For Americans, this lists consists of what are arguably the first 100 “foreign films” that are generally understood to constitute cinema literacy; these 100 features roughly make up the “basic story” of World Cinema taught in undergraduate classes not only in the United States but around the world (with American films set aside); a proper understanding of the international canon includes this plus the next gallery (or “G-list”), but if you really only have time for 100 feature films, these are probably them.

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F1. Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“Who now sings of the Punic Wars? Who remembers Capua and Mataurus? I was not conquered by knights or foot-soldiers or ships, but by a newly revealed power, a power whose arrows are released by the eyes of love…”

This is far from the first feature film, but it was the first internationally influential one and the first real epic, about the Second Punic War; it fluidly portrayed an erupting Mt. Etna, the alpine trek of Hannibal, sea battles, North Africa, slavery, and much more; it basically invented the dolly camera (i.e., on wheels), which American studios then called the “Cabiria camera”

Influenced by: other Italian epics up to that point, especially Quo Vadis (1913)

Influenced: D.W. Griffith; American and European cinema, the latter of which was put on hold because of The Great War

F2. La Dixieme Symphonie (The Tenth Symphony) (Gance, 1918) imdb LB RT wiki
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“The golden eyed god gazed, impassively, at all human tragedies.”

This is about a two love affairs, a blackmail scheme, and a symphony, the title referring both to that and to the way in which the director tried to emulate music in his unusual, near-abstract formal choices (at a time when films were silent) that mark this as the first Impressionist feature

Influenced by: impressionist art in other mediums; the Great War; Griffith films by contrast

Influenced: with this and Mater Dolorosa (1917), Gance essentially founded the Impressionist feature film movement, making him France’s leading filmmaker of the 1920s

F3. Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1920) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“What she and I have lived through is stranger still than what you have lived through. I will tell you about it.”

This story of a demented doctor who turns a carnival sleepwalker into a murderer transforms canted angles, asymmetrically painted walls, creepy lighting, title cards and other aspects into visual referents of dementia and insanity; in the context of its period, quality, and success, this was the largest-ever attack on “realism”; it also established cinematic German Expressionism as well as the modern horror film

Influenced by: German Expressionist art in other mediums, especially painting and theater; Griffith-esque films as contrast

Influenced: by establishing that great cinema does not need naturalism, this has to be counted one of the most influential films ever made

F4. Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“Meanwhile, the deadly breath of Nosferatu filled the sails of the ship, so that it flew toward its goal with supernatural speed.”

Unlike Caligari, this was the sort of German Expressionism that other productions could wholly appropriate, and they did; this first filmic version of “Dracula” changed the novel’s suave aristocrat into a vermin-like wraith, but also mainstreamed castles, crucifixes, and much vampire/horror iconography; the lighting and staging was particularly creepy 

Influenced by: Bram Stoker’s novel, but “othered” the vampire; Expressionism throughout German art

Influenced: horror, vampires, Expressionist naturalism, which eventually inspired film noir

F5. Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (Murnau, 1924) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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From a terrific script by Carl Mayer, this is a Kammerspielfilm (chamber-drama) that became famous as the first feature without title cards (others existed but were less famous); this is about a nameless hotel doorman who loses his job, and deals with the after-effects of shame and disgrace, which some compared to Germany’s position among nations; Murnau wanted to eliminate all that was not “the true domain of the cinema”; the title sets up audiences’ surprise at the ending

Influenced by: Murnau’s variegated work up to this point; German Expressionism and perhaps German identity

Influenced: this early masterpiece demonstrated emotional possibilities for film, alongside Nosferatu established Murnau on par with Griffith and therefore German Expressionism as a mature movement

F6. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“O Lord! Bring the unruly to reason!”

This film, about the 1905 mutiny of Russian sailors, is usually cited as one of the ten best films, almost always taught in film schools, and probably as influential over filmmakers as any; Eisenstein was also a prolific writer, and said Potemkin exemplified “collision montage,” where shot A + (unrelated) shot B creates C, which is not A or B or even really A+B, but instead a new affect or thought in the viewer’s mind

Influenced by: Lenin’s encouragement of five years of experimental propaganda

Influenced: formalism; film pacing, and most American films didn’t catch up to this film’s pace until about the 1970s; everyone who studied/studies film

F7. Mat (Mother) (Pudovkin, 1926) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“We must see to it – there will be none but us to see to it – that the people learn of those days that were so alive, so eventful, so significant, and of such great consequence much more thoroughly and in greater detail…”

