20 Movies Like Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Martha Marcy May Marlene ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It's a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts, and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proves that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between.

Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Calloway, Angelina Assereto, Brie Larson, Diana Maria Riva, Frantz Turner, Harold Cannon, Joel P. West, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Lakeith Stanfield, Lydia Du Veaux, Melora Walters, Michelle Nordahl, Mohammad Shiravi, Rami Malek, Silvia Curiel, Stephanie Beatriz

Director: Destin Cretton, Destin Daniel Cretton

Rating: R

This is the true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man in Oakland, California, who was shot dead by police in the morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Incidentally, 2009 was also the time when smartphones started going mainstream, and so the incident was not only captured by CCTV but also many private cell phone cameras. The murder went viral.

Grant is superbly played by Michael B. Jordan in what now counts as one of his breakthrough roles, when many only knew him as Wallace in the now-legendary crime drama The Wire. Director Ryan Coogler went on making two more movies with him, including Black Panther in 2018.

Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and compassionately told, Fruitvale Station surpasses the sadness of its subject matter and amounts to an extraordinary celebration of life. A must-watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Alessandro Garcia, Ariana Neal, Caroline Lesley, Chad Michael Murray, Chris Riedell, Christina Elmore, Denzel Worthington, Destiny Ekwueme, Joey Oglesby, John Burke, Jonez Cain, Keenan Coogler, Kevin Durand, Laurel Moglen, Liisa Cohen, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Melonie Diaz, Michael B. Jordan, Nicole Maxali, Noah Staggs, Noah Zavala, Octavia Spencer, Robert Ajlouny, Ruben Rivera, Ryan Coogler, Tamera Tomakili, Trestin George, William Armando

Director: Ryan Coogler

Rating: R

Written and directed by Academy-Award-winning Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea, Gangs of New York), you can certainly count on the qualities of this subtle, beautiful, and moving drama about two siblings growing apart and reuniting later in life.

An Academy-Award-nominated Laura Linney plays Sammy, a single mother in a small town who is extremely protective of her 8-year-old son. When her younger and somewhat troubled brother Terry (played by the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo) visits her out of the blue, Sammy has to deal with a slew of contradicting emotions towards her brother, whose appearance threatens to upend her life as she knew it.

Straight, thoughtful, and beautifully crafted, You Can Count on Me is an honest and genuine exploration of unconditional love in celluloid form. Think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Adam LeFevre, Amy Ryan, Betsy Aidem, Gaby Hoffmann, Halley Feiffer, J. Smith-Cameron, Jon Tenney, Josh Lucas, Kenneth Lonergan, Laura Linney, Lisa Altomare, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Michael Countryman, Nina Garbiras, Rory Culkin, Whitney Vance

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Rating: R

Simply titled The Imposter, this film by English documentary maker Bart Layton tells an unbelievable tale. Any plot summary doing this film justice has to err on the side of brevity, which is why it will be only one line long: this is the story of Frederic Bourdin, a serial imposter nicknamed “The Chameleon”, who at one time claimed to be the missing son of a family from Texas. The film is so well-shot that it is hard to tell fact from fiction at times and it will force you to remind yourself that this is in fact real life. Expect twists and turns at every corner and brilliant storytelling from real people. If Christopher Nolan created a 48-hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Adam O'Brian, Adam O' Brian, Adam O'Brian, Alan Teichman, Anna Ruben, Carey Gibson, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Frederic Bourdin, Ivan Villanueva, Ken Appledorn, María Jesús Hoyos, Mary Twala, Nicholas Barclay

Director: Bart Layton

Rating: R

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody - "The Pianist") who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn't want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Betty Kaye, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, Celia Au, Chris Papavasiliou, Christina Hendricks, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Caan, Josh Pais, Louis Zorich, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Joy, Patricia Rae, Ralph Rodriguez, Reagan Leonard, Ronen Rubinstein, Samantha Logan, Sami Gaye, Sami Gayle, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen

Director: Tony Kaye

Rating: Not Rated

Awkward. That is how Oliver Tate can be described, and generally the whole movie. But it is professionally and scrutinizingly awkward. Submarine is a realistic teen comedy, one that makes sense and in which not everyone looks gorgeous and pretends to have a tough time. It is hilarious and sad, dark and touching. It is awesome and it's embarrassing, and it's the kind of movie that gets nearly everything about being a teen right, no matter where you grew up.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrienne O'Sullivan, Ben Stiller, Claire Cage, Craig Roberts, Darren Evans, Elinor Crawley, Gemma Chan, Lydia Fox, Lynn Hunter, Melanie Walters, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Sarah Pasquali, Sion Tudor Owen, Steffan Rhodri, Yasmin Paige

