Top 10 Films Not in the English Language

When it comes to films recorded in a dialogue that isn’t your native language, are you put off completely or are you still open and willing to watch it?

In my experience there are several different groups of people when it comes to international films: some won’t watch any film unless it is recorded in their own language while others won’t be put off and will judge whether they want to watch the film based on its genre and plot.

I’m a member of the latter, although I still have room for improvement. My foreign language films of choice are usually from France or India so I need to broaden my horizons and watch films from other countries too.

Listed below are 10 films not in the English language (my native tongue) that I have particularly enjoyed:

El laberinto del fauno (2006, Spanish)
English title: Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth is a hauntingly beautiful film that I must have a rewatch of soon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and set during the Falangist Spain of 1944, it tells the story of a young girl who enters a fantasy world that is as much dangerous as it is attractive.

Diarios de motocicleta (2004, Spanish and Quechua)
English title: The Motorcycle Diaries 

Directed by Walter Salles and based on ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ by Che Guevara, the biopic depicts Guevara and his friend’s (Alberto Granado) 1952 expedition across South America. Set to a beautiful soundtrack and scenery, it shows important experiences that would shape the young Guevara’s life.

Irrfan Khan stars in the epistolary romance, The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox (2013, Hindi)

One of my favourite films of all time, Ritesh Batra’s epistolary romance sees Irrfan Khan’s Saajan replying to letters written by Nimrat Kaur’s Ila after she realises that the lunchbox she has prepared for her husband has not been reaching him but Saajan instead. It’s a beautiful concept set in my beloved Mumbai, making use of the city’s famous dabbawalas.

Serbuan maut (2011, Indonesian)
English title: The Raid

Directed by a Welshman, Gareth Evans, this Indonesian film – which 2012’s Dredd must have taken inspiration from – follows a special forces unit as they infiltrate a high-rise building run by a malicious drug lord. Fast paced and action packed, I was blown away by the incredible choreography of the fight scenes and special effects.

Je ne suis pas un homme facile (2018, French)
English title: I Am Not An Easy Man 

The first French-language film commissioned by Netflix, Éléonore Pourriat’s comedy takes place in a parallel universe where stereotypical gender roles have been reversed and the man at the centre of it all gets a taste of what life is like from a woman’s perspective.

Catherine Deneuve shows she’s far from a trophy wife in Potiche

Potiche (2010, French)

Featuring an all-star line-up, including Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu, director François Ozonet’s film, set in the late 1970s, tells the story of a submissive, underappreciated and unvalued wife (a ‘potiche’ meaning ‘trophy wife’) who runs her husband’s factory after the employees go on strike.

Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément (2015, French)
English title: Blind Date

Directed, co-written and starring Clovis Cornillac, Blind Date is one of my favourite French films about a shy woman (Mélanie Bernier) who moves into the next door apartment belonging to an equally reclusive man (Cornillac). Soon enough, distaste and annoyance turn to dating.

Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus in a still from My Afternoons with Margueritte

La Tête en friche (2010, French)
English title: My Afternoons with Margueritte 

Jean Becker’s delightful film starring Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus is another of my French favourites. Depardieu plays Germain, an illiterate handyman who has a heart of gold. He meets  Casadesus’ 95-year-old Margueritte and they soon become fast friends as Margueritte teaches Germain how to read.

Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (2013, Swedish)
English title: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared 

This Swedish film from director Felix Herngren is full of charm and humour. It centres on Allan Karlsson who, as the title suggests, leaps out of a window on his 100th birthday and begins quite the wonderful journey. Its fanciful, fun and quite the ride.

부산행 (2016, Korean)
English title: Train to Busan

I shed a few tears of sadness at the end of Yeon Sang-ho’s action horror, which is not something I had ever done over a zombie flick before. Most of the action takes place on a train that becomes infested by zombies, and the story focuses particularly on a father and his estranged daughter as they try to survive.

  • Have you seen any of these films?
  • What films not in the English language would you recommend?

22 thoughts on “Top 10 Films Not in the English Language

Add yours

  1. A few I need to see. Love Pan’s Labyrinth. The Raid was excellent too: one of those non-English language films that shouldn’t put subtitle-phobes off as it’s such a visceral experience.

    Can I recommend Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful – a stunning, tender, heartbreaking and, at times, funny film, set during WWII and focused on the holocaust, that incredibly finds light in the darkest of circumstances.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dan. Great that we match on our views of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Raid.
      I have added Life is Beautiful to my watchlist – thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I love a subtitled movie. I find having to really pay attention means I enjoy them (maybe see them?) much more.

    Off the top of my head:
    Let The Right One In
    Spirited Away
    The Raid…
    …and all of the Japanese horror movies! 😆

    1. Yes, I know exactly what you: you naturally pay much more attention.
      Not surprised at all which film came to your mind first 😉
      Do you remember we saw Let the Right One In together? Fantastic film! You won’t ever be able to convince me to watch any Japanese horror movies though as I don’t think I’d ever be able to sleep again!

  3. Great list, I love great movies regardless of language, after a while you forget you are reading subtitles. Off the top of my head (there will be more that spring to mind as soon as I post), and sticking to this century to keep the list short, here are a few of my favourites:
    Amélie (2001)
    Oldboy (2003)
    Azumi (2003)
    City of God (2002)
    In the Mood for love (2002)
    Night Watch (2004)
    Pans Labyrinth (2006)
    Let the Right One In (2008)
    The Hunt (2012)
    The Handmaiden (2016)

    1. Thanks, Andy – more recommendations to add to my watchlist! You’ve included a few I’ve seen already (Amelie, Pan’s Labyrinth, Let the Right One In) and I’ve seen the remake of Oldboy, but there are so many great ones I’m yet to have watched.
      City of God is at the top of that list: I remember it was nominated for several Oscars.

