This article is updated regularly. It was last updated in April 2023.
Don’t you love the feeling of losing yourself in a good movie? With so much disruption to the operation of theaters since the start of the pandemic, settling down on a comfy couch with some popcorn to watch a movie has taken on a whole new level of importance.
Naturally, working in the language services industry means I tilt toward the best foreign movies when choosing what I want to stream. Let’s look at some of the best foreign films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.
Before I dive into a roundup of the best foreign films, I want to quickly make the case for watching them. First and foremost, the simple act of watching a movie can immerse you in a fascinating plot and breathtaking cinematography. However, you will enjoy other benefits while watching foreign films.
If you wish to learn a foreign language, watching movies created in that language can help, even if they do not rank as the best foreign films ever. Watching with subtitles can attune your ear to the sound of the language, introduce you to new words, and reinforce the words you already know.
By the way, if you find yourself thinking about which language to learn next, check out the link below to take a look at the world’s fastest-growing languages.
Read more: The Fastest Growing Languages in the World
Foreign movies can provide you with deep insight into other cultures. The settings, attitudes, and behaviors prove incredibly revealing, even in films with fictional plots.
During your search for cultural understanding, you can leverage some of the most popular streaming platforms, which often have some of the best foreign language films currently available.
Netflix remains the king of all streaming services, with 230.70 million subscribers. During the first six months of 2021, the company generated $14.5 billion in revenue. Viewers can watch Netflix in more than 190 countries.
Netflix enjoys tremendous reach, sharing movies and series across international borders. For this list, I’m looking only at the best foreign movies on Netflix, but if you haven’t watched the Money Heist or Squid Game series yet, it’s time to catch up fast.
Originally filmed in Spanish and Mixtec, this artfully shot, black-and-white movie from 2018 has entertained audiences around the world. The first-ever Mexican film to win the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, Roma tells the tale of live-in housekeeper Cleodegaria Gutiérrez.
Roma has won numerous other awards, and many consider it one of the best films of the 2010s, if not one of the best foreign films of all time.
Another award winner, Pan’s Labyrinth, tells a dark fairy tale. Filmed in Spanish, Pan’s Labyrinth follows the life of ten-year-old Ofelia as she attempts to complete several dangerous, fantastical quests. Merging early 1940s Francoist Spain with a magical underworld, Pan’s Labyrinth takes the viewer on a spellbinding journey.
Filmed in French and Wolof, with filming locations in France, Senegal, and Belgium, Atlantics relates a supernatural love story focusing on the issues of loss, grief, remorse, class, female solidarity, and family struggles. Through the struggles of Ada and her partner Souleiman, the film also sheds light on the refugee crisis. Beautiful and melancholy in equal measure, Atlantics represents one of the best foreign movies to air in recent years.
Amazon Prime’s video service is another streaming behemoth, available in every country except China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and Syria. Some 175 million of Amazon Prime’s 200+ million subscribers “have streamed shows and movies in the past year,” according to CEO Jeff Bezos in April 2021.
As with Netflix, Amazon Prime’s global reach means they can share famous foreign films across international borders. Here are a few of the best.
The Japanese film, Shoplifters, is a must-watch on Amazon Prime. The movie examines the concepts of family, poverty, and morality by following a blended family of thieves who depend on one another for survival. The film has won several awards, and earned nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and the Golden Globes.
Written in Persian and filmed in Iran and France, The Salesman should rank highly on everyone’s list of top foreign films to stream. It scooped an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as other accolades. The Salesman uses the story of Death of a Salesman as part of the plot and expounds on its themes. The lead couple performs Miller’s play, after which the wife is assaulted. Give this gripping and memorable film a watch.
Lebanese drama Capernaum is filmed in Arabic and Amharic. Dealing with issues of undocumented immigrants and child neglect, it proves difficult to watch in places, but the superb acting and heart-wrenching themes make this one of the best foreign language movies on Amazon Prime. After the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, it received a 15-minute standing ovation – a testament to its powerful storytelling and rich characters.
