100+ Notable Foreign Language/ Silent Films on Kanopy


Kanopy’s streaming service has so many nice films available that a Top 100 isn’t enough. I did a Top 100 English language films a few days ago, but if anything, their selection of silent movies and foreign language films is more impressive..

Groundbreaking Silent

Through the Kino Lorber collection, you can get Birth of a Nation (#44 on AFI’s 1998 list of the 100 best movies ever), the most important full-length movie ever made, while the Cohen collection provides DW Griffith’s follow-up Intolerance (#49 on AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 best movies ever), which has become more socially acceptable because it isn’t as racist. Thanks to Flicker Alley, you can get Robert Flaherty’s documentary Nanook of the North. You can also get the 1995 restoration of  Louis Feuillade’s crime serial Les Vampires. There are at least two versions of Dziga Vertov’s The Man With the Movie Camera, as well as the expressionistic German thriller The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Silent Comedy

Thanks to the Criterion collection, you can have access to the trinity of Charlie Chaplin classics: The Gold Rush (#58 on AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 best movies ever), Modern Times (#78) and City Lights (#11) , arguably his masterpiece. There are also significant Buston Keaton comedies, including Our Hospitality and The General (#18 on AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 best movies ever).  Harold Lloyd classics, such as Safety Last! and The Freshman, his biggest box office hit, come from the Criterion collection.

Silent Drama

The collection of classic silent dramas includes Erich Von Streiheim’s Foolish Wives, Robert Hein’s hand transplant horror story The Hands of Orlac, and Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage, a creepy masterpiece/ morality tale. Russian Montage theorist Sergei Eisenstein has Battleship Potemkin, Strike, and more, while French montage pioneer Abel Gance has J’Accuse and La Roue (The Wheel). Fritz Lang is represented with his two part opera adaptation with Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge, a restored version of Spies, and his science fiction classic Metropolis. Murnau, another of the great silent directors, is represented with a restored version of his vampire classic Nosferatu, a newly restored Faust fantasy, and the chamber drama The Last Laugh.   You could check out the appeal of Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik with the Son of the Sheik, or Douglas Fairback with The Thief of Bagdad. Earth. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc may feature the best performance in all of cinema.

beauty beast

French Film

From the Golden Age of French cinema, you have Vigo’s L’Atalante, Renoir’s Rules of the Game, and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. From the French new wave, there are numerous Truffaut films including the 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, and Shoot the Piano Player, while Godard has Breathless, and Vivre Sa Vie, and Robert Bresson has Pickpocket. Other noteworthy French films include Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (actually his entire romantic trilogy), Luis Buñuel’s Belle De Jour (another Catherine Denevue vehicle), Jaques Tati’s Playtime, and the James Bond parody OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies with the future Oscar-winning pair of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin. For whatever reason, there does appear to be a shortage of Brigitte Bardot films.

German Film

While German’s are overrepresented in the silent era, there are a few notable early sound films available including Fritz Lang’s child killer manhunt M, and G W Pabst’s adaptation of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. The collections also include the work of later directors. Herzog has Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Wim Wenders has Wings of Desire and Fassbender has Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and The Marriage of Maria Braun, among others. Also of interest is the The DEFA Film Library’s (East) German Film Collection.

Russian Film

Anyone interested in Tarkovsky can check out his biopic Andrei Rublev, and his science fiction classics Stalker and Solaris. Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible Part 1 is available (Part 2 as well). There are 45 films courtesy of the Russico- Russian Cinema Council, including I am Twenty Years Old, described as a highlight of 60s Soviet Cinema, available in unedited form, showing a soldier’s return to civilian life.


Japanese Film

Kurosawa is well-represented with Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Ikiru as standouts, and the Macbeth adaptation Throne of Blood as a compelling curiosity. Ozu has several films including Tokyo Story, Floating Weeds, and the silent film he remade. Other films of interest are Mizoguchi’s ghost story Ugetsu, Suzuski’s yakuza thriller Tokyo Drifter, the date from hell horror of Audition, and Kobayashi’s samurai revenge drama Harakari.

Asian Film

Notable work from Hong Kong cinema includes Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong romance In the Mood For Love, and Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, with suspicious similarities to Reservoir Dogs. Korean cinema has the acclaimed documentary Dear Pyongyang, the Hitchcockian plastic surgery thriller Time Shi Gan, as well as Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (hs entire revenge trilogy actually), and his mystery thriller J.S.A.: Joint Security Area. Also of interest is China’s award-winning and banned coming of age drama The Blue Kite. 

Italian Film

Among the many Italian language films are cinema classics like Fellini’s 8 1/2 —as well as his La Strada and quite a few moreRossellini’s Rome Open City, and Bertolucci’s The Conformist. Neorealist pioneer Di Sica had The Bicycle Thieves, and Umberto D. Antonini has L’avventura, and the rest of the Malaise trilogy. Sorrentino has the more recent The Great Beauty. And anyone looking for horror has The Long Hair of Death.

Spanish Language Film

There are many notable Spanish language films from all over the world, including Buñuel’s Viridiana and Exterminating Angel, Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos. Almodovar’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, and Nava’s Mayan thriller El Norte.

Swedish Film

Ingmar Bergman is well-represented with The Seventh Seal, Persona, Wild Strawberries and twelve others. Also of note is I am Curious Yellow, and its counterpart I am Curious Blue, which showed the impact of the French New Wave on British cinema. Movies adapted into English include the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Insomnia.

Other Languages

A milestone of cinema is Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, starting with Pather Panchali, in the recent Criterion restoration. Marketa Lazarova has the reputation as the best Czech film ever. The Brazilian Portuguese-language Black Orpheus is also quite acclaimed.  In Romanian cinema,  The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu deals with the uncaring bureaucracy an ordinary man encounters near the end of his life, while Aferim! covers the search for a slave. With Polish film, Knife in the Water established Roman Polanski’s reputation, while Ashes and Diamonds explored the aftermath of Poland’s “liberation” under the Soviets. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors (Red, White, Blue) trilogy is a milestone of 1990s cinema. Ida is a recent awardwinner as a Nun learns dark secrets about her past.

Iran is represented with the documentary response to repression This is not a film, and  the vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. As an Estonian, I am obligated to mention Tangerines, the country’s sole nominee for the best foreign language Academy Award.

There are so many more movies that I haven’t mentioned, so anyone with the opportunity (college students; Los Angeles or New York state residents) should get a Kanopy account as soon as they can.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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