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100 Biggest Foreign Language Hits of 2017

Our year in review party begins. A different list each day. Here's Nathaniel R...

In the Fade didnt risk release in 2017 after all, hoping for Oscar favor to buoy its release in 2018Time for an annual look back at subtitled fare in cinemas. As with last year's list India, China, Mexico, and South Korea dominate with a smattering of other countries faring much less well in the American marketplace. Much of that is due, we think, to dedicated distributors focusing specifically on one market like FIP, China Lion and WellGo. Some of the movies we though might be big deals this year like Chile's Oscar nominee A Fantastic Woman opted for Oscar qualifying release only and Germany's Oscar finalist In the Fade starring Diane Kruger (pictured left) opted to sneak out at the last second to qualify for all Oscars though it did not receive nominations, buried in that post Christmas glut of tiny releases.

For the purposes of this list we skipped documentaries and animated films to keep the list more focused (and avoid arguments about dubbed versions or whatnot) but please to know that had we kept them in the wonderful Turkish street cat documentary Kedi would be in the top ten right here. This list is otherwise, as carefully as we could manage, accurate though we're happy to take corrections should we have missed something.

Listed By US Box Office Gross only  - FINAL TOTALS | Title links to reviews

01 Baahubali 2 The Conclusion $20.1 (India)
This epic takes place in medeival India and was filmed simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil and later dubbed into multiple other languages. Available to stream on Netflix.

02 Tiger Zinda Hai $5.5 (India)
Action drama

03 Raees $3.2 (India)
Shah Rukh Khan continues to be a box office titan of Bollywood cinema.

04 Wolf Warrior 2 $2.7 (China)
Yes that's American actor Frank Grillo (Crossbones in the Captain America movies) engaging in fisticuffs in China's all time chart-topper at home.

05 Do it Like an Hombre $2.5 (Chile/Mexico)

06 The Salesman $2.4 (Iran)
The Oscar winner for 2016 didn't open in the States until Oscar season was in swing. That's a tricky game that the bulk of foreign films lose at when they play (since chances of winning are slim!). Though Asghar Farhadi's other Oscar winner A Separation was much more successful in the US, this is still a terrific gross these days  for foreign films of any kind (sigh) especially one that's not from Bollywood or China.

07 Un Padre No Tan Padre $2.1 (Mexico)
Given the US's big population of Spanish speakers it was only a matter of time until distributors got better about catering to them on the regular.

08 Badrinath Ki Dulhania $1.9 (India)
A romantic comedy

09 Everybody Loves Somebody $1.9 (Mexico)
A lot of foreign hits lately have been romantic comedies. Why can't Hollywood get their act together and make good ones again? They used to be quite bankable when they made them well. 

10. Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds   $1.9 (South Korea)

11. Youth $1.8 (China)
From the popular director Xiaogang Feng (I Am Not Madame Bovary, Aftershock)

12 Toilet - Ek Prem Katha $1.8 (India)
This is a marital dramedy with its eye on a serious topic: the sanitation problems in rural India.

13 Menashe $1.7 (USA)
Though this is not often listed as a "foreign language" since US made indies aren't often perceived as "foreign" it applies as the bulk of the film is in Yiddish. Good movie about noncomformity, parenting, arranged marriages, and peer pressure within the Jewish Orthodox community.

14 Jab Harry Me Sejal $1.6 (India)
Despite what the name might imply, this is not a Bollywood remake of When Harry Met Sally, though it is a romantic comedy. Yet another smash hit for Shah Rukh Khan. Available to stream on Netflix

15 Jolly Lib 2 $1.6 (India)
Comedy sequel about an ambitious lawyer.

16 A Taxi Driver $1.5 (South Korea)
Their Oscar submission this year stars two staples of foreign arthouse cinema: South Korea's Sang Kang-ho and Germany's Thomas Kretschmann. 

17 The Square $1.5 (Sweden)
This year's Palme d'Or winner, Golden Globe nominee, and a nominee for Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film. The last time Ruben Ostlund was a major figure in the awards race he was snubbed at the last second (Force Majeure) but The Square has had a happier final act and, weirdly, almost the exact same box office gross!!! 

