*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
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. 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 that you can purchase on top of the streaming service fee.
This is ideal for movie buffs.
Television drama is the defining genre in the 21st century. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Mad Men reign in the most recent Golden Age of Television. No longer are movies the only source for high-quality drama.
Netflix doubled down on the change in television’s potential and now offers a wide variety of top-notch drama for streaming. The result is a slate of shows hard to find anywhere else.
And the best part is, Netflix just doesn’t stop and keeps making more.
Family dynamics are a favorite source of drama. We all know how difficult it can be to come home sometimes. Nothing can get under your skin quite like family.
Now mix in years of resentment and a dark underlying secret, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Bloodline, for example, tells the story of a group of adult siblings living on an island in the Florida Keys. Their idyllic island life gets interrupted when the black sheep of the family returns home after a years-long absence.
The siblings are heirs to a seaside inn, and questions arise about everyone’s motivations. Past secrets begin to bubble to the surface, and the Rayburn family’s future starts to look uncertain.
Boasting an impressive cast, including the likes of Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men), and Ben Mendelsohn (Star Wars: Rogue One), Bloodlines is a compelling and dark family drama.
2. The Fall
Before he was the BDSM heartthrob Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan played a character with equally sociopathic tendencies. Albeit with a lot more passion and follow-through than his 50 Shades of Grey counterpart.
So before you write Dornan off as a boring beefcake, witness his turn as serial killer Paul Spector. Originally a British-Irish co-production for the BBC, Netflix was able to grab the show for North American distribution.
When London police officer Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) gets temporarily assigned to the Northern Ireland police, her investigation into a murder leads her to believe that a serial killer is on the loose. The killer is Paul Spector, a loving father, and husband with a dark secret.
As Stella builds a case against him, she meets resistance and complications from the Irish police. At the same time, Spector’s personal and professional life is falling apart, threatening the stability he built for himself.
The Fall was a critical success both at home and abroad. Lauded as one of the best shows in its genre, it brought international attention to lead actor Jamie Dornan. They are even producing a French remake. Thanks to Netflix, all episodes are available at your convenience.
3. Lost in Space
Danger, Will Robinson! Netflix’s newest tentpole TV show had some big shoes to fill. It’s based on a hugely influential TV show of the same name from the 1960s. The original has the campy charm of the period, an appeal that aged very well for fans of the genre.
But rightfully so, Netflix realized that it was time for a remake. After all, the ’60s version is set in the ’90s, a period that was more defined by its lousy tailoring than its space exploration.
Set in the year 2048, the Robinson family sets out to lead a mission of deep-space exploration and colonization. When an alien robot breaches the hull of the spacecraft, the colonists are forced to evacuate. The Robinsons become Lost in Space – that is, they become stranded on an alien planet and need to survive in the strange new environment.
With the goal to find a way to reach their ship, the family adjusts to their new life. Meanwhile, Will, the youngest Robinson, begins to encounter the robot. And instead of being dangerous, as first assumed, he might actually be an ally for the survivors.
Released this past April, the show is a success with the audience. It’s already renewed for a second season, so you better get in on the ground floor right now. It is a testament to the scale of production Netflix can tackle these days.
4. Dear White People
It is safe to say that race relations are a tough nut to crack — the proverbial elephant in the room that is America. And this elephant is a big, gray manifestation of a systemic problem that is ironically less gray, and more black and white.
Not shy about anything, Dear White People is the only show taking this issue head-on.
Set in an Ivy League school, the show follows a group of Black students navigating life and identity in a predominantly white environment. Events kick off when a satirical magazine run by white men throw a Blackface party to protest a campus radio show pointing out racist behavior.
With lines drawn sharply, and divides only growing, conflict seems unavoidable.
Dear White People is a clever satire on racism in college and the United States as a whole. The title might suggest that all the show does is blame white people, but it is so much more than that. With razor-sharp wit, the show skewers racism and identity in every group. Its great entertainment for the current, strictly divided Zeitgeist.
