The 50 Essential Arthouse Movies


Usually when I hit a particular achievement in blogging, I mark it by writing a larger-than-usual list about a much broader, more general type of film. Since my blog recently hit its one year anniversary, I thought I’d write a list about the type of film I tend to focus on the most: the “arthouse” film. While I personally do not like the term “arthouse,” I think it is the most widely accepted and defining term for the type of movie I mean when I talk about the genre.

When I say “art film,” or “arthouse film,” I am not necessarily talking about foreign films, as some ignorant people may assume. This type of film can be made in any country, on any budget, but must be easily determined as marketed at a certain non-mainstream audience. Arthouse films often deal with subjects not always touched on in mainstream cinema, and deal with them in a distinct manner that mainstream movies tend to avoid; that is, to be more cynical and brutally honest about subjects than mainstream cinema, which often sugar coats the truth with unrealistic plot turns and endings that don’t reflect real life as the majority of us see it.

This list is admittedly a companion piece to my two lists on essential foreign films. While you will see quite a few films on this list that also appear on those, I must remind you that this is a separate list dealing with a different type of film. They are similar lists, but they are, of course, different in many ways. Also: usually I would do a list of 100, but I thought it better to challenge myself by cutting down to the truly excellent top fifty of my original shortlist, which was much longer. And another thing: I’ve decided not to write blurbs about these films because I’ve already written a fair bit about most of them around my site. If there are any you’d like to know more about – and particularly why I chose them – ask me in the comments. Without further ado, let the list begin:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Ikiru (1952)

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The 400 Blows (1959)

L’Avventura (1960)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Vivre sa Vie (1962)

8 ½ (1963)

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Persona (1966)

Wavelength (1967)

Mouchette (1967)

Week End (1967)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

El Topo (1970)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Murmur of the Heart (1972)

A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Eraserhead (1976)

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Nostalghia (1983)

Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

Stranger than Paradise (1984)

The Decalogue (1988)

Three Colours (1994)

Breaking the Waves (1996)

Taste of Cherry (1997)

The Idiots (1998)

Magnolia (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Code Unknown (2000)

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Waking Life (2001)

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Gerry (2002)

Russian Ark (2002)

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

Inland Empire (2006)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

The White Ribbon (2009)

A Serious Man (2009)

Certified Copy (2010)

Somewhere (2010)

The Turin Horse (2011)

Now it’s over to you. What do you think of the list, and what are some of your favourite ‘arthouse’ movies?

Posted on February 18, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.

  1. chandlerswainreviews

    Outstanding list and obviously the product of many hours well spent. Since such lists are highly subjective, I wouldn’t criticize any inclusions, though would go to bat for the inclusion for any of the following: Federico Fellini’s 1953 “I vitelloni”; Gaspar Noe’s 2002 “Irreversible”; Alexandr Sokurov’s 1997 “Mother and Son”; Alain Resnais’ 1955 “Night and Fog”; Monte Hellman’s 1966 “The Shooting”; Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 “I am Cuba”; Joseph Losey’s 1963 “The Damned” and Octavio Getino and Fernando E. Solanas’ 1969 “The Hour of the Furnaces”.

    • Thanks, it took a while to write this list and a few films did get left off. Of the ones you mention, I’ve seen IRREVERSIBLE, NIGHT AND FOG and I AM CUBA. The latter particularly were in consideration for this list, and I do love all three films. I also have plans to soon see I VITELLONI and MOTHER AND SON.

  2. A very inspiring list, as I have only seen two (!) of these. Arthouse (don’t like the term either) is one of my favorite genres or kind-of-movies, but I haven’t seen many of its “must-sees” because I just started watching other films than mainstream like… one or two years ago.

    The two films I’ve seen are:
    The White Ribbon – As a German I had to see it, and it’s one of my favorite German productions. Shockingly realistic.
    2001: A Space Odyssey – Just watched it recently and was absolutely taken aback by its power and beauty. This one will definitely make it to my new Top 100.

    Thank you for sharing such an impressive list that I can look up whenever I don’t know what to watch :).

  3. I’ve seen 7 of those… (hangs head in shame). Totally agree about those though, most notably The White Ribbon, Ikiru and Mulholland Dr. Great list Tyler!

  4. This is a great list, as always. I haven’t seen too many of them, but I definitely will grab a hold of a few of these in the coming months!

  5. This is an interesting and varied list; I’m saving it for future reference. 🙂 I’ve only seen a minority of the movies on this list, but there are some here I love, including Ikiru, Breaking the Waves, and Magnolia. This is my first visit to your site, but I’ll definitely be back.

