The best foreign-language movies on Netflix
A fistful of reasons not to shy away from subtitles any more...
Netflix is home to a constantly refreshing roster of English-language movies covering every genre you could care to mention. But it also play host to seriously impressive number of foreign-language films sourced from right across the globe.
Recent years have seen the mainstream success of movies that don’t count the English language as their primary means of communication. No time was this more evident than when Parasite became the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar in 2020.
It suggests sophisticated modern audiences are both comfortable with subtitles and hungry for something a little different to what they’re accustomed to.
The success of Netflix itself isaAnother thing that has doubtless helped wean audiences onto subtitled fare. It provides easy access to a whole library of foreign-language content, after all.
The following films are taken from across the globe, with dramatically varying budgets and styles. The one thing that unites them is the need for most English speakers to reach for those subtitle options.
Which of these foreign-language Netflix films is your favourite? Be sure to register your vote below.
20 best foreign-language movies on Netflix
1. The RaidWatch now on Netflix
It might have been written, directed, and edited by Welshman Gareth Evans, but The Raid is very much a product of Indonesia. From its Jakartan setting to its local cast, including a star-making performance from Iko Uwais, The Raid has a distinctly regional flavour. The movie itself is a showcase for the brutal Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, as our agile hero fights his way up a dilapidated tower block overrun with hoodlums. One thing’s for certain, The Raid forced western action directors and actors to seriously up their commitment to the cause.
2. The PlatformWatch now on Netflix
This twisted slice of Spanish dystopian sci-fi horror serves as an effectively dark parable for our times. The incarcerated residents of an experimental multi-level building are given the choice of taking as much or as little from a descending food package as they feel is right. There’s technically enough for everyone, but those at the bottom inevitably find themselves with less – or even nothing. What could have been a fairly obvious movie is packed full of gruesomely unexpected twists and turns, even as the political and social message rings clear throughout.
3. All Quiet on the Western FrontWatch now on Netflix
This adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel takes a soldier’s-eye view of the first World War, but from the German side. Bright-eyed young soldier Paul Bäumer signs up to fight for his country with his friends, but is rapidly exposed to the brutal realities of trench warfare. A German-language production (as you might expect), it won four Oscars at the 95th Academy Awards, including for Best International Feature and Best Cinematography, which is a measure of the movie’s universal impact.
4. OkjaWatch now on Netflix
Just before scoring a worldwide hit with Parasite, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho produced this Netflix oddity. Okja is a twisted sci-fi fantasy about a genetically modified pig and the efforts of a young girl to save it from the callous meat industry. Featuring a truly multi-national cast, including Byun Hee-bong, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Steven Yeun, and with dialogue in both South Korean and English, it’s a prominent example of Netflix’s commitment to stepping outside of the Hollywood bubble for its productions.
5. RomaWatch now on Netflix
Alfonso Cuarón’s majestic semi-autobiographical drama is set in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City during the early ’70s, where it tracks the lives of a middle-class Mexican family and their indigenous housekeeper. This Spanish language film, shot in stark black-and-white, won the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography awards at the 91st Academy Awards, and probably should have been the first foreign language film to win Best Picture several years ahead of Parasite.
6. Kill BoksoonWatch now on Netflix
A legendary hired killer turns on the highly organised secret society that once fed them in a tale of betrayal, revenge, and stylishly choreographed martial arts sequences. You might think you’ve heard this story before, but Kill Boksoon takes the John Wick formula and reconfigures it in a distinctly South Korean fashion. Our hero, played by Jeon Do-yeon, is an outwardly respectable middle aged mother with a teenage daughter who can’t stand her, and the film pays just as much attention to such family dynamics as it does to cracking heads.
7. AtlanticsWatch now on Netflix
This Senegalese drama from filmmaker Mati Diop is set in a Dakar suburb where Omar, the owner of a gleaming new skyscraper, has failed to pay his local construction crew, forcing them to make a hazardous trip across the Atlantic ocean as economic refugees. What follows is a strange, unsettling ghost story of sorts, as various unexplained occurrences suggest a supernatural reckoning for the exploitative tycoon. Told in French and local language Wolof, and with a cast of non-professional actors, Atlantics has a beguilingly authentic feeling all of its own.
8. The Wandering EarthWatch now on Netflix
The Wandering Earth is perhaps most notable for its status as China’s first big-budget sci-fi epic on a scale that could rival the Hollywood big-hitters. Its ambitious premise sees a far future Earth boosted into the wider universe as our sun begins to break down. Based on the highly regarded novels of Liu Cixin, it’s a film that has all the bombast and impressive CGI work of its Western forerunners, and with a refreshingly wide-screen view of humanity coming together to face a common threat.
9. PsychokinesisWatch now on Netflix
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, Psychokinesis sees the director of Train to Busan turning his attention away from the zombie genre towards the similarly oversubscribed superhero genre. This is no family-friendly Marvel Cinematic Universe riff, however. The story’s hero is a bank security guard who accidentally gains telekinetic superpowers, and who has no great aspirations to save the planet. Rather, he uses his new powers to deliver his daughter from a corrupt local construction company – with blackly comic, not to mention extremely violent, results.
