15 Movies Like Better Days (2019)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Better Days ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Better Days tells the story of Chen Nian, a quiet girl who starts experiencing bullying at her school after her classmate commits suicide for the same reason. But soon, she meets Xiao Bei, a teenage street thug who offers her protection. What starts as a melodramatic story at first becomes a gentle romance. Still, Better Days is focused on the psychological aspect of the characters, and how they manage pressure. It's a reminder of the inevitable harshness of reality: dealing with poverty, bullying, and dirty competition. But, in showing the bitter aspects of life, it also shows that there are still those who care and that those who are meant to meet will always find each other.

, 2019

A beautifully shot movie about a high-schooler who's pushed by his father to always work and exercise the hardest. He aces his exams and always wins at wrestling, but nothing is ever good enough for the father and there is no margin for error. When things with both his body and his relationship start going wrong, his existence comes crashing down. This movie has two parts, and it takes a lot of narrative risks, but the beautiful camera work and believable characters land every single risk. It's an incredible achievement and a movie that should have gotten much more attention than it did.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexa Demie, Avis-Marie Barnes, Bill Wise, Carter Harcek, Clifton Collins Jr., David Garelik, David Payton, Ellen Marguerite Cullivan, Harlan Drum, Harmony Korine, Holland Hayes, Joshua Brockington, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Krisha Fairchild, Kristin Wollett, Lucas Hedges, Neal Huff, Nicholas Ryan Hernandez, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Vivi Pineda

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Rating: R

, 2021

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Bo Asdal Andersen, Daniel Karimyar, Elaha Faiz, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Mikhail Belinson, Milad Eskandari, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: PG-13

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Camelia Roiu, Cătălin Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Narcis Hogea, Razvan Lutac, Tedy Ursuleanu, Vlad Voiculescu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dražen Pavlović, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s new movie is about an arrogant European artist who tattoos a Syrian man's back, essentially turning the man's body into artwork. 

The man, as a commodity, is able to travel the world freely to be in art galleries, something as a simple human with a Syrian passport he couldn’t do. Seems unlikely? It’s based on a true story.

But Ben Hania is not really interested in the political statement aspect of this unlikely stunt. Instead, she looks at what this would do to a human-being, to the man's self-esteem, his relationships, and the turns his life takes. It's a fascinating movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrienne Mei Irving, Anissa Daoud, Christian Vadim, Darina Al Joundi, Fayçal Hassaĭri, Husam Chadat, Ichraq Matar, Ingo Brosch, Jacques Germain, Jan Dahdouh, Koen De Bouw, Marc de Panda, Monica Bellucci, Nadim Cheikhrouha, Najoua Zouhair, Patrick Albenque, Rupert Wynne-James, Yahya Mahayni

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

The question mark in the title represents the central idea of this fascinating documentary: what if worshipping Satan is the only way of ensuring religious freedom for everyone?

That's what a group of young members known as The Satanic Temple believe, led by a determined and well-spoken Harvard graduate. They embark on a journey across the U.S. to challenge corrupt officials and the prevalence of religious biases in government agencies. They always request that their belief system (Satanism) is given the same favorable treatment as Christianity, effectively proving that authorities will really only accept a show of religion if it's one religion: Christianity.

But their intoxicating energy comes with costs: divisions within the organization and growing pains. This documentary perfectly illustrates not only a misunderstood religion (in the documentary it's referred to as "post-religion") but the difficulties of establishing grassroots movements in general.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Anton LaVey, Bill O'Reilly, Billy Graham, Cecil B. DeMille, Chalice Blythe, Charlton Heston, Chris Hayes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Geraldo Rivera, Greta Van Susteren, Jex Blackmore, Lucien Greaves, Malcolm Jarry, Mamie Eisenhower, Megyn Kelly, Mike Pence, Nicholas Crowe, Penny Lane, Rick Scott, Sal De Ciccio

Director: Penny Lane

Rating: R

, 2020

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Rob Rich II

Director: Garrett Bradley

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

There isn't a single moment of unnecessarily exaggerated emotion or comedy in this French-Danish animated film, which may keep its world very small compared to its peers, but it portrays everything with arguably more depth and beauty. Long Way North moves with a stately pace, giving it more dramatic heft and allowing us to take in all of the film's painterly surfaces and soft silhouettes. But it's not just the art style that sets the film apart; it also avoids what we expect from a traditional adventure, keeping the most important character beats private and internal. This may make the movie feel a little more distant than it should be, but the feeling that it leaves you with is undeniable—a sense that everything is connected, and those who are lost will always find a way home.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Audrey Sablé, Boris Rehlinger, Bruno Magne, Christa Théret, Delphine Braillon, Féodor Atkine, Gabriel Le Doze, Juliette Degenne, Loïc Houdré, Marc Bretonnière, Rémi Bichet, Stéphane Pouplard, Thomas Sagols

Director: Rémi Chayé

Great Freedom is not an easy watch. Apart from the quiet stretches of time and the claustrophobic confines of its prison setting, it also has its lead, Hans Hoffman (played with delicate force by Franz Rogowski) imprisoned again and again and again, unjustly treated like dirt by both his warden and fellow inmates.

