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100 greatest foreign-language films of all time

  • 100 greatest foreign-language films of all time

    A refreshing alternative to standard Hollywood fare, the best foreign-language films represent cinema as a medium of undiluted expression. Since the turn of the 20th century, these films have challenged thematic and stylistic conventions with fearless panache. What's more, specific films and movements from countries like Japan, Italy, and France have profoundly influenced a legion of American filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and David Lynch.

    Using data from a recent BBC poll, Stacker presents the 100 greatest foreign-language films of all time, as of Oct. 30, 2018. When compiling the initial list, BBC polled 209 critics from 43 countries, asking each to rank his or her top ten foreign-language (i.e. non-English-language) films. To throw out some quick examples, Alisha Harris of the New York Times considers Jean-Luc Godard's “Breathless” to be the greatest foreign-language film ever made. For Jon Frosch of The Hollywood Reporter, that honor goes to Jean Renoir's “The Rules of the Game.” After all the votes came in, BBC worked off a point system (#1 spot = 10 points, #2 spot = 9 points, and so on) to rank the top 100 films accordingly, breaking any ties by placing the title with more overall votes higher on the list.

    In total, there are 67 directors and 21 languages represented among the 100 top foreign-language films. To break things down by decade, there are four titles from the 1920s, five from the 1930s, four from the 1940s, 20 from the 1950s, 20 from the 1960s, 12 from the 1970s, nine from the 1980s, 13 from the 1990s, 11 from the 2000s, and two from the 2010s. Without further ado, here are the 100 greatest foreign-language films of all time.

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  • #100. Landscape in the Mist (1988)

    - Language: Greek
    - Director: Theo Angelopoulos
    - Total votes: 4
    - Top 5 votes: 3
    - #1 votes: 1

    Greek director Theo Angelopoulos' first film to find U.S. distribution follows two children as they search for their father in Germany. Traveling by train, car, and boat, the children are constantly interrupted by tender and brutal experiences. The movie won a slate of awards, including the Silver Lion at the 1988 Venice Film Festival.

  • #99. Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

    - Language: Polish
    - Director: Andrzej Wajda
    - Total votes: 5
    - Top 5 votes: 3
    - #1 votes: 1

    Capping off a trilogy of war-themed movies from director Andrzej Wajda, “Ashes and Diamonds” takes place in communist Poland on the last day of World War II. As the German occupation ends, two hapless Polish soldiers are tasked with assassinating a Russian commissar as part of a broader fight for power. The film was a major influence on director Martin Scorsese, among others.

  • #98. In the Heat of the Sun (1994)

    - Language: Mandarin
    - Director: Jiang Wen
    - Total votes: 4
    - Top 5 votes: 2
    - #1 votes: 0

    Set during the Cultural Revolution in Beijing, this romantic drama marks the directorial debut of actor Jiang Wen. It chronicles the adventures of a boy named Ma Xiaojun—nicknamed Monkey—who roams the streets with his small group of friends. After spying on an older woman from under her bed, Monkey experiences the thrill and torment of his first crush.

  • #97. Taste of Cherry (1997)

    - Language: Farsi
    - Director: Abbas Kiarostami
    - Total votes: 7
    - Top 5 votes: 2
    - #1 votes: 0

    Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, this Iranian drama tells the story of a depressed middle-aged man named Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi). Determined to commit suicide, Badii searches for someone who will bury his dead body under a cherry tree. Although the movie co-won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, critic Roger Ebert was among the few dissenting opinions, describing it as “an emperor without any clothes.”

  • #96. Shoah (1985)

    - Language: German | Hebrew | Polish | Yiddish | French | English | Greek | Italian
    - Director: Claude Lanzmann
    - Total votes: 4
    - Top 5 votes: 4
    - #1 votes: 0

    Claude Lanzmann's award-winning documentary delivers 566 minutes of Holocaust stories, as told by the men and women who lived through the ordeal. Interviewing victims, spectators, and perpetrators alike, Lanzmann reveals harrowing confessions and excruciating details as he brings the past back to life. In 2016, Time Out Magazine dubbed “Shoah” the best documentary of all time.

  • #95. Floating Clouds (1955)

    - Language: Japanese
    - Director: Mikio Naruse
    - Total votes: 4
    - Top 5 votes: 3
    - #1 votes: 1

    A single woman (Hideko Takamine) returns from French Indochina to post-World War II Japan in this social drama from prolific director Mikio Naruse. Jumping between past and present, the movie chronicles the woman's rekindled love affair with a former flame. While searching for a sense of purpose, she grapples with extreme bouts of loneliness and despair.

  • #94. Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987)

    - Language: Farsi
    - Director: Abbas Kiarostami
    - Total votes: 6
    - Top 5 votes: 3
    - #1 votes: 0

    Cast and shot in the Italian neorealist tradition, Abbas Kiarostami's compelling drama centers on an eight-year-old boy named Ahmed, who goes to great lengths to return his classmate's notebook. Like so many of the best Iranian films, this one uses a relatively simple premise to explore a range of broader cultural themes.

  • #93. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

    - Language: Mandarin
    - Director: Zhang Yimou
    - Total votes: 7
    - Top 5 votes: 2
    - #1 votes: 0

    Legendary Chinese director Yimou Zhang helmed this taut historical drama, which takes place during the Warlord Era in 1920s China. After being forced to marry a wealthy lord, a young woman (Li Gong) must adapt to the rules of his compound while vying against his three other wives. Due to its perceived critiques of authoritarianism, the acclaimed work was banned in China for a period of time.

  • #92. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

    - Language: Swedish
    - Director: Ingmar Bergman
    - Total votes: 6
    - Top 5 votes: 2
    - #1 votes: 0

    Iconic Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman makes his first appearance on the list with this award-winning drama, which was originally a six-part mini-series. Set over the course of 10 years, it chronicles the disintegration of a marriage between Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson). Bergman's depiction was so impactful that it reportedly caused an increase in Sweden's divorce rate.

  • #91. Rififi (1955)

    - Language: French
    - Director: Jules Dassin
    - Total votes: 6
    - Top 5 votes: 2
    - #1 votes: 1

    Widely considered one of the greatest heist films ever made, this French noir follows four criminals as they try to execute the perfect crime. Can the robbers pull off the job or will inevitable human error prevail? With its gritty aesthetic, “Rififi” helped pave the way for latter-day classics such as “Reservoir Dogs.”