The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

Updated January 2, 2022 • Staff

The one genre that indie movies have perfected is drama, and it's not just due to budget constraints. Films like Juno and Lady Bird have shown that a realistic, stripped-down approach works best for dramas.

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

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50.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical film is a strikingly realistic take on divorce and the turmoil it sets on an already-dysfunctional family. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a selfish decadent writer who’s splitting with his unfaithful wife Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), are taking different sides that reflect their personality. This separation only reinforces their insecurities as they quickly fall into depression and grow away from their friends. The parents, however, find unconventional lovers just as quickly, Bernard with a student of his, and Jane with her son’s tennis coach. The Squid and the Whale is a funny, emotional, and gripping story that finds a perfect balance in tone despite dealing with bitter divorce and troubled adolescence.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Rose, Alexandra Daddario, Anna Paquin, David Benger, Eli Gelb, Elizabeth Meriwether, Halley Feiffer, Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Ken Leung, Laura Linney, Maryann Plunkett, Owen Kline, Peggy Gormley, William Baldwin
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: R
49.

A Ghost Story (2017)

Twisted yet deep. Sad yet interesting. Slow yet exhilarating. A Ghost Story is an incredible artistic achievement. With hardly any dialog, and breathtakingly long takes in its first half, it manages to bring you in its own creepy world and not let go until you feel completely lonely. Starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a loving couple who are hit with a horrible tragedy, the beginning is slow, and it's not a plot driven movie, but if you give it a chance it will blow your mind.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Augustine Frizzell, Barlow Jacobs, Brea Grant, Casey Affleck, David Lowery, Kenneisha Thompson, Kesha, Kesha Rose Sebert, Liz Cardenas Franke, Liz Franke, McColm Cephas Jr., Rob Zabrecky, Rooney Mara, Sonia Acevedo, Will Oldham
Director: David Lowery
Rating: R
48.

The Square (2017)

The Square is a peculiar movie about a respected contemporary art museum curator as he goes through a few very specific events. He looses his wallet, his children fight, the art he oversees is does not make sense to an interviewer... Each one of these events would usually require a precise response but all they do is bring out his insecurities and his illusions about life. These reactions lead him to very unusual situations. A thought-provoking and incredibly intelligent film that's just a treat to watch. If you liked Force Majeure by the same director, The Square is even better!

Genre: Drama
Actor: Christopher Læssø, Christopher Laesso, Claes Bang, Daniel Hallberg, Dominic West, Elijandro Edouard, Elisabeth Moss, Julia Sporre, Lilianne Mardon, Lise Stephenson Engström, Madeleine Barwén Trollvik, Marina Schiptjenko, Martin Sooder, Sofie Hamilton, Stefan Godicke, Terry Notary
Director: Ruben Östlund
Rating: R
47.

Broken (2013)

Remember the name Rufus Norris. "Broken" is his directorial debut and he handles it like a seasoned pro. Also keep an eye out in the future for its young star, Eloise Laurence, who shows all the natural ability of a young Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster. Laurence plays "Skunk", a twelve year old trying to make sense of life - and whose task isn't made any easier by her own family's internal struggles, or the other families living in the peaceful-looking cul-de-sac where much of the action takes place. We're informed from the get-go that some sort of tragedy will befall the girl, but we don't know what shape it will take, or what the outcome of it will be. The tension builds from there, with a little relief along the way, thanks to her often-amusing performance as she witnesses the confusing actions of her elders. Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy are also in good form, both of whom seem happy to complement Laurence's presence rather than try to upstage her. "Broken" is equal parts cute, frightening, and brutally tense. It's well worth checking out.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Bill Milner, Charlie Booty, Cillian Murphy, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Eloise Laurence, George Sargeant, Lily James, Lino Facioli, Michael Shaeffer, Nell Tiger Free, Nick Holder, Nicola Sloane, Penny Layden, Robert Emms, Rory Kinnear, Tim Roth, Zana Marjanovic
Director: Rufus Norris
Rating: Not Rated, Unrated
46.

Begin Again (2013)

John Carney, who directed the critically and commercially successful Once, may be the world’s best captor of charm. Begin Again tells the story of a broken-hearted singer who gets discovered by a failed showbiz executive. Their ideas and love for music are all they have to face their failures and bring their creativity to life. The original songs are charming and from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Adam Levine, and Cee-Lo Green, the cast generate sparkling chemistry and portray the story beautifully. Begin again is a sweet and effortless watch, yet far from being your classic rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance
Actor: Adam Levine, Andrew Sellon, Aya Cash, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, CeeLo Green, Danielle Brisebois, David Pendleton, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Jimmy Palumbo, John Carney, Karen Pittman, Keira Knightley, Maddie Corman, Mark Ruffalo, Mary Catherine Garrison, Mos Def, Rob Morrow, Shannon Maree Walsh, Simon Delaney, Yasiin Bey
Director: John Carney
Rating: R
45.

