Lists Recaps Reviews Interviews Explainers

The 10 best foreign films of all time

City of God, from Brazil, is undoubtedly one of the best foreign films of all time
City of God, which is from Brazil, is undoubtedly one of the best foreign films of all time

Here we look at the 10 best foreign films of all time — for those who want to get a taste of cinema from around the world.

Hollywood has a way of capturing everything we want to see in a film and delivering it to us in a very well-designed package.

The familiar faces we know and love regularly join us in our living rooms or at the movie theatres. The directors of our favorite films seem to know exactly what we want to see and exactly how to present it.

But there’s a vast sea of movies out there which aren’t produced in Hollywood that also deserve our attention.

Film-makers across the world regularly stand up to Hollywood and in some cases actually outclass it.

You may already have an interest in foreign films or you may be new to the whole idea. But nonetheless everyone stands to benefit from knowing about these 10 must see foreign films.

1 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has some of the most incredible martial arts scenes ever filmed

In the mid 1800s during the Qing Dynasty in China, a young woman is given the task of delivering a legendary blade to safe keeping. When the blade is stolen however, she is forced to go on a search for it.

Throughout chasing the thief, she travels through a world which is filled with spiritual powers, gods and breathtaking martial arts.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the most critically acclaimed foreign films of all time.

Due to its revolutionary fight scenes and tactful bending of gender stereotypes, this Taiwanese movie has become a kung fu classic that any martial arts lover needs to see.

2 Delicatessen

Dominique Pinon as Louison and Karin Viard as Mademoiselle Plusse in Delicatessen

In a dystopian France where food is so scarce it replaces money, a community of people occupy an apartment building together with a delicatessen on the main floor.

When the butcher of the deli employs a stranger to do maintenance work in his apartment a love affair causes a string of consequences which lead to intrigue and inevitable re-evaluation of the framework of society as a whole.

A gripping thriller which will keep you on your seat, Delicatessen is certainly a movie that must be seen.

It employs romance to display problems with conventional ideas of society and helps viewers break away from the notion that the way things are is the way they should be.

This French film is a must-see for any fan of dystopian fiction.

3 Amelie

Audrey Tautou as the central character of Amelie Poulain in 2001’s Amelie

A girl who has spent most of her childhood in isolation discovers her purpose in life after going out of her way to help a stranger.

Being invigorated by his reaction to her kindness she goes on a journey to help those around her in any way she can. But eventually this becomes a burden and she realizes that she must help herself in order to help others.

As her dreams are to fall in love she then aggressively seeks her ambitions to become truly happy.

The French film goes where no other romantic comedy has ever ventured before. It has an extremely original take on the genre which really makes it stand out.

As Amelie discovers things about herself, you’ll be swayed emotionally and compelled to see where she winds up next.

If you’re looking for something totally different then Amelie is definitely worth a watch.

4 Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth
Pan’s Labyrinth is part war film and part dark fantasy, which has become a classic

Near the end of World War II, a young girl is brought to the Spanish countryside by her sick mother in order to live with her stepfather who’s a twisted military captain.

Her love of fairy-tales takes her on a mystical journey when she meets a fairy that brings her to a maze and sets her on the greatest challenge she could imagine.

As she ventures through the maze she learns about the brutality of life and the nature of mercy. But in order to see her family again she must make it through an increasingly harsh world that threatens her very life.

Pan’s Labyrinth was a blockbuster film in the west but was in fact produced in Spain, written and directed by Spanish writer Guillermo del Toro.

It’s a movie which combines dark themes with a hope for a brighter future. It contrasts fairy-tale-esque characters with the backdrop of a world riddled with war and devastation.

If you haven’t seen this movie already, you should definitely give it a watch. This timeless classic can reshape your view of the world.

5 City of God

City of God
City of God’s cast was mainly made up of residents of real favelas in Rio de Janeiro

In a city filled with gangs and violence, one boy finds solace in his photography. Watching as the people he once knew to be friends grow to become criminals and police who battle against each other, he can do nothing more but capture it all with his camera.

His experience of his violent surroundings displays the hardships of those around him as they struggle to make their way through their disparate ways of life.

City of God is a highly acclaimed Brazilian movie that takes place over two decades.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this film is that the primary perspective doesn’t take sides in the action. He is simply a silent observer, allowing you to take in what you will and see the good and bad in each character.

With a great use of perspective, this movie does what most movies could never dream of doing. Because of its originality this is definitely one movie you shouldn’t miss out on.

