The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated January 17, 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 50 best foreign-language films to come out in the past decade or so.

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100.

Vagabond (1985)

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau
Director: Agnès Varda
Rating: Not Rated
99.

The Wolf House (2018)

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Actor: Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse
Director: Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña
98.

The Gleaners and I (2000)

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Agnès Varda, François Wertheimer
Director: Agnès Varda
Rating: Not Rated
97.

Like Someone in Love (2012)

Like Someone in Love is a Japanese drama about identity and finding comfort. It tells the story of a young woman, Akiko, who leads two different lives, one she shares with her family and another which few know about. The movie opens in a restaurant where Akiko is hanging out with her friend, just as a man is trying to get her to leave, insisting that there is a really important “customer” she has to meet. Long taxi rides and Tokyo neon lights will accompany you as the story unfolds. One of the movie’s most evocative sequences involves Akiko seated in the backseat of a cab, listening to her grandmother's voicemails. Using very little dialogue, Like Someone in Love is a simple movie that captures loneliness, regret, and sorrow brilliantly as it depicts a woman and a man who are only trying to give and receive comfort from each other.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Denden, Koichi Ohori, Rin Takanashi, Ryō Kase, Seina Kasugai, Tadashi Okuno
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
96.

Porco Rosso (1992)

As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig. 

Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family
Actor: Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Bunshi Katsura Vi, Hiroko Seki, Mahito Tsujimura, Minoru Yada, Osamu Saka, Reizō Nomoto, Sanshi Katsura, Shûichirô Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yoko Soumi, Yu Shimaka
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: PG
95.

The Wind Rises (2013)

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War
Actor: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura, Keiko Takeshita, Mansai Nomura, Martin Short, Masahiko Nishimura, Miori Takimoto, Mirai Shida, Morio Kazama, Shinobu Otake, Stephen Alpert
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: PG-13
94.

Millennium Actress (2001)

Millennium Actress, from famed animation director Satoshi Kon, is about lives lived and unlived. It follows Chiyoko Fujiwara, an actress from Japan’s golden age of cinema, as she recounts her life to two documentarians making a film about the history of the now-defunct Ginei Studios. Kon employs a metafilm narrative approach, framing Chiyoko’s lifelong search for her great love through the movie roles she has played, all interweaved through Kon’s stunning genre switches and signature match cuts. Millennium Actress poignantly explores the bittersweet irony of “larger-than-life” cinema, how it can contain a multitude of lifetimes and still be lacking, and how films serve as extensions of memories and yearning.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Fumiko Orikasa, Hisako Kyoda, Koichi Yamadera, Mami Koyama, Masane Tsukayama, Masaya Onosaka, Minagawa Junko, Miyoko Shoji, Showko Tsuda, Shozo Iizuka, Tomie Kataoka
Director: Satoshi Kon
Rating: PG
93.

Ernest and Celestine (2012)

Ernest is an old bear and Celestine a young mouse; he lives above ground, while she lives underground. Their kinds fear one another, and borders are set in place so that they never intermingle, but despite all the odds, Ernest and Celestine form a bond—they share one similarity, after all, which is that they’re both outcasts. 

Ernest & Celestine is a classic buddy tale of outsiders finding their place in the world. The story and its messages of acceptance and equality are already charming and weighty on their own, but the hand-drawn and watercolored animation gives the film an extra rush of nostalgia and delight. Beautifully made and surprisingly relevant, it's a children’s film for all ages. It makes sense that it was nominated for Best Animation in the 86th Academy Awards (what doesn't is it losing to Frozen).  

An English dub is available on most streaming platforms, but we highly recommend watching it in French, how it’s originally meant to be heard.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family
Actor: Adeline Chetail, Anne-Marie Loop, Brigitte Virtudes, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Dominique Maurin, Féodor Atkine, Forest Whitaker, Jacques Ciron, Jennifer Fauveau, Lambert Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Mackenzie Foy, Michel Elias, Nathalie Homs, Patrice Dozier, Patrice Melennec, Paul Giamatti, Pauline Brunner, Perrette Pradier, Pierre Baton, Spike Spencer, Vincent Grass
Director: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
Rating: PG
92.

The Orphanage (2007)

Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro creates another haunting movie that leaves you questioning your sense of reality. El Orfanato revolves around a mother tries desperately to find her missing adopted son soon after her and her husband move into her old orphanage. But the past horrors of the orphanage will not let her son be found so easily.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Andres Gertrudix, Belén Rueda, Belén Rueda, Blanca Martínez, Edgar Vivar, Enric Arquimbau, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Óscar Casas, Roger Príncep
Director: J.A. Bayona, Juan Antonio Bayona
Rating: R
91.

Soul Kitchen (2009)

A delightfully screwy comedy about a guy and his struggling bar (of the title). The film is full of food, music, dancing, romance, and crazy coincidences. Our hero, Zinos, has just be abandoned by his girlfriend. On top of that his bar is struggling, he’s recently thrown his back out, he desperately needs to find a new chef, and his shady brother has just come to the Soul Kitchen looking for a job after being let out of on “partial parole.” Will it all work out in the end? Of course it will! This film is a lot lighter than Akin’s previous features, but maybe after all those challenging pictures he just felt the need to have a good time, which this film definitely delivers.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Bousdoukos, Anna Bederke, Birol Ünel, Birol Ünel, Catrin Striebeck, Cem Akin, Demir Gökgöl, Demir Gökgöl, Dorka Gryllus, Gustav-Peter Wöhler, Hendrik von Bültzingslöwen, Herma Koehn, Jan Fedder, Lars Rudolph, Lucas Gregorowicz, Marc Hosemann, Maria Ketikidou, Markus Imboden, Monica Bleibtreu, Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Jordan, Peter Lohmeyer, Pheline Roggan, Philipp Baltus, Simon Görts, Till Huster, Udo Kier, Uğur Yücel, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Zarah Jane McKenzie
Director: Fatih Akin
Rating: N/A, Unrated

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