Last Updated: April 12th
With every passing year — with every passing week — Netflix inches closer to a future in which the service streams only original content and eschews outside programming completely. But until that apocalypse arrives, off-the-beaten-path picks continue to hang tough in the under-explored International section of the ever-expanding library. The pickings favor the recent over the time-tested, but a neophyte trawling for something novel to watch can still get a pretty varied crash course on world cinema. Who needs the prestige festival circuit? Give Cannes, Berlin and Venice the slip by trying out one of the best foreign films on Netflix right now.
10. The Platform (2019)
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 7/10
This Spanish-language sci-fi flick is all kinds of f*cked up, but in the best way. The film is set in a large, tower-style “Vertical Self-Management Center” where the residents, who are periodically switched at random between floors, are fed by a platform, initially filled with food, that gradually descends through the levels. Conflicts arise when inmates at the top begin eating all the food, leaving the people lower down to fight for survival.
9. Pan’s Labryinth (2006)
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy war epic focuses on a young girl named Ofelia, who grows up during a time of political unrest in her native Spain after a brutal Civil War ravages the country. Ofelia escapes the horrors committed by her stepfather when she accepts a challenge from a magical fairy, who believes her to be the reincarnation of Moanna, the princess of the underworld. If she completes three tasks, she’ll achieve immortality. The film is a play on folklore and fables from Del Toro’s youth, but there’s an undercurrent based in reality — the real cost of war — that grounds this film and makes it even more compelling.
8. The Invisible Guest (2016)
Run Time: 106 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
This Spanish crime thriller follows a successful businessman framed for the murder of his married lover. A seemingly straightforward plot, until a car accident, a dead body, fake witnesses, and a family out for revenge is thrown into the mix. Mario Casas stars as the man in question, a young husband and father with a bright future who takes part in a terrible crime and is forced to pay for it in the most twisted of ways. You won’t figure this thing out until the end, we guarantee it.
7. I Lost My Body (2019)
Run Time: 81 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
This beautifully animated French fantasy film follows the story of a young man named Naoufel, or rather, his hand which has been severed from his body and spends most of the film escaping labs and trying to get back to its owner. The film flits between the past and present, watching Naoufel’s life unfold from a young orphan to an accidental carpenter’s apprentice — which is how he lost his appendage — all while exploring themes of love, loss, and destiny.
6. Burning (2018)
Run Time: 148 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
Walking Dead alum Steven Yeun stars this psychological thriller from South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong. Yeun plays Ben, a rich millennial with a mysterious job who connects with a woman named Shin Hae-mi on a trip to Africa. The two journey back home together where Ben meets Shin’s friend/lover Lee Jong-su. The three hang-out regularly, with Lee growing more jealous of Ben’s wealth and privilege while he’s forced to manage his father’s farm when his dad goes to prison. But it’s when Shin disappears, and Lee suspects Ben’s involvement, that things really go off the rails.
5. Snowpiercer (2013)
Run Time: 126 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Chris Evans stars in this sci-fi thriller from auteur Bong Joon-ho. The film, set years into the future following a devastating ice age caused by mankind, follows Evans’ Curtis who lives in poverty on a train that continuously circles the Earth and contains all that remains of human life. Curtis is part of the “scum” the people relegated to the back of the train while the “elite” enjoy the privilege of wealth and status that comes with living in the front. Curtis sparks a rebellion that ends in bloodshed and a devastating reveal when he makes it to the train’s engine room and discovers just how the elite have been fueling their operation. It’s a dark, grimy action piece that should give fans a new appreciation for Evans’ talent.
4. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Run Time: 106 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
On paper, it sounds like the biggest R-rated studio comedy of 1985, one of the many bastard sons of Porky’s: two randy teenage boys (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) embark on an anything-goes road trip with a stone-cold fox in her late-twenties (Maribel Verdú) and gain a little experience, wink wink, along the way. Except that filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón knows that behind every display of pubescent horndoggery lies insecurity, and possibly even latent homosexuality. The three tease one another in an elaborate performative dance of anticipation before the clothes come off, but once they do, uncomfortable truths not so easily retracted come to light. Between the reined-in performances from the perfectly cast central trio and Cuarón’s unabashed sensuality, there’s a lot to swoon over.
3. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Run Time: 99 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
The early aughts action-comedy borrows elements from famous Kung Fu films of the ’70s and pairs them with a completely ridiculous plot and some impressive cartoon-style fight sequences to produce a wholly original flick that we guarantee you’ll marvel at. The film follows the exploits of two friends, Sing and Bone, who impersonate gang members in the hopes of joining a gang themselves and inadvertently strike up a gang war that nearly destroys the slums of the city. Of course, the real draw here is the absurdist, over-the-top comedy that takes place during some of the film’s biggest action sequences. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, but only if you check your brain at the door.
2. The Lobster (2015)
Run Time: 119 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in this dark, absurdist comedy about a man searching for love under some very strange circumstances. Farrell plays David, a man whose wife recently left him. David is sent to a hotel where he’s told he must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal. While there, David witnesses strange rituals and must follow strict rules in order to find love, but it’s not until he ventures into the woods, where the “loners” live, that he pairs up with a woman (Weisz), who may be his soulmate. It’s weird, eccentric, and the perfect Farrell-starring vehicle.
1. Roma (2018)
Run Time: 135 min | IMDb: 8.7/10
Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuarón delivers what may be his most personal film to date. The stunningly-shot black-and-white film is an ode to his childhood and a love letter to the women who raised him. Following the journey of a domestic worker in Mexico City named Cleo, the movie interweaves tales of personal tragedy and triumph amidst a backdrop of political upheaval and unrest.