These are our picks for the best dramas on Netflix right now, including recent Oscar-winners, all-time classics, and brilliant indies that may have slipped under your radar. Whatever you’re looking for, the dramas that are on Netflix right now have something for you. So let’s take a look at the best new releases in drama Netflix movies, including many of the top recent films from 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Read on for the richest and most exciting drama movies on Netflix!
Oh, and when you’re done here, be sure to also check out our rundown of the Best Dramas of 2018 or our list of what’s new to Netflix this month.
Or follow these links for the best of other genres:
The best sci fi movies on Netflix
The best comedy movies on Netflix
The best horror movies on Netflix
The best action movies on Netflix
The best horror TV shows on Netflix
The best anime series on Netflix
Please note: This list pertains to U.S. Netflix subscribers. Some titles may not currently be available on international platforms.
Best Drama Movies on Netflix Right Now
George Clooney couldn’t settle for being one of the world’s most handsome, bankable and critically acclaimed actors. He also proved his directing chops with this 2005 historical drama, which stars the perfectly cast David Strathairn as legendary newscaster Edward R. Murrow. Good Night, and Good Luck dramatizes the clash between Murrow’s news team and Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. It’s a clever, thoughtful testament to the crucial responsibility of the media to speak truth to power. It’s also a film that only seems to grow more relevant with each passing year.
Other than Francis Ford Coppola, no director has done a better job of chronicling the horrors of the Vietnam War than Oliver Stone. Platoon ranks among the greatest war movies ever filmed, thanks to Stone’s writing and directing and an impeccable cast that includes Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Depp.
This acclaimed drama from director Robert Altman and writer Julian Fellowes is basically the prototype for Downton Abbey (and in fact Downton was originally conceived by Fellowes as a spinoff of Gosford Park). The same basic ingredients are in place, with the film exploring the class divide in 1930s England, as the wealthy inhabitants and the downtrodden servants of a lavish estate are rocked by a murder in their midst. The film’s impeccable ensemble cast is the icing on the cake, as it features Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emily Watson
This film (an adaptation of the stage play by Edward Albee) remains one of only two films ever to be nominated for every single available category at the Academy Awards. It only wound up taking home a handful, but it remains one of the absolute best efforts in director Mike Nichols’ impressive career. The film also boasts one of the most mesmerizing performances ever from Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor and co-star Richard Burton play an eternally bickering husband and wife who invite another couple over for drinks. Suffice it to say, the evening quickly goes downhill from there.
Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford enjoyed career-defining roles in this political thriller that dramatizes journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation into the Watergate cover-up. It’s a tightly paced drama that manages plenty of suspense despite us all knowing the ending ahead of time. And in a time when the journalism field is undergoing an existential crisis, films like All the President’s Men have only become that much more timely and important.
Bonnie and Clyde is both a hugely important and incredibly enjoyable film. It was among the first examples of the “New Hollywood” movement that swept cinema in the ’60s and brought a much-needed dose of counterculture edginess to the big screen. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as the titular duo in this dramatization of their crime spree. At the time, critics had trouble wrapping their heads around the film’s unexpected mixture of comedy and bloody violence, but time has only been kind to Bonnie and Clyde.
While it didn’t make much of a splash on the awards circuit, Burning is undoubtedly one of the best foreign language films of 2018. This South Korean drama, based on a short story by acclaimed author Haruki Mirakami, stars Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo as three friends who slowly become embroiled in an unsettling psychological mystery. The film is a slow burn, but one that steadily builds until it reaches a terrific payoff.
The Hurt Locker is widely regarded as one of the finest war movies made in the post-9/11 era. Director Kathryn Bigelow explores the intense pressure faced by members of an explosive ordinance removal team during the Iraq War, with a cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce. The film dominated the 2010 Academy Awards, and for good reason. It’s incredibly well-made and a truly visceral experience.
This 2006 German drama found itself on numerous Best Of lists and brought home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It dazzled critics with its hauntingly bleak look at life in Cold War-era East Berlin. The film centers around a Stasi secret police officer (played by Ulrich Mühe) who’s tasked with spying on a potentially subversive playwright (Sebastian Koch). (Available 3/15/19)
Before the Hunger Games series or X-Men: First Class, Winter’s Bone showed moviegoers what a promising talent Jennifer Lawrence was. Lawrence stars as a self-sufficient teenager in rural Missouri who’s forced to hunt down her absentee father when the family is threatened with homelessness. The result is an engrossing look at a girl’s fight for survival – both for herself and her siblings. It’s often horrifying, yet evenhanded enough in its portrayal of the characters that it manages to be inspirational at the same time.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, struggling actors, wrote themselves a screenplay with juicy starring roles, and won an Oscar – and leading man status – in the process. They also earned Robin Williams his only Academy Award, playing a therapist whose latest client is a self-defeating genius who resists psychoanalysis at every turn. Though sometimes schmaltzy, Good Will Hunting is a wonderful acting showcase for everyone involved, and a sensitive, earnest drama about struggling with ambition.
