This is by no means a definitive list of the best foreign language films on Netflix streaming — there are many gems — this is more of a primer for those who want to see what the “paint-outside-the-lines” aesthetics of foreign cinema can offer. All of these films are on Netflix right now (what are you waiting for?!), and there’s something redeeming in each of these glorious flicks.
With a Friend Like Harry
This French thriller follows a maniacal man who will do anything to be the closest person to a man he supposedly once knew, and not murder nor mayhem will spoil his quest for BFF status. Sergi Lopez is magnetic as Harry, and towards the end of the film you’ll wonder what he won’t do for friendship.
Watch it if Hitchcockian tales tickle your fancy.
I Saw the Devil
This deep into the annals of cinema, it’s hard to pull off a truly fresh, original, and surprising film, but I Saw the Devil does just that. It’s a brutal, bloody, and ultimately thrilling joyride of twists, turns, and powerful performance set pieces that propels this tale of revenge and oneupmanship as a policeman aims to get even with a notorious serial killer.
Watch it if a surprising cat-and-mouse dance of death is your bag.
City of God
If Quentin Tarantino were Brazilian, he would have made this excellent ode to the director’s style. A bevy of narratives all fold into each other, with notes of crime, love, loss, dreams, and dastardly deeds all hit brilliantly. Nominated for a bevy of awards, you should really go out of your way to see this film right now.
Watch it if you want the best Tarantino film that Tarantino didn’t make.
Big Bad Wolves
Like I Saw the Devil, this film is a bit of cat-and-mouse but on a more psychological level with the viewer actually playing the mouse as you try to decide who the hell the real cat is. There’s some graphic torture in it, but nothing like the cheesy Hostel films. The best part of Wolves is the acting and the cinematography which both are exceptional. This Israeli film will have you wondering what you would do if you had a supposed killer strapped to a chair in your basement.
Watch it if you like beautifully photographed violence, humor, and edge-of-your-seat drama.
This epic Italian gangster film is equal parts beautiful and brutal, and is the antidote you need since Scorsese left the genre and Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos left the air. Gomorrah won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Watch it if you loved The Godfather.
Carlos was presented as a mini-series and boasts a beefy 334-minute running time, so you might want to watch this in parts. This true story of a revolutionary tuned terrorist is a fascinating look into the machinations of running a terror organization, and might have you wanting to create your own code name.
Watch it if you crave a sprawling, epic tale of terrorism, violence, and the ultimate conviction of one’s beliefs.
Do you like a good cry? Because if you do, then this Alejandro González Iñárritu film will have you spilling buckets of tears by its end. Javier Bardem is at the top of his game as a reforming drug dealer who’s dealing with the fact that he has a terminal illness. It’s somber, gorgeous, and thought-provoking cinema at its finest.
Watch it if you want introspective into the meaning of life.
Takeshi Kitano was a TV funny man before he began making rough, gangster pictures, and Sonatine helped him establish this new persona. More of a meditation on the lifestyle than a glorification of the gangster, Sonatine is a refreshing film with some bright spots of humor and, of course, violence.
Watch it if you’re sick of the same old gangster films and TV shows.
Michael Haneke remade this 1997 film for American audiences with Naomi Watts in the lead, but really the original is better (isn’t it always?). The film follows two murderous youths who invade the home of a family and force them to play a series of sadistic “games” for their enjoyment. Sometimes a hard film to watch, but brilliant in it’s subtle horror.
Watch it if you’re a fan of quirky, and darkly humorous — yet savage — horror films.
Infernal Affairs was remade as The Departed, and both films are brilliant, but while Departed focused more on the performances of its subjects, Affairs allows the tense drama to provide the sizzling energy that propels this morality tale of a good cop and bad cop looking to take each other out.
Watch it if you like movies.
The second Alejandro González Iñárritu film to make this list, this one sees three stories centering around a car crash, but unlike the similarly sounding Crash, this movie has a music to a soul that will have you thinking about your life choices when the credits role.
Watch it if you love multi-narrative films that tie everything into a gorgeous, poetic knot.