Believe it or not, some of the best movies in cinema history were not made in the United States. A lot of foreign films inspired some of the great American movies we cherish today. Here are 10 foreign movies that film buffs must-see.
1. Seven Samurai
This masterpiece by the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is viewed as one of the best movies ever made by both critics and movie fans alike. The 1954 film is about a poor farming village that hires a samurai to protect their home and crops from a gang of bandits who frequently raid their community. This one samurai can’t defend the village by himself so he goes out to find 6 more to help him protect the village. The only problem is the village can only pay them in food, so the 7 samurai must do it for the honor.
Seven Samurai still holds up today and has inspired countless films all over the world. Battle Beyond the Stars, The Magnificent Seven, and even A Bugs Life have been influenced by this amazing film. The Magnificent Seven is almost a shot for shot remake of the film but with cowboys instead of samurai. This film is an absolute must-see for anyone who has even a slight interest in foreign film. Just make sure you have a lot of time on your hands since the movie has a 3 1/2-hour running time.
2. The Man from Nowhere
The Man from Nowhere is a high octane action thriller from South Korea. This 2010 release is similar to the American film Taken starring Liam Nesson but turns up the action to full blast. The film also has a more mature storyline that makes Taken look more like a romantic comedy than an action film.
The film is about a quiet shop keeper with an unknown past that befriends his drug-addicted neighbor’s young daughter. After the young girl’s mother steals drugs from a violent gang, they kill the mother to harvest her organs to sell on the black market and kidnap the little girl (told you it had a mature story). When the quiet shop keeper finds this out, he goes to hunt down the gang and save the little girl. This is when you find out he is an ex-covert operator for the South Korean army and all hell breaks loose.
This is a great film for action fans and was actually South Korea’s highest-grossing movie in 2010. If you are into action thrillers and don’t mind a mature storyline, The Man from Nowhere is definitely worth checking out.
3. 8 1/2
The classic Italian film 8 1/2 is about a struggling director trying to finish a movie but runs out of ideas. It allows you to look over the director’s daily life and see how he copes with fame, creative struggle, and everyday issues. 8 1/2 is surprisingly realistic and shows the true trials and tribulations of filmmaking.
8 1/2 was directed by the great director Federico Fellini. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows his groundbreaking camera shots and artistic style. 8 1/2 brings Felini’s creative genius to the forefront with amazing story mechanics and some of the most creative camera angles seen during the time period (1963).
8 1/2 is another absolute classic. Fellini’s brilliance has been influential to many avant-garde directors like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam. If you are a fan of indie films or art pieces, then you will love 8 1/2.
Another absolute treasure by master director Akira Kurosawa. Yojimbo is an epic story about a wandering ronin (masterless samurai) that stumbles across a town consumed by a gang war between 2 rival factions. The ronin, Sanjuro Kuwabatake, decides to rid the town of the gangs and low lives by pitting them 2 rival factions against each other.
Just like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Yojimbo influenced many films across the globe. Movies such as the 1996 film Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis and the Italian Spaghetti Western Django (NOT the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained) starring Franco Nero were all loosely based of Yojimbo. If you want to see Japanese filmmaking at its finest, then don’t miss Yojimbo.
5. City of God
This 2004 Academy Award nominee is a gritty crime drama about the street gangs and drug kingpins during the 1960s in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. You follow a young man named Rocket as he tells the story of how drugs took over his slum and the rise of violent street gangs in the area. Rocket is an aspiring photographer and documents everything going on in his neighborhood including his childhood friend Lil Ze’s transformation from a normal kid living in the slums to one of the most feared drug kingpins in Rio de Janeiro. You develop relationships with each character in this film and actually start to care for their well being.
The plot of City of God is loosely based on real events and gives you a realistic look inside the slums of 1960s Rio. It is a very emotional movie that will both shock audiences while also pulling on their heartstrings at the same time. Any fan of gritty dramas or just good movies in general should see City of God.
