20 best dramas on Netflix for when you want to feel something
Drama can hit hard and hurt so good.
You gotta love that gut punch of tragedy backed by a swelling orchestral score and how it can be a ruthless rush. Sometimes a tearjerker — one that invites us to cry along with the characters — feels better than therapy. Other times, watching a protagonist persevere through hellish hardship can give us the hope we need to persevere.
Whatever kind of drama you’re craving, Netflix’s library of film and TV awaits you. Whether you want poignant period pieces, provocative performances, memorable melodramas, unique crime narratives, acclaimed coming-of-age tales, or a curious case of a dismembered hand on a mission, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the best dramas on Netflix streaming now.
1. The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch in his Academy Award-nominated role.
Credit: Kirsty Griffin / Netflix
Among our favorites of 2021 is Jane Campion’s slow-burn thriller with the gritty grandeur of a Western. Academy Award-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a rugged rancher, who can rope, ride, and run down anyone with his cruel wit. Once his bullied brother (Academy Award-nominee Jesse Plemons) marries, Phil’s favorite target becomes his gentle (and genteel) sister-in-law (Academy Award-nominee Kirsten Dunst), who could well crumble under his cold stare. Toxic tensions burn slow and mean as Campion smoothly unfurls a story unpredictable, unnerving, and outstanding. This one grows more compelling with each rewatch. Give yourself over the sickening swoon, and you’ll understand what had critics raving and why Campion (once again) took home the Academy Award for Best Director.* — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How to watch: The Power of the Dog (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
2. Phantom Thread
If Daniel Day-Lewis is really and truly permanently retired from acting (and let’s hope he’s not, for acting’s sake), then he went out on a darn high note with this profoundly romantic anti-romance from director Paul Thomas Anderson. DDL’s persnickety couture bastard Reynolds Woodcock (a name the director and his star came up with as a gag, which stuck) and his right-hand sis Cyril (Lesley Manville, who will go right through you) have the disgustingly wealthy eating out of their satin-lined gloves when the film begins.
SEE ALSO: Why has ‘Phantom Thread’ given us so many great memes?
So, how does a stumbling bumbling nobody waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps in a blow-the-doors-off performance) flip their entire pristine world upside down with nothing but a well-calculated blush and a basket of mushrooms? That’s the stuff of romance, in all of its violent, push-pull swirl. And Phantom Thread captures the dunderheaded swoon of that first blush, plus all of the fallout that necessarily falls after in order to keep that flame forever burning.* — Jason Adams, Freelance Contributor
How to watch: Phantom Thread is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund in “Mudbound.”
Credit: Steve Dietl / Netflix
Based on the Hillary Jordan novel, this period drama charts the relationships and racial conflict between two farming families in the 1939 Mississippi Delta. Taking audiences from the brutal battlefields of World War II to the mud-sucking fields of a community on the brink of eruption, co-writer/director Dee Ree’s explosive drama earned plenty of praise from critics as well as four Oscar nominations. Among these accolades were Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige, who was also nominated for Best Original Song, “Mighty River.” Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, and Garrett Hedlund were also a part of an ensemble, heralded for their powerful performances. — K.P.
How to watch: Mudbound(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
4. Bad Genius
In high school, challenges like envy and SAT exams can feel like life-or-death drama. Director Nattawut Poonpiriya pays tribute to that intensity with an unusual — and uniquely thrilling — crime narrative. Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying stars as a brilliant but broke student, who uses her smarts not only to get good grades but also to create a cheating scheme to help out her classmates, who are rich in cash but poor in brains. A crackerjack ensemble cast brings plenty of verve to a familiar premise, which is punctuated with suspenseful scenes of narrows escapes and clever cons. Yet amid the thrall of it all, Poonpiriya offers a thought-provoking theme about the class conflict and how being a genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. — K.P.
