The 50 Best Indie Dramas You Should See

Below are the best indie drama movies as ranked by our staff. 

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Frost/Nixon (2008)

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

First Reformed (2018)

When asked about starring in First Reformed, Ethan Hawke said it’s the kind of role he would have never dared to audition for 10 years ago. This is coming from the same goatee icon who did Gattaca 22 years ago, and Training Day 18 years ago. 

Needless to say that his performance in this movie is exceptional, and we hope that it will be rewarded with an Oscar. The film centers around his character, a reverend of a church in New York, who is trying to help a couple with marital issues (deciding the fate of a pregnancy). Instead, he uncovers a deeper story and becomes unexpectedly involved. 

Religion intersects with ethical questions on activism, abortion, and environmental issues. I know that sounds like a lot, but First Reformed delivers on everything. The writing by Paul Schrader is delicate yet ensures that the movie keeps a gripping pace.

This is an excellent Russian movie about an ambulance unit and the paramedic that leads it. 

His long-time relationship starts suffering from a combination of alcoholism and his devotion to his work, which are also linked together. This is set in a country where ambulances are underfunded and the health-care system is frail. 

As a consequence, the story of Arrhythmia is one of a worker dedicated to saving their patients’ lives in a system that seems not to care. This is portrayed in the ambulance’s everyday missions, but also in the paramedic’s decaying relationship. It’s Blue Valentine meets an Andrey Zvyagintsev movie like Elena. Sadly, it might be more realistic than both those movies, and added to the fact that it’s Russian, it has stayed severely under-watched since it came out.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Thrilling, well-acted and instructive. It doesn’t really make sense that it made less than 20 Million in box office revenue, but that makes it even more A Good Movie to Watch material. The Last King of Scotland is fast-paced, sometimes even too violent. It embodies political power and conflict perfectly. A great watch.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This French film, written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, is in the strictest sense an animated foreign comedy film but it is unlike anything I have ever seen. It has a unique surrealist animation style that manages to stay oddly grounded. In other words, it wasn’t some psychoactive drug trip but more like taking a look at the world through Salavador Dali’s eyes. However what struck me the most while watching this film was how everything was animated to extenuate ugliness and imperfection. None of the surroundings and characters look like you see in most animated films, either hyper-realistic or like unblemished porcelain dolls; everything is drawn with blatant, over-exaggerated, and warped features. These features define each character as well as instantly evoking what thoughts and feelings the director wants you to associate with them. The characters’ exaggerated features also allow the film to progress without almost any actual dialogue. Contextual clues and facial expressions were more than enough to conduct entire conversations as well as progress the story line without ever saying a word. This makes the movie accessible to people of all tongues without the subtitle stigma that many people have with watching foreign films. In conclusion, while this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is still a beautifully imperfect work of hand-drawn art that is an experience that goes far beyond mere entertainment.

Festen (The Celebration) (1998)

Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is definitely not mainstream. You thought your family was truly messed up, think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, nightmarish tale of debauchery is shocking and will leave you feeling confused and slightly sickened. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, this film is not one to be missed.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Sit back, relax, and wait for the feels. With amazing performances from the ensemble cast including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening, as well as excellent directing; The Kids Are Alright is a highly realistic yet entertaining take on family, growing up, and witnessing children grow up. Two kids meet the sperm donor who enabled their parents to have them, and develop a relationship with him. This confuses everyone as to how it redefines their status, from the parents who add a major issue to their already delicate relationship, to the laid-back and lovingly goofy sperm donor (portrayed perfectly by Ruffalo). The Kids Are Alright is beautifully emotional, funny, and just overall a pleasant watch. Nominated to four Oscars and winner of two Golden Globes.

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Despite the background of its two leads, The Skeleton Twins is more of a beautiful, deep drama than it is a comedy.

After unfortunate events take place, estranged siblings Milo and Maggie (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) reunite and attempt to repair their fractured relationship.

The Skeleton Twins is a bittersweet and touching film about these two siblings trying to rediscover the childhood friendship and camaraderie they had lost many years earlier.

