Between their use of subtitles and their limited distribution in the United States, most foreign-language films don’t stand much of a chance at the domestic box office. Every now and then, however, an international title bucks the trend and breaks through to the mainstream. A recent example includes Bong Joon-ho’s dark satire “Parasite,” which came from South Korea to become something of a global phenomenon and became the first foreign-language film to win a Best Picture Oscar. (Including that, here are 30 famous firsts in Oscars history.)
Why do some foreign-language films succeed where so many others fail? The answer can vary from one title to the next. For instance, a movie such as Eugenio Derbez’s 2013 Mexican dramedy “Instructions Not Included” arguably appealed to America’s Hispanic population. Then we have something like the 2002 wuxia (martial arts) film “Hero,” which capitalized on both Jet Li’s star power and the lingering popularity of the Oscar-winning wuxia blockbuster “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
To determine the foreign films that did the best in the United States, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on both domestic and international box office from ox Office Mojo. Foreign-language films were ranked based on inflation-adjusted domestic box office using historical ticket prices from the National Association of Theater Owners. Data on IMDb audience score and Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score is current as of July 2022. English-language titles are given for all films where one was used for U.S. release.
Meanwhile, a number of these classics of imported cinema offer more than just a glimpse into a different culture. Untethered from Hollywood formulas, they’re free to take their stories in dark and unpredictable directions. Should you enjoy some of the more commonly known titles, don’t stop there because a wide and exciting world of international cinema awaits. (These are the best foreign films of all time.)
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