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The 50 best foreign films of all time

Our film editors rank and review the gorgeous, brainy best foreign films you've always meant to catch up on

There's no need to fear subtitles when so much of what Hollywood has come to love (pop-cultural patter, action movies, special effects, sex scenes, etc.) has its original source in a distant land. But where to begin in choosing the absolute best foreign films? Let us be your (extremely opinionated) guides. Our only ground rules for this foreign-language list: no silent films (sorry, Metropolis), and no movies from Britain, Australia or other English-speaking countries. We're bound to have forgotten a raft of classics—how could we not, with a whole globe to choose from? Please chime in on our 50 best foreign films of all time.

RECOMMENDED: Our list of the 100 best movies of all time

Best foreign films: 50–41

50

The Killer (1989)

Whether you're an action fan or not, welcome to the most influential foreign film of the past 25 years. Hong Kong genius John Woo would go on to make even crazier cop sagas, but none with a more seismic impact on fully loaded cinema than this breakthrough, opening the door to a new school of kinetic mayhem. Suddenly, Woo's double-pistol showdowns were everywhere, inspiring the as-yet-to-break Quentin Tarantino and Hollywood at large.—Joshua Rothkopf

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49

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

Romania’s health-care system gets dragged through the mud in this mordant melodrama, about a man who’s literally killed by a hospital’s uncaring bureaucracy. Cristi Puiu's movie announced a New Wave for his country’s slow-and-low cinema, marked by sharply critical politics, languid pacing and a humane focus on Ceausescu’s downtrodden.—Joshua Rothkopf

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48

The Power of Kangwon Province (1989)

South Korea's Hong Sang-soo wowed audiences with this woozy, Woody Allen–ish portrait of vacationing urbanites entangled in messy matters of the heart. A student hooks up with a local cop during a trip to the mountains. When the movie switches its focus to an adulterous college professor, you're left scratching your head—until Hong deftly reveals the connections. This was the movie that jump-started the modern South Korean New Wave, laying the groundwork for everything from Park Chan-wook's baroque thrillers (Oldboy) to Bong Joon-ho's subversive genre work (The Host).—David Fear

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47

Flowers of Shanghai (1998)

Some find this slow-moving tale of life in a brothel hypnotic and moving; others may feel as if they, like the characters onscreen, have taken way the hell too much opium. In either case, the overall vision of Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien is undeniable. With this one and others, he became a beacon for film lovers championing “difficult cinema”—which is just another way of saying rewarding for those with the patience.—Joshua Rothkopf

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46

The Decalogue (1988)

Thou shalt not ignore the ethical toughness of Polish cinema. With this complex, modern-day take on the Ten Commandments, director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three Colors: Blue) scored his most lasting achievement. Originally made for television, these ten short films found a global embrace as a stand-alone movie event, making gushing fans out of nobodies like Stanley Kubrick and introducing an audience to the rigors of perfectly plotted philosophical inquiries.—Joshua Rothkopf

45

Russian Ark (2002)

It’s possible to simply thrill at Alexander Sokurov’s unprecedented technical feat—an uninterrupted Steadicam shot lasting the entire picture, weaving in and out of the high-ceilinged rooms of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and royal Winter Palace. But behind this ostensible stunt lurks a magnificent ghost story about Russia’s detachment from its own history.—Joshua Rothkopf

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44

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

Tokyo’s notorious Ginza nightclub district is the setting for this melodrama maximized to the highest weepy factor, in which a widow working as a bar hostess is betrayed by various patriarchal figures around her. She’s played by the hypnotic Hideko Takamine—one of Japan’s greatest stars—and directed by Mikio Naruse, a filmmaker who, in a more just world, would be mentioned as frequently as Ozu, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi.—Joshua Rothkopf

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43

Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Victor Erice’s first film, about a little girl who sees Frankenstein and goes in search of the monster, works both as a haunting mood piece and as a subtle critique of Franco-era Spanish lethargy. This is where movies like the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth come from, but Spirit of the Beehive captures childhood imagination and loss of innocence best.—Joshua Rothkopf

