The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

Updated April 17, 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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20.

Summer 1993 (2017)

Summer 1993 charts a formative summer in the life of young Frida (Laia Artigas), a brooding six-year-old who, having just been orphaned by AIDS, is sent from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle (David Verdaguer), his wife (Bruna Cusí), and their little girl (Paula Robles). Catalan director Carla Simón drew on her own childhood experiences for the film, making Summer 1993 feel intimately told. It’s shot from the perspective of its young protagonist and is guided by the unpredictable rhythms of memory: we experience Frida’s new life the way she might remember it when she’s older, via snapshots of moments that stand out to a child, like the day she spent amongst the chickens in a neighbor’s farm or the moment another kid asks her why she isn’t more visibly upset about her mother’s recent death.

That emotional enigmaticness is what makes Artigas’s naturalistic performance so absorbing: she never plays Frida in a predictable dramatic register, so much so that it’s easy to forget we’re not watching a documentary. The unexpected little ways her grief manifests itself — along with Simón’s assured, impressionistic directing — make this a profoundly heart-rending watch throughout, and especially so in its gut-punch of a final scene.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermí Reixach, Isabel Rocatti, Laia Artigas, Quimet Pla
Director: Carla Simón
19.

To Be and To Have (2002)

This gorgeous documentary opens on the snowy fields of its rural French setting, but the single classroom it spends much of its time in couldn’t be warmer or more inviting. That comforting atmosphere — which the film imbibes, too — is all thanks to the kindness and patience of Monsieur Lopez, the man responsible for the education of all of the village’s kids (up to age 11). Chronicling the final year of his career before retirement, this doc shares the instinctive empathy its chief subject has for his pupils and, accordingly, shoots them quite simply, trusting that the high drama of their little lives is enough to sustain the film.

And it is: from the cheeky antics of happy-go-lucky four-year-old Jojo to the crippling anxiety of older kids grappling with parental illness and the terrifying move to middle school, we’re plunged deep into a full spectrum of raw emotion. Inspiringly, Monsieur Lopez doesn’t just teach the kids maths and spelling — he also gently coaches them in off-syllabus skills, like talking about feelings and reconciling differences (even turning a fraught relationship between two boys into loyal friendship by the end of the year). There’s so much to learn from him and his perpetually wonderstruck kids here.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Director: Nicolas Philibert
18.

Tampopo (1985)

While billed as a “ramen western”, Tampopo satirizes plenty of other American genres, including, but not limited to: 1) the inspirational sports film, with Tampopo’s diligent training, 2) the erotic, arthouse drama through its egg yolk kiss, 3) the witty, social comedy pointing out the absurd in dinnertime tables, and 4) the melodramatic mafia romance with its room-serviced hotel getaway. But the film doesn’t buckle under the weight of carrying all these genres– instead, the customer vignettes are all delicately plated to balance out the hearty journey of a store owner learning about ramen and the bemused, yet cohesive contemplation about food. Tampopo is one of a kind.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Akio Tanaka, Chōei Takahashi, Fukumi Kuroda, Hideji Ōtaki, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Takagi, Hyōe Enoki, Isao Hashizume, Izumi Hara, Ken Watanabe, Kinzō Sakura, Kōji Yakusho, Mariko Okada, Masahiko Tsugawa, Nobuko Miyamoto, Nobuo Nakamura, Rikiya Yasuoka, Ryutaro Otomo, Toshiya Fujita, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yoshi Katō, Zenpaku Kato
Director: Jūzō Itami
Rating: NR
17.

The Salesman (2016)

Echoing Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesmen, Oscar-winning writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly) tells the story of a loving middle-class couple who live in Tehran, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are forced to move out of their apartment. After arriving at their new place, violence erupts, upending their life and straining their previously happy relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here, delivering simmering tension, complex realism, and unaltered emotion. Originally titled Forushande, every scene of The Salesman is a privileged look for Western viewers into Iran's collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands out as an extraordinary drama with a tense plot and outstanding performances across the board. Another incredible addition to Farhadi's first-class filmography.

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Actor: Babak Karimi, Ehteram Boroumand, Emad Emami, Erfan Barzin, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, Maral Bani Adam, Mehdi Koushki, Mina Sadati, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Sahra Asadollahe, Sam Valipour, Shahab Hosseini, Shirin Aghakashi, Tarane Alidousti, Taraneh Alidoosti
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Rating: PG-13

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Salesman (2016) on Amazon Prime for free
16.

