Underrated Foreign Films You Need To See


As much as we love a good Hollywood blockbuster, the world is much larger than a few blocks in Southern California, and there are far more films produced overseas than in the English-speaking world. So, if you’re looking for a good bit of foreign flair, then here are twenty of the best foreign films you may not have heard about before.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012) – North Korea

We start with a film from a place you may not even know has a strong film industry, and while most North Korean movies don’t make it outside of the country’s borders, there are a few that hit international stardom.

And while many of those are only notable as a first-hand account of the hermit kingdom’s propaganda and party machine, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the rare exception, as arguably the only North Korean film ever made that’s genuinely entertaining beyond a level of curiosity about the secretive state.

The story of a coal mine worker who hopes to achieve her dreams as she moves to Pyongyang to become a gymnast for the national team, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is a genuinely delightful and pleasant affair, with bright visuals, a fun and uplifting story, and far less heavy-handed party propaganda than is often the case in North Korean movies.

Read a full review here.

My Neighbours The Yamadas (1999) – Japan

Studio Ghibli is known all over the world as one of the brightest movie studios on the planet, however one of its most offbeat productions, My Neighbours The Yamadas, is easily their most underrated.

With a different, more simplistic animation style that’s reminiscent of a children’s storybook, the film is a wonderful watch through and through, telling the story of an ordinary family and their daily life in suburban Japan, with a down-to-earth and delightfully understated atmosphere that stands out immensely from the fantasy adventures that Ghibli are best known for.

Adorable and sweet at every moment, the film will warm your heart and put an enormous smile on your face, and with a wonderful sense of humour that adds to the movie’s delightful character, it’s certainly one of the loveliest animations ever made.

Read a full review here.

Death Of A Cyclist (1955) – Spain

Spain’s classic cinema has never held the same status as nearby France and Italy, but that doesn’t mean that the country didn’t produce some real gems in the period, one of the best of which is the brilliant Death Of A Cyclist.

A sharp and mysterious Hitchcockean thriller, the film follows the story of a couple having an affair whose relationship comes close to exposure when they accidentally strike a cyclist with their car, leading them to do everything to keep things under wraps.

With two riveting characters and excellent performances to boot, the movie is a deeply engrossing watch throughout, and while it’s highly reminiscent of later thrillers Diabolique and Psycho, it stands up as a nail-biting and heart-pounding affair, and one of the best foreign thrillers of the classic era.

Read a full review here.

The Heiresses (2018) – Paraguay

It’s the only film that I’ve ever seen from Paraguay, but Marcello Martinessi’s intimate and elegant drama The Heiresses is a fantastic watch, and one of the most powerfully understated films of recent years.

While it’s a quiet and slow-moving film on the surface, an engrossing and surprisingly exhilarating drama and tension bubbles underneath, growing and growing throughout to the point that it features subtle dramatic power on a level that few films are able to provide, as an elderly woman rediscovers herself in the short period where her partner is sent away to prison.

With a moving lead performance from Ana Brun that matches the film’s beautifully elegant atmosphere, The Heiresses is an emotionally enthralling watch from beginning to end, all the while featuring satisfying and genuinely exhilarating dramatic depth throughout.

Read a full review here.

Yellow Earth (1984) – China

China’s film industry is one of the oldest in East Asia, however its modern era didn’t really start up until the early 1990s, with the critically acclaimed historical and romantic dramas from the likes of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.

However, prior to that renaissance, Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth was the first modern Chinese film that received more widespread international recognition, with its elegant style that’s furthered by striking cinematography from future director Zhang Yimou, telling the story of rural life in China during the war against Japan.

On the surface, it’s a bleak and heavy-going film, and the intensely grey cinematography only furthers that atmosphere, however if you look deeper, it’s actually an enthralling and moving account of the strength of community, particularly in the face of strife and trouble, featuring elegant folk songs and a striking, earthy portrayal of the rural setting.

Read a full review here.

