The 15 best drama movies on Netflix (October 2021)

Mystic River and Do the Right Thing are dramas on Netflix. Pic credit: Warner Bros/Universal

Netflix is home to some of the best drama movies for anyone looking for some thought-provoking cinema.

With its own original films and movies that it has licensed over the years, there is something here for everyone.

While browsing the movies available, there are hit dramas from names like David Fincher, Ron Howard, P.T. Anderson, and many more, with several award-winning films to choose from.

There are war dramas, political dramas, romantic dramas, and crime dramas, so no matter what you are looking for, it is almost assured that Netflix has what you want.

Updated in October 2021: Every month, Netflix deletes movies from its streaming service when contracts expire.

The good news is that Netflix also had plenty of great drama movies to replace them. Here is our updated list of the best drama movies available on Netflix.

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X
Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

In 1992, Spike Lee brought the world a movie telling the story of the rise and fall of Malcolm X.

Denzel Washington starred as Malcolm X, from his days raised in a poor Michigan household to his rise to becoming one of the most important figures concerning equal rights in the 1960s.

The movie only picked up two Oscar nominations, one for Washington, but didn’t win one. However, it outlived those Oscar snubs as it was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2010.

Titanic (1997)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. Pic credit: Paramount Pictures

For many years, the most successful movie in history was Titanic.

James Cameron directed the movie about the sinking of the Titanic and shattered box office records. With Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the lead roles, the movie went on to make $1.84 billion – the first movie to ever surpass a billion dollars.

When Avatar broke those records, Paramount re-released the movie and pushed it to over $2.195 billion.

It also picked up 14 Oscar nominations, at the time a tie for the most ever, and won 11 of them, also a tie for the most ever.

Zodiac (2007)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac. Pic credit: Paramount

David Fincher directed the movie Zodiac in 2007. The movie followed the case of the Zodiac Killer, which never provided a killer convicted for the cold case murders.

In his movie, Fincher suggested who the killer might have been, but the movie is best known for its incredible cast, including Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal as the journalists covering the case and Mark Ruffalo as the detective on the case.

The movie was a minor success but remains one of Fincher’s masterpieces.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing. Pic credit: Universal

In 1989, Spike Lee created his masterpiece in Do the Right Thing.

The movie had a day in the life of a Bed Stuy neighborhood when the intense heat and racial tensions reached a peak. It resulted in a huge riot in the streets that concluded with the police showed up and choked one black man to death.

The movie picked up Oscar nominations was added to the Library of Congress in its first year of eligibility, and picked up a pristine Criterion release.

It hit Netflix in September 2021, allowing people to rediscover this masterwork.

Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia by PT Anderson
Magnolia by PT Anderson. Pic credit: New Line Cinema

In 1999, film auteur P.T. Anderson created his masterpiece. The movie is Magnolia and it tells the interconnected stories of several people living in San Francisco.

The cast was phenomenal, with Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, and the final movie performance of the late Jason Robards.

Each of the characters had their own story, but all the character’s lives were intertwined with each other, proving that even the slightest moment could change everyone’s lives forever.

Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The Lincoln Lawyer
Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer. Pic credit: Lionsgate

Matthew McConaughey stars as defense attorney Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer.

The movie is based on the series of books by mystery writer Michael Connelly, the series a spinoff of Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels.

In this movie, a wealthy family hires Mickey to represent their son (Ryan Phillipe), who was accused of murdering a young girl.

However, when Mickey realizes the truth, his life is put in danger and he has to figure out how to do the right thing without betraying his oath as an attorney.

Lady Bird (2017)

The best sad movies on Netflix (June 2020)
Saoirse Ronan and Tracy Letts in Lady Bird. Pic credit: A24

In much the same way that director Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) mastered realistic dialogue and making everyday situations seem extraordinary, Greta Gerwig has done the same for female-centric movies.

In Lady Bird, Gerwig found two great actresses to tell the story of a mother and daughter who just can’t seem to connect. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both picked up Oscar nominations for their roles.