18 Judwaa 2 $1.4 (India)

19 The Wedding Plan $1.4 (Israel)
Rama Burshtein's followup to Fill the Void is something you don't see everyday: a religious romantic comedy. It's appealingly fresh while still adhering to romantic comedy tropes.

20 Three Idiotas $1.2 (Mexico)
Yes the title sounds familiar. There was a Bollywood comedy of the same name 8 years ago. This is an adaptation of the same play.

21 The Women's Balcony $1.2 (Israel)
Available to stream on Netflix

22 Golmaal Again $1.0 (India)

23 1945 $1.0 (Hungary) 
Murtada interviewed the director of this post World War II black and white feature which earned a tidy sum and stayed in theaters for a very long time despite next to no publicity.

Under the $1 million mark
but still strong domestic gross for subtitled feature

24 Tubelight $930k (India)

25 Frantz $880k (France)
Last year Frantz lost out to Elle in representing France at the Oscars. Released this year in the States it was a success at the arthouses (if not as popular as Elle). This lusciously handsome black and white film from François Ozon is a post World War drama about a mysterious French man befriending the family of a fallen German soldier. [Also covered here in "The Furniture"]

26 Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back $880k (China)

27 Jagga Jasoos $861k (India)

28 Mubarakan $756 (India) 

29 Lost in Paris $691k (France)
This French film, from the duo of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon who direct, write and star, is a posthumous outing for Emmanuelle Riva who plays Fiona's aunt who she assists in Paris which leads to complications.

30 Shubh Mangal Saavdhan $689k (India)

31 The Devotion of Suspect X $686k (China)

32 The Midwife $603k (France)
Catherine Deneuve plays the ex-mistress of a midwife's father who brings her surprising news

33 Battle of Memories $594k (China)

34 Raw $514k (France)
Film twitter at least was really into this cannibal horror film from France. It almost caught on at arthouse theaters. Available to stream on Netflix

Under $500,000
(In some cases significant media attention but didn't quite catch on)

35 Once Upon a Time $485k (China)

36 Confidential Assignment $475k (South Korea)

37 Duckweed $471k (China)

38 Phillauri $467k (India)

39 Chasing the Dragon $456k (Hong Kong)
Superstars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau co-star in this film that sounds a lot like Scarface -- an illegal immigrant transforms himself into a successful drug lord.

40 Confidential Assignment $475k (South Korea)

41 A Gentleman $410k (India) 

42 Tom of Finland $378k (Finland)
Finland's Oscar submission this year was a strangely traditional biopic considering its outré subject. It did not make the finals in foreign film, it did make John Waters top ten list.

43 Kung Fu Yoga $362k (China)
Available to stream on Netflix

44 OK Jaanu $355k (India)

45 This is Not What I Expected $337k (China)

46  In the Fade $321k (Germany) the Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film. But it was not nominated for the Oscar.

47 City of Rock $312k (China)

48 Happy End $301k (Austria) A rare arthouse, flop-relatively speaking, from critical darling Michael Haneke

49 Ittefa $298k (India)

50 Buddies in India $293k (China/India) 

51 After the Storm $272k (Japan)

52 Cezanne et Moi $257k (France)

53 The Fortress $252k (South Korea)

54 Sarkar 3 $249k (India)

55 The Swindlers $241k (South Korea)

56 Railroad Tigers $218k (China)

57 The Adventurers $216k (Hong Kong)

58 The Prison $207k (South Korea)

59 The Other Side of Hope $183k (Finland)
The latest from Aki Kaurismaki focuses on the refugee crisis

60 Past Life $180k (Israel)

61 Graduation $175k (Romania)

62 Polina $165k (France)

63 Thirteen Minutes $161k (Germany)

64 Endless Poetry $153k (Chile)

65 The Unknown Girl $150k (Belgium)
Available to stream on Netflix

66 Blade of the Immortal $150k (Japan)

67 Thelma $147k (Norway)
The latest excellence from our favorite Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Reprise, Oslo August 31st). It was Norway's Oscar submission this year but the subject matter and genre (queer supernatural with horror elements) was a little outside their comfort zone.

