Best drama movies of 2019

Written by:
December 4, 2019
BBC Films

Best drama movies of 2019

There are no hard and fast lines that wholly define any genre of film, and dramas are no exception. Dramatic film representations tend to offer serious storytelling around realistic characters and plotlines—but the genre is hardly limited by those common elements. Movies like "The Godfather" and "12 Years a Slave" both classify as dramas, but couldn't be more different in their style and scope. 

As problematic as genre classification is, selecting for the best films in a given year is equally as complicated. Critics judge films on the quality of the writing, performances, set direction, and costumes. The storyline is integral, as well, with much attention paid to a film's timeliness and whether it resonates with broader cultural and historical events.

The best drama films of 2019 offered no answer to those looking for a one-size-fits-all formula for a film to go down as one of the year’s best. Stacker compiled IMDb data on all dramas from 2019 and ranked them according to their user ratings (out of 10), ties broken by votes. To qualify, the film had to be listed as a “drama” on two or more of the major databases such as IMDb, Metacritic, Wikipedia, Letterboxd, Rotten Tomatoes, released in the U.S. theatrically or on streaming services between Jan. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019, and have at least 2,000 votes on IMDb. Bollywood productions were not considered.

At Stacker, we believe leaning into more open interpretations of what fits into certain genres is the best practice for getting a pool of films that represent all expressions of a particular genre. Two of the most popular films in this gallery involve insightful dogs, while others stare down the gore and violence of the world with unflinching exactitude. Some movies feature major Hollywood names, while others introduce new talent to the world. Budgets vary as wildly as subject matter, and every film on the list has been considered according to the cinematic history and development of dramas. Keep reading to see whether any of your favorite films of the last year made the list.

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1 / 30

#30. The King

- Director: David Michôd
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 38,672
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 140 min

An adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, “The King” received a widely positive critical reception. Two of the hottest young stars of 2019, Timothée Chalamet and Lily-Rose Depp, rounded out the cast, and in a sign of the times, Netflix released the film, rather than the originally planned Warner Brothers.

2 / 30

#29. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

- Director: Joe Talbot
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 5,352
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 121 min

The indie darling “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” couldn’t be more timely. As rents continue to rise in one of America’s priciest cities, the film tells the story of a family struggling to reclaim property that they lost to gentrification.

3 / 30

#28. A Dog's Journey

- Director: Gail Mancuso
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 10,385
- Metascore: 43
- Runtime: 109 min

Although “A Dog’s Journey” doesn’t necessarily contain any new or bold artistic statements, it turns out that’s not always what audiences need. Sometimes in an uncertain political climate, all viewers want is a little reminder of the special bond between humans and dogs.

4 / 30
Davis Entertainment

#27. Dolemite Is My Name

- Director: Craig Brewer
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 18,677
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 117 min

Besides being a well-received comedy-drama, “Dolemite Is My Name” also offered audiences some timely lessons, should they want it. Some entrepreneurial audiences took lessons on how to thrive in a start-up, drawing inspiration from the film’s themes of determination and fearlessness.

5 / 30

#26. Rocketman

- Director: Dexter Fletcher
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 79,159
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 121 min

It took 12 years for the makers of the film about Elton John’s life to get it right, but get it right they did. John has said he is thrilled with the way the film turned out, and how it shone a light on the more difficult elements of his life, as well as the triumphs.

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6 / 30
Stele Cine

#25. Monos

- Director: Alejandro Landes
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 3,226
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 102 min

Child soldiers are the subject of the harrowing “Monos,” which received a rapt critical reception. The subject didn’t deter viewers from appreciating the film’s stunning scenery, performances, and genre-bending approach—and may have appealed to audiences looking for unexpected sources of escapism in a relentless drumbeat of political news.

7 / 30
Slot Machine

#24. Woman at War

- Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 4,827
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 101 min

Adoption and activism are at the heart of “Woman at War,” a taut comedy-drama from an Icelandic-Ukranian film team. The titular character’s struggles resonate in an era of resurgent activism, and more difficult conditions for adoptions.

