10 Essential Foreign Films For: Beginners

Have you always wanted to give foreign films a try but don’t know where to start?

There’s something for everyone in the ‘world cinema’ section of any shop – you just need to know what to look for. Foreign films aren’t all 4 hour-long arthouse softcore snooze-fests; although there are some… The only advice I would give to first-timers is to avoid dub-tracks at all costs and go straight for the subtitles (voice acting is generally stale, lips are out of sync, you lose the performance, and famous voices can distract you)

Below is a list of ‘Entry Level’ movies to get you started. There’s nothing too heavy on dialogue or ideas. These are ‘gateway’ movies to show that there’s an alternative to Hollywood’s churn-and-burn franchises. Some of the choices may seem obvious, but this list is aimed at absolute beginners. Most similar lists I’ve seen seem to stop at around 1970 listing ‘classic after ‘classic’; which aren’t necessarily the most accessible movies for novices.

THE RAID REDEMPTION gareth evans iko Uwais Joe Taslim Donny Alamsyah Yayan Ruhian Pierre Gruno Tegar Setrya Ray Sahetapy kick ass action film fighting scene machete watch streamThe Raid (‘Serbuan Maut‘ – Indonesia): imagine an action film where pretty much the entire runtime is nothing but bone-breaking, innovative, and mesmerising fight sequences! An action film that delivers on real, physical stunts and traditional fighting & filming techniques! An action film that says no to overblown and unnecessarily cheap-looking CGI, and gratuitous back story of 1D characters. The Raid (and The Raid 2) are movies that don’t disappoint. TRAILER

Run Lola Run Lola Rennt Tom Tykwer Moritz Bleibtreu Franka PotenteRun Lola, Run (‘Lola Rennt‘ – Germany): A simple concept played out three times, in a variety of frenetic, stylish, and a adrenaline-pumping ways. The plot follows a girlfriend’s attempts to bail out her debt-ridden boyfriend before his lenders send him to sleep with the fishes. You could watch this and think about free will, chance, the butterfly effect etc – or you can sit back, switch off, and let it hypnotise you. Bright, poppy, and with a pounding dance soundtrack, this plays out like an elongated music video. TRAILER

Hard Boiled 1992 John Woo, Yun-Fat Chow, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip ChanHard Boiled (‘辣手神探‘ – Hong Kong): So you love the iconic gun fights from films like Face/Off, The Matrix, and Shoot ‘Em Up – awww, that’s cute. How about some genre-defining gunplay complete with doves, explosions-ahoy, and slow-motion bodies flying in all directions – delivered by the master of infinite-ammo action, John Woo. This is the peak of the ‘Heroic Bloodshed’ genre of action; basically kung fu but with guns. The final hospital shootout is among the best action scenes ever filmed. TRAILER

Love me if you dare Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard Yann Samuell La Vie En Rose Jeux d'enfantsLove me if You Dare (‘Jeux d’enfants‘ – France): Love stories, meh, I’m not usually a fan – but here’s one that’s quirky, cool and doesn’t star Zooey Deschenel (WTF, France?!?). It follows two best friends from children to pensioners as they struggle to be in the right place at the right time for their life-long love to truly work out. Any film this poetic, stylish and charming – to the point of warming your heart – could only be French! TRAILER

The Good Bad Weird Korean Blockbuster Dream CastThe Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈Korea):  one of Korea’s best directors, and a handful of the country’s biggest stars in a story about three outlaws trying to find ancient treasure before the Japanese Army and other bandits. This is a fun historical romp that entertains for the duration, like an Indiana Jones film. It’s an Italian-style spaghetti western, with Hollywood sensibilities, but still remains a very ‘Korean’ feeling movie; combining some of the best aspects of 50 years of ‘world cinema’ together perfectly. TRAILER

