With all that’s going on in the world, I thought I’d put together a list of best historical dramas and foreign films to watch in isolation. It’ll help take your mind off all the madness!
I love stories. Like really, reeaally love them. When I’m not writing, I’m constantly digesting books, movies, documentaries and tv shows of all sorts. One of life’s greatest pleasures is plopping on the couch with my husband and dog, a big salty bowl of stovetop popcorn, an even bigger glass of wine and diving into a great movie. I set the scene, too. There is no talking allowed, the lights are off, the fuzzy socks are on and I am ready. As you might have guessed, I do tend to lean toward those with some kind of foreign or historical twist. Given the state of the world right now due to the Coronavirus, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite foreign films and historical movies. These are the types of movies that will either make you feel warm and fuzzy, inspired, question humanity or feel like you need to watch aaaa lot of youtube videos to get to the bottom of XYZ. I narrowed it down to 20-ish favorite movies that are foreign films, historical, or both. Historical just means they are set in a historical era, because yes. I included Inglourious Basterds. Dark comedies are a guilty pleasure of mine. But I also included goodies like All the President’s Men which was actually co-written by the journalists themselves – so you’ve got a good mix! I hope that these movies inspire you (like they have me!) and I’d love to know of any that you think are missing! Ok, now let’s get to it.
Best Historical Dramas & Foreign Films To Watch In Isolation
Goodbye Lenin! (Germany)
Goodbye Lenin! is easily in my top five list of favorite movies. The German-language film takes place in a tense 1989 Berlin. It follows Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl – loooove!!), an avid supporter of the West and protester of the Soviet Union alongside his mother, a hardcore-real-deal Soviet woman who eats, lives and breathes the party. His mother falls into a coma just before the revolution, and once shes conscious again, Alex goes to great lengths to keep her from having a literal heart attack over the dissolution of East Germany. Goodbye Lenin! is a story about the bond between a mother and son, the Soviet Union, the West, pain, patriotism, and everything in between. It’s sweet, sad, and funny in all the right places.Watch the trailer here.
I was actually fortunate enough to watch Dunkirk in Imax theatres when it came out. Christopher Nolan really did the world a solid when he created this epic war drama. Set loosely around the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo May 1940, this film is a dense, bold, and dramatic look at what combat was like for some 70 million soldiers in World War 2. What’s even more powerful is the dialogue or lack thereof. Dunkirk has nearly no speaking parts and consists mainly of raw, thought-provoking silent acting surrounded by cracking bombshells, screaming aircraft, and incredible cinematography.Watch the trailer here.
Parasite (South Korea)
If you haven’t heard of Parasite by now, then you must be living under a rock. This quadruple Oscar-winning South Korean film is the dark comedy slash thriller slash family drama you never knew you needed. It follows the lives of the impoverished Kim family, who make it their personal mission to infiltrate the lives of a wealthy family. Parasite is more than gallows humor and edge of the seat scenes; it’s a discussion on class, tragedy, and greed in South Korea.Watch the trailer here.
I know, I know. I can feel your eyes rolling. Inglourious Basterds is far from historically accurate. In classic Tarantino fashion, it’s chockfull of ridiculously over the top moments, unpredictable plot twists and very predictable violence – but that’s why I love it. I’m not generally a *huge fan of Tarantino movies, but there’s just something about Inglorious Basterds. I mean, who doesn’t love an action plot of rebels on a mission to scalp Nazis and save the world? Like any Tarantino film, the cast is great, too. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Brühl, Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger, just to name a few. Watch the trailer here.
Au Revoir Les Enfants (France)
Au Revoir Les Enfants is a tragic, tearjerking true story of a young Jewish boy named Julien in Nazi-occupied France. Sent to Catholic school as a guise, he has more than a few obstacles to overcome to hide his true identity. This 1987 pulls all the heartstrings on childhood innocence, friendship, and the horrors of World War 2. Watch the trailer here.
12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is heavy. I came across a critic review for 12 Years a Slave that read, “this is not a movie to be enjoyed, but endured.” and I couldn’t agree more. Based on the incredible true story of Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is a tragic and emotional look at the worst era in American history. Watch the trailer here.