I’d like to take a quick look at Apple TV next. Apple TV showcases some popular foreign movies, so I’ve included a few of them below. If you have not seen them yet, don’t wait too long until you do because some of them are superb.
If you only watch one foreign movie on Apple TV, choose Amelie. Whimsical and sweet, with outstanding performances from an all-star cast, this film has plenty to say on the topics of loneliness, all while delivering a welcome, feel-good vibe. Originally released in 2001, this French film grossed more at the box office than any other film in France that year and has stayed on many cinephiles’ lists of the best foreign movies of all time.
If you like your foreign movies to blend action, drama, and horror, Train to Busan is the film for you. Filmed in Korean and shot in South Korea, this film follows a workaholic father trying to take his daughter by train to see his ex-wife in Busan amid a zombie apocalypse. The film offers plenty of emotional appeal, as well as an endless stream of zombies. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94%, it’s great viewing for fans of the zombie genre.
This classic foreign film from the late 1990s deserves a watch if you didn’t catch it when it hit the silver screen. Filmed in Japanese, it features monsters and the threat of a world-ending nuclear meltdown. It may not register as one of the best international movies of all time, but Godzilla vs. Destoroyah provides almost two hours of escapism.
The final streaming service in this foreign movies roundup is HBO Max. Launched in May 2020, the service has managed to rack up more than 96.1 million direct subscribers already, including the 30+ million regular HBO subscribers who can also access it.
So, what are the best foreign films on HBO Max? Let’s take a look.
Not to be confused with the 1986 American movie of the same name, House is a Japanese film released in 1977 and available to view on HBO Max. This supernatural comedy horror takes place in a country house that gradually devours a visiting party of schoolgirls. The box office loved it; the critics did not. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind…
Featuring scenes in Wayuu, Spanish, English, and Wiwa, this Colombian crime epic represents one of the best foreign language movies to come out of South America in the last few years. The film remained in production for 10 years, with local Wayuu people making up around 30% of the cast and crew. Much of what happens in the film draws upon real stories from the Wayuu, creating an uncomfortably real sense of darkness and danger at times. It makes for essential viewing.
Written in Cantonese and filmed in Hong Kong and France, In the Mood for Love takes place in 1960s Hong Kong. It tells the tale of two neighbors whose partners are having affairs. As the neighbors gradually fall for each other, the film explores themes of loneliness and uncertainty. It’s a great arthouse film that will move you in surprising ways.
Most viewers already know the big four streaming platforms for movies. But, you’ll find a bunch of lesser-known outfits that deliver the best foreign cinema on demand. Check out my list of the top 3 best alternative streaming platforms for foreign flicks.
Watch as much overseas anime as you can handle on Funimation. For six bucks a month, you can access Funimation on any of your video game consoles, Apple TV, Fire TV Chromecast, and more.
Enjoy a curated foreign film experience from Mubi. This streaming platform puts together a collection of 30 films that rotates daily. For less than $100 a year, you can watch foreign classics and blockbusters from any streaming device.
If you want to watch only the best foreign movies, Sundance Now will deliver them on demand for $8.99 per month. You can watch movies on the web, through the app, and on many of the most popular media streaming devices.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this roundup of foreign language films from some of the most popular streaming services. I’ll end with a quick note on language, as you might expect from a translation services company.
There’s something decidedly challenging, but also uniquely exciting, about translating movie dialogue for subtitles or dubbing. Striving to convey the meaning and emotive power of the original script presents an incredible opportunity – one that can deliver superb results. You can click the link below for more information on what makes a good translation.
Translating a movie script involves connecting with the original film. For film buffs who translate for a living, it’s pretty much the perfect assignment.
Read more: Defining the Qualities of a Good Translation
What’s the best foreign film you’ve ever watched and why? Leave a comment below to share your recommendations. They may just make it into the next update of this article.