Don’t Fear the Foreign: International Films to Watch in your Home Theater

city_of_god movie poster

Breaking news: not all movies come from Hollywood. If you’re tired of superhero franchises or industrially-processed rom-coms, why not give foreign films a chance? Maybe you’ve seen a Hollywood remake that scarred you. Sure, you’ll have to (gasp!) read subtitles. But let’s face it, those are feeble excuses.  Don’t pass up on a great cinematic work of art experience just because of the language barrier.

Online streaming, buying DVDs off Amazon, Youtube. Foreign films have become more accessible to the masses today. There is a plethora of foreign movie choices out there, and picking one might be overwhelming. There are some that might turn you off, and some that are definitely worth watching. Go international right in the comfort of your own home theater with these amazing foreign films:


City of Gods (Cidade de Deus, 2002, Brazil)

city_of_god movie poster

This film depicts the story of kids growing up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. If you’re born into a life of poverty, brutality, drugs, and murder as harsh, everyday realities, it would be extremely difficult to find an escape. Based on real events, City of Gods accurately portrays the vicious cycle of the gangster lifestyle, seeing the growth of key gang members – from impressionable little kids to teen criminals to local drug lords. Director Fernando Meirelles amazingly shows the contrast of different premises in the movie – you see the serenity of the beach and the upbeat, colorful Brazilian city life mixed into violent  scenes of brutality right on the streets.


Amélie (2001, France)

Called “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” in French, Amélie is the story of quirky, introverted woman who works at a Parisian café, trying to do little deeds of everyday kindness. Beautifully set in Paris, this movie’s stunning cinematography offers an element of escapism from the cruel realities of life. An imaginative, light, romantic comedy, Amélie is a delightful sensory experience that will leave you wanting to bake cookies and feeling newfound love and compassion for life.




Oldboy (2003, South Korea)

oldboy movie poster

Oldboy is a story of an ordinary man who is kidnapped out of the blue and kept in a tiny room for 15 long years. Every day he faces the same environment, eats the same meal, and watches the same commercials on the tiny TV. Every single day for 15 years. All of a sudden, he is released and given five days to find out why he was taken. With its very graphic nature, strong violence, and a plot twist that is so sick you might not want to see it for the second time, Oldboy still stands as a phenomenal film for those who can stomach it.




Seven Samurai (Shichinin No Samurai, 1954, Japan)

Even if you are not familiar with Akira Kurosawa himself, you have probably seen a movie inspired by his work. Honestly, if you want to get started on Japanese foreign films, Kurosawa titles are a must-see. George Lucas has even stated that plenty of allusions throughout the entire Star Wars series were inspired by Akira Kurosawa films. Sixty years after its release, Seven Samurai still holds up exceptionally well. Set in 1587, it is story of a village of farmers who seek the help of seven samurai warriors to protect them from ruthless bandits. Don’t be fooled by the basic plot; its execution and cinematic sophistication make this movie arguably the most influential epics ever made. Simply put, Seven Samurai is a masterpiece.



Ip Man (2010, China)

Ip Man is based loosely on the life of martial arts expert Yip Man, Bruce Lee’s mentor. The movie focuses on the events in Ip Man’s life that took place during the Chinese-Japanese War. Ip Man is a well-off fellow who dedicates his life mastering and teaching Wing Chun, a defense-oriented style of Kung Fu.  In this movie, we see Ip Man as a humble, honest, and fearless warrior. He uses martial arts only as a defense and not as a means to destroy. With exhilarating fight scenes combined with riveting storyline, Ip Man will be enjoyed by everyone.



[REC] (2007, Spain)

You can watch the Hollywood remake “Quarantine,” or you can choose the critically-acclaimed original version that won 16 awards out of 21 nominations. An abbreviation of the word “record,” REC is about a mysterious outbreak in an old, dilapidated apartment building. A reporter (Angela) and her cameraman (Pablo) tail the emergency response team following a call from an old lady who was trapped inside the building. It utilizes the “POV” camera method, but it’s not your typical hand-held camera horror film. The tension of the tale springs from limited frame of view, sound distortion, the spotlight, and the spooky night-vision. Viewers will qualify it as a dreary documentary in the first 15 minutes, but the tone rapidly changes to an atmosphere of dread and chaos.



Kung Fu Hustle (2004, China)

Stephen Chow exhibits his talent as an actor and director in this 2004 Chinese blockbuster. Action packed and highly imaginative, Kung Fu Hustle tells the story of petty thief Sing who aims to be a big-time gangster. He attempts to extort money from the residents of an apartment building who turn out to be kung fu experts in disguise. In Roger Ebert’s words, it is “like Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny.” Plenty of slapstick, wit, killer martial arts moves, and a unique storyline, Kung Fu Hustle is a fun and entertaining film to watch.


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Mexico)

Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who tries to escape the fears of growing up and the terrors of the Spanish civil war through her imagination. Director Guillermo del Toro masterfully blended the cold, brutal reality of war with Gothic fairytale storytelling and surreal imagery.


Battle Royale (2000, Japan)

A group of high school students are trapped on a remote island by the authoritarian government to fight to the death for three days. And for what? Honor? Survival? Mere fun? It’s hard to tell. Everyone has their motives, and when these motives clash, tragedy is inevitable. The group is immediately split into two: those who refuse to kill anyone and strive to find an escape, and those who have decided to play along and slay each other.  Battle Royale is in no way a subtle movie.  Based on the controversial novel by Koushun Takami that was also adapted into a manga series he also wrote, it explores the darkest side of human nature: hate, violence, and betrayal. Describe the plot of “Hunger Games” to fans of this movie and you will inevitably hear “Oh, so just like Battle Royale?”



The Raid (2011, Indonesia)

The plot is simple: a SWAT team tries to infiltrate a decrepit apartment building that is home to every dangerous criminal in Jakarta, to remove the notorious crime lord, Tama, dwelling on the top floor. They become trapped inside and Tama orders all the killers and gangsters residents to kill them off. One by one, every member of the SWAT team gets taken down, but one rookie cop, Rama, has no intention of dying. Directed by Welsh-born filmmaker Gareth Evans who is now based in Indonesia, The Raid showcases Indonesian traditional martial arts in sophisticated action film sequences that will leave you breathless.

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