Again, don’t expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships and how conflict, compassion, and understanding fit into it all.

The Lunchbox (2013)

“Sometimes even the wrong train takes you to the right destination”. An Indian housewife dealing with her cheating husband and dying father seeks love, attention and appreciation through her cooking. By mistake, the lunchbox she sends to her husband through the famous delivery system of Mumbai is delivered to the wrong address, sparking an unlikely and unique romance through letters packed along with lunch every day. A very sweet, emotional and refreshing movie.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf star in this powerful drama about growing up in 80’s Astoria, New York. It follows the memoirs of the author, director and musician Dito Montiel as he visits his ailing father after 15 years in Los Angeles, away from home. Told via flashback and present-day exposition, as well as several fourth-wall bending monologues,  A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a coming of age film that leaves a deep impact, with two Sundance awards and heaps of nominations to its credit. 

BPM
40.

BPM is centered around AIDS activist in the early 90s in Paris representing the French branch of the advocacy group ACT UP. In a time where information about AIDS was as limited as access to the appropriate medicine, activists were divided into groups depending on their preferred methods of shaking up the system. Some wanted to express their anger at it while others tried to maneuver within it. But themselves being HIV positive for the most part, they shared a common sense of urgency and passion towards the cause. BPM is a beautiful yet honest portrayal of these activists, a movie as full of life and emotion as the people it portrays.

Detachment (2012)

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody – “The Pianist”) who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn’t want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

About Elly (2015)

Having only made its way to the U.S. 6 long years after its initial release, this is the long-awaited film from the Oscar-winning director of A Separation– and it is in every way extraordinary. It’s a movie stripped down of almost everything to keep only its humans in focus, it is honest and realistic beyond belief and quite simply a must-watch. A group of old friends and relatives reunite for vacation in northern Iran with one of them bringing a new person to the group, Elly, in hopes of her marrying one of the friends, Ahmad. When Elly vanishes without notice, the questions that follow expose the group to unexpected levels, and eventually pose subtle yet sincere questions about gender, politics, and the delicate balance modern-day Iranians live in.

Thanks to the perfect performances and the director’s unparalleled talent, About Elly will feel interesting at times, thrilling and devastating at others, but above all, and because of it being so… human, it will feel familiar to you no matter where you are from.

Departures (Okuribito) (2008)

Death is a weird and scary concept. Ironically, the only way movies have been successful in covering it is through humor (Sunshine Cleaning and Beginners are other great examples). Departures gives this trend a new home, Japan. This film almost never saw the light of day, since at first many distributors refused to release it given the taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually, it received the credit it was due, including an Academy Award. It’s one of those rare movies that will take you on a journey through all of your emotions: it will move from making you laugh, to making you cry, then happy, and finally highly engaged in its subject matter. It’s a beautiful, funny, and compelling movie.

What Maisie Knew (2012)

A rock singer (played by Julianne Moore) and an art dealer (Steve Coogan) start a battle for the custody of their daughter, Maisie, mainly to spite each other. When one of them marries, the other rushes a marriage as well. What Maisie Knew is all that and more from the perspective of the little child, Maisie. Written by two writers, directed by two directors, and sporting an excellent cast, you should not be surprised to learn that What Masie Knew perfectly portrays its complex and sad subject matter, giving an honest, bitter portrayal of dysfunctional families.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of French journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Almost completely paralyzed by what is termed “Locked-in Syndrome”, Bauby was left with only the operation of his left eye intact, leaving him forced to communicate via partner-assisted scanning (selection of each letter of the alphabet via blinking). Ultimately, Bauby employed this painstaking procedure to dictate his own memoir “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon”, which became a number one bestseller in Europe. The film alternates between Bauby’s interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including the dictation of his book) and his own dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. With the title, Bauby uses the diving bell to represent his self-perceived state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver encased in an oxygenated chamber, and the corresponding butterfly to represent the freedom he enjoys as he often journeys quite magically through his own mind’s eye. It’s a somber yet engaging film full of heart and vision, featuring wonderful performances by the entire cast across the board.

