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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50.

My Life as a Zucchini (2016)

My Life as a Zucchini (or Courgette in Europe) is unlike any kids' movie you'll see in America. It isn't afraid to be honest about children's feelings, no matter how dark or sad, nor is it afraid to be frank about things like intimacy and abuse. It understands that kids need these kinds of narratives too, and sometimes they need to hear them without being pandered to. 

There is an openness to it that makes it comforting to adults as well. Lines like “Sometimes, we cry because we’re happy," are so deceptively simple and tender that they'll catch you off guard. Couple this seemingly endless reserve of empathy with adorable, almost melancholic stop-motion animation and you get a film that will have you floored for days, regardless of your age.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Romance
Actor: Michel Vuillermoz, Monica Budde, Natacha Koutchoumov, Paulin Jaccoud
Director: Claude Barras
Rating: PG-13
49.

Full Time (2021)

Full Time is about the Herculean task that is getting through the day. For Julie Roy (the incredible Laure Calamy), that means keeping a job in the city as a single mother living in the suburbs. In this particular week, she has to attend to childcare, work a job below her skill set, apply for a job that actually matches her skill set, and get home before her children's bedtime, all while a transport strike immobilizes the city. 

Protests aside, Julie's reality is an everyday feat some of us don’t even bother to question, but the film—edited and scored like a thriller—makes a vital point about the overlooked difficulties of juggling career, family, and self. 

It's unrelenting, intense, and truly gripping from start to end, kind of like Uncut Gems for the everywoman. It's rare to see social commentary at this pace, but it's also unexpectedly powerful, a necessary portrait of the times.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Actor: Agathe Dronne, Anne Suarez, Bô Gaultier de Kermoal, Carima Amarouche, Cedric Welsch, Cyril Gueï, Évelyne El Garby-Klaï, Geneviève Mnich, Irina Muluile, Karine Valmer, Laure Calamy, Lucie Gallo, Mareme N'Diaye, Marina Saura, Romain Deloutre, Romain Ogerau
Director: Eric Gravel
Rating: Not Rated
48.

The Match Factory Girl (1990)

With its 69-minute runtime, ultra-minimalist approach to camera movement, and dialogue so sparse it could fit onto a single page, the first word that comes to mind when describing The Match Factory Girl is “lean.” The second word is “bleak”: for most of the film’s slight duration, we watch as the lonely titular character (Iris, played by Kati Outinen) passively endures a relentless barrage of cruelties, whether from her coldly detached parents, callous love interest, or simply fate itself. 

And yet, these words — apt descriptors of the film as they are — only capture part of what makes The Match Factory Girl such a magnetic and unforgettable watch. When a late twist sees the film swerve into even darker territory, director Aki Kaurismäki’s twin approaches fuse into one that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Rendered in his characteristic deadpan style, the shocking event becomes sardonically funny — a gutsy move that only a real master of tone, as Kaurismäki is, could pull off.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kati Outinen, Klaus Heydemann, Outi Mäenpää, Reijo Taipale, Richard Reitinger, Silu Seppälä, Vesa Vierikko
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
47.

The White Balloon (1995)

There’s a universe of hard-hitting emotion hiding in Jafar Panahi’s deceptively simple debut feature, which follows a seven-year-old girl’s attempts to buy a goldfish before Nowruz, the Persian New Year, dawns. From start to finish, her shopping trip only takes 80-something minutes, and all of the action is confined to a couple of Tehran’s streets — but, because we experience The White Balloon in real-time through determined young Raziah’s (Aida Mohammadkhani) perspective, her simple quest is transformed into a perilous and profoundly emotional odyssey for audiences. Every emotion — from fear to wonder — is magnified through Raziah's eyes, so much so that an unfortunately timed gust of wind comes to feel like a punch in the gut, and the sight of a fluttering banknote a euphoric miracle. Co-written by master of the Iranian New Wave Abbas Kiarostami, The White Balloon wrings expansive humanism out of its tiny canvas.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee
Director: Jafar Panahi
46.

A Short Film About Killing (1988)

Even before any blood is inevitably shed during A Short Film About Killing (which serves as the expansion of another episode from director Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog miniseries, alongside A Short Film About Love), there's something positively oppressive and sinister even just in the way the movie is shot. Kieślowski and cinematographer Witold Adamek use color filters to make the film deliberately ugly—as if the image is degrading right in front of us. Oftentimes shadows obscure the edges of the frame, shining a sickly yellow spotlight on the characters on screen. It's the perfect way to get right into the heads of these people existing in a lawless land driven by primal instinct.

When crime and punishment finally occur, they're equally difficult to watch unfold, but in different ways. Kieślowski lingers on the details—the tools and processes that we tell ourselves will make the act of killing easier. And what he's ultimately able to expose is how capital punishment has been made to seem humane, just, or necessary, when it's often even more barbaric, cruel, and unproductive than a crime borne of desperation. The very government that does nothing to address the roots of crime is the same one most eager to kill criminals instead.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Aleksander Bednarz, Andrzej Gawroński, Artur Barciś, Barbara Dziekan, Jan Tesarz, Jerzy Zass, Krystyna Janda, Krzysztof Globisz, Leonard Andrzejewski, Małgorzata Pieczyńska, Mirosław Baka, Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Zdzisław Rychter, Zdzisław Tobiasz
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
45.

The Kiosk (2021)

This bittersweet little documentary about a Parisian newsstand will change the way you look at a kiosk forever: they’ll no longer seem like transitory stops on the way to somewhere, but a destination themselves. Director Alexandra Pianelli, whose family has run this particular newsstand for four generations, shoots from inside the tiny cabin, from where she and her mother dispense newspapers, magazines, directions, and friendly conversation with anyone who stops by.

