10 great foreign language films that we should all watch

Published: March 3, 2015
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Seven Samurai is the embodiment of everything Kurosawa has been working on throughout his career, a film that combines the best elements of the samurai and western genres to make a stunning film that is epic in scale and ambition.

While all of us have seen classic Hollywood, Bollywood and Lollywood blockbusters, many of us are unaware of a lot of amazing movies that have been directed by foreign film industries which are equally worthy of our attention.

Therefore, I have come up with a list of 10 such foreign movies which I believe everyone should watch in order to appreciate cinematic finesse and art of other regions as well.

Seven Samurai – Japan, 1954

Photo: IMDb

Akira Kurosawa is an auteur in the broadest sense. His work has influenced many people including the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. In fact, Lucas has gone as far as to say that Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress was his main source of inspiration for Star Wars.

Seven Samurai is the embodiment of everything Kurosawa has been working on throughout his career, a film that combines the best elements of the samurai and western genres to make a stunning film that is epic in scale and ambition.

The trailer for this movie can be seen here. 

Life is Beautiful – Italy, 1997

Photo: IMDb

A film that is likely to make you laugh and cry at the same sitting, Life is Beautiful stays true to its title and gives you a truly beautiful film.

Set in Italy during the World War II, the film follows the story of a Jewish man who tries his best to protect and sustain his son with the help of humour, after his family is taken to a Nazi concentration camp.

Written, directed and starred by Roberto Benigni, who gives a masterful and convincing performance, Life is Beautiful is one of the most poignant films ever made as well as one of the best war movies.

Its trailer can be seen here.

A Separation – Iran, 2011

Photo: IMDb

Iranian cinema has produced some great films such as Ten, Taste of Cherry, and Children of Heaven, but nothing quite like A Separation.

An excellent, suspense-filled Hitchcockian drama, this movie is impeccably well-crafted and actors have put forth a superb performance.

A Separation is the personification of Iranian cinema and represents how a wonderful and complex screenplay can guide a film.


Oldboy – South Korea, 2004

Photo: IMDb

Very rarely does one see a film that operates on the same level as Oldboy.

Brutal, violent, and shocking are just some of its qualities, and that is why Oldboy is one of the greatest revenge thrillers you are ever likely to see.

The film has all the marquee violence synonymous to Asian cinema as well as a fantastic story. Chan-wook Park’s taut direction is instrumental in making this film great but this is a movie that thrives mainly on its wonderfully dark screenplay that keeps the audience interested at every turn.


Amores Perros – Mexico, 2000

Photo: IMDb

Before Alejandro Gonzalez’s Inarritu made it big in Hollywood with the likes of 21 Grams, Babel, and the most recent, Birdman, he directed Amores Perros, a film about a horrific car crash that interconnects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret and life’s harsh realities in Mexico City.

Amores Perros is all in all an extremely intense and gritty film that provided us with the very first glimpses of Alejandro’s true talent and can probably be credited for launching his career.

The trailer can be seen here.

Bicycle Thief – Italy, 1948

Photo: IMDb

One of the greatest films of the neo-realist Italian era, Bicycle Thief has a simple plot yet it offers a fantastic cinematic experience.

Set in Italy during the era of Post World War II, when the nation was in economic shambles, Bicycle Thief tells the story of a man and his son as they search for a stolen bicycle vital to their job. Bicycle Thieves is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and moving films ever made and one of the high points in Italian cinema.

Its trailer can be checked out here.

City of God – Brazil, 2002

Photo: IMDb

City of God allows an unflinching look into the street life of Rio de Janeiro and the crime and poverty persistent over there. It focuses on how these aspects affect the lives of two young boys over a course of three decades.

City of God’s biggest draw is the visceral nature of the film, its mix of wonderful storytelling and disturbing scenes that make the movie extremely compelling.


Downfall – Germany, 2004

Photo: IMDb

Downfall serves as a biopic to one of the most famous and controversial personalities in the history of the world, Adolf Hitler.

The film offers a fascinating look into the last days of Hitler’s life as told by his secretary, Traudl Junge. It features a towering performance from Bruno Ganz as Hitler, who captures both the humane and inhumane sides of the Fuhrer perfectly.

Hate – France, 1996

Photo: IMDb

An intimately persevering film about street life and racism in France, Hate is the story of three young men, an Arab, an African and a Jew, who spend an aimless day in a Paris suburb, as social turmoil swirls around them. How they eventually face confrontation with the police is the climax of the film.

Trailer for the movie can be seen here.

 8 1/2 – Italy, 1963

Photo: IMDb

Federico Fellini is regarded as one the greatest auteurs of world cinema.

