When Netflix launched their streaming service website back in 1998, their primary focus was taking on the video rental market dominated by Blockbuster.
Their strategy wagered that people would prefer the convenience of watching movies from home, rather than the constant renting and returning tapes and DVDs business model of Blockbuster. As home internet speeds increased, Netflix won the battle, but in order to grow as a business, new and original content was needed.
Netflix’s first foray into original programming was the American adaptation of House of Cards, which proved to be a huge hit. They also became an outlet to rescue canceled– but still popular– network shows.
In 2015, Netflix began the daunting prospect of producing original films, which was much riskier financially. Dramas are notoriously harder to sell to viewers than comedies or children’s films.
To that end, here’s a helpful guide to 15 Netflix Original Drama Movies, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. SAND CASTLE
War movies are a staple of Hollywood, and if done well, they can be riveting and exhilarating. Enough time has passed since the Iraq war that filmmakers are now examining the people and stories from that conflict in depth. Many of the horrors of war are universal, but viewing them through the prism of today’s modern warfare can be illuminating.
Sand Castle is interesting due to the fact that the screenplay was written by an actual Iraq War veteran, based on his experiences. It concerns a young Marine and his mates dispatched to an Iraqi town to fix a water pump damaged by U.S. bombing.
If the pump isn’t repaired, the entire town will die of thirst, which is a basically a metaphor for the U.S. “cleaning up the mess” they made by going to war in the first place. The film is neither anti nor pro-war, but examines the human factor of war to good effect.
14. SMALL CRIMES
Part crime drama, part dark comedy, Small Crimes tells the story of Joe Denton, a dirty and disgraced ex-cop who just got out of prison for the attempted murder of a District Attorney. He was on the mob’s payroll when he did the deed, so the odds of Joe ever getting his old life back are slim to none.
His wife left him with their two daughters and threatens legal action if he tries to contact them. Just when Joe thinks things can’t get worse, his old police captain, who is also corrupt, demands that he kill a mafia boss who is on his death bed, threatening to sing like a little birdie and implicate them both in even more crimes.
Robbie Amell, who you may remember as Ronnie Raymond from The Flash, stars in this mind bending sci-fi thriller. Robbie plays Renton, a scientist who is protecting an important new energy source, along with his lover Hannah.
During a violent home invasion, something very strange happens, and they are caught in a time-loop, where they must piece together clues to find a way to get out of the loop and protect the new technology.
The film explores many of the same time-loop tropes from other movies like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow, and Primer, with expected results. Robbie is the main draw, and he does a pretty decent job considering the derivative material he’s given.
12. THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE
As another war film, Siege is based on the gripping true story of the 1961 siege of a battalion of 150 Irish U.N. peacekeepers by 3,000 Congolese troops, led by French and Belgian mercenaries in the Congo.
The Civil war in the Congo threatens to erupt after the assassination of the Prime Minister, and the U.N. sends in a tiny group of inexperienced Irish soldiers, led by a hard edged commandant, as a peacekeeping force.
Hopelessly outmanned and outgunned, the Irish soldiers fight valiantly to defend the patch of ground that they are charged with protecting. It’s not a groundbreaking film by any means, but the telling of the small, long forgotten story of heroism and courage is a powerful look into the politics and humanity of armed conflict.
IBoy is another sci-fi flick, but this one boasts the talents of Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams as Lucy, the high school crush of our hero Tom, an average London teen.
Lucy is assaulted by a group of local thugs, and when Tom tries to stop them, he is shot in the head and ends up in the hospital in a coma. The hook comes when it is discovered that fragments of Tom’s smartphone are embedded in his brain, giving him superpowers. He has the ability to look up and learn how to do just about anything in an instant.
He uses his newly found powers to exact revenge on Lucy’s attackers, as well as anyone else he deems to be bad. We’ve seen this setup before, so the story lies in how he handles his “upgrade” without becoming one of the bad guys he so hates.
10. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
If you like ghost stories thick with atmospheric and creepy cinematography, then this is the movie for you.
Starring Ruth Wilson, from the Showtime series The Affair, it tells the tale of Lily, a young nurse hired to care for Iris Bloom– the best selling author of ghost stories– who has chosen to live out her last days in her quaint Massachusetts home. The house has a terrible secret, and as Lily learns more and more about the secret, her very life hangs in the balance.
There are the standard haunted house clichés in effect here: jump scares, strange noises, and Lily reading a book which bears a striking resemblance to her life. The atmosphere, lighting, and performances tend to make up for it, however. All in all, it’s a pretty good representation of the genre.
9. THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING
Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, The Fundamentals Of Caring boasts lots of star power, with the likes of Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Selena Gomez, and Bobby Cannavale gracing the cast.
The tale of an 18-year-old victim of muscular dystrophy going on a road trip with his caregiver (Rudd) hits all the right notes, and Rudd gives his usual strong performance.
