There are lots of great movies out there with love as the central theme. And as it turns out, quite a few of them come with subtitles. With a little help from Babbel’s international team, we’ve compiled a list of must-watch romantic movies that happen to be in another language.
If you’re watching foreign romantic movies as part of your language learning, it’s wise to use subtitles, because not all of the movies in this list are for beginners. If you’re already at an intermediate level, try watching the movie with subtitles in the foreign language. Alternatively, if you end up loving the movie and want to watch it again, use the English subtitles the first time and the Spanish/French/German the second time, when you already know the story.
Watching movies in the language you’re learning is also a great way to learn about the culture and what love and relationships can be like in the countries (even though the drama is often somewhat exaggerated for the sake of the story).
Como agua para chocolate (1992)
English Title: Like Water for Chocolate
Forbidden love is the main theme of this Mexican romantic movie set on a family ranch in the early 1900s. Tradition has it that the younger sister in a family shouldn’t get married, instead living with the parents to take care of them. This means our protagonist Tita can’t marry the man she loves, Pedro. Even worse, Tita’s mother has her older daughter marry Pedro, though he only agrees so that he can stay close to his love. In response, Tita channels her emotions into cooking. As the years go by and several strange events unfold in the family, Tita finds ways to be close to Pedro. The movie is based on a bestselling 1989 novel by Laura Esquivel with the same name, in case you want some reading to go along with it.
English Title: Lovers of the Arctic Circle
Few Spanish language movies are set in northern Finland, which makes this an odd exception. Ana and Otto are childhood friends — step-siblings, in fact — who fall in love at a young age. Circumstances force Otto to leave his life (and Ana) behind in Spain to move to Finland, where he starts studying to become a pilot. But fate is strong (at least in this film), and the romance isn’t gone for long. The film alternated between Ana’s and Otto’s perspectives, giving a glimpse into their respective lives.
Hable con ella (2002)
English Title: Talk to Her
The film begins with two men meeting in a hospital while taking care of the comatose women they love. The rest of the movie plays out in flashbacks, with the stories of the four protagonists and how they ended up in this situation. This movie certainly has some dark moments ,and might not be considered a “romantic movie” by everyone. But it is at its heart about love, obsession, bodily agency and the thin line between life and death. Pedro Almodóvar, one of the most critically acclaimed Spanish-language directors, won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar (best screenplay) for Hable con ella, making it one of the most successful Spanish-language films of the 2000s.
English Title: Amélie
Amélie is definitely one of the most well-known French movies, and it’s the highest-grossing French-language movie in the United States ever. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s the perfect date night romantic movie. A happy ending isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for all the movies in this list, but Amélie won’t leave you and your date in a weird or somber mood. We promise!
In the movie, we follow the shy and somewhat awkward waitress Amélie, who has a very vivid fantasy as a result of an isolated childhood with her eccentric parents. She spends her time daydreaming and waitressing, until one day when she finds a box of childhood memorabilia hidden in the walls of her apartment. She decides to find the person it belongs to, and so she embarks on a journey through Paris. The movie is shot in a cinematographically original and beautiful way, and it’s accompanied by an iconic soundtrack.
English Title: Blue Is The Warmest Color
This affecting and from time to time heartbreaking love story between teenager Adèle and art student Emma is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh. Living in Lille, France, Adèle and Emma meet, fall in love and eventually move in with each other. They are drawn together by a strong attraction, but they have to navigate their different socioeconomic backgrounds and social circles. Ultimately, the movie is as much about class as about love. Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or in 2013 and the two main actresses were also awarded the Palme as a special prize.
De rouille et d’os (2012)
English Title: Rust and Bone
Based on the short story Rust and Bone by Canadian author Craig Davidson, this romantic movie features actors Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Set in southern France, the film is about killer whale trainer Stéphanie, who starts seeing Ali, an unemployed father living with his sister. Their bond deepens after an accident at the marine park, but the unclear nature and vague status of their casual relationship paired with Ali’s family problems complicate their love.