8 / 30
Fox 2000 Pictures

#23. The Art of Racing in the Rain

- Director: Simon Curtis
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 8,533
- Metascore: 43
- Runtime: 109 min

An earnest attempt to narrate life through the eyes of a dog, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” received mixed critical reception. But that didn’t stop many viewers from appreciating a window into the lives of man’s best friend, which is based on the memoirs of the filmmaker (and race-car driver) Garth Stein.

9 / 30

#22. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

- Director: Vince Gilligan
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 130,218
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 122 min

“Breaking Bad” fans distraught by the end of the beloved series got a second chance with “El Camino,” which picks up where the story left off. The film’s writer has said that he almost included a very different ending, but ultimately picked a crowd-pleaser “because sometimes you’ve got to give the crowd what they want.” It looks like his effort paid off.

10 / 30
Studio Babelsberg

#21. A Hidden Life

- Director: Terrence Malick
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 1,139
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 173 min

Director Terrence Malick had his own big shoes to fill on the heels of his critically acclaimed “Tree of Life.” And fill them he did with “A Hidden Life,” which tells the story of a conscientious objector in Nazi Germany, and had audiences and critics alike singing his praises.

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11 / 30
Ciudad Lunar Producciones

#20. Birds of Passage

- Directors: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 6,756
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 125 min

The Colombian drug trade has been depicted in many films and television shows, but rarely with such ambition as in “Birds of Passage.” The New York Times compared it to an epic poem, using art to express a painful history difficult to convey in any other way.

12 / 30
BBC Films

#19. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

- Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 14,852
- Metascore: 68
- Runtime: 113 min

Overwhelmed with what can sometimes seem like a deluge of bad news, people are tuning out in large numbers. So it’s no surprise that that “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” received such a positive reception. The true story of a Malawian boy who saved his village from a famine gave audiences just the positive jolt necessary to counter grim dispatches from abroad.

13 / 30
Focus Features

#18. Downton Abbey

- Director: Michael Engler
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 16,672
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 122 min

The beloved “Downton Abbey” television show smashed its box-office competition on opening weekend. The film is the most successful in Focus Features’ history and sets a positive precedent for other studios looking to adapt hit shows into feature films.

14 / 30
El Deseo

#17. Pain & Glory

- Director: Pedro Almodóvar
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 18,270
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 113 min

Heroin, art, memory, and the body jostle for space in Pedro Almodóvar’s acclaimed film. For all its heavy subject matter, critics hailed the film as handled with a light touch by a director one critic called “a genre all to himself”—and ultimately redemptive.

15 / 30
Warner Bros.

#16. Doctor Sleep

- Director: Mike Flanagan
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 29,104
- Metascore: 60
- Runtime: 152 min

The classic film “The Shining” has legions of fans, so it was only a matter of time before someone attempted a sequel to sate their desire for more. Despite mixed critical reviews, the film was a hit with audiences, proving that it’s hard to keep people away when all they want is to see more.

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16 / 30
Dongchun Films

#15. An Elephant Sitting Still

- Director: Hu Bo
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 2,812
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 230 min

The circumstances of “An Elephant Sitting Still” are nearly as significant as the film itself. Chinese director Hu Bo died from suicide shortly after the film’s premiere, despite glowing critical reviews. The film was his first.

17 / 30
Armory Films

#14. The Peanut Butter Falcon

- Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 15,627
- Metascore: 70
- Runtime: 97 min

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is full of marquee actors, including Shia LeBoeuf and Dakota Johnson. But the film’s main character was an unknown actor when the directors cast him. Zach Gottsagen himself has down syndrome and is one of the first people with the genetic disorder to make it to the silver screen.