He was behind some of the most beautiful and original films ever made, such as La Strada and La Dolce Vita. However, 8 ½, is his crowning achievement.

A film that served as an autobiographical account of the legendary film director, 8 ½ is a beautiful, complex, and meticulously constructed film and one of the greatest movies to emerge from Italian cinema.

Trailer for the movie can be seen here.

Art can be found in the most unconventional of places. It is always great to explore new industries and appreciate movies that are not part of the mainstream.

Khalid Rafi

Khalid Rafi

The author enjoys writing and is passionate about Pakistan Cricket. He tweets @TheKhalidRafi (twitter.com/TheKhalidRafi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Have seen two of them. The Seven Samurai. Excellent. Resulted in the iconic
    1959 western movie “The Magnificent Seven” Director John Sturges.
    And have seen The Bicycle Thief. …A classic.Recommend

  • U_SAF

    are these available on Netflix or Hulu or purchase? where did you watched them? I don’t want to PIRATE!!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I have watched almost all of these movies and would like to say that they are as good as written in the blog. only one I cannot say anything about is oldboy. I did not like the new movie and did not watch it save the first five minutes.Recommend

  • Hammad Mian

    You forgot to add “Cinema Paradiso” An Italian movie.Recommend

  • koshur_batta

    But But most of the films you mentioned have explicit scenes in them. These films are haram bhohahahhahahahaRecommend

  • thriftysmurf

    Good list, may I also suggest No Man’s Land (Serbian), Children of Heaven, 9 Queens, and Adam’s Apples.Recommend

  • Shamsher

    Awesome list! great to see someone with the same passion for films as me :)Recommend

  • Critical

    I know that Oldboy may be considered as a cinematic masterpiece by many and the style of direction was really crisp and when the main element of the plot was revealed…

    I was totally stunned and went numb….Yeah,its a different story but artistic freedom went really overboard this time….In fact,its so horrific that if I may discuss the moderators might not post my comment for vulgarity…Recommend

  • HRK

    Add to these:

    Infernal Affairs: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338564 (watch the whole Trilogy – on which The Departed was created on)
    Exiled: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796212
    I saw the Devil: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588170
    The Chaser: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1190539
    The man from nowhere: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1527788
    A bittersweet life: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0456912

    Got many more but this is a good place to startRecommend

  • Khalid

    I have seen Cinema Paradiso and while I think it’s a great movie I find these 10 to be the best.Recommend

  • Khalid

    The new one is quite bad, another bad Hollywood remake. However, the original one is quite excellent.Recommend

  • Khalid

    I have seen Children of Heaven and Adam’s Apples but I will surely give the other two a watchRecommend

  • Khalid

    Seen most of these, will watch the others too.Recommend

  • Critical

    My advice…some movies are better left unwatched….Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    yup. i left off after 5 mins.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    there are two? maybe it will be better, i was just commenting on the new oneRecommend

  • Rizz

    great list, although mentioning a top ten foreign list without works by either Ingmar Bergman or Michael Haneke seems soewhat incomplete. Glad to see A Separation in it though, which is nothing short of a gem, and will be remembered for years to come as one of the pinnacles of modern cinema.Recommend

  • Above the poverty line

    Excellent list! seen em’ all.Recommend

  • Above the poverty line

    not funnyRecommend

  • Khalid

    Yes, the one I mentioned in my list is the original one.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Sorry, I’m not a fan of Haneke. I hated Funny Games and didn’t particularly like Amour either. I’ve seen Bergman’s prominent films, really liked Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander and Persona but hated The Seventh Seal and Autumn Sonata.Recommend

  • Critical

    I meant the Korean one which is so gripping …Its a part of Vengeance Trilogy by the director

    .I didnt even think about watching the Hollywood remake when I heard that Spike Lee is directing the new one……Recommend

  • Critical

    Looks like you are another person who got into Korean movies……Try watching Joint Security Area,Mother,Good Bad Weird,Memories of Murder….

