The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated June 18, 2024 • 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.

Le Havre (2011)

Quaint and quirky, Le Havre is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the power of compassion and the importance of community. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city of Le Havre. The charming characters are easy to root for as this community of everyday people bands together to help this young boy reunite with his mother. Even as the film rejects the unempathetic responses to the refugee crisis, it utilizes gentle humor and a light cadence to invoke empathy for others that should exist.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: André Wilms, Corinne Belet, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Ilkka Koivula, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kati Outinen, Patrick Bonnel, Pierre Étaix
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
99.

Godland (2022)

On the one hand, Godland is a film about nature’s unforgiving beauty. Like the photographs the priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) takes, these quietly superb scenes speak for themselves. The Earth moves in mysterious and harsh ways, and we are but mere specks, organic matter to be folded in and absorbed, in the grand scheme of things. It would’ve worked with just this message alone, but Godland also treads on political ground. Through Lucas, who is Danish, and his travel guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who is Icelandic, we sense a palpable tension that electrifies the film with a colonial strain. There are layers to their deep aversion (and dependence) on one another, and director Hlynur Pálmason does well to pair this with imagery that is just complex, profound, and packed with meaning.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Elliott Crosset Hove, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Vic Carmen Sonne, Waage Sandø
Director: Hlynur Palmason
98.

Il Mare (2000)

While more people are familiar with its US adaptation, Il Mare is far more striking and emotionally resonant. The Korean romance, separated by timelines, depicts two lonely people who lived in the same seaside residence. They form a bond through the titular house’s mailbox, by sharing letters, voice recorders, and suggestions to deal with loneliness. As they receive each other’s messages, the film slowly reveals the reason for their loneliness– that they’ve been left behind. Matched with shots of creeping urbanization, migration, and the Y2K scare, Il Mare understands modern isolation, but it also underscores how solitude helps us connect with other people.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Cho Seung-yeon, Hong So-yeong, Ji-hyun Jun, Jun Ji-hyun, Jung-jae Lee, Kim Moo-saeng, Kim Mu-saeng, Lee Jung-jae, Mu-saeng Kim, Seung-yeon Jo
Director: Hyun-seung Lee, Lee Hyeon-seung, Lee Hyun-seung
Rating: N/A

Free Watching Options:

Watch Il Mare (2000) on Amazon Prime for free
97.

Rosetta (1999)

Rosetta begins fiercely, with a shaky handheld camera chasing the eponymous teenager (Émilie Dequenne) as she storms across a factory floor and bursts into a room to confront the person she believes has just lost her her job. The film seldom relents from this tone of desperate fury, as we watch Rosetta — whose mother is a barely functioning alcoholic — fight to find the job that she needs to keep the two alive.

As tough as their situation is, though, Rosetta’s fierce sense of dignity refuses to allow her to accept any charity. A stranger to kindness and vulnerability, her abject desperation leads her to mistake these qualities for opportunities to exploit, leading her to make a gutting decision. But for all her apparent unlikeability, the movie (an early film from empathy endurance testers the Dardenne brothers) slots in slivers of startling vulnerability amongst the grimness so that we never lose sight of Rosetta’s ultimate blamelessness. Its profound emotional effect is corroborated by two things: that it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and that it helped usher in a law protecting the rights of teenage employees in its setting of Belgium.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Anne Yernaux, Bernard Marbaix, Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Frédéric Bodson, Mireille Bailly, Olivier Gourmet
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Rating: R
96.

Barbara (2012)

Barbara (Petzold regular Nina Hoss) has fallen from grace, at least by the standards of 1980s Germany. A renowned doctor at a prestigious East Berlin hospital, she has been demoted to a paediatrician at a tiny town on the Baltic coast: a punishment for daring to try and leave the DDR. The Stasi spy on her, threaten her, and on occasion, abuse her. But Barbara does not give up in her attempts to establish a better life for herself, if only she could cross the sea and dock in Denmark. With such a politically-conscious premise, Christian Petzold's sixth film became a hit on the European scene and transformed his relatively modest career into something more transnational. Even if Barbara feels very local—the way in which Germany's divide conditions every movement and gesture of its characters—the tropes of a spy thriller come to the fore and make a legible, rewarding viewing out of something one may deem too particular. The film owes a lot to its lead, Hoss, who has become a staple of Petzold's career, with her stoicism and towering presence as Barbara – a symbol of obstructed mobility.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alicia von Rittberg, Christina Hecke, Christoph Krix, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Irene Rindje, Jannik Schümann, Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Jens Okking, Kirsten Block, Mark Waschke, Nina Hoss, Peter Benedict, Rainer Bock, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rosa Enskat, Susanne Bormann, Thomas Bading, Thomas Neumann
Director: Christian Petzold

Free Watching Options:

Watch Barbara (2012) on Amazon Prime for free
95.

Fallen Leaves (2023)

Simple but lovely movies like Fallen Leaves are hard to come by these days. While others rely on complicated dialogue or overly ambitious premises to be deemed deep or important, Director Aki Kaurismäki trusts that his material is strong enough. After all, its silence speaks volumes; the characters don’t say much but when they do, you can be sure it’s something hard-hitting or funny. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but when it makes a turn, it moves you instantly. And the leads, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) barely move their features, but their eyes convey more emotion, more longing and ache and joy, than one can hope for. Some movies can be challenging, exhilarating, or exhausting to watch. This one is simply delightful. 