Los Cronocrímenes Timecrimes Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernandez, Barbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo, Juan InciarteTimecrimes (Spain): Whilst on vacation with his wife everyman Hector sees a lady undressing at the edge of his property, which sets off an elaborate chain of events. Here’s to the highconcept, low-budget timetravel film with no SFX! It’s hard to say more without ruining the film, but this one stands out for being completely rooted in the real world; the characters feel human, the baddie fumbles around, the settings are banal but creepy. Simple, clever, and effective. TRAILER (contains spoilers)

01 - The Streetfighter Street Fighter 1974 Sonny Chiba, Shinichi Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Goichi Yamada, Masashi Ishibashi, Jirō Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Masafumi Suzuki, Nobuo Kawai, Ken Kazama, Fumio WatanabeThe Street Fighter (激突!殺人拳 – Japan): when he refuses to kidnap a billionaire heir for the Yakuza, they try to kill the street fighter – which turns out to be a terrible decision for all involved. This is the first movie to get an R rating for violence alone, a major influence of a Mr Tarantino, and while it’s not as shocking as it would have been 40 years ago, it’s still a brilliant Martial Arts movie. It’s also been deemed important enough to be made available for free on the public domain (LINK) TRAILER

Troll Hunter Norway Film Review Movie Pics Screenshots Screencaps Otto Jespersen Glenn Erland Tosterud Johanna Mørck Tomas Alf Larsen Urmila Berg-Domaas Hans Morten Hansen Robert Stoltenberg Knut Nærum Eirik Bech André ØvredalTrollhunter (‘Trolljegeren‘ – Norway): mockdocumentary following an old school troll-hunter (mythical ones, not internet trolls) as he helps keep these magnificent beasts hidden from the unsuspecting public. This one’s a dead-pan slow-burner that packed with loads of tiny details about trolls and their mythology. The central character is played superbly, taking his job very seriously, which engages the viewer. Great black comedy / fantasy satire. TRAILER

Ring Ringu Nanako Matsushima Hiroyuki Sanada Rikiya Ōtaka Yoichi Numata Hideo NakataRing (Ringu – Japan): You know the drill; after watching a cursed VHS you get a phone call saying “you gonna die lol”, and you spend your last week in a pants-shittingly terrifying nightmare scenario. A victim of its own success, having being parodied everywhere, it’s easy to forget how scary this film is; it’s broody, atmospheric, restrained, and genuinely terrifying. The haunted mother of the J-Horror genre, which kick-started the trend of (usually botched) Asian horror remakes. TRAILER

Micmacs à tire-larigot Jean-Pierre Jeunet Non-stop shenanigans Dany Boon Yolande Moreau Dominique Pinon André Dussollier Jean-Pierre MarielleMicMacs (‘MicMacs à tire-larigot‘ – France): after losing his dad to a landmine, and being hit by a stray bullet  Brazil sets out to take his revenge on the two weapons manufacturers responsible. Despite being a sharp commentary on the arms industry the title translates as “non-stop shenanigans”, and that exactly what this is. A fun take on the classic ‘revenge’ story, this is from French visionary Jean-Pierre Jeunet; who somehow manages to capture surreal and dream-like worlds perfectly – and manages to make this modern film look and feel like a Golden Age classic. TRAILER

Which foreign film would you recommend for a beginner and why?

Please leave your film suggestions and reasons in the comments.
I’ll hopefully have enough to create a follow-up post – which would credit your entry and link back to your website.
Remember though, these are NOT the best foreign films per se, but the best ones for introducing people to world cinema.

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19 comments
  1. Have seen a lot of foreign films but surprisingly, just one on this list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Great – I’d recommend the rest of them. All worth a watch.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nostra said:

    Have seen a couple of this list. I would also suggest Les Intouchables, Amélie, Nuit blanche (Sleepless Night), My Sassy Girl, Ong Bak, Point Blank and Kung Fu Hustle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Some good choices in there. Was thinking of Ong Bak but already have a few action films. Haven’t seen My Sassy Girl, but been meaning to watch it for a long time – it keeps popping up on lists everywhere!

