We watch movies because of the stories. A good story shows us something about what it means to be us — it takes a feeling or a thought that we may or may not have even known that we had, and it presents it in a way that makes us think about that feeling or feel something about that thought. A good story is an experience that focuses on something else but matters, in some way, to you. A movie can do this by making you feel the frustration of a boy on a desert planet, the sadness of losing a family, and the thrill of rescuing a princess and blowing up a Death Star. But movies work just as well without all the genre details and tropes — without space, or the West, or any of that. Dramas are movies at their simplest, most serious, and most powerful. They’re stories. And these are the best drama on Netflix.
The Best Dramas on Netflix
In terms of great movies from the past few years, Netflix does better with dramas than it does in many other genres. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few great old gems in here, too. The African Queen is the first of two black-and-white 50s classics that grace our list. Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart start, and Bogey is at his best as a rough-around-the-edges riverboat captain. “The African Queen,” by the way, is the name of the boat.
Two decades after its release, it’s still kind of hard to describe Boogie Nights to someone who hasn’t seen it. That’s not because Boogie Nights is weird or surreal, or anything — it’s a period piece and a drama with a lot of funny parts. It’s just because there aren’t really a lot of movies like Boogie Nights, which treats the ups and downs of a male porn star’s career the way Martin Scorsese’s movies treat the careers of gangsters. Boogie Nights stars Mark Wahlberg as porn star Dirk Diggler, but it’s nothing like the sort of movie Wahlberg would star in today, nor is it much like you might fear a porn-focused movie would be. It features the weird, colorful, and depressing world of old-school pornography, but it isn’t limited by it. Boogie Nights is not quite what you’d expect. It’s also really, really good, and you should watch it.
Richard Linklater’s landmark film was shot over the course of more than 11 years. Linklater wrote and re-wrote his script, watching each year’s footage to write the next year’s scenes. The result is a film like no other, in which the characters age and interact in ways that incredibly authentic and realistic. In 165 minutes, audiences watch a story about a boy coming of age that took 11 real-life years to create.
Tom Hanks is arguably Hollywood’s GOAT (that’s “greatest of all time,” for the uninitiated). He has put together a string of unbelievably successful films, and he rarely makes a bad one. Consistent as he is, Hanks still has a few highlights that rise still further above the rest. The decade-spanning blockbuster Forrest Gump is one, and is perhaps his most iconic film.
Full Metal Jacket is a strange film that breaks a lot of rules. It’s essentially two movies: it tells the story of a group of Marines in boot camp and then follows that with a story about one of those men in Vietnam. It’s truly funny and frighteningly depressing, stylistic but realistic, and extremely compelling despite its strange structure. Full Metal Jacket is one of the greatest war movies ever made. It also happens to be one of my very favorite movies, which I mention in case you care about my opinion.
Lion sources its powerful plot from the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was born in India but, after getting lost, was presumed orphaned and ended up being adopted by an Australian couple. Lion follows Saroo as he navigates like at his Australian University and begins to search for the family that he inadvertently left behind as a child.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a pretty good actor, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing just how good he is until you’ve seen Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal nails his performance as a strange guy who becomes an expert at filming Los Angeles’ crime and disaster scenes. He sells his footage to local news stations, but it’s not always clear how he’s so good at being at the right place at the right time. Suspicious, huh?
Like the Cormac McCarthy novel on which it is based, No Country for Old Men toes the line between action and drama. If it is an action film, though, it’s no brain-dead blockbuster. Despite constant tension and a fast-moving plot, No Country for Old Men is a movie that demands to be taken seriously. And it was — it won an Oscar for Best Picture. This powerful and unforgettable film is a career highlight even for Coen Brothers, who have no shortage of achievements in film.
If you’re looking for some real heavy drama, look no further than Schindler’s List. Steven Spielberg’s drama masterpiece is about as moving as they come. Shot in black and white, the film features memorable performances from Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, among others. Neeson stars as the titular Oskar Schindler, a German who risked his life and blew through his considerable fortune in an effort to help as many Jews as possible escape the Holocaust.
Sunset Boulevard is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, and for good reason. Legendary director Billy Wilder made this classic, which tells the story of a struggling screenwriter who convinces a once-great actress to mount a comeback. Hollywood has always enjoyed making movies about itself, and this is arguably the greatest Hollywood-on-Hollywood masterpiece ever made.