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Like Father, Like Son is a profoundly interesting, multi-layered Japanese film about a young couple who come to learn that their son was unknowingly switched at birth with another boy, and begin a complicated relationship with their real son and his family. Both sides struggle to cope with the looming possibility of returning each boy to his true parents, while the differences between the two families in means and lifestyle lend further complications to their attitudes and their ability to find a resolution. It’s an even-handed yet poignant story that examines the difficult emotions around parenthood and parental expectation, including a meaningful examination of the “nature versus nurture” argument. Very honest and real — you’ll enjoy it even more if you appreciate the intricate style of Japanese cinema. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

The Past (2013)

Beautiful story-telling and powerful acting boost the story of an Iranian man returning to France to finalize his divorce. He finds that his wife has a new lover. A lot more happens that I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, the film is in fact directed by Iranian legend Asghar Farhadi, so expect twists and subtleties you’re probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past remains to some extent different from his previous work since it focuses on romantic relationships, failed ones, and the toll they take on the humans involved. Learning about the characters is a lot like meeting them in real life and hearing their stories: it’s hard to take sides or tell who’s wrong – you’d rather stay silent and try to make sense of it all.

Dogville (2003)

Set in a town drawn in chalk outlines on the floor of a dark studio room. However unconventional the unrealistic stage-like set, the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman who arrives at this town seeking refuge becomes real enough to absorb you in a disturbing examination of human morals. It’s unique and features powerful performances, and will be more appreciated by anyone striving for something new. Directed by Lars von Trier.

Deep in the suburbs of Paris, Divines follows the story of Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (played by Déborah Lukumuena). Director Houda Benyamina serves a nest of social issues – welcoming the viewer into a world where poverty is pervasive and adults are haunted by their own ghosts, where there is a life vest only in the reliance on friendship. The nature of this bond between the two female characters is deep, playful, and backed by mesmerizing acting on behalf of Amamra and Lukumuena.

Just as prevailing throughout the film is the commentary on immigrant diasporas and the power of idealization. The girls fantasize about financial excess with guttural determination, guided only by the realization that their escape from their current lives has to come to fruition no matter what the cost. This film is entrancing and thought-provoking. You won’t be able to look away.

The Sea Inside (2004)

There are movies that make you a bit more mature when you watch them. This movie is one of them. They took very hard and controversial topic, but presented in so you do understand both sides and agree with them. Winner of an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, it tells the true story of a man who spent 28 years campaigning for the right to end his own life. Now you get why I said it was a hard topic, right? It’s a heart-wrenching watch to say the least, but thanks to a perfect performance from Javier Bardem the complex story gains such a big grasp that it ends up having uplifting and even funny moments.

A Man Called Ove (2015)

This is an initially touching film about a man who feels his life is over. His wife has died and he wishes to join her. Whenever he tries to meet his end, he gets interrupted either by his desire to make sure things in his neighborhood are being done properly and rules are followed, or by someone needing him to help them. Despite himself, he turns out to be a man that people are glad is around and they insist on making a friend of him. He helps families with small children, ostracized teenagers, and even elderly Volvo drivers. Ove’s journey is always compelling. This Swedish hit has a remarkably good story to tell about finding tolerance in surprising places and it also portrays a good balance of sentimentality against a harsh reality.

50/50 (2011)

It’s often said that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is just a bad idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. In a movie that comes closer to a believable real life situation than most, 50/50 manages to mine humor, pathos and simple honesty from a dark and traditional situation.  Starring Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film isn’t afraid to ‘go there’ but you’ll enjoy the journey.

Gook (2017)

Two Korean-American brothers run their family’s shoe store on the day of the 1992 L.A. riots. The day starts as they hang out at their struggling business with an 11-year-old African American girl, Kamilla. Then the Rodney King verdict is in the news and violence breaks out.