68 Moka $129 (Switzerland/France)

69  BPM (Beats Per Minute) $125k (France)
France's Oscar submission this year completely tanked despite rave reviews. We're still mystified that even the queer community wasn't going when the film is so wonderfully acted, and dynamically directed. [NATHANIEL'S TOP FIVE LIST | Also briefly discussed on the podcast]

70 The Thousand Faces of Dunjia $124k (Hong Kong)
A new wuxia film from the famous action choreographer behind Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon  who went on to direct the sequel to that Ang Lee classic Sword of Destiny

71 Explosion $122k (China)

72 Our Time Will Come $114k (Hong Kong)

73 The King's Choice $113k (Norway) Norway's Oscar submission last year, a coproduction with Ireland was a finalist but wasn't nominated. It was then released in September since it didn't have Oscar dreams to capitalize on with ticket buyers.  

74 Slack Bay $112k (France) [Covered here in "The Furniture"]

75 Reset $108k (China)

76 Like Crazy $107k (Italy)

77 Fabricated City $104k (South Korea)

78 The Lure $101k (Poland) [Featured here in Soundtracking]

79 Some Like It Hot $100k (China)
Not a remake of the classic comedy ;) 

UNDER $100,000 
Underseen but it's tough out there for foreign films in the current marketplace

80 Munna Michael $99k (India)

81 Poster Boys $97k (India) Available to stream on Netflix

82 The Mayor $96k (South Korea)

83  The Fencer $95k (Finland)
Finland's Oscar submission last year failed to get a nomination but it was up for the Golden Globe last season. [Our interview with the director]

84 Memoirs of a Murderer $91k (Japan)

85 The King's Case Note $90k (South Korea)

86 Warriors of the Dawn $84k (South Korea)

87 The Nile Hilton Incident $81k (Sweden/Denmark/Germany/France)

88 Pop Aye $77k (Thailand) Or, that elephant road trip movie.

89 The Divine Order $76k (Switzerland) 

90 The Teacher $64k (Slovakia) From the famous Czech director Jan Hřebejk

91 I Can Speak $63k (South Korea) 

92 Worlds Apart $60k (Greece)

93 God of War $53k (Hong Kong)

94 Beautiful Accident $51k (China)

95 The Ornithologist $50k (Portugal) Another queer film that struggled to find audiences but in this case it was always going to be an uphill climb as a decidedly esoteric "art" film. Available to stream on Netflix

96 From the Land of the Moon $47k (France) Marion Cotillard film.

97 The Divine Order $46k (Switzerland) This was the Swiss Oscar submission this year

98 Hermia & Helena $43k (Argentina)

99 Bluebeard $43k (South Korea)


100 The Death of Louis XIV $43k (France/Spain/Portugal)


Outside the List -
A sampling of some noteworthy titles that didn't register at all with moviegoers

The Commune

The Wound

Paradise (Russia), The Commune (Denmark) Trine Dyrholm is superb as a woman second-guessing her decision to live in a commune with her husband. From the great Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (Celebration), On the Beach at Night Alone (South Korea) Starring Kim Min-hee of The Handmaiden fame, Afterimage  (Poland) This was the last film made by legendary director and Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda. He died in 2016 after a stellar career with multiple classics including a few Oscar nominated Polish films, an Honorary Oscar, and a BAFTA win, The Wound (South Africa)  One of two African films which made the finalist list for the Oscars this year (but weren't nominated). It's an LGBT film about coming of age customs (circumsions), life in the closet, and toxic masculinity. Available to stream on NetflixThe Villainess (South Korea), Kills on Wheels (Hungary's Oscar submission in the 2016 season), Song of Granite (Ireland's Oscar submission for 2017), Staying Vertical  (France), Felicite (Senegal's Oscar finalist for 2017), Suntan (Greece), The Ardennes (Belgium's Oscar submission in 2016), The Woman Who Left (The Philippines), Abracadabra (Spain), and Apprentice (Singapore's Oscar submission in 2016).


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Reader Comments (14)

Poor BPM...every scene is poetry. I was the only one in the theatre when I saw it.

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

While I realize that box office appeal is different from awards body acclaim, I still find it interesting that this list has such strong Asian representation while the set of Oscar finalists does not.