      Like

  3. I thought The Raid was fantastic! A more realistic, gritty version of Dredd. Trollhunter is also fantastic, as it Run, Lola, Run.
    Two of my favourite foreign language films are del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and the French film Potiche. Catherine Deneuve is brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Yup – Dredd was a bit of a copycat there, but still a decent film.

      Pan’s Labrynth may or may not be in the next batch of films for Intermediate viewing…. Haven’t seen Potiche but heard nothing but good things about it.

      Like

  4. I definitely recommend The Eye and Audition as well. Great list though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Both good Asian horrors but I think Audition in particular would be a pretty hard watch for a first foreign film :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • Probably true haha

        Like

  5. Jaina said:

    Awesome list, really really great list. Have seen a bunch of these including MicMacs, TrollHunter, The Raid, Run Lola Run, Timecrimes. They’re all really accessible films. I think I’d put Amelie, [REC] and Headhunters in my list. Foreign film definitely isn’t as scary or “hard to watch” as some people think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Thanks Jaina! Headhunters is actually in my list for Intermediate foreign films! Coming up soon. Haven’t seen REC but it did appear on a lot of ‘best foreign film’ lists.

      Like

  6. Great idea for a list. Definitely Amélie, and perhaps Oldboy and City of God. Completely love Troll hunter, easily the best “found footage” film, Hard Boiled has been on my watchlist for years, but I’ve never got round to seeing it. To be honest, I’ve not heard of quite a few of these, so I think I’ll have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      I was torn with Amelie, really wanted to put it in, but I think it’s one of the few ‘world cinema’ films that a lot of people will have seen so settled for the equally brilliant MicMacs. OldBoy and City of God MAY be appearing in an upcoming list of ‘Intermediate’ World Cinema film – but both total classics. I still regularly re-watch most of this list – all great films worth seeing.

      Like

  7. I haven’t seen all of these (MicMacs/Love me if you dare), but I feel like the omission of Oldboy from your list is pretty glaring. I would definitely have included it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Hahaha – not the first person to point that out! Splitting this in to three lists; Beginners, intermediates and hardcore. OldBoy will DEFINITELY be appearing in the intermediate list.

      Wouldn’t want to try and convince someone that word cinema’s amazing and the first film you show them is an incest / animal cruelty manga adaptation :P

      Like

  8. How about some Wong Kar Wai and Ghibli/Miyazaki? :)

    Like

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      I was dabbling with Chungking for the intermediate list, but it’s been too long since I last saw it.

      Like

  9. nasen75 said:

    Hard Boiled is one of my favorite Asian action films for the long take of Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung shooting their way through a hospital, riding up an elevator, and then getting back out of the elevator and continuing alone.

    I finally saw the original Japanese version of The Ring last year, having seen the American remake many years ago. While the American version was better on technical aspects (namely the special effects and Naomi Watts being a better lead actress), the original Japanese one had a much more streamlined story without needing to shoehorn a subplot of Reiko/Rachel having a troubled relationship with her son.

    My favorite J-horror movie is probably the original, direct-to-video Ju-On; the theatrical film was actually a sequel. Ju-On is an example of my opinion that the best horror films are actually made on more modest budgets. Ju-On opted to basically show none of the scares onscreen because the budget didn’t allow for it, and instead relied on just continuously building an increasingly unsettling atmosphere.

    Like

    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      I think everyone should be made to watch Hard Boiled once a year. It’s definitely stood the test of time so far!

      Agree with your points on Ringu and Ju-On. For Ringu, I was surprised at how well it holds up, and how scary it still is despite having seen 1000 parodies over the past 15 years. And yes, Ju-On is even more terrifying. I remember seeing it in the cinema here and barely being able to move – it’s all about the atmosphere and off-screen action. Even just thinking about it makes me uneasy!!!

      Like

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