The best drama films are never one-dimensional. Some films combine tragedy and comedy, hardship and romance, or action with compassion.
They have the power to help you escape or open your eyes to things you’ve never known. The finest of them can accomplish both.
We’ve compiled a list of the most critically acclaimed drama movies. As a result, the list includes classic drama films, contemporary dramas, and a variety of dramedies.
If you want to know more, let’s dive in.
25 Best Drama Movies
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
The first thing you’ve got to acknowledge is that Director Orson Welles changed the game regarding visual storytelling.
Before Citizen Kane’s release in 1941, most movies followed a linear timeline from the first scene to the last.
But Citizen Kane, similar to how Shakespeare did it in some of his plays, told the audience everything in the opening scene.
That opened people’s eyes to the different ways that stories could be told on film.
Before Citizen Kane, movies generally used the camera as an objective observer. But this one brought the literary concept of the unreliable narrator into the film.
Citizen Kane was radical and packed with new ideas that the evolution of cinema itself seems to skip ten years over making. And that’s what makes it known as “the greatest film ever made.”
2. Parasite (Gisaengchung) (2019)
The Oscar-winning movie Parasite was celebrated worldwide for its nuanced take on wealth inequality. But Bong Joon Ho’s scathing critique of modern society goes way beyond its riveting plot points.
The grungy reality of Kim’s semi-basement apartment contrasts with the luxury of the Park’s glamorous home. It effectively creates two different worlds.
The movie creates a modern-capitalist fable that warns of the dark implications of income inequality. And, within the film, every set, prop, or slice of pizza contributes a little bit to that message.
3. Casablanca (1942)
Over 75 years following its release, Casablanca remains one of the greatest love stories, mysteries, and thrillers ever put to film. The story flows perfectly from scene to scene.
It’s full of great characters who had their own unique development throughout the film. The movie leads the audience down a path of deception and ambiguity.
And the result? One of the greatest, most memorable endings in cinematic history.
4. Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is a standalone film that makes sense in and of itself even though it is woven within the greater Marvel universe. The story centers around T’Challa as he must step up to take his place as the King of Wakanda.
The nation is known to the outside world as a third-world nation. But behind that facade lies an incredibly advanced community based on the discovery of vibranium.
It’s an extraordinary material that revolutionized their nation. But it’s been kept a secret because of the terror that it might fall into the wrong hands.
Black Panther is the kind of film that inspires, and it makes you feel involved with the characters and care for them.
5. The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather is an American crime movie, an absolute classic in the history of Hollywood. The film won best picture, best actor and best writing.
It’s about a powerful Italian American crime family of Don Vito Corleone, played by Mr. Marlon Brando. His son Michael played brilliantly by Al Pacino, reluctantly joins the mafia.
He struggles to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay.
All this goes on as he gets involved in a vicious cycle of violence and betrayal. It’s a mouthful of a movie with many characters, rightfully so as Italians are known for having big families.
6. Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird is funny, sad, and heartwarming, but most of all, it’s real.
The way the characters interact with each other in the situations they find themselves in all feel inexplicably real. It’s almost as if it could have happened to any one of us.
The movie flawlessly blends the drama and comedy together in an almost invisible way. It gets you to understand the emotions that the characters are getting across while at the same time making you laugh.
7. All About Eve (1950)
The movie follows two actresses, one of them is Margo Channing.
She’s a Broadway star who is beginning to age out of the limelight. And the other is Eve Harrington, a young fan of Margo’s who is desperate to get into acting.
Margo’s friend Karen introduces Eve to the older star, and Margo immediately likes her. She hires Eve as an assistant to help her around the house while Margo’s boyfriend, the theatre director Bill, is away for a job.
Eve makes for an excellent assistant, but her charms on others begin to grind away at the jealous star’s nerves. As Margo’s career wavers, Eve carefully prods her way into show business and pounces on Margo’s decline.
