It’s time to revisit some of the classics.
What makes a drama worth watching? An antihero? A fraught love story? Joy and pain, sunshine and rain? Netflix has films that check all those boxes. Here are a few of the best drama movies on Netflix.
The best drama movies on Netflix
1) The Godfather Saga
It’s difficult to even talk about The Godfather without considering the monumental impact it had on cinema and pop culture at large. The first film defined the gangster genre and gave us icons in Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone and Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone. The second film subverted and redefined the expectations set by the first one while also making newcomer Robert De Niro a star. The third film… well, the less said about the third film the better. Regardless, Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy still stands as one of the finest American movie epics of all time. A defining immigrant story, a revelatory take on the nature of violence, and a profound meditation on family and power, The Godfather is all it’s cracked up to be and more. —Chris Osterndorf
2) Fruitvale Station
Ryan Coogler’s debut feature film tells the story of Oscar Grant, who was shot by police outside a Bay Area Transit Station on Jan. 1, 2009. Michael B. Jordan plays Grant, as we follow him on the last day of his life, and watch events unfold through his eyes.
3) Full Metal Jacket
Like all of Stanley Kubrick’s work, Full Metal Jacket is cold, distant, and often disturbing. But Kubrick’s iciness works perfectly for examining the horrors of Vietnam. One of only two films he made in the 1980s (the other was The Shining), Full Metal Jacket redefined the war movie by suggesting that the training process could actually be one of the worst parts of the whole experience. The first half of the story, which finds a group of Marines going through a dehumanizing boot camp, is so good that people often forget the portion that’s actually set in Vietnam. The entire film is expertly crafted and sure to make an impression. Full Metal Jacket is the rare war movie that refuses to make war look even remotely cool, and it’s all the better for it. —C.O.
4) The Discovery
The discovery here is one of an afterlife, and the consequences it has on society. Robert Redford is the scientist who made the fateful discovery, which has led to a surge in suicides and drawn in a cult of obsessives. It also explores what that afterlife looks like, and whether we really want to know. Director Charlie McDowell explored similar themes of duality in his 2014 film The One I Love.
There’s yet another Stephen King adaptation landing on Netflix, and this one involves rats and murder. In Zak Hilditch’s take, Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a Nebraska farmer who has a crisis of conscience when wife Arlette (Molly Parker) says she wants to move to the city and take their teenage son. What follows is a signature King ghost story but it expands in Jane’s dead-eyed portrayal of Wilfred. Mike Patton provides the anxiety-inducing soundtrack, and it couldn’t have been a better choice.
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Forget Boyhood. Céline Sciamma’s 2014 drama explores the lives of black teens growing up in a Paris housing projects with sharp focus. Karidja Touré plays Marieme, an introvert who’s drawn into a girl gang that liberates her a bit from her daily home and school life. And Rihanna’s “Diamonds” scores an unforgettable scene that revels in that liberation.
7) Turner & Hooch
Not sure why Netflix categorizes this as a drama, but this 1989 film about Tom Hanks and a lovable, slobbering Dogue de Bordeaux might bring tears to your eyes. The movie was piloted as a 1990 TV series, but it suffered the same fate as Poochinski.
Adapted by Dee Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound traces the stories of two families during WWII, one white, one black. They intersect when the McAllan clan buys the farm the Jackson family has worked on as sharecroppers for years. It’s worth watching Mudbound for its devastating ending alone. It’s impossible to deny that Hollywood is better for taking a chance on filmmakers like Dee Rees and stories like this. —C.O.
Dee Rees’ 2011 film is anchored by the astounding Adepero Oduye, who plays Alike, a young gay woman struggling to come out to her parents. We see her trying to assert herself, find physical connection, and comb the layers of her friendships.
10) Don’t Think Twice
Comedian Mike Birbiglia’s second feature film explores the lives of members of an improv troupe. Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher are inseparable on stage and off, but when one of them gets a big break, jealousy, resentment, and narcissism come into the mix. You don’t have to be an improv nerd to relate to the theme of arrested adulthood.
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If you know the name Christine Chubbuck, it might be because of how her life ended: on air, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But Antonio Campos’s Christine explores the inner life of the Sarasota, Florida, reporter as she strives to move up and get noticed, and Rebecca Hall imbues her with a steadfast mix of ambition and self-doubt.