  6. Great list 🙂 I’ve seen 6 of the movies on the list (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, The 400 Blows, Magnolia, A Serious Man, Certified Copy, and Somewhere). Of those movies, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc and The 400 Blows were my favorites.

  7. Seen nearly half of them,like some pics you choose,like The Seventh Seal,The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,Nostalghia.

    I have problem watching The Brown Bunny and Russian Ark here.I think The Brown Bunny is too self-indulgent and I can not bear the narcissism,especially the end.Russian Ark is remarkable in terms of its famous “one take”,but I just can’t finish it with patience.

    • Hmm. THE BROWN BUNNY is, as I have said many different times to many different people, a film that is difficult to like. Most people I know do not like it. I myself didn’t like it the first time I saw it. But it is one of those films you hold as personal and important, that few other people like. I value it and see it as important, but I respect others when they disagree with me.

      RUSSIAN ARK can be thought of as a one-take movie, but let’s avoid that. It’s so beautifully choreographed and fascinating, with brilliant re-enactments and superb costumes. Perhaps it is a film made for Russians, or people familiar with Russian history, but I still enjoy it and find it wondrous and delightful.

  8. woohoo I have seen 6…. oh that is not a good thing? I will get my coat

    • I always say Scott, the less you have seen the better. That way you have a huge number of great movies to experience ahead of you. Savour the remaining 44, even if you only see a handful of them.

  9. I’ve seen a good chunk of these (about 40%) and agree with the inclusion of most of them. I reacted very badly to Last Year at Marienbad and similarly to Jeanne Dielmann, so I would leave those off my own list.

    One I would add is The Man with the Movie Camera, which is sort of a silent Russian Koyaanisqatsi. I found it truly staggering.

    • Sorry to hear you didn’t like MARIENBAD or JEANNE DIELMAN. They’re two of my favourite films.

      I haven’t yet seen THE MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA though I do intend to.

  10. Fucking brilliant list, once again. It’s no surprise that many of the films on this list are some of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’m a huge fan of art house films, without them, film, to me, wouldn’t be nearly as “important” as it is.

    Well done.

    • Brilliant comment mate, arthouse is a genre I value more than any other. Without it, cinema would be far less great and incredibly uninteresting.

  11. A lot of fantastic films on here. I’ve seen about 30 of them. Looking forward to checking out the rest, especially L’Avventura and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

    • Surprised you haven’t seen L’AVVENTURA yet, James. JEANNE DIELMAN is a difficult one to locate (though Criterion have released it), but it is worth seeing in one sitting and you need to pay very careful attention to it, there are incredibly tiny details that are pivotal but easy to miss. I’ve seen it four times.

      • L’Avventura is one I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Not sure why I haven’t got around to it.

        As for Jeanne Dielman, it’s that very reason that I’ve not checked it out yet. I know I need to have that uninterrupted time, but it’s so rare and when I do have it, I usually don’t have access to such a film.

        • When you see L’AVVENTURA, try and see LA NOTTE and L’ECLISSE along with it. They are all equally brilliant parts of a trilogy.

          Good luck seeing JEANNE DIELMAN. Let me know if you get a chance.

  12. Great list. I’ve seen most and really enjoyed most of those. I love Bela Tarr and can’t wait to see Turn Horse. I would add some Herzog and Melville to the list.

    • Herzog and Melville were in consideration, but in the end it was just cutting this list down to 50 that killed it. If I extended it to 100 they’d surely be on there.

  13. Insightful list as always, Tyler. I’m obviously lagging when it comes to art-house cinema but I definitely want to see a lot from your list, especially Certified Copy, The White Ribbons and those three colors films. Thanks!

  14. I was going to have a little niggle and comment on how some of these titles were borderline ‘arthouse’ if not at all but I’m re-reading Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ and he defines anything that’s not ‘archplot’ as being in the ‘arthouse’ (a term he also dislikes) genre. So because deviating from the traditional story conventions is now commonplace even many mainstream films are technically ‘arthouse.’

    Also if you have not read Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ I highly recommend it even if you have no intension of writing.

    The only thing better than Robert McKee is Brian Cox playing Robert McKee.

    On the topic of stupid supra-genre the term ‘cult’ film is getting my goat. I used to get irritated by people misusing the term but now I can understand why. While a most of it’s definitions are clear who actually keeps tabs on how big the ‘cult folling’ is? When does a film pass from ‘cult’ to mainstream? How small or how devoted does a fan base have to be? It’s all pretty subjective. In fact just writing this makes me not care anymore. Thanks for letting me vent.