A distaff version of the story told in Potemkin, this is an adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s novel about a woman caught between her husband and son’s revolutionary, and counter-revolutionary, impulses during the 1905 unrest; Pudovkin’s experiments with montage focused more (than Eisenstein) as a complication of character, to show people’s mixed emotions

Influenced by: Lenin’s encouragement of five years of experimental propaganda

Influenced: a more individual-focused, and sometimes more feminist, version of formalism compared to Eisenstein’s

F8. Metropolis (Lang, 1926) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“I wanted to look into the faces of the people whose little children are my brothers, my sisters…”

This film basically created the blockbuster as we now know it; pulling from a wide variety of influences, including dystopic novels, African art, Expressionist acting, Cubism, and Bauhaus, this is about a labor-leading woman and the son of a capitalist titan trying to overthrow his father’s repressive system; it also features a feminine robot and much innovative production design

Influenced by: many, many things, including Thea von Harbou’s novel and Lang’s vision of a lit-up New York City from a boat

Influenced: sci-fi; the novels 1984 and Brave New World; by far the most expensive film to date, and didn’t make its money back, leading to cuts, ignominy, and a narrative that many films would follow, off and onscreen

F9. Napoleon (Gance, 1927) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“I believe that man will save France!”

A synthesis of then-innovative cinematic techniques importuned on behalf of Napoleon’s life up until 1797, this film includes hand-held shots, multiple exposures, superimpositions, a lot of color tinting, kaleidoscopes, mosaics, as well as the one-time-only innovation of “Polyvision,” meant to widen and tint (to resemble France’s flag) the canvas with one wide, sometimes three square images

Influenced by: French Impressionism; Napoleon hagiography

Influenced: epics; eventually, wide screens and split screens; like Metropolis, it was not appreciated in its time, and much of it was altered to be more sound-friendly as the public turned to sound films

F10. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Dreyer, 1928) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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The greatest silent film, this is about the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in 1431; the interrogators were shot mostly in close-up, without makeup, from low angles, and with high-key lighting, to contrast Joan’s lack of makeup, soft lighting and closer close-ups; Jeanne Falconetti’s central performance may be the single most haunting artifact from the period

Influenced by: a large-ish budget; Dreyer’s Danish sensibilities, perhaps, including a willingness to risk what other directors hadn’t

Influenced: as the finale’s fires rage, we know that more than any other film, this reminds us what was lost from silent to sound

F11. Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) (von Sternberg, 1930) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“Men swarm around me like moths ’round a flame. And if their wings are singed, surely I can’t be blamed.”

This story of a respectable professor’s downfall through his obsession with a singer introduced much of the world to gender fluidity via the Weimar-era cabaret and Marlene Dietrich; this was also the first sound masterpiece by anyone, with clever, thematic uses of chiaroscuro lighting, dense décor, a nimble camera, and bold, pictorial compositions

Influenced by: German expressionism, though mostly as contrast

Influenced: von Sternberg may have begun gangster films with Underworld (1927); von Sternberg-Dietrich became the world’s first consistently artistic director-actor pair

F12. Zemlya (Earth) (Dovzhenko, 1930) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“As my Basil was killed for a new life, so I’m asking you to bury him in a new way.”

This film about the conflict over collectivization in the Ukraine may be the most important historical event captured while it was happening and transformed into excellent cinema; Stalin’s government thought it was paying for propaganda, but this film is so nuanced, human, and perspicacious that the Soviets banned it, which made the West love it all the more

Influenced by: formalist experiments; propaganda priorities

Influenced: final great Soviet humanist film; after this, Stalin stopped funding such projects

F13. M (Lang, 1931) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“But who will believe me? Who knows what it’s like to be me? How I’m forced to act… how I must, must… don’t want to, must! Don’t want to, but must! And then a voice screams! I can’t bear to hear it!”

This is the best screen content ever made about a serial killer of children, partly because it effectively dramatizes all of the relevant issues about scapegoating and hard choices, partly because of Lang’s brilliant production design, which in many ways invented what became noir; Peter Lorre’s virtuosic performance came to symbolize the terror of the ordinary

Influenced by: Lang’s work before Metropolis, like Dr. Mabuse the Gambler; his wife Thea von Harbou’s script and influences

Influenced: noir, crime stories

F14. L’Atalante (Vigo, 1934) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“All day long, it’s either smoochin’ or squabblin’!”

