The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated January 2, 2022 • 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.

The Hidden Face (2011)

A Spanish orchestra conductor receives a break-up message from his girlfriend before she vanishes, only to find himself as one of the police suspects behind her disappearance. Sounds like just another thriller? Far from it. To fully appreciate how the film

shies away from the genre, you have to be patient and make sure you don’t look up any information before you watch it. The story is very easy to follow and entertaining with its plot twists and flashbacks, while the three lead actors offer gripping performances. If you enjoy thrillers and Latin American cinema, make sure you don’t miss this one.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Alexandra Stewart, Clara Lago, Jose Luis Garcia, Maria Soledad Rodriguez, Martina Garcia, Quim Gutierrez
Director: Andres Baiz
Rating: R
99.

Sami Blood

This coming-of-age story starts in the present time, where Elle Marja, now a grandmother, reluctantly goes to her sister's funeral held by her old indigenous Sámi community in Northern Sweden. Understanding her reluctance requires going back to when Elle Marja was 14 and was preparing to go to boarding school with her little sister. These schools were racist establishments meant to integrate the Sámi children into Swedish culture and language, while at the same time limiting their prospects of seeking further education. Elle Marja and her sister chose to respond to this discrimination in two completely different ways that this movie explores without judgment. The central performance of the young girl is incredible.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Ánne Biret Somby, Maj-Doris Rimpi, Olle Sarri
Director: Amanda Kernell
98.

The Collini Case (2019)

A young lawyer has to defend a murderer after passing the bar only three months prior in this satisfying German drama. To make matters worse, the victim happens to be his mentor, a wealthy and seemingly kind-hearted business man. As for the perpetrator, he refuses to say a single word. Caspar, the lawyer, is from a German-Turkish background, which is a hint to where the complexity of this legal drama lies: in Germany's history and racial legacy. The Collini Case is satisfying to a fault, but if you’re looking for substance-filled entertainment, this is some of the best you’ll get.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Alexandra Maria Lara, Anne Haug, Axel Moustache, Bettina Lohmeyer, Catrin Striebeck, Elyas M'Barek, Franco Nero, Frederik Götz, Hannes Wegener, Heiner Lauterbach, Ilknur Boyraz, Jannis Niewöhner, Ludwig Simon, Lutz Blochberger, Manfred Zapatka, Omid Memar, Peter Prager, Pia Stutzenstein, Rainer Bock, Sabine Timoteo, Sandro Di Stefano, Stefano Cassetti, Stephan Schad, Tara Fischer, Thomas Limpinsel, Tom Jahn
Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Rating: Not Rated
97.

Klown (2011)

There is no shortage of offensive jokes in this comedy about a man who tries to prove to his girlfriend that he is dad-material. Think Borat, but Danish, and with brothels. 

The man in question tries to change his lifestyle after his girlfriend, not thinking he is responsible enough, hides the fact that she is pregnant. To prove her wrong, he takes his nephew on a canoeing trip with his equally as disastrous friend. 

Genre: Comedy
Actor: Björn Gustafsson, Casper Christensen, Dya Josefine Hauch, Elsebeth Steentoft, Frank Hvam, Iben Hjejle, Jørgen Leth, Lars Hjortshøj, Mads Brügger, Marcuz Jess Petersen, Marie Bach Hansen, Marie Mondrup, Mia Lyhne, Michael Carøe, Sami Darr, Tina Bilsbo
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Rating: R
96.

5 Centimeters per Second (2007)

5 Centimeters per Second is a quiet, beautiful anime about the life of a boy called Takaki, told in three acts over the span of seventeen years. The movie explores the experience and thrill of having a first love, as well as being someone else’s. In depicting how delicate it is to hold special feelings towards another, director Makoto Shinkai also perfectly captures how cruel the passing of time can be for someone in love. While the early stage of the movie maintains a dreamy mood, as the stories develop we become thrust back into reality, where it is not quite possible to own that which we want the most. All things considered, 5 Centimeters per Second is a story about cherishing others, accepting reality, and letting people go.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance
Actor: Ayaka Onoue, Hiroshi Shimozaki, Kenji Mizuhashi, Masami Iwasaki, Risa Mizuno, Ryo Naito, Satomi Hanamura, Suguru Inoue, Yoshimi Kondou, Yuka Terasaki, Yuka Terazaki, Yuko Nakamura
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Rating: TV-PG
95.

Being 17 (2016)

This quiet French coming-of-age romance is about two boys who live in the Pyrénées mountains in the south of France. Getting to school is an ordeal for both of them but more so for Thomas, the son of shepherds, who has to travel for two hours each way. Damien, the other teenager, lives closer to the school in a big home with his mother who is the town's doctor. 

