9 Best Dramas based on Books Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Dorky kid Greg Gaines (played by the brilliant and unlikely named Thomas Mann) has severe issues with closeness (he calls his best friend a “co-worker”) and is instructed by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. Far from being an indie tear-jerker, though, “this isn't a touching romantic story”, as Greg's narration reminds us. This is not least to the quirky nature of the film and the third titular character Earl, Greg's closest co-worker, who acts as the moral glue between Greg and Rachel.

In addition to hilarious writing and amazing performances, the film is laced with pop-cultural references by way of the movies that Greg and his Earl shoot in their spare time – spoofy takes on cult movies with titles like Sockwork Orange. Moving without being melodramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a charmingly off-kilter fish-out-of-water plot about making friends, dealing with death, and enjoying life best as one can.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Chelsea Zhang, Connie Britton, Etta Cox, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Long, Joe Fishel, Jon Bernthal, Katherine Hughes, Masam Holden, Matt Bennett, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Rating: PG-13

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Claudia Geisler, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Daniela Holtz, Eva Bay, Felix Romer, Imogen Kogge, Jeff Burrell, Kathrin Wehlisch, Kirsten Block, Max Hopp, Megan Gay, Michael Maertens, Nikola Kastner, Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf, Ronald Zehrfeld, Stefan Will, Trystan Pütter, Trystan Putter, Uwe Preuss, Valerie Koch

Director: Christian Petzold

Rating: PG-13

Us and Them follows two former lovers who reminisce and reassess their decade-long relationship over one night. They both seem to be in better places, certainly financially if anything else, but their shared wistfulness for the past threatens to prove otherwise. 

The film was an immediate hit when it was first released in China, and it’s easy to see why. With just the right balance of realism, romance, and comedy, the movie makes for a simple but deeply moving and involving watch. You can’t help but root for the exes to get back together, even though you know as well as they do how minimal the chances of that happening are.

Genre: Drama, Reality, Romance

Actor: Andrew Tiernan, Boran Jing, Dongyu Zhou, Jack Roth, Jing Boran, Liu Di, Qu Zhe Ming, Qu Zheming, Rene Liu, Shi Yufei, Sophie Colquhoun, Su Xiaoming, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Tim Bentinck, Zhang Zixian, Zheming Qu, Zhou Dongyu, Zhuangzhuang Tian

Director: Rene Liu

Rating: Not Rated

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay both won Berlinale Best Actress and Best Actor for this movie. They play a couple who are only a few days away from their 45th marriage anniversary when they learn that the remains of the husband’s first lover have been found. He then starts obsessing about his previous relationship, to the extent that when the day of the anniversary comes, there might not be a marriage left to celebrate. This is a very ‘adult’ movie – it’s quiet, sometimes slow, very well-executed, and overall a fascinating look at marriage.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Camille Ucan, Charlotte Rampling, David Sibley, Dolly Wells, Geraldine James, Hannah Chalmers, Richard Cunningham, Rufus Wright, Sam Alexander, Tom Courtenay

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: R

Mélanie Laurent both directed and wrote this, her fifth movie.

She offers an impressive display of deft film-making and honest, insightful storytelling. Charlie is a teenage high school student, there’s seemingly nothing unusual about her. When Sarah, a Nigerian girl, joins her school, they quickly form a transformative friendship.

Breathe sometimes veers to darkness, which helps to make its portrayal of the bond between two teenagers genuine, and unexpectedly fun.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alejandro Albarracin, Anne Marivin, Camille Claris, Carole Franck, Claire Keim, Fanny Sidney, Isabelle Carré, Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Louise Grinberg, Louka Meliava, Marie Denarnaud, Morgan Perez, Radivoje Bukvic, Rasha Bukvic, Roxane Duran, Thomas Solivéres, Thomas Solivérès, Victor Assié, Vinciane Millereau

Director: Julien Lambroschini, Mélanie Laurent

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Arrival) plays Gary Webb, a journalist in investigating the American government’s possible involvement in cocaine trafficking in Latin America. Based on a true story, it’s in the same vein as other recent movies on investigative journalism. Jeremy Renner’s performance is the main reason to watch this movie. Even as the story spins into deeper levels of complexity, he remains a coherent, steady point of reference. It was his chance to prove to directors that he can carry a big-budget movie and he nailed it.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Dan Futterman, David Alessi, David de Vries, David Lee Garver, Gil Bellows, Jen Harper, Jena Sims, Jeremy Renner, Joshua Close, Lucas Hedges, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matt Lintz, Matthew Lintz, Michael Cuesta, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, Nancy Davis Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Ray Liotta, Rhoda Griffis, Richard Schiff, Robert Patrick, Robert Pralgo, Rosemarie DeWitt, Shaira Barton, Steve Coulter, Susan Walters, Tim Blake Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Michael Cuesta

Rating: R

As southern movies go, Fried Green Tomatoes is inoffensively sweet and realistic—it’s not afraid to touch on the genuine issues that plagued America in the 1930s while also cushioning some blows, as feel-good movies are wont to do. But the film seems less interested in presenting a clear picture of the past than it is in telling a specific tale: that of outsiders forming bonds and making it together in an unforgiving society. 

The main narrator is Ninny, an 83-year-old woman seemingly forgotten by everyone except Evelyn, an unhappy housewife who is “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Ninny recalls the stories of Sipsey and Big George, Black laborers who dared to succeed in their deeply racist community; of Smokey, the town outcast, who still helped people even if he was denied it himself; of Ruth, the domestic abuse victim; and of Idgie, the tomboy who spat on the face of all decorum. Then, of course, there’s the unspoken relationship between Ruth and Idgie, which hint at something quite radical for its time. 

These are all the people conventionally denied happy endings, and in period films, you’d expect to be abandoned in tragedy. But here they sing; they win and lose in equal measure, and even though it might seem like light and familiar fare to some, it still goes down heartily and unforgettably—funnily enough, like a plate of fried green tomatoes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Afton Smith, Bob Hannah, Carol Mitchell-Leon, Chris O'Donnell, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson, Constance Shulman, Danny Nelson, David Dwyer, Evan Lockwood, Fannie Flagg, Gailard Sartain, Gary Basaraba, Grace Zabriskie, Grayson Fricke, Haynes Brooke, Jessica Tandy, Jo Harvey Allen, Kathy Bates, Kathy Larson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Lois Smith, Macon McCalman, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Nancy Moore Atchison, Nick Searcy, Raynor Scheine, Reid Binion, Richard Riehle, Stan Shaw, Suzi Bass, Ted Manson, Tim Scott, Timothy Scott, Tom Even, Wallace Merck

Director: Jon Avnet

Rating: PG-13

Though it paints in overly broad strokes and takes a while to get going, this tale of broken people finding each other eventually reaches an irresistibly feel-good conclusion. Like many good sports movies, Seabiscuit isn't really dependent on the final outcome of a matchup between underdog and high-profile contender. What becomes important, then, is the perseverance of a handful of individuals in doing something just to prove they can beat the odds. And while there aren't actually as many racing sequences in Seabiscuit as you might be led to believe, they're well worth the wait—punctuating the drama with sharp editing and beautiful, period-specific production design.

Genre: Drama, Family, History

Actor: Annie Corley, Cameron Bowen, Camillia Sanes, Carl M. Craig, Chris Cooper, Dan Daily, Danny Strong, David Doty, David McCullough, Dyllan Christopher, Ed Lauter, Eddie Jones, Elizabeth Banks, Gary L. Stevens, Gary McGurk, Gary Ross, Gary Stevens, Gianni Russo, Hans Howes, James Keane, Jeff Bridges, John Walcutt, Ken Magee, Kevin Mangold, Kingston DuCoeur, Mariah Bess, Matt Miller, Michael Angarano, Michael B. Silver, Michael Ensign, Michael O'Neill, Michelle Arthur, Noah Luke, Pat Skipper, Paul Vincent O'Connor, Peter Jason, Richard Reeves, Robin Bissell, Royce D. Applegate, Sam Bottoms, Shay Duffin, Tobey Maguire, Valerie Mahaffey, William H. Macy

Director: Gary Ross

Rating: PG-13

Based on the novel of the same name, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is as comforting as the title suggests. It's a pleasure to meet the society—getting to know each character feels like getting to know some welcoming neighbors. Despite their trauma from the German occupation of the British island, these club members remain their bookish albeit secretive selves. Lily James is just doe-eyed and charming enough to make us care about the book club, the same way her character Juliet does. The streamlined plot still keeps the intrigue and comfort of the original novel. And while its romance doesn’t quite take off, the real gem of the film is the earnest assertion that family can be best found in terrible times.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alexa Povah, Andy Gathergood, Bernice Stegers, Bronagh Gallagher, Clive Merrison, Dilyana Bouklieva, Florence Keen, Glen Powell, Gregory Mann, Jack Morris, Jessica Brown Findlay, Joanna Hole, Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Lily James, Marek Oravec, Matthew Goode, Michiel Huisman, Mike Newell, Nicolo Pasetti, Penelope Wilton, Richard Derrington, Tom Courtenay, Tom Owen

Director: Mike Newell

Rating: TV-14