Written, directed, and starring Justin Chon, it’s a tight 94 minutes of impressive film-making that speaks volumes about America’s intra-minority race relations. It’s a work that elicits sympathy and manages to uplift the violent event to a human level. An amazing movie.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

A delicate and profound exploration of loss, and an unbelievably well-made drama, Manchester By the Sea is a true triumph. Its focus on the characters, its timely unfolding of story elements, as well as its world class acting are only equal to the best European dramas. This deep and slow exploration of the human condition has rarely been successful in American cinema, if ever. The last best attempt was probably another movie  by director Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count on Me. Manchester by the Sea is where he unveils his full potential, and takes the viewer deep into the tensions and history of a building handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). His angry but quiet life is interrupted by news that his brother suffered a heart attack, and upon going back to his hometown he finds that he is the only one left to take care of his teenage nephew. A truly amazing movie, not to be missed, and a huge success too.  It grossed around $80 million on a budget of $8.5 million.

Capernaum (2018)

Capernaum is both the highest-grossing Middle-Eastern movie of all-time and the highest-grossing movie in Arabic of all-time.

This Oscar-nominated masterpiece is about a 12-year-old kid in Lebanon who leaves his negligent parents and tries to make it in the streets on his own. It’s a tale of grinding poverty as experienced by a boy with a good heart and more resilience than one can fathom.

An acting tour de force by the child actors keeps the movie engaging throughout the grittiness and asks some hard questions about parental failures and parental love with the bigger regional political questions hovering silently in the background. Tough but ultimately uplifting – a movie to discuss.

Boy Erased (2018)

Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) form an amazing pack of talent in this excellent drama. Crowe plays the father, a priest, and Kidman the mom, a religious person as well. When their son comes out as gay, they decide more or less with his acceptance to send him to a conversion therapy center. The movie is about the experience of the center but it’s also about the family dynamic as a whole. Also stars Joel Edgerton, who also adapted the screenplay (a true story) and directed the movie.

Still Walking (2008)

From the director of Shoplifters, Still Walking is a quiet movie about 24 hours in the life of a family gathering to remember the passing of a son. At the center of the story is the father, an emotionally distant man who commands respect both from his family and community. Opposite from him is the black sheep, the other son, who strives for his father’s validation. This dynamic is one of many depicted in this slice-of-life movie about how families deal with loss. It might seem like little is happening during the first stages, but the realism and subtlety with which the story is handled will gradually suck you into the beautiful atmosphere of Still Walking. And however distant the culture or setting in Japan may seem, you’re bound to recognize either yourself or your family in this movie.

Fireworks Wednesday (2007)

Another dramatic masterpiece from Asghar Farhadi who would later go on to direct the Oscar-winning A Separation. In his usual territory of capturing family turmoil and dismissing politics to focus on the human and social intricacies of his culture, this story is about a wife who suspects her husband is cheating on her with their neighbor, a beautician. To confirm her suspicions, she sends her maid, a woman who’s about to get married to investigate. But this woman’s involvement in the couple’s turmoil ends up causing more burden and complicating the situation even more. All of this is a drive towards Chaharshanbe Suri, a holiday in Iran celebrated with dangerous fireworks. This event contributes to the explosive ending of this incredibly well-acted and thought-provoking movie.

System Crasher (2019)

This is one of the craziest, most high energy movies you’ll ever watch. It’s about a 9-year-old who is considered a case the healthcare system calls a “system crasher”: someone who has exhausted every option child protective services has and still failed to get better.

This girl, called Benni, wants to get out of the system and go back to live with her mom, but her mother is scared of her. She is introduced to a new shelter with a social worker who tries a different approach in one last attempt to reform her.

System Crasher is a wild ride, but it’s made with so much heart that the thrills never feel senseless: it’s a movie that will stay with you for a long time.

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Sensibly written and thoughtfully directed, intuitively acted, bitter-sweet like Belgian chocolate, and propelled by incredible bluegrass music, this is one of my coming-home movies. Aside from the beautiful imagery and stunning music, the highly emotional subject matter is perfect for summer nights. It’ll leave you full and empty, it’ll make you cry, value life, and will also more than likely get you back into bluegrass again. Elise and Dedier fall passionately in love despite their differences, but when their daughter falls ill, their future together becomes uncertain.

