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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80.

Pauline at the Beach (1983)

Éric Rohmer movies are what you watch when you want to experience the thrill of someone putting into words something you might never have been able to express yourself. The magic of his characters is that they’re breezily candid, even if that honesty doesn’t protect them from committing the same contradictory foibles we all do. Pauline at the Beach is a dazzling example of that quality; it may even be more honest than usual, because it also tells a truth about its characters that they’re not even aware of themselves.

The most perceptive character is actually the youngest: 15-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet), who’s vacationing with her older cousin Marion (Arielle Dombasle). Having never fallen in love herself, Pauline receives a thorough education in the matter by observing the love triangle that Marion becomes entangled in with needy Pierre (Pascal Greggory) and predatory Henri (Féodor Atkine). Though the adults give the film its brilliantly articulate philosophical meditations on love — ranging from the idealistic to the dispassionate — their actions often fall short of their words. Shot through Pauline’s keen eyes, Rohmer’s film wryly reveals the decisive role that delusion and unchecked ego play in so many grown-up lives — ironically making the self-aware and measured teenager the most mature of all.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Amanda Langlet, Arielle Dombasle, Féodor Atkine, Pascal Greggory, Rosette, Simon de La Brosse
Director: Éric Rohmer
Rating: R
79.

A Summer’s Tale (1996)

The sunniest installment of Éric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons series is a sly, slow burn of a character study. Everything looks sensuously beautiful in the honey-toned French sunshine, except for the ugly egotism of Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), the full extent of which is gradually revealed over the film’s runtime to amusing — if maddening — effect.

A brooding twenty-something, Gaspard has the traumatic task of having to decide between three beautiful and brilliant young women while vacationing alone on the French coast one summer. He dithers and delays his choice, each woman appealing to a different insecurity of his — but, as frustrating and plainly calculating as he is, you can’t help but be charmed by Gaspard. That’s partly because of Poupaud’s natural charisma, but also because Rohmer grants Gaspard as many searingly honest moments as he does deceitful ones. These come through Rohmer’s hallmark naturalistic walking and talking scenes (a big influence on the films of Richard Linklater), coastal rambles that produce conversations of startling, timeless candor. That inimitable blend of breeziness and frankness is never better matched in the director’s films than by the summer setting of this one, the sharp truths going down a lot smoother in the gorgeous sunlight.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Aimé Lefèvre, Amanda Langlet, Aurelia Nolin, Gwenaëlle Simon, Melvil Poupaud
Director: Éric Rohmer
78.

Our Little Sister (2016)

Hirokazu Koreeda can do no wrong. The director of Shoplifters and Still Walking is a master of dissecting complex family dynamics through a handful of events. In Our Little Sister, three close sisters who live at their grandmother's house learn that their absent father has passed. They travel to the mountains to attend his funeral and meet their half-sister, Suzu, for the first time. Suzu is invited to live with the sisters and join their bond.

This movie is a true-to-the-form slice of life, it's almost drama-free. This absence of plot is an absence of distractions: the sisters are all that matters to Koreeda. His only focus is on how this family becomes bigger, sees past grief, and how the group of close-knit sisters that grew up together can make room for a new addition.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Actor: Fukiko Hara, Haruka Ayase, Ichirō Ogura, Jun Fubuki, Kaho, Kaoru Hirata, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Maeda Oushirou, Masami Nagasawa, Masumi Nomura, Midoriko Kimura, Mikami Saya, Oshiro Maeda, Ryō Kase, Ryohei Suzuki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Shinobu Otake, Suzu Hirose, Takamitsu Nonaka, Yuko Nakamura, 中春优子
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda
Rating: PG
77.

Where Is the Friend’s House?

Abbas Kiarostami delivers a tale of towering simplicity. A young boy mistakenly takes his friend’s notebook home and, knowing the friend faces expulsion without it, goes on a journey to bring it back. He visits the neighboring town but without a clue where his friend lives must rely on the kindness of strangers and overcome the stubbornness of adults who get in his way.

This adventure is both a loose moral parable as well as a striking portrait of life in rural Iran. More than this, it’s a testament to the capacity of children’s films to communicate depth when the filmmaker respects a child’s intelligence. The earnest young actors at its heart add an emotional immediacy that underscores Kiarostami’s empathetic direction.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, Family
Actor: Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Biman Mouafi, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
76.

The Secret of the Grain (2007)

The Secret of the Grain is a saga of the immigrant experience and a packed 151 minutes of diverse storylines and themes that could have each been a film on their own. 

Slimane Beiji is a Tunisian immigrant in the French port city of Sète. His large family consists of two units: his ex-wife Souad, with whom he has many children, and his current partner Latifa who own a run-down hotel where Slimani lives. Slimani gets fired from his shipyard job and is pushed by the children from his first marriage to return to Tunisia, where he can lead a quiet life. But Rym, his current partner’s daughter, convinces him that he can still be happy in France if he pursues his dream: to open a restaurant on a boat he owns that would serve his ex-wife’s unique couscous with fish recipe. Slimani chooses to rekindle his immigrant dream.