6 Nosferatu

Max Schreck as Count Orlok, based on Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, in Nosferatu

When a mysterious count of a Transylvanian castle seeks to purchase an estate in Germany, a real-estate agent finds himself in a more horrific scenario than he could ever have imagined.

After realizing that the count is in fact a vampire, the real-estate agent is captured and locked in the castle.

As the vampire count makes his way to Germany death follows in his wake and the German real-estate agent must fight in order to save his home and his wife from the darkness that comes their way.

A true horror classic, Nosferatu is a German film produced in 1922. That makes it almost a century old!

But due to the amazingly well choreographed terror in this movie it remains a timeless classic.

If you’re a fan of horror and haven’t enjoyed this movie yet then it’s time to turn off the lights and go for a dark adventure to the father land. Nosferatu also features in our lists of great classic horror movies and the best vampire movies of all time.

7 Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful
Life is Beautiful, which won three Academy Awards including Best Actor for star Roberto Benigni

A Jewish book shop owner moves to Italy in the 1930s to create a life for himself. In doing so he marries a woman and together they have a child and create a family.

But when the Nazis move into Italy their dream life quickly becomes a nightmare.

In order to protect his son from the horrible atrocities, the book-keeper tells him that the Holocaust is simply a game. The primary goal of the game: earn enough points to get a tank!

The Italian film is a fantastic look at what it may have been like to be a Jewish family man caught in the wake of World War II.

With a compelling narrative and an interesting twist on the typical Holocaust story, this film has touched millions across the world.

Giving this movie a watch may give you a new perspective on how beautiful life really is.

8 Das Boot

Das Boot
Das Boot is more than just a war movie, with a focus on the bonds between the U-Boat’s crew

In 1942 a German U-Boat crew patrols the Atlantic attempting to disrupt allied naval vessels.

In doing so they develop strong bonds with one another, ultimately growing to know each other better than they know the ideologies of their leadership.

As they begin to question why they’re at war they find themselves in pitched naval battles against the British Navy.

This brings them closer together and makes them further question those above them.

Das Boot is a German film which sets a precedent for all submarine based films to come.

Being filmed in 1981, it relies heavily on the emotional bonds and drama created by the actors rather than flashy special effects.

The political and ideological implications of the movie are what make it most compelling however, as the crew finds themselves ever more wondering what their purpose is.

9 Raise the Red Lantern

Raise the Red Lantern
Raise the Red Lantern tells the story of a woman who becomes one of a warlord’s five concubines

When her father dies, a young girl must marry a powerful warlord in order to survive.

In 1920s China the warlord has considerable influence and power, holding the key to her future. But being one of five wives, she struggles to be loved and cared for.

Because the admiration of the warlord grants additional privilege, the five wives plot against each other to win his affection.

With a red lantern in front of each of their houses, he lights the one he chooses to stay in each night.

It quickly becomes a war of who can have their lantern lit most in order to gain more say and respect in the world they find themselves in.

Raise the Red Lantern is a fantastic drama which pits five women against each other in a war for one man’s love.

In a typical drama such as this a love triangle is the conventional norm. But this love pentagon provides even more depth and intrigue as each character has their own personality and backstory to dive into.

As a very traditional yet untraditional take on a romantic drama, Raise the Red Lantern is a must see for anyone interested in the battle to be loved.

10 The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others
Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, the central Stasi Captain in The Lives of Others

Life in East Germany in 1984 was difficult for citizens as the Stasi was constantly spying on them to prevent dissidence.

When a high ranked spy decides to begin monitoring a loyal citizen and his lover, he begins to sympathize with them.

Being part of their everyday life gives him a feeling of connection which he lacks elsewhere in his life.

As he begins to realize certain things about the couple he must make a choice between following his heart or following orders.

Perhaps one of the most renowned foreign films of our time, The Lives of Others has won several awards worldwide.

Because of the gripping nature of this film coupled with the brilliant display of humanity, there really is nothing else like it.

It’s virtually incomparable to any other film and because of that it is definitely one of the top must see foreign films, if not number 1.

Seeing the world through foreign films

Exclusively watching Hollywood movies can limit our scope on the world. Seeing movies made in other countries can give us perspectives that we never could’ve acquired otherwise.

On top of that, many foreign films simply do not follow the conventional narratives we’ve become accustomed to in Hollywood films.

This means they can grant you an experience which is solely unique to that film. Also, it’s always a fantastic experience to immerse yourself in the culture that exists outside of home.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments