There are scares aplenty in the titles leaving Netflix in the United States at the end of the month, with two contemporary horror favorites and one absolute classic departing the service. We can also recommend a handful of first-rate thrillers, one of the most quotable comedies of the 21st century and a Kevin Costner Western that’s neither “Dances With Wolves” or “Yellowstone.” (Dates reflect the final day a title is available.)
‘The Conjuring’ (Aug. 20)
When this modestly-scaled haunted house movie hit theaters in summer of 2013, few could have imagined that it would not only become so profitable — returning $319 million worldwide on a $200 million budget — but also spawn a multi-movie “universe” of eight films and counting. But that was all to come; the pleasures of this initial entry are simple, rooted in the authenticity of its ’70s setting, the grounded performances by Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor and the confident direction from James Wan (particularly his execution of one of the single best jump-scares in recent memory).
‘The Visit’ (Aug. 25)
M. Night Shyamalan’s career was in rough shape by the mid-2010s after a series of big-budget, high-profile, major studio flops. So he performed a miraculous reinvention, stripping his style down to its bare bones and teaming up with the genre producer Jason Blum to make this low-budget yet frighteningly effective chiller. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould star as teenage siblings who head to their long-estranged grandparents’ house for an extended visit and find much of what happens there … disturbing. Shyamalan deftly mixes elements of comedy, horror and found footage into a darkly entertaining package, and in the process, he reminded audiences of his considerable gifts.
‘In the Line of Fire’ (Aug. 30)
Clint Eastwood made a rare late-career acting-only appearance in this first-rate thriller from the director Wolfgang Petersen. Eastwood stars as the Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, one of the agents working in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That connection catches the attention of a potential assassin (John Malkovich), who baits Horrigan into a game of cat and mouse by threatening to repeat history on his watch. Malkovich was nominated for an Academy Award for his chilling turn as the ruthlessly intelligent killer, but Eastwood’s performance is the real deal; the taciturn actor finds striking notes of vulnerability and melancholy for his guilt-ridden character.
‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ (Aug. 31)
Will Ferrell’s breakthrough vehicle was one of the most culturally inescapable comedies of the 2000s, endlessly quoted and memed, and for good reason: It’s a screamingly funny comedy, taking an absurd concept (the 1970s-set story of a local “Action News” anchor) to its absolute limit, thanks to a spot-on turn from Ferrell as a dopey blowhard, great supporting work from the likes of Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Fred Willard, and Christina Applegate’s perfectly modulated turn as his foil turned love interest. But it was also the feature directorial debut of the future Oscar winner Adam McKay, who was already using broad comedy as cover to smuggle in headier themes (this time, of gender roles, toxic masculinity and media ineptitude).
‘Cliffhanger’ (Aug. 31)
Few megastars have mounted as many comebacks as Sylvester Stallone (one of the many parallels between the actor-filmmaker and his most famous creation, Rocky Balboa). He was rebounding from an ill-advised attempt at comedy — remember “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot”? — when he fronted this white-knuckle thriller in 1993. The boilerplate script (which Stallone co-wrote) amounts to “Die Hard” on a Mountain, with Stallone as the rugged but desperate hero, John Lithgow as the elegant terrorist villain and the Rocky Mountains as the locale. But Stallone and Lithgow fill their roles nicely, and the director Renny Harlin (previously of, by no coincidence, “Die Hard 2”) orchestrates the mayhem with panache.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (Aug. 31)
Christopher Nolan capped his Batman trilogy — and followed up “The Dark Knight,” one of history’s most commercially and critically successful comic book films — with this 2012 action epic. It’s neither as thrilling as “The Dark Knight” nor as narratively efficient as the earlier “Batman Begins,” and it borders on bloated at nearly three hours. But there’s something boldly operatic to its ambition, to how Nolan folds in new villains, post-Occupy politics and a decidedly unheroic tone of borderline nihilism. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a true terror, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a gem of complex sensuality.
‘Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’ (Aug. 31)
It speaks to the high quality of the entire series that no clear consensus seems to exist on the best film of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. But there’s a strong case to be made for this, the fourth entry, which was the live-action directorial debut of the Pixar alum Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”). Tom Cruise returns as Agent Ethan Hunt, this time drawn into the complex, globe-trotting pursuit of a nuclear terrorist who frames Hunt and his team for a bombing at the Kremlin. Simon Pegg, back from Part 3, offers welcome comic relief, the new additions Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton add considerable spice, and two of the set pieces — the aforementioned Kremlin sequence and Cruise’s gripping climb of the Burj Khalifa — are among the franchise’s best. (The series’s first and second installments also leave Netflix at the end of the month.)
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (Aug. 31)
Wes Craven went from a genre journeyman to a horror icon — and launched one of the most venerable slasher franchises ever — with this 1984 creeper. Craven wrote and directed this story of suburban teens that find their dreams haunted — often with deadly, real-life results — by the neighborhood boogieman, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Heather Langenkamp is the resourceful protagonist, while Johnny Depp, in his film debut, is one of the more memorable victims. Subsequent sequels would highlight Krueger with greater prominence but diminishing returns, effectively turning the films into horror-comedies. But this inaugural entry is a lean, mean, scare machine, filled with terrifying images and well-crafted suspense.
‘Public Enemies’ (Aug. 31)
Twenty-five years later, Depp was at the height of his career, starring as the Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger in this crime epic from the director Michael Mann (“Heat”). Mann also co-wrote the script for this fact-based tale, which tells the parallel stories of Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, the F.B.I. agent using all of the tools of the agency to track him down. Mann’s use of contemporary digital photography was controversial at the time, but it is an inspired choice, giving the picture a contemporary sheen that keeps it from feeling like dusty, unapproachable history.
‘Wyatt Earp’ (Aug. 31)
Some good movies just suffer from rotten timing. That was certainly the case with this 1994 western epic, which re-teamed the writer and director Lawrence Kasdan with his “Silverado” star Kevin Costner. Unfortunately, their film hit theaters six months after “Tombstone,” which also told the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the gunfight at the OK Corral. But the two films tell the same story in a very different way: “Tombstone” is a brisk, contemporary interpretation, emphasizing action and thrills (it shared a director with “Rambo”), while “Earp” is an old-fashioned, character-driven western in the style of John Ford (who made his own Earp film, the classic “My Darling Clementine,” in 1946). But time has been kind to Kasdan’s take, and the popularity of western TV dramas like Costner’s “Yellowstone” make “Wyatt Earp” ripe for rediscovery.