29 Best Character-driven Movies On Hulu

Staff & contributors

If you’re less about adventurous plots, and more about the emotional journey and relationship arcs, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best character-driven movies and shows to stream right now.

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Anna Dworak, Gisle Tveito, Hans Olav Brenner, Herbert Nordrum, Ine Jansen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Marianne Krogh, Renate Reinsve, Ruby Dagnall, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Thea Stabell, Vidar Sandem

Director: Joachim Trier

, 2022

Inu-oh is a visually stunning and thought-provoking anime that reimagines a Japanese folk tale as it explores themes of artistic freedom, individuality, and the consequences of challenging societal norms. The movie's striking imagery, original music, and captivating story make it a memorable viewing experience, delving into issues of identity and the prejudices faced by disabled individuals with sensitivity. While the catchy music may not appeal to everyone, the film's unique blend of ancient and contemporary storytelling creates a creative triumph that anime fans will appreciate, offering social commentary and a reflection on the power of staying true to oneself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Music

Actor: Avu-chan, Chikara Honda, Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Kenjiro Tsuda, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto, Yoshifumi Sakai, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Journalist LLoyd Vogel (Matthey Rhys) scoffs at the prospect of a profile commission, or a "puff piece", as he calls it. His self-respect and professional ruthlessness has driven people away and this assignment may well be a test from his editor. But it is serendipity that brings Lloyd to American TV host Mister Roger (Tom Hanks) and his child-oriented show, at a time when he, a new father, is confronted with his own paternal trauma. No heavy psychological lifting here, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might be one of the most profound films about father-son relationships ever made. Notably, the film is directed by a woman, Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). In her film as in his show, Mister Roger doesn't have to do much: he listens, he speaks, he suggests, and while his kindness may seem frustrating at times, it is truly radical. Additionally, Lloyd's character is based loosely on writer Tom Junod, whose encounter with Rogers ended up a profile in Esquire magazine.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alex Pérez, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantoni, Fred Rogers, Gavin Borders, Gregory Bromfield, Gretchen Koerner, Jessica Hecht, Joanne Rogers, Joe Fishel, Kathleen Antonia, Kelley Davis, Kevin L. Johnson, Khary Payton, Kitty Crystal, Krizia Bajos, Maddie Corman, Maryann Plunkett, Matthew Rhys, Michael Masini, Noah Harpster, Patrick McDade, Rebecca Watson, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tammy Blanchard, Tom Bonello, Tom Hanks, Wendy Makkena

Director: Marielle Heller

Rating: PG

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Isabelle Mazin, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Leonor Oberson, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Madeleine Baudot, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

Kimberly Peirce's first–out of only three—film was a smashing success, mostly due to her dedication to the subject matter. Peirce spent years researching the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena after reading an article about him in The Village Voice. She felt a particular kind of kinship as a queer person herself, and wanted to construct a story out of real facts that would put the spotlight on love and the desire for connection, and not that much on the violence which dominated the public discourse. In Falls City, Nebraska, the director conducted interviews with Lana Tisdale (Brandon's girlfriend) and her mother, while attending the ongoing trial. She took years to cast the lead and from hundreds of cis women, lesbians, and trans people, she chose the unknown actress Hilary Swank, who went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award (and the irony of that is not lost on us). The film features fantastic performances aplenty and very raw storytelling, visualized by neorealist style and low lighting. Direct references were the films of Martin Scorcese and John Cassavetes, but Boys Don't Cry has its own blend of beauty and cruelty to take pride in.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III, Caitlin Wehrle, Cheyenne Rushing, Chloe Sevigny, Craig Erickson, Gabriel Horn, Gail Cronauer, Guilford Adams, Hilary Swank, Jackson D. Kane, Jeannetta Arnette, Jerry Haynes, Josh Ridgway, Libby Villari, Lisa Renee Wilson, Lou Perryman, Matt McGrath, Paige Carl Griggs, Peter Sarsgaard, Rob Campbell, Robert Prentiss, Shana McClendon

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rating: R

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

You would expect a courtroom drama to be built around damning pieces of evidence, passionate speeches, or certain social issues lending weight to the investigation. But what makes Justine Triet's Palme d'Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall so remarkable is how direct it is. Triet doesn't treat this case like a puzzle for the audience to participate in solving; instead she fashions this trial into a portrait of a family being eroded by even just the suggestion of distrust. It ultimately has far less to do with who's responsible for the death of a man, and more to do with the challenge of facing the reality that the people we love are capable of being cruel and callous to others.