A young boy in a coal mining town wants to dance ballet, and as directed by Stephen Daldry, that’s a Herculean accomplishment. Billy Elliot is a love letter to anyone who dreamed of pursuing artistic dreams in a family or community that resisted them, and its love of music and personal expression is absolutely riveting. Billy Elliot inspires joy and aspiration in all of its fans.
Alfonso Cuaron’s new drama Roma may be the most acclaimed Netflix Original movie so far. It’s the spectacularly photographed tale of Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young housekeeper in Mexico who works for a middle-class family and becomes pregnant at a tumultuous political time. Roma’s story may be straightforward but Cuaron amplifies every major plot point with an overtness and eccentricity that rivals Fellini.
Martin Scorsese finally won a Best Director Oscar, after decades of nominations, with his excellent Boston crime saga The Departed, based on the (also excellent) Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon star as, respectively, a cop undercover as a criminal and a criminal undercover as a cop, both working for a sinister crime boss, played by Jack Nicholson. Will they foil each other’s plans? Is there any escape from the corruption at the heart of this city? Superb performances and exciting storytelling make The Departed one of Scorsese’s most thrilling forays into the criminal underworld.
The blockbuster indie sensation that sparked a whole new wave of crime movie storytelling in the late 1990s, and added pop culture navel gazing to the vernacular of mainstream cinema, Pulp Fiction is one of the most influential films of its kind. It’s also one of the best. This spry and unexpected tale of interconnected hitmen, down on their luck boxers, petty thieves and mob wives takes all the weird storytelling conventions of grindhouse, “pulp” cinema and finds a real humanity therein by exploring all the characters most movies overlook and fleshing out every little detail nobody else ever thought of. It’s a classic for a reason.
The latest film from The Coen Brothers is a Netflix exclusive, and it’s one of their finest motion pictures. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology film, consisting of weird tales from the wild, unpredictable west. It’s perversely funny, especially in the film’s opening segment (featuring Tim Blake Nelson as a monstrous hero), but eventually Buster Scruggs settles into a melancholy, serious take on the Western tradition, telling one great story after another about the tragic inevitability and absurdity of death in its many forms.
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are just trying to be legitimate business people, but in the midst of a crime wave in New York City, when all their truck drivers are getting hijacked, that might not be possible. J.C. Chandor’s complex drama about moral seesawing gives Isaac, in particular, one of his very best performances (which is saying something), and offers a nuanced perspective on criminality that most movies could never get away with (if they even had the guts to try).
The idea that movies have to be about something remarkable has been disproven time and again by films just like Certain Women, a triptych of tales from director Kelly Reichardt, based on short stories by Maile Melloy. Laura Dern plays a lawyer struggling to help one of her clients receive disability from his employers. Michelle Williams tries to convince a neighbor to sell her some sandstone. Lily Gladstone develops a close, possibly romantic relationship with a visiting teacher, played by Kristen Stewart. These sagas are brought to vivid and impressive life by a remarkable cast and insightful writing, which proves just as captivating as any of the flashier dramas on Netflix.
Few filmmakers had worse luck than Orson Welles, who spent decades struggling to get films made, only to often have the finished product mangled by studios, or to get screwed out of ever finishing them. One of his most notorious projects is The Other Side of the Wind, which starred acclaimed filmmakers John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich as two acclaimed filmmakers. The film completed principle photography in 1976 and it wasn’t finished until… this year. Netflix is releasing it for the very first time, and it’s an astounding motion picture, capturing all the rage and pomposity of a filmmaker just like Welles, desperately trying to make something meaningful but getting wrapped up instead in backstage frustrations like budget crises, balking producers, ego clashes, and merciless manipulations.
Tom Hardy gets into a car with everything, and over the course of a very long drive in the middle of the night, he loses it all. Steven Knight’s impressive drama really does take place entirely within a single automobile, and it’s a testament to the film’s excellent screenplay and the incredible prowess of Tom Hardy that Locke never feels boring, and is actually one of the best and most involving dramas of the last several years.
Long considered one of the very best motion pictures ever made, The Third Man is a gorgeously photographed but utterly eccentric film noir, about an American writer who travels to Vienna after World War II, only to discover that the friend who invited him is dead, and nobody wants to investigate the crime. Half-satire, half grim exploration of flexible morality, and always captivating, The Third Man is just as vibrant today as it must’ve been when it first came out. And no film has ever had a score quite like the zither music you’ll find in this one.
Josh Brolin finds a suitcase full of money in the desert, but nothing comes easy in the world of the Coen Brothers. Their Oscar-winning film co-stars Javier Bardem as a mysterious assassin who will stop at nothing to get the money back, unless maybe – just maybe – his victims can survive the world’s deadliest coin toss. Violence is brutal and random, goodness isn’t much different. No Country for Old Men is one of the Coens’ most mature, exciting motion pictures.
Martin Scorsese directs an epic biography of one of the most epic human beings of the 20th century. The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, a millionaire aeronautics innovator and, in his spare time, feature filmmaker who changed the way human beings cross the globe and romanced Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn (played by an Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett) as well. Scorsese has a keen eye for Hollywood history and historical detail, but also a truly canny understanding of Hughes’s mental illness, impressively dramatizing his descent into paralyzing reclusiveness.
A fascinating experiment and a touching drama, Boyhood stars Ellar Coltrane as a young boy growing up in Texas. Rather than recast him as he got older, writer/director Richard Linklater filmed his movie over the course of 11 years so all of the characters could age in real time over the course of a single film. The effect is hypnotic, and real in a way that most movies never bother to attempt. Patricia Arquette, who won an Oscar for her performance, and Ethan Hawke round out the cast as the parents whose stories are just as fascinating as the main character’s.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara earned Oscar nominations for their impeccable performances in Carol as a young photographer and a divorced mother who fall in love in the 1950s. Todd Haynes’ astounding eye for detail emphasizes the extent to which their romantic relationship was forced to play out under the surface to avoid the appearance of “impropriety,” which only makes the depths to which Blanchett and Mara take their characters all the more astounding.
The true story of reporter Christine Chubbuck and how it all ended is one of the most shocking in TV history, but Antonio Campos’ incredible film isn’t so much about that tragic event and its aftermath as it is the harrowing emotional journey Chubbuck was on beforehand. Rebecca Hall gives an all-time performance in the title role as a woman stymied by journalistic integrity, rampant sexism, loneliness and medical afflictions whose increasingly overwhelming despair takes hold, and leads to unspeakable tragedy.
Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund direct a brutal crime drama set in Rio de Janeiro, where children grow up in, and into, a violent society. City of God is more energetic and thrilling than almost any other crime drama, with a sprawling story filled with memorable, dangerous characters. It earned Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and it deserved every single one of them.
The complexities of the American political system are brought to vivid life in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which details the profoundly difficult job the 16th president had convincing the country to abolish slavery once and for all. Complicated moral and ethical dilemmas, disappointing personal sacrifices and one great performance after another turn what could have been a dry history lesson into an inspiring and suspenseful drama that ranks amongst Spielberg’s best films.
Sean Penn won his second Academy Award for his fantastic performance as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in California, whose life ended in shocking tragedy. As dramatized by Gus Van Sant, Milk’s life was a heroic and human story about local politics, and the seemingly overwhelming difficulties involved in actually affecting meaningful social change. It’s a striking biopic and an important story that should have a profound impact on anyone who wants to make a real difference.
Dee Rees directs this rich and nuanced adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel, about a white family and a black family farming the same land, whose lives are vastly different only because of the color of their skin. Mudbound features impressive performances and gorgeous, earthy cinematography, and comes to depressing but vital conclusions about the impact racism has on people who have literally nothing else to prop up their egos.
The mother of a neglected child dies, and the boy winds up in a home for abused, emotionally scarred kids. And yet somehow My Life as a Zucchini doesn’t seem bitter. It’s a sincere and honest stop-motion animated drama about the capacity children have to overcome strife and unite over shared emotional pain, and thanks in part to the charming character designs, it comes across as an ultimately hopeful, lovely tale.
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning opus stars Liam Neeson as a Nazi arms manufacturer who conspires to rescue Jews from concentration camps, using the excuse of needing them for manual labor. The horrors of Nazi Germany are starkly realized in oppressive black-and-white, so that although the characters have nuance, their situation is direct and confrontational. Schindler’s List exists to remind us how despicable the Nazis were for dehumanizing a group of people, how easy it was for them to use that dehumanization as a rationale for unforgivable atrocities, and how determined and sneaky decent people have to be to circumvent institutionalized, legally-authorized cruelty.
So there you have it: what to watch on Netflix right now in the world of drama movies. Check back here each month for new titles as Netflix adds them!
Note: This article is frequently amended to remove films no longer on Netflix, and to include more drama films that are now available on the service.