Two Days, One Night (2014) – Belgium

Featuring an Academy Award-nominated performance from Marion Cotillard, the Dardennes’ contemporary drama Two Days, One Night is a stunning piece of real-world drama.

Following the story of a woman who desperately attempts to drum up support from her colleagues ahead of her potential redundancy, the movie is quiet, understated and deeply moving film that looks at a range of contemporary issues, as well as stunning with a story that makes you question your own judgment and morality, making for a enthralling watch that keeps you utterly hooked over the course of its 95 minute runtime.

With a powerhouse lead performance from Cotillard, the movie may be quiet and slow, but it’s more powerful than so many, and with its enormous dramatic and emotional depth, it’s one of the best foreign films I’ve ever come across.

Read a full review here.

Tag (2015) – Japan

From cult director Sion Sono, Tag is one of the most insane films ever put to the silver screen, featuring ridiculous horror thrills and mind-bending fantasy from start to finish, all of which is certain to leave you utterly bewildered and exhausted come the end.

Completely off-the-wall from the very start – thanks to arguably the most shocking opening scene in film history – Tag is an exceptionally bizarre piece of horror cinema, with cartoonish gore splatting all over the screen at every moment, making for a perfectly ridiculous and explosive watch throughout.

But not only that, the film tells a mind-bending and truly insane story, either deeply complex or simply incomprehensible, but with a premise that’s reminiscent of the likes of Mulholland Drive, it’s a hugely enthralling and ludicrously entertaining movie.

Read a full review here.

Me And The Alien (2016) – Mexico

The rather generic story of a basement punk rock band and their unlikely journey to stardom, Me And The Alien tells the tale in brilliantly entertaining fashion.

Putting a wonderfully uplifting spin on the story, as well as featuring a leading quartet of likable and interesting characters, and hugely funny humour to boot, it’s a delightful movie that will put an enormous smile on your face.

And the icing on the cake is the movie’s soundtrack, which is far better than it has any right to be, with four or five hugely catchy tunes that make the film one of the most memorable foreign comedies of recent years, and will have you tapping your toes along as you laugh your socks off throughout.

Read a full review here.

Joint Security Area (2000) – South Korea

Park Chan-wook is arguably South Korea’s most widely-acclaimed director, with a slew of international hits including Oldboy and The Handmaiden, however one of his best films that often goes unnoticed is the exceptional thriller Joint Security Area.

Set in the DMZ on the border between North and South Korea, the movie tells the story of an incident where two soldiers have been killed, and a neutral team comes to investigate amidst the immense rise in tension between the two countries, with the threat of conflict all the more present.

Thrilling, unpredictable and ingeniously structured, the movie is an enthralling watch at every moment, and with a surprisingly emotional core to its story throughout, it makes for an incredibly striking and exciting watch, and easily one of Park’s best works.

Read a full review here.

Anna (1967) – France

Having spent much of the early 60s as director Jean-Luc Godard’s muse, Anna Karina was a fixture in some of the decade’s most revolutionary films, and one of the faces of the French New Wave.

However, Anna sees her in a role that’s a whole lot more relaxed and lightweight than many of her appearances in Godard’s films, in a story about a free-spirited woman being sought by a man who once saw her in a photograph.

Filmed in beautiful colour and filled with wonderfully bizarre songs, the film is a delightful and weird affair throughout, complete with a pleasantly light-hearted lead turn from Karina that will undoubteldy put a big smile on your face.

Read a full review here.

Tomorrow I Will Date With Yesterday’s You (2016) – Japan

Japanese romantic dramas are often guilty of serious melodrama, but still often prove to be engrossing and genuinely emotional affairs, and Tomorrow I Will Date With Yesterday’s You has to be up there as one of the best of the genre in recent years.

Featuring a riveting and inventive premise that follows a boyfriend and girlfriend as their relationship develops, while time travels in the opposite direction for each of them, the film is a hugely entertaining watch, and with that clever premise, it allows for surprising and genre-breaking twists and emotional highs and lows, meaning that things don’t feel quite as much like cheesy melodrama as is often the case.