This 1993 ww2 drama follows the real-life story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler, a Nazi party member who went above and beyond to save over 1,000 jews right under the Third Reich’s nose. In true Speilberg fashion, the movie is just as artistic as it is dramatic. Moreover, Schindler’s List is shot in black and white, stars Liam Neeson and is considered to be one of the best Holocaust films ever made. Watch the trailer here.
La Vita é Bella (Italy)
La Vita é Bella is an adorable Italian comedy/drama following the life of quirky cooky Jew, Guido, in World War 2. When he and his family are taken to death camps, he devises clever ways to shelter his son from the horrors of war and is determined to shine above the Nazis. If Goofy were a real-life person (and a Jew in ww2 Italy), he would be Guido. His neverending charm and syrupy sweetness make the film as warm and fuzzy as it is tragic. Watch the trailer here.
The Death of Stalin
I am obsessed with Soviet history. Living in Georgia, a former USSR nation, I’ve made it my business to know all there is to know about Russia, post-Soviet countries, and their often stolen histories. The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy telling the story of brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (who was Georgian, by the way.) It begins with him sick in Moscow with nobody to help him because thanks to his own abuses, he’s either scared away or killed all of the doctors. From there, it manages to be funny without watering down the real-life consequences of life in Stalin’s inner circle. Wath the trailer here.
Joyeux Noël (France)
Another Daniel Brühl favorite of mine is Joyeux Noël. I love this movie for three reasons – 1. It plays more on humanity and goodness than most war stories 2. It features heft amounts of English, French and German language 3. There just are. Not. Enough. World War One movies. I get it, WW2 was the most deadly war in history, and I enjoy WW2 history just as much as the next gal but come on. Sure WW2 triples the body count of WW1 – but the horrors of WW1 trench warfare, lack of weaponry, and general unpreparedness just can’t be matched. Okay, okay. Back to Joyeux Noël. This movie follows the real-life story of the WW1 Christmas Truce. While it does have some inaccuracies, it gets the whole good over evil, compassion in wartime, tenderness thing right. To read the true story, I wrote all about it here. Watch the trailer here.
In 1994, nearly 1 million Rwandans were brutally murdered in the span of just 100 days. Hotel Rwanda follows the inspirational and heroic true story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), who uses his hotel to house countless refugees during the massacre and singlehandedly saves the lives of over a thousand Rwandans in what would later be known as the Rwandan Genocide. I think this movie is a must-see for Americans, given that the complicated history of Rwanda is generally unknown when compared with countries like, say, France or Germany. Watch the trailer here.
Das Boot (German)
Das Boot (The Boat) is a cleverly named 1981 German epic war drama following a German submarine crew during World War 2. While not completely based on a true story, it does play on the story behind the real-life U-96 German submarine crew. Don’t let the run time fool you, it’s four hours long, yes, but those four hours were followed by six Oscar noms and is now considered one of the best German films of all time. Watch the trailer here.
This adorable French film follows the life of a seriously cute and quirky waitress, Amelie. Charming, sweet, and funny, Amelie makes it her personal mission to bring happiness to the lives of others by solving their problems and giving them a new perspective on life. Along the way, she finds some romance and joy of her own. Also – Parisian chic style. Watch the trailer here.
While Cold Mountain is based on fictional characters, the elements and realities of Civil War America are very, very accurate. This classic wartime love story trails the story of a wounded Confederate deserter, Inman (Jude Law), who travels across the South to reunite with his wife. Meanwhile, his wife Ada (Nichole Kidman), is dealing with struggles of her own as she tries to navigate a new life with a farm to tend and a mysterious new helper, Ruby (Renee Zellweger). Watch the trailer here.
Come and See (Belarus)
This. Movie. Is. Legendary. Should I have just named this list WW2 movies? Because that’s the majority of it. But let’s face it, WW2 was busting at the seams with incredible stories, so it only makes sense that there are tons of incredible movies. This Russian language Belarusian film takes place on the border between Belarus and Poland during World War 2. It’s considered by most to be the most grueling and violent war movies ever made. I’m serious. It’s haunting and it will stay with you. Soviet director Elem Klimov pulled out all the stops on drama for this film in every single detail. The film follows the brutal life of 14-year-old Florya Gaishun, whose village has been massacred and now must find a way to survive. Watch the trailer here.