  4. Lots that sound intriguing but I’ve only seen Pan’s Labyrinth out of these. A wild ride of a film which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not a big fantasy guy in the main, the only film in the genre I can recall watching more than once is Excalibur, but Pan was so heaped with praise it caused me to seek it out. It deserved it but its not something that I’ll watch again.

    I fall somewhere between those two groups you referenced at the top. I’m not adverse to films in another language from mine but I definitely have to be in the mood to put in the extra effort they require.

    Thankfully TCM is a wonderful resource for expanding my knowledge, though I still have huge gaps-I’m extremely thin when it comes to Asian cinema and Bollywood-but I’m usually game for most anything….except kung-fu movies! In my experience you’ve seen one you’ve seen pretty much all of them, I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because several people insisted that it was so innovative and distinctive, it wasn’t.

    Off the top of my head my top 10 would run this way in order of preference:

    The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
    Wild Strawberries (1957)
    High and Low (1963)
    Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
    Undertow (2009)
    The Wages of Fear (1953)
    The 4th Man (1983)
    A Man Escaped (1956)
    Diabolique (1955)
    Police Python 357 (1976)

    Hovering just below those in alphabetical order:

    Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
    Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
    Beauty and the Beast (1946)
    The Children Are Watching Us (1944)
    Contempt (1963)
    Drunken Angel (1948)
    The Hidden Fortress (1958)
    Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
    In the Mood for Love (2000)
    Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
    La Chienne (1931)
    The Official Story (1985)
    Orpheus (1950)
    The Shop on Main Street (1965)
    Walk on Water (2004)

    1. Ah, you’re in a sneaky third category. I can understand that, the need to ‘be in the mood’. Great that you don’t limit yourself though, as I think you would be really missing out on a lot of great films if you did.

      Interesting point about ‘if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’. With the international films I watch they tend to echo the American and British productions I watch – so mostly drama, comedy and fantasy.

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sounds interesting. I haven’t seen a French musical yet!

      And oh wow, thanks Joel – really appreciate you takin the time to list some recommendations. I will update my watchlist!

  5. Great list, Claire! Well, I think you know my answer to your question… given I rarely watch Indonesian movies, nearly ALL movies I watch are not in my native language. My faves are obviously English-language films (UK or US versions), but I also love French films!

    Interesting you mentioned The Raid, I actually never watch that nor anything similar to the high-action, hyper-violent movies w/ Indo actors. I dunno, it just never appealed to me though my late dad was an Indo screenwriter and he had a pretty good career in film before I was born. Oh and I love Train to Busan!

  6. Great post. I adore foreign films (and they seem to get better & better while Hollywood films get worse). I’ve not heard of some of these. I do tend to go mostly for Japanese & South Korean movies. I’ve not watched enough French films. Hmm… some of my favorites are: Cinema Paradiso, The Lives Of Others, The Secret In Their Eyes, everything by Akira Kurosawa (that I’ve seen so far), lots of anime (I won’t bore you with a long list!), hmm…. I’m sure I’m missing a lot! Oh, for a recent one I thought The Platform was good.

    1. Ah, another vote for Cinema Paradiso! I really must check that out. Thanks for your other recommendations too.
      I tend to watch more French or Hindi films, but I’m trying to broaden my horizons. There are a lot of fun sounding ones on Netflix UK at the moment.

      On the subject of anime, I’ve never really tried getting into it before. I think Netflix UK added a bunch of Studio Ghibli films on recently so I really should make an effort and watch some. What would be your top recommendations to get me into anime?

      1. I definitely recommend Cinema Paradiso (named my blog after it!). 😁 It’s one of those where you’re much better checking out the shorter original version. The director’s cut ruined the story a bit (from what I’ve heard – I’ve avoided watching that as really don’t like the sound of what was added). It’s a film for people who love films.
        And, oh boy, I love finding people who haven’t watched any Ghibli movies yet! I’m obsessed with them. I’d make everyone watch at least one, but I also know they can be very odd so I tend to only recommend them to movie loving blogger types. So here we go… ☺️ My favorites are the obvious My Neighbor Totoro (highly recommend & a good place to start) and Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (I’d recommend it after watching some other anime first – I’m just a big post-apocalyptic fan). Basically, all the ones directed by Hayao Miyazaki are the very best so start with those. Ponyo & Kiki’s Delivery Service (and Totoro) are the most kid-friendly if you want to start on that kind of thing. Spirited Away is the favorite for many but it’s very strange so hard to know at what point to recommend it… It grew on me a lot, though, and I adore it & all its weirdness now. Princess Mononoke is also very good and far more grown up (not for young kids). I’d love to know what you think if you watch any! I’d definitely start with Studio Ghibli but some other great ones are Your Name & Wolf Children from two other anime directors whose work I like. Sorry. I’ll stop now. I get over excited when it comes to good anime. Lol

      2. Thank you – I really appreciate you taking the time to list these and I LOVE your enthusiasm!
        I’ve just checked on Netflix UK: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro are all there, plus Ponyo and Kiki’s Delivery Service. I don’t have kids myself but it might be a good place to start.
        Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind is on there too but I might watch that later, like you suggest.
        I’ll watch and report back 🙂

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