10. RRRWatch now on Netflix
This 2022 tale of two Indian revolutionaries really goes for broke in terms of scale and ambition. Packed full of lavish set pieces, preposterous action scenes, and joyful song and dance numbers, RRR is quite unlike anything else released to an international market in recent years. It’s certainly quite unlike anything in the English language realm. Clocking in at three hours long, and with a budget that makes it the most expensive Indian language film ever, RRR throws absolutely everything at the screen in a riot of colour.
11. ManhuntWatch now on Netflix
The most recent cinematic effort from Hong Kong action legend John Woo (Hard Boiled, The Killer, Face/Off) packs in pretty much everything you’ve come to know and expect from the great man’s hugely influential films. You’d better believe there are slo-motion gun fights, fluttering doves, a troubled detective, and borderline-superheroic feats of violence. It’s a classic Woo tale of crime, corruption, and double-crossing, shot on location in Osaka and featuring an international cast with dialogue in Mandarin, Japanese, and English.
12. The Night Comes for UsWatch now on Netflix
Director Timo Tjahjanto’s film casts Indonesian action movie royalty, Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais (both of whom were previously in The Raid), in the roles of protagonist and chief antagonist respectively. Triad enforcer Ito (Taslim) suffers a pang of conscience when he encounters a young girl during a violent clean up operation, prompting swift retribution from his erstwhile employers. The ensuing carnage does not disappoint, with one tightly choreographed, wince-inducingly violent fight scene after another leading up to a memorable climax.
13. The Summit of the GodsWatch now on Netflix
This French-language animated movie is based on a Japanese manga, which was in turn based on a prior novel. Convoluted history aside, The Summit of the Gods proves to be a tightly focused treat of a drama. Japanese photojournalist Fukamachi Makoto finds himself on the case of a mysterious mountain climber named Habu Joji after he encounters a camera seemingly belonging to 1920s English mountaineer George Mallory. The visual style of this French language production truly is something to behold, rendering its icy vistas with stunning fidelity.
14. RavenousWatch now on Netflix
Yes, Ravenous is yet another left-field zombie movie. Heaven knows we’ve had a few. But this one’s Canadian setting and Quebecois dialogue help give Ravenous a slightly different flavour, alongside a relatively subdued and subtle tone. There’s also the fact these shuffling zombies offer something a little different to the usual mindless fodder, with hints that certain deep-seated memories remain after their turning. Yes, there’s plenty of undead-slaying action here, but it’s interspersed with something a little more cerebral and deeply melancholic.
15. IncantationWatch now on Netflix
This deeply creepy Taiwanese horror proves there’s life in the old found footage sub-genre yet, having taken its domestic market by storm in 2022. The movie introduces us to Li Ronan, a troubled mother who finds herself desperately striving to protect her young daughter from an ancient curse that she invoked earlier in her life. Footage ostensibly captured from camcorders, mobile phones, security tapes and the like is effectively employed to build a sense of grounded realism as the inevitable supernatural events start to work their dreadful magic.
16. Space SweepersWatch now on Netflix
It’s not just China that’s turning out Hollywood-scale sci-fi epics these days (see The Wandering Earth elsewhere on this list). South Korea is also at it, on the evidence of Space Sweepers. The years is 2092, and Earth has been rendered all but uninhabitable due to pollution, prompting the rich and powerful to take to an orbital utopia. While salvaging for scrap, a small crew of misfits encounters a unique young girl who threatens to upset this deeply dysfunctional status quo. It’s the cue for a highly entertaining sci-fi adventure.
17. The Hand of GodWatch now on Netflix
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino produces an ode to his childhood in 1980s Naples, a time and place where the footballer Diego Maradona was taking on near-religious significance to citizens of the southern Italian city (the film is named after Maradona’s infamous World Cup goal against England). The ensuing drama is shot through with humour and quirky, larger-than-life characters, but it’s also a painfully personal film. Sorrentino has lifted tragic elements directly from his own life to afflict our young protagonist Fabietto, lending a bittersweet autobiographical tone to the movie.
18. Gangubai KathiawadiWatch now on Netflix
This bold Indian crime drama stars Alia Bhatt as the title character, who is based on a real life Mumbai brothel madam, crime boss, and eventual social activist who operated during the 1960s. After being betrayed and brutally trafficked, Gangu takes control and works her way into a position of power and influence. It isn’t always subtle or even especially accurate in its biographical details, but Gangubai Kathiawadi is executed with bags of spirit, aided no end by a radiant lead performance from Bhatt.
19. AthenaWatch now on Netflix
Athena is a French and Arabic-language thriller concerning four brothers living on a fictitious Parisian housing estate, and the violent reaction to an incident of racially-tinged police brutality that goes viral. The hard hitting social commentary laid on by director and co-writer Romain Gavras is more than matched by some truly breathtaking action scenes, as an enraged mob seeks immediate justice – or rather retribution – for the atrocity. This most urban and grounded of films takes on the look and feel of an epic war movie at times.
20. OxygenWatch now on Netflix
This French language movie offers a sci-fi twist on the old ‘stuck in a box’ concept. Mélanie Laurent’s character wakes up in a cryogenic pod with no memory of how she came to be there. To her (and the audience’s) further alarm, she discovers she only has limited oxygen left, forcing her to work with an AI named M.I.L.O to secure a release. This French-language thriller has all the necessary twists, turns, and claustrophobic camera angles you could want from such a film, but with that little extra je ne sais quois.
- The 20 best movies under 90 minutes: short, sharp tales