Entertainment

The 75 Best Dramas on Netflix

Netflix  lists more than 1,300 movies in the drama category, and as you’d expect, not all of them are great. Drama is the broadest of genres and the most difficult to define. Basically anything that doesn’t fall into comedy, horror, action/adventure or sci-fi gets lumped into the catch-all, and even then there’s overlap. How funny can a movie be and still be “serious”? How much tension must be internal or inter-personal or can it still have a little action? The problem is that drama is a key ingredient of all movies. But when you’re in the mood for a dramatic movie, we think we know what you’re looking for. And so does Netflix. We’ve let the streaming service define the term here, pulling from movies it classifies as dramas.

Here are the 75 best dramas on Netflix:

24-best-so-far-2015-Manglehorn.jpg75. Manglehorn
Year: 2015
Director: David Gordon Green 
David Gordon Green’s film stars Al Pacino as the titular locksmith with nothing but time on his hands. Manglehorn lives a solitary life—his ailing kitty his only friend—but Green and first-time screenwriter Paul Logan hint at the world he once occupied. Periodically, the film will downshift so that a side character can tell a story about the Manglehorn they used to know: the father, the baseball coach, the loving grandfather. That we see little of the warmth or humanity these characters describe is Manglehorn’s great mystery: Where did that man go, the man Pacino plays in an agreeably modest, empathetic performance? Too many years of hoo-ah overkill have stifled his light touch and effortless charm, replaced with hammy intensity and Scarface parody. But the Pacino on display here mostly puts aside those actor-ly embellishments for something warmer. —Tim Grierson


pigeon.jpg74. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Year: 2014
Director: Roy Andersson
Swedish writer-director Roy Andersson’s film avoids easy categorization. Through a series of vignettes—some connected, some not—we see snippets of life. Andersson fixes his camera in one spot and the action plays out in front of us: a group of older siblings tries to convince their dying sister not to take her handbag with her to Heaven, a bar of anonymous drinkers suddenly becomes a chorus, a woman in a dance troupe longs for her disinterested male cohort. And there are two stories that have subsequent episodes, including one featuring a couple of salesmen (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) who specialize in novelty joke items like fake vampire teeth. The specifics of what happens in these vignettes is less important than precisely how they’re constructed. Because of Andersson’s locked-down camera, each scene is comically static, like little skits of human behavior in which all the actors (most of them non-professionals) barely show any expression at all. (Adding to the theatricality and surreal oddness of the characters, Andersson puts white makeup on his performers, making them look like they’ve been drained of their vital fluids.) With no cuts and often incorporating exceptionally understated choreography within the frame, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a wonder to behold on formal terms: Andersson creates deceptively low-key movies that are actually quite visually and thematically sophisticated. —Tim Grierson


place-beyond-the-pines.jpg73. The Place Beyond the Pines
Year: 2013
Director: Derek Cianfrance
In a bold follow-up to Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance continues his exploration of family ties with The Place Beyond the Pines. In his previous film, Cianfrance tugged on a frayed marriage, cutting back and forth between its idyllic, if not ideal, beginnings and its nasty, brutish end. Following up, the writer-director turned his lens on the relationships between fathers and sons in a stubbornly linear narrative that examines the concept of legacy in three distinct acts. With no one to play off of during much of the film, Gosling as the outlaw (and new father) Luke is called upon to convey a lot with little. Opposite him, Avery (Bradley Cooper), is an ambitious rookie cop with a law degree and a wife and baby at home. The son of a powerful local judge, he’s attempting to forge his own path but is stymied by corruption and guilt. Cooper’s role is slicker than Gosling’s but no less deep, as his character also experiences complicated reactions to fatherhood. It’s an emotionally intense, 140-minute viewing experience made all the more intimate with close-up camerawork that positions the audience in the characters’ points-of-view. Cianfrance mines male identity and emotion to stunning effect, due in no small part to Gosling’s layered, electric turn. —Annlee Ellingson


bernie.jpg72. Bernie
Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater 
Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham


DontThinkTwice232x345.jpg71. Don’t Think Twice
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia 
One of the most appealing aspects of Don’t Think Twice is the sense of close-knit community it depicts among its main characters, all of them members of a fictional New York City-based improv troupe named the Commune. They’re so attached to each other, at least in the film’s early stages, that they regularly spend their Saturday nights with each other watching Weekend Live, the Saturday Night Live-like late-night comedy show that represents the endgame for which they’ve devoted so many of their years toiling in relative obscurity. Mike Birbiglia’s priorities lie with interpersonal dramas, introspective soul-searching and an overall sense of melancholy. Don’t Think Twice’s most poignant insight into this particular creative world is the “frenemies” dynamic which takes place in an environment so brutal that it forces those who don’t make it to the top to wonder if they ever had the talent to begin with. —Kenji Fujishima


rev-road.jpg70. Revolutionary Road
Year: 2008
Director: Sam Mendes 
If Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s passionate affair in 1997’s Titanic detailed the timeless appeal of star-crossed love, their reunion a decade later for Sam Mendes spoils the illusion by showing what happens after the honeymoon ends and resentment replaces infatuation. Based on Richard Yates’ novel of the same name, this is the story of Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet), a couple of idealistic newlyweds who become trapped in the American Dream circa 1955—2.5 children, picket fence and a desk job. Mendes has proved an expert choreographer of the human animal pushed to its limit in adverse environments, and here he creates a bleak journey through familiar realities, punctuated by desperate characters searching for purpose. The film’s skill at capturing corrosive romance is both its greatest strength and detriment—while frighteningly moving, it’s also the best example of cinematic birth control since Rosemary’s Baby. Be warned that there’s little peace of mind in the perpetual entropy of the Wheelers’ drowning relationship. But it’s hard not to cheer for these characters. This is pure art as parable, with Oscar-worthy performances to support it. —Sean Edgar


CoverUpintheAir.jpg 69. Up in the Air
Year: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman 
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives his life traveling, and he loves it, even though his job is to fire workers for employers who can’t break the news themselves. The gig’s a downer, but at least he gets to fly. His remote boss is played by the great Jason Bateman, Vera Farmiga plays a fellow traveler, and when these actors pair off they’re fantastic. The film is primarily a portrayal of Bingham’s isolation and the depressing circumstances of his job, and in doing so provides a spot-on illustration of the the life of the jaded business traveller who knows his way around an airport better than his own home. —Ryan Bort


field-of-dreams.jpg68. Field of Dreams
Year: 1989
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
There’s a little fantasy in most sports dramas, overcoming impossible obstacles and peaking at the magical moment to carry the day. But Field of Dreams, adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, isn’t a story of athletic prowess or winning the day. It’s a story of believing in the magic of sports. It’s a story of fathers and sons, of the hard work of play, of disconnecting from the worries of the real world to play a game of catch. In other words, it’s about baseball, the only sport that can turn an Iowa cornfield into a little slice of heaven. Of course Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones’ buddy journey to belief is sentimental; America’s pastime is nothing without sentiment. The major leagues may wish that all it took was new state-of-the-art taxpayer-subsidized sports complexes outside of their traditional downtown locales to spike attendance, but in 1989 we all believed. “If you build it, they will come…” —Josh Jackson


miss-julie.jpg67. Miss Julie
Year: 2014
Director: Liv Ullmann
I’m not sure why I was so surprised that Miss Julie was one of the best movies I saw all last year. It’s directed by a legendary actress (Liv Ullmann). Its two supporting characters are played by two actors that are very rarely not interesting (Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton). And the lead role, one of the most legendary lead roles in the history of the theatre, is played by the greatest actress alive (you heard me), Jessica Chastain. And the screenplay? Only written by August Strindberg. It’s a long, torturous, emotionally brutal movie. I never want to see it again. but there’s no denying it’s a masterpiece.—Michael Dunaway