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42

Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) (2000)

Appearing on an avalanche of end-of-decade lists, Edward Yang's tender triumph, a portrait of a stressed-out, middle-class Taiwanese family, feels like the apex of domestic drama. The movie's beautiful modulations—from success to failure, blooming high-school love to surly alienation, birth to death—are presented with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of emotional impact. The universality was heartrending.—Joshua Rothkopf

41

Wild Strawberries (1957)

Ingmar Bergman enlisted a Swedish national treasure, director Victor Sjöström, to play a professor who takes a trip down memory lane en route to accepting an award for his distinguished career. This is one of Bergman’s absolute best, and while many seasoned fans eventually come to prefer The Seventh Seal or the harder-edged Persona, it’s still the best introduction to his expertise with actors.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best foreign films: 40–31

40

Shoah (1985)

For some, there can't ever be too many documentaries about the Holocaust. But if the trend feels slightly tired, it's because there's no improving on this definitive effort, a nine-and-a-half-hour grand statement that wrecks audiences. Daringly, French director Claude Lanzmann completely avoided archival footage and re-creations, instead boring fully into several first-person interviews with three types of subjects: survivors, bystanders and perpetrators. The cumulative effect is massive and central to an appreciation of evil.—Joshua Rothkopf

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39

A Touch of Zen (1969)

Most cine-snobs think of martial-arts movies as guilty pleasures fit only for grindhouses; they've obviously never seen King Hu's gorgeous chronicle of a Buddhist kung fu master in love. The undisputed poet laureate of wuxia films, Hu treats his genre material as if it were high art, balancing action and atmospherics in each battle. Ang Lee readily acknowledged borrowing liberally from this film's eerily quiet fight scenes and balletic bamboo standoffs for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Accept no substitutes.—David Fear

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38

My Night at Maud's (1969)

Jean-Louis Trintignant (AmourThe Conformist) stars in the third of Éric Rohmer’s “Moral Tales,” as an intellectual inexplicably attracted to earthy Françoise Fabian. Rohmer turned conversation into a feast of ideas—and with this film, his minimalist craft and maximalist dialogue create a vibe you’ll recognize in everything from My Dinner with Andre and the work of Woody Allen, to Boyhood.—Joshua Rothkopf

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37

Close-Up (1990)

Combining fictional tropes with documentary footage, Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami depicts/restages events surrounding the trial of a man arrested for impersonating famed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A Moment of Innocence). Dazzling in its day, Close-Up now seems prophetic for its fluid blending of realties. The entire cinema world took notice—as did, perhaps, a reality-TV producer or two.—Joshua Rothkopf

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36

Yojimbo (1961)

If film can be seen as a shared international language, then here's its most thrilling Rosetta stone. To make this Japanese tale of a wandering ronin, director Akira Kurosawa took inspiration from stately John Ford Westerns and Hollywood's seedy noirs of the 1940s. Having already revised the action landscape with 1954's The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa would now do so again: Yojimbo, a massive worldwide hit, was (illegally) remade into a little Italian picture called A Fistful of Dollars, thereby launching the careers of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood both.—Joshua Rothkopf

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35

La Jetée (1962)

In only 28 minutes, Chris Marker's dazzling sci-fi romance—set largely within the dreamscapes of a nuclear-war survivor—completely rewrites the rules. (Inception fans, get thee to a Netflix queue.) Almost completely composed of still photographs and narration, the French short begins with the destruction of Paris, then introduces a Vertigo-like bridge to a happier past through a vividly remembered tryst. Decades later, Terry Gilliam would remake this plot as the eerie Twelve Monkeys.—Joshua Rothkopf

