Foreign Film Recommendations

Preface by Dr. Jeff Howard

I was twenty when I saw Robert Benigni’s heartwarming and tragic film La Vita È Bella. It was the first film I had ever seen in a language other than English. Stunned by its blend of hilarity and tragedy, I have since  then sought to watch foreign films whenever and however I can, and am constantly being introduced to new masterpieces I wish I had known about years ago.

Film is one of the great modern art forms. I know many people whose first language is English who love watching movies as a pastime, but do not express a great deal of interest in films from other cultures and in other languages. Likewise, before seeing La Vita È Bella, I did not seek out films in Chinese or French or Spanish, etc. It was not because I thought foreign films were inferior, but rather because 1) it never occurred to me that I should watch them, and further 2) even had I thought to do it, where would I have begun?

The American Film Institute has a list (updated in 2007) of what they consider the 100 greatest American films from the last hundred years. I have used that list frequently to help me decide which movies I should watch. The piece you are reading functions similarly, but for films whose primary language is not English. It lists films from many countries that certain people (some trained in film and pop culture studies, others not) find inspiring, technically brilliant, or must-watch for one reason or another. Their recommendations are intended for those like myself, who, even had they thought to watch such films, do not know where to begin.

I would like to let our readers know that Georgia Tech currently maintains a subscription to the film-streaming service Kanopy. I encourage you to use it as often as you can because it has a large archive of classic and important films in English and in many other languages as well. For teachers and students who want to know more about film history and film language–It has been my experience that such knowledge can add depth to the experience of watching film–there is a LinkedIn Learning course called “The History of Film and Video Editing” by Ashley Kennedy that you might find informative and interesting.

Finally, I would also like to issue a special thank you to the Marion L. Brittain Fellows whose suggestions comprise this list,


Joshua Cohen, Aaron Colton, Alex Edwards, Derek Lee, Aleksander Sedzielarz, Kendra Slayton, Wendy Truran

8 1/2 (Italian, 1963, dir. Federico Fellini)Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (German, 1974, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Amelie (French, 2001, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)Ashes and Diamonds (Polish, 1957, dir. Andrzej Wajda)
As I Open My Eyes (Tunisian-Arabic, French; 2015; dir. Leyla Bouzid)Babette’s Feast (Danish, 1987, dir. Gabriel Axel)
Breathless (French and English, 1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German, 1920, dir. Robert Wiene)
La Ciociara (Italian, 1960, dir. Vittorio de Sica)Closely Watched Trains (Czech, 1966, dir. Jiří Menzel)
The Cranes Are Flying (Russian, 1957, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin, 2000, dir. Ang Lee)
Curse of the Golden Flower (Mandarin, 2006, dir. Zhang Yimou)Daisies (Czech, 1966, dir. Věra Chytilová)
Dhoom (Hindi, 2004, dir. Sanjay Ghadvi)Django (Italian, 1966, dir. Sergio Corbucci)
The Earrings of Madame de . . . (French, 1953, dir. Max Ophuls)Entranced Earth (Brazilian Portugese, 1967, dir. Glauber Rocha)
Farewell My Concubine (Mandarin, 1993, dir. Chen Kaige)Girls Lost (Swedish, 2015, dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining)
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Persian, 2014, dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)Hero (Mandarin, 2002, dir. Zhang Yimou)
Hiroshima, Mon Amour (French, English, Japanese, 1959, dir. Alain Resnais)House of Flying Daggers (Mandarin, 2004, dir. Zhang Yimou)
Innocence Unprotected (Serbo-Croatian, 1968, dir. Dušan Makavejev)In the Mood for Love (Cantonese, 2000, dir. Wong Kar-wai)
Ip Man (Cantonese, 2008, dir. Wilson Yip)Je, Tu, Il, Elle (French, 1974, dir. Chantal Akerman)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Japanese, 2011, dir. David Gelb)Ladies First (Hindi, 2017, dir. Deepika Kumari)
La Dolce Vita (Italian, 1960, dir. Federico Fellini)Ladri di Biciclette (Italian, 1948, dir. Vittorio de Sica)
Lady Snowblood (Japanese, 1973, dir. Toshiya Fujita)Lagaan (Hindi, 2001, dir. Ashutosh Gowariker)
M (German, 1931, dir. Fritz Lang)Mustang (Turkish, 2015, dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
My Neighbor Totoro (Japanese, 1988, dir. Hiyao Miyazaki)Nosferatu (German, 1922, dir. F.W. Murnau)
Oxhide II (Mandarin, 2009, dir. Liu Jiayan)Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish, dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Persepolis (French, English, Persian, German; 2007; dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud)Il Postino (Italian, 1994, dir. Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi)
Princess Mononoke (Japanese, 1997, dir. Hiyao Miyazaki)Ran (Japanese, 1985, dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Rashomon (Japanese, 1950, dir. Akira Kurosawa)Ratas, Ratones, Rateros (Spanish, 1999, dir. Sebastián Cordero)
Revenge (French, 2017, dir. Coralie Fargeat)Rome, Open City (Itaian, 1945, dir. Roberto Rossellini)
Roma (Spanish and Mixtec, 2018, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)The Secret in Their Eyes (Spanish, 2009, dir. Juan José Campanella)
Seven Samurai (Japanese, 1954, dir. Akira Kurosawa)Sholay (Hindi, Urdu; 1975; dir. Ramesh Sippy)
Solaris (Russian, German; 1972; dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)Spirited Away (Japanese, 2001, dir. Hiyao Miyazaki)
Still Life (Mandarin, Jin Chinese, Sichuanese; 2006; dir. Jia Zhangke)Tampopo (Japanese, dir. Juzo Itami, 1985)
Taste of Cherry (Persian, 1997, dir. Abbas Kiarostami)Three Sad Tigers (Spanish, 1968, dir. Raúl Ruiz)
Tokyo Story (Japanese, 1953, dir. Yasujirō Ozu) To Live (Mandarin, 1994, dir. Zhang Yimou)
Train to Busan (Korean, 2016, dir. Yeon Sang-ho)Trollhunter (Norwegian, 2010, dir. André Øvredal)
Una Mujer Fantastica (Spanish, 2017, dir. Sebastián Lelio)Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai, 2010, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Vagabond (French, 1985, dir. Anges Varda)La Vita É Bella (Italian, 1997, dir. Roberto Benigni)
What Time Is It There? (Mandarin, French, Taiwanese, English; 2001; dir. Tsai Ming-liang)Wild Strawberries (Sweden, 1959, dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Xala (French, Wolof; 1975, dir. Ousmane Sembène)Yojimbo (Japanese, 1961, dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Zatoichi (Japanese, 2003, dir. Takeshi Kitano)Zero Motivation (Hebrew, 2014, dir. Talya Lavie)