8. Moonlight (2016)
Its cultural significance but because of its attention to detail. The film subtly tells one of the most fragile stories ever to be put in the film.
The storyline revolves around three special points in the life of a young black gay man. The film is about a queer coming-of-age story as it is about performed masculinity.
It also aims out to debunk popular preconceptions about black guys.
Everything in the film is so purposeful that each shot has some significant meaning that adds to the story.
Of all the themes in the film, the message behind the title “Moonlight” is the most subtle and powerful. To be under the Moonlight in this film means to be yourself.
9. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Sunset Boulevard brilliantly displays both the glamour and the tragedy of fame. The movie is a masterpiece by the great Billy Wilder.
The movie’s narrator is a dead screenwriter named Joe Gillis, and he tells the tale of his entanglement with Norma Desmond, a silent-era star.
The movie revolves around the characters and Norma’s house on Sunset Boulevard. It’s stuffed with mementos of Norma’s former glory, and it serves as an expression of her bottomless narcissism.
It’s as if she’s stopped time sealed off from the outside world. And this is what Hollywood does.
It takes real moments, even whole people, and freezes them forever in time.
10. Rebecca (1940)
It tells the narrative of a shy young woman who tries to acclimate to her new life as the spouse of a wealthy nobleman, who is portrayed by Sir Laurence Olivier, a theatre and screen legend.
The central emphasis is on the murky death of her late husband’s widow Rebecca.
The plot thickens further as there is an investigation of Mandela’s forbidden secret rooms. All these elements bring the film as close to a Gore story as a non-supernatural movie can
11. His Girl Friday (1940)
“His Girl Friday” is one the greatest classics of its time. A screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks.
You could even look at “His Girl Friday” as a handbook of journalistic malpractice.
It’s a long list of examples of what not to do if you want to be a professional journalist. But of course, it’s also a celebration of the spirit of American journalism at its finest.
The movie captures the romance, the cynicism, the idealism, and just the pure chaos that sometimes is part and sometimes the best part of working at a newspaper.
12. Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight is a true story of the Boston news reporters who work for the Boston Globe. They uncovered a very disturbing scandal happening within the Catholic Church as well as the law officials who were trying to cover it up.
The film is so well written, acted, and directed that as you watch it, you almost don’t feel like you’re watching a film. It feels like you’re watching a documentary.
The story truly makes it feel like these true events are happening right before your eyes.
13. The Farewell (2019)
“The Farewell” was directed by Lulu Wang and starred Awkwafina as Billy, a young woman who learns that her grandmother has a very short time left to live.
But much to her surprise, she discovers her entire family has decided not to tell her grandmother that she’s going to die.
Instead, they arrange a wedding ceremony as an excuse for everyone to come to China to see her one last time before she passes.
14. Selma (2014)
The history of a movement is told in this film. It tells a story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s perilous three-month effort to obtain equal voting rights amid violent resistance in 1965.
The historic procession from Selma to Montgomery resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson approving the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the civil rights movement’s most major triumphs.
This film depicts the true tale of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the revered leader and visionary, and his brothers and sisters in the civil rights movement sparked change that changed the course of history forever.
15. Double Indemnity (1944)
Double Indemnity’s a film noir that was released in 1944, directed by Billy Wilder. The title “Double Indemnity” is an insurance policy where the beneficiary receives double in the case of accidental death.
Fred MacMurray plays a very successful insurance agent who makes a routine house call, and Barbara Stanwyck opens the door, and it’s love at first sight.
But the movie soon gets dark and twisted and filled with sexual innuendo. It’s scary and suspenseful and leaves you sitting by the edge of your seat.
16. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
“All Quiet On The Western Front” is, without a doubt, the best movie depiction of war. The movie strips away all the glory of war.
The tough trench scenarios have been portrayed with uniqueness and clarity of detail in All Quiet on the Western Front, which is brilliantly photographed.
