Martin Scorsese's List of 39 Foreign Films Every Filmmaker Should See

Martin Scorsese wants you to add these gems to your watchlist—immediately.

Martin Scorsese went to film school so people like us don't have to. The history of film permeates through his body of work; the techniques of auteurs like Truffaut, Renoir, and Kurosawa are subtly collected and transformed into something completely unique. Perhaps nowhere is there a better example of how gathering influences can illuminate a filmmaker's imagination.

Marty may have film school to thank for his exposure to such influences, but for those of us who not have had the opportunity to study these films in a classroom setting, it's our duty to educate ourselves. Second to picking up a camera and just going for it, the best way to learn about cinema may indeed be to watch the films that inspired the directors that, in turn, inspire us.

Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull"

Back in 2006, budding filmmaker Colin Levy had the privilege of meeting with Scorsese after winning an NYC-based short contest. Unfortunately for Levy, he had yet to be exposed to much of Scorsese's most celebrated films (including Taxi Driver and Goodfellas) at the time of the meeting. Fortunately for us, his limited knowledge of cinema provided Marty with the opportunity to deliver one of the most prized lists for which a self-educated filmmaker could ever ask.

In the words of Levy, "I labored over a thank-you card, in which I expressed the overwhelming impression I had gotten that I don’t know enough about anything. I especially don’t know enough about film history and foreign cinema. I asked if he had any suggestions for where to start."

He received the following note in response:

Courtesy of
We went ahead and scoured the internet for platforms to watch the films that Scorsese singled out. Aside from Abel Gance's five-hour 1927 box office smash hit Napoleon, which is only available on VHS, it turns out many of the films are available on Hulu (if you have a subscription) or Amazon.

All the usual suspects are there, but if you've ever felt overwhelmed by a certain director's body of work, then these are definitely the ones to start with:

  1. Metropolis - Fritz Lang (Hulu)
  2. NosferatuF.W. Murnau (Amazon Prime Instant)
  3. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler - Fritz Lang (Blu-Ray)
  4. Napoleon - Abel Gance (VHS) (yes, that's right VHS only) 
  5. Grand Illusion - Jean Renoir (Amazon Video)
  6. The Rules of the Game - Jean Renoir (Hulu)
  7. Children of Paradise - Marcel Carné (Hulu)
  8. Rome, Open City - Roberto Rossellini (Hulu)
  9. Paisan - Roberto Rossellini (Hulu)
  10. La Terra Trema - Luchino Visconti (Amazon Prime Instant)
  11. The Bicycle Thief Vittorio De Sica (Amazon Prime Instant)
  12. Umberto D Vittorio De Sica (Hulu)
  13. Beauty and the Beast -  Jean Cocteau (Hulu)
  14. Tokyo Story - Yasujirô Ozu (Hulu)
  15. Ikiru - Akira Kurosawa (Hulu)
  16. Seven Samurai - Akira Kurosawa (Hulu)
  17. Ugetsu - Kenji Mizoguchi (Hulu)
  18. Sansho the Bailiff -  Kenji Mizoguchi (Hulu)
  19. High and Low - Akira Kurosawa (Hulu)
  20. Big Deal on Madonna Street -  Mario Monicelli (DVD)
  21. Rocco and His Brothers Luchino Visconti (DVD)
  22. The 400 Blows - François Truffaut (Hulu)
  23. Shoot the Piano Player François Truffaut (Hulu)
  24. Breathless - Jean-Luc Godard (Hulu)
  25. Band of Outsiders - Jean-Luc Godard (Blu-Ray)
  26. Il Sorpasso - Dino Risi (Hulu)
  27. L’avventura -  Michelangelo Antonioni (Hulu)
  28. Blow-Up - Michelangelo Antonioni (Amazon Video)
  29. Before the Revolution - Bernardo Bertolucci (DVD)
  30. Le Boucher - Claude Chabrol (DVD)
  31. Weekend - Jean-Luc Godard (Hulu)
  32. Death by HangingNagisa Ôshima (Hulu)
  33. The Merchant of Four Seasons - Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Hulu)
  34. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Hulu)
  35. The Marriage of Maria Braun - Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Hulu)
  36. Kings of the Road - Wim Wenders (Amazon Video)
  37. The American Friend - Wim Wenders (Amazon Video)
  38. The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser - Werner Herzog (Amazon Video)
  39. Aguirre, The Wrath of God - Werner Herzog (Amazon Video)

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Your Comment


Some of these are on YouTube, or scattered around the 'Net for free, for all you starving artists... ;-)

October 3, 2016 at 6:53PM, Edited October 3, 7:02PM


Thank you for the great list, it's always a pleasure to read the posts and learn along the way.

just to point out the Napoleon film will be released this year on blueray, available on pre-order.

October 4, 2016 at 12:04AM


Woww... Wonderful.
New target locked.
Thanks a lot for the share.

October 4, 2016 at 2:07AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

This is an impressive list, will definitely watch them. Thanks!

October 4, 2016 at 11:13AM

O'Raine Thomas

Since Akira Kurosawa is pretty prominent on this list, let's allow him to give some further suggestions - the films of Bengali director Satyajit Ray. Here's Kurosawa's pretty strong endorsement:

"Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon. "

Kurosawa was referring to Ray's Apu trilogy (starting with "Pather Pachali").

Scorsese has also talked about his love for Ray. Maybe he didn't make the list above, but if you're looking to explore foreign films, they're a must. Enjoy!

October 5, 2016 at 3:30PM

Nayeem Mahbub

With all due respect to Mr. Scorssese and though that's his list and I'm just nobody, "foreign cinema" seems to be acording to him:
France, Italy, Germany and Japan, (from a fast reading of the titles, I may be wrong). In my list I'd put more countries to better represent "foreign cinema" for example I'd put Buñuel, and where's Kubrik, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein?....
well, so good as it is it's just Scorssese's list.

October 7, 2016 at 2:42AM, Edited October 7, 2:45AM


Try FilmStruck!! Best new streaming service for filmmakers

November 6, 2016 at 8:01AM

Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer

Yeah, I too love your articles and videos. Thank you!

November 25, 2017 at 2:12AM

Samuel Jane
Short Film Director