21 Best Drama Movies on Netflix You Haven’t Yet Seen But Should

Drama is hard to define as a genre: a movie can be a drama and a comedy, a drama and a romance, a drama and an action flick, etc. What (good) drama movies have in common however is how centered around the humane they are. And that is what this list is about, the best drama films on Netflix with the best characters and character studies.

Our purpose at agoodmovietowatch is to reference good little-known films so that on one hand you never wonder what to watch, and on the other so that deserving movies that went unnoticed or which didn't get the exposure they deserve can be introduced to a large audience. You can find all our suggestions here, and only the ones available on Netflix here.

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Stars: Charlize Theron, Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire
Directed by: Lasse Hallström

The Cider House Rules is the 1999 adaptation of John Irving’s best-selling novel, about a young man named Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) who is raised in an orphanage in Maine during WWII. Trained from an early age in obstetrics (and abortions) by the kindly Dr. WIlbur Larch (Michael Caine), Wilbur yearns to explore the world and eventually embarks on a spirit quest that finds him working as a day laborer on an apple farm in rural Maine. The cast of characters that Wilbur encounters (utterly superb across the board) and the unexpected challenges that he faces throughout the film really imbue this tale of self-discovery with warmth and heart. It’s incredibly touching and borderline heartbreaking at times, yet never loses its air of utter compassion and humanity. A true must-see.

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Stars: Nick Stahl, Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Todd Field

Frank (Nick Stahl) is a young man involved in a relationship with an older, recently divorced mother-of-two Natalie (Marisa Tomei). Despite the reticence of his caring parents (Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek) and the ominous presence of Natalie’s ex-husband, Frank is drawn increasingly closer to Natalie and her sons. Tellingly, the title of the film is an allusion to the fact that two lobsters caught in a “bedroom” trap will inevitably turn upon one another in order to survive. Indeed the film explores increasingly dark territory as it plays out the drama of the story’s central love triangle and subsequent fallout. It’s highly affecting storytelling — the type of film that will stay with you long afterward, as you unwind all of the characters’ emotions, actions and their ramifications. Nominated to five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

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Stars: Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Yaron Zilberman

A late quartet is about a string quartet’s struggle to stay together, after illness, egos and infatuation get in the way. With powerful performances from Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Christopher Walken, this movie is very captivating and examines well the kind of dynamics that can take place in a group of people who have known each other for a lifetime.

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Stars: Edward Norton, Gretchen Mol, Matt Damon
Directed by: John Dahl

In Rounders, Matt Damon plays a law student and reformed poker player who is forced back into the game in order to help his newly-paroled best friend (Edward Norton) pay off overwhelming gambling debts. It’s an enjoyable insider’s look into the world of high stakes gambling and of Poker specifically, giving the viewer compelling insights into Poker in terms of strategy as well as human psychology. Damon and Norton are well-cast in their roles — Norton particularly great as the sleazy and manipulative “Worm”. Not-overly-surprising in its storytelling, yet highly enjoyable from beginning to end, this one will appeal to fans of gambling and sports films, as well as those who enjoy modern film noir and pseudo-noir films with a nice dramatic edge.

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Stars: Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Andrea Arnold

A sincere portrayal of the gritty British working class life through the coming-of-age story of a girl who loves rap music and dancing to it. It features a stunning and powerful performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis who had no acting experience whatsoever, and who was cast in the street after she was spotted fighting. She plays Mia, a 15 year old teenager whose world changes drastically when her mother’s new boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) turns his eyes to her. Don’t watch this movie if you are looking for a no-brainer, definitely do watch it if you are interested in films that realistically portray others’ lives and let you into them.

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Stars: Jamie Bell, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

A sleek revision of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre features Mia Wasikowska as the titular governess and Michael Fassbender as her employer-and-lover-with-a-secret, Rochester — both lending stunningly aggrieved performances to the tale of their burgeoning love affair. The film is somber yet wonderfully polished as it plays out their individual complexities and growing passions. This film is also notable as the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Fukunaga, who would go on to great acclaim for his work on the first season of True Detective as well as Beasts of No Nation. Fans of Fukunaga’s work are just a likely to enjoy this one as are devotees of well-crated adaptations of classic literature.

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Stars: Deborah Kara Unger, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen
Directed by: Emilio Estevez

In “The Way”, an American doctor, Tom (Martin Sheen), travels to Spain to identify the remains of his deceased son (Emilio Estevez, also writer/director) who has died while traveling “El Camino de Santiago”, the famous pilgrimage across Northern Spain. Once there, Tom unexpectedly finds himself inspired to continue his son’s journey, sprinkling his ashes along the lengthy expedition to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, home to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great. Along the way Tom gains several unlikely traveling companions: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irishman (James Nesbitt), each of whom has his/her own personal reasons for making the pilgrimage, with each adding various degrees of of drama and humor to the proceedings as well. A touching and inspiring film marred a bit by some unnecessarily roughly-hewn characterizations, but overall a pleasant experience with a warm feeling of adventure and camaraderie throughout.

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Stars: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz
Directed by: Jacob Aaron Estes

A bully (Josh Peck) is lured into a plot of revenge. The bullied victim (Rory Culkin), his brother and their friends then see the bully’s human side, and learn that revenge often comes with a greater price than imagined. Talented teen actors give fantastic performances in this absorbing and impactful coming-of-age tale, with a real moral compass and ability to demonstrate multi-sided characters.

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Stars: Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Sarah Polley

Take this Waltz is a movie that wants you to have a problem with it. It’s about a woman (Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine) torn between her husband (played by Seth Rogan) and a new man who entered her life. It’s an emotional and honest account as well as a mature slice-of-life film that you will appreciate either if you are familiar with a similar situation in real life, or if you give the film a chance, which I recommend you do.

