Netflix’s offerings extend far beyond the big-budget blockbusters of Hollywood.
They might not be the first movies that pop up on your trending section, but the streaming giant has an excellent range from around the world — and we’ve rounded up the best of them below. (In this case, we’re defining “international” as anything that wasn’t made in the U.S.).
From the gritty coming-of-age realism of French film Divines and the suspense of Oxygen to the animated family fun of the Spanish movie Klaus and the riotous comedy of New Zealand’s The Breaker Upperers, here we go…
Here are the best international movies now on Netflix.
A hazy mystery that flicks between dream and nightmare, Atlantics tells the story of a group of young men who leave Senegal by boat after their construction boss refuses to pay them. Writer-director Mati Diop seamlessly weaves genres in this debut, with romance and detective story gradually making way for something altogether eerier. Claire Mathon’s sunlit cinematography is the perfect backdrop, while Fatima Al Qadiri’s score only adds to this film’s beauty. As the winner of the 2019 Cannes Grand Prix and Senegal’s Academy Award entry for Best International Feature Film, Atlantics is also one of Netflix’s best original movies of that year. — Sam Haysom, Deputy UK Editor
2. The Breaker Upperers
This hidden gem comes from New Zealand, the fertile comedy ground that gave us Taika Waititi, Flight of the Conchords, and What We Do In The Shadows. Waititi collaborators Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, and Jemaine Clement team up for a deeply quirky buddy comedy about two long-time besties with a bonkers — but brilliant — business model. Need someone to dump your partner so you can avoid a messy confrontation? Call on Jen and Mel (co-writers/co-directors/co-leads van Beek and Madeleine Sami). For a reasonable fee, these fearless Breaker Upperers will impersonate police officers, play pregnant, or even fake your death to help you ghost an ex. Whatever the shenanigans, van Beek and Sami sparkle. Booming with wild humor and big heart, this comedy is guaranteed to leave you cackling.* — Kristy Puchko, Deputy Entertainment Editor
Fair warning: This one is not an easy watch. Although French director Houda Benyamina’s Divines does have some lighter moments, it’s really a warts-and-all story about the grim reality of growing up in poverty — and the lengths some people might go to in order to escape it. The film follows Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena), two teenage best friends, who start working for charismatic local drug dealer Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda) to try and make a living on the outskirts of Paris. The characters and acting are both perfect, the script is sharp and thoughtful, and the world it portrays is as captivating as it is terrifying. — S.H.
4. First They Killed My Father
Set during the brutal 1975 takeover by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, First They Killed My Father shows the horrors of war from the perspective of a five-year-old girl. Based on the memoir by Loung Ung and brilliantly directed by Angelina Jolie, the movie follows the Ung family as they’re forced from their home and made to endure separation, forced labour, and violence at the hands of the new regime. The film is unrelentingly tense from the beginning and very hard to watch at times, but it’s also a moving insight into humanity’s ability to overcome even the most devastating of traumas. — S.H.
5. His House
The best types of horror films are more than just a trickbox of scares. Some are character studies, others explore deeper themes or grapple with complex social issues, and a few manage to move you in more ways than just a raising of the pulse. British writer-director Remi Weekes’s debut His House does all of the above at once.
Following asylum seekers Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) as they arrive in the UK from South Sudan only to be thrust into an unforgiving world of bureaucracy and racism, His House melds drama with a claustrophobic haunted house mystery. Noises echo in the walls, and Bol’s fear and paranoia grow along with ours. But it’s only as the movie progresses, and Jo Willems’ creative cinematography starts hinting at what took place in the past, that the true horror of His House is revealed.* —S.H.
6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi’s last New Zealand-set film, released after What We Do In The Shadows but before Thor: Ragnarok, follows a spiky, defiant young teenager named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), who finds himself and his dog Tupac on the lam in the New Zealand bush with a cantankerous and reluctant carer (Sam Neill), pursued by a dogged but well-meaning child services agent (Rachel House). Dennison is a gift in this, his toughness and sweetness and indignant speeches creating one of the most instantly memorable, lovable teenage characters in recent memory (which he reprised in Deadpool 2). And Neill’s gruff “Uncle” Hec traces the contours of the “taciturn old fella comes to care for the scrappy kid” arc with so much nuance it feels made anew. The utter genius House, meanwhile, who Waititi rightly yoinked into the MCU with him in Ragnarok, almost steals the show as the hysterically relentless “villain” of the film. (“I’m like the Terminator. You’re like Sarah Connor. In the first one, before she could do chin-ups.”)
It’s an occasionally devastating coming-of-age tale for both main characters, a story of the revelation that you can go much farther when you let other people in. But more than anything, it’s hysterically funny.* — Caitlin Welsh, Australia Editor
7. I Lost My Body
If you like your movies beautifully crafted, tear-inducing, and loaded with clever symbolism, Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body deserves a place on your list. Adapted from Guillaume Laurant’s novel, the César-winning, French animated fantasy/drama begins with its main character Naoufel (Hakim Faris, Dev Patel in the English dub) losing his hand. It then splits into two intertwined narratives that follow 1) Naoufel’s childhood backstory and 2) Naoufel’s severed hand journeying across the city of Paris in an attempt to be reunited with its owner. (Yep, I know how that sounds, but it’s actually a whole lot more poetic than that description would suggest). As much a coming-of-age drama as it is a meditation on fate and destiny, I Lost My Body is the kind of film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. — S.H.