rust-bone.jpg66. Rust and Bone
Year: 2012
Director: Jacques Audiard
In its treatment of romantic and familial love as both sweet and savage, Rust and Bone has many of the qualities that critics and audiences love about French film (even as it is reminiscent of movies like Fight Club and Million Dollar Baby, and as bloody as a Tarantino revenge flick). It does not care if it moves too quickly, or if it does not commit to one genre, or if it is too unbelievable for words. It only cares to tell a great story and to tell it beautifully, seemingly without pause or hesitation, and even as it mimics the mosaic image we see throughout—a collection of beautiful moments pieced together—in the end, Rust and Bone is finally and absolutely a love story, a father/son story, a story of triumph. With standout performances from Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard (whose various transformations bring on many of the film’s amazing twists and turns) and the entire supporting cast, Rust and Bone is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. —Shannon M. Houston


the commitments poster.png 65. The Commitments
Year: 1991
Director: Alan Parker
The Commitments might’ve single-handedly created the working classic Irish musician genre. It’s hard to watch Sing Street or Once (whose star, Glen Hansard, also appears in The Commitments) without thinking back to this movie about a blue-eyed soul band in Dublin and their struggles to stay together despite community indifference and regular in-fighting. It’s a drama no doubt, but there’s also tremendous humor here, and an uncommon degree of warmth and humanity. —Garrett Martin


omar.jpg64. Omar
Year: 2014
Director:Hany Abu-Assad
More trenchant as a political allegory than a character drama, Omar is more interested in the ideas within this slow-burn thriller than in plot machinations. To writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, maniacal twists and cunning action set pieces would simply get in the way—better that we spend our time thinking about why the characters find themselves in this situation at all. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar stars Adam Bakri as the titular young Palestinian, who must daily scale the imposingly tall security wall that separates him from his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Though very much in love, they haven’t yet revealed their relationship to her brother (and Omar’s good friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani), who is planning with Omar and another close pal, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to kill an Israeli soldier. The three friends’ mission is a success—it’s Amjad who pulls the trigger—but soon after, Omar is snagged by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Threatening Omar with imprisonment, Rami promises him freedom if he’ll deliver Tarek, the group’s leader, to them in exchange. What’s most resonant in Omar is that, just as we can’t always gauge the characters, they’re, too, concealing parts of themselves from each other, a byproduct of living in a part of the world where distrust is commonplace and secrecy a necessity. Which is why Omar’s startling ending is both somewhat mystifying and also oddly perfect—we don’t see it coming, and yet deep down, we’re not surprised at all that it happened. —Tim Grierson


the-prestige.jpg63. The Prestige
Year: 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan 
In The Prestige two competing magicians try to outdo each other, but are really trying to achieve a brand of immortality. They are competing for the same audience’s faith, and they need all of it, because it is not something that can be shared (many religious institutions hold similar dogma for similar reasons). Each wants to invoke utter and absolute belief in their audiences, much like Nolan wants to do in his own, as if that achievement grants the doer divinity, whether or not it is built on tricks and illusions. Nolan begins the film with a trick, in fact, a shot of top hats littering the forest floor, with the voice-over asking, “Are you watching closely?” It is a shot out of time and place from the rest of the film, Nolan once again doing as he pleases, manipulating our perception of what we’re seeing and when so as to emulate the pledge, turn and prestige of the “magic” acts the film portrays. Our faith is built on lies we tell ourselves and others, Nolan seems to posit, and it’s a thesis on which he elaborates with his Dark Knight trilogy, insinuating that symbols are sacred not for their truth, but simply for what they inspire. —Chet Betz


eyes-wide-shut.jpg62. Eyes Wide Shut
Year: 1999
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s always fascinating to see what the old masters come up with at the end of their careers. Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick’s final message before he passed away, and it reveals an artist still grappling with the complexities and vagaries of the human heart, as well as organs slightly southward. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are brilliantly cast, and the eerie, dreamlike atmosphere that pervades the film is palpable. When you re-emerge into the world of light outside the theater (or your darkened living room), you won’t quite be able to explain the journey you’ve been on. But it will stay with you for a long, long time. —Michael Dunaway


