The Academy Award for Best International Feature Film is one of the most prestigious awards in the entire Oscars ceremony. While international films are eligible for other categories and do sometimes win, the Best International Feature Film category is often the only spotlight for films produced in countries outside of the United States and outside of the English language. Which can be a shame considering many of the best films made in any given year come from all around the world. After we run down the entire list of winners, we’ve ranked our personal favorites. Bon voyage!

Academy Award for best international feature film

Category name changed

The Best International Feature Film Oscar was formerly known as the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This recent change first went into effect at the 2020 ceremony. Parasite from South Korea became the first film to win the honor after the name change. The film also went on to win the overall Best Picture honor, a rarity at the long-running ceremony.

Fun fact, the country with the most Best Foreign Language Film wins is Italy, followed closely by France. The gap after these two high scoring countries with 14 and 12 wins respectively is quite large. The third-place finisher is Spain with four wins.

Here is a list of every best foreign-language film Oscar winner to date.

best Best International Feature Film academy award

Best International Feature Film Oscar Winners

  • 2020 - Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg
  • 2019 - ParasiteBong Joon-ho
  • 2018 - Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
  • 2017 - A Fantastic WomanSebastián Lelio
  • 2016 - The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi
  • 2015 - Son of SaulLászló Nemes
  • 2014 - Ida,  Paweł Pawlikowski
  • 2013 - The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino
  • 2012 - Amour, Michael Haneke
  • 2011 - A Separation, Asghar Farhadi
  • 2010 - In a Better World, Susanne Bier
  • 2009 - The Secret in Their Eyes, Juan José Campanella
  • 2008 - Departures, Yōjirō Takita
  • 2007 - The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky
  • 2006 - The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • 2005 - Tsotsi, Gavin Hood
  • 2004 - The Sea Inside, Alejandro Amenábar 
  • 2003 - The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand
  • 2002 - Nowhere in Africa, Caroline Link
  • 2001 - No Man's Land, Danis Tanović
  • 2000 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee
  • 1999 - All About My Mother, Pedro Almodóvar
  • 1998 - Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni 
  • 1997 - Character, Mike van Diem
  • 1996 - Kolya, Jan Svěrák
  • 1995 - Antonia's Line, Marleen Gorris
  • 1994 - Burnt by the Sun, Nikita Mikhalkov
  • 1993 - Belle Époque, Fernando Trueba
  • 1992 - Indochine, Régis Wargnier
  • 1991 - Mediterraneo, Gabriele Salvatores
  • 1990 - Journey of Hope, Xavier Koller 
  • 1989 - Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore
  • 1988 - Pelle the Conqueror, Bille August
  • 1987 - Babette's Feast, Gabriel Axel
  • 1986 - The Assault, Fons Rademakers
  • 1985 - The Official Story, Luis Puenzo
  • 1984 - Dangerous Moves, Richard Dembo
  • 1983 - Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman
  • 1982 - To Begin Again, José Luis Garci 
  • 1981 - Mephisto, István Szabó
  • 1980 - Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, Vladimir Menshov
  • 1979 - The Tin Drum, Volker Schlöndorff
  • 1978 - Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Bertrand Blier
  • 1977 - Madame Rosa, Moshé Mizrahi
  • 1976 - Black and White in Color, Jean-Jacques Annaud
  • 1975 - Dersu Uzala, Akira Kurosawa
  • 1974 - Amarcord, Federico Fellini
  • 1973 - Day for Night, François Truffaut
  • 1972 - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel
  • 1971 - The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Vittorio De Sica
  • 1970 - Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Elio Petri
  • 1969 - Z, Costa-Gavras
  • 1968 - War and Peace, Sergei Bondarchuk
  • 1967 - Closely Watched Trains, Jiří Menzel
  • 1966 - A Man and a Woman, Claude Lelouch
  • 1965 - The Shop on Main Street, Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos
  • 1964 - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Vittorio De Sica
  • 1963 - , Federico Fellini 
  • 1962 - Sundays and Cybele, Serge Bourguignon
  • 1961 - Through a Glass Darkly, Ingmar Bergman
  • 1960 - The Virgin Spring, Ingmar Bergman
  • 1959 - Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus
  • 1958 - Mon Oncle, Jacques Tati
  • 1957 - Nights of Cabiria, Federico Fellini
  • 1956 - La Strada, Federico Fellini
  • 1955 - Samurai, The Legend of Musashi, Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1954 - Gate of Hell, Teinosuke Kinugasa
  • 1952 - Forbidden Games, René Clément
  • 1951 - Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa
  • 1950 - The Walls of Malapaga, René Clément
  • 1949 - Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica
  • 1948 - Monsieur Vincent, Maurice Cloche
  • 1947 - Shoe-Shine, Vittorio De Sica