Eastern Promises (2007)

Starring a tattooed and terrifying Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises is a Russian gangster thriller film set in a very nasty London. Operating at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge, the film has moments of humanity and charm, thanks to the visionary director, David Cronenberg, in one of his most approachable films. While the violence and action are brutal and cathartic, equally as impressive is Mr. Cronenberg’s sharp understanding of the London crime scene and the various factions and languages that make up the largely hidden underworld.

Blue Jay (2016)

Shot in black and white to be the best dialogue-driven, character-study film it can be; Blue Jay stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass in a cozy, slow-burning film. Their characters, respectively Amanda and Jim, are former high-school sweethearts who run into each other in their hometown 20 years later. They talk, they get coffee, and then beer and jelly beans, until they find themselves to Jim’s mother’s house. As they familiarize themselves again, and the movie moves forward, it abandons its romantic chops to become a truly heartfelt and real film. A revelation of a movie.

A Bronx Tale (1993)

This is right up your alley if you have a thing for gangster films. Actually, if you have a thing for stupendous acting and just Robert de Niro in general, then A Bronx Tale might do the job for you. The 1960’s was a tough time for Lorenzo (de Niro), father to conflicted Calogero (Lillo Brancato), who seems to have befriended Bronx’s big man, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Torn between his moral integrity and a few other factors in the mix, the young boy’s leap to the crazed world of mobsters doesn’t get any more real than this.
Tragedy and fascination take human form through the eyes of De Niro’s directorial debut and Palminteri’s work of art, leaving you with a gripping feeling long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Control (2007)

Joy Division, formerly known as Warsaw, was a brilliant rock group that served its time and something that has lived through decades with the help of their songs, love for fans, and legendary performances – unfortunately for his band-mates and singer Ian Curtis, this picture-perfect scenery was cut short. Control is an exploration of his personal and professional musings, adding to the woes of his romantic troubles and inner desire to somehow break free from his deteriorating health.
Thoroughly processed in black and white, this enthralling biopic starring the brooding, and then-relatively unknown Sam Riley is all parts gut-wrenching and borderline extraordinary.

The Salesman (2016)

In The Salesman, Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly), tells the story of a happily married couple who live in Tehran: Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). When they are forced to move to a new apartment, something about the previous tenant causes a sudden eruption of violence that turns their lives upside down, causing strain on their relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here: deliver on complex issues that characterize his society through ordinary events. Every scene is a privileged look into Iran’s collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands as an extraordinary drama, with a tense plot and amazing performances across the board.

After the Storm (2017)

A quiet, smart and well-crafted movie by the much celebrated director Hirokazu Koreeda. Like his other work, notably Like Father, Like Son and Nobody Knows, it addresses family dynamics and how they surface. Once a successful writer, Ryota is now a private detective who spends the little money he makes on gambling instead of paying child support. His ex-wife and son are increasingly alienated by his behavior, until one day, during a storm, they all find themselves trapped in Ryota’s childhood home. Subtly touching on notions of inter-generational bond and tension – this is the kind of movie of which you’ll remember flashes long after you watch it.

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters is the Winner of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival from Japan. It’s about a poor family made of small-time outlaws who live from shoplifting amongst other petty crimes. They take in a new girl they find outside in the cold and introduce her to their otherwise happy family. But when the second-youngest member of the family finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens the fabric of the family.

From renown director Hirokazu Koreeda, and if you don’t know who that is – I really recommend checking out his other movies. Namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm.

Koreeda is often referred to as the best Japenese filmmaker alive, and Shoplifters is solid proof that he deserves that title. Its affecting story and slow-burning nature are sure to stay with you for a long time.

Sorry We Missed You (2020)

This smart and affecting drama is about a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy delivery people are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are responsible for packages until they’re delivered. Of course, a lot goes wrong, parking tickets, traffic, complicated customers, etc; but this movie is not about that. It’s about how the very nature of the job is exploitative. From peeing in a bottle to sacrificing family, Sorry We Missed You is an introduction to the world of the people that bring you packages.