    • Arthouse is a term almost impossible to define. I chose not to. I see these films as all arthouse in some manner, and I don’t really wish to have to justify it any further.

  15. Well done putting this together! Have still not watched Last Year at Marienbad, shame on me! ( : Just saw White Ribbon, such a memorable and thought-provoking experience.

    I’ll actually be reviewing both The Decalogue, and Lars Von Trier’s work later this year over at my blog.
    If I’m nitpicking, my personal 50 arthouse films would include Chungking Express (1994) ,Easy Rider (1969), Before Sunrise/Sunset, Roger Dodger (2002) , Trust (1990).

    Great choices overall, though I would replace The Brown Bunny with Buffalo ’66 , Somewhere with Lost in Translation, and Inland Empire with Blue Velvet, but I suppose you’re mission is highlighting lesser-known films of those directors, or your best-loved-and I can’t argue with your favorites ( :

    • These lists are very subjective, so I’m sure everyone has a different one. Your suggestions of Chungking Express, Easy Rider and etc are interesting. I’ll consider them if I ever do a follow-up list.

  16. I am skeptical about the Bela Tarr films. I know he is worshipped by his fans but I just found both the films to be full of empty metaphors dressed with brilliant imageries and wonderful music. The brilliant cinematography and the music however does not make a film profound. I found his films to lack the element of density unlike Tarkovsky’s films. With Tarr’s films it feels like I am watching a video collage with great music. I feel some of the monologues in Bela Tarr’s films could have been written by a 15 year old despite the impression the films gives

    I agree to someone who said that Antonioni’s L’ecclise and L’notte in that trilogy were as good, if not better than L’vventura.
    I really liked Mouchette, Discreet Charm of a Bourgeoisie and Persona. I like Nostalghia but it’s not my favorite Tarkovsky film.

    • Hmmm, I can see where you’re coming from with Bela Tarr, though I have to disagree; I just have to. I love all his films and I’ve never had a problem with any of them, though it is good to see someone sharing a different opinion for a change.

      I thought L’Eclisse was better than L’Avventura, but both are far better than La Notte.

  17. Great post, been trying to watch more art house movies lately. Thanks for the reccomendations.

  18. Decent list, although I personally would have included one of Tarkovsky’s seventies films (Solaris, The Mirror, or Stalker) as opposed to Nostalghia. There are other comments I could make, but it would seem you’re providing a rough overview for budding film viewers, so with that in mind it’s a very solid list in my opinion, but as I implied above I still hold you could make a better choice as far as a Tarkovsky entry is concerned. Just my opinion though.

    • Interesting. I didn’t really think Tarkovsky over much, but for what it’s worth there are other films I prefer to Nostalghia, such as Solaris, Andrei Rublev and maybe Stalker. I adore Tarkovsky.

  19. fantastic list! I’m using it for my watch list project.

  20. Saroj shrestha

    I have seen 24 from list and watched 7 incomplete. Me film student from nepal ( south asia ). Regular arthouse movies viewer. My suggestion for lists are :- The straight story, color of paradise, beyond the clouds, a seperation, wild straberries, the cave of a yellow dog, three times, amour, crash, the visitor, in the mood for love, stalker …….. And most of iranian movies

    • I’ve seen The Straight Story, Beyond the Clouds, A Separation, Wild Strawberries, Amour, Crash, In the Mood For Love and Stalker and quite like most of them. I’m also a fan of Iranian cinema, particularly the films of Abbas Kiarostami.

  21. brown bunny is one of the worst films i’ve seen. totally self indulgent and boring. sorry just can’t stand it. The list is great apart from that.

  22. Seen 10 of those. Really the most diverse and in some sense compelling-to-me art-house movie list I have ever encountered. Plan to see the remaining ones soon. I don’t really understand ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ inclusion here. Also I cannot understand Michael Hanake(maybe a review is requried!).

    On an aside I consider Werckminster Harmonies to the best among these. Its quintessential allegory in short. I understand the languid long scenes of Bela can be too grueling to watch for many.

    Also I would like to hear your views on Kontroll. It is (idiosyncratically though) my favorite.

  23. More of a list of cool foreign films than “arthouse” films, barring Snow, Deren, etc.

    Still, some real gems here, like Dekalog, Taste of Cherry, and Stranger Than Paradise. However, I’m surprised that The Color of Pomegranates is absent!

  24. I’ve seen 27 of these films so I know you have a great list here! I’ll pick the other ones off soon. Thanks for this. As a practicing screenwriter and cinemaphile this list will help! I have it bookmarked.

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