5. The Crown
With the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, interest in the British crown is high again. While monarchy might not be a modern way to run a country, nothing breeds drama quite like it. And thanks to Netflix, we can take a deep dive into what shaped the Royals as we know them today — through the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Following young Elizabeth just after the end of World War II, the drama show covers her life until the present day. Dealing with everything from the early parts of her reign, her marriage, court intrigue, and political turmoil, the show is a must-watch to fans of the Royal family.
Jumping through the decades as the seasons continue, The Crown eventually aims to reach modern day.
6. Making a Murderer
Netflix is the undisputed champion of true crime. For some reason, we have a collective morbid curiosity with killers and criminals. Nothing catches our attention quite like violent crime, be it fictional or true to life.
No show summarizes this quite as well as Making a Murderer.
The show follows the wrongful conviction and resulting 18 years in prison of Steve Avery. However, after being released thanks to DNA evidence, he gets arrested again two years later on a count of murder. What drove a man who spends almost two decades in prison to commit a crime that will ensure he will spend the rest of his life back behind bars?
This question and many more are what Making a Murderer is about. It is gripping, it is stunning, and most of all, it is all true.
Were it not for Making a Murderer, Netflix would not have invested in what is now the best catalog of true crime streaming available today. So if you enjoy this show, there is more where it came from.
Moving is hard. It’s hard on the children; it’s hard on the parents. Minus divorce or death, it is probably the most stressful event a family can go through. Especially moving from the comfortable suburbs of Chicago to the backwater Ozarks.
But sometimes, doing what is best for the people you love means doing bad things.
Ozark tells the story of financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman). His company is responsible for money laundering in the millions. But when a scheme goes wrong, and a Mexican drug lord holds him accountable for losing his money, Marty thinks up a desperate plan.
Uprooting his family, he not only has to deal with finding a way to repay his debts but also a way to keep his wife and kids happy. The family comes entangled with local criminals, and to make things worse, the FBI begins to investigate Marty’s illegal dealings.
In the vein of Breaking Bad, Ozark explores what happens to an ordinary life when it gets caught up in the underworld and good men turn bad.
Netflix’s newest drama series is another European drama import. The British-French co-production is the latest show on this list.
Set in a gated community in Surrey, Safe focuses on Tom Delaney (Michael C. Hall), a widowed father of two trying to keep his life together. His world comes crashing down as his 16-year-old daughter goes missing. Along with his girlfriend (Amanda Abbington), a detective, he unravels a web of secrets in his frantic search for her.
The small screen comeback of Dexter’s Michael C. Hall is a semi-pulpy mystery surrounding the anguish and panic of parents fearing for their children. More than that though, we see how an entire community begins to deal with tragedy after they have been trying their best to avoid danger.
Its magnificent watchability keeps it from drowning in the misery of its central mystery.
The Western is not what it used to be, and that is a good thing. Following decades of revision, Godless is a sad and somber Western. Gone are the noble gunslingers, the hookers with hearts of gold, and the Sheriff upholding peace. In a country in which people want to call the frontier home, all that is left is violence, dust, and blood.
Netflix’s Godless is a mini-series drama about the citizens of the small town of La Belle. After the men perish in a mining accident, only women are left living in La Belle. When a man with no name comes into town, he unwittingly brings down the attention of a violent outlaw whose gang already massacred another town.
How will the women be able to survive an all-out attack?
With talents such as Jeff Daniels, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, and Scoot McNairy, the cast is studded with heavyweight actors. The 10-episode mini-series takes the backdrop of the Wild West and tells a story of the role of women and the traumas of our past.
10. Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is an original Netflix original hit drama show. When it first released back in 2013, it was a minor phenomenon. Due to that, chances are you already know its plot. After all, its a Netflix flagship Original production.