Complete with a beautifully relaxed and calm atmosphere that makes the central relationship a wonderful and romantic affair, the film is a delightful watch, and certain to warm your heart in a way that few others in the genre are able to.

Read a full review here.

Singham (2011) – India

Popularised worldwide as ‘the Indian Jason Bourne’ a few years ago on the internet, Singham is a cult classic of modern Indian cinema, as one of the most off-the-wall crime-action tales of the last few years.

The story of an honest and hard-working police officer who tries to fight corruption in his local department, Singham will have you swooning at his incredible physique, loyalty and determination to the law, stemming from an inspiring and hugely entertaining theme song that gets you hyped for a good bit of honest policing.

There’s somewhat of a so-bad-it’s-good quality to the film, but Singham grows on you to such an extent that it is actually a genuinely entertaining watch, and often even surprises with impressive character depth throughout the latter stages. It may last nearly two and a half hours, but every moment is a ridiculously enjoyable one, and it passes in an absolute flash thanks to brilliant energy and action from beginning to end.

Read a full review here.

Il Sorpasso (1962) – Italy

Italian cinema of the early 60s is best noted for the neo-realist genre that gave us classics like La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2 and L’Avventura, but outside that sphere, there are a handful of real gems that go extremely underrated.

One of those such gems is Dino Risi’s brilliant road trip comedy Il Sorpasso, which features the same brilliant style as many of the better-known classics of the era, but allows you to sit back and relax a little more than many of the period’s more intensely cerebral works.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to think about with Il Sorpasso, and with a hugely likable lead duo that take an impromptu trip through the countryside north of Rome, it’s an engrossing watch throughout, but it’s the cool and sleek vibe that mixes with great laughs which really makes the movie a great watch, and a hugely underrated classic from the era.

Read a full review here.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) – Finland

Think you know Christmas? Think again, because the brilliantly bizarre Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale takes everything you thought you knew about the festival and brings it crashing down to Earth.

Set in an isolated town in Lapland, Northern Finland, the movie tells the story of Christmas as it is in the old folktales, where Santa’s not quite so jolly, and there’s far more dark history to the holiday than most people think, while one young boy and three local men try to save their small town from destruction as old-time Christmas comes to seek its revenge.

As brilliantly dark as Nordic comedies get, Rare Exports is both an immensely entertaining and deeply unsettling movie, with the added intrigue of all the childhood wonder surrounding Christmas being completely smashed to pieces. It’s safe to say that younger children may not take to the movie quite so well, but for everyone else, it’s a genuinely brilliant and memorably weird addition to the festive genre.

Read a full review here.

In This Corner Of The World (2016) – Japan

Acclaimed upon release in Japan, and widely praised in animation circles, there’s no denying that In This Corner Of The World is a brilliant movie, but it’s never quite broken out into the mainstream as so many other anime films have managed to do in recent years.

The story of a young girl living in the city of Hiroshima in the years leading up to 1945, the film is obviously one that pulls at the heartstrings, but rather than solely focus on the event that you’re expecting to see, it’s actually a very immersive and moving account of day-to-day life in wartime Japan, and although it does conclude with a truly devastating conclusion that you won’t forget in a hurry, the overwhelming impression of the film is a far more upbeat one than you may expect.

Complete with typically beautiful animation, and an elegant and relaxed slice-of-life atmosphere throughout, In This Corner Of The World is certainly one of the most beautiful films set at the time, and incredibly impressive in its ability to allow you to forget for a brief moment about the horrors of war, and appreciate the value of normal life before it is all destroyed.

Read a full review here.

The Bar (2017) – Spain

Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia is responsible for a number of cult horror-thrillers over the last three decades, but The Bar, his most recent work, is also one of his most underrated.

The manic, preposterous and explosive tale of a group of strangers who become trapped together in a central Madrid bar after a number of passers-by are shot dead outside, The Bar takes claustrophobia and suspicion to a whole new level, ramping up the tension and madness as fear and cabin fever seep in, turning what could be a typical survival thriller into something far, far more insane.