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34

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Much of the prestige (and, to be fair, the intimidation) that accrues around foreign films can be attributed to this towering Swedish classic—but it's not as difficult as you might think. Yes, our medieval Crusader hero (a sapling-young Max von Sydow) squares off against Death in a chuckleworthy chess match. Yet the brilliance of Ingmar Bergman's psychodrama comes in the way it turns its beard-stroking symbology into a gripping experience for anyone with a little curiosity.—Joshua Rothkopf

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33

The 400 Blows (1959)

François Truffaut’s masterful debut, which introduces his recurring Antoine Doinel character (played over many years by Jean-Pierre Léaud), is one of the all-time great coming-of-age movies, and concludes with the most expressive freeze-frame in the history of the medium. For future filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Truffaut’s unsentimental empathy for the young would become a touchstone.—Joshua Rothkopf

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32

Pather Panchali (1955)

If you’ve never seen an Indian film, it’s time to rectify that. The first installment in Satyajit Ray’s famed “Apu”  trilogy is a sober, reflective masterpiece about a poverty-stricken Bengali family. Wonderstruck and attuned to the smallest details, Ray’s trilogy is quiet and concentrated—especially Pather Panchali. It contains all the explosions of a blockbuster, but they detonate in the heart.—Joshua Rothkopf

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31

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

A strong candidate for the '60s slyest piece of agitpop, Jean-Luc Godard's tribute to pulp fiction stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina as criminal lovers on the lam. But his pileup of quotations from Balzac and B movies isn't just suitable for a brain in a jar; this is the French provocateur at his most colorful (literally), contagiously jazzy and politically cacophonous. It's the key transitional work in a long career of engaged, enraged filmmaking.—David Fear

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Best foreign films: 30–21

30

Day of Wrath (1943)

To call Carl Theodor Dreyer’s severe black-and-white classic a 17th-century tale of witchcraft oversells the scare factor a bit, but a pleasant elderly woman is, indeed, burned at the stake—not before wishing ill on her prosecuting pastor and his much younger second wife (already making eyes with his adult son). The rest of the film plays like an apocalyptic thriller, with lust, faith, family and ash swirling into a vortex.—Joshua Rothkopf

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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

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

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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)

Social standing matters more than patriotism or ideological differences in Jean Renoir’s enduring masterpiece, which depicts the various alliances and betrayals that occur among French prisoners-of-war and their German captors during WWI. Many war movies followed, some of them bellicose, some of them finely shaded. But none tap as deeply into the human dimension as this one.—Joshua Rothkopf

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21

Rome, Open City (1945)

Odds are you’ve seen the moving final shot of this WWII drama, considered by many to be the first neorealist movie. (We won’t spoil it, but it involves Anna Magnani running down a street.) Imagine how affecting it is when seen in its original context, after 100 minutes of buildup. In an era of high studio craft, director Roberto Rossellini made a courageous stand for narrative cinema’s ability to capture immediacy and rawness.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best foreign films: 20–11

20

The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)

In Max Ophüls's exhilarating romance, Danielle Darrieux is a debt-ridden countess who sells the title earrings gifted to her by husband Charles Boyer. They end up in the hands of an Italian baron (Vittorio De Sica), who also pursues her affections. Ophüls's hypnotically tracking camera prepares us for an inevitably tragic outcome. The lengthy, head-spinning dance sequence that traces the baron and the countess's doomed courtship is particularly masterful.—Keith Uhlich

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19

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

All of the dialogue is sung in Jacques Demy’s bleak, candy-colored musical, generally considered to be one of Catherine Deneuve’s loveliest turns and the director’s masterpiece (though some are even more moved by the duo’s follow-up, The Young Girls of Rochefort). It’s nothing short of an entirely new way to make a musical, and composer Michel Legrand's score effortlessly yanks tears.—Joshua Rothkopf

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18

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

In the hands of Belgium's Chantal Akerman, the drudgery of "women's work" and prostitution aren't that far removed from each other; each rigorous real-time chore and paid afternoon tryst that we see the title character perform moves viewers closer to an inevitable crack in Jeanne's facade. It's both a structuralist triumph and a stunning indictment of society's gender roles. Watching someone peeling potatoes has never seemed so compelling.—David Fear

