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100 best dramas of all time

  • 100 best dramas of all time

    Dramatic elements elicit strong emotions and pull you into the intimate core of human relationships. Drama spans a range of genres including horror, thrillers, noirs, and comedy. Stacker recognizes that genre is meant to help describe and communicate the vibe of a film, not to serve as a limiting factor on what films can and cannot be. Dramas can center on heartwarming subjects—they’re often viewed with a tissue in hand, but they also take deep dives into serious subjects. They force audiences to grapple with issues of morality and the hard choices that govern what’s right and wrong.

    The term melodrama has a bad rap as a description for films that are overwrought or sentimental. However, consider how the term “melos,” a Greek word for “music,” links with drama and becomes a word that captures the way sweeping scores and evocative musical soundtracks work in films that spark deep emotions. It’s a drama if it evokes powerful emotions across subjects such as law and order in Westerns, courtroom plots, or gangster narratives. Dramatic themes also show up in animated children’s films, classic romances, and dark histories.

    If it puts knots in the belly, makes skin crawl, sets off fireworks, or gets the waterworks flowing, it’s a movie that’s indulging in drama in the most pleasurable sense. Drama undergirds suspense and fear, and it’s the element that makes the audience identify with characters. Dramas inspire empathy as well as critical thinking.

    Stacker examined data from 5,000 top drama movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index compiled from looking at ranked films on IMDb and Metacritic data. Ties were broken by whichever had the higher Metascore, and further ties were broken by whichever had more IMDb votes. If a movie did not have a Metascore, it was not considered. Every film on the list has been considered according to the cinematic history and development of drama. Here are the top 100 films guaranteed to move you.

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  • #100. ‘The Right Stuff’ (1983)

    - Director: Philip Kaufman
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 91
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Run time: 193 min.

    “The Right Stuff” offers a NASA space program origin story filled with rousing, emotional melodrama about the brave men who were there at the beginning. Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, and Ed Harris make up the ensemble cast of heroic renegades with the guts to face danger. With a three-hour running time, it was a box office flop, despite strong critical acclaim and a best picture Oscar nomination in recognition of the stirring flight sequences that merge with an art house vibe.

  • #99. ‘Frankenstein’ (1931)

    - Director: James Whale
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 91
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Run time: 70 min.

    James Whale directs this classic horror film that introduced two of cinema’s most influential monsters—both the reanimated creature and the mad scientist who creates him. Despite its dark horror style, “Frankenstein” dramatizes human experience through its tragic story of anguish and revenge. Boris Karloff as The Monster inspires both terror and empathy in audiences.

  • #98. ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)

    - Director: Don Siegel
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 92
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Run time: 80 min.

    This is a searing drama on social paranoia under the atomic era. Don Siegel directs what’s widely seen as a treatise about Cold War fears through a story about alien pods that morph into human replicas. Spawning several remakes, the original pod people are still a metaphor for anxieties about who can and can’t be trusted.

  • #97. ‘Sideways’ (2004)

    - Director: Alexander Payne
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 94
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Run time: 127 min.

    Paul Giamatti plays a dejected, middle-aged writer who embarks on a wine-tasting road trip with his womanizing buddy (Thomas Haden Church), who longs for a last hurrah before his upcoming marriage. Director Alexander Payne captures both the hilarity and tragedy of the pair’s adventures that make for lovelorn disasters. Wine culture and the snobbery of connoisseurs provide a backdrop for a film about finally facing reality.

  • #96. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012)

    - Director: Kathryn Bigelow
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 95
    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Run time: 157 min.

    Kathryn Bigelow infuses the takedown story of Osama bin Laden with slow-burning suspense and stylish visuals. Thriller intrigue and various international danger zones provide the setting for Jessica Chastain, who portrays CIA agent Maya as she relentlessly pursues her target over a decade. “Zero Dark Thirty” presents torture, murder, and mayhem with cool detachment within its true-account realism.

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  • #95. ‘Mean Streets’ (1973)

    - Director: Martin Scorsese
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 96
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Run time: 112 min.

    With “Mean Streets,” Martin Scorsese emerged as a vibrant new director in American cinema. Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, as young mobsters, became recurring subjects in Scorsese’s oeuvre of gritty crime dramas where emotions erupt amid stylized crime and violence.

  • #94. ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)

    - Director: Robert Zemeckis
    - Stacker score: 89
    - Metascore: 82
    - IMDb user rating: 8.8
    - Run time: 142 min.

    Tom Hanks won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Forrest Gump, a cultural and political catalyst. Gump stole audiences’ hearts with his innocent adage about life being "like a box of chocolates,” as he influenced everything from Elvis Presley’s signature dance moves to Vietnam War heroics. The film was known for its computer-generated imagery (CGI) editing that merged real historical footage with Gump in action.

  • #93. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ (1975)

    - Director: Milos Forman
    - Stacker score: 89
    - Metascore: 83
    - IMDb user rating: 8.7
    - Run time: 133 min.

    Jack Nicholson starred as a counterculture rebel in this adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel set in a mental hospital. The film is about questioning authority and rebelling against convention. The harsh regime is epitomized by an evil nurse who doesn’t nurture, played by Louise Fletcher. The bittersweet ending merges uplift with tragedy because breaking free isn’t an option for everyone.

  • #92. ‘The Departed’ (2006)

    - Director: Martin Scorsese
    - Stacker score: 89
    - Metascore: 85
    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Run time: 151 min.

    The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” plays over the opening sequence, showing director Martin Scorsese’s knack for combining images with a soundtrack to create mood and a sense of time and place. “The Departed” follows two new police recruits in a game of cat and mouse as each works for opposing sides. Leonardo DiCaprio’s cop aims to root out corruption, while Matt Damon’s works for a brutal mobster played with gusto by Jack Nicholson.

  • #91. ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ (1974)

    - Director: John Cassavetes
    - Stacker score: 89
    - Metascore: 88
    - IMDb user rating: 8.2
    - Run time: 155 min.

    John Cassavetes wrote and directed his wife Gena Rowlands in this examination of mental illness and how it affects families. The film was released independently, but gained acclaim for its gritty realism, as it explores domestic turbulence within a family in crisis. Rowlands’ performance of a woman with depression and anxiety is considered one of the great screen performances by an actress.

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