This sad movie, currently available to stream on Netflix, also picked up nominations for Best Picture, and Gerwig became only the fifth female film director in history to pick up a Best Director nomination.

Mystic River (2003)

Mystic River
Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon in Mystic River. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon star as Jimmy and Sean, childhood friends who grew up to become an ex-convict and a police detective, respectively.

A third childhood friend, Dave, was kidnapped and sexually abused for days as a child and grew up with some serious problems as a result.

When Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, he believes Dave is guilty and sets out for vengeance while Sean is investigating the case, believing that Dave might not be guilty after all.

The Lovely Bones (2009)

The Lovely Bones
Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones. Pic credit: Paramount

After making three of the biggest movies in the world with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson directed one of the most depressing movies of the decade.

Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones focuses on a young teenage girl who is raped and murdered by a local man in the town.

When the police are unable to discover what happened to her, the girl (Saoirse Ronan) returns as a ghost and tries to find a way to get through to her father (Mark Wahlberg), who has lost himself in depression and obsession in learning what happened to his daughter.

She also tries to find a way to help anyone find her body and the murderer (Stanley Tucci) so she can pass on to the other side.

A Monster Calls (2016)

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls. Pic credit: Lionsgate

A Monster Calls is a drama movie that tugs the heart as it focuses on a young boy whose mother is terminally ill.

He is only 13 and doesn’t know how to deal with this, but he takes care of his mother every day. However, when he is sent to live with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and is no longer able to care for her, he starts to see a monster coming to visit.

This monster, voiced by Lian Neesom, tells the boy three stories and then asks that he tell him one as well. Through it all, the boy is drowning in terror and has no idea how to make it through without his mom.

Mank (2020)

Gary Oldman in Mank. Pic credit: Netflix

David Fincher is back with his new movie, and it is a Netflix original.

In Mank, Fincher creates a black and white movie that tells the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his life as he works on the script for Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane.

Since Citizen Kane was an unflattering look at real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst, this was a job that almost ruined Mank’s life.

In December on Netflix, the movie premiered and was one of the top new releases of the month for the streaming giant.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler
Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Pic credit: The Weinstein Company

After his breakout hit Precious, Lee Daniels created a sprawling epic drama called The Butler.

In this movie, Forest Whitaker starred as Cecil Gaines, an African American man who worked as a butler in the White House for 34 years. This movie shows his life there.

This means that several different presidential terms played out in the movie, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and finishing up with Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman).

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station
Michael B. Jordan and Kevin Durand in Fruitvale Station. Pic credit: The Weinstein Company

On November 12, the movie Fruitvale Station will hit Netflix.

Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) stars in the movie as Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by BART police officers in 2009.

Ryan Coogler, who also directed Black Panther, helmed the movie, which was his directorial debut. He won the Grandy Jury Prize at Sundance and won the Best First Film award at Cannes.

Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray portrayed the BART cops who were involved in the incident. The movie takes place over one day, the last of Oscar’s life.

The Irishman (2019)

A shot from The Irishman
Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were just two of many big names to star in The Irishman. Pic credit: Netflix

Martin Scorsese found it hard to get his latest mafia movie made, so he turned to Netflix. The streaming giant gave him the chance to make his movie and what resulted was The Irishman.

The very long drama movie (over three hours) starred many Scorsese favorites, including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, and Harvey Keitel.

The film is a loose retelling of the story of a truck driver-turned-hitman named Frank Sheeran (De Niro) who worked for a crime family and Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The Netflix original movie picked up 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Director.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. Pic credit: Miramax

Paul Thomas Anderson has created some of the most breathtaking indie-style films of the last three decades, and There Will Be Blood might be his best.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Daniel Plainview, an oilman in this loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! Plainview is striking oil at the expense of towns that he leaves dead in his wake in the film.

He meets a young evangelist named Eli (Paul Dano), who tries to stand in his way. What results is a battle of wills where one man must fall.

The film, which can be compared to classic horror movies like Dracula, picked up eight Oscar nominations with Day-Lewis winning Best Actor.


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