Which isn't to say that Anatomy of a Fall doesn't still possess qualities that make it a great courtroom drama—doubt only continues to pile up with every new piece of information that's revealed to the audience, until we begin to interpret characters' expressions and actions in a contradictory ways. But the way Triet executes these reveals is just so skillful, choosing precisely how to let details slip and obscuring everything behind faulty memory, intentional dishonesty, or any other obstacles that usually come up during an investigation.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandre Bertrand, Anne Rotger, Anne-Lise Heimburger, Antoine Bueno, Antoine Reinartz, Arthur Harari, Camille Rutherford, Christophe Devaux, Cyril Karenine, Emmanuelle Jourdan, Florent Chasseloup, Iliès Kadri, Isaac Abballah, Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Jehnny Beth, Judicaël Ajorque, Kareen Guiock, Laura Balasuriya, Maud Martin, Milo Machado-Graner, Nesrine Slaoui, Nicholas Angelo, Nola Jolly, Pierre-François Garel, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sacha Wolff, Samuel Theis, Sandra Hüller, Sandrine Chastagnol, Savannah Rol, Sophie Fillières, Swann Arlaud, Wajdi Mouawad

Director: Justine Triet

Rating: R

What’s great about this highly inventive film is that it doesn’t look like it was shot through three iPhone 5s. Instead of using shaky cameras and static shots, Tangerine glides us through saturated, orange-toned scenes that evoke the Los Angeles sunset. Launching director Sean Baker into prominence, Tangerine is an innovative film that, at heart, is a nuanced comedy about the trans sex worker community. Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor run the show, and their performances create a vivid, electric drive that powers the whole movie. But it’s the quieter moments, the moments after betrayal, the moments of recovery, that make this movie truly special.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alla Tumanian, Ana Foxxx, Arsen Grigoryan, Chelcie Lynn, Chris Bergoch, Clu Gulager, Darren Dean, Graham Mackie, Ian Edwards, James Ransone, Jason Stuart, John Gulager, Josh Sussman, Julie Cummings, Karren Karagulian, Katja Kassin, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Luiza Nersisyan, Melanie Booth, Mickey O'Hagen, Mickey O'Hagan, Mya Taylor, Richard-Lael Lillard, Scott Krinsky, Scott Lyons, Shih-Ching Tsou

Director: Sean Baker

Rating: R

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. 

Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

Genre: Comedy, Music

Actor: Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Amy Sedaris, Ayo Edebiri, Ben Platt, Caroline Aaron, David Rasche, Dean Scott Vazquez, Donovan Colan, Jimmy Tatro, Kyndra Sanchez, Luke Islam, Max Sheldon, Molly Gordon, Nathan Lee Graham, Noah Galvin, Olivia Puckett, Owen Thiele, Patti Harrison, Priscilla Lopez, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson

Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

Rating: PG-13

The Royal Hotel sees Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) resorting to take up a dire live-in job behind the bar in a remote desert part of Western Australia. Although they're warned that they'd "have to be okay with a little male attention" in the outcast mining town, their financial precarity overrides the potential fear. Curiously enough, the fiction film is based on a real story, already told in the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie by Pete Gleeson, but The Assistant director Kitty Green pulls no punches when representing how suffocating it must feel to be encircled by such unmediated male aggression. The brawls, the spilled beer, the c-word as a greeting all form the unnerving paraphernalia of life then and there. For Australian independent film devotees, there is actor Toby Wallace, who reprises his bad boy role from Babyteeth, and he's joined by the ranks of Herbert Nordrum (The Worst Person in the World) and an utterly terrifying Hugo Weaving (The Matrix).

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Malone, Barbara Lowing, Baykali Ganambarr, Bree Bain, Bruce R. Carter, Daniel Henshall, Herbert Nordrum, Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Jessica Henwick, Julia Garner, Kate Cheel, Patrick Frost, Toby Wallace, Ursula Yovich, Valerie Berry

Director: Kitty Green

Rating: R

Tilda Swinton stars in this gorgeous Italian production by Luca Guadagnino, part of the director’s “Desire Trilogy”, together with Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash.

Swinton learned to speak Italian and some Russian for the movie, where she plays - to absolute perfection - the wife of a Milan textile mogul who starts having an affair with a cook.

It’s an elegant family drama that’s definitely more concerned with aesthetics than substance, but the setting in snowy Northern Italy and lush 35mm film make that very easy to look past.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Gabriele Ferzetti, Honor Swinton Byrne, Maria Paiato, Marisa Berenson, Mattia Zaccaro, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton, Waris Ahluwalia

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rating: R

TV’s Alan Partridge — Steve Coogan’s brilliant skewering of small-time celebrity vanity — gets the big-screen treatment in this suitably parochial action thriller. The premise feels like the kind of ridiculous scenario the radio DJ would fantasize about in between songs: Pat (Colm Meaney), an ex-employee of North Norfolk Digital, returns to the station armed and takes his former colleagues hostage, refusing to negotiate with anyone but Alan. Those familiar with Coogan’s painfully self-absorbed character will foresee that going straight to his already delusions-of-grandeur-filled head, and it does; as one character puts it, he’s like a puffed-up robin.