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Alina Tomnikov, Alma Pöysti, Anna Karjalainen, Eero Ritala, Erkki Astala, Evi Salmelin, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juho Kuosmanen, Jussi Vatanen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Heiskanen, Martti Suosalo, Matti Onnismaa, Misha Jaari, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Rating: NR
94.

Minbo: the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion (1992)

Without context, Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion seemed like a goofy satire, especially when the silly trumpet score pops up, and unfortunate hotel employees Suzuki and Wakasugi flounder around trying to solve the hotel’s yakuza problem on their own. And when Nobuko Miyamoto shows up as the brilliant lawyer, it’s so satisfying to see her turn the tables on the yakuza purely through words, strategy, and knowledge of law. It’s hilarious, but Minbo doesn’t just poke fun– it demystifies the gangster as a cool and untouchable figure, portraying them instead as loudmouthed bullies that we can handle. It also shows us how much can be done, only if we, as a group, perhaps as a whole nation, can muster the courage to fight.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Actor: Akio Tanaka, Akira Nakao, Akira Takarada, Guts Ishimatsu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hōsei Komatsu, Kōji Sekiyama, Masahiko Tsugawa, Noboru Mitani, Nobuko Miyamoto, Shigeru Yazaki, Shirō Itō, Takehiro Murata, Tetsu Watanabe, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yasuo Daichi, Yuji Miyake
Director: Jūzō Itami
93.

Never Look Away (2018)

It's impossible to describe this incredible movie as one thing or the other. It's an epic three-hour saga that takes you through the Nazi era, the communist era, the rise of capitalism, and the East and West German divide. But more than its historic value, it's a coming-of-age story, one that is based on the experiences of famed German artist Gerhard Richter. It's also a romance, following his experiences finding love and being hit with loss (in no particular order). If you liked the director's other work, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, you're sure to love this too.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama, History, Romance, Thriller
Actor: Andreas Nickl, Anton Rubtsov, Bastian Trost, Ben Becker, Cai Cohrs, Chris Theisinger, David Schütter, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Florian Bartholomäi, Franz Pätzold, Hannes Hellmann, Hanno Koffler, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Hinnerk Schönemann, Ina Weisse, Jörg Schüttauf, Jacob Matschenz, Jeanette Hain, Johanna Gastdorf, Johannes Allmayer, Jonas Dassler, Jorg Schuttauf, Lars Eidinger, Luc Feit, Lutz Blochberger, Manfred Möck, Mark Zak, Martin Bruchman, Martin Bruchmann, Michaela Caspar, Oliver Masucci, Paula Beer, Pit Bukowski, Rainer Bock, Rainer Reiners, Saskia Rosendahl, Sebastian Koch, Stefan Mehren, Tom Schilling, Ulrike C. Tscharre
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Rating: R
92.

The Double Life of Véronique (1991)

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s drama stars Irène Jacob as two identical women living separate lives, and the intricate and indelible ways in which they are bound together. While Weronika, a Polish singer, balances her familial duties and intimate romantic relationship, a French music teacher named Véronique senses that she is not alone.

The Double Life of Véronique’s hypnotic and entrancing qualities will wash over you like a tide crashing over a bed of sand. It is a tough film to capture in words, when so much of it is just beyond words—Kieślowski’s film is one to be seen, sensed, and experienced. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Actor: Alain Frérot, Aleksander Bardini, Bogusława Schubert, Chantal Neuwirth, Claude Duneton, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Guillaume de Tonquédec, Halina Gryglaszewska, Irène Jacob, Jacques Potin, Janusz Sterninski, Jerzy Gudejko, Kalina Jędrusik, Lorraine Evanoff, Louis Ducreux, Philippe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Thierry de Carbonnières, Władysław Kowalski, Youssef Hamid
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Rating: R
91.

Ran (1985)

An attempt to articulate just how vast and magnificent the scope of Akira Kurosawa’s 乱 (Ran) is will inevitably fall short. Recognized as a master of epics, including his 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear set in medieval Japan. Each shot is labored and precise, as sublime landscapes overwhelm the screen, dwarfing the armies of men fighting below. 

At the center of the ensuing wars is Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging warlord. Ichimonji divides his conquered land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, Saburo. The Ichimonji clan, however, will not settle for less than everything. Father and sons scheme against one another, leading to violent plots for control over the kingdom. Greed poisons the Ichimonji’s bloodline, pervasive and all-consuming. The tragedy that unfolds is indeed as poignant as any great Shakespeare work. 

The road ahead is lined with bodies, blood, jealousy, paranoia—and it’s a long way to the bottom from the throne. Kurosawa, confronting his own mortality and legacy, achieves a titanic masterpiece with Ran. Few films so deeply grasp the tragedy of war at this visceral level. While Ran is not an easy watch, it’s a must-watch for all.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Actor: Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryû, Haruko Tôgô, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Ueki, Jinpachi Nezu, Jun Tazaki, Kazuo Katô, Kenji Kodama, Kumeko Otowa, Mansai Nomura, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Norio Matsui, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Tokie Kanda, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志
Director: Akira Kurosawa

Free Watching Options:

Watch Ran (1985) on Amazon Prime for free

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