The 25 Best Dramas Streaming on Netflix – December 2018
When it comes to streaming your favorite movies, television shows, stand-up shows, and everything else you love to watch, Netflix is probably the first place that comes to mind. From great comedies to bingeable shows, original programming to old favorites, Netflix has a little something for everyone. There are so many varieties of genres to pick from to, and it can be tough to find something worth watching depending on your mood. Comedies can warm your heart with laughter, holiday films can put you in the mood for Christmas, horror films can terrify you to your core, and animated films can make you reflect on your youth. When it comes to looking for something to put you in your feels, of course, nothing quite does that like a great drama.
Drama films strike a tough balance. They often dip their toes into other genres, as is apparent by the content on this list. Historical docudramas, science-fiction love stories, and chilling crime stories all find their way onto this list, but that doesn’t even begin to cover what you might find on this list. Dramas make up some of our favorite movies of all time, and we’ve gathered twenty-five of the best on Netflix today for this list. Here’s some of the best dramas on Netflix for December 2018.
Steven Spielberg is, perhaps, one of the most famous filmmakers in the world, and though his resume isn’t perfect, no one has made as many incredible, jaw-dropping films as he has. From crafting the original blockbuster with Jaws to recreating dinosaurs with Jurassic Park, it’s obvious that the man has more movie magic in his body than any living director. Schindler’s List isn’t one of his feel-good films, but it is an incredible document to the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who is credited with saving the life of 1,200 Jewish men and women during the Holocaust by employing them. Liam Neeson portrays Schindler in a spellbinding performance, with Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, and Caroline Goodall all appearing in supporting roles. At 195 minutes, it’s one of the longest films on our list (beaten only by The Godfather Part II below), but it’s a must-see for any and all film completionists or historical buffs.
One of Spielberg’s best films of the past decade, Lincoln is a brilliant epic historical drama, following President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) through the final four months of his life, including the end of the Civil War and his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed and ratified by Congress. The film is worth watching for plenty of reasons—the script by Tony Kushner, based on the book Team of Rivals; Spielberg’s direction; and the supporting cast, which include Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field as Mary Todd, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The real reason to watch the film, however, is for Daniel Day-Lewis. His now-penultimate performance before retiring in 2017, Day-Lewis brings everything you could want as Lincoln to the table. The film earned Day-Lewis his third Best Actor award from the Oscars, making him the first actor to do so.
Director Todd Haynes brought the famous 1952 novel The Price of Salt to the big screen in 2015 with an adaptation in Carol, one of the most-acclaimed films of 2015. Featuring an all-star cast in Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, and Kyle Chandler, the film follows Therese Belivet (Mara), a woman working at a Manhattan department store in the 1950s who spots Carol (Blanchett) looking at doll displays. The two woman quickly become friends, and more, with dangerous results that spawn as Carol’s ex-husband begins to spy and pry on the life of the two women.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novel Shutter Island) and directed by Clint Eastwood, Mystic River is one of the best films of 2003, nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Director. The film follows Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), an ex-con whose daughter is murdered. Jimmy is distraught to learn that two of his childhood friends, Dave (Tim Robbins) and Sean (Kevin Bacon), are involved in the murder. While Sean is the homicide detective leading the case to find the murderer, Dave was the last person to see Jimmy’s daughter alive, which eventually leads him to believe Dave is the murderer behind the case.
Before Children of Men and Gravity, before Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and this year’s Roma, there was Y Tu Mama Tambien, the fourth film by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and his breakout project. The film follows Julio and Tenoch, two 17-year-old boys who find themselves beginning to flourish into adulthood. The two best friends spend their summer vacation heading out on a cross-country trip with each other, alongside an older woman whom they meet on the trip. Without the boys’ girlfriends around, the two live their lives as bachelors. Filled with sex, drug use, and plenty of joy in the road trip portion of the film, it’s the perfect time to catch up with Cuaron’s work prior to watching Roma on Netflix later this year.
Blue is the Warmest Color tells the story of Adèle, an introverted, quiet French teenager who is unsatisfied with her life. She feels disappointed by her current relationship with Thomas, and upon passing by a woman with short blue hair on the street, feels an immediate sense of attraction. Troubled by her sense of sexual identity, her openly-gay friend Valentin takes her to a gay bar. At a lesbian bar the same night, Adèle meets Emma, the girl from the street with the short blue hair, an aspiring artist and grad student. The two slowly become friends and, eventually, lovers, and the film begins to track their relationship as Adèle grows from a girl into a woman. At three hours and with an NC-17 rating, the film isn’t an easy watch, but Blue is the Warmest Color is one of the best romance films of the past decade, and is absolutely worth watching in its entirety.
Orson Welles is one of the most famous directors in the world, thanks to his experience in crafting and directing Citizen Kane. That’s far from his only film of note, of course, and in 1958, Welles released one of the last classic noir films of the period in Touch of Evil. The film is, of course, an excellent noir piece, following a car bomb explosion on the American side of the border, Miguel Vargas begins investigating alongside American police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles himself). However, Vargas soon finds himself discovering an inside job cover-up, which makes him doubt his new American partner. Touch of Evil is most famous for its opening scene, which is one of the first long takes in American cinema. That scene still holds up today as fantastic filmmaking, and has even influenced the likes of Better Call Saul.
One of the best films of 2013 arrived on Netflix in late July, and it’s well worth checking out. Her is the fourth film from acclaimed filmmaker/occasional Jackass star Spike Jonze, following his two collaborations with Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are in 2009. The film is set in a near-future Los Angeles and follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely introvert who is going through a divorce with his childhood sweetheart (Rooney Mara). Unhappy with his life, Twombly purchases a smart operating system upgrade for his computer, designed with artificial intelligence and able to adapt and evolve. Deciding to give her a female voice, the operating system nicknames itself Samantha, and Theodore begins bonding with her. The film follows Theodore as he develops a relationship with his AI, and as he learns to grow and adapt as a person himself.
A recent Netflix Original film, Mudbound tells the story of two World War II veterans living in rural Mississippi following the conclusion of the war. The film begins when Henry McAllen (Jason Clarke) and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) purchase a farm alongside Henry’s brother Jamie and their father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). The Jackson family, led by Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) works the farm for the McAllens, until Ronsel and Jamie are pulled away to fight in the war. Upon returning, Jamie deals with PTSD and alcoholism, while Ronsel deals with readjusting to southern racism following his life in Europe. As Ronsel and Jamie begin to strike up a friendship, despite the objections of Pappy, the struggle to readjust to American life threatens to break apart both families. Mudbound is the first Netflix film nominated at the Academy Awards, up for eight awards at the 2018 Oscars.
The Best Picture winner of 2004, Million Dollar Baby is one of the best boxing movies ever made, ranking with Rocky, Creed, Raging Bull, and The Fighter. Million Dollar Baby follows Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood, also directing), a veteran Los Angeles boxing trainer who keeps as many people as he can at arm’s length, with the sole exception of fellow retiree Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman). When a young Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) arrives at the gym, Dunn is reluctant to train her, but when he relents and lets his guard down, the two change each others’ lives forever. The film was stuck in development hell for years before Eastwood agreed to shoot and star in the film, and fifteen years later, it remains one of his best projects to date.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and adapted from the novel of the same name, Room tells the story of 24-year-old Joy Newsome and her 5-year-old son Jack, who live in a locked shed called “room.” Unbeknownst to young Jack, they are held captive by “Old Nick,” a man who kidnapped Joy seven years prior and who is the biological father to Jack. Joy tries to balance her own mental health while being as much of a mother to Jack as she can be, though Jack believes the world consists of “room” and television, and not much else. When Joy manages to hatch a plan to get Jack to escape and alert the authorities, it sets off a chain reaction of events that will send Joy and Jack spiraling, as they attempt to adjust to a new world.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) tells the story of three children: Danny, Matthew, and Jean Meyerowitz, played here by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel, respectively. Danny and Jean are siblings, with Matthew as their half-brother, all tied together by their rocky relationship with their father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Though the three children are relatively estranged from each other, their father’s upcoming career retrospective brings all three to New York City to reunite, bicker, and deal with their life’s problems. Despite the prominence of Sandler and Stiller, don’t expect this to be a laugh-riot; like Baumbach’s other tales, this is drama first, comedy second, though critics have praised Sandler’s dramatic turn here as his best since Punch Drunk Love.
