Netflix is one of the best entertainment packages on the market today. For under $10 per month, you gain access to such a wide array of television and movies that you’ll never be without something to watch. You can watch the most popular movies in the world only months after they leave theaters, full seasons of hit network and cable television shows shortly after their season’s end, or popular originals that can be found nowhere else. Best of all, all Netflix content is available to binge immediately, meaning you can watch as much or as little of a TV show as you want.
Amid all that entertainment, you might want a change of pace. One of Netflix’s hidden gems is the wide range of international content they have available. This includes television series and movies from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America. You’ll be introduced to cultural content that was largely unavailable before Netflix expanded – all of it subtitled, with many options having English dubs. Much of this content is new, but mixed in are some of the most timeless and acclaimed foreign films of all time.
No matter what your taste in foreign films, you’ll find something on Netflix to your tastes. You’ll find acclaimed Oscar-winning dramas, stunning animation, classic dramas, emotional romances, and lush fantasies. You’ll be introduced to the stars of the biggest foreign films ever made, and see surprisingly big names from Hollywood making a foreign-language detour in their career. Here at Netflix Update, we’ve put together a list of the six best foreign films to watch on Netflix. These foreign films are all acclaimed, were highly successful in their country of origin, and cover a wide variety of genres. Read on, and find the best foreign films to spice up your Netflix viewing routine.
Foreign Films to Watch on Netflix
Y Tu Mamá
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the Oscar-winning director of Gravity, this 2001 road-trip coming of age drama from Mexico focuses on a pair of punk teenagers played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Their trip across the coast of Mexico with an older woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdu) turns into one of sexual awakening for the young men, and a bittersweet story of regret for unfinished business for Luisa, who receives devastating news before the trip begins. A poignant dual story of beginning a new stage of one’s life and coming to terms with one’s unfinished business, Y Tu Mama Tambien is one of the most acclaimed foreign films to come out of Mexico and is one of the few foreign films to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay at both the Academy Awards and the BAFTA Awards.
This 2017 Spanish horror film has been called one of the scariest films ever made, and since its 2018 Netflix release it has been terrifying viewers worldwide. Directed by Paco Plaza or the REC franchise, it centers on the title character, a teenage girl played by newcomer Sandra Escacena, who has recently lost her father. With her mother consumed by trying to keep the family afloat, Veronica and two of her classmates become involved in dark affairs. During a solar eclipse, they use a Ouija board to try to contact Veronica’s father, but her father’s spirit isn’t what comes back. Soon, Veronica finds herself haunted by a dark presence everywhere she goes. The movie excels in dramatic tension and jump scares and is inspired by a true story. Americans have been discovering the unique styles of horror in foreign films in recent years, and Veronica is one of the best examples of the genre.
City of God
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund and based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, this sweeping and gritty 2002 Brazilian drama is set in the impoverished slums of Rio de Janeiro. There, the ruthless drug dealers live as kings and enforce their rule with violence. Focusing on the violent neighborhood of Cidade de Deus, the film concentrates on the ongoing battle between two rivals for control of the slums. Violent drug dealer Lil Ze’ (Douglas Silva, Leandro Firmino da Hora) and neighborhood vigilante Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) have been opposing each other since they were children, and now their conflict threatens to erupt and engulf the whole neighborhood and the innocents inside. Acclaimed for its brutal action sequences and in-depth portrayals of life in the Brazilian slums, City of God is one of the most praised foreign films of the 21st century. Although names and events have been changed, the story is inspired by real events. City of God was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing.
Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the 1988 Italian drama Cinema Paradiso is considered one of the most acclaimed Italian films of all time and the movie that kicked off a new age of Italian cinema. It centers on Salvatore Di Vita (Philippe Noiret), an acclaimed Italian film director who returns to his childhood home in Sicily to attend the funeral of his childhood mentor, an elderly film projectionist named Alfredo (Salvatore Cascio) who gave him his first job in movies as his assistant. A series of flashbacks show the early lives of both Salvatore and Alfredo, and the various ways love for film has influenced both of their lives. Though tragedy darkens their lives and threatens to take one of them away from the world of movies forever, their powerful bond shapes both their lives. An unabashedly romantic film about lost love and childhood memories, Cinema Paradiso was one of the most popular foreign films ever released in the United States at the time. Acclaimed for its timeless themes and tribute to the joy of film it won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
This 2013 French coming of age romantic drama is easily the most controversial film on this list, as director Abdellatif Kechiche was highly acclaimed for his vivid and powerful portrayal of a young lesbian love story (a subject rarely tackled in foreign films before this movie). However, lead actresses Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopolous described the filming process as horrible and uncomfortable. It was later revealed that the filming process was among the longest on record, with hours of film left on the cutting room floor. The final product is divisive but widely praised. The story, based on an acclaimed graphic novel by Julie Maroh, focuses on high schooler Adele (Exarchopolous) and her romance with the free-spirited painter Emma (Seydoux). The story begins in Adele’s teenage years as she’s swept off her feet by the slightly older Emma and continues over the years as they drift in and out of each other’s lives. Widely praised for its powerful, emotional take on the joy and pain of young love, Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for eight Cesar Awards.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Filmed on location in the Swiss village of Sils Naria, this complex drama by French director Oliver Assayas is a French-German-Swiss co-production. Set in the world of French cinema, it stars Juliette Binoche as acclaimed actress Maria Enders, who has a complex and intertwined relationship with her young assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart, in the most acclaimed role of her career). When she returns to a play she starred in years ago, this time playing the role of the older woman, she finds that the unique dynamic between the two female leads causes her to question whether her connection to Valentine is more than purely professional. Complicating things is Chloe Grace-Moretz’ Jo-Ann Ellis, the calculating Hollywood starlet who is taking over the role Maria originated years ago and planning to overshadow her costar by any means necessary. Building to an ambiguous and poignant finale, Clouds of Sils Maria was one of the most acclaimed foreign films in recent years. The film received overwhelming critical praise, especially for Kristen Stewart, who won a Cesar Award for the role of Valentine.
For someone who has never watched foreign films before, the language barrier and stylistic differences can be jarring on first watch. For those who are interested in exploring the world of film, these six films make for a compelling introduction. Each offers their own appeal in a different genre. City of God is a brutal urban action thriller, while Cinema Paradiso is a sweet and comforting love letter to the world of film. Those who grew up on classic teen coming-of-age comedies like Porky’s will find the bawdy humor of Y Tu Mama Tambien right up their alley, while those looking for a heartbreaking love story will fall for Adele and Emma’s passion in Blue is the Warmest Color. Veronica offers chills and thrills that equal or exceed any American offering, while Clouds of Sils Maria will leave you with questions and theories long after the final reel. Just like Netflix’s English-language originals and library of American films, their library of foreign films has something for everyone. What are you in the mood for tonight?