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The 5 best dramas ever made

A great dramatic movie can come in any package. What defines a drama is not as clear-cut as the definition for something like comedy or horror. Great dramas do have a few elements that unite them, though. They have great, thoroughly drawn-out characters, and they often involve situations that are grounded in some form of reality.

Great dramas also feature sharp scripts and great directing, even when that directing isn’t as flashy as some of what you might see in a great action movie. Above all else, these drama movies are dramatic without being saccharine or schmaltzy. They create real stakes and then execute them beautifully. Of course, it goes without saying that this list left plenty of great dramas out, as any list with only five entries will.

Ikiru (1952)

Genre Drama
Stars Takashi Shimura, Haruo Tanaka, Nobuo Kaneko
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa made a number of great samurai epics, but Ikiru showed that the Japanese master was also adept at quieter dramas. This movie follows a mid-level bureaucrat who discovers that he is dying, and realizes that he hasn’t made much of his life. It’s a movie that, on paper, could seem trite or basic, but Kurosawa and the cast he assembles make Ikiru an emotional, meaningful drama from the second it starts. 
Ikiru (1952) by Akira Kurosawa - Official Trailer

Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane
Genre Mystery, Drama
Stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
Directed by Orson Welles
Widely regarded as one of the great movies of all time, and for good reason, Citizen Kane is really about how impossible it is to ever understand the movie. Although the driving narrative behind the film is a reporter attempting to investigate the meaning behind a media magnate’s last words, what Kane is really about is what America does to a person’s soul. Featuring an incredible script and the kind of cinematography that still feels modern today, Kane remains one of the pinnacles of the golden age of Hollywood.
Citizen Kane (1941) Official Trailer #1 - Orson Welles Movie

Casablanca (1942)

Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Perhaps the pinnacle of what we mean when we describe “Old Hollywood,” Casablanca is a World War II throwback that is still both stirring and emotional. Following an American in Morocco who is reunited with a lost love and ultimately sacrifices his happiness for the good of the Allied forces, what’s amazing about Casablanca is how small its scale is. The movie is about huge ideas of sacrifice and duty, but the story it tells is told on a few, mostly indoor sets, and it’s all the better for it. 
Casablanca (1942) Official Trailer - Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman Movie HD

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Directed by Céline Sciamma

It’s only three years old, but Portrait of a Lady On Fire has more than earned its spot on this list. The movie tells the story of two women living in relative isolation as one attempts to paint the other’s portrait, the movie is about the tender love and bond that forms between them. It’s a love story and a quietly revolutionary one that creates a deep yearning in the viewer for the kind of deep, real love that this movie centers on.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire [Official Trailer] – In Theaters December 6, 2019

The Godfather Part II (1974)

The Godfather Part II
Genre Drama, Crime
Stars Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The first Godfather is great, of course, but its sequel is Francis Ford Coppola operating at the very peak of his powers. The movie’s narrative is split between Michael Corleone navigating his control of the mafia in the present and his father, Vito Corleone, arriving in America decades earlier. That split narrative builds beautiful parallels and shows us the way that American rot has always incentivized crime, especially among those who are marginalized.

The Godfather: Part II (1974) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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