Best Drama Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best drama movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ (1984) – Jim Jarmusch

This Sundance darling defined indie filmmaking with its episodic story, static camera and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

29. ‘Five Easy Pieces’ (1970) – Bob Rafelson

After a small part in “Easy Rider,” Jack Nicholson had his breakthrough lead role as a selfish womanizer trying to simply order toast at a roadside diner.

28. ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) – Dennis Hopper

This “Born to Be Wild” road movie is the quinetescential time capsule of the 1960s counterculture movement.

27. ‘The Help’ (2011) – Tate Taylor

Future Oscar winners abound (Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain) in this tale of black maids during the civil rights movement.

26. ‘Crash’ (2005) – Paul Haggis

Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock collide in interweaving stories of race, loss and redemption in post-9/11 Los Angeles.

25. ‘Central Station’ (1998) – Walter Salles

Before “Motorcycle Diaries,” Walter Salles’ breakthrough Brazilian masterpiece was this tale of a young boy searching for his father with the help of a former school teacher, who writes letters for illiterate people.

24. ‘Black Narcissus’ (1947) – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Who knew a tale of nuns at a convent in the Himalayas could be this passionate and tragic at the same time?

23. ‘Ida’ (2013) – Pawel Pawlikowski

This Oscar-winning gem by Polish master Pawel Pawlikowski follows a novice nun about to take her vows until she uncovers a family secret from the war.

22. ‘The Master’ (2012) – Paul Thomas Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix is unforgettable as an aimless drifter brainwashed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams to join a cult resembling Scientology.

21. The Faith Trilogy: ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ / ‘Winter Light’ / ‘The Silence’ (1961-1963) – Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman grappled with his own religious upbringing and ongoing faith and doubt in this trilogy of chamber dramas, starting with “Through a Glass Darkly,” followed by “Winter Light” and ultimately “The Silence.”

20. ‘The Elements Trilogy’ (1996-2005) – Deepa Mehta

In “Fire,” “Earth” and “Water,” Mehta tackled India’s arranged marriage, homosexuality, religion, suicide and misogyny.

19. ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ (1991) – Yimou Zhang

Before making Jet Li an action star in “Hero,” Yimou Zhang wowed us with this historical drama about the fourth wife of a wealthy lord and the strict conditions of her existence.

18. ‘Nights of Cabiria’ (1957) – Federico Fellini 

Federico Fellini won his second Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film about a prostitute wandering Rome looking for true love but finding only heartbreak with some of the most genius shots you’ll ever see on film.

17. ‘The Earrings of Madame De…’ (1953) – Max Ophuls

Max Ophuls’ fluid camera movements are mesmerizing as a pair of earrings is passed around from one owner to the next.

16. ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’ (1966) – Robert Bresson

A symbolic donkey is tragically passed around from one owner to the next in Bresson’s artful allegory of the Christian faith.

15. ‘Three Colors Trilogy’ (1993-1994) – Krzysztof Kieslowski

The trilogy of “Blue,” “White” and “Red” thematically explored the colors of the French flag: liberty, equality, fraternity.

14. ‘Umberto D’ (1952) – Vittorio Di Sica

After his “Bicycle Thieves” breakthrough, the Italian Neorealist master followed an elderly man and his dog struggling to survive on his government pension in Rome.

13. ‘Persona’ (1966) – Ingmar Bergman

This experimental masterpiece opens inside a film projector and ends when the film stock burns up in the gate. In between, Bergman comments on the identity as personas meld, replaying the same scene from two perspectives.

12. ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000) – Darren Aronofsky

Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn shock us in Aronofsky’s horrific anti-drug film with the most harrowing music of all time.

11. ‘Trainspotting’ (1996) – Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle explored the tragedy of heroin addiction as Ewan McGregor watched a baby crawl on the ceiling.

10. ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945) – Billy Wilder

This dark Best Picture was way ahead of its time exploring the withdrawal symptoms of Ray Milland’s alcoholic.

9. ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ (1962) – Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda paved the way for female filmmakers everywhere with this French New Wave tale of a hypochondriac awaiting her cancer results.

8. ‘Ikiru’ (1952) – Akira Kurosawa

A Japanese bureaucrat starts living for the first time in his life after he is diagnosed with cancer, leaving behind a park playground as his legacy.

7. ‘Wild Strawberries’ (1957) – Ingmar Bergman

An aging professor confronts the emptiness of his existence during a road trip to receive an honorary degree.

6. ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (1948) – Vittorio de Sica

Played by non-actors, a working man and his son search for a missing bike in a masterpiece of Italian Neorealism.

5. ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954) – Elia Kazan

Marlon Brando was iconic as punchdrunk stevedore Terry Malloy, working on the corrupt docks and admitting to his brother, “I coulda been a contender!”

4. ‘The Rules of the Game’ (1939) – Jean Renoir

Fluid camera moves examine the rich bourgeoisie and poor servants at a French chateau at the onset of World War II.

3. ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960) – Federico Fellini

Fellini’s masterpiece coined the phrase “paparazzi” as Marcello Mastroianni joined Anita Ekberg in Rome’s Trevi Fountain.

2. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) – John Schlesinger

“I’m walking here!” Jon Voight’s country bumpkin Joe Buck learns the harsh realities of the city with Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo in the only X-rated Best Picture, exposing the rural-urban divide with a man lying face-first on the gritty sidewalk in front of Tiffany’s.

1. ‘Do the Right Thing’ (1989) – Spike Lee

“1989!” Right from the Public Enemy opening, this drama punches us in the face with a montage of racial epithets, brass-knuckle lessons of LOVE vs. HATE and a climactic race riot, as Spike Lee delivers cinema’s greatest examination of race in America.

Check out the other genres below!

Action | Adventure | Animation | Biopic | Comedy | Coming of Age | Courtroom | Crime | Documentary | Drama | Epic | Family Comedy | Family Drama | Fantasy | Film Noir | Gangster | Horror | Musical | Mystery | Politics & Media | Prison | Romance | Romantic Comedy | Science Fiction | Showbiz | Silent | Sports | Thriller | War | Western

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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