In true de la Iglesia fashion, the movie goes to lengths far beyond what most others are willing to reach, but in doing so, it makes for a hilariously exciting and insanely chaotic thriller, and one that keeps surprising throughout as well as continuing to turn the fun and fear factor up, no matter how ridiculous things may get.

Read a full review here.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…And Spring (2003) – South Korea

With barely a word of dialogue spoken throughout, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring is one of the most beautifully serene films you’ll ever see, featuring a gorgeous view of nature that’s backed up by an enthralling yet entirely calm story throughout.

Centring on a young boy living on a floating temple, learning from an old Buddhist monk, the depth and emotion that the film is able to create is truly staggering, and thanks to a wonderfully slow, patient and elegant atmosphere, the movie immerses you deeply in its powerful symbolism and mythology, telling the story of life while delving deep into specific religious beliefs, and so much more.

And along with its stunning emotional depth, the film’s cinematography and scenery is simply enchanting, fitting in well with the serene and elegant atmosphere as it gives a calming vista of an incredible landscape, flowing through the seasons over the years like a branch in a stream, while even looking deep into the smallest but most beautiful details that make Mother Nature so spectacular.

Read a full review here.

Serial (Bad) Weddings (2014) – France

Despite having one of the worst English titles in film history (the original French translates as ‘What Did We Ever Do To The Good Lord?’), Serial (Bad) Weddings is a hilarious and equally riveting look into the relationship between multiculturalism and racism in modern society.

The story focuses on an old Catholic couple whose four daughters end up marrying four men from different religious and cultural backgrounds, and while they begrudgingly accept the reality of their daughters’ spouses, things get completely out of control when the youngest of their daughters follows suit with her siblings’ trend.

As a result, we get a story that’s full of hilarious faux pas and awkward mishaps, and will have you laughing right the way through, but it also features an excellent look at the nature of racism and prejudice in the modern day, with an appropriate and clever use of casual racism and stereotyping that works on a number of levels, making for a funny watch and one that gives a genuinely interesting insight into the makeup of modern society.

Read a full review here.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011) – Hong Kong

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is a cheesy, generic and predictable rom-com, but it tells the formulaic story in a manner that’s undeniably entertaining, somehow managing to make you laugh and warm your heart with a story that you’ve seen a million times before.

With an all-star cast that features Gao Yuanyuan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu among others, it’s the age-old love triangle that’s brought crashing into the modern day, with a surprisingly energetic and delightful take on the classic tale, all the while featuring a trio of genuinely interesting characters that keep you guessing, even when the overall plot may not.

It’s a very smiley and cheesy movie from start to finish, and will not be for those who abhor rom-coms in general, but as far as the genre goes, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is one of the few films in the world that gets the whole premise right, with thoroughly likable characters, good humour, and excellent directing that all comes together to make a delightfully easy-going and enjoyable watch.

Read a full review here.

War And Peace (1966) – Soviet Union

The Soviet Union itself may no longer be, but its titanic film industry lives on in the form of classic epics like Sergei Bondarchuk’s enormous big-screen adaptation of War And Peace.

Running for a skull-crushing 6 hours and 43 minutes, the film is a monumental work, taking the legendarily intimidating piece of literature and bringing it to the screen in stunning style. Stringing together an enthralling and moving story that covers years of a love triangle in the Russian aristocracy during the Napoleonic invasion of the country, the film is a truly exceptional achievement, somehow engrossing you and stunning you with its immense scale and ambition for nearly a third of a day.

Featuring some of the most mind-bogglingly huge battle sequences in cinematic history, with thousands of extras, hundreds of horses, and enormous battlefields that effectively reenact the wars of the past in staggering detail, there are few films out there that will have you cowering at the knees with their unbelievable size, making for an enthralling and powerful watch throughout that will leave you awestruck and shellshock for 7 entire hours.

Read a full review here.


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: www.madmovieman.com