How to watch: Bad Genius(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
5. The Woman King
Inspired by the Agojie of West Africa, The Woman King explores the passions, problems, and camaraderie of this all-female band of warriors. While Viola Davis dazzles at its center, co-stars Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim, and Lashana Lynch shine alongside her. Each brings powerful charisma to a full-throated performance that keeps audiences equally riveted through scenes of battle or blossoming romance, gut-punching grief, or pugnacious celebration. As she did with The Old Guard, Gina Prince-Bythewood marries action with emotion, creating sequences that make our pulses race and our hearts shudder.* — K.P.
How to watch: The Woman King is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
6. Marriage Story
Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver cherish a rare happy moment in “Marriage Story”
Credit: Wilson Webb / Netflix
Breaking up is hard to do. Knowing that all too well, writer/director Noah Baumbach tapped into his own experience with divorce in creating Marriage Story. This critically acclaimed 2019 drama thoughtfully splits its focus between a director and actress suffocating in a dying marriage. Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson deliver performances so raw with ache and rage that the film’s hardest-hitting scenes feel intensely voyeuristic. Both leads earned Oscar nominations for laying themselves bare here. However, it was a scene-stealing Laura Dern, in a supporting turn as a fabulous and ferocious divorce attorney, who won the film’s only Oscar. Honestly, fair. Heads up: this one is ill-suited for Netflix and Chill viewing! — K.P.
How to watch: Marriage Story(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
7. Leave No Trace
Writer-director Debra Granik travels even further out to the fringes of society than she did in Winter’s Bone, this time focusing on a traumatized vet father and his teenage daughter, enjoying an idyllic, if unconventional, life out in the wild. But when society catches up to them and forces them to go back on the grid, they’re torn between her desire for a community and his inability to be part of one.
Leave No Trace isn’t the flashiest film; even the usually showy Ben Foster reins in his performance, to impressive effect. And where Winter’s Bone was brutal, this one is kind and compassionate. But it’s fierce and unflinching in its own way. The world has a way of intruding on families, no matter how tight or caring, and there are times, it turns out, when love isn’t enough.* — Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor
How to watch: Leave No Trace is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
8. In the Dark
Perry Mattfeld solves crimes as Murphy Mason in “In The Dark.”
Credit: Marni Grossman / The CW
Want a detective drama with some spice and snark? Then check out this CW series from Corinne Kingsbury, which centers on an amateur sleuth seeking justice for her murdered friend. Twentysomething Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld) is a lot like the glowering gumshoes of classic film noir. She’s got a world-weary attitude, a sharp mind, a sarcastic wit, and an insatiable thirst for hard liquor. To her mom and friends, she’s a self-sabotaging screwup. So, when Murphy claims she’s found a local teen dead in a back alley, few believe her. It doesn’t help her cause that she’s blind and the corpse vanishes before the cops turn up. Thus, it’s up to Murphy to clean up and crack the case, no matter what dark paths she must traverse with her seeing-eye dog, Pretzel. Warning: Between Mattfield’s chaotic charisma and the show’s nonstop twists, this series is downright addictive. — K.P.
How to watch: In the Dark (Opens in a new tab)Seasons 1-4(Opens in a new tab) are now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
9. The Harder They Fall
Directed by Jeymes Samuel, The Harder They Fall not only boasts an incredible cast — Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, and Delroy Lindo — but defiantly reclaims the Western, even before the opening credits roll. A tale of heroes and villains, the film follows Nat Love (Majors), on a quest for revenge against the formidable Rufus Buck (Elba). But he’ll have to make his gunslinging way through “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Stanfield).
As Mashable’s Kristy Puchko writes in her review, “Bursting with dazzling Black stars, the Netflix-made Western introduces some of the fascinating Black cowpokes who made their mark on the Wild West. Co-writer/director Jeymes Samuel resurrects their legends with style, attitude, and an opening title card that teases, ‘While the events of this story are fictional…These. People. Existed.'”* — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: The Harder They Fall is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
10. I Lost My Body
A dismembered hand searches for home in “I Lost My Body.”