17

The Conformist (1970)

The Italian movie was received, first and foremost, as a visual masterpiece, the lushness of its 1930s Fascist decor captured by future Apocalypse Now cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. But far more subtly, director Bernardo Bertolucci smuggled in a daunting amount of psychology and intellectual heft to Alberto Moravia's tale of a high-ranking bureaucrat's secret decadence. Over the years, the film has come to represent the apotheosis of stylish political cinema.—Joshua Rothkopf

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16

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Werner Herzog’s muse-nemesis, Klaus Kinski, is mesmerizingly bonkers as a 16th-century conquistador in search of seven cities of gold, and the film’s monkey-ridden finale is unforgettable. Herzog has since gone on to become a major documentarian (and a minor celebrity), but this early triumph marked him as a dramatist of exquisite instincts and remarkable commitment.—Joshua Rothkopf

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15

Playtime (1967)

Tired of playing his bumbling alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, France's silent clown Jacques Tati decided to lose him in the big city. This gargantuan comedy was the result: Ostensibly following Hulot to a job interview, the film poetically drifts between characters, finding pockets of humor and humanity in every corner of the frame. You never quite know where the laughs will be, which makes successive viewings as rewarding as the first.—Keith Uhlich

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14

Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)

Whether you've traveled this movie's Möbius-strip structure countless times or are stepping into its Nancy Drew–on-mescaline zone unaware of what joys await you, Jacques Rivette's breezy existential French comedy-mystery is a cinephile's wet dream. If we could take a lozenge and enter any movie, this would be it: roller-skating heroines! Cosmic punch lines about psychic cats! Boating! Few films have balanced intellectual musing about culture consumption and sheer, unadulterated fun with such playful panache.—David Fear

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13

Tokyo Story (1953)

Inarguably Yasujiro Ozu's crowning achievement, this Japanese family drama may seem, like the smiling geriatrics at its center, modest to a fault. But look past the deceptively simple camera setups and muted line readings, and you'll find one of the most emotionally devastating movies about old age and parenting ever made. Even more impressive is Ozu's complete exclusion of villainy—only flawed human beings, making the story that much more tragic.—David Fear

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12

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

To think that a provocateur like Luis Buñuel once strode the earth, making his strange movies and even winning an Oscar for it, is to be endlessly comforted. As important a director as any on this list, Buñuel crafted silent-era Surrealist stunners, antireligious parables and witty modern satires with unsurpassed elegance. At the peak of his output is this savage comedy of manners, basically about a group of snobs trying to have an uninterrupted meal. They fail.—Joshua Rothkopf

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11

Rashomon (1950)

How does one describe Akira Kurosawa's multiperspective fable about an alleged crime? It depends on whom you ask: Fans will pinpoint this as the film that cemented the fertile relationship between the director and his favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune. Historians will praise it as the movie that almost single-handedly introduced Japanese cinema to Western audiences. And still others will glorify it as a piece of postmodern storytelling that proves truth exists solely in the mind of the beholder. We'll simply call it a tour de force that never ceases to amaze.—David Fear

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Best foreign films: 10–1

10

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Inspired by Douglas Sirk's great Hollywood melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955), Rainer Werner Fassbinder adapted its central "forbidden love" conceit to the socially charged present. Emmi (Brigitte Mira), a German hausfrau, falls for a young Arab immigrant named Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), much to the chagrin of her friends and family. This is a devastatingly honest film: Fassbinder's portrayal of the relationship (which nonchalantly breaks taboos of age and race) is revolutionary. And Emmi and Ali's own flaws and foibles—her world-weary certitude, his youthful, exasperating impatience—come to the fore the longer they stay with each other.—Keith Uhlich

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9

La Dolce Vita (1960)