Director: Richard Ayoade

Rating: R

A sincere portrayal of the gritty British working class life through the coming-of-age story of a girl who loves rap music and dancing to it. It features a stunning and powerful performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis who had no acting experience whatsoever, and who was cast in the street after she was spotted fighting. She plays Mia, a 15 year old teenager whose world changes drastically when her mother's new boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) turns his eyes to her. Don't watch this movie if you are looking for a no-brainer, definitely do watch it if you are interested in films that realistically portray others' lives and let you into them.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Geary, Carrie-Ann Savill, Charlotte Collins, Grant Wild, Harry Treadaway, Jack Gordon, Jason Maza, Joanna Horton, Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender, Raquel Thomas, Rebecca Griffiths, Sarah Bayes, Sydney Mary Nash, Toyin Ogidi

Director: Andrea Arnold

Rating: Not Rated

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep you engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw, and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact that at times, you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter's Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Ashlee Thompson, Casey MacLaren, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Isaiah Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Lauren Sweetser, Ronnie Hall, Shelley Waggener, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor

Director: Debra Granik

Rating: R

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister's Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking. Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Amber Midthunder, Amy Adams, Amy Redford, Angelique Midthunder, Clifton Collins Jr., Emily Blunt, Eric Christian Olsen, Ivan Brutsche, Jason Spevack, Judith Jones, Kathy Lamkin, Kevin Chapman, Lois Geary, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Steve Zahn, Susie Yip, Vic Browder

Director: Christine Jeffs

Rating: R

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jason Shelton, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Paul Marra, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can't remember and a boy who can't forget.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bill Sage, Billy Drago, Brady Corbet, Bruno Alexander, Chase Ellison, Chris Mulkey, David Alan Graf, David Lee Smith, Elisabeth Shue, Gwenne Hudson, Jeffrey Licon, Joan Blair, John Ganun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelly Kruger, Larry Marko, Lisa Long, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Michelle Trachtenberg, Reedy Gibbs, Richard Riehle, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Zane Huett

Director: Gregg Araki

Rating: NC-17

A dark and sophisticated slow-burning drama, Never Let Me Go is adapted from the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as boarding school raised teenagers eager to explore the outside world when they learn a secret that will threaten their very existence. Anything more is a spoiler, watch it.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Amy Lennox, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Garfield, Anna Maria Everett, Carey Mulligan, Charles Cork, Charlie Rowe, Charlotte Rampling, Chidi Chickwe, Damien Thomas, David Sterne, Domhnall Gleeson, Ella Purnell, Fidelis Morgan, Hannah Sharp, Huggy Leaver, Isobel Meikle-Small, Izzy Meikle-Small, John Gillespie, Kate Bowes Renna, Kate Sissons, Keira Knightley, Luke Bryant, Lydia Wilson, Monica Dolan, Nathalie Richard, Sally Hawkins

Director: Mark Romanek

Rating: R

A cracking cast including Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton elevate this dark and gripping Australian crime drama, which was received with glowing reviews from critics but was sadly forgotten with time.

Breakout star James Frecheville plays J, a teenager who goes to live with his grandmother, the head of a Melbourne crime organization. As the heat closes in and things go awry, J finds himself caught between his family and a detective who wants to save him.

Jacki Weaver is outstanding as the conniving grandma and the film put Ben Mendelsohn on the road to Hollywood stardom. Animal Kingdom is a superior crime saga with plenty of emotional depth to match the tense drama.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Andy McPhee, Anna Lise Phillips, Anthony Ahern, Anthony Hayes, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Ouwehand, Bert LaBonté, Brenda Palmer, Bryce Lindemann, Chris Weir, Christina Azucena, Clayton Jacobson, Dan Wyllie, David Michôd, Dom Phelan, Guy Pearce, Jack Heanly, Jacki Weaver, Jacqueline Brennan, James Frecheville, James Saunders, Joel Edgerton, Josh Helman, Justin Rosniak, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Laura Wheelwright, Luke Ford, Michael Vice, Mirrah Foulkes, Paul Smits, Sullivan Stapleton, Susan Prior, Tim Phillipps

Director: David Michôd

Rating: R

Elisabeth Moss is in it. Calling The One I Love a romantic-comedy, looking it up, or trusting anyone else about it -- especially my review, will ruin this film for you. Just watch it. If one's penchant is typically opposed to titles with 'love' in them, then it's for you. Just hit 'play', or 'start', or whatever. The initial wtf-ness that attracted me to it is compelled further by excellent acting. And Elisabeth Moss is in it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Charlie McDowell, Elisabeth Moss, Jennifer Spriggs, Kiana Cason, Mark Duplass, Marlee Matlin, Mary Steenburgen, Mel Eslyn, Sean O'Malley, Ted Danson

Director: Charlie McDowell

Rating: R

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alison Tatlock, Amy Locane, Christina Gray, David Wiater, Diane McGee, Erin Cressida Wilson, Ezra Buzzington, Herbert Russell, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Shannon Convery, Stephen McHattie, Steven Fierberg, Steven Shainberg

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R