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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60.

A Sun (2019)

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Family
Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin
Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung
Rating: N/A
59.

Happening (2021)

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire
Director: Audrey Diwan
Rating: R

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58.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Perhaps the most depressing but vital movie produced by animation giant Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is a searing and sweeping drama that covers the horrors of World War II through the eyes of teenager Seita and his young sister Setsuko. Between the violence of war and the tragedy of loss, the siblings struggle to preserve not just their lives but their humanity. In typical Ghibli fashion, there are moments of gentle beauty to be found, but instead of conflicting with the overall stark tone of the film, they successfully underscore war's futility and brutality, making Grave of the Fireflies one of the most important anti-war narratives ever told. 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, War
Actor: Akemi Yamaguchi, Ayano Shiraishi, Hiroshi Tanaka, Tsutomu Tatsumi, Yoshiko Shinohara
Director: Isao Takahata
57.

Vortex (2021)

Vortex, Gaspar Noé’s haunting exploration of death and dementia, begins with a dedication: “to all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts.” The statement sets the heartwrenching tone of the film, which follows an elderly couple—one with dementia and the other with a heart ailment—during their last days together. Noé cleverly depicts all this in a split-screen design, which evokes the fractured pattern of old-age thought. 

Noé’s mother struggled with dementia, and Noé’ himself suffered from a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him, so Vortex is clearly a personal film. But even without knowing this, Vortex feels effortlessly dear and deeply intimate, like it could've only been done by a person with a first-hand experience of this tragedy. At once personal and universal, Vortex is a haunting and inventive ode to love, death, and everything in between.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alex Lutz, Corinne Bruand, Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, Jean-Baptiste Thoret, Nathalie Roubaud, Stephane Derderian
Director: Gaspar Noé
56.

An Elephant Sitting Still (2018)

Clocking in at just under four hours, Hu Bo's first and last feature film—before his tragic death at the age of 29—is a sprawling indictment of a country that the filmmaker must have viewed as positively hostile and suffocating. Following several characters whose paths intersect as they try to escape their current circumstances, An Elephant Sitting Still creates a truly oppressive atmosphere that may not lead you to the answers you expect, but it should leave you feeling haunted for a long, long time. Beautifully scored, shot, and acted, Hu's film offers practically no hope but it keeps on moving with a sense of freedom and determination all its own. This is as honest a film can get; Hu has left behind a moving legacy.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Li Congxi, Peng Yuchang, Wang Yuwen, Zhang Yu, Zhao Tao, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhu Yanmanzi, Zhu-Yan Manzi
Director: Hu Bo
55.

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Cornelia Köndgen, Dieter Berner, Eva Green, Gabriele Schuchter, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Karoline Zeisler, Klaus Händl, Liliana Nelska, Michael Schottenberg, Rudolf Melichar, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch
Director: Michael Haneke
Rating: R
54.

Quiz (2020)

For a show about a multiple-choice quiz, this miniseries about the cheating scandal that struck UK TV’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is thrillingly, juicily open-ended. In 2001, bumbling Major Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen) won the top prize with a sensational performance, but broadcasters ultimately decided to pull the episode from the air after noticing an apparently convenient pattern of coughing during taping.

Director Stephen Frears plunges us right into the nail-biting tension of Charles’ final questions; it feels as if we’re really watching live event TV. Macfadyen and Sian Clifford (as Charles' wife Diana, a former contestant herself) give masterfully cryptic yet human performances, while Helen McCrory (as their barrister) flips everything we thought we knew on its head in a showstopper of a courtroom scene. But the most impressive thing about Quiz is playwright James Graham’s writing: not only does the script play up the ultimate campiness of this intrigue (no one died, after all), but it also weaves in commentary on television’s appetite for “entertaining falsehoods.” What saves Quiz from feeling manipulative itself is how masterfully the mystery is balanced on a knife edge — it’s a stunning exercise in ambiguity that never stops being gripping, teasing us with its reminder that, sometimes, there is no final answer.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama
53.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly... it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand... to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film... and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful... it's really an incredible film.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet, José Sabogal, Nicolás Cancino, Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Miguee
Director: Ciro Guerra
52.

Pain and Glory (2019)

This is the latest Oscar-nominated movie by Spain's highest-regarded director, Pedro Almodóvar. It's his most personal work to date, being a slightly fictionalized account of his youth and then the last couple of years. He is mostly portrayed by Antonio Banderas, who was also nominated for an Oscar for this role; while another star performance comes from Penélope Cruz who plays his mother in the flashback scenes. Pain and Glory is about life in the arts: how a tormented artistic personality is formed, the days of focusing on work over relationships, and dealing with the consequences later in life. It begs the question: in Almodóvar's life, was the glory that got him to making as great of a movie as this one worth the pain?

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Asier Flores, Cecilia Roth, César Vicente, Constancia Céspedes, Esperanza Guardado, Esther García, Eva Martín, Fernando Iglesias, Julián López, Julieta Serrano, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Paqui Horcajo, Pedro Casablanc, Penélope Cruz, Raúl Arévalo, Rosalía, Susi Sánchez, Xavi Sáez
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Rating: R
51.

A Silent Voice (2016)

Watching A Silent Voice, sensitive viewers will likely feel repulsion toward the main character, Shoya Ishida — and maybe you should, for the awful things he did as a kid. You might even feel the urge to jump into your screen and protect Shouko Nishimiya, the deaf girl who is new at school. A beautifully crafted anime, the story captures a high-school bully’s remorse and despair as he tries to redeem himself from past wrongdoing, demonstrating that even the cruelest among us can become vulnerable to feelings of shame and regret. While it is heart wrenching, the story is also full of hope, showing how to ask for forgiveness, as well as how to give it. Beyond the great script, animation, colours, and scoring, each shot of A Silent Voice is a masterpiece in and of itself.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aoi Yuki, Kensho Ono, Mayu Matsuoka, Megumi Han, Miyu Irino, Naoko Yamada, Saori Hayami, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Yoshitoki Oima, Yui Ishikawa, Yuki Kaneko
Director: Naoko Yamada
Rating: Not Rated

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