The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated February 15, 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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90.

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, 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
89.

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, 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
88.

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, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志
Director: Akira Kurosawa
87.

This Is Not a Film (2011)

Everything about This Is Not a Film revolves around state censorship. Documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb records Iranian cinema giant Jafar Panahi’s life under house arrest, maneuvering through the legal loopholes on Panahi’s 20-year ban on filmmaking and screenwriting. Here Panahi describes one of his unmade films that was rejected by the Iranian ministry, creating makeshift sets out of tape and his apartment’s living room, further emphasizing the ridiculousness of the state-imposed limitations on his artistic freedom. The result is a quasi-documentary that functions paradoxically, its un-cinematic quality essential for aesthetics as well as narrative. That this film had to be smuggled from Iran to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake is a testament to political cinema’s power to be a vessel of pro-democracy sentiments, a fist raised proudly against state censors.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Jafar Panahi
Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
86.

Rebels of the Neon God (1992)

Slow cinema might be an acquired taste for many viewers, but Tsai Ming-liang's gorgeous feature debut about Taiwan's aimless youth should have enough mystery and suspense to draw anybody in. They key, as with many of these films, isn't to demand that things happen or actions get explained, but to surrender to every possibility and suggestion of what might be motivating these characters beneath the surface. And through patient, perceptive observation, Tsai gives us so much to chew on: the sleeplessness of urban life, the unpredictability of relationships, and most importantly the morality that forms when a disillusioned young man fully embraces his being an outcast.

And if nothing else, Tsai provides us with some of the most beautiful and honest images of city life around. It's hard to describe, but just the neon-lit arcade halls and dingy hotel rooms are enough to let you into who these characters are. It's an experience not to be missed.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tien, Wang Yu-wen, Yu-Wen Wang
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
85.

West Beirut (1998)

Director Ziad Doueiri is one of the first filmmakers to successfully break through to the global stage out of Lebanon, and West Beirut, which was selected as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1999 Academy Awards, is one of his most accomplished films.

The film stars the director's son Rami Doueiri as Tarek, a young Lebanese boy who loves to shoot with his Super 8 camera and go on small adventures with his friends Omar and May in the streets of Beirut. But one day, he is faced with the ugly truth of the Lebanese civil war. As he learns more and more about the divided state of his country, he sets out on a mission in search of any lingering hope to help keep the beautiful idea he has of his country locked safe and sound in his brain. “Whoever asks about your religion, you tell them I’m Lebanese.”

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Carmen Lebbos, Mohamad Chamas, Rami Doueiri, Rola Al Amin
Director: Ziad Doueiri
84.

The Kings of the World (2022)

The Kings of the World is a surreal coming-of-age movie that follows Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny, and Nano, street kids who are on their way to claim land that’s rightfully theirs. Their one goal is to finally make a home after living without one for so long, but they’re hindered by the inevitable tragedies that befall kids of their kind: impoverished, alone, and abandoned.

The title is ironic, but it also hints at their state of mind: these boys are unstoppable, rabble-rousers who live like there’s no tomorrow. They tear down private property and invade inns not out of spite, necessarily, but out of a knowledge that whatever they do they’re gonna be put down anyway, so they might as well live without rules.

Tackling powerful themes like land restitution and youth neglect, The Kings of the World is one of the most agonizing movies you'll ever see. It’s also Colombia’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez
Director: Laura Mora
Rating: TV-MA
83.

Hyenas (1992)

Restored in 2019, Djibril Diop Mambéty's adaptation of the 1956 play, The Visit, presents a powerful allegory of societal decay through the story of Linguère Ramatou, a woman who returns to her impoverished hometown with an offer that can change everything. Mambéty's skillful direction captures the complexities of human nature and the moral choices we face in a world driven by greed and corruption in a global capitalist world. The narrative unfolds with precision, blending dark humor and piercing social commentary. With or without the context of its original influence, Hyenas is a brilliant Senegalese film.

 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
82.

Rouge (1987)

Vivid, seductive, and highly romantic, Rouge starts as an enchanting tale of a ghost courtesan that haunts a modern-day couple to look for her lost lover. It’s easy to be swayed by the ghostly lovers – the courtesan Fleur (Anita Mui) and wealthy pharmacy chain heir Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung) start off the film courting each other (and the audience) through lush visuals, dramatic declarations, and Cantonese song. They agree to a suicide pact and promise to find each other in the next life. However, as Fleur haunts newspaper journalists Yuen and Chor, it’s clear how different Hong Kong has become. From its culture to its attitudes towards romance, Rouge suggests that while modern day Hong Kong may be more cold and standardized, the past as we know it is only a gorgeous dream. And that dream hides a tragic, sordid reality.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Actor: Alex Man, Anita Mui, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Irene Wan, Kara Hui, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Kara Wai Ying-Hung, Lau Kar-Wing, Leslie Cheung, Patrick Tse Yin, Ruby Wong, Ruby Wong Cheuk-Ling, Tam Sin-Hung, Wong Yu
Director: Stanley Kwan
Rating: Not Rated
81.

There Is No Evil (2020)

Exploring morality, conscience, and the death penalty, There Is No Evil tells four interconnected stories about men tasked with carrying out executions. The film excels at creating a sense of unease and tension as their reality contends with their beliefs about capital punishment and loyalty to the state. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (known for his films that explore social and political issues in Iran) allows each narrative to center both the subject and the institution, maintaining suspense but never straying from its argument. The sum - and its part - are undeniably profound.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Mahtab Servati
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

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