The Ten Best Arthouse Movies Ever Made

Arthouse films are a lively, imaginative genre which seems, with the state of Hollywood at the moment, to be the only film genre we can completely rely on. Over the course of the last year, I’ve come to rely on them. I love them, even more than mainstream movies, and here are ten films that any fan of arthouse movies must see, and anyone who’s looking to get into the arthouse genre should check out.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant, amazing, revolutionary movie has had such an unfathomable effect on cinema that to this day filmmakers still owe a hell of a lot to its use of montages for effect. A powerful, gripping and brilliant movie.

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

When Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali teamed up to make a film of Surrealist art, they had no idea the consequences it would have on the film industry. Arthouse lovers adore it, filmmakers praise it, and even though no one knows what the fuck is going on in it, people still love it.

The 400 Blows (1959)

Francois Truffaut made this film, one of the defining masterpieces of the French New Wave, on the heels of movies like Elevator to the Gallows and Breathless. It was his debut, and one of the best breakthrough movies for a filmmaker and a genre ever made. Antoine Doinel’s story is compelling and unforgettable from the Parisian streets in the opening scene to his face, frozen in an instant of miraculous emotion, in the final frame.

Persona (1966)

If I had to pick only one Ingmar Bergman movie for this list, it would have to be my favourite, and the most artistically significant, in my opinion. In terms of cinematography, Persona is unforgettable. Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist use black-and-white in a manner that exceeds any use of colour that might have followed it, and the acting performances of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are just as compelling.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1967)

A strong allegory and a compelling story, Robert Bresson’s famous film about a donkey who passively observes madness around him aims not to make the audience cry, nor to make them feel sorry for a mistreated animal, but rather to force them to see through its eyes without putting them in its position. Saddening, beautiful and sublimely shot, this is an unmistakable masterpiece.

El Topo (1971)

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies make more sense when they’re not making sense, is what I say. And none embody this feel of senslessness more than El Topo, which is actually one of the most deeply meaningful movies ever made. Religious references and symbols are splattered all throughout this film to an almost achingly unmistakable degree, but Jodorowsky still manages to make it bearable, though his films are definitely not for the casual viewer.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Werner Herzog’s breakthrough movie, a wondrous journey down rivers and through forests that preceded and exceeded the yet-to-come Apocalypse Now, is a stunning portrait of the loss of sanity of one narcissistic man who usurps the position of his leaders on a ship and, in a fit of mad insanity, heads it into a deathtrap in the futile hope of finding a fabled city.

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

One of the more accessible movies on this list, Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece tells of the relationship between two boys during World War II who are kept sheltered from the war in a school; but one of them is a Jew, secretly in hiding. An amazing movie which has had a strong effect on me.

Three Colours: Red (1993)

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s final film, Red is a stunning, quite literally breathtaking look at Parisian life that is impossible to match in any other film. When a young model meets a voyeuristic judge, unexpected things happen as they discover more about the world around him. I can’t say any film has ever made me feel quite the same way as this. Utterly extraordinary.

Russian Ark (2002)

Aleksandr Sokurov’s magnificent, stunningly beautiful 100 minute movie was shot entirely in one completely unedited take. You heard me. One take only. As the camera peacefully glides through thirty-three rooms of the Hermitage museum, culminating in a dance sequence which is shot so stunningly beautiful that it is impossible to forget. A magnificent movie that must be seen, along with all the films on this list.

Well, there you go, my ten best arthouse movies. This list was incredibly difficult to cut down, so a lot of movies didn’t make it, but I only had time to make it a Top Ten list, rather than something bigger. I hope arthouse fans enjoyed and mostly agreed with it, and people who aren’t that familiar with arthouse films learned something about the movies they should see. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

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Posted on August 27, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Playtime, Certified Copy, 4 Months, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie would all make my list.

    • 4 MONTHS and THE DISCREET CHARM are both brilliant movies. With this list I was aiming for more known arthouse movies as opposed to completely obscure ones, though if you want a more obscure list I could write a helluva long one. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Forgive me, I know I usually have a bug up my arse about something so I apologise in advance.

    I hate the term ‘arthouse.’ It’s right up there with people who can’t find a better adjective to describe offbeat films than ‘quirky.’ There, I said it and that’s all I’ll say on the matter before I start rambling.

    Now on the lighter side I would like to thank you for letting El Topo make the cut. The best part about it being in this list is that Jodorowsky insists he never set out to make an ‘art film’ he just wanted to make a western. Of course it was a western built on a foundation of writing bad checks and prolific drug taking. Fantastic.

