50 Best Foreign Thrillers of All Time

50 Best Foreign Thrillers of All Time

June 11, 2024

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In this list, no passports are required for a whirlwind tour of heart-pounding suspense. From cat-and-mouse games in labyrinthine cities to espionage puzzles written in different languages, we’ve collected the best foreign-language thrillers of all time and indicated, for your convenience, where you can watch them online. These films will keep you on the edge of your seat with twist after twist, all while rousing the curious explorer in you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned thrill seeker or just dipping your toes into the enigmatic waters of suspense: these films know no borders, and neither should you. So, fasten your seatbelts as we travel the globe with our top picks.

11. Shéhérazade (2018)

best

8.6

Country

France

Director

Jean-Bernard Marlin

Actors

Dylan Robert, Idir Azougli, Kader Benchoudar, Kenza Fortas

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Romantic

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime – Marseille. 

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade. 

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this. 

12. A Hero (2021)

8.6

Country

France, Iran

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Ali Reza Jahandideh, Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Farrokh Nourbakht

Moods

Slice-of-Life, Suspenseful, Thought-provoking

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it’s life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran’s official submission to the Oscars. 

13. La Ceremonie (1995)

best

8.5

Country

France, Germany

Director

Claude Chabrol

Actors

Christophe Lemoine, David Gabison, Dominique Frot, Isabelle Huppert

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

La Cérémonie is the kind of thriller you can watch repeatedly and glean new insight from each time. Right from its first scene, there’s something puzzling about the buttoned-up Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) that narrows your focus and pulls you in. What’s remarkable is that, even after the secret Sophie’s keeping that seems to explain her strangeness is revealed, our intrigue never dips. Director Claude Chabrol and his cast construct a gripping twin character study and biting social commentary around that initial hook, as Sophie finds a kindred spirit in the equally uncanny Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), who opens her eyes to the slyly patronizing way Sophie’s employers treat her.

The film’s study of class relations is always subtle, never veering into over-pronounced territory. That much is clear from the fact that, although some of Sophie’s employer’s family are quite likable, you still understand the ways they’re inextricably embroiled in the film’s quiet indictment of the power dynamics that rule this lofty mansion. More nuance comes by way of the strikingly nonchalant ways evil is depicted in La Cérémonie — just another example of the movie turning something expected (violence is foreshadowed early on) into something that remains viscerally shocking, no matter how many times you watch it.

14. Never Look Away (2018)

8.4

Country

Germany, Italy

Director

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Actors

Andreas Nickl, Anton Rubtsov, Bastian Trost, Ben Becker

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

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.

15. Perfect Blue (1997)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kou Matsuo, Satoshi Kon

Actors

Akio Suyama, Emi Motoi, Emi Shinohara, Emiko Furukawa

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a chilling psychological thriller and a fantastic next step for those looking to explore anime’s dark side. Kon animates with Hitchcockian flair and is so successful at memorable compositions that Darren Aronofsky even lifted a scene from this into Requiem for a Dream. 

Mima is a pop idol who abandons her singing career to become an actress. Shaken by a series of murders, and a stalker who knows her every move, she begins to lose her grip on reality. The rest is a riveting ride into Mima’s unraveling psyche in the vein of Mulholland Drive or Black Swan. This 1996 film not only anticipates the reality busting thrillers of the early aughts but also presages the way our identities are splintered across the internet.

16. Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One) (2006)

best

8.1

Country

France, United Kingdom

Director

Guillaume Canet

Actors

Alexandra Mercouroff, André Dussollier, Anne Marivin, Brigitte Catillon

Moods

Intense, Smart, Thrilling

Francois Cluzet, who you may remember from The Intouchable, plays a man whose wife is killed and is accused of murdering her. To make matters even more confusing, signs that his wife is actually still alive surface. This well thought out thriller is at all times the furthest thing from boring and has, among other great components, well crafted chase scenes as the protagonist looks for 8 years of unanswered questions.

17. The Orphanage (2007)

best

8.0

Country

Spain

Director

J.A. Bayona, Juan Antonio Bayona

Actors

Andres Gertrudix, Belén Rueda, Belén Rueda, Blanca Martínez

Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro creates another haunting movie that leaves you questioning your sense of reality. El Orfanato revolves around a mother tries desperately to find her missing adopted son soon after her and her husband move into her old orphanage. But the past horrors of the orphanage will not let her son be found so easily.

18. The Raid: Redemption (2011)

best

8.0

Country

France, Hungary, Indonesia

Director

Gareth Evans

Actors

Acip Sumardi, Alfridus Godfred, Ananda George, Bastian Riffanie

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Thrilling

A special forces team conducts a raid at a multi-story ghetto building where a criminal boss runs his business. Things quickly go wrong and chaos ensues. Full of pure action, with no overblown Hollywood-type CGI nonsense. It is made the way action movies should be made, full of realistic fight scenes. It is exciting, brutal and thrilling. The Raid: Redemption is definitely among the best action movies ever made.

19. Sin Nombre (2009)

best

8.0

Country

Mexico, United States of America

Director

Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Actors

Édgar Flores, Benny Emmanuel, Catalina López, Damayanti Quintanar

Moods

Challenging, Suspenseful, Thrilling

A foreign film on par with City of God, and carrying its heritage of naturalistic performances and raw stories. Sin Nombre will take you into a world filled with gut wrenching violence, heart-breaking loss, and non-stop suspense. And while definitely a tough watch, it reports the horrors of immigration with humane and sometimes hopeful outlook.

The profound and epic redemption in this movie will leave you thinking about it for days.

20. Train to Busan (2016)

best

8.0

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Sang-ho Yeon, Yeon Sang-ho

Actors

Ahn So-hee, An So-hee, Baek Seung-hwan, Cha Chung-hwa

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Thrilling

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.

The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

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