The top 50 foreign films of all time

TONY ranks the gorgeous, brainy essentials you've always meant to catch up on.

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  • Foreign films: Day of Wrath (1943)

  • Foreign films: Viridiana (1961)

  • Foreign films: Andrei Rublev (1966)

  • Foreign films: The Seven Samurai (1954)

  • Foreign films: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

  • Foreign films: In the Mood for Love (2000)

  • Foreign films: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

  • Foreign films: The Battle of Algiers (1966)

  • Foreign films: Grand Illusion (1937)

  • Foreign films: Open City (1945)

Foreign films: Day of Wrath (1943)

30

Day of Wrath (1943)

Carl Theodor Dreyer's soul-shattering tale of a 17th-century witch hunt bears all the unsettling hallmarks of being filmed under Nazi occupation. An old woman in a small Danish village is accused of occultism, resulting in her fiery demise and some equally inflamed accusations among the survivors. The fervor is as much sexual as spiritual—it's impossible to shake the impassioned curse that the beautiful Anne (Lisbeth Movin) bestows on her pastor husband.—Keith Uhlich

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29

Viridiana (1961)

Luis Buñuel never met a sacred cow he didn't want to grill into a medium-rare steak, and the director's all-out assault on his bête noire—Catholicism—is a virtual buffet of blasphemy. Invited back to Spain after a professional exile, the filmmaker rewarded Franco's government with a scathing tale of a saintly woman whose piety brings her endless pain. The movie's parody of The Last Supper alone was enough to warrant the Vatican banning the satire—which made Buuel's subsequent career revival and win at Cannes that year all the sweeter.—David Fear

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28

Andrei Rublev (1966)

After pretty much inventing the idea of modern montage in silent classics like Battleship Potemkin, the filmmakers of the Soviet Union beat a sad retreat during the Stalinist era. Andrei Tarkovsky's colossal epic is about the nature of artistic freedom itself: The plot is loosely based on the life of a 15th-century Christian-icon painter whose work transcended politics. Naturally, Tarkovsky himself got into hot water, but his film—initially banned—was worth it.—Joshua Rothkopf

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27

The Seven Samurai (1954)

A quiet Japanese village is under siege by bandits. The rural residents hire a septet of warriors to defend them. Simple, right? Yet Akira Kurosawa's game-changing chanbara turns that basic concept into one of the greatest, grandest action films of all time. This sword-clashing spectacle not only gave future moviemakers a highly malleable plot (it's been used for everything from The Magnificent Seven to A Bug's Life). It also proved that Hollywood didn't have a lock on vast, visceral epics of courage under fire.—David Fear

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26

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

The tradition-shattering innovations of the French New Wave don't belong to only Godard and Truffaut. Director Alain Resnais made his mark with this elegiac black-and-white masterpiece. Emmanuelle Riva plays a French woman in devastated present-day Hiroshima, whose affair with a Japanese man unlocks memories of her relationship with a German soldier. But that barely hints at the film's intoxicating aural-visual interplay, which collapses time and space with overwhelming virtuosity.—Keith Uhlich

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25

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Our highest-ranking film from the past three decades, Wong Kar-wai's tremulous near-romance should rightly take its place as one the signature works of atmospheric longing. At its core are two exquisitely beautiful people, rakish pulp writer Tony Leung and maritally alienated Maggie Cheung, who tentatively swirl around each other in a sweltering apartment complex in 1960s Hong Kong. Suffused with Christopher Doyle's lush color cinematography and the crooning voice of Nat King Cole, the movie celebrates style and passion in bloom.—Joshua Rothkopf

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24

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

Germany's Rainer Werner Fassbinder tore a feverish path through the world's art houses, making 40 films (and acting in nearly 40, too) before dying of a drug overdose at age 37. Such manic appetites led to a supremely uncompromising cinema, with more impact today than on its initial release. This movie, a tortured power game between a fashion designer and her younger, female model, has become a classic passive-aggressive text, a postmodern All About Eve.—Joshua Rothkopf

23

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

As explosive as ever, Gillo Pontecorvo's Italian-made thriller charts the guerrilla uprising against the colonial French in northern Africa, a war waged via rioting, street violence, assassinations and caf bombings. Technically, the movie is as gripping as any Hollywood blockbuster, putting its mark on everything from The French Connection to Michael Mann's The Insider. But it's a 2003 Pentagon screening of the film that spoke volumes to its undeniable authority.—Joshua Rothkopf

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22

Grand Illusion (1937)

Anyone can condemn war; it takes an artist to express that sentiment poetically rather than pedantically. That's exactly what Jean Renoir does with this brilliant plea for peace. His tale of French soldiers trying to escape from WWI prison camps set the standard for every POW movie that followed, but its true currency lies in the way "honorable" battle had became a casualty. Released between two global conflicts, the movie had a message that was immediately relevant—and is maybe more so today.—David Fear

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21

Open City (1945)

By the mid-'40s, Italian films had begun portraying everyday people in a more vrit fashion. But Roberto Rosselini's groundbreaking tale of life after wartime was the first to politicize a raw, you-are-there aesthetic—and thus became the template for every neorealist film to come. That famous shot of streetwalker Anna Magnani being gunned down is more than just an emotionally overwhelming moment; it's emblematic of a revolution that changed the art form.—David Fear



Users say

27 comments
nick c
nick c

Where the hell are Bicycle Thieves and The Marriage of Maria Braun?