Animated films often fall into the categories of kid-friendly comedies, chipper musicals, or rollicking adventures. This extraordinary French film not only breaks from expectation by being a tender drama, but also offers something scintillatingly strange by making its protagonist a dismembered hand in search of his missing body. Adapted from the Guillaume Laurant novel, this Jérémy Clapin-directed cartoon delivers a raucous journey through the suburbs of Paris, from cozy apartments and dangerous subways to glittering rooftops and a jolting realization.
With a sophisticated aesthetic and complex emotional narrative, I Lost My Body won praise on the film festival circuit and a slew of critics’ guilds, as well as the César for Best Animated Feature. If you’re not much for subtitles, worry not! Netflix also offers a meticulous English over-dub. — K.P.
How to watch: I Lost My Body(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
11. My Girl
For a generation who grew up on Home Alone, My Girl was the first movie to break our hearts into a million glittering pieces, like a pair of smashed eyeglasses. (Too soon?) This 1991 coming-of-age drama starred Anna Chlumsky and Macaulay Culkin as 11-year-old best friends, enjoying a 1972 summer of fun, first kisses, and hard life lessons. Director Howard Zieff paints a sunny picture of youth that’s reckless, fragile, and charmingly nostalgic. The adult supporting cast of Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Griffin Dunne brought a welcoming warmth to more mature moments. But make no mistake, Chlumsky — in her first lead role — is far and away this film’s dazzler, delivering a performance that is playful and poignant. Have your tissues ready, and revisit a summer of love and heartbreak. — K.P.
How to watch: My Girl(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
12. Alias Grace
Sarah Gadon sits in stir in “Alias Grace.”
Credit: Sabrina Lantos / Netflix
If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, then you’ll relish Alias Grace. Also adapted from a Margaret Atwood novel, this mini series delves into historical fiction, exploring the motives of 19th-century murderess Grace Marks. Sarah Gadon stars as the notorious killer, who journeyed from Ireland to Canada and made a humble life for herself as maid to the farmer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross). So why did she kill him?
Sarah Polley’s sensational script unfolds the lyricism of Atwood’s words with an agile ear for dialogue, while director Mary Harron plumbs the depths of the human soul to craft a tale of murder that’s more melancholic than merciless. The result is a mini-series that is restrained yet absolutely riveting. Anna Paquin, David Cronenberg, and Zachary Levi(Opens in a new tab) co-star. — K.P.
How to watch: Alias Grace(Opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
13. Molly’s Game
History says Jessica Chastain won an Oscar for the titular role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, but we say she won it — at least in part — due to this slick 2017 drama from Aaron Sorkin. Chastain plays Molly Bloom, whose shattered Olympic dreams lead her on an unlikely path to hosting underground celebrity poker games. Bloom ends up at the top of an empire, feared, respected, and revered by A-listers from Hollywood and more. In Chastain’s hands, she’s smooth as heck, a keen observer, and as calculated in her business as the best poker players. Though not a thriller in the conventional sense, Molly’s Game keeps you hooked with sharp dialogue, pacing, and editing, and that sustained tingly sensation you get when you know you’re doing something wrong.* — Proma Khosla, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Molly’s Game is streaming on Netflix.(Opens in a new tab)
14. Forrest Gump
If you still haven’t seen Forrest Gump, what rock are you living under? The legendary film is a guaranteed staple on every film class syllabus and for good reason. Forrest Gump kicks off with our protagonist (played by Tom Hanks) sitting on a bus stop bench and recounting his entire life to a stranger. We see Forrest grow up as a kid in Alabama, his young adult years serving in Vietnam, and his serendipitous success with a familiar shrimp company you might have heard of. As Forrest meanders through the world, pursuing his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright), we’re left with a profound portrait of where life can take us if we’re all just a little bit kinder to each other and hell-bent on doing the right thing.* — Yasmeen Hamadeh, Entertainment Intern
How to watch: Forrest Gump is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
The man, the myth, the legend. If you haven’t seen Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) do his thing yet, you’re missing out on a world of cinema. The first installment of the iconic franchise gave us one of the most memorable training montages ever, a soundtrack that’s lasted decades, and a finale no one will ever forget. If the first Rocky isn’t enough to get you hooked, Netflix has all of the franchise’s films for a great binge-watch and lit movie night that just might have you reaching out for your own boxing gloves.* — Y.H.
How to watch: Rocky is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
16. Call Me by Your Name
Twenty-two-year-olds don’t get nominated for Best Actor every day. Indeed, only two actors in the 95-year history of the Academy Awards were younger than Timothée Chalamet was in 2017 when he waltzed into the Dolby Theater in his white tuxedo after having given irrepressible life to the bookish teenager Elio Perlman in Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 romantic masterpiece Call Me by Your Name. And I’d have given him the statue, too.
SEE ALSO: ‘Call Me by Your Name’ is the rare case where you should watch the movie before reading the book
Dropping amid dark Trumpian days here in the U.S., this too-brief Italian summer, flush with color and fluids, saw Elio feeling out those first deepest intimacies with his father’s summertime professorial assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer)…and also, somewhat memorably, a peach. And it felt like the coming-of-age movie so many of us had been waiting our entire lives to see.* — J.A.
How to watch: Call Me By Your Name is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
17. Reservoir Dogs
Orange, brown, blonde, and that indelible, edible pink – Quentin Tarantino delivered an entire rainbow of flavor with his 1992 feature debut, giving his eight gangsters (Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, and Tarantino himself) all nicknames of the pigment kind. All the better to keep themselves anonymous as they commit their dirty, diamond-thieving deeds.
But the three colors you might think of most of when you think of this movie are probably black, white, and red — black and white for those iconic matching suits the very bad dudes all sport, and red for the fountains of blood that end up getting splashed and sprayed all across them before this madcap, rat-a-tat, heist-gone-seriously-wrong flick is through. Listening to all this snappy dialogue and watching where Madsen’s knife slices — you’ll never take your ears for granted again! * — J.A.
How to watch: Reservoir Dogs is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
18. Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell star in a modern adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel.
Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh / Netflix
This modern adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s scandalous 1928 novel will leave you absolutely swooning. Emma Corrin (The Crown) is spectacular as Connie Reid, the titular Lady Chatterley. Her marriage to Clifford Chatterley seemed like the perfect match before the war, but when he returns paralyzed, withdrawn, and uninterested in her happiness, Connie feels utterly alone and isolated in their empty countryside manor. She finds a refuge for her oppressive loneliness in the estate’s gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell). Very quickly the two begin a torrid affair that is both passionate and tender, exuberant and profound — and a threat to both of their lifestyles.
Much like the source material, Lady Chatterley’s Lover puts sex on full display. The couple’s trysts are steamy and explicit, but thanks to the incredible vulnerability of Corrin and O’Connell, and the steady hand of director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, they never feel pornographic. The lovers’ stolen moments are deeply intimate and personal. Together, in the sumptuous woods of the Chatterley estate, they explore each other’s bodies and souls with unbridled joy. It’s an elegant and sensual adaptation that makes an age-old story feel like a breath of fresh air.* — Kristina Grosspietsch, Freelance Contributor
How to Watch: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
19. Still Alice
Based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, Still Alice follows Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor at Columbia University who’s been diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s. The film is a stunning, emotionally-loaded portrait of Alzheimer’s and Alice’s grappling with her diagnosis as she leans on her family. It’s a tear-jerking drama that gently reminds us that even when it feels like all things are lost, the love we share with one another is something we’ll never forget. Moore’s performance is incredible, and one watch will testify to her Academy win. The film also stars Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish. — Y.H.
How to watch: Still Alice is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
20. A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls is a modern fable about loss, suffering, and childhood. In it, a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) copes with the prospect of losing his mother by befriending a tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) that tells him three illuminating stories in exchange for one story from the boy. The movie is based on the fantasy novel by Patrick Ness, who wrote the story based on an idea from Siobhan Dowd(Opens in a new tab), a writer who died of cancer before writing the book herself.* — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: A Monster Calls(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
*Asterisks signify a blurb has appeared in a previous Mashable list.
UPDATE: Mar. 24, 2023, 1:30 p.m. EDT This story was originally published in Jan. 2021 and was updated in March 2023.