50 Best Foreign Thrillers of All Time

Updated May 26, 2024 • Staff

In this list, no passports are required for a whirlwind tour of heart-pounding suspense. From cat-and-mouse games in labyrinthine cities to espionage puzzles written in different languages, we've collected the best foreign-language thrillers of all time and indicated, for your convenience, where you can watch them online. These films will keep you on the edge of your seat with twist after twist, all while rousing the curious explorer in you. And it doesn't matter if you're a seasoned thrill seeker or just dipping your toes into the enigmatic waters of suspense: these films know no borders, and neither should you. So, fasten your seatbelts as we travel the globe with our top picks.

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50.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Pan’s Labyrinth is often considered director Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, and rightfully so. But if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this is the film that gets the job done. Everything about this film is sad and beautiful and unnerving, from the setting (an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War) to the atmospheric visuals.

Our staff rating: 7.3/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Adrian Lamana, Berta Ojea, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Francisco Maestre, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Javier Bódalo, Jose Manuel Lorenzo, Juan Carlos Vellido, Junio Valverde, Marisa Paredes, Miguel Ortiz, Víctor Elías
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Rating: R
49.

The Conference (2023)

Familiarity breeds contempt, and Swedish Netflix’s new horror-comedy takes this idea to the extreme. Based on the novel by Mats Strandberg, who’s known as the Swedish Stephen King, The Conference is centered around a group of employees on their company retreat. With its ensemble, the film crafts a relatable dynamic, with the exact petty back-and-forth and the same exact corporate politics many adults have to deal with. It’s no wonder one of them snaps, and takes them out one by one. The film isn’t exactly new, with the decades’ collection of slashers all over the world, but this Swedish thriller is a fun take on it, with match cut transitions, quick paced sequences, and the gruesome murders of the group most adults spend time with - their colleagues. It’s an interesting watch as the world gets back to the office.

Our staff rating: 7.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Adam Lundgren, Amed Bozan, Bahar Pars, Cecilia Nilsson, Christoffer Nordenrot, Claes Hartelius, Eva Melander, Jimmy Lindström, Katia Winter, Lola Zackow, Maria Sid, Marie Agerhäll, Martin Lagos, Robert Follin
Director: Patrik Eklund
48.

In My Mother’s Skin (2023)

There's a cruelty to In My Mother's Skin that may seem off-putting at first, but one must reckon with the sheer scale of the violence already occurring before these characters are even introduced to us. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines was a particularly vicious period in the country's history; if Filipinos weren't fighting or hiding from their invaders, many of them were trying to maintain a precariously submissive, neutral existence, or they were being turned against each other due to the conflict of war trickling down between the social classes. All these things are implicit throughout Kenneth Dagatan's film, which doesn't try to reenact World War II but capture the total absence of hope during this period.

Dagatan's style of horror insists on a very slow pace, emphasizing every footstep leading to a horrifying reveal, and not just the main scare itself. This choice doesn't always work, especially as certain beats begin to repeat themselves, but the film's incredibly confident visual style fills every moment with an eerie paranoia. Gothic, shadowy interiors, nasty gore, and one opulently costumed fairy make everything perpetually unsettling—gradually forcing us to accept that these contradictions are just the reality of life under war.

Our staff rating: 7.4/10
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, War
Actor: Angeli Bayani, Arnold Reyes, Beauty Gonzalez, Brian Sy, Felicity Kyle Napuli, James Mavie Estrella, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Ronnie Lazaro
Director: Kenneth Lim Dagatan

Free Watching Options:

Watch In My Mother’s Skin (2023) on Amazon Prime for free
47.

Caché (2005)

Beginning with a great opening shot of townhouse on a side street in Paris, only ti discovers that the shot is actually from a video sent to Anne and Georges Laurent (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil). The married couple who live in that house have no idea who sent the video. More videos appear and events unfold. I can't say much more about this film without ruining it, it's definitely one of those films better enjoyed if you go into it not knowing a lot. Directed by Michael Haneke who won the Cannes Best Director Award for it.

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Aissa Maiga, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Caroline Baehr, Christian Benedetti, Daniel Auteuil, Daniel Duval, Denis Podalydès, Diouc Koma, Dioucounda Koma, François Négret, Jean Teulé, Juliette Binoche, Laurent Suire, Lester Makedonsky, Loïc Brabant, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Marie Kremer, Marie-Christine Orry, Maurice Bénichou, Mazarine Pingeot, Nathalie Richard, Nicky Marbot, Paule Daré, Philippe Besson, Walid Afkir
Director: Michael Haneke
Rating: R
46.

Dogman (2019)

In a small Italian town, a dog cleaner’s wholesome days dealing with elderly owners and eager children are balanced with a series of messy nights. The small and frail man finds himself targetted by the town’s black-sheep, a strong and fearless ex-convict. Dogman is about the line between being bullied and wanting to be part of something, it’s a beautiful and often thrilling character study from Italian genius filmmaker Matte Garone. Won the Best Actor award at Cannes.

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Adamo Dionisi, Alida Baldari Calabria, Aniello Arena, Edoardo Pesce, Francesco Acquaroli, Giancarlo Porcacchia, Gianluca Gobbi, Laura Pizzirani, Marcello Fonte, Mirko Frezza, Nunzia Schiano
Director: Matteo Garrone
Rating: Not Rated

Free Watching Options:

Watch Dogman (2019) on Amazon Prime for free
45.