Based on three short stories by Maile Meloy’s collections of writing, Certain Women is Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 drama, following her 2013 film Night Moves. The film, which was critically acclaimed for both its direction and its acting, stars Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Michelle Williams as three strong-willed women living in the plains of the American Northwest, each dealing with her own personal setbacks and frustrations. Kristen Stewart portrays Beth Travis, a young law student who forms a bond with a ranch hand; Laura Dern plays a lawyer who finds herself dealing with office sexism and a toxic client; and Michelle Williams plays a wife and mother who finds her determination to build her dream home places her between a rock and a hard place with her husband.
The second of two Noah Baumbach films on this list, Frances Ha won’t please every reader of this list. The film has been criticized as aimless, but for those it connects with, Frances Ha represents a modernization of the principles and ideas first shown in films from the French New Wave era of the 1960s. From the black and white film aesthetic to the impromptu trip to Paris halfway through the film, the inspiration from titles like Breathless and The 400 Blows is all over this title, co-written by director Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig (who later brought her wit and talent for writing to 2017’s critically acclaimed Lady Bird). It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the films topped several year-end lists and found critical acclaim with the film community. Baumbach’s films are generally fairly bleak, and it makes for a great mixture with Gerwig’s brightness and sense of joy found within dark.
Considered an achievement in filmmaking and nominated for six Academy Awards in 2015, Boyhood tells the story of Mason Evans Jr., from 2002 to 2013, as he grows from a six-year-old boy to a young adult headed to college, following each year in his life over its nearly-three hour runtime. Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, the aforementioned Before Midnight) is no secret to playing with time, as he did with the Before trilogy, and Boyhood follows a similar premise. The film shot each year from 2002 to 2013, essentially being written as the crew and cast grew up around the film. The child actor cast as Mason, Ellar Coltrane, was seven when the film began shooting, and was 19 when the film wrapped in 2013. Also starring in the film: Before‘s Ethan Hawke as Mason’s father, and Patricia Arquette as his mother, who won an Oscar for her performance.
Directed by Francis Lee in his feature debut, God’s Own Country is a haunting tale of love and loss in the English countryside. The film follows Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), a young man who lives on his family farm with his father Martin, and his grandmother Deidre. Johnny takes care of most of the farm by himself, his father unable to assist after experiencing a stroke and his grandmother aged out of the farm life. Johnny’s life is a mess, drinking heavily and having sexual encounters with men in his spare time. When Johnny’s actions result in the loss of a calf, Martin hires help in the form of Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu), a Romanian farm hand who is initially treated harshly by Johnny. When Johnny refers to Gheorghe by a slur, the two men find themselves in a fight that quickly turns sexual. With the nature of their relationship, Johnny must learn quickly who he is, less he face the consequences of a broken heart. The film was critically-acclaimed upon its release last year.
The film that helped to escalate the careers of both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Good Will Hunting is one of the quintessential films of the 1990s. Directed by Gus Van Zant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), the film follows Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a young man with a genius-level IQ who works as a janitor at MIT. One afternoon, while solving a difficult math problem designed for graduate students, he’s discovered by Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a professor who helps to bail Will out of jail after he’s arrested for attacking a Boston police officer. With the police department’s permission, Lambeau makes a deal to score him a lesser sentence, albeit under the condition he seeks help from therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).
Michel Gondry’s second feature-length film also happens to be his best, as he paired with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman to produce one of the best films of the 2000s. The film is, at once, a romantic comedy, a heartbreaking drama, and a science-fiction tale that features heavy doses of the dream logic Kaufman has become known for throughout his career of crafting films like Being John Malkovichor Synecdoche, New York. The film follows Joel (Jim Carrey, in a career-best performance), who meets Clementine (Kate Winslet) on a train from Montauk to Rockville Center. The two quickly become connected to each other, and the truth slowly unveils itself: the two are former lovers, having both used a controversial procedure to forget each other after a fight days earlier. The film follows Joel forgetting Clementine through this procedure, as she’s erased from his life altogether.