    Also try Confessions in Japanese and Battle RoyaleRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Oh. I have wasted time on the remake. Five whole minutes lost. I’ll give the Korean one a tryRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I’ll try that this weekendRecommend

  • Khalid

    Really? I thought Spike Lee directing should be a reason to get excited. After all he is the same guy who made Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Inside ManRecommend

  • Khalid

    The Host as well. I’d also recommend two classics from John Woo, Hard Boiled and The KillerRecommend

  • Shuckssss

    Lol, Netflix and Hulu r not available in Pakistan, Pirating is ur only optionRecommend

  • The Unexpected Virtue Of……

    You have great taste, I have seen 8 out of these 10 and will surely watch 8 1/2 and Downfall when I get the chance. My favorites are A Seperation, Persona, Festen, Wages of Fear, The Lives of OthersRecommend

  • The Unexpected Virtue Of……

    Exactly. While the Oldboy update was quite bad I was pretty surprised Spike Lee directed it, the same guy who wrote, starred and directed ‘Do the Right Thing’, and that film was stunning.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    All excellent choices, very happy to see this blog on ET. I do have some differences (also ref the comments). Although Seven Samurai is often the most obvious choice from Kurosawa’s works, I have somehow always preferred Ikiru and Rashomon – could also be due to the overdose of the seeing the same SS theme played out across multiple languages. I agree with you on Haneke, not on Bergman. Although Wild Strawberries and Fanny + Alexander are probably the more accessible of his works, I find the Seventh Seal to be extremely powerful both in terms of the overall theme as well as the way the director uses the ravaged landscape and chess game to set the tone of the film. I notice that you have steered clear of the Nouvelle Vague directors while acknowledging Italian Neorealism; possibly ‘The 400 blows’ or ‘Breathless’ would have made a good entry? From French cinema (not new wave) my outstanding favorite is ‘Children of Paradise’ which I would have definitely included in any top 10 list. Other possible choices would be ‘The Leopard’ (Luchino Visconti), ‘The Secret in their Eyes’ (Juan José Campanella), Rififi (Jules Dassin) and ‘M’ (Fritz Lang).Recommend

  • Khalid

    Thank you for sharing your opinion, I am agonizing not putting some great flicks on this list. Most importantly, The Wages of Fear, can’t believe I forgot it. And yes, Breathless is a great film, probably Goddard’s best. The 400 Blows however, for me was a highly underwhelming movie, while it did very well in portraying neo-realism it kinda felt flat in the second half. I tried not putting too much Kurosawa since i wanted to give this list a little diversity, otherwise I would have included Rashomon and Yojimbo as well. The Secret in their Eyes is another great film as is The Leopard. The reason i steered clear of French New Wave directors is because I simply prefer the works of Kurosawa and Fellini over them, not taking anything away from them. I love Japanese, Italian and Mexican (Cuaron, Del Toro, Inarritu) cinema the most which reflected by this list.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Ahhh… The Wages of Fear, an absolute classic. Should have made the list.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Can’t believe i missed Melville as well.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Yes, ‘The Wages of Fear’ is a great film. I understand where you are coming from regarding ‘The 400 Blows’ but the film represents the vision of the auteur and is easier to appreciate when viewed from that aspect – for example, I remember feeling the same way the first time I saw movies by Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow up, L’Avventura). Since you mention Japanese, possibly something from Kenji Mizoguchi (Sansho Dayu or Ugetsu Monogatari) or Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story) could have been included. Another two great directors who could make an appearance are Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev, Stalker) and Krysztof Kieslowski (Three Colors Trilogy, Dekalog). Note: This is certainly not a criticism of your selection – I know that it is impossible to satisfy everyone when creating such a list of 10, often not even one’s self. Great job and good to see some quality cinema buffs within these portals.Recommend

  • U_SAF

    that’s very sad… the content providers themselves are responsible for piracy as content is not easily available across the globe. I have a way to watch Netflix outside of US, fortunately.Recommend

  • AsimHaider

    Hope u succeed by turning ur dream into reality, Pakistan needs people who can elevate it’s cinema. Good Luck!Recommend

  • Khalid

    Yes, Tokyo Story was a particularly great film and Torkovsky for me was one of the greatest visionaries ever. Solaris and Stalker particularly show his genius. The Colors trilogy was exceptional stuff, best films to come out of Poland. Am not that familiar with Michelangelo Antonioni and Kenji Mizoguchi so I can’t say much about them. Also, Thank you for the kind words.Recommend

  • talha

    you missed out on Intouchables , the french movie based on a true story.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Sorry but I just didn’t like it. at all.Recommend

  • Haris

    Nice job!!Recommend

  • Critical

    Well,Spike Lee has mellowed over age and now he’s more concerned about the rights of Black people than his direction….If It would have been my personal recommendation,I would choose David FincherRecommend

  • Khalid

    Yeah I suppose you’re right there he’s way too concerned about the rights of black people and even though David Fincher is probably the best choice I think some movies should just be left alone and Oldboy is one of those moviesRecommend

  • wasif

    Vry nice list, i see u have special interest in Italian cinema. Hav u seen La Dolce Vita? easily the best italian film fr me. my fav foreign film would be A Prophet or AmelieRecommend