Crime Dramas have proven themselves to be some of the most effective genres of film when it comes to high tension featuring morally ambiguous characters. While they have always been popular with films iconic films like The Godfather and No Country For Old Men constantly topping all-time charts, films like Joker and Promising Young Woman have proven the timelessness of the genre.
However, for every amazing and groundbreaking crime story that receives all the critical praise and financial success that it deserves, numerous other crime dramas fail to reach the audiences they deserve. Especially with the rise of streaming services, so many more amazing crime dramas are released year after year, making it only inevitable that some unforgettable stories are forgotten on the sidelines.
10 ‘I Care a Lot’ (2020)
I Care a Lot follows the story of Marla Grayson, a court-appointed legal guardian who has been using her powerful position to defraud her elderly clients and sap them of their finances while under her care. However, her latest target, Mrs. Peterson, has some unexpected difficulties attached, as it ends up that her family is connected with a deep crime syndicate. Soon enough, it becomes a symbolic battle between crime enterprises as Marla takes on her greatest threat yet.
I Care a Lot perfectly balances the line between its deathly serious premise, and its more comedic, girlboss tone to create an inventive and exhilarating crime drama satire. What makes the film especially work so well is the leading performance from Rosamund Pike as Marla, who is perfectly able to convey a character who is fun and exciting to watch on-screen despite being morally reprehensible in their actions.
9 ‘Capone’ (2020)
Capone is a biographical drama that follows infamous gangster Al Capone, played by Tom Hardy, during the final years of his life after being released after 10 years in prison. He finds himself in an increasingly dire state as syphilis-induced dementia is slowly eating away at his brain, and forcing him to be haunted by his violent past in an increasingly paranoid state in his final days.
Capone is far from what one would expect from a biopic depicting one of the world’s most well-known gangster figures, yet the film pulls no punches and goes the full mile in its depiction of Capone’s final chapter. It’s a film that shoots for the fences and is much more creative and avant-garde with its depiction and portrayal of dementia within Capone, allowing itself to fully embrace the nightmare unfolding.
8 ‘The Devil All the Time’ (2020)
The Devil All the Time follows the story of the small backwoods town of Knockemstiff, Ohio, where an array of sinister and mischievous characters all have their stories unfold in one another. One young adult in particular, Arvin Russell, played by Tom Holland, will have to fight off these evil forces in the name of protecting his family from their wrath.
The Devil All the Time doesn’t hold back when it comes to its dark and dreary tones and themes, allowing its troubled characters to fester in their nightmarish setting. This highly bleak and nihilistic worldview that the film presents isn’t for everyone but strikes a powerful chord in exactly the right place for those looking for a gritty crime drama. The proceeding of events is highly tense and engaging to watch unfold, helped in part thanks to an amazing all-star cast, featuring the likes of Holland, Bill Skarsgard, and Robert Pattinson.
7 ‘Breaking’ (2022)
Breaking follows the story of Marine veteran Brian Brown-Easley, played by John Boyega, who, desperate for money and seemingly no other option, decides to create a hostage situation inside a bank. The result is a terrifying amateur standoff with the police in which Brian attempts to earn the money required to survive and show the world exactly what caused this to happen in the first place.
Breaking does an excellent job at making you feel for just about every character involved, from Brian’s struggles that lead him to this point to the bank workers and police officers attempting to de-escalate the situation. Boyega especially gives a powerful leading performance as he taps into the struggles and pain of a man who has been abandoned by the world with nothing left to lose. The film also features one of the final supporting performances from the late great Michael Kenneth Williams.
6 ‘Queen & Slim’ (2019)
Queen & Slim follows the story of an unfortunate first date gone wrong, in which a black man and a black woman are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction which unfortunately leads to the man killing the police officer in self-defense. With no other options left, the duo are now tied to one another as they are forced on the run, while at the same time, they become a symbol of trauma and pain across the country.
