From France to Korea, foreign language films are as good, if not even better than movies with English as the main language. Although many may be turned off by having to read subtitles for something that they’re used to listening to, they are missing out on some of the greatest works in movie history.
Today I am here to countdown the greatest foreign films of all time. From quirky comedies to revenge thrillers, these are the best of the best and are definitely worth your time!
Before I start I should mention that there are still a lot of foreign films that I am yet to see and if there is one that you don’t see on here, it’s most likely that I have wanted to watch it, but just haven’t got around to it yet.
As always, I have some honourable mentions to give out. Although these are great movies, they just didn’t make the final cut.
Downfall (2004): A look into the final days of Adolf Hitler, this WWII drama is a fascinating and detailed account of the final days of an evil man.
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): A war movie that shows us what it was like as a Japanese soldier at a pivotal battle in WWII. A horrifying and realistic account of a battle that only got worse for the Japanese.
Irreversible (2002): One of the most controversial movies of all time, this French drama can be unwatchable at times due to the harrowing material that is shown throughout. But, it is amazing if you can handle it.
Das Boot (1981): A WWII epic that centres on a German U-boat crew in the Atlantic ocean. While it does offer great characters and action scenes, it’s the message that not every German was bad in WWII that really sticks with you.
Son of Saul (2015): A stunning look at the holocaust that manages to be even grimmer than ‘Schindler’s List’. Although it may be hard to watch, it will reward you in ways that only some movies manage to do.
Big Bad Wolves (2013): A darkly funny movie about a cop and a vengeful father who torture a suspected paedophile. Quentin Tarantino hailed it as the best movie of 2013, which is definitely saying something.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): A dark fantasy for adults set shortly after the Spanish civil war. It also includes one of the most terrifying movie monsters I’ve ever seen! If you’ve seen this movie then you know what I’m talking about.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009): A very dark start to a great movie trilogy. Although many would prefer to watch the American remake of this as it doesn’t have subtitles (which is a terrible excuse), you would be missing out on a great movie.
Land of Mine (2015): One of the more disturbing and thought-provoking movies set in the aftermath of WWII, this Danish movie makes you wonder whether some of the Allied troops were as good as they were made out to be.
I Saw the Devil (2010): A great mixture of horror and revenge-thriller, this South Korean shocker is one of the most violent and insane movies I’ve ever seen! But, it is also one of the most visually stunning movies out there, which is an interesting thing to say about this kind of movie.
Now, let’s begin!
10. Amélie (2001)
To start off the list, we are going to travel to France with one of the most charming movies of all time! ‘Amélie’ is a French romantic-comedy that follows a young woman who decides to help out those around her as she starts to fall in love. Now, you would have heard about this little gem by now as it’s considered one of the most successful foreign films of all time and you can see why once you watch it. With a great performance from Audrey Tautou, great direction, and a charming script, ‘Amélie’ will definitely leave a smile on your face.
9. The Host (2006)
No, this is not the awful teen romance movie with the same name. This is a South Korean monster movie and it is one hell of a ride! ‘The Host’ follows a little girl who is taken by a strange monster and her dysfunctional family who decide to get her back at any cost. On paper, it seems like a classic b-movie, but it ends up being a great mixture of horror, comedy and satire and it is a joy to behold. With a memorable monster, one of the most dysfunctional families to ever appear on-screen, surprisingly great comedy and a great script, ‘The Host’ is a riveting monster movie that also manages to be a great political satire.
8. Train to Busan (2016)
Does anybody ever remember the straight to DVD movie “sequel” ‘Snakes on a Train’? Well, this isn’t that. But if you were looking for a movie about zombies on a train, then the South Korean horror movie ‘Train to Busan’ is the thing for you! ‘Train to Busan’ follows a small group of strangers who are forced to work to together to survive on a train where most of the passengers have turned into zombies. This was one of my top 10 movies of last year and is one of the most original zombie movies I’ve ever seen. With great performances, relatable characters (not including one of the most hateable characters in movie history), amazing special effects and plenty of emotion, ‘Train to Busan’ is a tour de force and you will probably end up crying at a couple of stages throughout.
7. Let the Right One In (2008)
Originally going to be on my ‘Top 10 Horror Movies’ list, this Swedish tale about a bullied boy who starts to fall in love with a mysterious girl is both sweet and scary. ‘Let the Right One In’ managed to be a refreshing take on the often overdone vampire genre and it also manages to be one of the best vampire movies in the movie industry, especially the foreign film industry. With great performances from its two young leads, an intelligent script and beautiful cinematography, ‘Let the Right One In’ is easily one of the best vampire movies of all time and also manages to have one of the sweetest, if not slightly disturbing romances ever.
