The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated September 13, 2023 • Staff

They say travel is the best way to see the world. I'd say the next best thing would be to transport yourself through international cinema. Most film lists online are dominated by American movies –– which only goes to show how titles that feature a main language other than English tend to get sidestepped by global audiences. But the world is a big place, and there’s more to streaming great films than Hollywood. To reset the balance and help guide your journey through contemporary world cinema, we’ve curated a list of the 100 best foreign-language films to come out in the past decade or so.

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100.

Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Known for his horror films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa shifts gears and presents a family drama in Tokyo Sonata. In the film, father Ryuhei, who’s expected to be the breadwinner, loses his prestigious job and chooses to hide his firing from his family. While this premise isn't overtly scary, the film understands the terror of being unable to maintain the current comforts of your family. And the consequences: lose your status (at best) or your life (at worst). Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance crystallizes that sense of losing control, as each expression on his face betrays how secretly afraid Ryuhei feels. The disasters that this family faces threaten to never stop, and Kurosawa executes them perfectly through excellent story structure and performance.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Denden, Hajime Inoue, Haruka Igawa, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuki Namioka, Kazuya Kojima, Kenji Kawahara, Kōji Yakusho, Kyoko Koizumi, Takashi Kodama, Tao Tsuchiya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Toshiyuki Kitami, Yū Koyanagi
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Rating: PG-13
99.

Tropical Malady (2004)

A breathtaking and enigmatic masterpiece of Thai cinema, Tropical Maladyis a poetic and deeply philosophical exploration of human desire, spirituality, and the mysteries of nature. It follows the story of two men, a soldier and a farmer, who fall in love and embark on a journey deep into the heart of the jungle, where they encounter a shape-shifting spirit. The film's surreal and dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing, and the performances are outstanding, especially the nuanced and subtle portrayal of the two protagonists. This film is truly a stunning and unforgettable work of art that challenges our perceptions of love, identity, and reality.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Sakda Kaewbuadee
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
98.

Margarita with a Straw (2014)

Margarita with a Straw is a bold and unflinching film that offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability, sexuality, and identity. The film follows the journey of a young woman with cerebral palsy as she navigates her way through life, love, and self-discovery. The film's honest portrayal of exploring sexuality, its rich and diverse cast of characters, and its raw and emotional story make it a deeply affecting watch. It's a triumph of representation and inclusivity, and a testament to the power of storytelling to challenge and change the way we see the world.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Tenzing Dalha, William Moseley
Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose
Rating: Not Rated
97.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)

Serene and almost silent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film contemplating an old movie theater in Taipei. In its heyday, this cinema was jam-packed and full of eager eyes watching the 1967 Wuxia classic Dragon Inn, but now it’s nearly empty for its last screening. Despite the lack of attendees, this cinema still has some life. Like the annoying audience members we're all familiar with, the moviegoers still noisily chew on popcorn, put their feet on the headrest in front of them, and refuse to remain silent when walking. Director Tsai Ming-liang affectionately captures moviegoers in their natural element, recreating an experience so nostalgic it makes me want to go back to the theaters. Watching this, post-pandemic in the age of streaming, reminds us of the ways we still try to connect in the cinema in real life.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Shih Chun, Yang Kuei-Mei
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Rating: Not Rated
96.

Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Rating: PG-13
95.

Aimée & Jaguar (1999)

Set in war-torn Berlin during World War II, this film explores the forbidden romance between a married mother of four and a Jewish woman working undercover for the resistance based on the real lives of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, as detailed in Erica Fischer's book of the same name. As expected, all of the frightening challenges of Jewish people, women, and queer folks are presented bluntly. But there are enough touching and humane moments of empathy that contrast the harsh realities of war. The performances by Maria Schrader and Juliane Köhler are simply remarkable, bringing depth and authenticity to their characters' intense connection and creating a poignant viewing experience. 

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, History, Romance
Actor: Dani Levy, Désirée Nick, Detlev Buck, Dorkas Kiefer, Elisabeth Degen, Heike Makatsch, Johanna Wokalek, Juliane Köhler, Maria Schrader, Rosel Zech, Ulrich Matthes
Director: Max Färberböck
94.

Penguin Highway (2018)

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi
Director: Hiroyasu Ishida
Rating: Not Rated
93.

The Child (2005)

The Dardenne brothers deliver one of their characteristic tests of empathy with this social realist tale centered around an apparently irredeemable soul. Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) are childish teenagers who have just welcomed their first baby, a boy named Jimmy. But the fact that he’s now a father and jointly responsible for a new life doesn’t seem to register with Bruno, a small-time criminal whose thoughts don’t extend beyond his next job and what he’ll buy with the takings.

Sickeningly, Jimmy’s birth gives the vacant-headed, impulsive Bruno an idea for a quick buck: he’ll use the black market to sell the baby to a family hoping to adopt. This awful act sets in motion a frantic set of events as Sonia’s horrified reaction signals to Bruno that he might have gone too far this time. Strikingly, though, we’re never sure if Bruno is experiencing a moment of genuine reflection — perhaps the first of his life — even up to the film’s dam-break of a final scene. The ghastliness of Bruno’s actions makes this a challenging watch, but the Dardenne brothers’ restraint and resolute refusal to moralize about their easily condemnable protagonist open it up to being a compelling reflective exercise on the limits of redemption.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Déborah François, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
92.

Rohan at the Louvre (2023)

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Kayoko Shiraishi, Kento Nagao, Kou Maehara, Marie Iitoyo, Masanobu Ando, Minami, Ryo Ikeda
Director: Kazutaka Watanabe
91.

My Happy Family (2017)

This movie is a dramatic masterpiece and a tribute to loving middle-aged women everywhere. It is unparalleled in the way it portrays its characters and the subtlety with which it tells their stories. The events are centered around a 52-year-old Georgian woman who decides to leave her family home and live alone without much of a notice. She trades chaos and domestic disputes for solitude, and the prospect of sad old age for an opportunity to build a new life for herself. In other words, she trades being the secondary character to her mother, husband, and children, to being the hero of her own story. A genuine and beautiful film. If like me you grew up with a mother who sacrificed everything for you, this will hit very close to home.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Berta Khapava, Dimitri Oragvelidze, Giorgi Khurtsilava, Giorgi Tabidze, Goven Cheishvili, Ia Shugliashvili, Mariam Bokeria, Merab Ninidze, Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross, Tsisia Qumsishvili
Director: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
Rating: N/A

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