After the Storm (2017)

There are many movies by the much-celebrated Japanese auteur director Hirokazu Koreeda on A Good Movie to Watch. Why? Because, like all the movies we showcase here, his work is often little-known, but unbelievably good. After the Storm is no different. Much like his other works, notably Like Father, Like Son, Shoplifters, and Nobody Knows, it deals with the topic of family dynamics, regret, and disappointment. But his movies are never dramatic downers but delicate dioramas, understated in tone. Once a successful writer, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is now a private detective who spends the little money he makes on gambling instead of paying child support. His ex-wife and son are increasingly alienated by his behavior until one day, during a storm, they all find themselves trapped in Ryota's childhood home. Subtly touching on notions of inter-generational bond and tension –⁠ Koreeda's works are mesmerizing and stick with you long after you've finished watching.

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Drama, Family
Actor: Aju Makita, Daisuke Kuroda, Hiroshi Abe, Isao Hashizume, Izumi Matsuoka, Jun Matsumoto, Kanji Furutachi, Kazuya Takahashi, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Maki Yoko, Makoto Nakamura, Mickey Curtis, Rie Minemura, Ryoko Tateishi, Satomi Kobayashi, Shôno Hayama, Sosuke Ikematsu, Taiyo Yoshizawa, Yôko Maki, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Yūko Fukui, Yuri Nakamura, 蒔田 彩珠
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda
Rating: Not Rated
15.

On Body and Soul (2017)

On Body and Soul is the impeccably crafted winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival and an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Is it possible that two people dream the same dream? And meet each other in that same dream? This unique drama directed by Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi studies this possibility against the unlikely backdrop of a slaughterhouse. Middle-aged, inconspicuous manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi) can't help but noticing a new girl at work, Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the abattoir's new hygiene manager. They fall in love, but not, as you might suspect, during a fateful mandatory hygiene inspection, but in their dreams—in the shape of two deer in a mysterious, snow-covered forest. The Hungarian director had taken an 18-year break from making movies, which was probably the prerequisite for making something as striking and unconventional as On Body and Soul.

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Alexandra Borbély, Ervin Nagy, Eva Bata, Géza Morcsányi, Itala Bekes, Júlia Nyakó, Morcsányi Géza, Nora Rainer-Micsinyei, Pal Macsai, Reka Tenki, Tamás Jordán, Zoltán Schneider, Zsuzsa Jaro
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Rating: Not Rated
14.

Shoplifters (2018)

The title of this 2018 Palme D'or winner is not to be taken metaphorically: Shoplifters is about a marginalized family of day workers, crooks, and small-time outlaws, who live on the fringes of Japanese society. Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) both have jobs but spruce up their low-wage income by committing petty crimes. One day in winter, Osamu takes in a bruised girl he finds outside in the cold and introduces her to the family in his ramshackle house. But when the second-youngest member of the family, Shota (Kairi Jyo), finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens to unravel the family's fabric. If you were hitherto unfamiliar with the unique storytelling and social realism of Hirokazu Koreeda, we really recommend checking it out—as well as his other movies, namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son, I Wish, and After the Storm. His 2018 outing features the last ever performance of Kirin Kiki, who plays the elderly matriarch and passed away that same year. Like many of Koreeda's works, Shoplifters is an understated, beautiful, and mysterious study of the effects of poverty and trauma and a delicate portrait of a family in Japan's urban underbelly.

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Family, Thriller
Actor: Aju Makita, Akira Emoto, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hajime Inoue, Haruna Hori, Jyo Kairi, Kairi Jo, Kairi Jyo, Kengo Kora, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Miyu Sasaki, Moemi Katayama, Nana Mizoguchi, Naoto Ogata, Sakura Andô, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, 山田裕貴, 松冈茉优, 蒔田 彩珠
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch Shoplifters (2018) on Hulu for free
13.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot - a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Actor: Alejandro Abelenda, Barbara Palladino, Carla Quevedo, David Di Nápoli, Fernando Pardo, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino, Jose Luis Gioia, Judith Buchalter, Liliana Cuomo, Mariano Argento, Mario Alarcon, Pablo Rago, Pedro Kochdilian, Ricardo Darín, Rudy Romano, Sebastián Blanco, Soledad Villamil
Director: Juan J. Campanella, Juan Jose Campanella
Rating: R
12.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Rating: PG
11.

The Handmaiden (2016)

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel's plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Actor: Bae Il-hyuck, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Byung-mo, Choi Jong-ryul, Eun-hyung Jo, Ha Jung-woo, Ha Si-yeon, Hae-suk Kim, Han Ha-na, In-woo Kim, Jeong Ha-dam, Jeong In-kyeom, Jin-woong Jo, Jo Eun-Hyung, Jung In-gyeom, Jung-woo Ha, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim In-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Si-eun, Kim Tae-ri, Kwak Eun-jin, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Ji-ha, Lee Kyu-jung, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lim Han-bin, Min-hee Kim, Moon So-ri, O Man-seok, Oh Man-seok, Rina Takagi, So-ri Moon, Tae-ri Kim, Takashi Kakizawa, Tomomitsu Adachi
Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook
Rating: Not Rated

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Handmaiden (2016) on Amazon Prime for free

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