Scott Tobias

Over the past few months, the roll-out of several high-profile Netflix releases has revealed a predilection for expensive, hard-edged, futuristic genre fare, starting with the human-alien buddy picture Bright, continuing with the TV series Altered Carbon and the surprise post-Super Bowl unveiling of The Cloverfield Paradox. None of them opened to much critical acclaim and Netflix is notoriously cagey about sharing its numbers, but the company has found a niche market that its algorithm can reinforce.

The maze-running part of The Maze Runner trilogy wrapped up about two-thirds of the way into the first film, leaving it to exist only as a metaphor for fresh-faced young people getting treated like laboratory rats.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

Even the title, Phantom Thread, sets the mind reeling. The term refers to a Victorian Era phenomenon in which East London seamstresses, utterly exhausted by a long day's work, continue to go through the motions at home, sewing threads that do not exist. It also evokes the otherworldly quality of artistic creation, some divine and inexplicable force that helps bring a work to fruition.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Director Tomas Alfredson is in the ennui business. His films are heavy and portentous, often blanketed in the permafrost of his native Sweden and always just as chilly indoors. His 2008 breakthrough, Let the Right One In, reinvigorated the vampire myth by draining it of sensationalism and using it as an affecting metaphor for the eternal loneliness of adolescence.

The Sundance-winning documentary Dina is a tale of two movies, sometimes at odds with each other: One is a quirky indie rom-com about two people on the autism spectrum who are getting ready to tie the knot. The other is an unvarnished verité about the difficulties they have with sexual intimacy. Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles structure and frame the film so carefully that it almost seems like the staging of a script, rather than real life unfolding before the camera.

In the best Stephen King adaptations — and the best Stephen King novels, for that matter — there's precious little daylight between the psychic stress of the characters and the supernatural forces that torment them. Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Christine: All are defined by the frightening intimacy of terrors that come from within, rather than external forces that can be vanquished like a priest exorcising a demon or ghosts expelled from a haunted house.

Set in the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde takes place in an underworld where the Cold War is over but the conflict continues, like the throbbing of a vestigial limb. In that respect—and perhaps that respect only—it belongs to the tradition of post-war thrillers like Carol Reed's The Third Man or Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, where danger and intrigue exist where they shouldn't and the players involved are enmeshed in self-doubt and crippling mission drift.

In search of an answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that choo-choo-ing money train where all the cars are linked together, Universal Pictures has been trying to revive its classic monster movies from the '30s and '40s, in the hope that Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man will do for it what Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America have done for Marvel.

Princess Diana of Themyscira was sculpted from clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, brought to life by Aphrodite and bequeathed her superhuman powers by the Greek gods. Over the 75 years she has been kept off the big screen, her fitful appearances on the small screen, most notably in the Lynda Carter TV series and on animated shows like Super Friends and Justice League, have made it easy to forget that Wonder Woman is not one of us.

To fully understand the dollar-store appeal of Power Rangers, the first big-screen iteration of the media and action-figure line in two decades, one must sit through at least one or two of the five Michael Bay-directed Transformers movies, which is by no means an advisable experience. The two franchises are more or less the same — a busy assemblage of thinly wrought characters, unforgivably dense mythology, and barely comprehensible action sequences, all in service of gleaming battlebots for kids to smash together in the sandbox.