The 15 Best Drama Movies of the 2020s So Far, Ranked

The last few years have led to many major areas of unrest within the entertainment industry. Between the shuttering of movie theaters as a result of the COVD-19 pandemic, the creation of new streaming services, and the current strikes by the WGA and SAG members, the film industry is changing rapidly.



That being said, the creative output of cinema’s most prominent voices has not been silenced in the least bit. The current decade has already seen the release of several masterpieces that will likely be remembered for generations after their release. These are the best drama movies of the 2020s so far, ranked.

15 ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ (2020)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
Image via Focus Features

Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes for one of the most excruciating viewings of the decade. The film tells the story of the pregnant teenager Autumn (Sidney Flanagan), who must travel across state lines with her best friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) in order to receive an abortion.

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The film deals with the timely subject material with an incredible amount of respect. Director Eliza Hitman shows the difficulty of the process in full detail. Never Rarely Sometimes Always grows infuriating as it becomes clear that Autumn is not getting the support she needs from her family or community.

14 ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (2021)

Fred Hampton giving a speech in Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah had the difficult task of telling the life story of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya in an Academy Award winning role). Director Shaka King was able to encapsulate Hampton’s accomplishments by creating an engaging crime thriller with no ambiguities about its relevance.

Within each scene of the FBI hunting down Hampton and initiating his assassination, it’s evident why the conversations about black identity he initiated are still so important. Kaluyaa was able to capture the power of Hampton’s presence in front of a crowd with a powerful delivery of his speeches.

13 ‘Nomadland’ (2020)

Frances McDormand in 'Nomadland'
Image via Searchlight Pictures

Writer/director Chloé Zhao crafts a moving portrayal of the American nomadic lifestyle in her gorgeous drama Nomadland. Nomadland’s intentions are observational, rather than political. It doesn’t cast judgment on the character of Fern (Frances McDormand), but it’s able to reveal so much about her with very little dialogue or exposition.

McDormand proves yet again why she is among the greatest actresses of her generation. Fern is an endearing character because of her self-confidence, but it never feels like she’s attempting to impose her choice of lifestyle on anyone else.

12 ‘Pig’ (2021)

pig movie image nicolas cage (1)

Nicolas Cage has been the subject of ridicule and parody due to a series of eccentric performances he gave in low budget genre movies; Cage even got in on the joke by starring as a fictionalized version of himself in 2022’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. However, 2021’s Pig showed the world why Cage had become such an icon in the first place; he narrowed his focus and gave one of the most moving performances of his career as the former chef Rob.

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Rob goes on a quest of revenge when his beloved truffle-hunting pig disappears. While the premise sounds outlandish and absurd, the film peels back Rob’s backstory in emotionally compelling ways.

11 ‘Aftersun’ (2022)

Paul Mescal in 'Aftersun'

Aftersun is a very brave piece of personal filmmaking on the part of first-time director Charlotte Wells. The film is told almost entirely in flashback and shows how the filmmaker Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) is reflecting on a pivotal experience from her youth. The flashbacks incorporate sequences of a young Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father Calum (Paul Mescal).

Mescal is as intoxicating as Calum; while his charisma is plentiful, he is not equipped to be a father. Rather than cast judgment on Calum, both Sophie and the film itself seem to celebrate the limited time that he was able to be there for his family.

10 ‘Women Talking’ (2022)

Women Talking (2022) (1)

Women Talking unpacks a series of difficult conversations about the nature of abuse. Inspired by the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, the film chronicles the decisions made by a small community of highly religious Mennonite women living in an isolated community, who discover that they’ve all been sexually assaulted by the same group of men.

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While it doesn’t seem like a series of conversations would make for an engaging film, director Sarah Polley ensures that each character is defined by much more than a talking point. The excellent performances by Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley make this frank discussion of female autonomy emotionally rewarding as well.

9 ‘Minari’ (2020)

Steven Yeun and Alan Kim in Minari
Image via A24

One of the best trends to emerge in the last decade of filmmaking is seeing that independent films have celebrated how different cultures interpret the “American dream.” Minari shows the trials and tribulations that a Korean American family faces as they attempt to start a farm in their new home of Arkansas.

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In his highly personal screenplay, director Lee Issac Chung shows that the strongest families are defined by the hardship they overcame. Chung doesn’t sensationalize the story, but there’s an ethereal quality to Emile Mosseri’s gorgeous score that makes the simplicity even more powerful.

8 ‘The Power of the Dog’ (2021)

Power of the Dog Benedict Cumberbatch riding a horse

The Power of the Dog is a film that demands multiple viewings to fully understand, but not in the same way that Tenet does. Director Jane Campion unravels an understated love story in the heart of the American west, and shows how forcing someone to conform can lead to tragic circumstances.

While Benedict Cumberbatch is certainly an icon within the geek community for his roles in countless franchise films, he seamlessly creates a complex, moving portrayal of Phil Burbank. Phil is an aggressive rancher that takes a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) under his wing, forcing him to question his identity as love begins to blossom in the subtlest of ways.

7 ‘Past Lives’ (2023)

Greta Lee and Tee Yoo on a train
Image via A24

Past Lives tells a story that could only exist because of modern circumstances but feels timeless in its approach. How does someone choose between two lovers, one that represents the most fruitful days of her youth, and the other someone she has grown to love as part of her reality? Celine Song examines these critical conversations through the perspective of an immigrant story.

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Expect to see the performances by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo frequently mentioned in this year’s award season race; both breakout performers deliver emotionally devastating performances as the childhood lovers Nora and Hae Sung.

6 ‘TÁR’ (2022)

Lydia Tár conducting in TÁR.
Image via Focus Features 

“Cancel culture” is a hot-button phrase that is frequently thrown around in the news cycle, and few films have actually examined why certain celebrities are forced to face the consequences of any misdeeds they may have made in the past. In his first film since 2006’s Little Children, writer/director Todd Field addresses the debate with his incredibly timely (yet shockingly hilarious) drama TÁR.

Although Cate Blanchett has played many iconic characters throughout her career, Lydia is an antihero like no other. It’s impossible to look away from her performance as the character continues to dig herself into a deeper hole.

5 ‘Drive My Car’ (2021)

Drive My Car’ (2021) (1)

Who would have thought that a three-hour drama that’s mostly a series of conversations could become a strange sort of word-of-mouth hit? The success of Drive My Car with American audiences is a major win for world cinema, and it couldn’t have been more deserving.

Writer and director Ryusuke Hamaguchi crafted a timeless examination of loss; while it’s initially a tough premise to sit through, Drive My Car becomes rewarding for those that invest in its message about the necessity of healing. The film reminds the viewer that moving forward after the death of a loved one is a difficult, but necessary task.

4 ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (2022)

Colin Farrell in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'

The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the greatest “breakup” movies ever made; veteran playwright Martin McDonagh examines the path of the life-long friends Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell), who drift apart when Colm decides to invest all the time he has left into art.

While initially the circumstances of their breakup are darkly comedic, The Banshees of Inisherin slowly crafts itself into a tragedy. In a decade where he has already given some great performances, Farrell does his best work ever; Pádraic’s idealism fades as he realizes that there’s no reward for being nice.

3 ‘Oppenheimer’ (2023)

Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer
Image via Universal Studios

Christopher Nolan is evidently one of the most ambitious filmmakers of his generation, but Oppenheimer just might be his greatest achievement. Nolan explores the world’s obsession with destructive nuclear weapons from the perspective of their creator; using the Greek myth of Dante as an inspiration, Oppenheimer makes it clear that once this type of power is unleashed, it is bound to be used again.

Cillian Murphy is absolutely heartbreaking as a man who steadily realizes the ramifications of his invention. The film is filled with great performances, including a standout supporting role from Robert Downey Jr. as Oppenheimer’s stealthy rival, Lewis Strauss.

2 ‘The Father’ (2020)

Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Any film that tackles a critical illness must do so with respect. With The Father, writer/director Florian Zeller is able to put the audience in the shoes of a character with Alzheimer’s disease. Zeller proved that the best way to show how debilitating memory loss is was to show it through the eyes of the victim itself; The Father examines the shifts in reality that overwhelm an elderly man (Anthony Hopkins).

Zeller uses creative techniques to show the shifts in reality, and Hopkins delivers a heartbreaking performance that ranks among his very best.

1 ‘The Fabelmans’ (2022)

Sammy Fabelman looking to the distance while standing besides a projector in The Fabelmans
Image via Universal Pictures

The Fabelmans is the story that Steven Spielberg has been waiting to tell for his entire career: his own. Spielberg reveals a surprising amount about his own childhood, and the film is far more than just a self-congratulatory tribute to himself.

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Spielberg puts into beautiful words and images the issues that he’s been struggling with for his entire life; he’s desperately trying to piece together a broken family while pursuing his addiction to telling stories. Although Spielberg has made many great films throughout the 21st century, The Fabelmans is his most personal project to date.

KEEP READING: The 10 Most Underrated Movies of the 2020s So Far

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