girlhood.jpg61. Girlhood
Year: 2014
Director: Céline Sciamma
The closeness of girl friendships are oft-remarked on, and they are beautifully articulated in this impressionistic French film. Kajida Toure stars as a teen coming of age in the Parisian banlieue, where feminine but hyper-tough girls rule the roost—and know there’s strength in numbers. They shoplift their bodycon dresses and have street scraps with other girl gangs, but are still slut-shamed and dominated by the local boys. Celine Sciamma lenses her unknown actors with gorgeously diffused blue filters, and captures the way they dance, revel in their physical intimacy, and fiercely defend one another. It’s a truthful and compelling portrait of female solidarity. —Christina Newland


christine-campos-poster.jpg60. Christine
Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


gangs-of-new-york.jpg59. Gangs of New York
Year: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese 
This one split critics and audiences, but for all the times that the story about Leo and Cameron Diaz’s characters drains momentum from the movie, Daniel Day Lewis’ star turn as William Cutter, also known as the meat cleaver-wielding Billy the Butcher, really ratchets everything up to 11. Every villain deserves a grand entrance. Not many get better than Bill the Butcher’s. Within the opening scene, we are treated with a bloody brawl. From there, the character’s disturbed psychosis only spreads until its reaches one of the greatest climaxes in Martin Scorsese’s career. Oh, also Daniel Day Lewis. Did we mention that? —Paste Staff


dayveon-movie-poster.jpg58. Dayveon
Year: 2017
Director: Amman Abbasi
“…stupid house,” Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) lists as he rides his bike aimlessly through his rural Arkansas town, beginning the film that bears his name with the kind of flippant cynicism that seems right for a 13-year-old. Dustin Lane’s cinematography floats Dayveon in the center of the 4:3 screen, buoyed by a world of humidity. “Stupid tree. Stupid rock. Stupid concrete,” he goes on in voiceover, under his breath but fed up. “Stupid people.” His cynicism is infectious—not that such cynicism is in short supply in 2017, the kind that’s purposeless and broad and generally disgusted with everything. “Everything stupid,” Dayveon agrees. In Amman Abbasi’s debut, Dayveon has plenty of big reasons to believe that everything is stupid: His older brother was recently killed in gang-related violence and there isn’t much of a chance Dayveon will be able to avoid a similar fate, both because he’s already facing hazing rituals with the Bloods in town, and because Abbasi reflects the milieu of a young African American male growing up in the impoverished South in tones of unmitigated naturalism shot through with shreds of magical realism. Lane’s colors are lushly romantic (red, as one might expect, leaps from practically every frame, surrounded by a thousand verdant shades of green) but loaded with melancholy. All this Abbasi captures in heightened hand-held glory, demonstrating (with the willing, nuanced performances of his non-professional cast) a finely tuned familiarity with more than the people and places of rural Arkansas, but with their everyday struggles with stupidity. —Dom Sinacola


TrainingDay.jpg 57. Training Day
Year: 2001
Director: Antoine Fuqua
In his darkest—and perhaps best—role, Denzel Washington embodies Alonzo Harris, an LAPD narcotics detective who can’t really be called “corrupt,” since that word is such an understatement. He’s vicious, Machievallian, and charismatic, and when he takes Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) under his wing, the combination is highly combustible. One of the chief pleasures of this film is watching Jake react to a situation that he is clearly not prepared for, trying manfully to hold on to an ethical foundation in the face of an arrogant, megalomaniacal crook disguised as one of society’s protectors. —Paste Staff


