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The 12 best drama movies of all time

From Martin Scorsese's best movies to Tom Cruise actioners, this is our list of the best drama movies ever made. Written by movie fans, for movie fans.

What are the best drama movies? This genre is fruitful with examinations of what it means to be human, the small daily habits that make up our lives, and the connections that make everything worthwhile.

From steely-eyed gangsters to vengeful keyboard cowboys, some of the best movies we know and love come from this shelf. We’ve scoured our Blu-ray collections, visited the multiplex, and even checked IMDb to find the bright spots — classics and new movies alike.

Our finely tuned list of the best drama movies guarantees a night-in well spent, with a film that demands to be added to your watchlists on the best streaming services. We’ve got everything from epic tales of criminal corruption to thoughtful character studies about morality, and everything in between.

Mahershala Ali Juan and Chiron in Moonlight

12. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins’ transcendent drama follows a life in three acts: a boy, a teenager, and a man. Chiron is raised by an addict mother in Miami, dodging bullies, powdering over his sexuality with displays of masculinity, and wrestling with a lack of mental safety.

Moonlight’s narrative waves ripple through his life, with chapters bookended by experiences that shape Chiron into different versions of himself. Jenkins’ gentle musings on masculinity, the trials of gay Black men, and the events that stain people permanently are nothing short of masterful.

Immersed by its depthful score, cyan cinematography, and gripping performances, it’s a film fully capable of holding you in its the palm of its hand.

Best drama movies: Goodfellas

11. Goodfellas (1990)

There’s no doubt that Martin Scorsese’s insight into the world of wiseguys is one of the quintessential gangster films, but there’s so much more to Goodfellas than quotable lines and Joe Pesci’s short fuse.

The rise and fall of Henry Hill is one wrought with power plays, betrayal, and addiction to a life of lawlessness shown through Ray Liotta’s iconic performance and a handful of others that can make your blood freeze. It also makes for a great game of ‘Spot the future Sopranos star’.

From its lauded one-take at the restaurant to Henry’s increasingly frantic descent into panic, watching him try to squirm his way out of the hot water he lands is shockingly entertaining.

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10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Martin McDonaugh’s cold-cut but cathartic tale of Mildred Hayes’s search for justice is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. Following the loss of her daughter, Mildred puts pressure on the local authorities, who have filed to catch her killer.

Frances McDormand is a force to be reckoned with as a vengeful tornado in overalls, calling out Woody Harrelson’s worn-down chief of police, who has his own personal struggles.

Proving that even some of the darkest moments and souls can see the light eventually, Three Billboards is the newest movie on this list but shows signs of being a modern-day classic.

Best drama movies: Trainspotting

9. Trainspotting (1996)

Danny Boyle’s feverish take on Irvine Welsh’s beloved novel feels like a drug in itself. Playing to an absolute trip of a soundtrack before coming down with a heavy dose of reality. Trainspotting put the likes of Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, and Kelly McDonald on the map, as well as a mustache on a terrifying Robert Carlyle.

It’s a shock to the system that never really fades and even spawned a long-overdue sequel, T2. Try to hear Rentboy’s “Choose Life” speech and not be sucked into British cinema at its best.

Gross, surrealist, and surprisingly moving at times, Trainspotting is quintessential to Scotland’s film canon. From its nostalgic sounds to its depressing perspective on an increasingly modern country, you might be caught off guard by its moments of clarity in between drug-fuelled hazes.

Best drama movies: Schindler's List

8. Schindler’s List (1993)

One of the greatest directors in cinema presents one of the most important lessons the world could ever learn in Schindler’s List. Liam Neeson gives an Oscar-winning performance as Oskar Schindler, the businessman who became a hero to thousands and the generations that followed them. It might seem like one of those ‘checklist’ movies you never actually get around to watching, but classics are classics for a reason.

Backed by equally incredible turns from Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes’ military monster Amon Göth, this Steven Spielberg movie might be one of the few on this list that ascends beyond ‘essential viewing’, demonstrating ‘an absolute good’ that outweighed an unnecessary evil.

Best drama movies: The Godfather

7. The Godfather (1972)

Al Pacino’s prodigal son returning to the fold and being forced into the family business is a fascinating tale that only a few have earned the right to be in the same conversation with.

The story of how Michael Corleone initially thought he was out of a world he’s reluctantly pulled into is one of duty, loyalty, and the corruption that can come from both when pushed too far. The Godfather is a masterpiece that can never be refused.

Francis Ford Coppola’s chef-d’oeuvre is still on the lips of every film fan, decades later. Whether you agree it’s the starting point for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the medium or one of its rare detractors, there’s no denying its impact.

Best drama movies: J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller in Whiplash

6. Whiplash (2014)

Damien Chazelle’s story of a teacher, a pupil, and the obsession with perfection driving both is a film that’ll draw in just about anyone. Stunning cinematography and killer chemistry make every crash, smash, and bash worthwhile, as Miles Teller’s determined drummer collides with J.K. Simmons’ terror in a black tee.

Crushing more souls in Whiplash than Simon Cowell could even dream of, his Oscar-winning performance is one that you love to hate over and over again. The tension almost feels too much at times, as Whiplash holds you tightly in its grip — hold on? Are we the drumsticks?

The obsessed artist is a sub-genre responsible for some of the greatest films of the 2010s, and Whiplash won’t be knocked off of that pedestal any time soon.

Best drama movies: Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

5. A Few Good Men (1992)

Long before Tom Cruise was testing the limits of his own body as Ethan Hunt, he was pushing the limits of Jack Nicholson’s patience in A Few Good Men. Rob Reiner’s gripping courtroom drama penned by a young Aaron Sorkin plays like a procedural Rocky, as Cruise’s cocky young military lawyer learns how out of his depth he is in a case that grows arms and legs.

Crammed with a collection of stars in the making, it’s the final round between Cruise and Nicholson’s tyrannical colonel that equates with the same ferocity of staring into the sun. A monologue for the ages, A Few Good Men doesn’t just boast a grand finale but incredible performances that help us get there.

Best drama movies: Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovitch

4. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts drops enough mics in Steven Soderbergh’s underdog story to clear out a sound department in her turn as real-life hero Erin Brockovich. Her Oscar-winning performance as the legal clerk going up against the heartless energy company shows Roberts at her fieriest with the irreplaceable Albert Finney standing at a safe distance to see the sparks fly.

Thanks to Susannah Grant’s script, Erin Brockovich is an excellent display of one very mad woman getting deliciously, even with fantastic one-liners thrown in every direction. This is one of those projects that define careers, with Roberts reminding us why she’s a bonafide movie star in every sense of the word.

Best drama movies: the cast of The Social Network

3. The Social Network (2010)

David Fincher’s crisp and calculated tale of the making and breaking of the biggest social tool ever is bolstered by incredible turns from Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg. Bringing energy to a boardroom that hasn’t been matched and watching the film’s leads bounce off of and verbally brutalize one another as their empire is torn apart may feel like a time capsule now, but it’s one worth cracking open every now and again.

Fincher’s take on Mark Zuckerberg’s narcissism, the sharks around him, and the unfeeling harshness of business is a far cry from some of the techy biopics we’ve gotten since.

Best drama movies: Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump

2. Forrest Gump (1994)

Robert Zemeckis’ feather-sweeping story of one man’s journey through life is an epic tale for such a simple, pure soul. This Tom Hanks movie takes us on the road (running for a lot of it), wandering in and out of some defining moments in American history, finding love, friends, and all kinds of shrimp along the way.

Tropic Thunder may have given it a fair few jabs, but Forrest Gump still holds up even if our impressions of the hero don’t. Try not to read “box of chocolates” in his voice; I dare you.

The best drama movies: Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men

1. 12 Angry Men (1957)

We’ve already had one courtroom drama on this list, but the palpable tension of 12 Angry Men makes it an all-time classic. A claustrophobic, captivating journey exploring the essence of the judicial system as star Henry Fonda pushes his fellow jurors to rethink their preconceived notions.

The script is incredibly sharp and authentic, and the performances from all 12 men in the room are top-tier. It’s all brought together by the expert direction of Sidney Lumet, who breathes life into this searing stage play adaptation.

For something a little different, how about our list of the best rom-coms, best thriller movies, or best horror movies of all time? We also have guides on Dune 2, the Killers of the Flower Moon release date, and the Poor Things release date for more fantastic filmmaking.