6. The Hunt (2012)
Do you want to cry while watching a movie? Well, if you do at least several times throughout, then this Danish drama is for you. ‘The Hunt’ follows a Kindergarten teacher after being falsely accused of child molestation by one of his students. Now, this is probably the saddest foreign film that I’ve ever seen, yet it is also one of the best. Mads Mikkelsen is incredible as our sympathetic protagonist, who is basically being hunted like a witch by almost everyone living around him. It also manages to have one of the most relevant plots with a modern-day issue that makes you wonder if most of the known cases are similar to what happens in this movie. With incredible performances, a harrowing atmosphere and impeccable direction, ‘The Hunt’ is an emotional movie that shows the impact of what one little lie can do to an innocent man.
5. The Raid 2 (2014)
How can you build upon the success of one of the greatest isolated action movies of all time? You add even more great characters, expand the world and turn everything else up to eleven (if someone gets that reference, I’ll be a very happy man). ‘The Raid 2’ picks up directly where the original left off and follows the same protagonist as he goes undercover in a crime syndicate. This Indonesian action movie is one of the most insane movies you’ll ever see! With some of the most violent/over-the-top action set-pieces ever put to film, an intriguing plot and amazing choreography (seriously, the fight scenes in this are some of the greatest), ‘The Raid 2’ manages to be even better than what came before it and will get your heart pumping throughout.
4. Battle Royale (2000)
When people tell me that there isn’t a movie about young adults forced to kill each other better than ‘The Hunger Games’ I tell them to watch this Japanese Dystopian action movie. ‘Battle Royale’ is set in a dystopian future where every year, a random high-school class is picked to participate in the “Battle Royale Act” and the students of that class are forced to kill each other within a three-day period. With Quentin Tarantino hailing this as his favourite movie of all-time, you can see why once you watch it. ‘Battle Royale’ doesn’t shy away from its violent and controversial premise which may be uncomfortable for some viewers, but it does have relatable characters, a smart script and a brilliant premise. So, when you want to watch something that is both a social statement and ultra-violent, don’t watch ‘The Hunger Games’ as this is the better choice.
3. Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013)
This three-hour long French epic is yet another movie that was going to be on one of my previous top 10 lists (Coming of Age) and oh, how great it is! ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ follows a French teen as she meets an older student and forms both a deep emotional and sexual relationship that allows her to discover her true self. I remember seeing this when it first came out and I feel like I may have been about two years too young to watch it. Since it has very explicit sex scenes and very mature themes, I feel like you need to watch it as a seventeen-year-old or older because of those reasons. However, at that age I was left in a state of wonder once the end credits started to roll, as I knew that this movie will soon become a classic. With two of the most realistic performances I’ve ever seen (from the two young leads), an impeccable script and a visually stunning look, ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ is an amazing achievement in French cinema that also contains one of the most realistic love stories ever put to film.
2. Oldboy (2003)
Easily one of the greatest revenge movies of all time, this South Korean thriller is a joy to behold if you have the stomach for it that is. ‘Oldboy’ follows a man who is randomly snatched and locked in a hotel room, until he is randomly released 15 years later, only to realize that the worse is yet to come. One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is the fact that it is an original take on the revenge genre. It is so unique with a villain who you strangely sympathize with and a protagonist who will do anything to find his captor who is also playing mind games with him. Now, it is also considered one of the most controversial movies ever made and you can see why once you watch it (seriously, a live octopus gets eaten on camera). So, if you are looking for a unique take on the revenge genre with great characters and an intelligent script, then I definitely recommend ‘Oldboy’ for you. Also, please don’t watch the American remake, as it is barely watchable at times.
1. City of God (2002)
If you know great world cinema, then you hopefully should have seen this Brazilian crime epic as my number one pick. ‘City of God’ is based on the true story of two different people in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. One who grows up to become a photographer and the other who becomes a ruthless drug lord. To begin, this is one of the most compelling looks at life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and it is easily the best. Not only does it manage to captivate you with its interesting and disturbing content, but it also manages to fly past your eyes at the speed of a bullet. I should also mention that this is a very mature movie that has one of the most disturbing moments ever put to film, so I definitely recommend this for a mature audience. With amazing performances, incredible cinematography and choppy editing (in a good way), ‘City of God’ is a masterpiece of world cinema and is one of the best ‘based on a true story’ movies ever made. To put it plainly, ‘City of God’ is the greatest foreign language film of all time!
There it is, my Top 10 Foreign Language Films. I hope you enjoyed reading it and hope you decide to watch some of these amazing movies. As always, feel free to let me know if I missed one of your favourites as I love to see what kind of movies you like to watch! Thanks.