Like Crazy (2011)

See, low budget films do work! Like Crazy schools other romantic films on what they should all be: cute and sweet but also frustrating and nerve-wracking. Felicity Jones is absolutely fantastic here, she stars as a British girl who falls in love with an American, Jacob, while in college. On a whim, she overstays her visa to be with him, and then return to England to face the consequences. The intimacy this film explores really distinguishes it from others and makes for an authentic experience, as it is based on its writer/director's own 8-year long-distance relationship. A great option if you're in the mood for the type of suspense that pulls at your heartstrings.

 

Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Alex Kingston, Amanda Carlin, Anton Yelchin, Ben York Jones, Charlie Bewley, Chris Messina, Drake Doremus, Edy Ganem, Felicity Jones, Finola Hughes, Jamie Thomas King, Jennifer Lawrence, Kayla Barr, Oliver Muirhead, Robert Pike Daniel
Director: Drake Doremus
Rating: PG-13
44.

Love is Strange (2014)

Love is Strange is an even-handed drama about a Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina), a loving couple who marry after 39 years of companionship, only to face a series of unexpected consequences of their decision. George is fired from his position as a music teacher, they’re forced to sell their home, and they find themselves living separately with various friends and relatives. The story revolves largely around their time apart, as they struggle in their separation while creating unintended commotion in the lives of their hosts. It’s a warm, wryly amusing and ultimately very touching film about the bonds of love and dedication. It may seem slow at times, but to watch it through to the end will lead you to realize how truly special it is.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Alfred Molina, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson, Christian Coulson, Christina Kirk, Darren E. Burrows, Harriet Sansom Harris, John Cullum, John Lithgow, Manny Perez, Marisa Tomei, Olya Zueva, Sebastian La Cause, Tank Burt, Tatyana Zbirovskaya
Director: Ira Sachs
Rating: R
43.

Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

A calm and cute story about a manic-depressive father in late 70’s Boston taking care of his two daughters. Starring familiar-face Mark Ruffalo in the lead. The film is inspired by its director’s own experience as one of the two daughters, which added to the amazing performances, makes for a movie made and filled with love. But as it manages to keep a smile on your face most of the time, it also doesn’t shy away from hard and moving sequences. A Sundance movie filled with heart.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ashley Aufderheide, Beth Dixon, Brianne Siddall, Chris Papavasiliou, Georgia Lyman, Imogene Wolodarsky, Keir Dullea, Mark Ruffalo, Nekhebet Kum Juch, Wallace Wolodarsky, William Xifaras, Zoe Saldana
Director: Maya Forbes
Rating: R
42.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Don’t worry.

Adam Sandler doesn’t suck here.

This is a beautiful family comedy directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale). 

Sandler plays a recently divorced man (as he tends to do) called Danny (as he’s usually called). Danny moves in with his father, played by Dustin Hoffman, who himself is dealing with feelings of failure.

Both of them are joined by other members of the family, including Danny’s half-brother, played by Ben Stiller. Their family dynamics are portrayed in a beautiful and sometimes moving way. Director Baumbach proves he’s so good, he can make even Adam Sandler sound and look genuine.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam David Thompson, Adam Driver, Adam Sandler, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Ben Stiller, Candice Bergen, Carlos Jacott, Cindy Cheung, Danny Flaherty, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Gayle Rankin, Grace Van Patten, Greta Gerwig, Jared Sandler, Josh Hamilton, Judd Hirsch, Lyne Renee, Mandy Siegfried, Marquis Rodriguez, Michael Chernus, Mickey Sumner, Rebecca Miller, Ronald Peet, Sakina Jaffrey, Sigourney Weaver, Victor Cruz
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: TV-MA
41.

Burn Burn Burn (2015)

A razor-sharp script and beautiful scenery make this one of the best road movies in recent memory. When their cynical best friend dies, Seph and Alex embark on a journey to scatter his ashes over four spots he wants to go back to. Tupperware of ashes in the glove-box, they start their big adventure. Burn Burn Burn, an expression their friend quotes from Kerouac, is a chance for the two friends to escape their hectic city life and to discover themselves. It’s a beautiful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alice Lowe, Alison Steadman, Chloe Pirrie, Eleanor Matsuura, Hannah Arterton, Jack Farthing, Jane Asher, Joe Dempsie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Laura Carmichael, Matthew Kelly, Melanie Walters, Nigel Planer, Sally Phillips, Susan Wokoma
Director: Chanya Button
Rating: N/A

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