International films are usually so much fun; apart from exuding a different and refreshing vibe through the screen, they also offer audiences original and innovative storylines — some of them even inspired their somewhat more successful American counterparts.
Because there are plenty of great flicks out there that aren’t a part of American cinema (and often don’t receive the same amount of love and praise that they deserve), we celebrate “foreign” features by encouraging viewers to watch more non-English language movies with similar storylines and aspects. These include late ’90s gems such as The Virgin Suicides and timeless classics like The Magnificent Seven.
‘The Virgin Suicides’ (1999) & ‘Mustang’ (2015)
Sofia Coppola‘s The Virgin Suicides is based on the 1993 debut novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, and it follows the idyllic Lisbon sisters: five doomed upper-middle-class sisters in mid-1970s America who are admired by many, including the neighborhood boy who narrates the film. Coppola’s movie remains quite popular even today, providing an interesting outlook on the mystery of adolescence while delivering a thought-provoking plot.
Mustang, a beautiful Turkish movie by Deniz Gamze Ergüven that also centers around five sisters, was heavily inspired by The Virgin Suicides, making it a good pick for those who enjoyed the movie. This drama tells the story of five orphans who are spotted playing with boys and have their forced marriages arranged by their conservative guardians, who are immediately scandalized and decide to confine them in the meantime.
‘Black Swan’ (2010) & ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)
Black Swan is possibly one of the most treasured thrillers out there, and it explores the struggles of many ballerinas in a highly competitive industry which often demands more than they can possibly give. Natalie Portman brings Nina Sayers to life in this critically-acclaimed film which revolves around a production of Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake ballet by a highly esteemed company.
Also contemplating the downsides of fame and all the anxieties and irreversible damage that can come with it, Satoshi Kon‘s remarkable Japanese animated psychological thriller perfectly matches up to Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan. Following the story of Mima, a retired pop singer-turned-actor, Perfect Blue disturbingly depicts similar struggles as the protagonist starts slowly spiraling into a black hole of despair and madness after an obsessed fan starts stalking her.
‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005) & ‘Aimée & Jaguar’ (1999)
Ang Lee‘s Brokeback Mountain, starring talented Jake Gyllenhaal and the equally gifted late Heath Ledger, is undoubtedly a major groundbreaking Western romance film, standing the test of time as an impactful piece of LGBTQ+ cinema. Telling the story of Jack and Ennis, who met in the summer of ’63 when they found work sheep-herding on Brokeback Mountain, this powerful film depicts the complex relationship between two American cowboys.
Set in Berlin during World War II, the German drama Aimée & Jaguar is a beautifully-written forbidden love story between a Nazi officer’s wife and a Jewish woman. Just like Brokeback Mountain, the Max Färberböck feature focuses on a deeply passionate and unconventional affair in a character-driven movie.
‘The Witch’ (2015) & ‘November’ (2017)
Robert Eggers‘ The Witch is an astounding directorial debut that lives in our minds rent-free as one of the most unsettling horror films of the 2010s. It revolves around Anya Taylor-Joy‘s character, Thomasin, and her family who are undergoing major horrific events. The Witch excels in building alarming suspense with its cinematography, which often resorts to dark color palette tones and creepy imagery.
The film’s international counterpart would undoubtedly be November. Following a group of peasants who use magic and remedies to survive the winter, this black-and-white fantasy-horror Estonian folk tale directed by Rainer Sarnet is set in a pagan village where werewolves and spirits wander and also tackles themes of folklore and mythology.
‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’ (2003) & ‘Lady Snowblood’ (1973)
In what feels like a homage to the 1973 film that accidentally became bigger, Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill endures as a huge part of pop culture; every cinephile should have at least heard about it by now. Starring Uma Thurman as the unstoppable Bride, the film follows the character as she attempts to find a team of skilled assassins and their leader after they try to kill her.
Based on the manga of the same name, Lady Snowblood is clearly one of the films which inspired Tarantino to create his masterpiece. Directed by Toshiya Fujita and starring Meiko Kaji, this memorable Japanese samurai film is a must-watch for those who are into martial arts. It follows Yuki Kashima as she exacts vengeance on the criminals who raped her mother and murdered her father.
‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992) & ‘City on Fire’ (1987)
Yet another remarkable piece of filmmaking by Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs tells the story of a jewelry heist gone (horribly) wrong. Even with a meticulously planned scheme, the robbery fell apart completely, which ultimately leads the involved characters to believe one person in the group is a police informant. Slightly shocking and entertaining, the 1992 movie is one of the director’s finest works.
Also depicting a robbery and featuring an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of thieves who intend to rob a jewelry store, Hong Kong crime-thriller City on Fire almost feels like the same movie as Reservoir Dogs — except it tells the inside story. Ringo Lam‘s movie is assuredly an essential watch for those who enjoyed Tarantino’s directorial debut.
‘Before Midnight’ (2013) & ‘Scenes From a Marriage’ (1973)
Richard Linklater‘s Before Trilogy features three incredible romance movies that remain fan-favorites even after all these years, and for good reason. The three films manage to capture the growth of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline’s (Julie Delpy) relationship as they go from naive young travelers to full-grown adults. Before Midnight is the last film in the trilogy, and it focuses on both the good and the bad in their marriage.
Much like Before Midnight, 1973’s Swedish Scenes From a Marriage miniseries directed by Ingmar Bergman, which inspired the American adaptation of the same name, explores the dynamics around a married couple’s life as they navigate through matrimony, infidelity, divorce and other topics that the Linklater film also tackles incredibly authentically.
‘Birdman’ (2014) & ‘8½’ (1963)
Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor once widely known for playing a superhero who’s witnessing the downfall of his career and attempting to fix it by arranging a Broadway production. It’s actually a very critically-acclaimed movie and even deservingly won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
A suitable pick for those who enjoyed Birdman‘s dramatic storyline would be the Italian 1963 surrealist comedy-drama film, brilliantly directed and co-written by filmmaker Federico Fellini. With a similar plot, 8½ also focuses on creative stasis as a fictional film director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) struggles to come up with a new idea.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012) & ‘Welcome, or No Trespassing’ (1964)
Thanks to his talented and incredibly characteristic directing style, Wes Anderson is a widely popular filmmaker. Moonrise Kingdom is surely one of his best works, and it follows twelve-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who have fallen in love and decided to embark on a rule-defying journey together during the year 1965.
Exuding similar energy of a “Wes Anderson movie” before Wes Anderson, Welcome, or No Trespassing is a wonderfully-told satirical comedy that focuses on the over-the-top restrictions that children face during their vacation in a Young Pioneer camp. Reflecting on rules and boundaries with a child protagonist, the 1964 Russian film directed by Elem Klimov is guaranteed to offer viewers a good time.
‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) & ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954)
With an Oscar-nominated musical score, John Sturge‘s 1960 classic American Western focuses on seven gunmen who are hired by Mexican village elders to defend them and liberate their poor agricultural village from oppressive bandits who steal their food each year.
Seven Samurai is obviously the big inspiration behind The Magnificent Seven‘s Old West-style screenplay. It centers, too, around a village of farmers who hire seven rōnin for a seemingly impossible job to help fend off bandits that annually exploit their farms. This Japanese epic directed by Akira Kurosawa is an essential movie with memorable characters and an entertaining story that everyone should check out.