Queen & Slim tells a tragic story that has only gotten more powerful and resonating since it was released, tackling the themes and topics of police brutality and systemic racism felt in society as a whole. The chemistry and depiction of unfortunate love between Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith help sell the powerful message of the film, as their unexpected bond flourishes on-screen.
5 ‘Holy Spider’ (2022)
Based on a true story, Holy Spider tells the story of a journalist who descends into the dark underbelly of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad as she investigates the crimes of the “Spider Killer”. The serial killer has made his work well known in the city, making his targets specifically that of sex workers, and believing that his work is cleansing the streets of sinners.
Holy Spider acts as a haunting reflection not only of the true events that transpired in early 2000s Iran but of the social norms and systems that allowed for a killer to thrive in such an environment. While the film has many grizzly and terrifying depictions of murder and deception on display, it makes it all the more jarring and nightmarish when the most mortifying aspect is just how much support and leeway the killer receives.
4 ‘Emily the Criminal’ (2022)
Emily the Criminal follows the story of Emily, played by Aubrey Plaza, a young adult who is riddled with student debt and locked out of the job market due to a minor criminal record. With seemingly no other option left, Emily soon finds herself getting involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Emily soon finds herself finding a knack for criminal activity, almost as if it’s her true calling, yet things soon begin to pile up and get dangerous for her.
Emily the Criminal is a great transformation of the classic flawed life of crime story into the modern era, featuring a flurry of modern tendencies and lifestyles and how crime has adapted to the modern world. Plaza especially pulls in a great leading performance as Emily, as she gradually evolves and becomes more confident throughout the film, and will not give up no matter how many odds are stacked against her.
3 ‘Windfall’ (2022)
Windfall follows the story of a mysterious man who breaks into a tech billionaire’s empty vacation home looking to rob him of his valuables. However, things go sideways for him when the arrogant mogul and his wife arrive at the vacation home for a last-minute getaway, leading to a strange and awkward confrontation between the two.
Windfall takes its simple premise and achieves so much strange, hilarious, and thrilling drama as a result of it. The entire film’s premise relies on the trio at its center, and Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons all knock it out of the park with the portrayals of their characters. Even when the majority of scenes are simply characters talking in the same few house locals and going through the motions, the film finds ways to constantly be energetic and engaging in the best way possible.
2 ‘The Card Counter’ (2021)
The Card Counter tells the story of William Tell, a hardened man with a dark past who simply just wants to play cards on the casino trail. His simple yet satisfying life is soon upended when he meets Cirk, a young, vulnerable, and angry man who seeks Tell’s help in executing revenge on a military colonel. While Tell sees the path to redemption and goodness within Cirk’s heart, it proves itself to be difficult to keep him on the path to justice, not helped by the revenge mission beginning to boil up Tell’s dark past to the surface.
Despite its innocuous premise, The Card Counter isn’t afraid to delve into a number of deeply disturbing and nightmarish concepts and backstories for its characters. The film acts as a slow simmer burn for the majority of its runtime, building up all the pieces together until a final, powerful release at the end where Tell unleashes his full wrath upon his lifelong enemy. The film is further amplified by a number of amazing performances across the board, from the spectacular lead performance from Oscar Isaac to the equally enthralling dramatic turn for Tiffany Haddish.
1 ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ (2022)
How to Blow Up a Pipeline follows a rag-tag group of young environmental activists as they decide to take action into their own hands and execute a mission to sabotage an oil pipeline. The mission requires a tight-knit execution from everyone involved, and could fall apart at any moment, but is exactly what needs to happen if anything close to change is going to take place.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a powerful and effective rallying cry that perfectly reflects the state of (or lack thereof) effective changes being made to tackle climate change as a whole. The film takes inspiration from high-stakes heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven to create a high-stakes mission on a timer, in which every scene has audiences on the edge of their seat with a colorful and enthralling team of activists at the helm. The film even managed to be so realistically depicted that it garnered genuine concern from the FBI, a hallmark of the film’s powerful capabilities.
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