teens who, um, rob celebrities. It features some hilariously abhorrent characters — played by the likes of Emma Watson and Taissa Farmiga — and a lot of nice stuff to ogle, and it’ll make you feel better about your life choices. Best paired with an online shopping session.

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Visually stunning and packed with more stars than you remember (Brie Larson, that you?!), Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is sumptuous for the eyes and ears without being too taxing on the brain. And the songs are really, really catchy. Watch it while thinking about texting your ex.

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Legally Blonde

Let’s call this what it is: fun and frothy and sweet and an easy watch. Has it aged perfectly? No! But sometimes you just need to let Elle Woods’ silliness (and immense amounts of pink) wash over you. Perfect for having on while you study.

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Back to the Future

How long has it been since you watched this? A whole generation — perhaps generations — grew up on Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly. Turn it on, go about your day, and feel the nostalgia kick in. Watch this while you’re on the phone to your parents.

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Mystic Pizza

Speaking of sweet classics... this Julia Roberts-lead film is a light and sweet coming-of-age tale, centering on three teenagers as they search for love and happiness. Which means the stakes are fairly low, and it’s watchability value is super-high. Perfect to have on while you’re, you guessed it, cooking.

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The Departed

You might need to concentrate if you want to understand the double-crossing double-crosser plot, but if you’re in it for the over-the-top Boston accents and violence, you can just let the intense drama just sort of happen around you (something Scorsese movies are perfect for). Watch it while dealing with passive aggressive work emails.

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The Old Guard

In this Netflix original, Charlize Theron and her team of immortals kick a ton of ass. Come for the fighting, stay for the very sweet gay romance, keep watching for the stylishness. This is a great background watch when you’re exercising and want motivation.

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