Much of the hilarity comes from the way Alan’s obvious glee at the heroic position he’s found himself in distracts him from actually saving the day, but there is equally sharply drawn satire in the supporting characters, too. Favorites from the TV series, like Alan’s put-upon assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) — herself a brilliant feat of perceptive comedy — make welcome returns here, but, like Alan, their eccentricities are made accessible enough that Partridge virgins won’t feel their ignorance. With all the original writers back onboard (including Armando Iannucci, the comedy genius behind The Death of Stalin and Veep), Alpha Papa is another reliably hilarious entry in the Partridge canon. Back of the net.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alan Rothwell, Anna Maxwell Martin, Anna Stockton, Colm Meaney, Dan Mersh, Darren Boyd, Diane Morgan, Dustin Demri-Burns, Eleanor Matsuura, Elizabeth Berrington, Felicity Montagu, Jayne Secker, Jessica Knappett, John Boyd, Karl Theobald, Kieran Hodgson, Lucy Briers, Martin Glyn Murray, Monica Dolan, Nigel Lindsay, Peter Singh, Phil Cornwell, Rita Davies, Robert Whitelock, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall, Simon Kunz, Steve Coogan, Tim Key

Director: Declan Lowney

Rating: PG-13

After receiving virtually unlimited funding from a wealthy businessman, Lola (played by the always excellent Penelope Cruz) sets out to mount an ambitious adaptation of a bestselling novel. To make her vision work, she employs renowned actors Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) and Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), knowing full well that their opposite philosophies in art and life will clash. What follows is a series of preps and rehearsals that play out like social experiments in their twistedness, which all in all speak to the outrageousness of film, art, and life itself.

In this Spanish dark comedy, no one is spared from satire—from the idiosyncratic auteur down to the sell-out actor, all are parodied in equal measure, each of their egos broken down in great and hilarious detail.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ana Belén, Antonio Banderas, Daniel Chamorro, Irene Escolar, Isabel García Lorca, José Luis Gómez, Juan Grandinetti, Ken Appledorn, Manolo Solo, María Guinea, Mary Ruiz, Melina Matthews, Mónica Bardem, Nagore Aranburu, Oscar Martinez, Penélope Cruz, Pilar Bergés, Pilar Castro, Sue Flack

Director: Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn

Rating: R

, 2015

Shrooms director Paddy Breathnach has als dipped his toes in romcoms and thrillers, but this queer Bogota-set drama has a lot of tenderness in its heart. Micro-budget and full of life as the name suggests, Viva is an inspiring story that centers around Jesus (Héctor Medina) and his own individuation. A hairdresser with the talent of a drag performer, he assumes the role of Viva in the weekend cabaret. As warm and open as his father is detached and somber, Jesus is a likeable protagonist with the vulnerability and dedication to follow his dream, that no wonder the film made the Oscar shortlist in 2016.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Laura Aleman, Luis Alberto García, Luis Manuel Alvarez, Mark O'Halloran, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco

Director: Paddy Breathnach

So far, chemical waste hasn't mutated amphibious creatures enough to create giant monsters large enough to swallow people whole… yet. This sort of monster film premise is familiar, especially for fans of 1950s sci-fi movies, but in the hands of director Bong Joon-ho, The Host transforms what could have been B-movie schlock into a drama examining the ways generations within a family, as well as generations within a country and within the world, have failed each other. As the Park family try to save their own, the actions they take feel all the more important, knowing what’s at stake on multiple levels. While at the time, there were doubts that Bong Joon-ho and the Korean film industry could pull off the monster, The Host proved that there was more to come from the then emerging film giant.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Ah-sung Ko, Bae Doona, Baek Do-bin, Bong Joon-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Choi Dae-sung, Choi Jae-sup, David Anselmo, David Joseph Anselmo, Doona Bae, Go A-sung, Hae-il Park, Hie-bong Byeon, Jeong In-gi, Jeong Kang-hee, Jung Seo-yoon, Kang-ho Song, Kim Bi-bi, Kim Choo-wol, Kim Hak-seon, Kim Jin-seon, Kim Nan-hee, Kim Roi-ha, Ko A-sung, Ko Chang-seok, Koh Soo-hee, Kwon Byung-gil, Kwon Hyeok-Pung, Lee Dong-ho, Lee Dong-yong, Lee Eung-jae, Lee Jae-eung, Lee Jong-yoon, Min Kyung-jin, Oh Dal-su, Park Hae-il, Park Jin-woo, Park No-shik, Paul Lazar, Philip Hersh, Pil-sung Yim, Ra Mi-ran, Scott Wilson, Seo Young-ju, Shin Hyeon-jong, Son Jin-ho, Son Young-soon, Song Kang-ho, Yim Pil-sung, Yoo Seung-mok, Yoo Yeon-soo, Yoon Je Moon

Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Rating: R