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Underrated Foreign Language Movies You Need To Watch

People often shy away from watching movies with subtitles — but it seems that tide might be slowly turning. With a Best Picture win for the South Korean film Parasite at the 92nd Academy Awards, there is a growing interest in foreign cinema. From Japan to India, from Italy to Mexico, directors and screenwriters all over the world are producing incredible films, and although the language might be foreign, the characters and their experiences are absolutely universal.

Yes, reading subtitles means that you'll have to pay close attention as you watch (no checking your phone during the movie!), but if you write off foreign films, you'll be missing out on plenty of amazing stories. And if you watch enough movies in a particular language, you might even start picking up a few words! Ready to start exploring a whole new side of cinema? Here are a few foreign-language films that have flown under the radar in the United States and deserve your attention.

The Ornithologist

The Portuguese film The Ornithologist is a surreal exploration of the life of Saint Anthony of Padua, but you certainly don't need to be religious to enjoy it. This experimental film begins with a birdwatcher, Fernando, losing his way while kayaking and looking for black storks in the jungles of northern Portugal. As the rapids sweep him away, he blacks out, eventually waking up in the forest. He is found by two Christian pilgrims who also happen to be lost — and, coincidentally, a shepherd named Jesus.

The lush visuals in The Ornithologist draw you into the jungle setting, the lighting is simply gorgeous, and director João Pedro Rodrigues interacts with his own film in a way that you may not have seen any filmmaker attempt before. It's a bold directorial choice — and in a film like this, it works. The narrative might not seem straightforward, but it's worth seeing where it all leads.


Japanese horror films (and remakes) have become fairly popular in America, but have you ever checked out a Thai horror film? If the answer is no, start with Dorm.

A young boy named Ton is sent off to boarding school by his father, with the hope that he will earn good grades — and keep quiet about his dad's affair. But he struggles to make friends with his new classmates, and there is something strange going on at his new school that pulls him away from his studies. The students tell him frightening secrets of the school's past, like the stories of the boy who drowned in the swimming pool and the pregnant woman who committed suicide.

Despite Ton's fears over a paranormal presence at his school, he manages to befriend another outcast, Vichien. But eventually, Ton discovers something unsettling — his new friend may not be who he thinks he is. Somewhere between a genuine horror film and a coming-of-age-tale, Dorm is a chilling movie that will have you hooked until the end.


The Swiss sci-fi film Cargo brings viewers to the year 2267. Most of humanity has been wiped out after a catastrophic ecological collapse, and the survivors are living on cramped space stations that float in Earth's orbit. Laura, a young doctor, is hanging on to a thread of hope — the possibility of getting off her space station and going to a promising planet called Rhea, where her sister now lives. But making it all the way to Rhea won't be cheap, so Laura signs up to work on the cargo ship Kassandra, which has definitely seen better days.

While working on Kassandra, every crew member has long shifts stretching for eight and a half months, while the others rest in cryosleep. When Laura's shift is nearing its end, she hears a strange noise coming from the cargo hold. The rest of the crew is awakened from their deep sleep, and they decide to investigate the source of the noise. What they discover will turn everything they know about their universe upside down. Cargo isn't an optimistic film, but the intriguing twist will undoubtedly leave an impact.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

If you've ever picked up the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, or watched Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, you might already be acquainted with the concept of magical realism. These stories are somewhere between truth and fiction, asking you to suspend your disbelief and allow fantasy to mingle with reality. Tigers Are Not Afraid is inspired by the same artistic tradition, and this dark fairytale takes us into the world of children whose lives have been torn apart by the drug war in Mexico.

A young girl named Estrella sits in her classroom, writing a story, when the lesson is disrupted by gunfire outside. When she walks home from school, she sees a dead body in the street, and upon arriving at her house, she discovers that her mother has disappeared. A few days later, a street orphan named Shine attempts to rob Estrella's house, and she ends up tagging along with his small crew to survive. Estrella's visions of her mother follow her wherever she goes as the kids try to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and make it out alive. Tigers Are Not Afraid is a heartwrenching film that explores a very difficult topic through the eyes of children who were forced to grow up too fast.

Cell 211

The Spanish film Cell 211 is the kind of thriller that might make you feel a little claustrophobic because much of the film takes place in prison. When Juan Oliver is hired to work as a prison guard, he goes to an orientation session a day before he is officially supposed to start his new job. But as he tours the facility, an accident occurs that knocks him out, and he is brought to cell 211. A prison riot erupts around him, and the rest of the officers flee.

When Juan finally wakes up, he realizes that there is no one around to protect him, and he needs to convince the prisoners that he's one of them. He does so successfully, managing to blend in to preserve his own safety. But his disguise won't work forever, and if Juan is ever discovered, his fate will be uncertain. This film is a nail-biter — your heart will be pounding until the final moments.

Fish Story

Can a song change the world? According to the Japanese film Fish Story, the answer is a resounding yes — in fact, a song might even be able to save the world.

The year is 1975, and the obscure band Gekirin has just recorded a song ahead of its time. The track is called "Fish Story," and little do they know they've basically just invented punk rock. The band breaks up, but the song lives on. The story jumps between different scenes, showing how the song plays a role in important events in other people's lives. But it's not just good background music — this song was meant to serve a special purpose.

