These are the top new dramas on Netflix right now.
The Aviator! City of God! The Departed! Eyes Wide Shut! Steel Magnolias! And more! There are a lot of drama movies to choose from on Netflix…
Some people watch movies to escape from reality, others watch movies to be immersed in it. Serious, dramatic movies represent many of the most powerful stories ever told in the medium, and Netflix has no shortage of films that try to hit you right in the feels. Of course, they have so many movies that it’s easy to accidentally wind up watching a bad one, and that’s where we come in with our monthly updates on the best new movies on Netflix.
We’ve scoured the vast expanse of the service and come back with 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 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015. Read on for the richest and most exciting drama movies on Netflix!
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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
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.
Hilarious, heartwarming and heartbreaking, Herbert Ross’s adaptation of the hit stage play Steel Magnolias tells the story of a group of women who bond at their local hair salon, and shares the highs and lows of their lives together. It’s not the most thrilling hook ever devised, but after a few minutes alone with these women, listening to their fabulous chemistry and compelling problems, you’ll be hooked. And by the end, you will cry. Probably more than once. The all-star cast includes Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, and a young Julia Roberts in one of her big breakout roles.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s exhilarating, all-star drama about the evolution of the pornographic industry stars Mark Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler, a “gifted” young performer who rises to the top of the industry, only to fall disastrously downward. Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle and Philip Seymour Hoffman all steal scenes as the unlikely family that forms through their connections in adult entertainment, and Anderson films the heck out of every single moment of it, making the entire thing seem like a big bolt of neon electricity.
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.
City of God
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.
It took decades, but Martin Scorsese finally won an Academy Award for Best Director for The Departed, a grand and exceptionally well-acted remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. And yet, the film is rarely discussed in the same vaunted terms usually reserved for Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. That’s a shame, because this is a vicious and sharp motion picture, about an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and an undercover mobster (Matt Damon) whose lives and lies intersect in unexpected, incredible ways. It’s one of Scorsese’s best.
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s last film was, allegedly, not quite finished when the filmmaker died during post-production. And yet Eyes Wide Shut feels as complete as any of his immaculately crafted motion pictures. Tom Cruise stars as a doctor whose life unravels when his wife, Nicole Kidman, reveals how close she came to abandoning her family to have a torrid affair. Kubrick’s dreamlike dramatization of the protagonist’s self-doubt takes increasingly bizarre and dangerous forms, before the film comes crashing together in a satisfyingly simple suggestion.
Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick’s second-to-last film is a fascinating two-act Vietnam War story about the process of stripping soldiers of their identities, and what happens to them afterwards when they are set loose in a hellish war zone. Matthew Modine stars but Vincent D’Onofrio and the late R. Lee Ermey steal the film with a horrifying dynamic that yields cruel and depressing consequences. Full Metal Jacket remains one of the most stark and vivid depictions of war and the men who are transformed into killing machines.
The Godfather Trilogy
Francis Ford Coppola’s huge and incredible movies The Godfather and The Godfather Part II remain landmarks in motion picture history, films that inspired the industry, are endlessly quoted by audiences, and made technical and storytelling innovations that still feel fresh today. (The third one is… not good, but worth watching if you’re a completist.) It’s the sprawling story of the Corleone crime family, and a saga of the violence, familial love, and unforgettable betrayals that defined their rise to power throughout the 20th century.
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.
My Life as a Zucchini
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.
The importance of quality journalism is perfectly presented in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, a frank and fascinating dramatization of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s vast cover-up of widespread sexual abuse. Uncovering the truth is already a nearly impossible task, and along the way, personal convictions are challenged and lives are thrown into turmoil. The absolute necessity of speaking truth to power has rarely felt as dramatically satisfying.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The world of Cold War espionage is a world of secrets left unspoken, so when a retired agent named George Smily (Gary Oldman) is brought back in to investigate his former co-workers, and root out a traitor in their midst, the most unexpected revelations emerge. Oldman simmers with quiet energy, a protagonist used to revealing nothing while absorbing every piece of information around him, and the spectacular supporting cast – Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt and Ciaran Hinds – populates this icy world with vibrant characters.
To Kill a Mockingbird
One of the great motion picture dramas, with one of the most celebrated motion picture performances. Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a single father in the rural south, tasked with defending a black man from charges of raping a white woman. At a time of openly institutionalized racism, it’s a seemingly Herculean task, and it gives Finch an opportunity to show his community and his children the importance of overcoming our collective evils, and seeking instead the humanity in others, and always the truth.
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.