32 Best Movies to Watch From Thailand

Staff & contributors
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon, Samart Payakaroon, Sornchai Chatwiriyachai, Sukollawat Kanarot, Waratta Watcharatorn, Yothin Mapobphun

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

With a premise as insane as this—a high school coming-of-age film adapted from 410 consecutive tweets from a real, random Thai girl under the username @marylony—you would expect Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy to be some sort of incoherent commentary about social media. What director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit gives us instead is a completely original and surprisingly affecting portrait of a young woman in her senior year trying to come to terms with the fact that her life may only ever be a mess of incongruous parts without a definite identity. It's as whimsical as it is bittersweet, with the film flitting back and forth between the absurd and the melancholic.

Thamrongrattanarit structures his film as a series of loosely connected vignettes, with every single one of @marylony's tweets appearing on screen. The effect is one-of-a-kind—as if we're watching different layers of meaning constantly interacting with each other, our understanding of what we're supposed to think of as serious or tongue-in-cheek always changing. And through the film's deliberately lo-fi aesthetics, the experience of watching it is like flipping through a scrapbook of memories mundane and precious.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Awat Ratanapintha, Boonsong Nakphoo, Chonnikan Netjui, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Patcha Poonpiriya, Prabda Yoon, Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, Wasupol Kriangprapakit

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Rating: 0

A breathtaking and enigmatic masterpiece of Thai cinema, Tropical Maladyis a poetic and deeply philosophical exploration of human desire, spirituality, and the mysteries of nature. It follows the story of two men, a soldier and a farmer, who fall in love and embark on a journey deep into the heart of the jungle, where they encounter a shape-shifting spirit. The film's surreal and dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing, and the performances are outstanding, especially the nuanced and subtle portrayal of the two protagonists. This film is truly a stunning and unforgettable work of art that challenges our perceptions of love, identity, and reality.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Banlop Lomnoi, Sakda Kaewbuadee

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

An interior designer comes back from Sweden to her birthplace in Thailand where she tries to declutter her family home to make it a minimalist, Marie Kondo-type house. “Minimalism is like a Buddhist philosophy. It’s about letting go,” she tells her mother as she tries to convince her. “Are you nuts?” The woman replies.

Jean insists and she embarks on a journey of touching what hasn’t been touched in decades: traces of an absent father and a past lover among the old Nokias and VHS tape recorders.

Happy Old Year is a contemporary exploration of the age-old resistance to throwing things away. Decluttering is a costly act, one of rejecting and discarding memories. The film was Thailand’s official submission to the Oscars.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aokbab Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Apasiri Nitibhon, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Natda Chawawanid, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Neennara Boonnithipaisit, Patcha Kitchaicharoen, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Sarika Sartsilpsupa, Sarika Sathsilpsupa, Sunny Suwanmethanon, Sunny Suwanmethanont, Thirawat Ngosawang, Um Apasiri Nitibhon, Wasu Pluemsakulthai

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Rating: N/A

With the nostalgia and the twin love triangle, at first glance, You & Me & Me seems like nothing new. However, this Thai coming-of-age drama is done so well that it feels entirely unique. Taking inspiration from the childhood of twin writer-directors, You & Me & Me brings us to a summer vacation in Isan, north Thailand, where the twins, distinguishable only by a mole and by dual-sided acting of Thitiya Jirapornsilp, encounter a boy named Mark. Amidst test taking, phin lute playing, and rowing in lotus filled lakes, their summer evokes some nostalgia, but also some drama, as their first forays into love threaten their bond. While the pacing is slow, and it does focus on the love triangle, You & Me & Me cares about each twin as they start to delve into new experiences outside of their duo. The film is a sweet and nuanced tale of twin sisterhood, but also a love letter to the Hongvivatanas’ childhood summer home.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anthony Buisseret, Karuna Looktumthong, Natee Ngamneawprom, Supakson Chaimongkol, Supakson Ruengsomboon, Thitiya Jirapornsilp, Yasaka Chaisorn