Though certainly not one of the Coen Brothers most-accessible films, A Serious Man is often lauded for its balance of black comedy and razor-sharp wit. The film stars well-known actor Michael Stuhlbarg as a Minnesota Jewish man whose life begins to crumble both professionally and personally, as his wife asks for a divorce and he faces a vote on his tenure at a local university, leading him to question his faith and his religion. The film is bleak, dry, and in some cases, absolutely absurd—all comments meant as compliments. This is an odd film that won’t please everyone, but the Coen Brother completionists, it’s a must-see film.
This 2008 biographical film follows Harvey Milk, who was a major gay rights activist in California and the first openly gay person ever elected to hold office in that state. Directed by Gus Van Sant (director of Good Will Huntingand Finding Forrester), and written by Dustin Lance Black (J. Edgar), the film tells the story of Milk throughout the 70s until his death in 1978. The fil;m has been critically lauded as a return to form for Sant, and both Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey Milk and the script by Black went onto win Oscars in 2009. The film co-stars Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Alison Pill, and Rogue One‘s Diego Luna, and is absolutely worth watching for its riveting, surprisingly sensitive look at this man and his political and real-world opponents.
This excellent film by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias tells the story of the clash between two families who live and work on the same block in Brooklyn. When Brian (Greg Kinnear) inherits a brownstone, he also inherits a tenant–Leonor (Paulina Garcia)–who his father liked and gave a rent break as the neighborhood gentrified around them. An unlikely friendship forms between both of their 13-year-old sons, one of whom wants to be an artist, the other a painter. The boys get caught in the middle as conflict intensifies between the parents. Little Men is an excellent drama, but you might want to limit the audience to this for tweens and older.
A quintessential entry in the catalogue of great American sports movies, Miracle tells the story of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, from their formation through their training and, eventually, their victory against the Russian hockey team at the height of the Cold War. The story begins when University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) meets with the US Olympic Committee to discuss strategies for winning the 1980 Olympics. Brooks pitches the group on picking amateur players as opposed to pro-level athletes, leading to doubts that the American team will make it far in their quest for gold medals in any way. Even if you know the story, Miracle is a worthy retelling, an entertaining and fascinating story of training hard for the things you want and for sticking with the ideas you believe in.
Based on the young-adult novel of the same name, Coin Heist is a Netflix original crime-drama film directed by Emily Hagins, best known for appearing in the documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie and for her own works Grow Up Tony Phillips and My Sucky Teen Romance. Coin Heist represents a big step for the young filmmaker, creating her best film to date and a fun watch for older kids and teenagers. The film tells a coming-of-age story backed by a heist, as the four students—Jason, Alice, Dakota, and Benny—hatch a plan to save their high school by breaking into a mint to create a limited run of coins to sell to collectors in order to create the necessary $10 million needed for the school. The film is a fun, dramatic look into the world of four teens who will do anything to save the student body—and themselves.
A 2007 adaptation of the classic children’s novel of the same name, Bridge to Terabithia tells the story of Jesse “Jess” Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, in a pre-Hunger Games role), a 12-year-old boy who attends a local school where he’s routinely bullied by Janice Avery, Scott Hoager, and Gary Fulcher. One day, he meets Leslie Burke, a new student in his class who manages to beat Jess in a running contest, much to his frustration. Jess learns Leslie isn’t just a new classmate, but a new neighbor as well. Together they become fast friends, exploring the woods behind their houses and finding a creek, an abandoned tree house, and an entire world created out of their own imaginations. Together, as they explore Terabithia, they’ll deal with school, family problems, and more as they learn to bond together as their own makeshift family. Bridge to Terabithia is a faithful adaptation and, at times, a difficult watch, but it’s worthy of viewing.
If there was ever a movie that hits harder today than it did when it was first released, The Truman Show might be that film. Directed by Peter Weir (Witness, Master and Commander) and starring Jim Carrey, The Truman Show is at once a comedy, a science-fiction drama, and a social satire, following the life of Truman Burbank, a man taken as a baby by a corporation to star in the first always-on reality show about a single man. Truman lives his life inside a dome located in Hollywood known to Truman as “Seahaven,” where everything from his wife to his parents and even his friends are simply actors reading from a script or reciting lines fed to them through an earpiece. In the era of reality television and always-active online social media presences, The Truman Show constitutes a must-watch piece of media.