Polytechnique (2009)

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Kosh, Alexandre St-Martin, Alexis Lefebvre, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Emmanuelle Girard, Eugénie Beaudry, Ève Duranceau, Eve Gadouas, Evelyne Brochu, Francesca Barcenas, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Jonathan Dubsky, Josée Lacombe, Julien Maranda, Karine Vanasse, Larissa Corriveau, Lily Thibeault, Louise Proulx, Manon Lapointe, Marc Gourdeau, Marc-André Brisebois, Marie-Évelyne Baribeau, Martin Watier, Maxim Gaudette, Mireille Brullemans, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Nathalie Girard, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Sébastien Huberdeau, Sophie Desmarais, Stéphane Julien, Valerie Cadieux
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Rating: Not Rated
44.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)

There is a lot to admire about this revenge film from director Mouly Surya—the breathtaking shots of rural Indonesia, the grisly practicality of the titular Marlina, the relevant observations on gender politics, and the simple yet stylistic way all of this is revealed. Fans of Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns are also treated with an Eastern reimagining of tropes as the film exchanges long guns for Kabeala knives and sprawling deserts for tropical hills.

Packed with so many delights, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a near-impossible miss. But if you somehow find none of this gripping, you can always rely on the sure thrill of seeing scorned women bloodily and rightfully avenge themselves. 

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Western
Actor: Anggun Priambodo, Ayez Kassar, Dea Panendra, Egi Fedly, Egy Fedly, Haydar Salishz, Indra Birowo, Marsha Timothy, Norman R. Akyuwen, Ozzol Ramdan, Rita Matu Mona, Ruly Lubis, Safira Ahmad, Sapto Soetardjo, Tumpal Tampubolon, Yayu A.W. Unru, Yayu Unru, Yoga Pratama
Director: Mouly Surya
Rating: Unrated
43.

A Cop Movie (2021)

In the Mexican film A Cop Movie, director Alonso Ruizpalacios mixes fact and fiction, documentary and narrative, to tell the tale of Teresa and Montoya, two police officers whose dreams are dashed by the corruption of their trade and who, eventually, find love and comfort in each other.

Ruizpalacios takes thrilling risks in structuring this genre-bending story—cutting stories into parts, jumping back and forth between the harrowingly real and captivatingly non-real. For all the experimental maneuvers he makes, however, the through-line is always Teresa and Montoya: particularly, their love for each other and for an institution that should have, in an ideal world, supported them and the people they vowed to protect. 

To its credit, instead of merely humanizing the controversial police force, A Cop Movie adds some much-needed nuance to the big picture. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other underpaid laborers working desperately to make end meets. A Cop Movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the police, like so many other workers, are stuck in a rotten system that’s long overdue for a major overhauling. 

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Action, Crime, Documentary, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Leonardo Alonso, Mónica Del Carmen, Olivia Lagunas, Raúl Briones
Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Rating: R
42.

Ringu (1998)

Despite being remade, parodied, and absorbed into pop culture over the years, the original Ring defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum. Focused entirely on building a slow-burn mystery instead of dispensing scares, the film provides ample space for a number of interpretations: on the spread of technology, the erasure of traditional beliefs, or even motherhood. It's all relentlessly quiet and extremely creepy, the tension building with the same energy as ghost stories told around a campfire. And while famous for its eerie images and the rules surrounding its cursed videotape, Ringu also serves as a reminder that great horror should compel the audience to keep on watching, even if they already know exactly what awaits them if they do.

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Daisuke Ban, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Hitomi Satô, Katsumi Muramatsu, Kiriko Shimizu, Masako, Miki Nakatani, Miwako Kaji, Nanako Matsushima, Rie Ino'o, Rikiya Ôtaka, Yôichi Numata, Yôko Ôshima, Yûko Takeuchi, Yûrei Yanagi, Yutaka Matsushige
Director: Hideo Nakata
41.

Riders of Justice (2021)

Don't let the title and poster fool you—Riders of Justice isn't the testosterone-filled action flick you'd expect going in (though it does get ridiculous at some points). It centers on deployed military man Markus, played by the appropriately masculine Mads Mikkelsen, who has to return home to his teenage daughter Mathilde after his wife dies in an accident. Instead of coping normally and sticking with his daughter to get through the tragedy, he goes down a rabbit hole discovering how the accident that killed his wife is more than just bad luck and may have been collateral damage from a gang orchestrating an assassination.

Surprisingly, director Anders Thomas Jensen injects this violent film with a lot of gentle moments about trauma and togetherness. Mikkelsen and the rest of the cast play off of each other very well, using dark humor to bring together a bunch of characters who are, in oversimplified terms, "fucked up but trying their best."

It may seem like the guns, blood, and badass moments are a front for this film that, at its core, shows men who badly need therapy banding together to cope with the harshness of life. Extremely funny and deeply moving, it qualifies as a heartwarming Christmas movie, believe it or not.

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Alice E. Bier Zandén, Anders Nyborg, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Anne Birgitte Lind, Anne Fletting, Christina Ibsen Meyer, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Gustav Lindh, Henrik Noël Olesen, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Jesper Groth, Jesper Ole Feit Andersen, Johanne Dal-Lewkovitch, Kaspar Velberg, Klaus Hjuler, Lars Brygmann, Mads Mikkelsen, Morten Suurballe, Natasja Crone, Nicolas Bro, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Omar Shargawi, Peder Holm Johansen, Raivo Trass, Rigmor Ranthe, Rikke Louise Andersson, Roland Moller
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Free Watching Options:

Watch Riders of Justice (2021) on Hulu for free

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