    • I, too, loathe the term arthouse if we may be perfectly honest. But I used it here because it’s the most widely accepted term and this list is more intended for people who aren’t that familiar with the genre rather than experts.

      I, too, love EL TOPO.

      • Yeah. I agree that it has become the norm to group certain films under that heading even though the genre is subjective. I’m glad you hate it too. In fact there seems to be some solid consensus on this among film lovers. I guess it’s a term only thrown around by pretentious newbies. They’ll grow out of it hopefully.

  3. Excellent. I like obscure, but even I’ve only seen four of these. Notes have been made…

  4. I should hang my head in shame I guess, as I have not seen any of these! If I would like to watch some of these, which do you advise I should start with?

    • I mentioned in the post that AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS is the most accessible so I’d advise you start with that. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films are usually accessible too, so the THREE COLOURS trilogy is one I can’t recommend enough. Happy viewing!

  5. oh tyler i sort of have to join neocowboy in disliking the ‘arthouse’ term. i like your list and totally understand what you’re attempting/achieving but perhaps the term arthouse is a bit loose/vague? not that i have any idea what term you could use to label these movies.

    i consider myself open minded on the subject but i’ve only finished 3 of these 10 and i applaud you for seeing them all, you’re certainly a better man than me! theyre not the most accesible of artifacts to say the least.

  6. I’ve purchased five of these DVDs but only seen one. At least I’m making the effort to by arthouse films, even if I never get around to watching them, right?

  7. I am ashamed aswell because I haven’t seen any of these. All of them are in the queue and the first one I’ll probably tackle is the famous Un Chien Andalou. I also like the concept for Russian Ark – one take lasting for 100 minutes.

    • You almost forget that it’s one take. RUSSIAN ARK is just so beautifully shot and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the final ballroom sequence. I’ve written a review which I hope to post in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

  8. I don’t really get what ‘arthouse’ films are really…I just have a vague idea. I haven’t seen any of these, but I’ll be getting around to BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN sometime soon!

    • Yeah, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is a good one. You haven’t seen ANY of these? Not even one? Boy, oh, boy. Mind you, when I was your age I hadn’t even heard of any of these. Good luck with them, though.

  9. if someone in a DVD store told me to watch something because it was a wierd little foreign film that would probably be all it took for me to rent it. (mood permitting of course)

  10. Out of your list, I’m curious mostly about the Red trilogy. I almost rented it a while ago, not sure what happened.

    • Definitely, definitely rent the whole trilogy, but make sure you watch the films in order (BLUE, then WHITE, then RED). You will not regret it.

  11. I’m SO glad to see EL TOPO in the list,Alejandro Jodorowsky is the ultimate cult film director for me.It is so sad to hear the news that he has to raise money from the public to shoot his new film.

  12. For that matter, most of the movies of Kieslowski are considered to be arthouse (or offbeat) i suppose..I rate Double life of Veronique much higher than Red because of its brilliant cinematography and beautiful aesthetics..But popularity wise, Red scores more than Veronique..Gud list..But there are many more hidden gems in this genre like the movies from Iran (Kiarastomi, Majidi, Mahkalmbalf), Kim ki Duk, Wong kar wai, Yasujiro Ozu, Hao hsien etc..Hope you would do a 100 movies list on this category

  13. Luke Caxford

    Please can you fill me in on the definition of “arthouse”?

    • I’ve been asked this question before, and I don’t really know how to answer without rambling, but I’ll try: arthouse films are films that do not fit the ‘mainstream’. They can follow a regular plot scenario, but they tend to linger on images and ideas, provoking the audience to discover the meaning of things rather than just explaining everything for them. They can deal with heavy themes, such as existentialism (the nature of living, the meaning of life, or just simply the world around us). They can also heavily feature extreme sexuality or violence, but adversely some art films are rather tame in this regard. I prefer to call art films ‘minimalist movies,’ rather than ‘arthouse,’ because minimalism is really what it’s all about: arthouse films rarely have big budgets, and prefer to keep things simple. They can be difficult to watch and understand at first (it took me a while to warm up to them), but after a while once you find a director you like or an arthouse genre you fancy, you can really get into it. Great directors I recommend you start with are Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and that should do for now. So go out and rent some films and see what you think. ‘Arthouse’ truly is my favourite genre of cinema.

  14. Luke Caxford

    Thanks! That was really helpful! I will try and watch some of those movies. Currently I have the Three Colours Trilogy lined up to watch.

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