Roma is a Mexican, slightly historical, mostly dramatic black and white film about the life of Mexico City maid, Cleo. Cleo is young with her entire life ahead of her when she gets pregnant (you guessed it, he’s a tool). Meanwhile, the house is running into its own domestic problems, causing tension for everyone. Roma gets its historic gems with several references to El Halconazo or the Corpus Christi Massacre and brilliant features of Mixtec, an indigenous language with only half a million speakers. Based on the real-life story of director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood and his relationship with his mother and their maid, it’s a sweet story that can’t be missed. Watch the trailer here.
“Houston, we have a problem.” Nobody can forget unbelievably loveable Jim Lovell. Apollo 13 tells the true story of the Apollo 13 astronauts and their incredible fates. It’s a classic edge of your seat lost in space movie that is actually true, making it all the more thrilling.Watch the trailer here.
Can you guess who this movie is about? I’ll give you a hint, he led America through the Civil War and issued a little thing called the Emancipation Proclamation. That’s not all though, in addition, to be a pioneer in ending slavery, he also modernized the economy, was a self-taught lawyer, and had a great selection of top hats. This movie tells you all that and more. Spielberg shows all the best of Abraham Lincoln and just how inspiring and impactful he really was, despite his tragic end. Watch the trailer here.
Coco (watch in Spanish)
Coco is enough to melt the ice off even the coldest of hearts. While the movie is 1,000% enjoyable in English and American made since it’s Pixar – the story is a Mexican one and voiced by a nearly all Latino cast. By watching it in Spanish, the story of Dia de Los Muertos is brought more to life and feels more authentic. For example, dialogue using words like ‘tio’, ‘ofrenda’, ‘zapatos’ and ‘mira’ flow naturally while in the English version, it may seem out of place. But that’s just semantics. The real reason is the fact that Coco is the epitome of Mexican culture in regards to family, tradition, and Dia de Los Muertos. It’s also bursting at the seams with unforgettable music – if you think you love Carlos Rivera’s ‘Remember Me,’ wait until you hear ‘Recuérdame.’ You can watch it in Spanish with English subtitles on Netflix.
By now, everyone has heard of Hidden Figures. Hidden Figures is a love letter to the unsung African American female heroes of John Glenn’s orbit. They weren’t just total visionaries and genius mathematicians – they were also black females smack dab in Jim Crow America, which meant unending discredit, discrimination, and rampant racism. Despite all this, though, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson rise above it, and Hidden Figures is just the long-overdue, triple oscar nomination portrayal of that. Watch the trailer here.
Das Leben der Anderen (Germany)
It’s Berlin, 1983; loyal Stasi officers have the whole of East Germany like putty in the hands. Das Leben der Anderen, or, The Lives of Others brings that reality to screen with the story of Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler who sets out to expose those not loyal to the Communist Party. It’s not just a thrilling story about geopolitics and the exploits of East Germany’s secret police – it’s also a sobering look at the gloomy, not so ancient history of the Soviet Union errand boys and their impact on the nation.Watch the trailer here.
Full Metal Jacket
Wow. This movie. While this Stanley Kubrick film is clearly based around the Vietnam War – it could so easily be applied to current events. Full Metal Jacket is a bold narrative on the dehumanization of soldiers and, sometimes, the complete loss of the human spirit in wartime. It’s jam-packed with action, sweet, sad, and so, so important. Even better, it’s based on a novel called The Short Timers, written by Gustav Hasford, a former Marine himself.Watch the trailer here.
All The President’s Men
Based on the real-life political scandal of Watergate, All The Presidents Men is a must for anyone interested in political history. Such as moi 🙂 What makes this movie great is the fact that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodard actually co-wrote the script – the two original journalists who broke the story.
Watch the trailer here.
Adorable. Quirky. And so, so heartbreaking. I would rank this along with Death fo Stalin in that it’s a satirical look at history but also blindingly accurate. It’s funny enough without being too heavy and sad enough to remind you of the harsh realities of WW2. Jojo Rabbit is a fiercely patriotic jr. Nazi who has to learn the hard way that his hero, Hitler, is actually not Germany’s savior.