Oscar best foreign film

20. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Academy Awards foreign films  •  Bicycle Thieves available in full on YouTube

Bicycle Thieves is a drama from director Vittorio De Sica that takes an unflinching look at post-war Italy. The film was made within just a couple of years of the actual ending World War II. The official ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category wasn’t added to the Academy Awards ceremony until 1956 but the Academy chose to highlight Bicycle Thieves with an honorary award as the ‘The Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film Released in the United States.’

Oscars best international film

Conclusion

Bicycle Thieves is an important film in the Italian neorealist movement and a highlight of the genre.

Best foreign movie Oscar

19. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

How the film’s most impressive sequence was made

The Secret in Their Eyes is a mystery-thriller from director Juan José Campanella. The tight screenplay is full of suspense and surprises, and the film’s show-stopping centerpiece is a long take which begins as an aerial shot before sweeping down into a stadium and transitioning seamlessly into an impressively coordinated foot chase sequence.

The Secret in Their Eyes was made in Argentina and became the country’s second film to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Academy Award for best international feature film

Conclusion

Don’t bother with the 2015 American remake, stick to the original.

Academy Awards best foreign film

18. Tsotsi (2005)

Tsotsi wins at the 2006 Oscars

Tsotsi is set in a violent slum in Johannesburg and follows the titular character of Tsotsi, a young, cold criminal who kills without remorse but finds his worldview challenged over the course of the film’s six-day timeline. Presley Chweneyagae gives a standout performance in the titular role, even more impressive considering it was his first time acting.

Oscar international film

Conclusion

To date, Tsotsi is the only South African film to win the Best Foreign Language Film honor and one of only two South African films to receive a nomination in the prestigious category with Zulu (2004).

Oscar foreign film

17. The Tin Drum (1979)

Trailer for The Tin Drum

The Tin Drum can easily secure the title of the most bizarre Best Foreign Language Film winner. The film follows a strange boy named Oskar as the Nazis rise to power within his lifetime. It is a bizarre film, full of inexplicable happens such as Oskar refusing to leave his mother’s womb until he is promised the titular Tin Drum. And Oskar deliberately deciding to remain a child and stop growing at the age of three, which he does successfully, remaining a child outwardly for many years.

Oskar also possesses the ability to break glass with his high-pitched screams which he uses in protest of the violence of WWII.

Best foreign movie Oscar

Conclusion

The Tin Drum also won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Oscar international film

16. Amarcord (1973)

Amarcord is available in full on YouTube

Amarcord is a comedy from acclaimed director Federico Fellini. The film is comprised of a series of vignettes that look back on 1930s Italy from the modern viewpoint of the early 1970s. Much of the film’s plot comes from director Federico Fellini reflecting on his own memories of childhood.

Academy Awards best foreign film

Conclusion

Further cementing the autobiographical nature of the film, the title ‘Amarcord’ loosely translates to “I Remember” in English.

Best international feature film

15. Mon Oncle (1958)

A video essay on the films of Jacques Tati

Mon Oncle is the second film from French director Jacques Tati to feature his long-running Monsieur Hulot character. Jacques Tati wrote, directed, produced, and stars in Mon Oncle, a delightful comedy skewering modern life and technology through visual gags and physical humor.

Tati’s roots were in circus, mime, and silent film performing. He carried this idea of silence into his feature films which contain very little dialogue despite the large cast of characters.

