We’ve all been there: scrolling through a seemingly never-ending carousel of shows and movies available on Netflix, trying to find the one thing we might want to sit down and enjoy. Except we often end up spending more time looking for something to kick back and view than actually watching the thing itself.
But fear not! You too can optimize your Netflix viewing experience, both in terms of finding something you want to watch, and amplifying how you watch it. Here’s how.
Though Netflix has ditched user star ratings in favor of a binary, Siskel and Ebert-style thumbs-up, thumbs-down system, it’s well worth your while to tell Netflix what you enjoyed and what you didn’t. Absolutely make sure to rate a show or movie as soon as you’ve seen it.
It’s also a good idea to stop for a second on something you’ve already seen elsewhere while you’re browsing your viewing options. Even if you saw that title years before Netflix existed, take a moment to rate it, whether you plan to watch it again or not. The more data Netflix has on your interests, the more refined the recommendations it can offer.
Netflix’s recommendations never will be completely spot on. It’s inevitable that you’ll end up slogging through something you didn’t really enjoy. (More power to you if you last until the end!) However, Netflix often gives recommendations based on your watch history. An entire row of suggested shows and films based on something you didn’t like is a waste of everyone’s time.
Did you know that you can scrub items from your viewing history? To do so, once you have logged in and chosen the relevant profile (more on profiles in a moment), faccess the Account menu and select the Viewing Activity option in the My Profile section. This displays a list of everything you’ve watched, along with an option to delete each item from your history.
This feature is also super handy if you’ve watched a show ahead of your partner and want to cover your tracks, but you didn’t hear that from me.
If you’re watching Netflix on your computer, you can add some browser plugins to supercharge your experience. In the Google Chrome Web Store, for instance, there are plugins which can variously crank up the playback speed, adjust the contrast, or import custom subtitles. If you’re more socially inclined, the Netflix Party plugin lets you hold watch parties with friends, with synced playback and group chat, which is a particularly neat option if you’re a social viewer but don’t live close to your buddies.
Should you seek external opinions on your options, some plugins let you add Rotten Tomatoes review scores next to each title on Netflix. And, if you’re feeling lucky, there are some plugins which offer a random viewing button to make your evening’s viewing a total gamble. Any of these plugins could amplify your Netflix experience, though it is worth remembering that plugins usually need access to your browser data to work — keep that in mind if you’re concerned about privacy.
One of the best features Netflix has added in recent years is multiple profiles. Even if you don’t let anyone else use your account, it might be worth using separate profiles to categorize the shows and movies you watch.
You might set up one profile for horror, one for documentaries, another for comedy, and a fourth for reality shows. That way, each time you check into a dedicated profile, you might see more recommendations tuned to your specific mood, rather than suggestions that take your full range of interests into account.
If your Netflix hacking efforts don’t turn out as well as you hoped, there are some fantastic resources you can turn to for guidance on what to watch.
The New York Times‘ Watching site, for instance, offers thoughtful suggestions — particularly if you don’t feel like wading through endless lists of “best movies on Netflix” ideas from practically every pop culture site. The frequent email newsletters offer solid suggestions on the best of the latest streaming choices, and as you’re browsing the well-designed site, you can save items to a watchlist as a reminder for later.
If you don’t mind exploring those best-of lists, however, Decider is a solid option. The site’s lists of Netflix shows and movies worthy of your time are thorough and well-researched. They tackle the best entries of each genre, along with more niche suggestions, such as the best Die Hard rip-offs. You might find recommendations that stray a little further from the typical well-worn paths here.
If you have the opposite problem (knowing what you want to watch, but not where to find it), there are some resources for that too. If you have an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Cube, for instance, you can ask the respective voice assistants to find that elusive show or movie. Both of those devices can figure out which service is streaming your content of choice and start playing it.
Alternatively, there are some sites that will answer that question for you, including Just Watch and Can I Stream It? (CISI).
There are other sites that scrape data from streaming services and do the same thing, though these are particularly helpful: CISI lets you see if a title is available for digital rental or purchase if you’re especially eager to watch it and it’s not available to stream, while Just Watch lets you tailor your search depending on your country of residence.
For instance, the Netflix library in Canada has many titles the U.S. version does not, and vice versa. Scouring the titles that are actually available in your locale seems like an essential function for a site such as this.
Netflix has a built-in feature called “My List.” Be sure to add interesting items to it as you scroll through the myriad options available, even if you don’t plan to watch them immediately. If Netflix cycles that show or movie out of its library and then back in again, it will reappear on your list.
However, an extensive number of titles in your list could require you to scroll through it for several minutes before finding the one you want to watch — which is the precise problem this column is trying to help you avoid. So be judicious in your use of this feature, instead of tossing in every single title you might ever care to watch in the future.