Last Updated: October 8th
Netflix knows we all love drama. It’s why the streaming service has a seemingly endless catalog of titles in the genre. But with so many choices, someone needs to do the messy, thankless job of separating the good from the award-winningly good. And with the help of some caffeine and an unfailing internet connection, we’ve rounded up the 15 best dramas on Netflix. These are the films that define the zeitgeist; they’ve won Academy Awards, propelled stars to greatness, made millions of dollars at the box office, and are continuously quoted by self-proclaimed movie-aficionados.
In other words, these are the dramatic films that need to be in your queue.
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in this gripping drama about a mother and son held hostage for nearly a decade. The film, based off a work of fiction, pulls elements from real life trauma cases as it follows a woman named Joy (Larson) and her son Jack (Tremblay) who exists in a singular room, cut off from the outside world. The two plot an escape, are eventually rescued and must cope with the effects of their harrowing ordeal while adjusting to life outside of the room. Larson is deserving of every award she won for this thing, and her chemistry with Tremblay will have you grabbing for the tissues throughout the film.
The Fighter (2010)
Run Time: 116 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg star in this boxing drama about a dysfunctional family plagued by trauma. Wahlberg plays Micky, an up-and-coming fighter, a guy struggling to free himself from the shadow of his older brother, a former boxer named Dicky (Bale). Dicky was talented in the ring but fell victim to drug abuse. Amy Adams also stars in this thing, marking just one of many collaborations between her, Bale, and director David O. Russell, but the real draw here is Bale, who once again transforms himself for a challenging role that pays off.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Run Time: 140 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Another crime drama, this one takes place across generations and shows the far-reaching effects the justice system can have on a family. We first meet Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stuntman who falls in love with Eva Mendes’ character. The two have a son but Gosling’s character is killed by a rookie officer (Bradley Cooper) when he turns to robbing banks to make some extra cash. Years later, Cooper’s a successful District Attorney, and his son befriends the boy whose father he killed. It’s a tangled web of deception, betrayal, and lawlessness made even better by stellar performances from Cooper and Gosling.
American Psycho (2000)
Run Time: 101 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
Christian Bale stars in this horror thriller from director Mary Harron that focuses on a wealthy New York businessman with bloody habits. Bale plays Patrick Bateman, an investment banker seemingly dissatisfied with his life of excess and envious of his successful colleagues. To cope, he entertains psychotic fantasies that see him hacking prostitutes up with chainsaws and torturing his co-workers. It’s an edge-of-your-seat gorefest that leaves you questioning any sense of reality you may have in the end.
Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Run Time: 104 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Hailee Steinfeld stars in this teenage dramedy about a socially-awkward high school student whose world comes crashing down around her when her best friend begins hooking up with her older, more popular brother. Steinfeld’s Nadine is the cringe-worthy loner that so many John Hughes films were built around, but her life becomes even more unbearable when she loses her best friend to her brother and accidentally sexts her crush. What makes this film stand out from the other teenage soap operas currently housed on Netflix is the addition of Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s sarcastic, apathetic teacher, who gives her the worst kind of advice, and Steinfeld’s acting, a perfect blend of comedic intuitiveness and reserved emotion.
The King’s Speech (2010)
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 8/10
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter star in this British period flick that follows the impromptu and unexpected ascension of King George VI. Firth plays the king in question, a man thrust into a leadership role while trying to overcome a career-impeding stutter and break free from the shadow of his older brother. Rush plays an Australian speech therapist tasked with helping the king overcome his stutter, and his unorthodox methods cause a stir among the royal household. Firth is terrific as always and watching both him and Rush bounce off each other makes up the best this film has to offer.
The Aviator (2004)
Run Time: 170 min | IMDb: 7.5/10
Leonardo DiCaprio turns in an award-worthy performance as famed director and aviator, Howard Hughes. DiCaprio plays the legend in his early years, from the late 20s to mid-40s, as Hughes became an in-demand producer, aviation magnate, and romance some of the most famous actresses in Hollywood. But Martin Scorsese’s biopic also shows the darker side to the tycoon, whose personal life became increasingly erratic and isolated because of his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. DiCaprio manages to make Hughes both charming and traumatized, flipping between the man’s charismatic public persona and his deeply-disturbed private life with ease.