Angst essen Seele auf (1974)
English Title: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Angst essen Seele auf is one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most beloved films. Set in Munich in the ‘70s, it’s the story of a relationship between the 60-something widowed cleaning lady Emmi and the much younger Moroccan guest worker Ali. The couple faces a lot of prejudice from the people around them, including Emmi’s children. Torn between her love for Ali and the urge to fit in, Emmi begins to internalize the xenophobia that is impossible to escape in German society at this point in history.
The love story is a commentary on racism and discrimination of migrant workers. Fear Eats the Soul is also quite interesting from a language-learning perspective, because Ali himself speaks German as a second language. His grammatical errors are only somewhat preserved in the English subtitles — even the title itself, which is taken from something Ali says in a key scene, should technically be Angst isst die Seele auf.
Im Juli (2000)
English Title: In July
One of the early works of German director Fatih Akın — who later won a Golden Globe for In the Fade — Im Juli is a romance, a comedy and a road trip movie all in one. The story begins with Daniel, who buys a Mayan ring with a sun symbol at a jewelry stand. The woman selling him the ring, Juli, claims that he will soon meet the woman of his dreams and she will bear a similar sun symbol. That same night, Daniel meets a woman with a sun symbol on her shirt and decides to meet up with her in Turkey six days later. He hits the road in his friend’s old car and starts his way southeast toward Turkey. But just outside of Hamburg, he stops to pick up a hitchhiker who makes the prophecy a little more complicated.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Based on the book of the same name by André Aciman, this movie made a huge splash in the United States in 2017. Elio is a 17-year old American who lives in Italy, where his parents’ academic careers have taken the family. His friendship with his father’s assistant Oliver slowly turns to romance during the lazy, dusty Italian summer. It’s an incredibly emotional story about the power of one’s first love.
This movie is not entirely in another language, most of the dialogue is in fact in English. But if you’re learning either Italian or French, the movie can give you a chance to really delve into the parts of the movie that are in those languages: take notes, test your understanding by turning off the subtitles, rewind and watch those parts again — all without creating too much cognitive overload or missing too much of the movie.
L’ultimo bacio (2001)
English Title: The Last Kiss
A story about how to navigate love and relationships as you enter adulthood with all its responsibilities — when you might not yet be ready for it. The movie follows a love triangle consisting of Carlo, his girlfriend Giulia (who’s expecting their first baby), and 18-year old Francesca, with whom Carlo’s having an affair — his last chance of an uncomplicated youthful fling before his new, solemn life as a father begins. The movie was adapted for the American market in 2006 with Zach Braff as the immature protagonist. But if you’re looking for a foreign-language romantic movie experience, you should go for the Italian original.
Fucking Åmål (1998)
English Title: Show Me Love
Perhaps the most celebrated debut in Swedish cinema ever, the modern classic Show Me Love, or Fucking Åmål in Swedish (not a direct translation, as you can guess), is the story of the seemingly impossible love between the school’s most popular girl Elin and the depressed and isolated Agnes. The familiar, love-against-all-odds narrative is driven forward by an energetic and funny dialogue, and the movie really captures the desperation and awkwardness of being a teenager in love. Small-town bigotry and the teenage yearning to be both somewhere else and someone else are themes in the foreground of this coming-out and coming-of-age movie, which is one of the most beloved Swedish indie films.
A Copy of My Mind (2015)
What’s more romantic than you and your lover discovering a hot case of political corruption together? Sari and Alek are both film nerds; Sari works in a beauty parlor but spends most of her time watching pirated DVDs, and Alek works as a subtitle writer for those DVDs. As you can guess, they meet and fall in love. But when Sari accidentally gets hold of a DVD that proves a connection between politicians and the mafia, their lives turn to a suspenseful political thriller, delivering a powerful message, both romantic and political.