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
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch introduces viewers to protagonist Stefan Butler (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) in 1984, where he is developing a choose-your-own-adventure game called Bandersnatch, based on his favorite book. Following a fateful night with software company Tuckersoft, the events of Stefan’s life begin to blur together with the game, and his grasp on his own sanity starts to loosen. This “movie/television as a game” approach could be either the future of streaming entertainment, or just a clever gimmick—or possibly both. The final layer of meta-irony to Bandersnatch is that it makes the viewer feel as if they’re in an episode of Black Mirror themselves. —Chris Osterndorf
In Netflix original The Land of Steady Habits, Anders Hill experiences the consequences of his mid-life crisis—in which he quit his job in finance and divorced his wife—and learns escaping a life of steady habits has its fallbacks. By combining tragedy with quippy one-liners, the film explores the growing pains felt in the pursuit of happiness, and how one person’s actions severely impact the people around him. —Tess Cagle
Netflix honors a World War II hero and photographer Francisco Boix in its newly acquired Spanish film, The Photographer of Mauthausen. The film, which follows Boix as he attempts to smuggle photos that incriminate the Nazi party of war treason while in the Mauthausen concentration camp, is predictably dark, somber, and incredibly difficult to watch—but an essential film about the Holocaust and the importance of upholding the truth. —T.C.
4) Paris Is Us
Elisabeth Vogler’s Paris Is Us follows Anna, a young Parisian woman in search of reality, authentic experiences, and anything that will tether her to people and the world. Feeling an increasing sense of isolation, Anna questions everything about reality, from everyday experiences down to whether she’s just living in a simulation. Paris Is Us is pretentious and honest, and it won’t be for everyone. Vogler shoots the film with a floating, fluid camera that creates indelible imagery and puts you in Anna’s headspace. It’s an immersive and unique experience. —Eddie Strait
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.
6) Outlaw King
Starring Chris Pine as the medieval Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, Outlaw King has everything you need from a slightly corny historical epic. Gory melee fighting! Stirring music! Scenes where bearded men gaze meaningfully into the distance and say, “Aye!” A heavily fictionalized romance! This old-school production isn’t necessarily high art, but it’s definitely satisfying. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Inspired by his childhood in 1970s Mexico City, Roma is the latest film from visionary writer/director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity; Children of Men). It’s a moving autobiographical drama about a young woman who works as a housemaid for a wealthy Mexican family, based on Cuarón’s beloved childhood nanny. After earning widespread praise at film festivals, this could be Netflix’s first chance at one of the major Oscar categories. —G.B.W.
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.
A python has never choked me out, but I imagine watching Netflix’s Calibre is a reasonable approximation. The movie starts with hedonistic bachelor Marcus (Martin McCann) and nebbish father-to-be Vaughn (Jack Lowden) getting away for a weekend hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. When you have a person reticent to shoot a gun prodded along by someone excited to shoot, well, bad things tend to happen. Writer and director Matt Palmer shows restraint throughout by keeping the story tightly contained, making Calibre a thrilling descent into darkness. —E.S.
10) Personal Shopper
Olivier Assayas’ slowburn meditation on grief will play like a bad student film if you’re not on its wavelength from the jump. But if you are, then Personal Shopper is an atmospheric character study. Kristen Stewart is outstanding as a personal shopper to a celebrity, while moonlighting as a medium. She’s searching for the spirit of her dead twin brother, and the films lays out multiple possibilities and doesn’t offer easy answers. It’s a rewarding film and one that grows the more you think about it and revisit it. —E.S.
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) Velvet Buzzsaw
With a full commitment by the cast, Velvet Buzzsaw embraces its absurdity from the start. Set in Los Angeles’ art world, Dan Gilroy’s satirical horror takes on capitalism and the kinds of people who would try to profit from a dead man, even when it starts to kill them. You might not relate to most of the characters or any of their plights, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off them. —Michelle Jaworski
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.
Writer/director Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher is a beguiling film. The remake of Israeli writer/director Nadav Lapid’s 2014 film of the same name starts as a fairly benign drama about a teacher living a frustrated life and gives way to a potent tale of obsession and the cost of greatness. Colangelo’s storytelling is deft enough that I didn’t realize I was being lured in until it was too late. —E.S.
Paddleton follows Andy and Michael, two best friends who must grapple with Michael’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. The two men stick to their routine, which includes watching kung fu movies and playing their made up game called Paddleton. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano give terrific performances in the leading roles, capturing what it means to be a friend, even if their characters have a hard time expressing themselves. Paddleton is a small, intimate movie that’s both funny and sad without ever becoming overly sentimental. —E.S.
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.
Lionheart follows Adaeze, a woman at the helm of her father’s transit company Lionheart, who seeks to prove herself worthy of taking over the company to both her father and society. As Netflix’s first ever Nigerian film, Lionheart is not only groundbreaking; it’s a lighthearted, feel-good movie about both family values and feminism that’s an enjoyable watch for the whole family. —T.C.
Trey Edward Shults’ breakout debut tells the story of Krisha, a woman who returns home for Thanksgiving after 10 years estranged from her family. He upped the stakes by having his actual aunt play the titular role, and Shults’ mother and grandmother also star, giving a film about an addict trying to keep it together an authentic emotional resonance. But make no mistake: From the opening shot, Shults also frames Krisha as a horror movie, and delivers all the way to the bitter end.
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
2017 was 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) Us and Them
Us and Them is a movie about finding the words you should have said to someone years ago. Like assuring a worried parent that you may be lost now, but you’ll be fine. Or letting a star-crossed love know what they really meant to you. It’s also about allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to understand your regrets. The film is so in tune with its characters’ emotions that it runs the risk of being maudlin. But director and co-writer Rene Liu strikes the right balance of melancholy and sincerity. —E.S.
22) Ex Machina
Writer-director Alex Garland is one of the best sci-fi minds in all of movies right now. He favors heady stories that stick with you and his debut behind the camera is no different. Aside from launching the most popular film GIF of 2015 (Oscar Isaac’s red-light-soaked dance number), Ex Machina established Garland as a directorial force. —E.S.
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. —E.S.
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 a 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 a teen from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood who’s searching for acceptance and direction after being cycled through foster homes. In an effort to define herself in the chaos, Mo joins the all-male high school wrestling team. This 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 eventually ropes Mo into illegal fighting to earn money. She’s hesitant about getting involved but is pulled along by the 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. —M.J.
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. —K.S.
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.
That cold panic you feel when your password doesn’t work? Cam takes that feeling and stretches it into a smart thriller about online identity and sex work. Written by Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl, Cam stars Madeline Brewer as Alice, a woman who performs as alter ego Lola and is trying to build a following like any modern content creator. Things take a turn when she’s locked out of her account and her doppelganger starts putting on a show, and Cam drills down into the fractured identities we (sometimes inadvertently) create online.
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