Shawn
Shawn

This is the worst "yuppy" review I've ever seen in my life! None of "the real" best, Like "City of God", or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", or many others.

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones

Where's The Bicycle Thief?!? Surely that belongs in the Top 50. Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman should probably be on this list as well! Ditto on La Strada.

fairportfan
fairportfan

I point out that (despite Toho suing Leone over his remake) "Yojimbo" itself is an uncredited version of Dashiell Hammett's novel "Red Harvest".

Peter
Peter

Most of my top 10 foreign films of all time do not appear in this list of top 50. They include;;ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (number one) LA STRADA (number two)THE BURMESE HARP (NUMBER THREE) and 1900.

Evan
Evan

Awesome List. Here is mine. 1. Persona 2. Stalker 3. Breathless 4. Au Hasard Balthazar 5. The Passion of Joan of Arc 6. In the Mood for Love 7. La Dolce Vita 8. Rashomon 9. The Rules of the Game 10. Late Spring

BB
BB

Ran, the best movie of it's decade, should be on all top fifty movies of all time list!

Theo
Theo

Great list. The order is a bit iffy, and a few films (Il Generale Della Rovere, Wild Strawberries) are missing. Here's my top 10: 10. Leon Morin, Priest 9. 8 1/2 8. Jules and Jim 7. L'eclisse 6. Il Generale Della Rovere 5. Wings of Desire 4. The Conformist 3. Wild Strawberries 2. The Battle of Algiers 1. L'avventura

Cameren Lee
Cameren Lee

Interesting list. I know Kurosawa's already on here twice, but Ran deserved to be here IMHO.

Shannon
Shannon

"life is beautiful" is my favorite Italian film. funny and sad.

pollack
pollack

Ed Frias - you are right. I wonder why Jean and Manon des Sources are not on the list. Probably editors haven't seen it... Remarkable cinema. Truly amazing.

Ed Frias
Ed Frias

Jean De Florette from 1986 is the best foreign film i'v seen.

euterpe
euterpe

Masaki Kobayashi's trilogy the Human Condition should be on anyone's list of greatest movies of all time.

tony
tony

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES , DEPARTURES AND TALK TO HER SHOULD BE IN THE LIST. WAY TOO LITTLE REPRESENTATION FROM SOUTH AMERICA IN MY VIEW. WHAT ABOUT INNOCENT VOICES,THE OFFICIAL STORY AND CITY OF GOD...ALL AMAZING MOVIES

Alek
Alek

Movies that are missing In the Name of the Father (Ireland) City of God (Brazil) Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico) 13 Assassins (Japan) War of the Arrows (South Korea0 Oldboy (South Korea) Ip Man (China) Rare Exports Inc. (Finland) The Human Centipede (Netherlands) Just kidding. The Lord of the Rings [All 3] (New Zealand)

hnh
hnh

That no silent film rule disqualified a lot of fine films. The movie M as number 1 is an excellent choice.

G.
G.

Nothing from Almodovar. I think at least one deserves to be in the mix: All About My Mother or Talk To Her. They are both unique and could only have come from one individual.

Ford
Ford

What about the Chinese film "To Live"? I think that should easily make the top 5. Fantastic story, great actors, etc.

Tom
Tom

Interesting list but Seven Samurai missing from the top 5... a bit ridiculous. I don't know if M should be number one but it definitely is top three in my books!

Julio
Julio

"La Haine" and "City of God" are missing and I would add "Old Boy" as well.

Mom
Mom

Cinema Pardiso

Ted Schaefer
Ted Schaefer

I'd nominate "Jules and Jim," "The Double Life of Veronique," "A Sunday in the Country," and "Wings of Desire." More recent entries might include "Summer Hours," "A Christmas Tale," and "Mysteries of Lisbon." --Oh, and there's the great German series, "Heimat I" and II."

Nichol
Nichol

How The Color of Paradise didn't make this list is beyond me.

Tyler
Tyler

Just curious. How is Seven Samurai not in the top 5? Seriously, it may not be everyone's favorite film, but in terms of historical importance it is one of if the THE best ever. M and Rules of the Game are certainly fantastic films but they didn't have the influential input Seven Samurai had on the film community. Just saying..

Adam
Adam

Just like to point out that #6 is actually called '8 1/2' not '8'.