There are countless fantastic international films to explore, both historic and modern, many of which can be considered hidden gem movies.
- International cinema offers a variety of films with unique storytelling techniques and genres, providing a different viewing experience from Hollywood movies.
- Foreign films have had a significant influence on American pop culture, with examples like the Japanese Jidaigeki genre inspiring Star Wars and French New Wave cinema influencing Martin Scorsese’s crime films.
- There are many lesser-known international films beyond the popular ones like Parasite that Hollywood movie fans may enjoy.
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International cinema has a great variety of films to explore, from different eras and genres, many of which American movie audiences might not be familiar with. Whether they be in subtitles or not, foreign films often follow different beats than American film viewers are used to. Without the massive budgets that go into Hollywood’s film engine, filmmakers from other countries have relied on their own creative techniques to tell their stories, often being the ones to innovate cinema in ways Hollywood would later follow.
The influence of foreign cinema can be seen throughout American pop culture. For example, without the Japanese Jidaigeki film genre, there would be no Star Wars. Many of the popular crime films by Martin Scorsese show the influence of 1960s French New Wave cinema. Modern classics like Parasite became popular internationally, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of foreign films to explore. There are some lesser-known international films to dive into next, many of which might appeal to Hollywood movie fans due to recognizable actors or directors, or due to their influence on popular American films.
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10 Throne Of Blood
Akira Kurosawa is often cited as one of the main inspirations for Star Wars and for Western films like The Magnificent Seven. Throne of Blood is one of the less popular Akira Kurosawa movies, compared to Seven Samurai or Rashomon, and is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in feudal Japan. The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous, and the film stars Japanese acting legend, Toshiro Mifune, in the role equivalent of Macbeth, in one of the greatest Shakespeare adaptations in film. The adaptation works seamlessly, despite its transposition from Scotland to Japan.
9 The Pusher Trilogy (1996, 2004, 2005)
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has earned acclaim in the US for films like Drive and Bronson, but his Pusher films were a huge part of his rise to prominence. The crime saga follows a number of Copenhagen-based drug criminals through desperate and violent scenarios. Pusher II is arguably the best of the trilogy, with a great Mads Mikkelsen’s movie performance as Tonny being a highlight. The film is shot with hand-held cameras which add a gritty look, adding to the underbelly world Refn explores.
8 Le Circle Rouge (1970)
Also known by its English name, The Red Circle, Le Circle Rouge is written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, a powerful partnership in French crime cinema. The film follows a master thief released from prison who finds himself involved in a jewel heist with an alcoholic ex-cop and an escaped murderer. Le Circle Rouge is a slow-moving heist film with plot twists, beautiful scenery, and charismatic performances that are all able to grip the viewer into the intimate drama.
7 Infernal Affairs (2002)
The Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs might be familiar to American audiences due to its adaptation, The Departed. Infernal Affairs follows essentially the same story as the Scorsese-directed crime film, with the antagonist being the Triad, rather than the Boston Mafia. While Infernal Affairs is shorter than The Departed, not offering as much exploration into each character’s personal life, there are follow-up films for viewers to explore as well. The whole Infernal Affairs trilogy is exciting and stylistic.
6 Nosferatu The Vampyre
The German silent film, Nosferatu, was released in 1922 and is one of the most important films of its era. Nosferatu the Vampyre is a lesser-known remake, made in 1979 by the great Werner Herzog. The film adapts both Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and tells one of the most beautiful vampire stories in cinema. Herzog’s Dracula feels more realistic, exploring the loneliness and isolation of being a vampire. The atmosphere is another of the film’s great strengths, set in a version of Transylvania that’s foggy and eerie.
5 The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
Cillian Murphy has rightfully earned great praise for his role in Peaky Blinders and in Christopher Nolan’s films. Cillian Murphy gives one of his most powerful performances in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a violent and emotional war film about the Irish War of Independence in the 1920s. Like many war films, Ken Loach’s tale is depicted with beautiful landscape scenery and explores horrific violence. However, the heart of the 2006 Irish film, is a deeply personal story about two brothers.
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4 Black Girl (1966)
Also known by its French name, La Noire de…, Black Girl is a 1966 film by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, a man credited as the “father of African film”. The film depicts the damages of colonialism in Africa and Europe, following a young woman named Diouana in her life in France, as well as flashbacks to her life in Senegal. The film is praised for its beautiful cinematography, its insight, and subtle but effective social commentaries.
3 Embrace Of The Serpent (2015)
From Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, Embrace of the Serpent is a beautiful adventure film set in the Amazon. The jungle has been an alluring location for filmmakers such as Francis Coppola and Wener Herzog, who explored the internal journey through the endless physical danger in films like Apocalypse Now. Embrace of the Serpent tells a similar, intoxicating story that follows two scientists in search of a rare plant, for different reasons. The drama mixes realism with mystical aspects that make the film feel hypnotic and dreamlike.
2 Central Station (1998)
From Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles came the 1998 film Central Station. The film follows a bitter woman named Dora, played by Fernanda Montenegro in a phenomenal performance. Dora is a retired schoolteacher who writes letters for illiterate customers, though she often takes their money without mailing the letters to them. By circumstance, Dora is forced to take in a 9-year-old boy, and the two embark on a trip to find the boy’s father. Central Station is a warm and profoundly moving film with beautiful characters that can invoke both laughter and tears.
1 Mother (2009)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Mother is a must-watch film for fans of Parasite. South Korean cinema is filled with great psychological thrillers and dramas that explore darker themes about humanity as well as any American film. Mother is one of Bong Joon-ho’s best movies, despite unfortunately being less viewed than his other work. The film tells the story of a widowed mother as she attempts to clear her intellectually disabled adult son of a murder he’s been accused of due to a messy police investigation. Mother keeps a strong balance of dark murder mystery with humorous and tender family drama in this incredible piece of international cinema.