The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

January 23, 2024

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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. 

31. The Skeleton Twins (2014)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Craig Johnson

Actors

Adriane Lenox, Bill Hader, Boyd Holbrook, Cliff Moylan

Moods

Challenging, Emotional, Grown-up Comedy

Directed and co-written by Craig Johnson (who made The Adolescents with Mark Duplass), The Skeleton Twins is a beautiful piece of drama, dealing with some dark themes. It does so with surprising success, given that the two main actors are seasoned comedians with little to no experience in the genre. And yet, it is precisely the two leads that turn this bleak comedy-drama into a somber, haunting, but beautiful watch. Bill Hader is amazing as the depressed and suicidal gay man, Milo, who is reunited with his estranged twin Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after a series of unfortunate events. Their attempts at repairing their fractured relationship also forces them to confront the trajectory of their own lives, while they rediscover their erstwhile childhood friendship and long-lost camaraderie. Again, don’t expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships, mental health, and how conflict, compassion, and understanding fit into it all.

32. Mud (2012)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Nichols

Actors

Bonnie Sturdivant, Jacob Lofland, Joe Don Baker, Kristy Barrington

Moods

Dramatic, Easy, Raw

If you thought Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective was already the pinnacle of what Mathew McConaughey could do, wait until you see this film! Created by writer-director Jeff Nichols and set in the American South, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and personal growth. Two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), come across the elusive Mud (who is played by McConaughey), a man on the run wanted for murder. Initially scared of his mysterious character, the kids end up wanting to help and protect him from his those pursuing him. Ultimately a story of love, the film deals with a very human crisis seen through the eyes of children, drawing from American adventure tales and the humidity of the South. Mud is exciting, uneasy, sad, and quite beautiful. All at once.

33. The Spectacular Now (2013)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

James Ponsoldt

Actors

Alex D'Lerma, Andre Royo, Bob Odenkirk, Brie Larson

Moods

A-list actors, Easy, Quirky

Everybody loves a good coming-of-age movie, but they have their trappings. Their youthful characters are often cartoonish, or perfect, or insanely inept. This is where The Spectacular Now achieves something that is indeed spectacular: it feels incredibly real. The film features Miles Teller (from Whiplash) as a charming, but slightly lost, heavily partying high-school senior named Sutter Keely. After waking up on a strange lawn after a long night, he is awoken by Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley, whose performance is as spectacular as the depth of this movie’s characters. What starts as a rebound fling for Keely eventually goes deeper and deeper, while his problems become more and more apparent to us, the viewers, to Aimee, and to his caring teacher, played by the incredible Andre Royo, who some of you might recognize as the iconic Bubbles from The Wire. If this premise sounds corny to you, think again, because this film has a deep respect for its characters and the journeys they must take. A sensitive drama with incredibly life-like performances.

34. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Dito Montiel

Actors

Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri

Moods

A-list actors, Dramatic, Intense

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito’s directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a’la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

35. Drive My Car (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Germany, Japan

Director

Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Actors

Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hiroko Matsuda

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Slow

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

36. Howards End (1992)

best

8.9

Country

Japan, UK, United Kingdom

Director

James Ivory

Actors

Adrian Ross Magenty, Allie Byrne, Anne Lambton, Anthony Hopkins

Moods

A-list actors, Well-acted

With Howards End, the magic trio of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala converted yet another turn-of-the-19th-century EM Forster novel into exquisite cinematic form. Ravishingly shot and performed to career-best heights by many of its cast, Howards End loses nothing of the elegance we expect from a period drama, and yet it also feels thoroughly modern. The film charts the tragic entwining of three families: the progressive and intellectual middle-class Schlegel sisters, the much more traditionally minded and wealthier Wilcox family, and the Basts, a down-on-their-luck working-class couple. It’s the liberally minded Schlegels who cross the class divide of 1910 London to bring these two distant social circles so close to each other, but it’s the old-world values of the Wilcoxes that make that meeting a tragic one. Simmering with rich emotion and crackling with class politics, Howards End is the crowning glory of the Merchant Ivory powerhouse and the rare perfect period drama.

37. Kings of Summer (2013)

best

8.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Actors

Alison Brie, Angela Trimbur, Austin Abrams, Brady Novak

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Quirky

A quirky and lovely coming of age film, the Kings of Summer celebrates the beauty and madness of adolescence and the sheer joy of long summer days. The plot follows three teenage friends, who, in the ultimate act of independence, decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. The house soon becomes a microcosm of their relationships with each other and the world at large, prompting conflict and mirroring their own transformations as they grow. Simple yet powerful, the Kings of Summer has a lot to say.

38. Philomena (2013)

best

8.8

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Stephen Frears

Actors

Amber Batty, Amy McAllister, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford

Moods

Character-driven, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

39. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

best

8.7

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Paul Thomas Anderson

Actors

Adam Sandler, David H. Stevens, Don McManus, Emily Watson

Moods

Easy, Lighthearted

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler’s hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson’s incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

40. Nebraska (2013)

best

8.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Alexander Payne

Actors

Angela McEwan, Anthony G. Schmidt, Bob Nelson, Bob Odenkirk

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Original

Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says “is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself.” Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that’s not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I’ll tell you that it’s a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You’ll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.

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