And huge benefit: it’s directed by the legendary Ken Loach, who works only with amateur actors. It has a raw and real feel to it without ever being melodramatic. It’s an incredible achievement and an important movie.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot – a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.

The Handmaiden (2016)

From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming “what?”, and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. It’s just too big of an achievement.

Cold War (2018)

Cinematography is a big part of Cold War, the story moves through stunning shots of the Polish countryside and later on an incredibly delicate portrait of Paris. All of that would be a waste if you watch it on an iPhone, so I really recommend watching this on as big of a screen as you can get your hands on.

In 1950s Cold War Poland, a band of folk musicians find themselves used as a tool for Soviet propaganda. Their travel through the country is hijacked by this agenda, but it remains an incredible journey. It goes through different seasons and aesthetics uncovering lost Polish songs and poems.

The leader of the band falls in love with one of the dancers, and the limits imposed on the couple under communist rule make them seek alternatives. Cold War is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by politics but by romance.

It’s a poetic yet quiet movie that doesn’t scream its point but rather invites you to come to your own conclusions.

After the Wedding (2006)

There is a unique emotional approach to Danish films rarely matched by anything else, that has to be seen to be understood. Oscar-nominated After The Wedding perfectly embodies that. Jacob Peterson (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is an idealist who runs a financially struggling orphanage in India. He returns to Copenhagen to seek a large donation when he discovers that in order to get the money he will be unveiling dark secrets about his own personal past. Scenes are stretched, and feel incredibly realistic. But because of the great plot and premise as well as the fantastic cast, they’re never boring — on the contrary, After the Wedding is thrilling and at all times interesting. You will also feel that it is capturing every emotion you’ve ever encountered, or will ever encounter in the short two hours it spans.

A Prophet (2009)

A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It’s not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two “action” sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.

The Wrestler (2008)

Darren Aronofsky delivers yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime. He is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose and dignity. The audience can see in Rourke the story of all men, that we will one day grow old, regret mistakes that it’s too late to fix, and mourn the end of our successes.

Head-On (Gegen die Wand) (2004)

Two strangers in Germany deal with their Turkish identity in separate ways but are joined together when they agree to a fake marriage in order to help each other break free. This is a dirty, gritty and heart-wrenching story about culture, love and the violence that unites them. Winner of a Golden Bear and “Best Film” as well as “Audience Award” at the European Film Awards.

Honeyland (2019)

The first movie to be nominated to both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories, Honeyland is a portrayal of one of the last wild beekeepers in Europe shot over three years. Her life consists of taking care of her ailing mother and harvesting honey according to rules her ancestors taught her, such as only taking half of the produced honey at any one time. These rules are broken when a nomad family arrives. The father, anxious about securing for his children, threatens the beekeeper’s way of life.

There is so much incredible footage in this difficult documentary, from hazardous mountain climbs to a kid helping a cow give birth. But throughout, the question of “how am I watching this?” often comes up, since the footage the filmmakers gained feels unobstructed by anything: it doesn’t feel like there is a camera around.

You Can Count on Me (2000)

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and featuring the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo as well as a fantastic performance from Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me is a beautiful and beautifully told story of siblings growing apart and later finding each other again. Sammy (Linney) helped raise her younger brother Terry (Ruffalo) after they were orphaned at an early age. Now a single mother, her life turns around when Terry comes back after a long time of being absent, with the two having become almost completely different people in between. Such an honest, genuine exploration of unconditional love, think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

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Captain Fantastic (2016)

A couple decides to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, far from modern culture. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, how to live in nature, but also give them classes on literature, politics, and music. The family drills boot camp-like workouts and climbs rock faces to create physical endurance. Then the wilderness adventure comes to an abrupt halt with a telephone call, and the family enters the world — with hilarious and sorrowful results. Emotionally raw and honest, with terrific performances by Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and the entire cast of “children.”

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Drama
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