It’s time to revisit some of the classics.
The best drama movies on Netflix
1) The Big Short
Adam McKay pivots from comedy features to direct this drama about the 2008 housing crisis. Christian Bale stars as Martin Burry, the hedge fund manager who foresaw the crisis and is prone to drum solos; Steve Carell is stone-faced as ever; and Ryan Gosling is a smooth-talking trader. Yes, you’ll get really angry about 2008 again.
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) A Teacher
For some reason, this film also shows up under romantic comedies on Netflix, and it’s neither of those things. Hannah Fidell’s 2013 film follows the slow descent of a high school teacher (played by Lindsay Burdge) into obsession with her student. What starts out as a flirtation, built upon furtive glances and secret meetings, gradually shifts the power dynamic between the two. Burdge is especially deft at balancing normality and self-destruction, even as we know she’s veering towards the latter.
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.
8) Waking Life
Richard Linklater’s 2001 animated film draws on a dream—or maybe it’s reality. Much like his early film Slacker, Waking Life is a string of conversations, sometimes about dreams, sometimes about life. And much like a dream, we’re never quite sure if we’re awake or not.
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 catch phrase 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. —Chris Ostendorf
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Zodiac is the great crime movie of our time. David Fincher’s masterpiece about the hunt for the notorious Bay Area killer is not only his best film—it’s perhaps the best film ever made on the nature of obsession. Dark, enigmatic, and unforgettable, this is the kind of movie that gets better with each viewing and it’s finally receiving some of the recognition it deserves as one of the best films of the past decade. If you’ve only seen Zodiac once, the time to revisit it is now. And if you’ve never seen it, the same holds true. —C.O.
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
18) Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds may not be Quentin Tarantino’s most iconic film (that would be Pulp Fiction.) Nor is it his most fun (that would probably be Jackie Brown). Nor is it his most stylish (the Kill Bills), his most socially conscious (Django Unchained), his most tightly scripted (Reservoir Dogs,) or even his longest (The Hateful Eight). Yet it’s possible that Inglourious Basterds is his best. He says as much himself with the film’s winking last line, delivered into camera by Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Inglourious Basterds is a cinematic declaration for the ages. The performances, writing, and directing are all immaculate. More surprising is that the movie feels almost like a play at moments, with certain scenes stretching on for a half an hour at a time. —C.O.
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
Christopher Nolan’s crafty 2000 thriller is an early indication of future brilliance. It’s also refreshingly small compared to the blockbusters he would go on to make later in his career. Told backward, Memento stars Guy Pearce as Leonard, a man with anterograde amnesia, a condition that erases short-term memory. Upon first viewing, the structure and the twist ending are enough to blow you away. But Memento is worth coming back to for its performances and philosophical themes. If you can’t remember the things you do, how do you know who you really are? —C.O.
21) 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. —A.S.
22) 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.
23) 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.
Director of Drive and The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn has a penchant for exploring themes of masculinity and violence, and he’s never done it better than in this 2008 British film based on the story of the man oft thought to be the country’s most violent prisoner. In Bronson, 19-year-old Michael Peterson is sentenced to seven years behind bars for robbing a post office. He ends up serving 34, three decades of which he carries out in solitary confinement. During this time, Peterson adopts the alter ego of Charles Bronson (yes, like the actor), and the story only gets weirder from there. The center of it all is Tom Hardy in a performance that’s like watching a star about to go supernova. —C.O.
25) 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
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
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