The best foreign language films to stream in the UK

Sam Ashurst
Bong Joon-ho's monster movie 'The Host' (credit: Showbox Entertainment)

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If you managed to get yourself to the cinema to watch this year’s astonishing Best Picture winner Parasite during the film’s general release, you’re probably stuck at home right now wanting to scratch the foreign cinema itch you’ve since developed.

Well, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. There’s a whole world of international movies, streaming right now across a wide range of platforms, and we’ve picked out some of the very best.

So, grab your popcorn, put on your reading glasses, and get ready to enjoy some of the greatest films the world has to offer.

Cold War (2018) - Amazon Prime

Joanna Kulig in 'Cold War' (credit: Amazon Studios)

Nominated not just for best Foreign Film at the Oscars and the BAFTAs in 2019, but Best Director at both too (just a couple of the film’s three Academy Awards nominations and four BAFTA nominations), if Cold War had a clean sweep it would have been that year’s Parasite.

Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, the film’s a sweeping dark romance set in Poland and France against the backdrop of during the Cold War from the late 1940s until the 1960s. This is a compelling film as imaginatively shot as Parasite, with a similarly (brutally) memorable ending.

The Lives Of Others (2006) - Amazon Prime

Ulrich Mühe in 'The Lives Of Others' (credit: Sony Pictures)

The winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006, this German drama is as twist-filled and surprising as Parasite, similarly transforming moral and political decisions into compelling suspense.

The plot sees East Berlin residents being monitored by agents of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, focusing on one particular resident, a playwright named Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and the unseen relationship that develops with the spy keeping watch over him Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe).

We’ll say no more than that, as this is a journey you’ll want to take with as little information as possible - classified or otherwise.

Dogtooth (2009) - Amazon Prime

Yorgos Lanthimos' 'Dogtooth' (credit: Feelgood Entertainment)

This Greek drama might be a little too close to home right now (pardon the pun), as it’s about a couple who keep their children self-isolated in their property until adulthood... but we can’t not recommend this early masterpiece by Yorgos Lanthimos (of The Lobster and The Favourite fame).

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Dogtooth’s drama is as twisted as Lanthimos’ other work, which means it would comfortably fit into a double-bill with Parasite. But be warned, it does get very disturbing in places.

The Hunt (2012) - Amazon Prime

Mads Mikkelsen in 'The Hunt' (credit: Nordisk Film)

No, not this year’s controversial Blumhouse horror-thriller with the same name (which is currently available to rent on streaming), but a 2012 Danish drama that might as well be a horror movie.

The story follows Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), an innocent teacher who becomes the target of a hysterical hate campaign after being wrongly accused of abusing a child in his kindergarten class.

With an astonishing central performance by Mikkelsen at its centre (earning him a Best Actor award at Cannes in 2012), this is a truly dark film, with yet another unforgettable ending. It’ll make you glad you’re staying at home.

Infernal Affairs (2002) - Netflix

Andy Lau and Tony Leung in 'Infernal Affairs' (credit: Basic Pictures)

If you’re one of the people who’s been shouting at the Internet that Parasite doesn’t need an English-language remake, then you’re probably ready to watch this fantastic crime thriller, which served as the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed.

Scorsese’s redo stuck pretty close to the brilliant original high concept (a cop goes undercover with criminals at the same time as a criminal trains as a cop), but with a couple of sequels after Infernal Affairs, it significantly expands the world. Action-packed, fast-paced, and supremely entertaining. Maybe stick this on instead of Michael Bay’s 6 Underground.

The Wailing (2016) - Netflix

Do-won Kwak in 'The Wailing' (credit: Fox International)

Okay, so Parasite shifted tones pretty frequently right? Comedy, drama, thriller, horror… Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. South Korean cinema is known for its wild tonal shifts - which often includes genre mash-ups, and The Wailing is one of the more extreme examples.

Feeling like a police procedural via the lessons learned from ancient myths, The Wailing is basically Seven if it was possessed by The Exorcist. Constantly compelling, occasionally terrifying, this is an essential watch for newcomers to Korean movies.

Roma (2018) - Netflix

Alfonso Cuarón's masterpiece 'Roma' (credit: Netflix)

Parasite might have been the first foreign movie to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, but Roma got there first to Best Director, with Alfonso Cuarón becoming the first international filmmaker to win the accolade with a foreign language film.

He was also the first Best Director to take home the Best Cinematographer trophy, and watching this stunningly shot story, you can see why.

Like Parasite, it’s a tale of class struggle - following the life of a live-in housekeeper of a middle-class family, combining powerful scenes with beautiful sound design to create an cinematic experience like few others. Highly recommended.

The Drug King (2018) - Netflix

Song Kang-ho in 'The Drug King' (credit: Netflix)

Starring Parasite’s patriarch Song Kang-ho, this ‘70s set Korean crime epic explores the true-life story of Lee Doo-sam, as the smuggler builds his drug empire on Busan's crime-ridden streets.

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Basically, think Scarface with subtitles and you’re on the way to imagining this stylish gangster flick. But with wider exploration of the impact drugs have on the community, along with more political machinations than most gangster flicks, this also feels like a South Korean take on The Wire. Either way, this Netflix production is made of the purest ingredients.