If merely for its introduction of a pushy photographer named Paparazzo (a small but crucial role), Federico Fellini's satire has had more cultural influence than even Jaws. Statements about modern celebrity begin here; the catty trashiness that dominates today's mediascape could really benefit from a glinting eye like that of the savage Italian humorist. Fellini, for all his tremendous influence, has been dogged by charges of shallowness. Let's refute that idea right now: Marcello Mastroianni's guilt-ridden gossip columnist, a journalist who back-burnered his literary aspirations, is a prophetic creation of enormous resonance, a self-deprecating sellout wandering the alleyways of civilization wondering what might have been. La Dolce Vita is the moment when cinema addresses its own decadence, relishing the "sweet life" while mourning the future.—Joshua Rothkopf

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8

Persona (1966)

Ingmar Bergman once called his mind-blowing tale of a catatonic actress (Liv Ullmann) and the young caretaker (Bibi Andersson) who becomes her confidante a "poem of imagery." But though the film's cutting-edge compositions wormed their way into the cultural lexicon (its famous perpendicular two-shot would be aped ad infinitum), this doppelgnger drama is less a photographic portfolio than a first-rate Rorschach test for viewers. Do Ullmann and Andersson fuse into one, as the climactic close-up suggests? Were they already two halves of one whole to begin with? Who, exactly, is filming cinematographer Sven Nykvist filming the movie?!? (Seriously, he appears in the film as a cameraman.) Debates over this moving-picture puzzle's metacommentary and meanings still rage on, though the fact that Bergman's brainteaser remains a defining moment of '60s art-house cinema is indisputable.—David Fear

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7

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Restraint had no finer champion than France's Robert Bresson, who, with quiet knockouts like A Man Escaped (1956) and Pickpocket (1959), introduced an entirely new grammar to movie screens. But instead, we're inclined to honor this heartbreaker, a religious parable whose reputation has grown hugely in just the past decade. Our main character is, in fact, a donkey—but don't feel like an ass for investigating. In keeping with Bresson's less-is-more philosophy (he called his actors "models"), this sweet animal becomes a potent symbol for the uncaring hearts of others, as Balthazar is shuttled from owner to owner. The plot is both Christ-like and Job-like, with a thematic richness that ennobles all viewers who submit to it.—Joshua Rothkopf

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6

8½ (1963)

Named after Federico Fellini's own filmographic progression—six features and three shorts—this semiautobiographical account of an auteur-cum-avatar stuck in a rut (Marcello Mastroianni, in prime Euro-suave mode) took interior cinema to a whole new level. Nightmarish dream sequences and sexed-up fantasies involving harems bump up against transcendental flights of fancy—especially a claustrophobic traffic jam that opens the movie—all rendered with the Mondo Italiano surrealism that would come to be described as Felliniesque. Directors had toured their thinly disguised inner selves onscreen before, but nobody had mapped the contours of their own confused psyche with such free-form abandon. The film's influence on every moviemaker with a yen to translate creative anxiety into art can't be overstated.—David Fear

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5

Breathless (1960)

Recently back in theaters for its 50th anniversary, Jean-Luc Godard's breezy riff on bad romance today enchants a whole new generation. But don't call it a "revival"—if ever a film was immortally alive, it's this one. So much of the movie's language has become standard: Raoul Coutard's handheld, streetwise camerawork; a cast of gorgeous main characters riffing on pop-culture detritus (hello, Pulp Fiction); the sexy allure of cultures in clash. Yet in the context of this list, the deepest impact of Breathless is its introduction of a vibrant, youthful Paris tooting with car horns, its store lights glowing in the twilight. Breathless is a passport to this city and its dreamers—and for that alone, the movie is emblematic of all that foreign cinema has to offer.—Joshua Rothkopf

