10 best dramas on Netflix for when you want to feel something

Drama can hit hard and hurt so good.

That gut-punch of tragedy backed by a swelling orchestral score can be a ruthless rush. Sometimes a tearjerker — that’ll let us cry it out along with the characters — feels better than therapy. Other times, watching a protagonist persevere through hellish hardship can give us the hope that we need to carry on. Whatever kind of drama you’re craving, Netflix’s rich library of film and TV awaits you. Whether you want poignant period pieces, bombastic 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. Mudbound

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.

How to watch: Mudbound is now streaming on Netflix.

2. The Piano

Acclaimed Kiwi writer/director Jane Campion won her first Academy Award for this stirring and steamy drama, which centers on a turbulent love triangle. Holly Hunter stars as a mid-19th century single mother, who’s shipped from her native Scotland to the shores of New Zealand to wed a rich gentleman (Sam Neill) with a cruel streak. She takes comfort in her young daughter (a 10-year-old Anna Paquin), her beloved piano, and in the arms of a burly but sensitive sailor (Harvey Keitel). Bold colors, shocking turns, and passionate performances had critics and the Academy cheering Campion’s unique vision of romance. In 1994, The Piano was nominated for 8 Oscars, and won three: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Despite its prestige and period setting, time hasn’t made the heat of The Piano fade one bit. So, this one may be a great pick for a Netflix and Chill night.

How to watch: The Piano is now streaming on Netflix.

3. 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!

How to watch: Marriage Story is now streaming on Netflix.

4. In The Dark

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. 20-something 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 screw-up. 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-ey dog, Pretzel. Warning: Between Mattfield’s chaotic charisma and the shows’ non-stop twists, this series is downright addictive.

How to watch: In The Dark is now streaming on Netflix.

5. There Will Be Blood

Dillon Freasier and Daniel Day-Lewis  play son and father in “There Will Be Blood.”
Credit: Paramount/Vantage/Kobal/Shutterstock

Daniel Day-Lewis lays down an epic performance as a merciless prospector in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s scorching adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel, Oil! Set in the turn of the 19th century, There Will Be Blood follows Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) as he strives to make his fortune and a booming family business for his adored son. However, a vicious rivalry bubbles up crude and deadly when a smug preacher (Paul Dano) stands between Plainview and a sea of underground oil. This fable of greed sparks with violence, bravado, and a catchphrase about milkshakes that’s ridiculous out of context, but chilling in the film. Rich in style and sinister in substance, this drama scored eight Oscars nominations and won two in 2008. One was for Best Cinematography; the other marked Lewis’s second Best Actor victory, following 1989’s My Left Foot.

How to watch: There Will Be Blood is now streaming on Netflix.

6. Wadjda

Writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour made her narrative feature debut with this charming tale of a spunky 10-year-old Saudi girl, who dreams of a shiny green bicycle. Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants to race about like the boys of Riyadh, but this is considered unladylike in her conservative community. Undeterred, she sets out to win a Koran recitation competition, planning to use the cash prize to purchase a bike! While gently exploring themes of double standards, Al-Mansour keeps things light by focusing on the hopeful perspective of her indomitable heroine. This approach not only impressed critics worldwide but also scored Wadjda a BAFTA nomination for Best Film Not In The English Language. On top of that, this 2012 stunner made history as the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature-length film directed by a Saudi woman.

How to watch: Wadjda is now streaming on Netflix.

7. I Lost My Body

A dismembered hand searches for home in “I Lost My Body.”
Credit: netflix

Animated films often fall into 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.

How to watch: I Lost My Body is now streaming on Netflix.

8. 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, 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. And if you can’t get enough of Vada Sultenfuss growing up, check out this hit’s sequel, My Girl 2.

How to watch: My Girl is now streaming on Netflix.

9. 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 co-star.

How to watch: Alias Grace is now streaming on Netflix.

10. 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.

How to watch: Bad Genius is now streaming on Netflix.

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This story was originally published in Jan. 2021 and was updated in Oct. 2021.

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