18 / 30
Big Beach Films

#13. The Farewell

- Director: Lulu Wang
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 12,651
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 100 min

“The Farewell” has been called an Oscar contender and stars the beloved rising star Awkwafina. But reception in China, where much of the movie takes place, has taken on a dark edge, with some critics attacking the actress online for her appearance and her voice.

19 / 30
Sony Pictures Entertainment

#12. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 230,208
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 161 min

Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to on or off-screen controversy, and his latest film, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” stoked plenty. Among the subjects of critical attention were the film’s treatment of women and Asian-American actors.

20 / 30
Twentieth Century Fox

#11. Jojo Rabbit

- Director: Taika Waititi
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 11,146
- Metascore: 58
- Runtime: 108 min

One of the final frontiers of satire is Nazi Germany, and that barrier was crossed with 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit.” The story centers on a young German boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, and the film’s goofy portrayal of Hitler gives a whole new meaning to the term “the banality of evil.”

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21 / 30

#10. The Wild Pear Tree

- Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 14,166
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 188 min

“The Wild Pear Tree” is set in Turkey and features a writer trying to get his Turkish stories published in an increasingly oppressive Turkey. In a time when Turkey is cracking down on journalists and stifling all dissent, the film has proven particularly resonant and poignant.

22 / 30
Heydey Films

#9. Marriage Story

- Director: Noah Baumbach
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 2,207
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 136 min

Many films end with a marriage, but “Marriage Story” begins with a divorce. And with many Americans choosing to end their own marriages, it’s easy to see why audiences loved the film.

23 / 30
Lilies Films

#8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

- Director: Céline Sciamma
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 4,001
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 121 min

The 18th-century drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has been called one of the best films of the decade. So it’s no surprise that it will be re-released in the new decade to audiences who missed the chance to see it the first time around. The date of its second release? As befits a romance, Valentine’s Day 2020.

24 / 30

#7. The Lighthouse

- Director: Robert Eggers
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 14,662
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 109 min

On its face, “The Lighthouse” is about two lonely lighthouse workers. But a deeper look reveals that the film is just as much about male loneliness as it is about anything else—a theme that proved fascinating to viewers this year, as with the success of “The Joker.”

25 / 30
Chernin Entertainment

#6. Ford v Ferrari

- Director: James Mangold
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 24,858
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 152 min

With two A-list actors and an underdog story, audiences were fascinated by “Ford v Ferrari.” The film chronicles a dispute between two of the most famous automakers in the world, and how far their chief executives were willing to go to maintain their pride.

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26 / 30
Mooz Films

#5. Capernaum

- Director: Nadine Labaki
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 31,825
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 126 min

The powerful “Capernaum” is set in Beirut, Lebanon, and focuses on a child and his younger brother who are forced to live on the street. The film focuses on the humanity of two individuals in a region that is often depicted in film in broader, geopolitical strokes.

27 / 30
Marvel Studios

#4. Avengers: Endgame

- Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 604,939
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 181 min

At least one facet of the “Avengers: Endgame” script was highly untraditional. The writers of the wildly popular film kept a tally of dollar signs next to their scenes, to make sure the movie remained within budget.

28 / 30
Barunson E&A

#3. Parasite

- Director: Bong Joon Ho
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Votes: 77,133
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 132 min

The smash-hit “Parasite” struck a nerve with audiences in a time of rising economic tension. The film follows the fortunes of a poor family that attempts to integrate with their rich employers—a film for the age of Bernie Sanders if there ever was one.

29 / 30
Tribeca Productions

#2. The Irishman

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 10,771
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 209 min

With gangsters and Robert De Niro, “The Irishman” is classic Scorsese. Audiences and critics alike couldn’t look away from the blunt violence and gore Scorsese brought to his tale of the Irish mob.

30 / 30
BRON Studios

#1. Joker

- Director: Todd Phillips
- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 476,386
- Metascore: 59
- Runtime: 122 min

“Joker” smashed the $1 billion mark at the box office globally. The theme of alienated men resonated strongly with audiences, curious to know more about the subculture—or identifying with it.

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