16 Movies Like Lilya 4-ever (2002)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Lilya 4-ever ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Not for the faint of heart, this Russian-language Swedish film doesn't actually display anything graphic on screen, but it still makes for a difficult and distressing viewing experience. Many films similar in spirit and subject matter have been released in the decades since Lilya 4-ever's own take on human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, which might make it less effective for new viewers. But its tone is still unique enough to set it apart—all thumping electronic/rock music blocking out the pain, and naturalistic direction that allows the film's young stars to be as authentically awkward and naively hopeful as possible.

Winner of a Golden Bear and a slew of awards at the European Film Awards in the early noughties, Head-on is named after the suicide attempt of Cahit Tomruk (played by the late Birol Ünel), a Turkish-born German in his mid-40s. At the psychiatric clinic where he is treated, he meets the equally damaged Sibel Güner who is also of Turkish descent. (The first ever feature film of famous German actress Sibel Kekilli, who you might know from Game of Thrones.) Sibel persuades him to marry her in an attempt to break away from her traditional-minded parents.

If you think this plot summary was tough stuff, it gets even grimmer from there. Directed by famous German filmmaker Fatih Akın, the intensity with which Kekilli and Ünel perform the character's unhinged self-hatred is as raw as it gets. Head-on is a brutal, gritty, and heart-wrenching story about the violence of love and hedonism – and the struggle of third-generation Turkish immigrants in Germany.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Bousdoukos, Aysel Iscan, Birol Ünel, Catrin Striebeck, Cem Akin, Demir Gökgöl, Feridun Koç, Güven Kiraç, Hermann Lause, İdil Üner, Maceo Parker, Mehmet Kurtuluş, Meltem Cumbul, Mona Mur, Orhan Güner, Philipp Baltus, Ralph Misske, Selim Erdoğan, Sibel Kekilli, Stefan Gebelhoff, Tim Seyfi, Tugay Erverdi, Tulga Serim, Zarah Jane McKenzie

Director: Fatih Akin

Rating: R

How far would you go to help a friend? The answer to this question might turn out quite differently after you have lived through the 2-hour squalor of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Set in the bleak late-1980s reality of Communist Romania, under the ironclad rule of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasilu play Otilia and Gabriela, two small-town students. Otilia volunteers to help Gabriela go through with an illegal abortion, which takes place in a shoddy hotel room with the help of a man named Bebe (played by Vlad Ivanov). When things don't go as planned, they find their situations quickly going from very bad to outright horrible. Powerful performances, a realistic script, and director Cristian Mungiu's technical finesse create an experience that will force you to relive the desperation the two women must endure. Little wonder that it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adi Carauleanu, Adina Cristescu, Alexandru Potocean, Anamaria Marinca, Cerasela Iosifescu, Constantin Bojog, Doru Ana, Eugenia Bosânceanu, Geo Dobre, Ion Sapdaru, Laura Vasiliu, Liliana Mocanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Mădălina Ghițescu, Mărioara Sterian, Tania Popa, Teodor Corban, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Rating: Not Rated

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who won an award in Cannes for it, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of the Parisian journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Paralyzed almost completely by what is termed locked-in syndrome, his left eye was the only part of his body that he was still able to move. In a Herculean effort, Bauby learned to blink in an alphabet code that eventually enabled him to communicate. The film alternates between Bauby's interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including painstakingly dictating his memoir, the titular Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) and dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. The title alludes to this juxtaposition: the diving bell representing his final state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver under a bell, and the butterfly as a symbol for his blinking eye and the freedom he has in his mind, dreams, and imagination. Shot from Bauby's perspective, we see what he sees. Be it his divorced but loyal wife and his family visiting him, or his old father, played by Max von Sydow, which is probably the scene in this fascinating movie that will make you lose it and weep like the rest of us.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Agathe de La Fontaine, Anne Alvaro, Anne Consigny, Emma de Caunes, Emmanuelle Seigner, Fiorella Campanella, Françoise Lebrun, Gérard Watkins, Isaach De Bankolé, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lenny Kravitz, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Mathieu Amalric, Max von Sydow, Michael Wincott, Nicolas Le Riche, Niels Arestrup, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Talina Boyaci, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13

Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is many things, but it's definitely not mainstream entertainment. It was shot by Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, who founded the Dogme 95 movement together with Lars von Trier in 1995, which sought to put the auteur director back at the heart of filmmaking, as opposed to the power of the studios or special effects. This was the first movie to come out from that group. You thought your family was messed up? Think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, gut-wrenching tale of debauchery will leave you feeling confused and slightly nauseous. This effect is exacerbated by Winterberg's directing style and the crazy camerawork of Anthony Dod Mantle. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, the effect Festen has on you is not easily shaken off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Birgitte Simonsen, Birthe Neumann, Bjarne Henriksen, Erna Boas, Gbatokai Dakinah, Helle Dolleris, Henning Moritzen, Klaus Bondam, Lars Brygmann, Lasse Lunderskov, Lene Laub Oksen, Linda Laursen, Paprika Steen, Therese Glahn, Thomas Bo Larsen, Thomas Vinterberg, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It's a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts, and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proves that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott, Elizabeth Olsen, Gregg Burton, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Julia Garner, Lauren Molina, Louisa Krause, Maria Dizzia, Sarah Paulson, Tobias Segal

Director: Sean Durkin

Rating: R

Set in the small town of Åmål, western Sweden, the debut feature by Lukas Moodysson (We Are the Best), is itself a metonymy for the bigger questions of life. It's playful and dead serious at the same time, in the way it portrays teenager Agnes, who, after two years of living in Åmål, still hasn't made any friends that would attend her birthday party. Instead, she spends her time typing away on her computer, poetic diaries and love confessions to a girl from school named Elin. She's the popular one and therefore, out of reach. The amount of tension and escalating ambivalence the film conjures with just a simple narrative decision—a bet, a kiss, an apology—is palpable throughout the 86 minutes of its runtime. A perfect capsule of lesbian desire and first love, Show Me Love is a gem of a movie; one that would make you think Close was a tad overrated. Oh, and don't forget to add the titular song by Swedish pop star Robyn to your Spotify favorites.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandra Dahlström, Bo Lyckman, Erica Carlson, Jill Ung, Josefine Nyberg, Maria Hedborg, Mathias Rust, Ralph Carlsson, Rebecka Liljeberg, Stefan Horberg

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Rating: Not Rated

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

An offbeat film with a more than decent amount of suspense. To that it adds really good music and unexpected animation, to make for a very audacious, interesting and mostly fun film. It uses all this to show how life can change in a twist and how it can be influenced by weird connections of otherwise unrelated events.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Armin Rohde, Beate Finckh, Franka Potente, Hans Paetsch, Heino Ferch, Herbert Knaup, Joachim Krol, Julia Lindig, Lars Rudolph, Ludger Pistor, Marc Bischoff, Monica Bleibtreu, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Peter Pauli, Sebastian Schipper, Suzanne von Borsody, Ute Lubosch, Utz Krause, Volkhart Buff

Director: Tom Tykwer

Rating: R

A foreign film on par with City of God, and carrying its heritage of naturalistic performances and raw stories. Sin Nombre will take you into a world filled with gut wrenching violence, heart-breaking loss, and non-stop suspense. And while definitely a tough watch, it reports the horrors of immigration with humane and sometimes hopeful outlook. The profound and epic redemption in this movie will leave you thinking about it for days.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Édgar Flores, Benny Emmanuel, Catalina López, Damayanti Quintanar, Diana García, Diana García, Edgar Flores, Felipe Castro, Gabino Rodríguez, Gerardo Taracena, Guillermo Villegas, Héctor Jiménez, Harold Torres, Héctor Jiménez, Juan Pablo Arias Barron, Karla Cecilia Alvarado, Kristian Ferrer, Kristyan Ferrer, Leonardo Alonso, Lilibeth Flores, Luis Fernando Peña, Luis Fernando Peña, Marcela Feregrino, Marcela Macias, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Noé Hernández, Paulina Gaitán, Paulina Gaitan, Tenoch Huerta, Tenoch Huerta Mejía

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: R

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can't remember and a boy who can't forget.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bill Sage, Billy Drago, Brady Corbet, Bruno Alexander, Chase Ellison, Chris Mulkey, David Alan Graf, David Lee Smith, Elisabeth Shue, Gwenne Hudson, Jeffrey Licon, Joan Blair, John Ganun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelly Kruger, Larry Marko, Lisa Long, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Michelle Trachtenberg, Reedy Gibbs, Richard Riehle, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Zane Huett