my-life-zucchini-poster.jpg56. My Life as a Zucchini
Year: 2016
Director: Claude Barras
Barras’s most impressive feat—besides keeping this animated film under 70 minutes—is how effortlessly he gives the film to Zucchini, never once letting the corruption of the adult world stain My Life as a Zucchini’s lively hues and livelier magnanimity. Tonally, Barras struggles in almost every scene, especially when the heaviness of his characters’ lives aren’t given the seriousness such heaviness demands, and optimism threatens to obfuscate the crimes of the adults whose choices led to these kids’ situations so directly. Still, if all Barras is trying to say is that human beings are essentially good—contrary to popular opinion at the moment—then that should be enough. One can’t fault a film too harshly for loving its characters too much to watch them suffer needlessly, or fault an artist too adamantly for adopting the indefatigable idealism of a prepubescent with a pointless nickname. —Dom Sinacola


transfiguration-movie-poster.jpg55. The Transfiguration
Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


5-A-war-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg54. A War
Year: 2016
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Tobias Lindholm and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck shoot A War in unadorned, exacting clarity, treating both the scenic mountains of Afghanistan and the urban outlines of Denmark with the same stark, practically clinical eye. The moral quandary at the center of the film may not be an original one—Danish commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) must go to court over a split-second decision made during a firefight in which his actions saved a comrade while unknowingly leading to a number of civilian casualties—but Lindholm takes seemingly ages to get to that point, allowing the audience to soak in the monotony and incessant-if-buried burden of Pedersen’s position: serving as ersatz father for his unit while knowing, intuitively, that his family desperately needs him back home. Nothing at home happens with action-packed aplomb (though the director sets up tense red herrings to lure the audience into a sense of unease), and yet the stakes are painfully real. Pedersen did the only thing he knew to do, yet in saving his unit he may have sacrificed his family’s well-being. —Dom Sinacola


imitation-game.jpg53. The Imitation Game
Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
The historical thriller The Imitation Game is precisely the type of film studios love to dangle as Oscar bait. It focuses on a relatively unknown, yet significant, World War II code-cracking project and features a socially awkward genius as its protagonist. It doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned hero and his compatriots are Brits. Noted mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing is often considered the father of modern computer science, but his most consequential work—conducted as a WWII codebreaker—remained largely unknown until the British government declassified related documents in the 1970s. The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric Turing, focuses on his wartime tenure at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, located about 50 miles northwest of London. In the confines of the nondescript Quonset Hut 8, Turing leads a team of prototype hackers to decipher Germany’s Enigma machine codes. Their work is said to have shortened the length of the war by several years. Cumberbatch gives an intense performance as the brilliant loner with behavior that registers along the autism spectrum. While he indulges in too much scenery chewing and stammering, Cumberbatch creates a memorable character who is at once fascinating and off-putting. The only person squarely on Turing’s side is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), an astute mathematician recruited for the testosterone-heavy team. Knightley shows off a dynamic range as she plays a dutiful daughter, torn between obligations to her parents and her country. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known best for 2011’s Headhunters, and scribe Graham Moore keep the tension high, even when the hackers and decoders are conducting tedious work. The supporting actors transcend their one-note characters and capture the audience’s attention. —Christine N. Ziemba


blue-warmest.jpg52. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


donnie-darko.jpg51. Donnie Darko
Year: 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Apparently, at some point in its burgeoning cult ascendency, director Richard Kelly admitted that even he didn’t totally get what’s going on in Donnie Darko—going so far as to release a “Director’s Cut” in 2005 that supposedly cleared up some of the film’s more unwieldy stuff. Yet another example of a small budget wringed of its every dime, Kelly’s debut crams love, weird science, jet engines, superhero mythology, wormholes, armchair philosophy, giant bunny rabbits and Patrick Swayze (as a child molester, no less) into a film that should be celebrated for its audacity more than its coherency. It also helps that Jake Gyllenhaal leads a stellar cast, all totally game. In Donnie Darko, the only thing that’s clear is Kelly’s attitude: that at its core cinema is the art of manifesting the unbelievable, of doing what one wants to do when one wants to do it. —Paste Staff

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