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Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant
The Immigrant

The 21 best dramas on Netflix

Get serious with our list of the best dramas on Netflix streaming, including Oscar winners and tough indies

By Joshua Rothkopf and Time Out contributors

In seeking the absolute best dramas on Netflix, we defined drama pretty broadly: If it doesn’t make you laugh (comedies), if spaceships and horses don’t appear (sci-fi movies or Westerns) and if supernatural evil isn’t confronted (horror), you’re probably watching a drama. And good news: Netflix streaming has plenty of somber Academy Award winners to choose from, from Hollywood, the indie fringe and around the world. All 20 of the films below are great—of that we have no doubt—even if, after watching some of them, you’ll want to take a trip to your favorite bar. Get serious with the best dramas on Netflix.

RECOMMENDED: See all of the best movies on Netflix

Best dramas on Netflix

1. Boyhood (2014)

Movies Drama

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Even with all the gush spilled over Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making family saga, it’s still underpraised: In watching these actors age, learn and grow (without recourse to melodrama or suspense), viewers grasped onto a beautiful continuum that few filmmakers achieve. The wait was worth it.

Watch if you liked: The Tree of Life

2. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Movies Drama

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton

When superfans speak of the superiority of this sequel, it’s not just to be contrarian. Francis Ford Coppola took Mario Puzo’s pulp novel and darkened it with Nixonian paranoia and the power of political back rooms. The sequel’s decadence is counterweighted by nostalgia, as we see the young immigrant Vito (Robert De Niro) striving to protect his own. His son, Michael (Al Pacino), will pay the ultimate price, a descent that is the richest narrative movies have to offer.

Watch if you liked: Breaking Bad


3. Sunset Boulevard (1950)


Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

Insanely quotable and still carrying a sting, Billy Wilder’s poison-pen letter to Hollywood is so good not even William Holden’s occasionally hammy delivery can harm it. A great first shot is equaled by a sickeningly poignant ending. Gloria Swanson is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Watch if you liked: Mulholland Drive

4. Schindler’s List (1993)


Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley

It’s a shame that Spielberg’s only Best Picture winner (to date) is doomed to be underappreciated for its craft due to its essential subject matter. As it happens, this Holocaust epic about the crooked German businessman (Liam Neeson) who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi gas chambers also features some of the most vital and virtuosic filmmaking of the director’s career.

Watch if you liked: Life Is Beautiful


5. Carol (2015)

Movies Drama

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson

Todd Haynes (Safe, Far from Heaven) is so consistently excellent as a filmmaker, it’s almost freakish that he continues to one-up himself. Working for the first time with material developed by another screenwriter—Phyllis Nagy—he’s transformed an underappreciated 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel about secret longing into a universal romance.

Watch if you liked: The Duke of Burgundy

6. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Movies Drama

Director: Robert Mulligan

Cast: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton

Gregory Peck’s mighty performance as attorney Atticus Finch—a decent man in a hellish place—is one of the more inspiring onscreen depictions of fatherhood. Meanwhile, watch for Robert Duvall in his film debut, as the mysterious Boo Radley.

Watch if you liked: The Night of the Hunter


7. Spotlight (2015)

Movies Drama

Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

Bring on all the comparisons to All the President’s Men you can muster. This quietly shocking Best Picture winner—about The Boston Globe’s real-life exposure of child abuse in the local Catholic archdiocese—earns them and more. It’s an achievement like nothing else, an ensemble film that subtly stresses our interconnectedness to the higher cause of truth-telling.

Watch if you liked: The Verdict

8. Quiz Show (1994)


Director: Robert Redford

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Paul Scofield

Based on the real-life Charles Van Doren scandal, this terrific drama—featuring yeoman work from Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro and especially Paul Scofield inexplicably bombed at the box office. If you missed it then, for God’s sake, make it a priority now.

Watch if you liked: The Big Short


9. The African Queen (1951)


Director: John Huston

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Katharine Hepburn reportedly based her performance in this first-rate adventure on Eleanor Roosevelt; Humphrey Bogart, meanwhile, finally won the Oscar he’d long deserved with his portrayal of a cantankerous boat captain who hauls Hepburn’s heinie up the river. Simple and sublime.

Watch if you liked: Casablanca

Howards End
Photograph: Sony Pictures Classics

10. Howards End (1992)

Movies Action and adventure

Director: James Ivory

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave

Merchant and Ivory turned again and again to E.M. Forster, and they must have been in sync with his convoluted prose style, because they got the tone right every time. Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter excel in this Oscar-winning adaptation of what many consider Forster’s greatest work.

Watch if you liked: Downton Abbey

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