Ten Excellent Non-English Language Thrillers (with links to full reviews)

Mar 5, 2005 (Updated Nov 10, 2005)

The Bottom Line Use this list to find your way to some pretty amazing thrillers from around the world!

Thrills and chills are international phenomena. It's no accident that Hollywood often uses characters with foreign accents in the roles of villains. There's something extra scary and mysterious about strangers from another culture that we don't understand. So, why not go directly to the source? Here's a Top-Ten list of non-English language thrillers and another ten for a second-helping! There's a total of eight different countries represented here, with France (eight films) and Germany (six films) the international masters of thrills, outside of Hollywood.

1. City of God (2002)   Country: Brazil   Director Kátia Lund & Fernando Meirelles    Rating: * * * * *
In a slum of Rio, called the "City of God," gang violence extends down even into the preteen years, but Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) dreams of escaping the ghetto to become a photographer someday. His big break comes when his familiarity with the City of God provides him access not available to the middleclass journalists for a series of groundbreaking photographs, but will he survive the violent showdown between the police and the gang run by Lil' Ze (Leandro Fimino da Hora)?

2. Run Lola Run (1998)   Country: Germany   Director Tom Tykwer    Rating: * * * * *
The most committed team usually wins and when Manni (Moritz Blebtreu) finds himself in hot water with the mob, he turns to his main squeeze, Lola (Franka Potente), as his only hope. But are they committed enough to one another to get through this threat to their love and to Manni's life? In this heart-pounding kinetic film, Tykwer has fashioned a profound meditation on the conflict between chaos and order.

3. M (1931)   Country: Germany   Director Fritz Lang    Rating: * * * * *
Peter Lorre gives a performance for the ages in this chilling classic about the city of Berlin in the grips of terror due to a serial killer who preys on little girls. When the police crackdown begins to hamper the activities of the underworld, even the mobsters want the killer stopped and they'll organize the street beggars, if they have to, as the eyes and ears of the community. Who will find the killer first and what kind of justice will be meted out?

4. Le Samourai (1967)   Country:France    Director Jean-Pierre Melville    Rating: * * * * *
In this intimate psychological portrayal, Alain Delon stars as the cold-blooded, methodical contract killer, Jef Costello. When Costello bumps off a nightclub owner, he is seen leaving by several witnesses, but only the female piano player, Valerie (Cathy Rosier), gets a good look at his face. Inexplicably, she doesn't identify him when he shows up in a lineup at the police station. Nevertheless, the Inspector (François Perrier) makes Costello his chief suspect and the mobster who hired Costello wants him dead as well.

5. Wages of Fear (1953)   Country: France   Director Henri-Georges Clouzot    Rating: * * * * *
In a remote, poverty-stricken village in Central America, a corrupt oil company needs a team of drivers to deliver highly explosive liquid nitrogen over rugged terrain to the site of an oilrig fire. One bump too many will mean instant death but times are desperate. Four men are chosen from the volunteers: Mario (Yves Montand), Luigi (Folco Lulli), Bimba (Peter Van Eyck), and Jo (Charles Vanel). This is an oddball lot indeed, including a Corsican raised in France, an Italian, a German, and a French mobster. Will they make it to their destination alive?

6. Stray Dog (1949)   Country: Japan   Director Akira Kurosawa    Rating: * * * * *
This early film by Kurosawa was one of his two ventures into the noir tradition from a Japanese perspective. It also helped solidify his reputation. When the police gun of a rookie detective, Murakami (Toshiro Mifune), is stolen and used in a series of crimes, the distraught novice becomes obsessed with recovering his gun and ending its involvement in the violent assaults. It takes the sure-handed guidance of the experienced and decorated veteran, Sato (Takashi Shimura), to teach him that patience and guile are often more effective than stubborn, bullheaded persistence.