It exposes its horrendous atrocities with sad savagery that leaves nothing behind, shocking and dismaying those who see it.
17. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
“12 Years A Slave” was directed by Steve McQueen. The movie tells a true story of a man who was sold into slavery and the perils that become of that.
The plotline depicts lynching look at slavery and how barbaric people used to be, almost to the point where you question humanity.
It’s also very enthralling at the same time to watch this man go through such a struggle. You get to see the journey he takes and the people he meets.
The way this film tells his story truly makes it one of the best movies of all time.
18. Leave No Trace (2018)
Leave No Trace is a film by Debra Granik, and it’s based on the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rocks.
The movie starts with a father and his teenage daughter living off-grid, and the dad is a veteran who is suffering from PTSD.
No one knows that they live in the forest until a jogger spies them, and the next thing the authorities turn up.
The story starts from there. The central thesis of this movie is how the duo reacts and assimilates as they’re pushed back into the real world.
19. Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)
“Shadow Of A Doubt” is one of the most highly regarded of all Hitchcock flicks.
He neglects many famous Hitchcock tropes everyone knows him for, like the cold, beautiful blonde or the elaborate murder scenes. But it’s still very firmly a Hitchcock film from beginning to end.
He focuses on the theme of the double, family rotting from within, and characters constantly making jokes about murder.
20. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is Eliza Hittman’s Sundance most sensational movie.
The plot is a simple narrative of two teenage cousins who happen to be budding musicians. The movie follows the cousins as they travel from Pennsylvania to New York to seek an abortion.
Hittman’s direction gives the movie an overpowering sense of intimacy and compassion, making it one of the best films in 2020.
21. The Florida Project (2017)
“The Florida Project” incorporates breath-taking filmmaking techniques. It gives the viewers a compelling and eye-opening story about a young girl and her mother in poverty.
The story follows Mooney, the child, and we as an audience come to discover and see things the way she would.
The movie is a fictional tale. But it’s also very real at the same time as there are millions of people out there living with similar conditions.
22. Schindler’s List (1993)
Schindler’s List is a phenomenal important story and an extraordinary film. It’s based on the book Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally written in 1982. The book was adapted by screenwriter Steve Zaillian.
It’s an extremely fragile story shown as a biopic with lots of difficult history within it.
The adaptation is crafted perfectly, picking out the key parts of Schindler’s story. It properly emphasizes the Nazi and Jewish plots scattered throughout the film and marries it all together expertly.
23. 12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men) (1957)
“12 Angry Men” essentially boils down into one question. What is the value of human life?
The film places us as the audience into the shoes of the different jurors. It forces us to make tough decisions of character and morality.
The story follows 12 jurors as they need to sentence a young man accused of murder. All 12 jurors need to come to a unanimous decision.
If they decide he’s guilty, he’ll be executed – if he’s declared innocent, he’ll walk free.
24. The French Connection (1971)
The French Connection needs no introduction. It’s 40 years old and still one of the most enduring cop movies. It takes you into the singular world of New York City police detective Popeye Doyle.
The movie is based on a well-known real-life case that the director William Friedkin stripped down and opened up. He focuses on the details of police work and puts together car chases that are now cinematic legends.
25. Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) (1956)
Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai” is one of the most influential movies.
It has gone on to impact hundreds if not thousands of subsequent films. Some very directly, and others took loose inspirations. The characters are well-developed, personable, and, most importantly, they’re unique.
Every detail of the movie was carefully planned out and ensured to be the best that it could be. And the result was one of the best movies of all time.
Maybe there’s a movie that makes you want to get fit, become a spy, or save the world. Films can have an incredible story, and they might also have sloppy lighting, dazzling special effects, or characters. All these things can affect how you feel about a movie and whether you’d give it a thumbs up on Netflix. But they can also affect how it fits into cinema history and impacts the world around us. We hope you enjoyed our list of the Top 25 Best Drama Movies.