12) The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s original twist, The Sixth Sense gave us a Haley Joel Osment catchphrase and the second highest-grossing movie of 1999. If you’ve still managed to avoid the ending of this modern ghost story, congrats. People still love debating it online.
Director Bong Joon-ho follows up Snowpiercer with this touching story about a young girl named Mija and her genetically enhanced super pig, Okja. Coming between her and her best friend is steely CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), who wants Okja back for capitalist reasons, and a group of animal rights activists with varying agendas. Mija goes on a global search for Okja, and in the process the film comments on food production and corporate greed. But there are also small comedic moments, like a recreation of the war room the night Osama Bin Laden was killed, and many wonderful ones involving Jake Gyllenhaal as over-the-top, morally compromised TV host Johnny Wilcox.
Director Pablo Larraín has described Neruda as an “anti-bio” of the poet Pablo Neruda. Indeed, the film, which stars Luis Gnecco as Neruda and Gael García Bernal as a cop on his trail, plays with biography and fiction, celebrity and politics. Neruda lived in interesting times and Larraín plays up the parties and speeches in stunning detail, balanced out by a noirish game of cat-and-mouse.
There’s not a lot to say about Boyhood that hasn’t already been said. It’s a masterpiece, an experience unlike any other, and one of the best movies of the century so far. Champion of the understated, director Richard Linklater casually follows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood to college, checking in with his actors as they aged over a 12-year shooting process. In the Linklater way, eschewing grand, life-changing moments in favor of the everyday business of just living, the film becomes extraordinary in its ordinariness. This is one person’s story, and the beauty in it is that the narrative never focuses on anything other than that person becoming himself—which is, of course, both one of the most ordinary and the most beautiful things anyone can ever achieve. To say that Boyhood works only as an experiment would be shortsighted. It works as a complete and profound work of art on its own, too. —C.O.
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16) Super Dark Times
When you’re a teen, a lot of things can come between you and your friends. In Kevin Phillips’s 2017 film, Super Dark Times, it’s one big, sharp thing. There’s an accidental murder and a panicked cover-up, but the film also zooms out to explore how the town you grew up in, and the experiences you have there, can shape you into someone you don’t recognize.
17) Rogue One
As with the rest of the franchise, Rogue One’s production design is stunning. The tropical base on Scarif is like nothing we’ve seen before, and its sprawling battle scene feels tense and immediate. David Crossman’s costume design fits into the Star Wars universe while distinguishing Rogue One’s place in the beaten-down Dark Ages of the war, with the lead characters dressed in the tough, unwashed garb of guerrilla fighters. Jyn and Cassian look effortlessly badass in their scrubby jackets and layers of grimy shirts, while Baze Malbus and the aging extremist Saw Gerrera contribute sci-fi style with their dented body armor and bulky weapons. As ever, the franchise’s visual world-building is second to none. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Spotlight is a drama of the old-school model, bringing into comparison gems such as All the President’s Men. It follows the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team as it exposes the numerous cases of child abuse and molestation by clergymen covered up by the Catholic church in Boston. The Boston Globe went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts, and the scandal ran so deep that the Archbishop of Boston was forced to step down. If you care about journalism, it’s a must-watch. —Clara Wang
Carol is a devastating love story, but it’s also hopeful. The film stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as a ‘50s housewife who’s starting to come into her sexuality, and Rooney Mara as Therese, a young woman who falls for her. As the movie’s lush, gorgeous look washes over the characters, every glance, every gesture, every hint of longing becomes something profound. The story is familiar territory for director Todd Haynes, who also explored forbidden sexuality in “traditional” America with 2002’s Far from Heaven. Either one could rightly be called a melodrama, but while the former heightens emotions, the latter tempers them. Both films are haunting and beautiful, but Carol feels like the masterwork he’s been approaching his whole career. —C.O.
20) Gerald’s Game
It’s the year of the Stephen King adaptation, and Gerald’s Game might be the best one. Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) takes a novel that has long been considered unfilmable and imbues it with tension and emotion. Carla Gugino gives a standout performance as Jessie, a woman who is left handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) dies unexpectedly. The bulk of the film concerns her survival and how deep into the past she can go, and it actually improves upon the novel.
