Last Updated: December 7th
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 Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)
Run Time: 100 min | IMDb: 8/10
This coming-of-age indie is based on a beloved book, but if fans were worried that the story of a depressed teenager who finds friends and a sense of belonging in a group of lovable misfits wouldn’t translate on screen, they shouldn’t have been too concerned. Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel, but he also penned the screenplay and directed this flick, which sees Logan Lerman play Charlie, the social outcast, and Emma Watson play Sam, the alt-pixie-dream girl he falls for. Everyone’s good in this, but it’s Ezra Miller’s Patrick who really stands out.
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.
Run Time: 111 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight will always be remembered for winning the Academy Award for Best Picture after a mix-up that initially named La La Land as the winner. But that’s just an asterisk attached to a momentous coming-of-age story set over three eras in a young man’s life as he grows up in Miami, grappling with the sexuality he feels will make him even more of an outcast while searching for guidance that his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) can’t provide. The film is both lyrical and moving and won justifiable acclaim for its talented cast, including a Best Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali as a sympathetic drug dealer.
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 Irishman (2019)
Run Time: 209 min | IMDb: 8.7/10
Martin Scorsese delivers another cinematic triumph, this time for Netflix and with the help of some familiar faces. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino team up (again) for this crime drama based on actual events. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran a World War II vet who finds work as a hitman for the mob. Pacino plays notorious Teamster Jimmy Hoffa, a man who frequently found himself on the wrong side of the law and the criminals he worked with. The film charts the pair’s partnership over the years while injecting some historical milestones for context. It’s heavy and impressively cast and everything you’d expect a Scorsese passion-project to be.
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.
Marriage Story (2019)
Run Time: 136 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
Noah Baumbach’s star-studded divorce drama is pure Oscar bait, but in the best way. The film takes a look at messy breakups with Scarlett Johansson playing an actress and mother named Nicole, who is intent on separating from her stage director husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Laura Dern and Ray Liotta play their hard-hitting lawyers, who don’t help in diffusing the tension and resentment building between the pair when Nicole moves herself and their son across the country. It’s an intimate look at the emotional wreckage of a divorce and the struggle to put a family back together again, and it’s carried by some brilliant performances by Driver and Johansson.
Run Time: 124 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Cate Blanchett plays the famous monarch in this period piece that charts her earliest days on the throne. Blanchett’s Elizabeth is a young woman being held prisoner by her older sister, the current Queen, before wearing the crown when that woman dies. She must contend with the political machinations of older men in her court, a religious uprising, and the scandal of having a married lover and yet not taking a husband for her own. It’s really the best kind of British drama.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Run Time: 158 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this gritty, Oscar-winning drama from Paul Thomas Anderson playing a turn-of-the-century prospector, who risks his faith and his family for oil. Daniel Plainview is a shrewd, callous businessman who adopts the orphaned son of a dead employee to make himself look more appealing to investors. When he hits oil in California, he wages a war with a local preacher and his family who stand in the way of Daniel’s progress. Violence and yes, plenty of blood, follow.
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.
The Pianist (2002)
Run Time: 150 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
An Oscar-winning Adrien Brody leads this World War II drama based on a true story about a Polish-Jewish pianist forced to survive during Nazi occupation. Władysław Szpilman, a talented musician, finds himself in Warsaw during the height of WWII where he helps to lead an uprising in a Jewish Ghetto before being forced to flee for his life from German soldiers. Brody went full method for the role, losing a dangerous amount of weight to play a tormented, tortured Szpilman, so you kind of owe it to the guy to watch this one.
The Master (2012)
Run Time: 138 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this period drama from Paul Thomas Anderson about a damaged World War II vet and the charismatic cult leader who welcomes him into the fold. Phoenix plays Freddie, a Naval officer struggling to adjust to civilian life who becomes enamored with Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a philosophical movement known as “The Cause.” As Dodd promises to better Freddie’s life, Freddie begins acting erratically in defense of the man and his questionable teachings, becoming Dodd’s disciple for a time before he begins questioning everything he thought he knew.
Changes Through April 2020:
Added: There Will Be Blood, Perks of Being A Wallflower
Removed: Doubt, The Fighter