37 years after the song is initially recorded, a comet is headed towards Earth, and everyone fears that the end is near — except for the owner of a record store, who insists that "Fish Story" can actually save the world before it's too late. Fish Story is certainly a quirky film, but the inventive plot structure and originality are solidly entertaining.

Flickering Lights

What happens when a group of criminals decides that they're done breaking the law, and they should try to make an honest living instead? The Danish black comedy Flickering Lights answers that question — and naturally, things don't go as smoothly as the characters hope.

Four gangsters working out of Copenhagen manage to trick a gangster boss, and they steal away with four million Danish kroner. As they attempt to escape to Spain, they have to spend some lying low in the countryside, taking up residence in old, rundown house for a few weeks. The crew starts wondering if they would be happier staying put, renovating the house, and turning it into a restaurant — but they can't hide from their past forever. If you've ever wanted to see Mads Mikkelsen act while speaking Danish, you won't want to miss this film — you'll get to see a whole new side of his skills as an actor.


If the success of Parasite has piqued your interest in South Korean cinema, you're in for a treat — countless amazing Korean films are out there, and whether you like thrillers, romantic comedies, or horror movies, you're sure to find something that suits your tastes. If you're into science fiction and superhero movies, Psychokinesis is a good place to start.

In Psychokinesis, a security guard named Seok-heon (who isn't exactly a stickler for the rules) drinks water from a mountain spring shortly after it's hit by a meteor. He realizes that he's gained telekinetic powers, and when he gets a call from his estranged daughter Shin Roo-mi, informing him of his ex-wife's death, he returns for her funeral and learns of his daughter's difficult situation: a construction company run by the mob plans to demolish her business to build a shopping center. He sees an opportunity to use his newfound powers for good — but the conflict between the business owners and developers continues to escalate, and Seok-heon must rise (literally) to meet the challenge.

In Order of Disappearance

In Order of Disappearance tells the story of Nils Dickman, a snowplow driver who lives a happy, comfortable life in the fictional town of Tyos, Norway. In fact, he was just voted "citizen of the year," so it's safe to say that things are going pretty well for Nils. But his entire life falls apart when his son, Ingvar, is found dead after he overdoses on heroin. Nils knows there's something suspicious about the circumstances — he's certain that his son was not a drug user, and he's not ready to accept the answers he's been given. He's on the verge of committing suicide when his son's friend, Finn, tells him the truth. Ingvar was mistakenly killed by a gang of drug dealers, and now, Nils has to bring justice to light and hunt down the men who murdered his son.

There is an English-language adaptation of In Order of Disappearance, titled Cold Pursuit — but go ahead and watch the original instead. Watching a story being told in the language it was originally written in is often a better experience.

Under the Tree

Suburban life may seem peaceful and quiet on the outside, but in reality, there are plenty of neighborly squabbles and feuds. The Icelandic film Under the Tree takes this concept to the extreme.

Konrad and Eybjorg are annoyed that their neighbors' tree casts a shadow over their backyard patio. Naturally, they complain to their neighbors, Inga and Baldvin, who aren't too receptive. But what could have ended with a little awkward tension escalates into a conflict with much higher stakes. Instead of merely bickering with each other, these neighbors don't hold back, and ensuing property damage and mysterious pet disappearances worsen the situation.

Under the Tree is a dark satire about the nature of suburban life underneath the appearance of contentment. Yes, Iceland looks totally idyllic in all of those tourism ads, but this film shows a very different slice of life. If you've never seen an Icelandic film, make this black comedy your first pick.


An unnamed man's wife falls into a coma — and when she finally wakes up, he is not relieved. In fact, he mourns the loss of something else: the sympathy he received from others. In the deadpan Greek film Pity, we follow this man (referred to only as "the lawyer" in the credits) as he comes up with different strategies to keep his good thing going. When he sees other people grieving, he practically gets competitive — he doesn't want to "share" his pity with anyone else. Even when his father insists that his struggles are all in his head and he's exaggerating his pain, the lawyer continues down this path.

It's easy to feel disgust for the lawyer — after all, no one likes the idea of someone who preys on the goodwill of others. But there's a deeper message in Pity. Sometimes, tragedy can bring people together, while not everyone gets to enjoy a sense of community in their everyday lives. He may not be a likable character, but maybe the lawyer's perspective is understandable after all.


In the Swiss film Vitus, audiences are introduced to the titular child prodigy, who is an exceptionally gifted pianist. At only 12 years old, he has a very bright future ahead of him — but he's not sure that he even wants to achieve what everyone expects of him. In fact, his dream is to take up flying, which is his grandfather's passion. His parents are loving, yet overprotective, so he breaks free and seeks help from his grandfather instead.

So, what's a young genius to do when his plans don't line up with everyone else's visions for his success? Well, Vitus decides to put his head to good use — literally. He fakes a head injury, and then he starts playing the stock market. He starts seeing serious growth on his investments, and eventually, he has to make a few important decisions. How is he going to spend all of this money? And should he ever return to playing piano? The story of this child genius who merely wants a normal childhood, yet can never hide the gifts that make him who he is, is charming and endearing.