21) Boogie Nights
Several Paul Thomas Anderson films from this century (There Will Be Blood, The Master) are so routinely referred to as masterpieces that one can almost forget he had a career before the year 2000. But not only was Anderson as a much a product of the ‘90s indie explosion as fellow auteurs Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, he debatably made the best film out of all of them with 1997’s Boogie Nights. It’s a sprawling, multifaceted depiction of the porn industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The rise and fall (and sort of rise?) of Dirk Diggler proved to be a coming-out moment for star Mark Wahlberg too, not to mention a brief redemption for Oscar-nominated supporting actor Burt Reynolds, working alongside many of Anderson’s usual players, who all give career highlight performances. The music, the setting, the acting, the story: Boogie Nights is an American story unlike any other. —C.O.
22) City of God
This 2002 Brazilian film about growing up under corruption, poverty, and violence in Rio de Janeiro moves as fast as a Martin Scorsese gangster movie despite containing enough tragedy for 10 depressing documentaries. Director Fernando Meirelles (with help from co-director Kátia Lund) imbues the film with such a sense of gritty realism, it could only be based on real-life experiences. At the same time, the film is so highly stylized, it’s also a uniquely cinematic experience, whether you watch it at home or in a theater. Instead of being buried under the weight of these contradictions, City of God thrives on them. For anyone interested in doing a deep dive, check out City of God: 10 Years Later, a documentary about the lives of the film’s young actors, which is also on Netflix. Beware though, the follow-up is almost as emotionally draining as the first go-around —C.O.
Wheelman stars Frank Grillo as a professional getaway driver who finds himself with $200,000 in his trunk and some very bad people on his tail after a bank job goes pear-shaped. Staged almost entirely within the confines of the car, Wheelman blends an intense neo-noir storyline with a gritty, charismatic lead performance by Grillo. More French Connection than The Fast and the Furious, Wheelman is a ride well worth taking. —David Wharton
24) Lucid Dream
A South Korean riff on Inception, Lucid Dream follows a journalist, Dae-ho, working to find his son, who was kidnapped three years earlier. The investigation has gone cold, but an experimental technique allows Dae-ho to relive the day his son was taken through lucid dreaming. For a premise as inherently grim as a parent searching for a lost child, Lucid Dream is surprisingly fun. The investigations taking place in dreamland and the real world intersect in interesting ways and the story is constantly upping the stakes. —Eddie Strait
While critics have almost universally praised the first half of Lion for its intense portrayal of Calcutta street life, there’s something kind of exploitative in the film’s focus on poverty. But the second half of the film, which focuses on a young man in Australia trying to find his way back to the home he doesn’t remember in India, Lion becomes something else entirely. The story’s hero, Saroo (Dev Patel), struggles to reconcile the privilege of his current life, mainly the love of his adopted parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and girlfriend (Rooney Mara), with the life he lost as a child. With a little help from Google Maps, he begins to obsessively search for the village he was born in. All that Googling might not sound exciting, and some of it is a little dull, but it’s contemporary story this hones in on globalization and technology. —C.O.
26) Mustang Island
At the start of Craig Elrod’s black-and-white indie drama, Bill (Macon Blair) has been dumped, and he’s not taking it well. He enlists his brother and friend to join him on a road trip to the South Texas coast to help win her back, but of course, things go astoundingly wrong. Some very dark comedy is drawn from their foibles, but Mustang Island also drives home the importance of having people in your life who get you.
27) The Invitation
If you missed 2016’s twisty The Invitation, you’re not alone. But you’re also in for a treat. Karyn Kusama’s thriller about a group of friends at a dinner party is simplistic in premise but precise in execution. It’s a movie so intimate, so perfectly claustrophobic, you’ll feel almost like the characters in the movie, trapped by a kind of relentless dread while watching it. As the plot unfurls and the party stretches on, secrets and ulterior motives are revealed, all the way up to a breathtaking climax. Intense as the experience is, you may immediately want to watch it again, if not because it’s great then at least to make sure you got everything. —C.O.
28) First Match
Monique (Elvire Emanuelle) is teen from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood who’s searching for acceptance and direction after being cycled through foster homes. We first meet her while she’s being thrown out of her most recent home, her belongings raining down on her from above. She’s so used to putting up her defenses that we’re not sure what to make of her, but we can see there’s an anger to be channeled.
