10 Best Foreign Language Movies That Broke Major Ground In America – Collider

Subtitles don’t matter if the movie is amazing!
Much like director Bong Joon-ho rightly remarked as he won his Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 2019, "once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films". Although foreign language movies don't usually earn as much popularity as English-spoken ones, Joon-ho's show-stopping Parasite made history in 2019 as it took the major Academy Award home, becoming the first non-English movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
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Even if we're far from giving lesser-known foreign films — for instance, Haneke's Amouror Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love all the appreciation they thoroughly deserve, it is nonetheless a fact that, throughout the years, there have been a couple of non-English films that have managed to capture a lot of people's attention with their enthralling plots and powerful messages. From heartbreaking dramas to mystical fantasies, these never-seen-before movies successfully broke major ground not only in America but globally.
Revolving around the Ki-taeks, who live in a semi-basement struggling to keep food on the table, and the Parks, a contrastingly wealthy family whose lives are about to be infiltrated, Joon-ho's incredibly clever satire explores classism, capitalism, and hope in a way that was never seen before.
This highly innovative movie has undoubtedly stolen lots of hearts from the very moment it premiered; however, prior to winning Best Picture, the number of people intrigued by its captivating story increased — deservingly, Parasite now ranks as the highest-earning South Korean film ever shown in the United States.
Netflix's transformational Roma (2019's Best Picture nominee and Foreign Language Film winner) follows the life of a live-in housekeeper of an upper-middle-class family during the early '70s. Yalitza Aparicio Martínez does an outstanding job portraying Cleo as the character moves through life always trying to show her ongoing support to a family that is slowly falling apart.
Alfonso Cuarón's slow-moving yet breathtaking Roma is not only fascinating cinematography-wise, offering a minimalistic yet incredibly intimate outlook on this complex history, but it also comprises an immeasurably moving and powerful storyline to which the viewer can not remain indifferent.
Surely, it is almost impossible for a cinephile not to have at least heard about Portrait de la jeune fille en feu. This powerful and raw drama starring talented actresses Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant centers around an intriguing affair between an aristocrat and a painter who is commissioned to paint her in late 18th century France.
Céline Sciamma's period piece Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which has earned continuous praise and admiration worldwide, is equal parts saddening and enchanting. While this critically acclaimed film offers a creative and refreshing story to LGBTQ cinema, oftentimes focusing on the unfairness that is for these characters to have to keep their love for each other a secret, it also shines an essential and positive light on the growth of the relationship between the two women.
Reflecting on love and family, Roberto Benigni's three-time Oscar Winning 1997 film focuses on a Jewish family living in Italy in the 1930s. Resorting to a perfect mix of humor and imagination, a resourceful waiter protects his son from the dangers around their camp.
Entertaining and extremely creative, this Italian Best Foreign Language Film fully transforms its heavy, sensitive subject into a lighter, captivating, and somewhat comical storyline. La Vita E Bella is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys the very specific genre of serious dramas that also feature some required glimpses of bliss on occasion.
Park Chan-wook's brilliant The Handmaiden follows a woman, in 1930s Korea, during the period of Japanese occupation, who is hired as a Japanese heiress but is involved in a meticulous plot to deceive her, recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese count.
Inspecting women in an East Asian patriarchal society, this genius piece of Korean cinema serves as an erotic character study and catches viewers by surprise with its beguiling plot twists and astonishing photography. Thrilling and sensual, The Handmaiden is hardly anything anyone expects it to be.
The beloved Spanish film Pan's Labyrinth follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), an 11-year-old girl who meets several strange creatures who lead her through the trials of the old maze garden during the course of this fantastic fantasy film. Intriguing yet horrifying at times, El laberinto del fauno is possibly one of the best pictures of its category.
Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece holds two things in common with the previously mentioned Life is Beautiful — apart from being set during harsh and cruel times of war, it offers a beautifully crafted escape from reality. Without doubt, this magical fairy tale mashes the two genres of war and fantasy together to an exquisite result.
Centering around the introverted and naive Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a young girl who moves to Paris and starts working as a waitress, this engaging and aesthetically pleasing comedy reflects on the importance of looking at the world in a positive light and making a difference in every life you touch.
Almost 21 years later, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fine piece of work is still very much praised and celebrated as a classic in cinema history. At the time, it was the highest-grossing French film to screen in the US. With a singular Frenchiness to it, Amélie's spontaneity and authenticity charms worldwide viewers to this day.
City of God tells the story of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Shot in Rio's poorest neighborhoods, this incredible Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles movie depicts the lives of two distinct characters; while one wants to be a successful photographer, the other aspires to be an ambitious kingpin.
Illustrating poverty, high amounts of violence, and the painful realities that come with living in the favela, Brazil's at times disturbing film remains relevant today. Academy Award-nominated for Best Director, Best Writing, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing in 2004, the crime movie stormed into global fame ever since.
This treasured French buddy dramedy directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano deservingly earned a place in a lot of viewers' hearts all around the globe. Following the touching story of a Parisian aristocrat who suffered a paragliding accident — and decides to hire a young man to be his caretaker — The Intouchables is guaranteed to make anyone melt.
Based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, with a solid IMDb score of 8.5, this inspiring film earned such an amount of popularity in the United States that it ultimately originated a remake with Kevin Hart & Bryan Cranston named The Upside.
Studio Ghibli's arguably most famous movie had to be on this list. In this legendary animated Japanese film a sullen 10-year-old girl, accidentally wanders into a world of gods, witches, and spirits.
Apart from extraordinary storytelling, this Academy Award winning film portrays its world with top-notch artistry, making it an almost immersive experience for the audience. Exploring the fears and anxieties of a naive but very lovable protagonist, the universally loved masterpiece that is Spirited Away remains one of the best foreign features out there.
NEXT: The Best Foreign Films Available on Streaming Services
Daniela is a writer for Collider who is as keen on film and television as she is on literature. She loves cats wholeheartedly and enjoys the smell of freshly printed pages.
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