Director: Wanweaw Hongvivatana, Weawwan Hongvivatana

Heart Attack is a romantic comedy, but instead of the hijinks being caused by the usual dating, miscommunication, and wooing, Yoon’s struggle here is to finally get a hold of his overbearing schedule and figure out how to relax and recover from burnout, and it’s all inspired by wanting to impress his doctor Imm. It’s funny, but it’s also all too real. Writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit recreates the overwhelming frenzy to complete a job through a magnificent jazz soundscape and Sunny Suwanmethanon’s internalized monologue, and it’s such an effective cinematic translation that the moments of rest, the moments where Yoon and Imm finally take a break feels like a relief. Heart Attack works precisely because it empathizes and understands the experience of workers in today’s gig economy.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adisorn Trisirikasem, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Chatcharin Saetan, Chonlasit Upanigkit, Davika Hoorne, Morakot Liu, Natda Chawawanid, Nottapon Boonprakob, Panjavit Tangtongjit, Sunny Suwanmethanon, Sunny Suwanmethanont, Surattanavee Suviporn, Surattanawee Suviporn, Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, Tor Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, Torpong Chantabubpha, Vichai Matakul, Violette Wautier

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Rating: N/A

After years of documentaries covering Thailand’s controversial issues, some of which have been temporarily banned by the Ministry of Culture, Nontawat Numbenchapol takes a step into feature film in Doi Boy. The plot covers plenty of the topics he’s previously depicted– immigration, prostitution, and corruption– but it unfolds naturally into a slow-paced, but moving drama where an undocumented sex worker tries to find home. Awat Ratanapintha as Sorn excellently leads this journey, but Arak Amornsupasiri as reluctant cop Ji, and Bhumibhat Thavornsiri as passionate activist Wuth also make their mark. While the film doesn’t delve into the intricate intersectionality, it feels like that’s part of the point. The notion of a nation doesn’t care about people’s dreams, even if that dream is for the nation to be better.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Arak Amornsupasiri, Awat Ratanapintha, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Ornjira Lamwilai, Panisara Rikulsurakan, Teerawat Mulvilai

Director: Nontawat Numbenchapol

A heart-wrenching tribute to victims of natural disasters that is one of despair, suffering, and hope. And it wouldn’t be so damning if it weren’t based off a true story surrounding the tragedy that killed more than 230,000 people. Boxing Day 2004 was one of the most memorable dates for wedded couple, Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts, for an Oscar nominated performance). Just two days prior, they arrived at Orchid Beach Resort in Thailand to celebrate the Christmas holidays together with their three children. After a squabble with the crew regarding their room reservations, they are granted the privilege of staying in a peaceful villa and all seems to be well. Nature had other plans in mind, though, and facing it head-on is the bittersweet reality.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bonnie Zellerbach, Bruce Blain, Dominic Power, Douglas Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Georgia Winters, Geraldine Chaplin, Gitte Witt, Harry Holland, J.A. Bayona, Johan Sundberg, John Albasiny, Jomjaoi Sae-Limh, Kowit Wattanakul, Laura Power, Marta Etura, Naomi Watts, Natalie Lorence, Nicola Harrison, Oaklee Pendergast, Peter Tuinstra, Ploy Jindachote, Sam Holland, Samuel Joslin, Sarinrat Thomas, Sonke Mohring, Tom Holland, Ulf Pilblad, Wipawee Charoenpura

Director: J.A. Bayona

Rating: PG-13

Meditative, slow, and peppered with mysticism and subtle humour, Syndromes and a Century is a truly unique Thai drama. With a male and female doctor as the central protagonists, the story is split into two settings, in different hospitals and 40 years apart. This is not a plot-driven movie by any means. Patiently paced scenes weave together the protagonists’ memories with their current lives, in a hypnotic thread that touches on Buddhist themes as it explores the timeless human experiences of love, relationships, illness, and death.

The movie was originally intended to be a tribute to the parents of writer and director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, himself the son of physicians who worked in a hospital. Though he went on to claim that the movie took a different path eventually, it does recall the enigmatic spirit and ethereal quality of childhood memories. Despite—or maybe thanks to—the absence of narrative, Syndromes and a Century remains a beguiling watch from start to finish.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Jaruchai Iamaram, Jenjira Pongpas, Nantarat Sawaddikul, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Sophon Pukanok

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul