Good drama movies are not as easy to find, since they are not as commercially viable as, say, horror or comedy films. But any cinephile will tell you that nothing beats, in terms of movie viewing experience, a good drama film. So, we decided to dig some really good drama films to watch that you might not have heard of. You can stream some of these good drama movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu.
1. The Conversation (1974)
What Francis Ford Coppola did in the 1970’s is hard to see anyone coming even close to replicating any time soon. The man co-wrote Patton in 1970 (which earned him his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay), directed and co-wrote The Godfather I and II (for which he earned four more Oscar’s) and then went through hell and high water to make Apocalypse Now (1979). In this decade, he worked with many all time acting greats. He and his films won countless Oscars, two Palme d’Or’s and have all since been preserved in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
Sandwiched between the greatest film ever made and the greatest sequel ever made, is this subtle masterpiece – The Conversation. The Conversation is not underrated in the sense of award nominations or critical acclaim, but, this film about surveillance expert Harry Caul’s (Gene Hackman) slow descent into paranoia after he records a possible murder plot deserves to be recognised as one of the greatest films ever made.
2. The Clowns (1970)
Italian film director and global film icon, Federico Fellini is widely regarded as one of the greatest directors of all time. His films, known for their elements of fantasy and exquisite visuals have either directly or indirectly inspired any film director born after they were released. His masterpiece 8½ (1963), about a director struggling to complete his film, due to facing various personal and professional problems has inspired Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008) and countless other films with the similar plot.
A TV movie for Italian TV station RAI and filled with his signature visuals, The Clowns shows Fellini at his weirdest. In the film, Fellini stars as himself, and explores his unnatural childhood obsession with circus clowns.
3. Taking Off (1971)
One of the most important directors of the Czechoslovak New Wave, his “A Blonde in Love (1965)” and “The Fireman’s Ball (1967)” were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. However, the latter was banned for a number of years for criticising the government. Tired of this censorship and due to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Forman left for America in summer of 1968.
In America, he directed among others, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984) both of which are considered to be among the best greatest Best Picture Oscar winners in history. Forman too won the Best Director Oscar both times.
His first American film, Taking Off is wonderful comedy – drama about adult parents rediscovering their youth. The film was a success overseas winning the Grand Prix (2nd Prize) at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival and was particularly well received in England.
4. Seconds (1966)
The greatest director never to be nominated for an Oscar, a separate list entirely can be made about the Underrated films directed by John Frankenheimer. His films, known for their political subject matter thrilled audiences in the 1960’s and still hold up even to this day. His was also probably American television’s greatest ever director.
Had Seconds been directed by a better known director, it would be hailed as a Sci-Fi masterpiece. Ahead of its time, Seconds is about an unhappy middle-aged banker. Bored with his current life, he agrees to assume the identity of another man after faking his own death. Things obviously don’t go as planned.
Starring a brilliant (cast against type) Rock Hudson; some of the other people involved with the film are also Hollywood icons in their respective fields such as James Wong Howe, Jerry Goldsmith and Saul Bass.
5. Secret Honor (1984)
A Hollywood rebel and one of the most respected directors of the New Hollywood era, Altman’s films are known for their large casts, frequent use of improvisation and are famous for their satire and humour using which, he wanted to expose the “phoniness” of mainstream Hollywood. A five-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director, Altman is one of the few people who have won the First prize at Berlin, Cannes and Venice.
Secret Honor is a fictionalized one-man drama about Richard Nixon (played brilliantly by Philip Baker Hall). In the film, Nixon, armed with a loaded revolver and a bottle of Scotch, recalls his family, political career and Watergate.
6. Sorcerer (1977)
Getting his start directing in TV, Friedkin wanted his films to represent the truth about America and the changes she was going through in the mid sixties. After a few films, which he essentially disowns, he struck gold with The French Connection in 1971. Two years later, he followed that up with The Exorcist, an even bigger success. Both films are considered genre defining and among the best films of that decade. Friedkin’s career however never again reached its early high’s.
A remake of the 1953 French film “The Wages of Fear”, Sorcerer tells the tale of four men who are hired to transport an urgent shipment of nitroglycerine without the aid of any of the required safety equipment.
The film went massively over-budget and couldn’t compete with Star Wars, which was released around that same time. It thus, was a box office failure. It however has enjoyed a critical re-evaluation, premiering, digitally restored at the 70th Venice Film Festival. Friedkin considers Sorcerer to be his best work.
7. Under the Volcano (1984)
A Hollywood legend who after a few attempts, seriously started work in the American film industry as a writer for Warner Brothers Studio, Huston had an understanding with Warner of directing his own scripts in the future. After receiving 2 Academy Award for co-writing The Story of Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) and Sergeant York (1941), Warner gave him his chance. His first film – The Maltese Falcon (1941).15 Oscar nominations and 2 wins later, it was a good thing John Huston never looked back. When his career was flying high after the successes of – In This Our Life and Across the Pacific, John served in the United States Army during World War II and made 3 excellent and extremely important films about soldier’s; one of which, Let There Be Light (1946), about PTSD suffering veterans was censored for 35 years.
An adaptation of the brilliant Malcolm Lowry novel, Under the Volcano is about Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul. It explores Firmin’s addiction to alcohol and his relationship with his family; all, set in a small Mexican town during the Day of the Dead in 1938.
8. Forgotten Silver (1995)
Before achieving worldwide fame and acclaim for directing and adapting the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03), which is widely and generally regarded as the greatest ever film trilogy and which won 17 out of total 30 Academy Award nominations, Peter Jackson was known for directing a series of horror comedy films in his native New Zealand. Post LOTR, Jackson has also adapted Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and directed a very successful remake of the 1933 classic King Kong.
Forgotten Silver is mockumentary about pioneering New Zealand filmmaker, Colin McKenzie. The film claims that McKenzie invented the tracking shot and the close-up, but never received any credit for it. The film was aired as a serious documentary on TV and was very controversial in New Zealand.
9. I Live in Fear (1955)
CNN called him the Asian of the Century (in the field of Arts, Literature and Culture). Such was the influence and respect earned by Akira Kurosawa one of the greatest filmmakers in history. Much like Huston, he worked for years as a writer until finally he was offered to direct his first film in 1943. His “big break” however was Rashomon, which won the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival. Rashoman was largely responsible for reintroducing Japanese Film to the Western world.
In I Live in Fear, an aging factory owner becomes terrified of an impending nuclear war and tries to move his entire family to Brazil. Starring Toshiro Mifune in what is perhaps film’s greatest ever actor-director collaboration, I Live in Fear competed in the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
10. Summertime (1955)
Sir David Lean is known for his epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965)), Dickens adaptations (Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948)) and for directing one of the greatest ever Romance films, Brief Encounter (1945). Lean is especially respected by his fellow directors and his visuals have influenced generations of filmmakers since.
Summertime stars Katharine Hepburn, playing a middle-aged school secretary who unexpectedly finds love when holidaying in her dream vacation destination – Venice. Lean had accepted the job of directing the film as he desired to no longer do soundstage work but work on locations outside. Funnily, he fell in love with Venice and made it his second home. After the film’s release, tourism doubled in the city.
11. The Offence (1973)
Sidney Lumet was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for directing classics like 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976), 4 times and sadly never won. Known for his love of realistic crime dramas and New York City, he much like Coppola worked with many all time acting greats. He was also an active member of the Actors Studio.
The Offence stars Sean Connery playing an on the edge police detective, who snaps while interrogating a suspected child molester. Connery, who previously worked with Sidney and considered him one of his favourite directors, recommended him for directing duties.
12. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Nicknamed “Bloody Sam” due to the violence in his films, Sam Peckinpah’s films though widely respected have remained controversial, usually for their depiction of violence. Peckinpah had a deep love for the old American West as is evident from his films. His artistic depiction of blood and violence forever led to him facing trouble when financing his films. His life much like most of his films has been called tragic.
Starring the always excellent Warren Oates, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is about the lengths a couple go to, to collect a $1 million bounty on the head of Alfredo Garcia.
The only movie Peckinpah that had final cut on, the film, much like most of Peckinpah’s entire filmography failed at the box-office and was extremely polarising critically and has developed a cult following. Roger Ebert considered it a masterpiece.
13. Odd Man Out (1947)
British director most famous for directing films written by Graham Greene (The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949)), Carol Reed will be forever remembered as the director of The Third Man (1949), which is considered the greatest British film ever made and one of the greatest films ever made. The Third Man has overshadowed most of Reed’s other equally impressive work, most notably – Odd Man Out (1947)
Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Johnny McQueen is a badly wounded Irish nationalist solider (IRA), fleeing from the police. Well received both at the box office and critically. Legendary filmmaker Roman Polanski has called Odd Man Out as his favourite film and has also stated that he feels it superior to The Third Man.
14. After Hours (1985)
Possibly America’s greatest ever director and certainly greatest living director, Martin Scorsese’s work has been the subject of countless retrospectives. His career has been analysed and dissected by film scholars. Because of his great body of work, his lesser known movies, rather movies which aren’t as popular as say Goodfellas, don’t receive the respect and attention they deserve. Probably the most notable example is After Hours.
Possibly his only direct comedy film (albeit black comedy), After Hours doesn’t have the star power of Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio but makes up for it with its subtle humour. It’s about an ordinary word processor and the series of misadventures he experiences while trying to go back home at night time. The film takes place in New York City.
15. Mississippi Mermaid (1969)
One of the founders of the French New Wave, he started his career in film, much like his fellow New Wave contemporaries (Godard, Rohmer, Chabrol, Rivette) as a critic (and later editor) at Cahiers du cinéma. Initially making a few shorts, he was inspired to make his first feature film (The 400 Blows (1959)) after seeing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil at the Expo 58 (World’s Fair) in Brussels. He then directed a series of classics of French and World cinema, over the next 25 years.
Shot in chronological order and starring French icons Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, Mississippi Mermaid is about a tobacco planter who marries a woman with a shady past.
16. Mala Noche (1986)
An indie legend who went on to become a prominent mainstream filmmaker whose fascination with the down and out members of L.A.’s population would strongly influence his early career, Van Sant has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director twice and has also won the Palme d’Or and Best Director Award at Cannes for Elephant (2003)
His debut, Mala Noche about an ill-fated gay love affair was shot in 16 mm with black-and-white and was an instant success.
17. The Beaches of Agnès (2008)
A photographer and a filmmaker whose films feature a distinct documentary like realism. Though she started making films a few years before the French New Wave, her films are still associated with the movement. Beloved and highly respected all over the world, especially in her adopted country, France, She became the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or in 2015. She was married to fellow New Wave legend Jacques Demy, till his death.
In The Beaches of Agnès, the great filmmaker looks back on her life while celebrating her 80th birthday. The film won the César Award for Best Documentary Film.
18. The Stranger (1967)
Born into one of Northern Italy’s richest families, he led a life of luxury and was exposed to art, music and theatre at very early age and began his film career as an assistant director to Jean Renoir. He then together with the help of other directors such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini founded the talian neo-realism film movement. His films have won the Palme d’Or (The Leopard) and the Golden Lion (Sandra) and are known for their lavish beauty.
Based on the Albert Camus novel about a man who commits perjury to save his friends, it stars acting royalty in Marcello Mastroianni and Anna Karina. Roger Ebert said that “The curious fault of Luchino Visconti’s “The Stranger” is that the film follows the book too closely.
19. Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) (1965)
Widely regarded as and voted the greatest film director of all time in the directors and critics BFI poll, he perhaps is best known for directing and co-writing Citizen Kane (1941), which for 50 years was also voted in the BFI poll as the greatest film ever made. His innovations in filmmaking such as those odd camera angles (The Trial (1962)), deep focus shots (Citizen Kane (1941)) and long takes (Touch of Evil (1958)) further give evidence for his title as cinema’s greatest ever film director.
Welles loved Shakespeare and although his Othello (1951) and Macbeth (1948) received more attention in their time, Chimes at Midnight is his best Shakespeare adaption and Welles himself called it his best work. It is about Sir John Falstaff and his relation with the King’s (King Henry IV) son, Prince Hal. It borrows from multiple Shakespeare texts – Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
20. Kings of the Road (1976)
Along with Fassbinder and Herzog, one of the most important director’s of the New German Cinema film movement. Lauded by critics and beloved in the Festival circuit, his films have gone on to win the Golden Lion at Venice and the Golden Palm (Palme d’Or) and Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. He has also won the Honorary Golden Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015. Wenders is also known for his love of the documentary genre and has received three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, all on vastly different subjects.
Made just before one of his most famous films The American Friend (1977), Kings of the Road is about two depressed men going through their own respective crises who go on a road trip together. It was the third part of Wenders’ “Road Movie trilogy”.