“Subtitles seriously just take away from the movie. How can you stand them? What’s the point of watching a movie not in English?

This tends to be the knee jerk response when I bring up foreign films. I understand the difficulty of following a film’s dialogue when it’s not in your native tongue, but it doesn’t mean the films are less spectacular. Some of the greatest foreign films to us inspired some of our greatest movie masterpieces, but you probably don’t know it because most American’s don’t have the patience or will power for reading subtitles.

Well, I want to give you a list of films that are worth watching, even through the subtitles. The criteria for this are as follows:

  1. They are in a language other than English
  2. They are not dubbed with English actors (sorry Miyazaki films)
  3. They are damn good films

“And here we…go!”

10. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013): For our first entry on this list, we travel to the land of France, a setting where love permeates through the air in this tragic, but beautifully erotic love story between a lesbian couple. Not only did this shock me (in more ways than one), but once you can discover what lies beneath this sweeping three hour film, you will look at the struggles of love in a whole new light. I highly recommend checking it out on Netflix, but if you’re with your parents, be sure to view it by yourself.

9. Life is Beautiful (1997): Italian writer/director/actor Roberto Benigni gave us one of the toughest stories to tell in cinema, but with comedy. Benigni’s character and his family are thrown into Nazi concentration camps during WWII, but he does his best the whole time to pretend that it is nothing, but a big game all for the sake of his son. Not only is it nerve racking and humorous, but it gives a dramatic tension all the way through because you are waiting for the next negative moment to happen to this innocent family. It is truly one of those films you will rarely see again.

8. 13 Assassins (2010): Asia could have it’s own list of films, but I’ve decided to sail to Japan for my number eight pick about an elite group of 13 samurai who fight against a corrupt real life Lord terrorizing their lands. Together, they go on a crusade that boasts arguably one of the most epic fight scenes ever put in film, not just foreign film, but film. With unrelenting bloodshed and hyper violent tendencies, you are gripped from the first swing of their katanas and stay for the heart and emotional core the film has.

7. Ran (1989): Akira Kurasawa is arguably one of the most greatest if not most influential film maker in history. This is his first appearance on the list and it is also a sweeping Japanese epic, only this time, this was one of the master director’s last films as he was nearly blind when the film was being shot. Ran is a semi-true story about the downfall of King Lear and his three bad sons (for lack of a better term) who allowed his rule to crumble.

6. Amelie (2001): I was already a huge fan of romantic comedies, but this French fantasy ride of a young woman desiring to change the lives of the people she meets is innocent in intentions, but sexy in purpose. It circles the life Amelie, a young girl with a heart disease that kept her bed ridden for years where she developed a keen imagination which translates into her everyday life. I admit, it was one of those films I’d see on shelves and always wonder it’s contents. The green cover with her pale skin and red lips are as intriguing as the story itself.

5. Persepolis (2007): This was a film I was shown in high school and that sad part is, I didn’t even like it at first, but ignorance is bliss. I remember going back to this film with a wider pallet of film and animation and it sucked me in with it’s unique story telling and the animation style with it’s black and white coloration. The exaggerated features to tell the autobiographical tale of Marjane, an outspoken Iranian girl who journeys to France and Austria in order to be safe from the Iraq/Iran war. Through bold, but subtle animation, it tells are heartwarming, but heartbreaking tale of doing the difficult tasks and decisions to better yourself.

4. Hero (2002): Out of all the unforgettably beautiful and clear visuals in film, I have to believe that Jet Li’s Hero takes the top spot as one of the most breathtaking films ever filmed. It’s usage of colors to add to the moods and situations of the story work as well as paint on a brush with strokes equally as smooth. The action is not only fun to watch, but it all has a purpose. Kung Fu films tend to be placed in this “hiya!” stereotype which is fair to a certain degree, but the story and messages behind this film on perspective the fights for love and freedom strike as cleanly as the protagonists sword.

3. Seven Samurai (1957): There isn’t a strong enough grasp on how influential this film was on American film making and the stylized action that was later brought into films today. The certain shots Akira Kurasowa used in the film were pioneered if not perfect by him and this was back in the early fifties. It’s an epic that matches all epics and creates a story so enthralling and in depth you realize how important and entertaining this classic of a film really is.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): Guillermo’s dark fairy-tale is a great film with or without subtitles. From the haunting score and lulliby the film one the Oscar for or the set design and originally designed creatures and set pieces, you could marvel at just the visuals and get a grip of the film. Spoken all in Spanish, there is a buried emotion through how rapidly they say their lines that it envokes a new type of emotion that mixes between concern and anticipation. The story is magical in every sense of the word and the film itself is gorgeous in more ways than one.

  1. City of God (2003): RottonTomatoes summed it up best: “A shocking and disturbing, but always compelling look at life in the slums of Rio de Janiero.” Yet another movie I watched back in high school (thank you Mr. Cohen) that I wasn’t comfortable watching when I was younger, but I grew up and realized the masterpiece I laid my eyes upon. Capturing the orange and brown tint of the slums of Rio de Janiero and the hardships young men and women face when violence and corruption is always sitting around the corner, it’s a tragic, but worthwhile narrative on the ability to defy the odds and always stay a good person.  

There are far too many foreign films to name or put in an honorable mentions, but definitely mention your favorite foreign films in the comments below and share if you enjoyed this list! Next is best Miyazaki films….what do you think?

2 replies »

  1. As a person with a foreign language minor and a bunch of foreign language classes under her belt, I was curious to see this list. Now I have a bunch of movies to try to get ahold of. I definitely plan on watching Blue is the Warmest Color due to this. I will also bookmark this list for further movie watching later on. Thank you so much for the list. It looks great with a lot of great work on it. Time to start some movie watching.


    • I am so glad you enjoyed the list! There are so many countless foreign films to choose from. Heck, you can just do one continent at a time and be stuck in that area for months finding all the great films they have to offer, but thank you for bookmarking it! You’re more than welcome for the list and thanks for the compliments!


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