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Netflix is great for light viewing that takes your mind off a hard day at work. Who doesn’t like to unwind with a relaxing hour of comedy, cartoons, or baking shows? But sometimes you want something meatier out of your viewing. Netflix has a host of drama movies that cover serious topics and feature world-class acting performances. Here at Netflix Updates, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best drama movies on Netflix to broaden your horizons and make you think. Not all of these are easy movies to watch, and some will ask a lot of the audience, but they’re all worth taking the journey.
What Are Drama Movies?
Drama movies are not necessarily in the same genre. While they all are classified under a general umbrella of drama, they can fit into any number of genres. War movies, romantic tragedies, period pieces, character studies, and biographies are all drama movies. What sets them apart from other movies is that they take their subject matter seriously and treat it with respect. They ask the audience to go along for a challenging journey that may change the way they view the world.
Where Can You Watch Them?
Netflix has thousands of movies online to watch, the majority of them former theatrical releases along with a selection of original content. Besides the streaming offerings, which change regularly, Netflix offers a supplemental service of DVDs by mail for $8 a month on top of the $8 streaming service fee. This is ideal for movie buffs.
10 Best Drama Movies on Netflix
Below, you’ll find our picks for the ten best drama movies on Netflix. These cover a wide array of subjects, but they all share serious subject matter and a powerful approach driven by strong acting and directing.
Richard Linklater’s experimental family drama is most well-known for its unconventional filming style – it was filmed over eleven years in short segments, with the same primary cast. The audience watches Ellar Coltrane grow up before their eyes as the boy struggles with his parents’ divorce, bullying at school, and all the other small but painful struggles a child experiences.
A deliberately small but honest film, Linklater got powerful performances out of Coltrane, Patricia Arquette (who won an Oscar for her role as a kind and determined mother), Ethan Hawke (as the sometimes-absent father), and Lorelei Linklater (Richard Linklater’s real-life daughter, playing Coltrane’s sister). Boyhood was highly acclaimed and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one.
Considered one of the greatest achievements of Steven Spielberg’s 40-year film career, this biographical film was driven by an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. The since-retired acting legend inhabited the 16th American President and captured his determination to save the union along with his still-raw grief over the death of his son.
Set during the waning days of the American Civil War, immediately after Lincoln won reelection, the movie transcends the conventions of biographical films and becomes a deeply human story about sacrifice. Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tommy Lee Jones starred alongside Day-Lewis, and the film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning two.
One of the most acclaimed Netflix original films, Dee Rees, directed this post-World War II film about life in the American South. In the Mississippi Delta, two families – one black and one white – live adjacent to one another on the same patch of land. When the war comes, and the men of both families are taken away to fight, the families struggle to survive, and tensions grow.
Mudbound is ultimately a tragedy showing how people’s lives in the Jim Crow-era south were starkly divided by race. Starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige, Mudbound was nominated for four Academy Awards, the first Netflix original to be honored at the Oscars. Blige received the most accolades, nominates for both Supporting Actress and Original Song.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Based on Harper Lee’s classic pre-civil rights era novel and directed by Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird is dominated by what is considered one of the greatest performances in cinema history – Gregory Peck’s role as a crusading lawyer Atticus Finch. When Finch, an unfailingly ethical lawyer, and patriarch, takes on a hopeless case defending a black man falsely accused of rape, it kicks off a chain of events that threaten his safety and the safety of his beloved family.
Featuring the film debut of Robert Duvall, as the mysterious Boo Radley, To Kill a Mockingbird was nominated for eight Acaxdemy Awards including Best Picture and won three including Best Actor for Peck.
The Truman Show (1998)
Jim Carrey is most known for his broad comedy performances in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask. He stunned the critics with his performance in Peter Weir’s prescient media satire. Truman Burbank is an ordinary young man, living in a bucolic neighborhood surrounded by friendly people who do their best to ensure he never leaves his small town.
But as he starts to push further, he discovers the shocking truth – his entire life is a lie. He’s the star of the world’s most popular TV series, and everyone he has ever known is an actor hired to play a role. How far will he go to break free, and how far will Ed Harris’ sinister producer Christof go to keep him as his star? The Truman Show was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Director, and Carrey’s snub from the Best Actor category was one of the year’s biggest awards controversies.
An intimate, compelling story of journalism, Todd McCarthy’s Spotlight retells the events leading up to the exposure of the biggest child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church’s history. The Boston Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, meets with one of his reporters who believes they have a story. However, they’re stymied by powerful forces who want to keep the truth under wraps.
When their investigation collides with the events of September 11th, 2001, it’s pushed to the back burner, but the reporters never give up their investigation until they publish a story that changes the way the public views the church forever. The real story is still unfolding to this day, and the cast led by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James, and Stanley Tucci was the most acclaimed of the year. Spotlight was nominated for six Academy Awards and was the surprise winner for Best Picture.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes’ 1950s period piece Carol is one of the most acclaimed modern films dealing with a lesbian relationship. Focusing on a middle-aged housewife (Cate Blanchett) who becomes infatuated with a young shopgirl (Rooney Mara), Carol deals with the topic of period-appropriate homophobia without being overwhelmingly painful and ends on a poignant but hopeful note. It was widely praised for its beautiful recreation of 1950s New York City. Although its omission from the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards was a major subject of controversy, it was nominated for six awards including acting nominations for both Blanchett and Mara.
My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
This French-Swiss stop-motion animated film is unlike any other animated film on Netflix. Directed by Claude Barras, it centers on a young boy living with a neglectful, alcoholic mother. When an accident leaves her dead, the boy is taken by an officer to live at an orphanage specializing in children who have been abused.
Telling everyone he prefers to be called “Courgette” (Zucchini in French), the boy struggles with bullying and tries to open up to people at the home – especially a new girl named Camille who he develops a tight bond with. Praised for its unique animation style and its touching depiction of children recovering from trauma, My Life As A Zucchini was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.
Based on the life of San Francisco’s gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biographical drama relies on an acclaimed performance by Sean Penn as the doomed groundbreaking politician. Following Harvey Milk from his early life as an activist to his victory as the first openly gay person elected to public office in California, the film is shadowed at all times by his inevitable fate – to be assassinated by the deranged Dan White (Josh Brolin in an understated but deeply disturbing performance).
The film mourns Milk’s death but celebrates the change he brought to the world. Nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, it won two including Best Actor for Sean Penn.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
The late Robin Williams was best known for his over-the-top comedy, but his forays into drama were among his most memorable roles. In Peter Weir’s inspiring drama Dead Poets Society, he portrayed one of the most memorable film teachers of all time. John Keating, an unconventional English professor at an all-boys prep school, instills in his students a deep love of poetry and learning.
Although his unusual approach earns him enemies among his fellow Professors, he changes his students’ lives. The film has since been adapted into a stage play. Dead Poets Society was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Weir, and Best Actor for Williams, and won for Best Original Screenplay.
Whether you want a gritty look at the struggles of underdog journalists, a poignant look at childhood trauma, a doomed romance, an inspiring tale of the power of one person to change lives, or an in-depth biography driven by a powerhouse actor’s Oscar-winning performance, the drama movies on Netflix have something for you. Cue up the film of your choice and prepare to be wowed by the emotion and power in these ten films.