Theory of Everything (2014)
Run Time: 123 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star in this biographical drama about the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane. The two met at university with Hawking just beginning work on his theory of back holes before he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which severely limited his motion and ability to speak. Despite the setback, Jane married Stephen, taking care of him and helping him achieve some his greatest feats. The film gives a much-needed look at the woman behind the man, the toll the disease took on their relationship, and the strength of Hawking to persevere in spite of it all.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Run Time: 195 min | IMDb: 8.9/10
It took decades in the industry for Steven Spielberg to finally earn an Oscar for one of his movies, but his win for Schindler’s List is well deserved. The film focuses on wealthy businessman Oskar Schindler, who spends his fortune and risks his life to save the lives of 1,100 Jewish men and women after taking in the horrors of WWII and the concentration camps. Between the three hour running time, the cold, unrelenting cruelty of Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth, and its realistic style, it’s a bleak film. But there’s hope to be found in the grim black and white images. It’s an important story told movingly by a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Run Time: 100 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
A film noir set in the Ozarks of Missouri, Winter’s Bone was the breakthrough role for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who looks after her family since her father disappeared. With the looming threat of losing her home, Ree goes in search of her missing father, drawing her into a world of distrust and violence. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and though it didn’t take any Oscars home, it did win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Run Time: 124 min | IMDb: 6.7/10
An Olivier Assayas study in the meta, Clouds of Sils Maria gives a complicated look at life imitating art. Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress tasked with performing in the play that made her famous so many years ago but playing an aging woman instead of her original role as a young ingénue. Chloe Grace-Moretz plays the fresh, new it-girl with plenty of scandals that plague her career, but it’s Kristen Stewart as Binoche’s loyal American assistant who really steals the film, one that explores sexual tension and the dilemmas of aging.
The Breadwinner (2017)
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
Based off a best-selling book by Deborah Ellis, this Angelina Jolie-produced animated drama follows the story of a young girl named Parvana, who’s forced to disguise herself as a man in order to provide for her family when her father is sent to prison by the Taliban. The film is set in war-torn Afghanistan, in a village under Taliban rule where women aren’t permitted to hold jobs or even buy food without the presence of a male relative. When Parvana’s father angers a member of the Taliban, he’s thrown in prison, and she pretends to be a man in order to earn money and food for her mother and sisters. The film is a gripping, honest look at some difficult-to-swallow issues, and it’s done in the most visually-stunning of ways.
Run Time: 134 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Dee Rees unflinchingly honest look at racism in America is more than just a well-crafted history lesson. In Mudbound, Rees explores everything from the costs of war to rural class struggles, ill-fated love, and the ripple-effect of inherited racial prejudice. By looking at the dueling experiences of a white and black family following the events of World War II, Rees is able to offer a thoughtful and timely commentary on race relations today, and she pulls a handful of unforgettable performances from her star-studded cast. This movie didn’t get the attention it deserved during awards season but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show it some love now.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Run Time: 167 min | IMDb: 7.5/10
Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonard DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz star in Martin Scorsese’s historical epic that re-imagines the birth of New York City. DiCaprio plays Amsterdam, an Irish immigrant who returns to the Five Points years following his father’s murder, looking for revenge. To get it, he infiltrates Bill the Butcher’s (Lewis) gang, a group of proud natives tired of the influx of foreigners in their city. Diaz plays a prostitute who forms a relationship with Amsterdam as he befriends Bill, then struggles to follow-through with his plan to kill the man who murdered his father and lead the Five Points in a rebellion against the city’s elite.
Camp X-Ray (2014)
Run Time: 117 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Kristen Stewart stars in this military drama about the abuses of prisoners housed at the infamous Guantanamo Bay. Stewart plays a rookie guard named Amy Cole, who befriends Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi), a man suspected of terrorist ties who maintains his innocence. Amy and Ali have a hostile relationship until Amy is harassed and betrayed by a superior officer and put on the night shift. She begins a relationship with Ali, learning of his past suicidal tendencies and evidence that supports his claim of innocence. The film is an emotionally-moving look at how our justice system abuses its power and how prejudice and corruption can slowly eat away at a person’s humanity.
Changes Through October 2019:
Added: Gangs of New York, American Psycho
Removed: Revolutionary Road, Carol