The two boys initially fight at school, taking turns at bullying each. Damien's mother intervenes, inviting Thomas to live with them so that he can be closer to school.

Co-written by Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and the movie's legendary director André Téchiné.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Alexis Loret, Corentin Fila, Kacey Mottet Klein, Sandrine Kiberlain
Director: André Téchiné
94.

Sunday Beauty Queen (2016)

Sunday Beauty Queen starts with a basic but startling fact: there are about 190,000 Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. They toil for six days a week, with little breaks in between, but on Sundays, the one day they are given rest, they choose to take part in a fabulous beauty pageant.  

More than just a mere show, the pageant is a source of joy and relief for the migrant workers who, despite earning significantly more abroad than they would back home, are mired in a host of problems, including discrimination, loneliness, and underemployment. Because of the Philippines’ and Hong Kong’s stringent statutes, some helpers are also forced to go into hiding, unsure of who will protect them each time.

It’s to director Baby Ruth Villarama’s credit that the film feels both like a criticism and celebration of this migrant reality. She exposes the rotten system that forces these women to flee their country but doesn’t forget to highlight the humanity that keeps them going. This result of this deft balance is a story that is just as warm and exacting as any old home. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Cherrie Mae Bretana, Hazel Perdido, Leo Selomenio, Mylyn Jacobo, Rudelyn Acosta
Director: Baby Ruth Villarama
Rating: 0
93.

Two Days, One Night (2014)

This movie originally caught my eye for all the attention it got at the Cannes festival, but I assure you, all of the hype is more than warranted. Two Days, One Night takes you on an emotional journey with Sandra, recovering from depression and ready to get back to work, when she discovers that her co-workers, having to choose between receiving a bonus and Sandra keeping her job, hold her fate in their hands. And thus, barely convinced herself and with her husband as her only support, she sets out on an unlikely mission to convince the people to vote against the bonus so that she still has a salary. This movie will strike a chord for anyone who has encountered depression or even simply tried to understand the abstract concept that it is. Marion Cotillard flawlessly portrays through Sandra the desperate struggle of having to put up a fight despite the utter hopelessness that she finds herself drowning in. At strife with herself, watching her try even though every cell in her body has given up, is gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring at the same time. Before long Sandra's fight on the lay-off and on her own hopelessness seem to blur together. Whether she wins, is what keeps you hooked to the very end.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Alain Eloy, Batiste Sornin, Catherine Salée, Christelle Cornil, Fabrizio Rongione, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Marinne, Myriem Akeddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Yohan Zimmer
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Rating: PG-13
92.

Biutiful (2010)

Ever wondered how much your life will change when faced with the reality that death is about to come? That’s normal, and not nearly as life-altering as being told you only have a few more moments to live. Because of a terminal illness, Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is driven to this situation and tries to right his wrongs in the wake of modern Barcelona. This melodrama is supercharged by Bardem’s unearthly performance as the story’s only hero, demonstrating the selfless love of a destroyed and dying father to his children – paired with cinematography unlike any other, this film is exceptionally beautiful. Directed by González Iñárritu' (Babel, Birdman, The Revenant).

Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Adelfa Calvo, Alain Hernández, Ana Wagener, Cheikh Ndiaye, Cheng Taishen, Diaryatou Daff, Dunia Montenegro, Eduard Fernandez, George Chibuikwem Chukwuma, Guillermo Estrella, Hanaa Bouchaib, Javier Bardem, Jin Luo, Karra Elejalde, Luo Jin, Manolo Solo, Maricel Álvarez, Nasser Saleh, Rubén Ochandiano, Sophie Evans, Taisheng Chen
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rating: R
91.

2046 (2004)

Director Wong Kar-Wai made this loose sequel to one of the best films ever made, his 2000 classic In the Mood for Love. Much of the story is set around Christmas eve.

In the far future, people take a train to the world of 2046, where no sadness or sorrow can be experienced. No one has ever returned from that world except for a lonely Japanese writer, who narrates the first part of the film.

There are four acts to the story and as is common to Wong Kar-Wai, they are listed in non-chronological order. Not that you will care but 2046 is far from confusing. Instead, it functions as a dazzling visual poem on unreciprocated love.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction
Actor: Akina Hong, Ben Yuen, Berg Ng, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Dong Jie, Farini Cheung, Farini Cheung Yui-Ling, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Jie Dong, Li Gong, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Takuya Kimura, Thongchai McIntyre, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Ziyi Zhang
Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai
Rating: R

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