In an effort to define herself in the chaos, Mo joins the all-male high school wrestling team, which dovetails with her reconnecting with her estranged father Darrel (the tremendous Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has just gotten out of jail and is trying to make ends meet. He used to wrestle too, and their relationship gets a tentative restart once he starts coming to her matches and helping her train. Like Mo, Darrel is a complex character, and Abdul-Mateen plays his many sides beautifully. He ropes Mo into illegal fighting to earn money. She’s hesitant about getting involved but is pulled along by that need for her father and his guidance, however fleeting.
29) Sunday’s Illness
In Sunday’s Illness, the raw emotions between a mother and the daughter she abandoned 35 years ago are on full display as they spend 10 days together, showing what could have been and what will never be with painstaking beauty. Mother Anabel (Susi Sánchez) and daughter Chiara (Bárbara Lennie) constantly push and pull at one another even when they aren’t in each other’s orbit. Sunday’s Illness could have taken its concept into a number of directions with the backdrop—and impeccable cinematography—of an isolated house located on a wooded mountain that helps set the tone. Instead, the film goes down a more emotional and sometimes uncomfortable path, climaxing in a profoundly life-changing experience. Like the snapshots we see, we’re left wondering what it might all say. —Michelle Jaworski
Netflix’s cancer drama Irreplaceable You is a formulaic movie with just enough good moments to make it worth your time. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michiel Huisman star as Abbie and Sam, who have been in love with each other since they were 8 years old. All of their plans are derailed by Abbie’s terminal diagnosis. Instead of planning the rest of their lives together, they’re forced to plan for the end of their relationship. —E.S.
31) Roxanne Roxanne
A long overdue biopic, the dutiful Roxanne Roxanne tells the early ‘80s beginnings of Lolita Shante Gooden, known to the hip-hop world as Roxanne Shante, rap’s first female superstar. Serviceable as a straightforward film, it suffers from lack of depth as it tries to cover as many real-life events as it can. However, the accurate time-period placing, expert editing, and dazzling performances of Chanté Adams, Nia Long, and Mahershala Ali cover most of the film’s tangles. —Kahron Spearman
32) Layla M.
Netflix’s Layla M. is about teenage rebellion gone awry. Layla is just coming into her own as a person and realizing that her own beliefs don’t quite line up with the rest of her family and friends. In the search to find like-minded people, she leaves home and gets married. Her new life takes herself to the edge of terrorism, as her husband’s commitment to their religion is more radical than her own. The movie is a compelling look at a story most audiences haven’t seen before. Even though the film feels like it’s just getting started by the time it ends, it’s worth your time. —E.S.
Kodachrome is like going to your childhood home to play a game of catch in your backyard: It’s comforting and you fall right back into the routine. What starts as a paint-by-numbers story of an estranged father and son working out their issues during a long road trip morphs into a genuinely affecting tale of family and mortality with a satisfying emotional payoff. Ed Harris plays the role of a father and renowned photographer, Ben, with customary elegance, but Jason Sudeikis steals the show as his son, Matt. Jonathan Tropper’s script pulls no punches, and director Mark Raso allows the scenes to breathe, making Kodachrome one of the better Netflix releases of 2018. —E.S.
34) 6 Balloons
In Marja-Lewis Ryan’s 6 Balloons, one long night tests the limits of compassion. It debuted at SXSW and tells the story of Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) a woman who’s trying to plan a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend. But as the day goes on she collides with her brother Seth (Dave Franco), a heroin addict who’s using again. “The loneliness inside those dark moments is almost more crippling… not being able to talk about the things; not knowing where to talk,” Ryan told the Daily Dot. “If this isn’t your story, then maybe you can gain a little empathy for people who are experiencing this. And if it is your story, hopefully, you can feel a little less lonely.” 6 Balloons is very much about middle-class addiction, based on a similar night Ryan’s best friend (and the film’s co-producer) Samantha Housman experienced: Her brother, a lawyer, was addicted to heroin. —A.S.
35) Come Sunday
Based on an episode from NPR’s This American Life, the film tells the true story of Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an evangelical minister of a Tulsa pentecostal megachurch who, in the late 1990s, had a radical change in belief. After watching a television show about suffering children in Africa and lamenting to God that these kids died without getting saved, Pearson told his congregation that God told him that those children—and therefore everyone on earth—would not go to Hell, because Jesus’ death on the cross covered everyone’s sins and saved everyone. —Tess Cagle
Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance