22 Best Indie Drama Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Alyssa Chia, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu, Huang Hsin-Yao, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lee-zen Lee, Liang-Tso Liu, Shao-Huai Chang, Shau-Ching Sung, Tiffany Hsu, Waa Wei, Yang Li-yin, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Rating: Not Rated

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Robert lies dying in hospital, an activist still raging against the lack of financial support and mainstream acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis. David volunteers to be his “buddy” while he’s bedbound, keeping him company and conversing. He’s less bothered by how the world treats homosexuality and AIDS, and although he commits to sticking by Robert, he’s doubtful of the need for his protests.

The film is firmly on Robert’s side, giving him space to shout and show frustration. What’s more, Buddies never treats sex as dirty or dangerous, allowing it to be something in which gay people find joy and solace, refusing to cast it as shameful. By the end of the decade, Geoff Edholm, who played Robert, and director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. had both lost their lives to the pandemic. It’s a snapshot of hospital rooms across the world, which were often hidden from sight, as a community was left to fend for itself, unsupported. David comes to understand.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: David Rose, David Schachter, Geoff Edholm, Tracy Vivat

Director: Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

Rating: Not Rated

The entirety of Pieces of April takes place on Thanksgiving Day, a busy holiday meant to bring loved ones together. Sure enough, April, the eldest Burns daughter, takes great pains to prepare a nice dinner for her visiting family. But we soon learn that she is motivated less by excitement than by dread: she's long been estranged, disowned even, by her uptight mother, Joy, who is only agreeing to come because she's sick with cancer. April seems to be on a reluctant mission to fix their fraught relationship, but pesky (albeit funny) mishaps, both on her and Joy's end, keep getting in the way. 

Shot digitally and very closely with hand-held cameras, Pieces of April looks as intimate as it feels. It's a snapshot of an era and of a particular family dynamic, one that relatably relies on both love and scorn to keep going. It's an excellent, honest, and underrated gem of a movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adrian Martinez, Alice Drummond, Alison Pill, Anney Giobbe, Armando Riesco, Birdie M. Hale, Derek Luke, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jamari Richardson, John Gallagher Jr., Katie Holmes, Leila Danette, Lillias White, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, Rusty De Wees, Sally Leung Bayer, Sean Hayes, Sisqó, Stephen Chen, Susan Bruce, Vitali Baganov

Director: Peter Hedges

Rating: PG-13

Never has evil been so darn fun to watch. Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) is such a captivating villainess, you'll actually find yourself rooting for her at times in this noirish take on..., I don't know what, but it involves drug money, double-crosses, lots of witty repartee and cat-and-mouse manipulation that will make your stomach hurt. The script is tight, the acting is all testosterone driven and crisp and you'll hear some choice words come from nice guy Bill Pullman (as Bridget's husband Clay) that you never imagined he could say. Peter Berg (Mike) is fantastic as the guy's guy determined to earn his Alpha-dog badge by subduing the fierce and wickedly intelligent heroine, Bridget. Fiorentino won a BAFTA award for her performance and was nominated, along with Director John Dahl, for several others. The movie did not qualify under Academy rules for the Oscars, but it would have been a strong contender.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anne Flanagan, Bill Nunn, Bill Pullman, Bill Stevenson, Dean Norris, Donna W. Scott, Herb Mitchell, J.T. Walsh, Jack Shearer, Linda Fiorentino, Michael Raysses, Mik Scriba, Peter Berg, Walter Addison, Zack Phifer

Director: John Dahl

Rating: R

Following is the first movie Christopher Nolan ever directed, a mesmerizing low-budget effort that introduced the world to the genius who will later give us Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and many other classics. Shot in "extreme" conditions to quote Nolan himself, for just over £3000, it had to be filmed in the span of a year on Saturdays only and in friends' houses. But almost none of that is visible in the sharp camera work, the magnificent acting (most of it was first or second takes), and the twisted script. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer (The Young Man) who tries to find inspiration in following random people in the street, and doing it via strict rules. One day he follows a man in a suit (Cobb), who catches him and becomes intrigued by him. It turns out that Cobb has his own fascination with people's intimate lives, of criminal nature, which he lets The Young Man into. Using the same non-linear plot technique as in Memento, this movie is halfway between a thriller and a film noir. The inspiration for it came when Nolan's own apartment in London was robbed, and he was fascinated by the act of strangers going through his personal items. If you take into consideration the conditions of its making, this movie is a masterpiece.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Haw, Barbara Stepansky, David Julyan, Dick Bradsell, Emma Thomas, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Jeremy Theobald, John Nolan, Lucy Russell, Nicolas Carlotti, Paul Mason, Rebecca James

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rating: R

Fourteen-year-old Segundo dreams of being just like his father Noé, a revered tableau artist in their small Peruvian town. The teenage apprentice follows Noé's every move and instruction, that is until one day, he discovers a shocking truth about Noé's identity. Hurt, angered, and incredibly confused, Segundo starts detaching from his family, as well as from the life he thought he'd wanted to live. 

Retablo is a slow but vibrant film, set in Peruvian locales and spoken in the country's indigenous tongue, Quechua. Its limited dialogue smartly reflects the people's own silence when it comes to sex and gender ideas, although the movements themselves—from traditional parties to teenage fights—have a lot to say about masculinity, conservatism, and the dangers of their excess. Retablo might be a difficult watch for some, but it's just as necessary and enlightening.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amiel Cayo, Claudia Solís, Coco Chiarella, Hermelinda Luján, Junior Béjar Roca, Magaly Solier, Mauro Chuchón

Director: Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L., Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio

Rating: R

Summary: it’s a really unusual movie, especially for a star like Robin Williams. It’s almost an indie film actually. Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, the father of a typical rude teenage boy Kyle Clayton (Daryl Sabara) wherein Sabara’s character meets an unusual demise, and out of embarrassment of the situation the father ghost-writes a suicide note from his son. This white lie leads to another and another and so on until his lies spread further than anticipated. The movie definitely earns points for making the film that was set out to be made. They wanted to make a dark comedy and a dark comedy was what they made. It’s even uncomfortable to watch at times. Between Lance’s love life and Kyle’s non-existent one there’s enough awkwardness that you feel like you can’t wait to get to the next scene just so this one can be over. All in all the actors did a truly fantastic job. Each character seemed well developed by the individual actor to the point where every gesture, line delivery, and awkward silence seemed too natural and organic. Additionally, the writing was exceptional for this movie, as no dialogue was ever wasted. Each and every little detail in each and every shot of each and every scene was very carefully designed to continually push the aesthetics, this film is a big success.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexie Gilmore, Bobcat Goldthwait, Bruce Hornsby, Cheri Minns, Daryl Sabara, Ellie Jameson, Evan Martin, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons, Jermaine Williams, Jill Talley, Krist Novoselic, Lorraine Nicholson, Mitzi McCall, Morgan Murphy, Naomi Glick, Rebecca Erwin Spencer, Robin Williams, Toby Huss, Tom Kenny

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Rating: R

Bree (Felicity Huffman) is an uptight transwoman who gets a phone call from her long lost son who is in trouble. She does not tell him she is his father but bails him out of jail and they end up on a long road trip to LA. Bree's high strung conservative personality intersecting with a wild young man and people they meet along the way leads to some comical situations. Felicity Huffman's performance is excellent. It is enjoyable to watch the characters develop over the film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amy Povich, Andrea James, Bianca Leigh, Burt Young, Calpernia Addams, Carrie Preston, Craig Bockhorn, Danny Burstein, Elizabeth Peña, Elizabeth Peña, Felicity Huffman, Fionnula Flanagan, Forrie J. Smith, Graham Greene, Grant Monohon, Jim Frangione, Jon Budinoff, Kevin Zegers, Maurice Orozco, Paul Borghese, Raynor Scheine, Richard Poe, Stella Maeve, Steve Hurwitz, Teala Dunn, Venida Evans

Director: Duncan Tucker

Rating: R

Robyn Davidson decided to cross 1,700 miles in the Australian desert with four camels and her trusty dog, and this film recounts her real-life journey. In many ways this is a companion piece to Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, also released in theaters in 2014. While I enjoyed Wild, it went out of its way to make the protagonist’s journey understood to audiences. Tracks gives Robyn some light shading and backstory, but unlike Wild it almost focuses solely on her journey across the desert. And what a desert it is! The scenery is shot beautifully and we feel as though we are truly on this daring journey with her, traveling alien landscapes with little to depend on beyond our animal companions and our wits. We know the outcome (since this is a true story) but we are still thrilled to see how it unfolds. What does it all mean, and what was the journey’s purpose? Thankfully, in the end, the answer is left as enigmatic as the heroine herself.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Bryan Probets, Daisy Walkabout, Emma Booth, Felicity Steel, Fiona Press, Ian Conway, Jessica Tovey, John Flaus, Lily Pearl, Melanie Zanetti, Mia Wasikowska, Philip Dodd, Rainer Bock, Robert Coleby, Rolley Mintuma

Director: John Curran

Rating: PG-13

A group of male friends become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide. Sofia Coppola does a great job taking the novel and turning it into a full featured movie. The movie is admittedly a bit slow, but it paints such a great picture into the characters lives and everyone around them, that your attention will quickly be turned to that. The casting is spot on and even though it may seem like a very dark subject matter, the film is very enjoyable to watch no matter your taste in movies.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: A.J. Cook, Allen Stewart-Coates, Amos Crawley, Andrew Gillies, Anthony DeSimone, Chelse Swain, Conor Dean Smith, Courtney Hawkrigg, Danny DeVito, Dawn Greenhalgh, François Klanfer, Gary Brennan, Giovanni Ribisi, Hanna Hall, Hayden Christensen, James Woods, Joe Dinicol, Joe Roncetti, John Buchan, Jonathan Tucker, Jonathan Whittaker, Josh Hartnett, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Kristin Fairlie, Leslie Hayman, Melody Johnson, Michael Paré, Michael Pare, Michèle Duquet, Murray McRae, Neil Girvan, Noah "40" Shebib, Robert Schwartzman, Roberta Hanley, Sally Cahill, Sandi Stahlbrand, Scot Denton, Scott Glenn, Sherry Miller, Suki Kaiser, Thomas Mars, Timothy Adams, Tracey Ferencz, Хейден Кристенсен

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rating: R

The Sessions is drama about Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a quadriplegic who is forced to live in an iron lung due to complications from childhood Polio. A poet by trade, Mark longs to experience the touch of a woman, and despite his condition, to ultimately lose his virginity at the age of 38. After consultation with his parish priest (William H. Macy), Mark begins to see a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who slowly opens his mind and his body to the pleasures of sexuality. A very frank depiction of sex and sensuality, The Sessions is unflinching yet utterly tender storytelling. Hawkes and Hunt are both wonderfully real and honest in their performances. It’s the type of film that will surprise you by the ending at how much it has moved you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Arkin, Annika Marks, B.J. Clinkscales, Blake Lindsley, Daniel Quinn, Helen Hunt, James Martinez, Jarrod Bailey, John Hawkes, Ming Lo, Moon Bloodgood, RayVeness, Rhea Perlman, Robin Weigert, Rusty Schwimmer, Tobias Forrest, W. Earl Brown, William H. Macy, Мун Бладгуд

Director: Ben Lewin

Rating: R

Ever since the premier at the Toronto Film festival critics and viewers have been raving about this low-budget gem. A lot of people go as far as calling it a life-changing film, and rightfully so.  It tells the story of three people from different parts of the world who face new ethical problems caused by a change in their body: a blind photographer who finally gains sight; an animal rights activist whose newly diagnosed liver condition requires treatment that involves animal testing; and a man who, after having a kidney transplant, learns about the black market for organ trade. The title refers to the paradox that asks if all parts of a ship are replaced, does it stay the same ship? A beautiful intellectual exercise.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aida El-Kashef, Aida Elkashef, Aishwarya, Aishwarya Bhaskar, Aydah El-Kashef, Faraz Khan, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah, Vinay Shukla, Yogesh Shah

Director: Anand Gandhi

Rating: Not Rated

A true story based film about three girls whose lives become a tragedy shaped by the Rabbit-proof fence, which runs along Australia splitting it to two parts. These girls, daughters of an aboriginal mother and a white father who worked on building the fence and then moved on, get taken from their mother to a so-called re-education camp. This is the story of their escape to find the fence and then their mother, a journey of 1500 miles that they can only do on foot. Tragic, yes, but this is an honest film that sends clear messages without any excessive emotional dwelling.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, History

Actor: Andrew S. Gilbert, Anthony Hayes, Carmel Johnson, Celine O'Leary, David Gulpilil, David Ngoombujarra, Deborah Mailman, Don Barker, Edwina Bishop, Everlyn Sampi, Garry McDonald, Heath Bergersen, Jason Clarke, Ken Radley, Kenneth Branagh, Kenneth Radley, Kizzy Flanagan, Laura Monaghan, Lorna Lesley, Myarn Lawford, Natasha Wanganeen, Ningali Lawford, Richard Carter, Roy Billing, Tianna Sansbury, Trevor Jamieson

Director: Phillip Noyce

Rating: PG

This little gem of a sci-fi is based on actual physics theory and doesn't make you cringe every time some technobabble word comes out. Watching it the first time around leaves most viewers puzzled at the end, but wanting to see it again. Shot at a budget of ~$7000, don't expect any flashy special effects or CGI. Do be prepared, however, for some mind boggling paradoxical ideas that require some effort to wrap your brain around.

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Anand Upadhyaya, Ashley Warren, Ashok Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Casey Gooden, Chip Carruth, David Sullivan, Jay Butler, John Carruth, Juan Tapia, Keith Bradshaw, Kevin Lucero Less, Samantha Thomson, Shane Carruth

Director: Shane Carruth

Rating: PG-13