Fitzcarraldo is a 1982 German drama by the renowned director Werner Herzog. It is a story about a passionate opera fan named Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald during the 1900s who is determined to open an opera house in the jungles of Peru. He takes a riverboat down to the spot he wants to construct the opera but runs into many issues along the way including a primitive Peruvian tribe that believes the boat is a sign from God.
I know the plot of this film is a little odd but Fitzcarraldo is a fantastic film that people who hate opera can even enjoy. The acting and strange plot captivates the audience, making them wonder what is going to happen next in this grand adventure. Fitzgerald and his riverboat full of misfits run into so many hurdles during their journey that you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse for them, but it does. If you are a fan of well made foreign dramas, then you will enjoy the amazing adventure of Fitzcarraldo
7. Youth of the Beast
Youth of the Beast is a Japanese crime drama about a tough guy trying to rise in the ranks the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) in order to find out about a murder committed by them. It is very hard to give a summary of the film without giving anything away since the film is full of plot twists that you never see coming.
Directed by famed Yakuza drama director Seijun Suzuki, Youth of the Beast is a rather realistic glimpse into the Japanese underworld. Suzuki uses many creative camera shots throughout the film that gives it somewhat of an artistic vibe. The color schemes also help make the artistic vibe more prominent as well as help the film pop in certain scenes. If you like mafia movies of any sort, then you must see Youth of the Beast.
8. Hard Boiled
This 90s Chinese action film helped boost director Jon Wu’s popularity in the United States. This also was actor Chow Yun-Fat’s claim to fame and helped make him the superstar he is today.
Hard Boiled is about a rugged cop named Tequila in Hong Kong that tries to take down a powerful gang leader and his crew. After the gang kills his long-time partner, Tequila decides to take down the gang in any way possible. Along the way, he finds out another cop is undercover in the gang he is trying to take down. They team up to dismantle the gang in this 1992 action-packed thrill ride.
This film was one of the first movies to be labeled as a “gun-fu” movie do to the acrobatic stunts and seemingly infinite ammunition gun battles. Many films such as Jon Wick have taken this “gun-fu” concept and made it their own. If you want to see an unbelievable action film and the inspiration behind Jon Wick, then Hard Boiled is a must-see.
Rashomon is the third Akira Kurosawa film on this list. If you know anything about Kurosawa films then you understand just how groundbreaking they are and the importance of all three of his films on this list. Rashomon was also the first big Japanese hit to be successful in the United States.
Rashomon is another samurai epic based in ancient Japan. It is about three men; a priest, woodcutter, and a villager talking about a bandit accused of sexually assaulting a woman and murdering her samurai husband. The film is told in 4 different points of few, the bandits, the woman, the murdered samurai, and the woodcutter who says he witnessed both crimes.
Kurosawa somehow accomplishes telling the story with these 4 points of few without making it confusing or hard to follow. This was the first time anyone was able to tell a story in a film with 3 different points of few.
Just like his other films on this list, Rashomon influenced many different films across the world. They even have a term called the Rashomon effect that can describe the unreliability of eyewitnesses or, in cinema, when the story is told by many different character’s points of few. Rashomon is another film that many people say is one of the best movies ever made. You will not regret watching this film.
10. A Prophet
This 2009 French film is a hidden gem that has slowly been gaining attention in recent years. It is about a 19-year-old Arab man named Malik who has just been sentenced to 6 years in a French prison. The prison is run by both a Croatian and Muslim gang. The Croatian gang recruits Malik even though he is Muslim and makes him do all their dirty work. He slowly gets entrenched in the prison gang life and starts to rise through the ranks of the Croatian gang.
This film is a gritty look inside the French prison system. The acting is great, and you really grow a relationship with Malik’s character. You began to fell his sorrow and anguish as he is mistreated by both gangs. The film is very realistic in the way it portrays violence and correction. It is not excessive but just enough to get the point across without overselling it. If you enjoy gritty prison drama or have a slight interest in corruption films, then A Prophet is for you.