Centered around, and inspired by, the real-life experience of Piper Kerman, the show is about life in a women’s prison. After being named in a drug trial for a stupid mistake she made years ago, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) gets sentenced to 15 months in prison. Being upper-middle-class and white, she quickly finds herself out of her depth navigating the ins and outs of daily prison life.
And if that were not hard enough already, her ex Alex (Laura Prepon), who made her commit the crime, is in the same prison. The show explores the lives, past, and mistakes of an ensemble of inmates. With enormous heart and empathy, we learn about the road that leads everyone to where they are now.
11. Stranger Things
The opening scene of Stranger Things shows a scientist running down an empty hallway, pursued by some unseen force that gets him just at the right moment, as he waits for elevator doors to close. Next scene, a group of kids playing Dungeons & Dragons in a dinghy basement.
The show will feel immediately familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80’s.
12. Breaking Bad
Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. To provide for his family before he dies, he uses his chemistry background to cook and deal top of the line blue meth with a partner and also former student Jesse Pinkman.
13. House of Cards
This Netflix original is one of the best political dramas since The West Wing. The show revolves around Francis Underwood, the U.S. Senate Majority Whip who uses every political secret and inch of his clout to leverage his way to the top.
His allie is an environmental lobbyist Clair.
14. Bates Motel
Bates Motel follows the lives of Norma and Norman Bates some time prior to Norman’s turns into a Psycho. After Norma’s husband passes, she sets out for the fictional city of White Pine Bay, Oregon with Norman where they purchase a small hotel to begin anew.
As expected, things begin to unravel mere days after arriving at the hotel.
15. Mad Men
Set in New York in the 1960’s, Mad Men follows one of the city’s most prestigious ad agencies on Madison Avenue. The agency is doing well, but as the industry grows the competition begins to stiffen. The agency tries to survive in a time when everything, including the ad industry, is undergoing a radical shake-up.
The two protagonists are the enigmatic Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a self-made executive whose childhood seems to always get in the way of his happiness and ultra-terse Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss), a former secretary who works her way up the corporate ladder.
16. Halt and Catch Fire
AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, another period piece in the same vein as the network’s smash hit Mad Men, takes place in Texas during the technology boom of the 1980s. The show centers around former IBM sales executive Joe MacMillan, Cardiff Electric engineer Gordon Clark, and programming whiz Cameron Howe as they navigate the tumultuous landscape of the personal computer revolution.
Headlined by superb writing, brilliant acting, and a unique inside look at one of the most influential eras in human history, Halt and Catch Fire has binge-worthy written all over
The latest Netflix original to become available is Narcos, a take on the story of Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. If you loved dramas such as House of Cards or Breaking Bad, you’ll no doubt want to dive into the cocaine-filled world of Narcos.
18. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is an AMC’s zombie-centered show that is based on a series of graphic novels of the same name, following sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes who finds himself in an abandoned hospital and bands together with other survivors.
There is definately alot of Zombie’s, but there’s plenty of human drama as well.
19. Sons of Anarchy
This show is awesome The show encompasses a conflict between motorcycle gang leader Clay and his step-son, Jax. Clay, the old club president, he wants to preserve the gang’s risky methods for turning a profit while Jax wants a better life for his new son.
You’ll be immersed into the world of bikers. with encounters with the law and rival motorcycle clubs.
20. Boyhood (2014)
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.
21. Lincoln (2012)
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.
22. Mudbound (2017)
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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. Spotlight (2015)
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.
26. Carol (2015)
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.
27. 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.
28. Milk (2008)
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.
29. 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.
Netflix Is Only Just Starting
The great thing about Netflix is how relentless it is with pumping out great drama. This list did not even mention many of the impressive Netflix Originals available for streaming right now. There are great underrated gems or well-known favorites.
So take a seat, start binging, and see where the evening leads you. And with new episodes and shows always around the corner, Netflix is a gift that keeps on giving.