A Fantastic Woman directed by Sebastián Lelio for Chile
In the Fade directed by Fatih Akin for Germany
On Body and Soul Ildikó Enyedi for Hungary
Foxtrot directed by Samuel Maoz for Israel
The Insult directed by Ziad Doueiri for Lebanon
Loveless directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev for Russia
Félicité directed by Alain Gomis for Senegal
The Wound directed by John Trengove for South Africa
The Square directed by Ruben Östlund for Sweden

Technically, Israel and Lebanon (and maybe Russia) are part of Asia, but that's like calling Gal Gadot an Asian actress. She is, but I doubt many people are ready to agree with that.

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

Wow, Endless Poetry made some money? That is awesome! If it's good for an artist like Jodorowsky, then there is some hope in the world of film.

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Has the foreign language market always skewed this much towards movies targeted at ex-pats or is this some new movement in distribution?

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

The 2nd highest grossing film made just $3.2mil. That's dispiriting.

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

MJS -- it has not. it's only in the past 10 years or so. basically the market tanked for foreign films (various reasons but mostly streaming, the rise of prestige adult television plus lack of media and arthouse audience interest in non American films) and then distributors sprang up which were savvy about targeting expats

December 20, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I really appreciate that this site consistently discusses foreign language films on a somewhat wide spectrum and at least mentions that films are from around the world are being released in North America and are getting seen. It's what makes this site one that I always come back to.

I really wish that film criticism in North America could take seriously films made outside of Hollywood that aren't marketed as art films. I live in Toronto and every single week there are at least 10 foreign language films from a variety of countries that are playing. While this is obviously a selection that is primarily available in big cities, film critics have no problem discussing endless repertory screenings or limited release arthouse films that aren't available for people outside of major cities. I understand that the reason these films aren't discussed are that film critics are not invited to screenings of these films and most film critics seem to find using their own money to see cinema as a crime(while wondering why nobody else will spend money on the theatrical experience). But it feels like movies from around the world are automatically seen as lesser by North American film critics. I know most of these films are mainstream films but as film criticism is increasingly taking studio fare seriously, it's curious that these same critics can't view popular films from India, China, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria or any other country as equally worth taking seriously. While the distribution is clearly aimed at areas where migrants from various countries are located, wouldn't part of making a truly inclusive country be engaging with the artistic output made in other countries? Isn't part of embracing racial diversity taking the art made by people in other countries seriously despite the fact that they are not racialized to be white or that they may not speak english?

But keep up the good work of taking a global perspective and demonstrating that foreign language films are just as valid as Hollywood films. If every single superhero movie, Star Wars movie, Fast and Furious movie, action movie or horror film is going to be considered newsworthy by film critics and everybody will tweet about The Emoji Movie despite nobody liking it, then film critics can take the time to see Wolf Warrior 2 considering how much more money it made. And yes, those numbers are worldwide because audiences outside of the U.S. are just as important as American audiences. But if we want foreign language films to make more money in the U.S. as well, film critics might want to begin taking these films seriously and worthy of promoting in the same way that Atomic Blonde or Girls Trip or Thor: Ragnarok or any other mainstream film that American film critics have championed this year.

December 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

‘Personal Shopper’ would place in the Top 20 here... It’s English-language, yes, but it was entirely financed in France.

December 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I've probably mentioned this here before but BPM's failure isn't a total surprise. Sure, if you live on the coasts maybe you think it had a chance to perform as well as any other successful foreign film, but it had a small, erratic distribution and little to no marketing. If the film doesn't play in your city (or plays for maybe a week tops), then rave reviews won't help it.

December 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Alex -- well put and I so agree. I only wish I could figure out a better and more consistently engaging way to cover the films here. I should probably head out to more of them myself since I'm always complaning about the topic. Or at least get better about writing about the ones I do see (i meant to write about WEDDING PLAN and BPM at length so many times and mentioned them several times but didn't actually write them up.

December 21, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A pity, Álex de la Iglesia's "The Bar" did not get the attention it certainly needed... specially because it's the kind of film that Hollywood would remake in a heartbeat, taking advantage, no one seems to be aware of its existence.

December 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

There is a big omission in this list: Hazlo como hombre. It made $2.5M
It's in Spahish Language.
t's a Mexican hit: it was the biggest local hit in 2017

December 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdgar Apanco

Edgar - thanks. whoops. that is a big miss. I tried to be so careful sifting through hundreds of releases. fixing now.

December 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This site very interisting. Thanks for the information keep it up.

December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSitus Bokep

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