189 Best European Stories to Watch

In Europe, Brexit and similar nationalistic movements increase the need for finding what’s common in European storytelling. And abroad, European movies are often acclaimed but under-watched. This section’s goal is to guide you through the vast array of high-quality European films available on streaming services.

Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score.

But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment.

Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

The Great Beauty is a film of superlatives! Originally titled La Grande Bellezza, this movie by Italian star director Paolo Sorrentino is so replete with lush, opulent cinematography, it sometimes borders on sensory overload. Having won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award in the same category, The Great Beauty is also a critics' darling and an award-show sweeper – in addition to being hailed as Paolo Sorrentino's greatest work to date.

Essentially a tragicomedy, it is both a study and a celebration of the hedonism and decadence of its main protagonist – the bon-vivant and modern-day Roman socialite Jep Gambardella (played by an electrifying Toni Servillo). Instead of honing the craft of writing, Gambardella at some point decides to become the self-proclaimed “king of high life” of Rome. After his 65th birthday, he experiences a shock that changes him for good, prompting him to look past the parties and the nightclubs and to discover the sublime beauty of his hometown, the eternal city. In this way, The Great Beauty is a meditation on art, regret, and pleasure – and Sorrentino's love letter to Rome.

Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.

Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova's life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.

This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže's life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!

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.

Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!
A Prophet, or Un Prophete, is an unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. Shot by the inimitable French director Jacques Audiard, A Prophet is a future classic from the get-go, taking age-old cliches and turning them on their heads. It's not often that a film leaves us giddy with enthusiasm and constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet is so intense, you won't be able to let it go. Incredible acting, especially by then-newcomer Tahar Rahim, fantastic pacing, a great narrative arc with a brutal and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization, and life on the fringes of society. There are only two, quote unquote, action sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch this film.
While barely 90 minutes long, Cold War is epic in scope and a modern testament to what cinema can be. Whether we are feasting our eyes on the decaying post-war landscape of Poland, the patinated streets of East Berlin, or the delicate magic of a historic Paris, Cold War offers its viewers meticulously staged black-and-white beauty, conceived by Polish wunderkind director Paweł Pawlikowski and his trusted cinematographer Łukasz Ża. Winner of a slew of prestigious awards, this is a film made for the silver screen, so we recommend leaving your iPhone on the table and getting your hands on the biggest screen you can muster for watching this. The plot is essentially about the obsessive attraction between musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is recruited as the newest member of the former's state-sponsored folk music band. Cold War follows their impossible love for fourteen years and across many European countries on each side of the Iron Curtain. It is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by dictatorship but also love. A poetic, sexy, and gorgeous movie without a wasted moment. A work of art.
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.
Bittersweet like Belgian chocolate, this is a coming-home movie. It will leave you raw and empty as well as full of life, and it will most certainly have you appreciate the mournfulness of bluegrass music. Based on a play co-written by Johan Heldenbergh, who also stars as Didier, the male lead, this is intricately written, thoughtfully directed, viscerally acted cinema. Bluegrass enthusiast and band leader Didier falls passionately in love with Elise, a spirited tattoo artist. They sing together, start a life together. But when their little girl falls gravely ill, everything changes. Because this gem of a film by director Felix van Groeningen excels at creating intimacy and empathy between us viewers and this beautiful family's fate, you will feel everything you see. Incredibly well-made and gut-wrenching drama.
On Body and Soul is the impeccably crafted winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival and an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Is it possible that two people dream the same dream? And meet each other in that same dream? This unique drama directed by Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi studies this possibility against the unlikely backdrop of a slaughterhouse. Middle-aged, inconspicuous manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi) can't help but noticing a new girl at work, Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the abattoir's new hygiene manager. They fall in love, but not, as you might suspect, during a fateful mandatory hygiene inspection, but in their dreams—in the shape of two deer in a mysterious, snow-covered forest. The Hungarian director had taken an 18-year break from making movies, which was probably the prerequisite for making something as striking and unconventional as On Body and Soul.
You might call Francis Lee's spellbinding debut a Call me By Your Name without the privilege and pretentiousness, and we think it's a better movie because of it. God's Own Country tells the story of Johnny Saxby (Josh O'Connor), a farmer's son who is trapped working on the family farm, who dulls his frustration and misery with binging at the pub and aggressive sex with strange men—his true desire is not so much repressed by society's rampant homophobia here, but by his family's emotional callousness. When his strict and icy father suffers a stroke, things get worse for him still. Then, during lambing season, help arrives in the shape of watchful, radiant, and strikingly handsome Romanian seasonal worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), whose warmth of character and professional competence feels threatening to Johnny at first. But when they withdraw to the hills to repair a stone wall, Johnny's aggression gives way to passion as Gheorghe helps him to feel, to love, and to see beauty in the country around him. God's own country. A beautiful, stirring, and passionate debut!
There are movies that leave you matured after you finished watching. You mature because you are forced to walk in someone's shoes and confront yourself with issues that you are not affected by. The Sea Inside is one of those movies –⁠ and won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for it. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, who you might know as the director of The Others, it tells the true story of Ramón Sampedro's decade-long fight for the right to end his own life. After he became quadriplegic after a diving accident, he was confined to the same bed in the same room for 26 years, except when he visited the hospital. Not an easy subject to say the least but Amenábar helps the fascinating story along with stylish directing, while Javier Bardem delivers a stellar performance to go with it. Thanks also to Ramón Sampedro's sunny real-life nature, this heart-wrenching watch also has plenty of uplifting moments.