It’s better to watch a good drama than to live through one. While real-life drama is often uncomfortable, the best cinematic examples of the genre can evoke sharp emotions as well. That’s because it’s a lot easier to relate to a grounded family scene or a tense courtroom confrontation than an alien invasion. Dramas have a heightened way of reminding us what’s important in our lives and how easily it can be lost or wasted. The best dramas don’t always need action when words can carry the same impact. These are the flicks that stay with you long past their running time. That’s why we’re throwing the spotlight on these terrific dramas that you can stream on Hulu right now.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? We also have a guide highlighting the best dramas on Netflix.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Although James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk was released in 1974, the story feels all too timely in this 2018 cinematic adaptation. KiKi Layne and Stephan James play Clementine “Tish” Rivers and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, respectively. The two young lovers have known each other nearly their entire lives, and they plan to have a future together. Those plans are derailed when Fonny is accused of a rape he couldn’t possibly have committed. As Fonny faces a long sentence behind bars, Tish struggles to prove his innocence while navigating some family drama of her own. Love can prevail, but it’s not always justice.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco
Director: Barry Jenkins
Runtime: 117 minutes
The Virgin Suicides (2000)
Sofia Coppola wrote and directed The Virgin Suicides, a disturbing story that primarily takes place in the ’70s. The five Lisbon sisters are smothered by their strict and religious parents, Ronald Lisbon (James Woods) and Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner). When the youngest daughter, Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), attempts to take her own life, her parents clamp down on the daughters’ freedom and confine them to the house. Regardless, Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) defies her parents by starting a relationship with a local teen named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett). Trip and his friends are intrigued by the sisters and want to help them. Yet ultimately, no one can fully understand the Lisbon family, even in the face of tragedy.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Stars: James Woods, AJ Cook, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Scott Glenn
Director: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 97 minutes
The Social Network (2010)
In retrospect, Jesse Eisenberg really was the right choice to play Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. He seems far more human in the role than the real-life Zuckerberg does. This film is a dramatic retelling of Facebook’s early days, as Mark forms a partnership with his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), only to betray Eduardo at the exact moment that it suited him. You’ll notice that’s a pattern in this story, as Mark’s former partners, the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), angrily pursue Mark through legal actions. And as the movie’s tagline promises, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara
Director: David Fincher
Runtime: 120 minutes
Dances With Wolves (1990)
At the time of its release, Dances With Wolves was one of the rare movies that presented Native Americans in a positive light. Of course, it’s still a story about Kevin Costner’s Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War hero who is assigned to man Fort Sedgwick in a remote part of Kansas. John quickly runs afoul of the local Sioux tribe. But he also manages to earnestly win their friendship while courting Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell), a woman adopted by the tribe. The Sioux are also moved by John’s affinity with a local wolf, which is why they call him “Dances With Wolves.” Unfortunately, John’s old life comes calling just when he decides to leave it all behind.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Stars: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney Grant
Director: Kevin Costner
Runtime: 181 minutes
July 18, 1969: Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy drives his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, just next to Martha’s Vineyard. Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old campaign strategist for Kennedy dies in the accident while Kennedy escapes relatively unscathed. Once seen as a potential future president, the ongoing investigation into the mysterious and scandalous events derails Kennedy’s political future and changes the course of the American government.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Stars: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms
Director: John Curran
Runtime: 101 minutes
Garden State (2004)
For many people born in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Garden State was a seminal film. Zach Braff’s melancholy, loosely autobiographical film about an emotionally stunted actor named Andrew (Braff) who returns to his New Jersey hometown to attend his mother’s funeral hit a lot of notes with the first internet generation. A film about the inability to find human connection ironically unfolds with Andrew striking an immediate connection with a compulsive liar called Sam (Natalie Portman). With Sam and several other figures from his past, Andrew heals old wounds, forges new friendships, and begins a new, more hopeful journey. Come for the saccharine introspection, stay for the outstanding indie soundtrack.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Natalie Portman
Director: Zach Braff
Runtime: 109 minutes
