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From 'Metropolis' to 'Parasite': 100 best international movies of all time

  • From 'Metropolis' to 'Parasite': 100 best international movies of all time

    International cinema has always had a profound influence on American movies. At the same time, many of the great films in languages other than English retool the styles and genres of popular American movies. Have you ever forgotten you were reading subtitles as you were swept up in the action on screen? Westerns, film noirs, and even romances tap into universal visual languages of movement, action, and emotion that draw in worldwide audiences.

    Stacker’s list of the 100 best international movies includes the science fiction masterpiece of German Expressionist style, “Metropolis,” with its epic, futuristic city and iconic robot gone bad. You’ll also find the smash hit “Parasite,” a taut thriller from South Korea that captured acclaim across the globe for its suspenseful, tragicomic look at two families from different classes.

    We feature work from major auteurs of European cinema like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut of the French New Wave, Vittorio De Sica of Italian neorealism, and Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel. Our list also includes major Japanese masterpieces from Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, and Hirokazu Koreeda, Hong Kong cinema’s Wong Kar-wai, Tawainese auteurs Ang Lee and Edward Yang, and contemporary films from South Korea’s Lee Chang-dong and Bong Joon-ho. International cinema often has a political or philosophical bent—a rebel core—as it frequently explores the human condition within histories of oppression. While African cinema and women directors are underrepresented on this list and across the international film festival circuit, Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” from France in 2019 masterfully reinvents ideas around gendered gaze. Get ready for films you’ve heard about and obscure gems that just may become your new cinematic obsession.

    In early July 2020, Stacker compiled data on all international movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to be directed by a non-American, be primarily in a language other than English, have a Metascore, and have at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore, and further ties were broken by IMDb user rating. Stacker’s list combines the scores from critics and audiences to give you a sense of a movie’s greatness. Check out our list to see what you’ve already watched—and what great and underappreciated must-see to add to your watchlist.

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  • #100. City of God (2002)

    - Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 79
    - IMDb user rating: 8.6
    - Runtime: 130 min

    Set in an impoverished neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro (the “city” of the title), this acclaimed Brazilian film cast local amateur actors, many of them children, as street urchins pulled into gang warfare. Known for its hyperkinetic action style and disturbing, hard-to-watch violence, “City of God” depicts the way the drug trade ensnares residents in an inescapable life of brutality and crime.

  • #99. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

    - Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 80
    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Runtime: 155 min

    Giuseppe Tornatore’s Italian romance is as much a love letter to cinema itself as it is a story of young love. Told in flashbacks, it unfolds across 40 years as a village youngster befriends the projectionist at the local cinema tasked with censoring movie kisses. “Cinema Paradiso” offers a look at the rapturous experience of watching movies and getting swept up in the magic of film.

  • #98. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

    - Director: Sergio Leone
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 80
    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Runtime: 165 min

    Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti Western, the term for cowboy epics produced in Italy and popular in Europe, became a major stylistic influence. Leone creates a harsh American mythos (often using locations in Spain) to depict vengeance and gunslinging with cynical and comedic brio. “Once Upon the time in the West,” a notable masterpiece of the genre, stars Henry Fonda as a black-hatted bad guy and Charles Bronson as the harmonica-playing cowboy out to get him.

  • #97. The Handmaiden (2016)

    - Director: Park Chan-wook
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 84
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Runtime: 145 min

    Visually lavish and laced with seduction and betrayal, this critically acclaimed crime thriller is set in 1930s Korea during the Japanese occupation. The plot revolves around a Korean maid who schemes with her boss to defraud a wealthy Japanese heiress. “The Handmaiden” is one of the standout films of South Korean cinema for its masterful style and love story between women.

  • #96. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

    - Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 84
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Runtime: 224 min

    Nearly four hours long and filled with the exuberant musical numbers of popular Indian cinema, “Lagaan” was a global blockbuster and critical hit nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Set in a rural village during British rule, colonial overlords offer residents a means to pay their taxes through a game of cricket, and the community must rally to win.

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  • #95. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)

    - Director: Kim Ki-duk
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 85
    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - Runtime: 103 min

    Told in five vignettes that follow the seasons of the title, this visually stunning South Korean film offers a meditation on peace and anguish. The director, Kim Ki-duk, plays the central character in one sequence, an apprentice-turned-monk who goes through a series of trials throughout his life. Set near a temple surrounded by exquisite and serene natural beauty, lives are assailed by the harshness of being human.

  • #94. Ernest & Celestine (2012)

    - Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 86
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 80 min

    This gorgeously animated French/Belgian family film based on children’s books follows a mouse and bear who become unlikely friends despite belonging to warring factions. When each finds themselves on trial, they work together to end the prejudice that would keep them from being friends. It’s known for an innovative, visual design that resembles watercolor paintings imbued with sweetness and depth.

  • #93. Talk to Her (2002)

    - Director: Pedro Almodóvar
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 86
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 112 min

    Pedro Almodóvar’s acclaimed Spanish melodrama focuses on two men who pine for women in comas (one has been raped and impregnated) and develop a friendship in a hospital around their shared obsessions. Almodovar is known for visually enigmatic tableaux drenched in highly emotional setups. “Talk to Her” arguably overcomes issues with sexism through humanistic themes around love and compassion.

  • #92. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

    - Director: Cristi Puiu
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 86
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 153 min

    Cristi Puiu’s raucous black comedy follows a cantankerous widower over the course of one night as he is shuffled from hospital to hospital after complaining of pain. This Romanian film set in Bucharest uses a verite style to critique the darkly farcical nature of health care systems and the surreality of physical anguish.

  • #91. All About My Mother (1999)

    - Director: Pedro Almodóvar
    - Stacker score: 86
    - Metascore: 87
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 101 min

    One of Pedro Almodóvar’s most iconic films about women, mothers, and lavish femininity, “All About My Mother” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The story follows a bereft mother who loses her son in an accident, and it explores gender and sexuality in ways that both expose and explore norms, using the director’s signature baroque, melodramatic style.

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