Rudd’s character is in search of healing and redemption himself: a failed novelist, he’s down and out, refusing to sign the divorce papers his soon to be ex-wife keeps begging him to sign. He decides to start a new career as a caregiver, and his first client is the MD stricken smarty-pants, Trevor.
What follows is a standard mismatched buddy road movie, but what makes this a little different is the amount of heart and humor on display. Rudd really brings it in his performance and doesn’t disappoint.
A mashup of military movies and ghosts might sound like a stretch, but in the right hands it turns out to be a rather serviceable action/horror hybrid effort.
The setup for Spectral is actually pretty clever: a European soldier comes upon a creepy house and decides to lay low since he’s been cut off from his mates. Through some high tech goggles, he sees a ghost-like specter, who, of course, kills him on the spot.
What follows brings to mind the Alien franchise, except the enemies, are ghosts instead of monsters from space.
James Badge Dale is the scientist who invented the goggles, so he must surely know a thing or two about what these things are, right?
The Barry in this film is short for Barack, as in, you guessed it, Barack Obama, the future leader of the free world. It is a biopic in the purest sense, taking a snapshot of the future President as a transfer student at Columbia University in New York City circa 1981.
The story takes place eight years before he meets future wife Michelle, which was chronicled in Southside With You, a movie released a few months before Barry. Just like any other college student, Barry is learning about his place in the world, so it’s also a coming of age tale.
He has a rather serious relationship with a white girl, and moves back and forth between different social and societal groups, learning about who he is and what path he wants to pursue.
How can you go wrong when you reunite the stars of the indie epic Juno, Ellen Page and Alison Janney? The short answer is “you can’t.”
Juno and Tallulah are both about accidental motherhood, although from very different circumstances. Page portrays the title character, a slacker who makes money on the side by babysitting. When she sees how bad the rich, entitled mother of her current charge is, she impulsively runs away with the child.
Since she didn’t think this through very well, the only course of action in her mind is to show up at the home of her ex-boyfriend, telling his mother (Janney) that the child is theirs.
5. BURNING SANDS
Many people’s first cinematic experience with the act of college hazing probably came in the classic comedy Animal House, but the real story of hazing is far more sinister.
The twist in Burning Sands is where the hazing takes place: a fictional, historically black university. Hazing has been explored before by the likes of Spike Lee, played mainly for laughs.
Here, however, Hell Week is just that: hellish. Hazing has been banned in most universities, so the practice has gone underground, with more dangerous results. Many of the things the pledges are exposed to are right out of the Gitmo playbook, and are not for the faint of heart.
The actors do a good job with the very serious content, which makes it more than just torture porn lite. It’s a serious topic presented in a powerful way, but the subject matter may not be for everyone.
As the darling at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Okja has landed on most critic’s list as one of the best movies of the year, and the praise is well deserved.
Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has crafted a marvelously beautiful fable about a “super-pig,” and the young Korean girl who moves heaven and Earth to protect her friend.
Mija, young the girl, develops a genuine love for the giant, genetically designed pig, during its time in Korea, before it is taken away for use as the new, hot food product by an evil corporation.
3. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE
We all have bad days, that’s part of life. However, what if practically every day was bad? What would you do? This is the premise of I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, which takes one poor woman’s reaction to her sad life to ridiculous extremes.
Ruth is a clinically depressed nursing assistant, whose life falls apart when her home is burglarized. When the police don’t investigate to her satisfaction, she decides to take the bull by the horns, joining forces with her oddball neighbor, played by Elijah Wood.
2. IMPERIAL DREAMS
John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stars in this sobering look at an ex-con who just wants to have a productive new life after a prison stint.
Boyega portrays Bambi, a man who returns to his old Watts stomping grounds after serving over two years in prison on an assault charge. Eager to reconnect with his 4-year-old son Day, Bambi discovers that his son is now being raised by his criminal uncle and drug addicted mother.
Bambi is an aspiring writer, but his quest for a better life for himself and his son is fraught with almost insurmountable obstacles. Poverty, crime, and systematic racism are major players in the story, but Bambi’s sheer will to overcome them is formidable. Bambi’s attempt at breaking the cycle of violence for Day is one of the film’s most powerful messages.
1. BEASTS OF NO NATION
Beasts Of No Nation was the first feature film produced by Netflix and stands as its best release to date. A harrowing tale of civil war in an unnamed African country, Beasts tells the story of Agu, a young boy forced to become a child soldier after his father is killed in the conflict.
Idris Elba is both sadistic and mesmerizing as “The Commandant,” the leader of the guerilla fighters who take Agu in and train him to be a killer. While it is horrible to see the transformation, the legacy of the society overwhelms all who live there.
Violence begets more violence. The Commandant becomes a defacto father figure for the young soldiers, which only serves to ensure years of war to come. Another treatise of the horror of war, but this time from the perspective of the youngest victims
What do you think? Which Netflix drama is your favorite? Sound off in the comments!
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