Oscar foreign film

Conclusion

Mon Oncle, is a wonderful comedy. It might not be Tati’s finest work as the Monsieur Hulot character, but it was his only film honored at the Academy Awards. Check out Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Playtime, and Trafic for more Monsieur Hulot.

Academy Awards foreign films

14. The Virgin Spring (1960)

Ang Lee discusses The Virgin Spring

The Virgin Spring is a Swedish language film from legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. The film is set in the 14th century and features an otherworldly sense of atmosphere. The Virgin Spring was Ingmar Bergman’s response to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, which was also honored at the Academy Awards several years earlier.

Academy Award for best international feature film

Conclusion

In 1971 Ingmar Bergman was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy in honor of "creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."

Best international film

13. Amour (2012)

Trailer for Amour

Amour is a French language film from Austrian director Michael Haneke. Haneke is known for directing films in multiple languages and covering diverse subject matter. Amour closely examines the relationship of an elderly couple as one of them suffers a stroke, altering their loving dynamic.

Oscar best foreign film

Conclusion

In addition to Amour winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the film also won the highly acclaimed Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an honor which Michael Haneke had previously won just three years earlier with his film The White Ribbon.

Academy Award for best international feature film

12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Patrick H. Willems covers Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a martial arts epic set in a fantastical 19th century China. The film belongs to the Wuxia genre, long-celebrated in China but fresh and new to most international audiences at the time.

The film features stunning sword fights and gorgeous cinematography in beautiful locations. Find out where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ranks on our list of the best martial arts fight scenes ever.

Academy Awards best foreign film

Conclusion

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a highlight of director Ang Lee’s incredibly diverse filmography which covers the gamut from Hulk to Brokeback Mountain.

Best international film

11. Parasite (2019)

Our analysis of Parasite’s shifting tone  •  Subscribe on YouTube

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite became the first winner of the newly renamed ‘Best International Film’ Oscar. Parasite also earned the high-honor of being the first foreign language film ever to win the overall Best Picture Oscar. And one more ‘first’, Parasite was the not only the first South Korea Oscar winner but also the country's very first nomination at the Oscars despite an impressive list of films coming from South Korea’s film industry.

Oscars best international film

Conclusion

If you enjoyed Parasite, be sure to check out the rest of Bong Joon-ho’s excellent filmography.

Academy Award for best international feature film

10. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

The episodic version of Fanny and Alexander is available on YouTube

Fanny and Alexander is the second Ingmar Bergman film on our list of the greatest foreign language film Oscar winners but not the last. The film is an autobiographical drama looking back at Bergman’s own childhood. Fanny and Alexander exists as two distinct versions, one a televised miniseries that totals 312 minutes, and the other a trimmed down 188 minutes in length.

The shortened cut of Fanny and Alexander is the version that was honored by the Academy Awards.

Oscar best foreign film

Conclusion

Both versions of Fanny and Alexander stand strong as their own pieces of work, but the lengthier 312 minute cut is the definitive version if you have time for the expanded runtime.

Oscar foreign film

9. Life is Beautiful (1997)

Roberto Benigni puts on quite a show at the Academy Awards

Life is Beautiful is an Italian comedy-drama about a Jewish father hiding the horrors of the holocaust from his young son even as they suffer through it. The film is heartwrenching and, true to the title, a beautiful cinematic expression. Director, co-writer, and star Robert Benigni’s celebration upon winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is one of the most memorable moments in the entire history of the Oscars ceremony.

Best international feature film

Conclusion

Life is Beautiful’s director Roberto Benigni also won an Oscar for his performance in the lead role.

Oscar best foreign film

8. Rashomon (1950)

Robert Altman discusses Rashomon

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon won an honorary award the 1952 Academy Awards for ‘Outstanding Foreign Language Film.’ It would be a few more years before the Oscars added an official ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category. Rashomon was considered groundbreaking upon release for its complex framing and structure, and for its subjective narrative as a group of characters each recount a different version of the same events.

Academy Award for best international feature film

Conclusion

Though Kurosawa would be nominated for both Best Director and his films for Best Foreign Language Film, Rashomon would remain one of just two films of his to be awarded at the Academy Awards.

