If you want to get technical about it, every movie has some form of drama in it. But a separate genre still exists. A drama film is defined as a movie which features the development of believable characters who are dealing with emotional subjects.
Films which belong to this drama are often criticized for being ‘award baits’ by some critics. However, there are also plenty of best drama films which are meritorious whether or not they were made with the taste of Academy voters in mind. Here are 10 of the best drama movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Drama Movies of All Time
The Road (2009)
Director John Hillcoat knew he had excellent material when he adapted the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road in 2009.
Much of the film’s drama centers on a pair of father and son who struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. It goes into an intimate analysis on the lengths a father will go to in order to ensure the survival of his son.
Critics praised the ‘hauntingly powerful performances’ by the films leads, Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Another adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is about a group of desperate real estate agents who connive to steal client leads from the company they work for and sell them to its rival.
At its core, the film is a character study of its characters, predominantly men pass their prime. It stars the main cast of veteran actors like Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin whose performances gives justice to the brilliance of its source material. A special shoutout for Alec Baldwin’s famous soliloquy in the film.
The Seven Samurai (1956)
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s epic film tells a story about duty and honor amidst a time when tradition begins chipping away. The title pertains to a group of seven samurai whose main duty is to protect a village from the threat of bandits surrounding it.
Although famous for its epic battle scenes and Kurosawa’s masterful directing, it is the complex and layered characterization of its characters that put it on our list. Critics specifically praise consistent Kurosawa actor Toshiro Mifune’s performance as Kikuchiyo, a farmer’s son pretending to be a samurai.
Roger Ebert, a legendary film critic, famously said about the film, “No finer film has ever been made about organized crime — not even The Godfather”. A very serious claim since the latter is often regarded as one of the best drama films ever made.
While we don’t agree with Ebert, we still think Goodfellas deserves a spot on our list. After all, Joe Pesci, who played Henry Hill’s psychotic partner in crime, won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) follows an insomniac ex-Marine turned taxi driver Travis, played by Robert DeNiro, as he prowls the streets of New York at night. After meeting and being rejected by a beautiful woman who works for a local politician’s election campaign, he grows more restless and neurotic later on planning to assassinate the politician along with a teenage prostitute’s pimp.
The film is praised for being a succinct depiction of an individual’s descent into psychosis and the effects of the latently-violent Vietnam-era American media on the people’s psyche.
Raging Bull (1980)
Another film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Robert DeNiro makes it into our list of the 10 best drama movies of all time.
This time he DeNiro plays, Jake LaMotta, a former boxing champion who fell from grace due to the discovery of his troubled domestic life. Most of the film’s drama centers on the boxer’s jealousy-filled and suspicion-ridden relationships with his brother and wife.
Considered as the best film Scorsese and DeNiro made together, it is praised for DeNiro’s exquisite performance as a downtrodden boxer seeking redemption. Critics describe his performance as “…always absorbing and credible, even when his character isn’t”– a true mark of a great actor.
Layer Cake (2005)
Layer Cake (2005) is director Matthew Vaughn’s debut film. The film’s plot follows an unnamed criminal known as XXXX in London played by Daniel Craig. XXXX has been in the cocaine business for a long time but wishes to leave it soon.
The film is praised for Vaughn’s excellent direction and the complexity of its plot and characters. Craig’s performance as XXXX is also often cited as the main reason he won the role of Agent 007 in the franchise’s reboot the following year.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee stars in and directs Do the Right Thing (1989), a comedy-drama film set in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area. It tells the story of a pizza parlor’s owner, his employees and the other colorful characters that live and pass by the neighborhood.
The film received praise for its complicated view of race relations and violence along with its conscious choice of depriving viewers with the usual cozy resolutions Hollywood movies often feed them.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Schindler’s List (1993) is a harrowing adaptation of the novel, Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, which chronicles the life of Oskar Schindler and how he saved thousands of Jews from Nazis during World War II.
The film is considered one of the greatest films in history because of director Steven Spielberg’s masterful storytelling. It won seven Oscar awards including best picture, best director, best original score and best-adapted screenplay.
The film also contains what is considered to be one of the most terrifying sequences in cinema which is the shower scene in Auschwitz.
On the Waterfront (1954)
Said to feature Marlon Brando’s second-best performance as an actor, On the Waterfront (1958) is a romantic drama film which follows the story of an ex-fighter Terry and how his life is changed after witnessing a murder.
Brando’s performance in the film won him the best actor award at the 1954 Oscar Awards. The film also went home big with wins for the categories of best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actress.
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