Probably the leading exponent of what has become known as “poetic realism,” this is about a sailor and wife who journey through France on his river barge, although it is hallowed less for its plot and more for its style and tone, and the fact that this was Vigo’s only feature (he had previously made shorts) and Vigo died at the age of 29, just after this film’s release

Influenced by: French impressionism and au courant art movements

Influenced: tone poems and other innovative art films

F15. La Grande Illusion (Renoir, 1937) clip imdb LB RT trailer wiki
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“Frontiers are an invention of men. Nature doesn’t give a hoot.”

The first masterpiece to exemplify naturalistic humanism on film, this is about two French airmen of different classes shot down over Germany and their experiences in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War I, but its larger theme is the shared similarities between men (not women) of different classes/nationalities/religions; this film towers over later such efforts

Influenced by: Erich von Stroheim’s work (he was also hired as a lead); Renoir’s father’s style, and his own

Influenced: humanistic cinema; first foreign film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar

F16. La Regle Du Jeu (Renoir, 1939)

F17. Ossessione (Visconti, 1943)­­

F18. Les Enfants du Paradis (Carne, 1945)

F19. Roma Citta Aperta (Rossellini, 1945)

F20. Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945)

F21. The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

F22. Ladri Di Biciclette (De Sica, 1948)

F23. Late Spring (Ozu, 1949)

F24. Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950)

F25. Los Olvidados (Buñuel, 1950)

F26. Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, 1953)

F27. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

F28. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

F29. Viaggio in Italia (Rossellini, 1954)

F30. Godzilla (Honda, 1954)

F31. Ordet (Dreyer, 1955)

F32. Pather Panchali (Ray, 1955)

F33. Mother India (Khan, 1957)

F34. Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (Bergman, 1957)

F35. Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) (Truffaut, 1959)

F36. Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, 1959)

F37. La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 1960)

F38. A bout de souffle (Breathless) (Godard, 1960)

F39. L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960)

F40. L’annee derniere a Marienbad (Resnais, 1961)

F41. Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) (Varda, 1961)

F42. Dr. No (Young, 1962)

F43. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)

F44. Le Mepris (Contempt) (Godard, 1963)

F45. Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara, 1964)

F46. Black God, White Devil (Rocha, 1964)

F47. A Hard Day’s Night (Lester, 1964)

F48. Gertrud (Dreyer, 1964)

F49. Pierrot Le Fou (Godard, 1965)

F50. La Noire De… (Black Girl) (Sembene, 1966)

F51. Au Hasard Balthasar (Bresson, 1966)

F52. The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966)

F53. Persona (Bergman, 1966)

F54. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966)

F55. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Leone, 1966)

F56. The Fireman’s Ball (Forman, 1967)

F57. Playtime (Tati, 1967)

F58. Memories of Underdevelopment (Alea, 1968)

F59. Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)

F60. A Touch of Zen (Hu, 1971)

F61. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)

F62. Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)

F63. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974)

F64. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1975)

F65. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam and Jones, 1975)

F66. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Com (Ackerman, 1975)

F67. Sholay (Sippy, 1975)

F68. Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979)

F69. Gandhi (Attenborough, 1982)

F70. L’Argent (Bresson, 1983)

F71. Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)

F72. My Beautiful Launderette (Frears, 1985)

F73. A Better Tomorrow (Woo, 1986)

F74. Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987)

F75. Salaam Bombay! (Nair, 1988)

F76. Dekalog (Kieslowski, 1989)

F77. Europa Europa (Holland, 1990)

F78. Satantango (Tarr, 1994)

F79. The Silences of the Palace (Tlatli, 1994)

F80. La Haine (Kassowitz, 1995)

F81. Festen (The Celebration) (Vinterburg, 1998)

F82. All About My Mother (Almodovar, 1999)

F83. Yi Yi (A One and a Two) (Yang, 2000)

F84. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee, 2000)

F85. In the Mood for Love (Kar-Wei, 2000)

F86. Amores Perros (Gonzales Inarritu, 2000)

F87. Ataranjuat: The Fast Runner (Kunuk, 2001)

F88. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Cuaron, 2001)

F89. Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)

F90. City of God (Meirelles, Lund, 2002)

F91. Oldboy (Park, 2003)

F92. Cache (Haneke, 2005)

F93. The Host (Bong, 2006)

F94. Pan’s Labyrinth (Del Toro, 2006)

F95. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)

F96. Persepolis (Satrapi, Paronnuad, 2007)

F97. White Material (Denis, 2010)

F98. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, 2010)

F99. Holy Motors (Carax, 2012)

F100. Timbuktu (Sissako, 2015)

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