The 13 Best Drama Movies of 2021 (So Far)

So. Intense.

best drama movies 2021
(Image credit: Netflix)

If the real world isn't dramatic enough for you—well, first of all, congratulations on either your very high tolerance to IRL drama or on the lack of it in your life. Second, we have your back with some dramas of the movie variety—even if you've already streamed your way through all of the best drama film options on Netflix (opens in new tab)Amazon (opens in new tab)Hulu (opens in new tab), and beyond (opens in new tab). From held-over movies from the 2020 slate that never made it to theaters to brand-spankin'-new options fresh on the calendar for 2021 to movies that will be released into actual movie theaters (which already feels like a very vintage thing to have happen, right?) to movies that will be released either simultaneously or solely on home streaming services, the 2021 film slate is full of some truly stellar dramas.

This year saw a gut-wrenching historical dramas, epic romances that will make you feel all the feels, and devastatingly serious stories of the human condition—basically everything a secondhand drama queen or king could want.

'One Night in Miami'

Planned release date: January 15 (on Amazon Prime)

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Beau Bridges, and Lance Reddick

The story: This historical fiction film takes place on the night of February 25, 1964 (in Miami, obviously) and focuses on Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcom X as they meet to discuss the responsibility of being successful Black men during the civil rights movement. 

'Penguin Bloom'

Planned release date: January 21 (January 27 on Netflix) 

Starring: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver

The story: A photographer and his family find an injured magpie chick, which helps them adjust to the family matriarch's paralysis.

'Our Friend'

Planned release date: January 22

Starring: Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson, and Casey Affleck

The story: Based on the true story of Nicole and Matthew Teague, who had their best friend move in to help them prepare for Nicole's impending death.

'Malcolm & Marie' 

Planned release date: February 5 (on Netflix) 

Starring: Zendaya and John David Washington

The story: A couple returns home from a movie premiere and get into revelations about their relationship that test their love. 

'The Mauritanian'

Planned release date: February 12

Starring: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch

The story: The movie focuses on Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a man captured by the U.S. government and held in a Guantanamo Bay detention camp without a trial, who finds help in defense attorney Nancy Hollander.

'Music' 

Planned release date: February 12

Starring: Kate Hudson, Maddie Ziegler, and Leslie Odom Jr.

The story: This movie by singer Sia (opens in new tab) (which has had some drama and controversy IRL (opens in new tab), too) is about a newly sober drug dealer who becomes the guardian of her teenaged, autistic half-sister, Music. 

'Judas and the Black Messiah'

Planned Release Date: February 12 

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Sheen

The Story: The award-winning film centers on Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the '60s, who's betrayed by an FBI informant.

'Cherry'

Planned release date: February 26 (on AppleTV+)

Starring: Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo

The story: Holland stars as an Army medic veteran with PTSD who becomes addicted to opioids and begins robbing banks to fund his addiction.

'Concrete Cowboy'

Planned Release Date: April 2

Starring: Idris Elba, Tucker Tooley, Lee Daniels, Jeff Waxman, and Dan Walser

The Story: When a teen is sent to live with his estranged father for the summer, he joins a group of Black cowboys in Philadelphia that have a tight bond.

'In the Heights'

Planned release date: June 18

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega,Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, and Jimmy Smits

The story: Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway hit of the same name, the movie tells the stories of the residents of the largely Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City over the course of three days.

'Respect'

Planned release date: August 13

Starring: Jennifer Hudson

The story: This biopic stars Jennifer Hudson as none other than Aretha Franklin and, honestly, we already have chills. 

'Dune'

Planned Release Date: October 22 

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Zendaya

The Story: The first of the two-part adaptation of the 1965 sci-fi novel (opens in new tab) of the same name, Dune is essentially about a powerful young man who travels to a dangerous planet to protect his family. 

'West Side Story'

west side story 2021

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Planned release date: December 10

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Corey Stoll, Brian d'Arcy James, and Rita Moreno

The story: It's a Broadway musical based on one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies of all time (Romeo & Juliet). If that's not the definition of drama, what is? 

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.