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Stars: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Lasse Hallström

“Moving” is definitely the best adjective to describe this movie, in which teenage Johnny Depp plays the part of Gilbert Grape, a young boy who feels stuck in a little town where nothing exciting ever happens. Gilbert has to carry the weight of his family, a morbidly obese mother and a mentally handicapped brother, both of who depend entirely on him and his two sisters. But one day a beautiful girl comes across his way, and shows him a whole new perspective in life. Anybody with a heart will appreciate this film’s effots to show the difficulties that some families with disabled members have to face. The biggest highlight of this movie is Leo DiCaprios’s performance of Arnie, an 18 year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He does it so brilliantly that he outshines Depp and Juliette Lewis, who are great too.

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Stars: Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf, Ronald Zehrfeld
Directed by: Christian Petzold

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

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Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Tom Ford

Shot as a single day, it tells the story of college professor George (Colin Firth) who, unable to cope with the death of his partner months prior, resolves to commit suicide. The movie is not all dark, however, there are moving, deeply human encounters as George moves through his last day. Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut and set in 1960s Los Angeles, it speaks powerfully of the colour-stripping effects of grief and loneliness. Fantastic performance also by Julianne Moore as Charley, an equally lonely and desperate character, but with a markedly different story. A Single Man is a gorgeous film in every sense of the word.

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Stars: Israel Makoe, Mothusi Magano, Presley Chweneyagae
Directed by: Gavin Hood

Tsotsi, a delinquent from Johannesburg, South Africa, realizes after shooting a woman and stealing her car, that her baby is on the back seat. A movie with very few words but which manages to be extremely touching. As you witness the transformation of Tsotsi, through his increasing affection for the baby, you will be astonished by the amazing actor, who manages to communicate so many feelings through his sight. This film won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Stars: Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo
Directed by: Stephen Frears

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a disgraced doctor-turned-immigrant cab driver who inadvertently stumbles upon London’s black market organ trade. Audrey Tatou and Sophie Okonedo also star as fellow “illegals” struggling to make ends meet in the shadows of England. This film is about illegal immigrants, it is told from their perspective, and because of that it becomes so humane that it indulges in social commentary. It’s a really interesting, sometimes thrilling, watch.

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Stars: Brenda Blethyn, James McAvoy, Keira Knightley
Directed by: Joe Wright

Atonement is a tribute to cinematography, an epic film that might just remind you why you fell in love with movies to begin with. A young girl and aspiring writer has a crush on the man her older sister loves, so the young sister indulges her imagination to accuse the man of a crime he didn’t commit. The two are separated and the latter is then sent away to prison and after joins the army.  As the young girl grows up and realizes the true consequences of her actions, what can she do, what can anyone do, to remedy such a wrong? Winner of two Golden Globes and nominated to 6 Academy Awards.

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Stars: Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Mathieu Amalric
Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-fillmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of French journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Almost completely paralyzed by what is termed “Locked-in Syndrome”, Bauby was left with only the operation of his left eye intact, leaving him forced to communicate via partner-assisted scanning (selection of each letter of the alphabet via blinking). Ultimately, Bauby employed this painstaking procedure to dictate his own memoir “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon”, which became a number one bestseller in Europe. The film alternates between Bauby’s interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including the dictation of his book) and his own dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. With the title, Bauby uses the diving bell to represent his self-perceived state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver encased in an oxygenated chamber, and the corresponding butterfly to represent the freedom he enjoys as he often journeys quite magically through his own mind’s eye. It’s a somber yet engaging film full of heart and vision, featuring wonderful performances by the entire cast across the board.

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Stars: Judi Dench, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan
Directed by: Stephen Frears

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

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Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell

This Oscar winner is an offbeat romantic comedy that still feels like a standard romantic comedy! It’s best that you go into it without many expectations, because many people enjoy it for different reasons and it’s best if you find your own. It’s also a movie that needs to be seen as a whole, despite having so many components to it. Fresh out of a mental institution, Pat (Bradely Cooper) moves with his parents and tries to get his ex-wife back. Hel he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a girl with complex problems of her own. Silver Linings Playbook is funny, so well-acted, and takes on interesting issues and perspectives.

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Stars: Demet Akbag, Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen
Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

An absolutely beautiful film about superficiality, arrogance, and heartbreak. It focuses on the life of Aydin, a retired actor who now lives very comfortably managing a small hotel and a number of other small properties. Throughout the film Aydin’s image shifts as he tackles the problems of his rather typical life. Having said this, there is nothing else typical about this film. It captures human relationships with an almost frightening precision. It almost feels as though you have an inside view into someone’s actual life as Aydin battles it out with his sister Necla and his young wife Nihal. To me this is easily one of the best dramas of the decade, and if you so much as like movies that focus on humans and their interactions, it will be that for you too.  Nuri Bilge Ceylan will make 3 hours pass more quickly than they ever have before.

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Stars: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Having only made its way to the U.S. 6 long years after its initial release, this is the long-awaited film from the Oscar-winning director of A Separation– and it is in every way extraordinary. It’s a movie stripped down of almost everything to keep only its humans in focus, it is honest and realistic beyond belief and quite simply a must-watch. A group of old friends and relatives reunite for vacation in northern Iran with one of them bringing a new person to the group, Elly, in hopes of her marrying one of the friends, Ahmad. When Elly vanishes without notice, the questions that follow expose the group to unexpected levels, and eventually pose subtle yet sincere questions about gender, politics, and the delicate balance modern-day Iranians live in.

Thanks to the perfect performances and the director’s unparalleled talent, About Elly will feel interesting at times, thrilling and devastating at others, but above all, and because of it being so… human, it will feel familiar to you no matter where you are from.

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Stars: Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Dinklage
Directed by: Tom McCarthy

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.