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4

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

"Without mercy, man is like a beast," says a compassionate father in Kenji Mizoguchi's poignant tragedy. The Japanese director spent his career detailing how kindness must fight to survive in a harsh world, and here, the director takes a folkloric legend and turns it into a quietly epic struggle of against-all-odds endurance. A mother is separated from her son and daughter, who are sold to the title character—a government official whose cruelty is legendary. Years pass, and the now-grown offspring have given up on seeing their mom ever again...until an overheard ballad sparks hope. Every one of the filmmaker's signature camera movements and lyrical sequences sets the stage for a climax that's unbearably heart-wrenching and undeniably beautiful; the way that Mizoguchi wrings sobs from viewers without stooping to sentiment confirms his status as a peerless melodramatist.—David Fear

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3

L'Avventura (1960)

Making the case for Italy's Michelangelo Antonioni will never be easy—he's a director who, very deliberately, told stories about how modern life robs your soul. And when his breakthrough film screened for the cognoscenti at Cannes, it was both applauded and ferociously booed. The booers were wrong. Pinned to its rough scenario about a yachting group of friends were the stirrings of a new cinematic vibration, that of onscreen detachment, fashionable flirtation and spiritual ennui. One of the vacationers goes missing, then the movie itself loses curiosity in the mystery, heightening our own sense of alarm. Antonioni, a proud feminist, loved his women, and the glorious Monica Vitti, starring out of her sadness, became a Mad Men–worthy icon of 1960s loneliness. The movie is still an adventure.—Joshua Rothkopf

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2

Rules of the Game (1939)

"This is not a comedy of manners," states a title card at the beginning of Jean Renoir's masterpiece—a declaration that's only half right. Though this tale of the idle rich in France is technically a country-estate farce, it's far more than a mere satire of upper-crust affectations. Under the guise of mocking the bourgeoisie as they negotiate romantic minefields, Renoir had also delivered a cunning commentary on old-world Europe; a cri de coeur at the hypocrisy of class pretensions; and finally, a rich, rewarding work of art that's equal parts irony and sympathy. Everybody has their reasons for loving this sublime skewering of the entitled, which rewrote the rules of cinema entirely.—David Fear

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1

M (1931)

Our number one choice is, appropriately, a film of firsts: the first serial-killer movie, the celebrated director Fritz Lang's first sound production—and the movie he personally prized above all his others. It marries the fanciful expressionist techniques of the filmmaker's epic silents like Metropolis to a frighteningly realistic tale of a child-murdering psychopath, and its influence can be felt all the way up to our own Sevens and Saws. But the monstrous Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is no cheer-'em-on villain like Jigsaw: First shown abstractly as a threatening shadow on the wall, the character is brought slowly and precisely into focus, until he himself becomes a victim, hunted down and dragged before a kangaroo court, where the moral divide all but evaporates. This politically charged classic reflected the German audiences' adoration of the dawning Nazi party back on itself, and its enduring lessons (for both cinema and society) are as much global as local.—Keith Uhlich

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Comments

35 comments
Ed G
Ed G

The list is good but lacking other greats such as -- Cinema Paradiso, Babette's Feast, Lives of Others, Departures, Z, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, Il Postino, City of God, Un Prophete, La Vita e Bella, Ida, Triplets of Belleville, Chico y Rita, The Tin Drum, and many many others...

Brett G
Brett G

I'm no buff but "lives of others" and "everlasting moments" are my two favorite foreign movies. Looks like they wanted to show everyone how historical they are by not putting anything modern on the list.

Frantik S
Frantik S

I was very happy to see Lang's masterpiece on the top, however as a film lover i found for myself some obvious omissions: Bicycle Thieves, Leopard, Nosferatu, Battleship Potemkin, Mirror, as well as more recent masterpieces like White Ribbon, Melancholia, Breaking the Waves etc.

Frantik S
Frantik S

Ok, i just noticed that silent movies were not allowed here. Lot of cinematic jewels get banned in this case.

Sony P
Sony P

This list made me think about scheduling a movie marathon with my family. I love to see Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) and Spirit of the Beehive.

Niki M
Niki M

Why isn't life is beautiful on this list!?

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.

Frantik S
Frantik S

@Shawn The list is ok. Do you know what auteur cinema is?

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'.