Oscar international film

7. The Salesman (2016)

The Salesman wins Best Foreign Language Film

The Salesman is a drama from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. It became the director’s second film to win the prestigious award. The film focuses on a married couple dealing with trauma following an assault as they attempt to put on a theatrical performance of Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman. The performances are incredible and the drama drills deep into the characters.

Oscars best foreign film

Conclusion

Asghar Farhadi was chose not to be present to accept his Oscar for The Salesman in protest of Donald Trump’s executive order which barred entry to the country from a number of Middle Eastern nations. Farhadi and the other four directors whose films were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film joined forces in a joint-statement against the climate of fanaticism and nationalism in the United States.

Best international feature film

6. All About My Mother (1999)

A quick profile done by the New York Times

All About My Mother is a drama from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. The film also won the foreign language prize at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. The film remains one of the best in his long and impressive filmography and stands proudly as one of the first successful films to earnestly depict transgender women in a non-prejudiced or hateful light.

Oscar foreign film

Conclusion

To date, Almodóvar has had three films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but All About My Mother remains his only win.

Oscar best foreign film

5. Son of Saul (2015)

Renegade Cut takes a look at Son of Saul

Son of Saul is a Hungarian WWII film from director László Nemes. The film is extremely heavy and uncompromisingly bleak. The story follows the titular Saul as he navigates the concentration camp that holds him captive in an attempt to provide a proper burial to a child who he believes may have been his son but he cannot be certain. 

Oscar best foreign film

Conclusion

Son of Saul uses a unique visual style that finds the camera closely tethered to the main character for the entire duration of the film. It follows closely behind him, allowing many of the horrors of the holocaust to drop out of frame or creep into the peripheries. It is a unique experience.

Best international feature film

4. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

A New York Times critic’s pick

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a surrealist masterpiece from Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Buñuel is often credited as the father of cinematic surrealism and is a master of the strange and unexplainable. The film has very little in terms of a narrative through-line, focusing instead on a series of dream-like episodes following the same middle-class characters having their dinner party interrupted in escalating, bizarre ways.

Oscar foreign film

Conclusion

The film was also nominated for the Best Original Screenplay award at the Oscars despite being incredibly light on actual plot.

Oscar best foreign film

3. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Thoughts from film historian Peter Cowie

Through a Glass Darkly is the third and final Ingmar Bergman film on our list of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winners of all time. The master filmmaker’s 1961 drama follows a woman as she loses touch with reality after believing she has been visited by God shortly after exiting a mental hospital.

Oscar best foreign film

Conclusion

To date, the country of Sweden has won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar three times, all made by Ingmar Bergman.

Best international feature film

2. A Separation (2011)

Story analysis by Barry Oshiba

A Separation earned Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi his first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, followed by a subsequent win with The Salesman a few years later. A Separation features a complex plot told in the most humanistic way possible. The characters are all incredibly deep and every performance shines from the talented cast giving it their all.

Oscar foreign film

Conclusion

The cinematography of A Separation might not look like anything special, but the film goes above and beyond in terms of writing, direction, and performances.

Oscar best foreign film

1. 8 1/2 (1963)

Analysis by Essential Films

8 ½ is a surreal masterpiece from Italian director Federico Fellini, his second film on our list following Amarcord. The plot of 8 ½ is left somewhat open to interpretation. At a base level, the film follows Guido Anselmi, a stressed filmmaker attempting to put together a new motion picture. The surreal visuals and dream-like atmosphere are second to none in 8 ½.

Oscars best international film

Conclusion

8 ½ was also nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Direction at the 1964 Academy Awards, and in addition to Best Foreign Language Film, 8 ½ also won Best Costume Design.

UP NEXT

Best Director Oscar Winners Ranked

Those were the greatest Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winners of all time ranked. If you’re in the mood for more Academy Awards, be sure to take a look at our ranking of the Best Director winners, up next.

Up Next: Oscar-Winning Directors →
Solution Icon - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

0 Shares
Copy link