Director: Gregg Araki

Rating: NC-17

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello, Dorothy Duffy, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Eithne McGuinness, Frances Healy, Geraldine McEwan, Mary Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Peter Mullan, Phyllis MacMahon, Stephen McCole

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: R

Is courage still courage when you have no choices left? What do you do when you're pressed to the wall and have no way to go? Maria, a pretty, modest and hardworking girl living in a small Colombian town, where the only career choice (thus not being a choice, really) is working in a floral plant, packing and distributing flowers - a dead-end job with killer hours and zero-tolerance boss. Yet, it's money. Until the day Maria gets pregnant and her choices become even more limited. By accident, she makes acquaintance with a guy who turns out to be her way out - and the way is out to become a drug mule, transporting drugs in your stomach across the border to the American soil. A job dangerous in many aspects, illegal and potentially deadly, but also paid well. Maria decides to take the only way out, a way that may be a one-way street. Maria Full of Grace is a gut-wrenching story about survival in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's about taking that one chance that has all the potential to go south, and investing in it all the hope you have left, and all the survival instinct you have in your heart and soul. And when everything that could go bad does, and everything turns from bad to worse beyond imagination, it's about standing strong and not giving up, no matter what. Though technically not a documentary, it's real beyond belief, and you can be sure Colombia is full of Marias - just hoping for a decent life, ready to sacrifice the very life itself to obtain it. It's a masterpiece of its genre and it also boasts one of the best posters in the history of the cinema. Highly recommended.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Charles Albert Patiño, Guilied Lopez, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Jhon Álex Toro, Johanna Andrea Mora, John Álex Toro, Orlando Tobón, Patricia Rae, Selenis Leyva, Victor Macias

Director: Joshua Marston

Rating: R

A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan's performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys  impressive load and variety of emotions. An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven't lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character's problems and joys will feel like your own.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alfred Molina, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Bel Parker, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, Connor Catchpole, Dominic Cooper, Ellie Kendrick, Emma Thompson, James Norton, Kate Duchêne, Matthew Beard, Nick Sampson, Olivia Williams, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, William Melling

Director: Lone Scherfig

Rating: PG-13

Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a dark comedy that follows the exploits of teenage outcasts Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate the many complexities of burgeoning adulthood. Central to the story is the unlikely friendship that Enid strikes up with a lonesome older man (played by Steve Buscemi), a curious relationship that drifts through various humorous and melancholy situations. It’s an original and often poignant look at alienation and identity, with Birch delivering a wonderfully deadpan and often hilarious performance, despite her entirely pessimistic attitude. It’s the type of film that’s just right when you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Solowitz, Anna Berger, Ashley Peldon, Bob Balaban, Brad Renfro, Brett Gilbert, Brian George, Bruce Glover, Chachi Pittman, Charles C. Stevenson Jr., Charles Schneider, Daniel Graves, Dave Sheridan, David Cross, Debi Derryberry, Debra Azar, Diane Salinger, Ezra Buzzington, Illeana Douglas, Jake La Botz, James Sie, Jerry Rector, Joan Blair, Joel Michaely, John Bunnell, Joseph Sikora, Joy Bisco, Kaileigh Brielle Martin, Lauren Bowles, Lindsey Girardot, Lorna Scott, Marc Vann, Martin Grey, Matt Doherty, Pat Healy, Patrick Fischler, Paul Keith, Rini Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Sid Hillman, Stacey Travis, Steve Buscemi, T. J. Thyne, Teri Garr, Thora Birch, Tom McGowan, Venus DeMilo Thomas, Will Forte

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Rating: R

The Bloody Hundredth was produced as an accompaniment to fellow Apple TV+ production Masters of the Air, and it shows. In writing and editing, it doesn’t feel grand enough to stand on its own despite having big stars like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg come in and lend their presence. That said, it’s still a compelling story, made even more valuable by the real-life heroes who recall their experiences onscreen. This, plus the rich archival footage that accompanies them, is what makes an otherwise straightforward documentary well worth watching.

Genre: Documentary, History, War

Actor: Adolf Hitler, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, James Stewart, John 'Lucky' Luckadoo, John A. Clark, Joseph Stalin, Robert 'Rosie' Rosenthal, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Winston Churchill

Director: Laurent Bouzereau, Mark Herzog

Rating: PG-13