The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

Updated August 13, 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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30.

Joe (2013)

Casting is Joe's strong suit, with the notable case of the character of a homeless alcoholic man played by a real-life homeless alcoholic man, as the abusive father of beyond-his-age, responsible 15-year-old Gary. It doesn't stop there either, because Nicolas Cage's performance is one of his career's best (so you can rest assured as far as that is concerned), and somehow still manages to be matched by Tye Sheridan's (as Gary). This added to the bleak and bold Southern-themed script make for a hard-hitting, moving, and compelling tale of growth, and how father figures fit into it. Joe is a proud entry to the genre of powerful, yet enjoyable father-figure dramas, right next to its equally impressive brother-movie Mud.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aaron Spivey-Sorrells, Adriene Mishler, Brenda Isaacs Booth, Brian Mays, David Gordon Green, Erin Elizabeth Reed, Gary Poulter, Heather Kafka, Jonny Mars, Lico Reyes, Lynette Walden, Nicolas Cage, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Sue Rock, Tye Sheridan
Director: David Gordon Green
Rating: R
29.

The Florida Project (2017)

Every once in a while there are movies that expand the definition of quality film-making. This is one of those movies.

Here is an incredible, yet delicate film that follows three children from poor families who are stuck living in subpar motels. Their lives and friendships are portrayed with honesty and precise aesthetics. It’s a story that at first seems as plot-free as life itself.

It succeeds in capturing an innocence that is usually reserved to a child’s imagination: a precarious living condition full of adventures and fun. It’s hard to describe it beyond that; it’s the kind of film that must be seen to be fully understood.

And it ends on a very high note.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aiden Malik, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Caleb Landry Jones, Cecilia Quinan, Christopher Rivera, Edward Pagan, Giovanni Rodriguez, Jim R. Coleman, Josie Olivo, Karren Karagulian, Lauren O'Quinn, Macon Blair, Marisol Rivera, Mela Murder, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Shih-Ching Tsou, Valeria Cotto, Willem Dafoe
Director: Sean Baker
Rating: R
28.

The Believer (2001)

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, David Bailey, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly
Director: Henry Bean
Rating: R
27.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It's a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proofs that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott, Elizabeth Olsen, Gregg Burton, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Julia Garner, Lauren Molina, Louisa Krause, Maria Dizzia, Sarah Paulson, Tobias Segal
Director: Sean Durkin
Rating: R
26.

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) was a man with big glasses and even bigger dreams. As a physically disabled child-turned-oddly determined young adult, he tried his hands at all kinds of sports to earn himself a place in United Kingdom’s Team, only to be shunned and rejected more times than one can count. While his coming home a hero can easily be attributed to Great Britain’s lack of a ski jumper representative to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the world has Eddie’s perseverance and never-say-die attitude to thank. A story about conquering greater heights and just taking flight, Eddie the Eagle shows the world how winning doesn’t always mean taking home the crown.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, History
Actor: Ania Sowinski, Aria DeMaris, Christopher Walken, Daniel Ings, Daniel Westwood, Daz Black, Dexter Fletcher, Dickon Tolson, Edvin Endre, Graham Fletcher-Cook, Hugh Jackman, Iris Berben, Jessica Allain, Jim Broadbent, Jo Hartley, Joachim Raaf, Jozef Aoki, Keith Allen, Mads Sjogard Pettersen, Marc Benjamin, Mark Benton, Matt Rippy, Rune Temte, Taron Egerton, Tim McInnerny, Tom Costello
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Rating: PG-13
25.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They're almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Les Mabaleka
Director: Sophie Hyde
Rating: R
24.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Adam Sandler, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Jason Andrews, Karen Kilgariff, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rico Bueno, Robert Smigel
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rating: R
23.

Nebraska (2013)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Angela McEwan, Anthony G. Schmidt, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Dern, Devin Ratray, June Squibb, Mary Louise Wilson, Missy Doty, Rance Howard, Stacy Keach, Tim Driscoll, Will Forte
Director: Alexander Payne
Rating: R
22.

Kings of Summer (2013)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alison Brie, Angela Trimbur, Austin Abrams, Brady Novak, Brian Sacca, Craig Cackowski, Erin Moriarty, Eugene Cordero, Gabriel Basso, Gillian Vigman, Hannibal Buress, Jeffrey Grover, Joel Thingvall, Kumail Nanjiani, Lili Reinhart, Logan Fry, Marc Evan Jackson, Maria Laskowski, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Megan Mullally, Michael Cipiti, Moises Arias, Nathan Keyes, Nick Offerman, Nick Robinson, Nick Rutherford, Peter Karinen, Taylor Nelms, Theresa Wylie, Thomas Middleditch, Tony Hale
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rating: R
21.

Philomena (2013)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Amber Batty, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Stephen Frears
Rating: PG-13

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