Anyone who’s seen Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes — her fond portrait of the traditional shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre, the street she lived on — will recognize the same warmth and humane curiosity in The Kiosk, which documents a quickly fading way of life and the community that clings to it. As Pianelli movingly shows us, the kiosk is an invaluable fixture in the lives of an assortment of locals: regular customers (particularly elderly ones, who perhaps visit more for the company than the magazines), a big-hearted homeless man, and fellow vendors like Islam, a Bangladeshi asylum-seeker and fruit-seller who uses the kiosk to hide his merchandise so that French police don’t confiscate it. The decline of printed material that the film documents isn’t just a threat to the family business, then, but the very concept of a truly joined-up society itself.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Aliénor de Nervaux, Damien Fourmeau, Gérard Jacq, Marcel Cierniak, Marie-Laurence Fay
Director: Alexandra Pianelli
44.

L’Argent (1983)

With his final film, octogenarian master filmmaker Robert Bresson found the violent, chilling truth in that old cliché, “money is the root of all evil.” L’Argent extends the simplicity of its title (literally, “Money”) into the fabric of the film, using an extremely bare style to track the devastating domino effect that a childish ruse has on one man’s life. When a shopkeeper realizes two schoolboys swindled him out of 500 francs with a counterfeit note, he decides to pass the problem on by paying delivery man Yvon (Christian Patey) with the false note. But when Yvon tries to pay for his lunch with the money, the police are called and his life unravels.

This is just the start of L’Argent’s clinical exploration of the meanness and littleness of man’s greedy spirit. Yvon’s downfall is chronicled with matter-of-fact coldness: everything onscreen is minimal, from the precise cinematography and frugal editing to the non-professional actors’ expressionlessness. This detached style encourages us to absorb all the bitter emotion of the story, which feels — in such an economical format as this — like a moral tale as old as time, but no less cutting.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Caroline Lang, Christian Patey, Michel Briguet, Sylvie Van Den Elsen, Vincent Risterucci
Director: Robert Bresson
43.

Arrhythmia (2017)

This is an excellent Russian movie about an ambulance unit and the paramedic that leads it. 

His long-time relationship starts suffering from a combination of alcoholism and his devotion to his work, which are also linked together. This is set in a country where ambulances are underfunded and the health-care system is frail. 

As a consequence, the story of Arrhythmia is one of a worker dedicated to saving their patients' lives in a system that seems not to care. This is portrayed in the ambulance's everyday missions, but also in the paramedic's decaying relationship. It's Blue Valentine meets an Andrey Zvyagintsev movie like Elena. Sadly, it might be more realistic than both those movies, and added to the fact that it's Russian, it has stayed severely under-watched since it came out.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Albina Tikhanova, Aleksandr Samoylenko, Aleksandr Yatsenko, Anna Ichetovkina, Anna Kotova, Anton Figurovsky, Boris Dergachev, Eduard Chekmazov, Ekaterina Stulova, Elena Drobysheva, Evgeny Muravich, Igor Brovin, Iliya Kovrizhnykh, Irina Gorbacheva, Konstantin Adaev, Konstantin Zheldin, Maksim Lagashkin, Nadezhda Markina, Nicholay Kovbas, Nikolay Shrayber, Polina Ilyukhina, Polina Volkova, Sergey Nasedkin, Sergey Udovik, Tatyana Rasskazova, Valentina Mazunina, Vladimir Kapustin, Yevgeni Syty
Director: Boris Khlebnikov
42.

Poetry (2011)

Poetry is a masterpiece from one of South Korea's most cherished movie directors, Lee Chang-dong. The simple story follows the everyday life of a grandmother, Mija, who works as a caretaker for a living. To fill her inner emptiness, she decides to join a poetry club with other grandmothers in her neighborhood. Meanwhile, as Mija deals with her own financial and health problems, she struggles to connect with her teenage grandson — only to find out that he is keeping a dark secret. If you are familiar with Lee Chang-dong works, then you know that the movie will tug at your heartstrings. But if you aren't, prepare to be moved.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Ahn Nae-sang, Chang Hyae-jin, Eun-yeong Kim, Hee-ra Kim, Jang Hye-jin, Jeong-hie Yun, Kim Eun-yeong, Kim Hee-ra, Kim Ja-young, Kim Jong-goo, Kwon Hyuk-soo, Lee Da-wit, Min Bok-gi, Park Hyun-woo, Park Myung-shin, Yoon Jeong-hee
Director: Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong
Rating: TV-PG
41.

Children of Heaven (1997)

After third-grader Ali loses the only pair of shoes his sister Zahra owns, the siblings agree to share Ali's sneakers for school. Zahra uses the tattered, ill-fitting footwear in the morning, and in the afternoon, she hands them over to Ali, who then races to get into school in time. The siblings wait for things to get better at home before they mention anything to their already-burdened parents, but in the meantime, they persevere, scooping up every bit of silver lining they find, whether it's popping soap bubbles or taking in the city's ultramodern sights. 

In this way, Children of Heaven is neither cynical nor cheesy. It presents the harsh reality of Tehran's poor without robbing them of hope and agency, giving the movie the right amount of self-aware and feel-good that elevates it into a classic. Thanks to this masterful balance, plus many awe-inspiring shots and lines, it should come as no surprise that Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama, Family, Kids
Actor: Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, Kamal Mirkarimi, Mohammad Amir Naji, Reza Naji
Director: Majid Majidi

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