In director Chloé Zhao’s Golden Globe-winning Nomadland, Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a displaced U.S. Gypsum worker who sells off most of her possessions and property when the company’s Nevada plant closes. Taking to the road, Fern joins ranks with a good friend, Linda (Linda May), and a band of other nomadic wanderers in the deserts of Arizona. Under the tutelage of Bob Wells (as himself), Fern learns a series of imperative skills for surviving on your own in the American West. Adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, McDormand delivers a stalwart performance as the downtrodden Fern. She truly carries the film — it’s through her eyes that we learn of a world that America has attempted to leave behind and the fighting spirits that refuse to be forgotten.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Bob Wells
Director: Chloé Zhao
Runtime: 108 minutes
In this brazen biopic, Renée Zellweger stars as the titular Judy Garland. It’s been almost 30 years since the star dazzled audiences as the lovely Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Now a nightclub singer in London at the Talk of the Town, Judy suffers from substance abuse as she does her best to press on as a much-lauded icon of cinema and the stage. Zellweger’s performance is emotionally raw and authentic beyond belief. Capturing every facet of the late star’s peacock personality, Judy is a loving ode to the adored actress and her greatest memories.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Director: Rupert Goold
Runtime: 118 minutes
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
In the 18th century, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a skilled painter, is commissioned to paint a portrait of a young aristocratic woman named Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). As the two get to know each other, romance blossoms between the artist and lady of royalty. But their unbridled affair can only last so long, as Héloïse is set to be wed to a Milanese nobleman. Winning an award for Best Screenplay at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and earning several nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and Golden Globes, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a heartfelt romance picture with exquisite cinematography and two subtle but stirring lead performances.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Director: Céline Sciamma
Runtime: 121 minutes
I, Tonya (2017)
Who can forget the 1994 attack by figure skater Tonya Harding on her rival Nancy Kerrigan? This biographical film pulls back the curtain to look behind the scenes at Harding’s home life, including her fractured relationship with her mother, the pressure she felt to succeed, and her financial and romantic struggles. Presented as a dark comedy as well as a drama, this retelling is part truth, part fiction, but based on actual events. Filmed in mockumentary style, it’s presented with fictional present-day interviews that paint both Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) as unreliable storytellers. While Margot Robbie was nominated for a best actress Oscar for her fabulous portrayal of Harding, it was Allison Janney who took home the hardware as Tonya’s mother, earning her the best supporting actress statuette at that year’s awards.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Stars: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney
Director: Craig Gillespie
Runtime: 119 minutes
Sweeping the 92nd Academy Awards, Bong Joon-ho’s black comedy thriller managed to entertain and impress critics and audiences, alike. Delivered in Korean with subtitles, the movie, which is the first non-English language movie and the first South Korean film to win an Academy Award, tells the story of an average, low-income family who finds a clever way to dig themselves out of their financial hole. One by one, they get hired to work for the wealthy Park family, even though none is qualified to take on the job they pretend to know how to do. It begins when the son Ki-woo pretends to be a university student to tutor the Park’s daughter. Ki-woo’s sister, Ki-jung, using her brother’s recommendation, gets hired as an art therapist for the Park’s son. Through continued manipulations and blackmail, each member of the family slowly works their way into the Park family’s staff, with hilarious and dramatic consequences.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Jang Hye-jin
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Runtime: 132 minutes
12 Years a Slave (2013)
An adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave is based on Northup’s first-hand account of how he, a free Black man born in New York, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Widely considered to be the best film of 2013, it begins with Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) joining two white men on a trip to Washington where he is told he can work with them as a traveling musician. But when he arrives, he is drugged and beaten, then sent off to New Orleans with other captives where he is sold for slave labor. The film follows Northup as he is passed from plantation owner to plantation owner as he fights for his freedom, and is underscored with brilliant performances from Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender, to name a few. Along with being a box office success, the movie received nine Academy Award nominations and won three, making British director Steve McQueen the first Black filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard
Director: Steve McQueen
Runtime: 134 minutes
It was a tall order to sum up the unique, successful, and storied life of famous British musician and icon Elton John. But this biographical musical managed to do just that, thanks to a wonderful performance by Taron Egerton. A captivating story that begins with John’s early days as a musical prodigy, Rocketman is an insightful look at his long-time relationship with musical partner Bernie Taupin, and, of course, the music. It’s easily one of the best movies ever made about music; not only does it have the prestige of receiving an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but it is also groundbreaking in that it’s the first movie by a major studio to feature a gay male sex scene.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Runtime: 121 minutes
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