It's a beautiful and rich slice-of-life film about immigrant life in Southern France. Slimani's charachter is based on the filmmaker's father. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alice Houri, Benaïssa Ahaouari, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Bruno Lochet, Carole Franck, Hafsia Herzi, Hatika Karaoui, Henri Cohen, Mélèze Bouzid, Olivier Loustau, Sabrina Ouazani, Sami Zitouni
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
75.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to the fantastical. Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away conjure worlds of spirits and demons, monsters and witches, imaginary wars and extraordinary heroes. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the real magic arises from the mundane.

The titular teenaged Kiki leaves home, setting out to become a better witch. She arrives in the idyllic seaside town of Koriko with only her broom and best friend, a black cat named Jiji. When she serendipitously meets Osono, the gentle owner of a bakery, Kiki begins a delivery service as part of her training.

Kiki’s Delivery Service may be one of Miyazaki’s more understated films, but it’s a beautiful reminder that believing in oneself is a magical act of courage that we should all undertake.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy
Actor: Akio Otsuka, Chika Sakamoto, Haruko Kato, Hiroko Maruyama, Hiroko Seki, Kappei Yamaguchi, Keiko Toda, Kikuko Inoue, Kôichi Miura, Koichi Yamadera, Michihiro Ikemizu, Mieko Nobusawa, Mika Doi, Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Shinpachi Tsuji, Takashi Taguchi, Takaya Hashi, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoshiko Asai, Yoshiko Kamei, Yûko Kobayashi, Yûko Maruyama, Yuko Tsuga, Yuriko Fuchizaki, Yuuko Kobayashi, 丸山裕子
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
74.

The Red Turtle (2017)

Co-produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a tale about a man shipwrecked on a desert island whose fate is changed upon meeting a giant turtle. Beautiful images are pulled together and combined with the film’s delicate symbolism about humanity and nature, in a story told with remarkable restraint. The only sound in the movie is that of nature and the film’s beautifully relaxing score. Using only simple ingredients, The Red Turtle is an enigmatic, captivating, and highly-recommended gem that, after all, encompasses life itself.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy
Actor: Barbara Beretta, Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
73.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy (2013)

With a premise as insane as this—a high school coming-of-age film adapted from 410 consecutive tweets from a real, random Thai girl under the username @marylony—you would expect Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy to be some sort of incoherent commentary about social media. What director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit gives us instead is a completely original and surprisingly affecting portrait of a young woman in her senior year trying to come to terms with the fact that her life may only ever be a mess of incongruous parts without a definite identity. It's as whimsical as it is bittersweet, with the film flitting back and forth between the absurd and the melancholic.

Thamrongrattanarit structures his film as a series of loosely connected vignettes, with every single one of @marylony's tweets appearing on screen. The effect is one-of-a-kind—as if we're watching different layers of meaning constantly interacting with each other, our understanding of what we're supposed to think of as serious or tongue-in-cheek always changing. And through the film's deliberately lo-fi aesthetics, the experience of watching it is like flipping through a scrapbook of memories mundane and precious.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Awat Ratanapintha, Boonsong Nakphoo, Chonnikan Netjui, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Patcha Poonpiriya, Prabda Yoon, Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, Wasupol Kriangprapakit
Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
Rating: 0
72.

The Kid With A Bike (2011)

The Kid With A Bike is a deceptively simple title for a film this stirring. At 12 years old, Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned to social care by his father (Jérémie Renier) — but what’s really heart-wrenching is that he’s in denial about the finality of their separation. Cyril’s muscles are seemingly always coiled, ready to spring him away from his carers and onto the next bus that’ll take him to his disinterested dad, who has secretly moved away to “start anew.” It’s only through the random force of Cyril’s few words — like the moment he asks the first stranger to show him some kindness (Samantha, played by Cécile de France) if she’ll foster him on the weekends — that we get to sense the depth of his desperation, because neither the film nor Doret is showy in that regard.

The film pulls off transcendency because of these restrained performances and its unfussy realism. In the quietness of the storytelling, emotion hits unexpectedly — and deeply. The everyday tragedy and miraculous hope of Cyril’s life are set off by some enormously moving orchestral Beethoven, the very grandeur of which underscores the effect of the humanist filmmaking: affirming the inherent preciousness of his troubled, oft-rejected child.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Cécile de France, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Thomas Doret
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
71.

Lingui: The Sacred Bonds (2021)

There’s much to despair at in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's drama set in Chad, where abortion is illegal, female genital mutilation isn't, and single mothers are ostracised. Amina's (Achouackh Abakar) 15-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) has just been expelled from school because she’s pregnant. Like Amina, Maria has been abandoned by the child’s father — but, having witnessed first-hand the stigma that comes with being an unmarried mother, she refuses to let history continue repeating itself, and declares she wants an abortion.

But underground abortions are expensive, and the duo are barely scraping by as it is, in spite of Amina’s backbreaking manual work. Their situation is dire — and there are more disturbing revelations to be had — but, despite the bleakness of Lingui’s plot on paper, the film isn’t miserabilist. As Amina searches desperately for a safe abortion provider, she takes us with her into a furtive underground network of solidarity, one that offers the mother and daughter all the compassion and aid that the government and their imam should be providing. This is a film in which acts of kindness are quietly delivered on the understanding that that’s what we owe each other, and one where sisterhood is alive — making this, paradoxically, a simultaneously enraging and heartening watch.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Briya Gomdigue, Rihane Khalil Alio, Saleh Sambo, Youssouf Djaoro
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

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