Shoplifters (2018) - NOW TV

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s powerful 'Shoplifters' (credit: GAGA Pictures)

The Palme d'Or winning Shoplifters is probably as close as you can get to watching Parasite without actually watching Parasite. It’s about a family living in poverty who use cons (mainly involving shoplifting) to survive.

But when they accidentally rescue a young girl, their moral code starts to shift, and their lives change forever. Absorbing, uplifting, and devastating, this smartly plotted drama will keep you compelled throughout. A truly beautiful film, with very important things to say about society, it’s easily as deserving of a Best Picture win as Parasite was.

The Third Murder (2017) - NOW TV

Masaharu Fukuyama and Kōji Yakusho in 'The Third Murder' (credit: Toho)

And if you end up falling in love with Shoplifters, you can also watch director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s courtroom thriller The Third Murder, released the year before. While it didn’t cause quite as much of an international sensation, it’s still a fascinating movie, with a gripping mystery at its heart.

A lawyer is defending a criminal who has confessed to murder - but evidence in the case points to his innocence. It’s a great premise, brilliantly delivered.

Videoman (2018) - NOW TV

Stefan Sauk and Lena Nilsson in 'Videoman' (credit: World Of Film)

Now, Videoman is a slightly strange one to recommend to newcomers to foreign cinema, as it’s essentially about someone who has a great obsession with, well, foreign cinema. The Swedish drama follows Ennio (Stefan Sauk), a VHS collector with a passion for Italian movies, who is asked to track down a rare tape.

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Starting out as what appears to be a thriller, before transforming into an outsider love story, Videoman is a moving experience that communicates the essence of why we love foreign films. So maybe it’s not such a strange recommendation after all.

Blue My Mind (2017) - NOW TV

Luna Wedler in 'Blue My Mind' (credit: Telefilm)

Now TV seems to be the home of unique foreign language gems that successfully toured the festival circuit, with Blue My Mind being one of the weirder films on this list. For most of its runtime, it’s a pretty traditional coming of age drama, but a truly bizarre twist starts to creep into the narrative, and it’s such a massive reveal we can’t even hint what it is for fear of spoiling it.

But trust us when we tell you that you won’t see it coming, and you won’t forget it in a hurry. A superb central performance sells the strange premise, which is delivered with the dreamlike atmosphere of a fairytale.

Lady Vengeance (2005) - BFI Player

Lee Young-ae in 'Lady Vengeance' (credit: CJ Entertainment)

Available through Amazon Prime, the BFI Player is a true home for international cinema, and we could probably recommend 50 great films from it alone. But we’re going to stick to the more modern and entertaining movies on the service, and they don’t get much more enjoyable than Lady Vengeance.

Lady Vengeance is the third instalment in director Park Chan-wook’s unconnected Vengeance Trilogy, after Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (also on the service) and the astonishing Oldboy. It follows Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae), a deadly woman released from prison after serving the sentence for a murder she didn’t commit, as she embarks on a rampage of revenge against the real killer. If you love Kill Bill, welcome to your new favourite movie.

Pulse (2006) - BFI Player

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 'Pulse' (credit: Toho)

One of the more underseen examples of the J-horror genre that brought us Ringu and The Grudge, Pulse’s plot feels more relevant with each passing year.

Ostensibly about a series of ghosts that invade our world via the internet, Pulse’s themes explore ideas of legacy and loneliness in an ever-connected world, through an apocalyptic framing device that will feel all-too familiar to people following the news closely at the moment.

Eerie images blend with compelling characters to create a powerful horror film with a deserving cult following.

Audition (1999) - BFI Player

Eihi Shiina in 'Audition' (credit: Omega Project)

If you want to be really mean, tell your significant other that you feel like watching a romantic comedy tonight, and stick on Audition.

Because, for the first half, that’s exactly what it is, as we follow a widower’s attempts to find love by setting up an (ideologically unsound) fake audition process to weed out unsuitable potential partners, aided by his film producer friend.

But then, at around the halfway point, Audition launches one of the most monumental twists in movies, completely changing genres to create one of the most impactful second-half turns in cinema history.

The Host (2006) - BFI Player

Song Kang-ho runs for his life in 'The Host' (credit: Showbox Entertainment)

Parasite director Bong Joon-ho has a pretty eclectic cinematic CV, and monster movie The Host is one of the weirder entries. It’s also one of the most fun, combining blockbuster-worthy set-pieces with a compelling plot about a man trying to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a giant amphibious creature.

As with Parasite, it’s a social satire, condemning South Korean pollution, whilst providing political commentary targeted at the US. But you don’t have to get that deep to enjoy it, think the original Godzilla in terms of the satire going on here. Yes, it has something to say, but you’ll have fun listening to it.

Stations of the Cross (2014) - BBC iPlayer

Dietrich Brüggemann's 'Stations of the Cross' (credit: Cine Plus)

The iPlayer doesn’t have loads of foreign movies available at the time of writing, but it’s good to keep an eye on the constantly updating streaming service for the occasional gem. And Silver Bear winning Stations of the Cross is certainly one of those... Well, if Lars Von Trier is one of your favourite directors.

Essentially a bleak satire of religious fundamentalism, it follows a young girl who decides to martyr herself in an attempt to cure her brother of autism. Taking place over a series of long takes (which get increasingly difficult to watch) this one’s probably for the more hardcore cineastes out there, but it’s as beautifully shot and packed with powerful performances as Parasite.