8. Ip Man
The Ip Man movies are some of the greatest martial arts movies in recent decades, period. The martial artist at their centre, Ip Man, is best known as the teacher of perhaps the most influential artist of all time, Bruce Lee. The first movie from 2008 begins five years before Lee’s birth and is an incredible and inspiring film that lays out the more relaxed style of the Wing Chun martial art form as Man defends himself and those around him from Chinese challengers and later the invading Japanese military. The subsequent movies follow the development and spread of martial arts around the world in the 20th century with some of the most impressive action scenes in martial arts film history, starring Donnie Yen as Ip Man. If you enjoy the first film, the next three, all of which are on Netflix, are excellent follow-ups, ending with the bleeding of Chinese martial arts into the U.S. with the help of Lee. — Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter
Sometimes all you really want to watch is an animated movie about Christmas. Spanish director Sergio Pablos crafts a beautiful Father Christmas origin story in Klaus, an adventure that starts with an arrogant postman being banished to a gloomy island in the north before leading on to the unlikely friendship he forms with a surly and reclusive toymaker. It has pretty much everything you’d want from an animated family movie: colourful characters, wonderfully-imagined landscapes, and the perfect combination of slapstick humour, and dry sarcasm. — S.H.
A futuristic twist on the fear of being buried alive, Alexandre Aja’s Oxygen is a claustrophobic nightmare about a woman who wakes up in a cryogenic box with no idea of who she is or how she got there. The good news? She’s able to communicate with the outside world via a robotic medical unit called M.I.L.O. The bad news? Nobody she speaks to seems willing to come clean with her, and her oxygen reserves are quickly spiraling towards 0 percent. Mélanie Laurent perfectly captures the short-breathed dread of this role, and Christie LeBlanc’s screenplay has enough twists and turns to keep the story racing along at a heart-pounding pace. Just tread carefully if you have a fear of tight spaces — this one won’t be a fun watch for claustrophobics.* — S.H.
11. The Platform
Prison cells stacked one on top of the other, with holes in the floor and ceiling. Randomly assigned levels that change each month. And a platform of food that gets slowly lowered from the very top, getting sparser and sparser with each floor it descends. This is the concept at the centre of Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform, a disturbing sci-fi thriller that wears its capitalist analogy plainly on its prison garb sleeve. It’s one of those rare gems where the execution is as strong as the idea at its core, driven by an excellent screenplay from David Desola and Pedro Rivero that’s dripping with horror and suspense. If you’re a fan of movies like The Cube or Saw, this is well worth checking out. — S.H.
12. Ravenous (Les Affames)
Robin Aubert’s Ravenous is like Canada’s answer to The Walking Dead. Set in a rural village in Quebec, the movie follows a disparate group of survivors in the aftermath of a mysterious event that’s led to a large chunk of the population — you guessed it — suddenly developing an appetite for human flesh. The zombies in Ravenous are fast and hungry, the characters are varied, and the film has a quiet sense of realism that sets it aside from your typical zombie blockbuster. — S.H.
Suffragette director Sarah Gavron’s coming-of-age film Rocks was hands down one of the best British films of 2020. Written by Nigerian-British playwright and screenwriter Theresa Ikoko alongside writer Claire Wilson, the film is an empowering, moving, superbly-acted ode to the underestimated resilience of teenage girls.
Newcomer Bukky Bakray is outstanding as London teenager Olushola — everyone calls her “Rocks” — whose mother suddenly abandons her and her younger brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu). Wanting to avoid going into foster care, Rocks must come up with every plan she can to care for her brother, all while attempting to continue life as normal around her friends. Kosar Ali is exceptional as her best friend Sumaya, while Shaneigha-Monik Greyson brings intensity to new girl Roshé.* — S.C.
The first foreign-language film to win an Oscar for best director, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma greets viewers at the intersection of personal reflection and cinematic excellence. The black-and-white film follows live-in housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an Indigenous woman who works for an affluent family in Mexico City, finding a sense of humanity that is uniquely memorable.* — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
First-time feature director Rohena Gera sticks the landing with 2018’s Sir, which was only released in cinemas in November 2020 and hit Netflix early in 2021. It’s essential Indian cinema. Tillotama Shome stars as Ratna, a live-in housemaid to upper-middle-class Ashwin. Housemaids are common in India, where the film is set, but Ratna and Ashwin develop a slow-simmering and socially unthinkable love.
With Gera’s writing and direction, this unlikely story never feels forced. The love blooms organically, in furtive looks and hefty silence and the trust they develop as Ashwin recovers from a broken engagement and Ratna tells him about her late husband. The result is a film so soft and stirring that it will stay with you long after it ends. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
Asterisks (*) indicate the entry has been modified from a previous Mashable list.