7. Le Boucher (1970)   Country: France   Director Claude Chabrol    Rating: * * * * *
Stephane Audran is Helene, the beautiful, single schoolteacher in a village in the remote French countryside, who gains the romantic attentions of the town's butcher, Popaul (Jean Yanne). When the region is stricken by a series of seemingly random murders of women, Helene begins to suspect that her admirer may be involved, but it may just be her overactive imagination. Torn between loyalty to a friend and fear, Helene walks a fine line at the edge of danger.

8. Monsieur Hire (1989)   Country: France   Director Patrice Leconte    Rating: * * * * *
Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) is a love-starved and rejected loner, tormented by children and neighbors alike. He entertains himself in the evening with voyeurism from the darkened confines of his third story apartment, which provides an enticing view of a lovely girl, Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire), who lives in a drapery-free apartment on the second floor, across the street. When his perverse hobby suddenly makes him witness to a crime, he and the target of his secret admiration are inevitably brought into direct association with one another.

9. Soldier of Orange (1978)   Country: Netherlands   Director Paul Verhoeven    Rating: * * * * *
In this fact-based story, the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, near the beginning of World War II, irrevocably changes the lives of Erik (Rutger Hauer) and his circle of college friends, each in his own way. Erik is ultimately drawn into involvement with the Dutch resistance and is sent by Queen Wilhelmina (who is in exile in England) to Holland for a dangerous undercover mission. Which of his old friends can he trust and which one has betrayed the cause?

10. Shiri (1999)   Country: South Korea   Director Je-gyu Kang    Rating: * * * *
This spy vs. spy blockbuster out of Korea features a pair of South Korean agents and partners, JongWonYu (Han Suk-Kyu) and Jang-gil Lee (Song Kang-Ho), up against the top North Korean assassin and femme fatale, Hee, and her commander, Park (Choi Min-Ski). Park's objective is the theft of a top-secret liquid super-explosive, CTX, recently developed by the South Koreans. It looks just like water, making it especially easy to hide, and Park will use it to undermine rapprochement between North and South by a dramatic act of sabotage. Meanwhile, Yu is also trying to juggle a romance with the sweet and lovely Myung-hyun Lee (Song Kang-Ho), the owner of an exotic fish shop, who has no idea what he does for a living. Can the Korean agents foil the plot?


Some Other Worthy Non-English Language Thrillers: (Alphabetically):

American Friend, The (1977)   Country: Germany   Director Wim Wenders    Rating: * * * *

Baise-Moi (2000)   Country: France   Director Virginie Despentes and Caralie Trinh Thi     Rating: * * * *

Dangerous Moves (1984)   Country: Switzerland   Director Richard Dembo    Rating: * * * *

Diabolique (1954)   Country: France   Director Henri-Georges Clouzot    Rating: * * *

Insomnia (1997)   Country: Norway   Director Erik Skjoldbjærg    Rating: * * * *

Femme Infidèle, La (1968)   Country: France   Director Claude Chabrol    Rating: * * * *

Martha (1974)   Country: Germany   Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder    Rating: * * * *

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)   Country: Germany   Director Fritz Lang    Rating: * * * *

This Man Must Die (1970)   Country: France   Director Claude Chabrol    Rating: * * * *

Zentropa (1991)   Country: Germany   Director Lars von Trier    Rating: * * * *


You might enjoy my other genre lists of non-English language films as well.

Ten Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Ten More Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Coming-of-age – Outside the USA!
Top Ten Foreign Language Psychodramas
Top Ten Non-English Language Political Movies
My Top Ten Non-English Language Tragedies
Top Non-English Language Comedies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Film Biographies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Action/Adventure Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language Mystery Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language ~Horror~ Films
Top-Ten English-Language ~Horror~ Films from Outside the USA
Ten Excellent Films Featuring Royalty
Ten Non-English Language High-Yield Tearjerkers
Ten Best Non-English Language War Movies!!
Ten Excellent Non-English Language Senior Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language Films Featuring Classical Music
The Top Non-English Language Epics
The 10 Best Foreign Language Romance Movies!!
The Ten Best Non-English Language Love Story Movies!!

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