But as a Jewish gay man who has lived through the war, Hans is no stranger to these trappings. As such, he takes each day as it comes, open to love, pleasure, and friendship, or at least the potential of these, despite the circumstances. And so Great Freedom is also hopeful and romantic, glimmering with the human tendency to not just survive but to live. Slow but compelling, subdued but powerful, Great Freedom is an affecting balancing act that's well worth watching. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Andreas Patton, Anton von Lucke, Fabian Stumm, Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Thomas Prenn, Thomas Stecher

Director: Sebastian Meise

Soul Mate has a familiar premise, has a standard love triangle, and at times, goes through the same formulaic story beats that any moviegoer would recognize. However, what makes the film unique is that it’s not focused on which character should get the guy, but on the friendship between two women and what's really driving them apart. In director Derek Tsang’s capable hands, we learn about their dynamic in fragments and through crucial moments. Gorgeous cinematography and editing turn memories golden in nostalgia. But it’s ultimately Zhou Dongyu and Sandra Ma’s performances that solidify the friendship. Theirs is a study of contrasts between the independent yet freeloading Ansheng versus the stable but yearning Qiyue. It’s the actresses who prove that the real soul connection can be found between these two women instead.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Cai Gang, Li Ping, Liu Beige, Ma Sichun, Toby Lee, Zhou Dongyu

Director: Derek Tsang, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung

Rating: Not Rated

Though Eternal Summer isn't able to fully engage with its queer characters—maybe due to its being released in the mid-2000s—it still makes for a more interesting character study than you'd expect. This romance between three school friends has more on its mind than simply pitting two romantic pairings against each other. Unrequited feelings, unspoken secrets, and identities that are constantly in flux make Eternal Summer compelling just for the way these people try to dance around one another's emotions. And since it's shot in the muted colors of early digital filmmaking, this is a love story that becomes all the more melancholic just in the way it looks.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Joseph Chang, Kate Yeung, Ray Chang

Director: Leste Chen

Rating: 0

The Witch hardly reinvents the thriller wheel. In fact, part of the fun in watching it is calling out the cliches. Cold-blooded villain? Check. Antihero who defies death? Check. Senseless, bloody killings for minutes on end? Check, check, check. The Witch has everything you'd expect from an action movie, and yet, the viewing experience is all the better for it. 

By trimming all the unnecessary fat and zeroing in on the action, director Park Hoon-jung delivers a no-nonsense, no-holds-barred film that could hold a candle to the John Wick franchise. Like those films, the movements here are sharp and the gore relentless. The only difference is that The Witch is led by a teenage girl—seemingly flimsy but deliciously deranged, Kim-Dami is magnetic in her breakout role as the titular witch Ja-yoon. It's also a bit like Stranger Things in that sense, but comparisons aside, The Witch stands out as a razor-edged entry into the genre. 

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Baek Seung-chul, Cho Min-soo, Choi Jung-woo, Choi Woo-shik, Chung Ye-jin, Da-Eun, Go Min-si, Hyun Bong-sik, Jeong Da-eun, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Da-mi, Kim Ha-na, Ko Min-si, Kwon Tae-won, Lee Ju-won, Lee Ki-young, Lee Si-hoon, Oh Mi-hee, Park Hee-soon, Park Hoon-jung, Seung-chul Baek, Song Hyeong-su, Woo Min-kyu, Woo-sik Choi, Yeo Moo-yeong

Director: Hoon-jung Park, Park Hoon-jung

Rating: Not Rated, R

At first, the Last Call for Istanbul feels like one of those serendipitous travel romances reminiscent of Before Sunrise. As Serin and Mehmet enjoy New York at night, it’s absolutely enchanting, especially with the unique, striking mirrored transitions that shift between the two as they get ready, but this nighttime stroll has already been walked on before, complete with droll dialogue and impulsive choices. However, the film makes a shift to its second half, and it suddenly reconfigures what we know about the two and their romance. While it does employ other familiar romance tropes, it’s still an intriguing shift that explores the concept of possibilities, and the cost in choosing one over the others.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Beren Saat, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Michael Loayza, Senan Kara, Susan Slatin, Zihan Zhao

Director: Gönenç Uyanık

Rating: R

With a new, fast-paced media landscape, Call Me Chihiro might feel too slow for people new to the story. Composed of serene, slice-of-life moments, the film starts off feeling plotless, as the titular protagonist builds random interactions with the townspeople. She makes friends with people who seemingly don’t have much in common with her. Despite this, each interaction feels meaningful and genuine, thanks to the subtle acting of Kasumi Arimura. And as these scenes build up, and Chihiro’s friends begin to become friends with each other, these day-to-day moments form a character study of a lonely woman whose kindness and appreciation for life make her feel so admirable. For those wistful Sunday nights, Call Me Chihiro might be a great watch, but only if you’re in that certain mood.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fusako Urabe, Hana Toyoshima, Itsuki Nagasawa, Jun Fubuki, Kasumi Arimura, Keiichi Suzuki, Lily Franky, Mitsuru Hirata, Miwako Ichikawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Shigeo Ôsako, Tetta Shimada, Toshie Negishi, Van, Wakaba Ryuuya, Yoichiro Saito, Yui Sakuma

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Rating: R, TV-14