For cinephiles in 2024, finding the right film to watch isn't so much a chore as a series of endless possibilities: from Criterion Collection, to Curzon, to MUBI, to BFI Player, there are now so many places to find seriously good old and new films.
BFI Player boasts a back catalogue of classic foreign-language cinema and old favourites, as well as plenty of critically-adored releases.
The site’s monthly subscription allows viewers to access a large archive of movies, while a smaller selection of films including recent releases are available to rent on a one-off basis. Here, we’ve focused on the films available to watch right now through the subscription service model.
From French classics to modern cult favourites, these are our 30 favourite films on the BFI Player right now, listed in no particular order.
The Quiet Girl
This Oscar-nominated Irish language film, which was directed by Colm Bairéad, is about a nine-year-old girl from a dysfunctional family who goes to spend a summer on a farm. It’s an adaptation of Claire Keegan’s exquisite novella Foster, which packs an absolute punch, as does the film.
Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated Wild Tales contains six stand-alone stories, all of which explore human behaviour in modern society. The Spanish-language films are all hilarious, dark and moving – each somehow more enjoyable than the next.
Michael Haneke’s 2005 psychological thriller Caché (Hidden) details a nightmare scenario: Parisian couple Anne (Juliette Binoche) and Georges (Daniel Auteuil) Laurent start being sent video tapes of surveillance of their apartment, as well as unpleasant drawings. Georges has suspicions that he knows who is tormenting them, and takes matters into his own hands when the police refuse to step in.
Uli Edel’s 1981 film is based on the true story of German actor and musician Christiane Vera Felscherinow’s life. Christiane grew up in Berlin’s working-class borough Neukölln in the Seventies, which was years before it became a hipster paradise. By her early teenage years, she was using heroin and working as a prostitute. Christiane F. tells a version of this story, with a soundtrack scored by David Bowie.
This grisly black-and-white French film about three friends living in a deprived Paris neighbourhood won director Mathieu Kassovitz Best Director at Cannes in 1995. Now a cult classic, La Haine, which translates to “hate”, is still as blistering as ever as it explores society, poverty and race.
Often hailed as one of the finest foreign-language films ever made, Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece follows the heroic efforts of the warriors attempting to protect a Japanese village from a vicious bandit attack. The classic film famously later became the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven.
The late Harry Dean Stanton is at his enigmatic best in this sprawling road movie, playing a mysterious vagrant who emerges from the desert having not been seen for four years. Unforgettable.
Another epic from Japanese genius Akira Kurosawa, this time focusing on a lone fighter who becomes the architect of a bloody gang war in feudal Japan. It’s one full of memorable iconography – you know you’re in for a visceral movie when the opening scene sees a dog running along a street carrying a human hand in its mouth.
Two classic stories from Russian literature — Chekhov’s The Wife and elements of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov â— are transported to modern-day Turkey in this striking film. It’s packed with political commentary on the lives of the rich and poor in Turkey, winning the Palme d’Or back in 2014.
This curious drama follows the creation of a demonic plant which infects people with happiness. Ben Whishaw is in fantastic form as the scientist who learns of the plant’s secret, becoming intent on protecting the beguiling creation. Emily Beecham also stars in the critical hit from cult Austrian director Jessica Hausner.
Lynn + Lucy
This inspired debut drama from British director Fyzal Boulifa follows the fraught friendship between Essex pair Lynn (Roxanne Scrimshaw) and Lucy (Nichola Burley). The Standard’s critic Charlotte O’Sullivan called it “disorientating, stressful and — ultimately — electrifying” in her review.
Throne of Blood
Another epic from Akira Kurosawa, this mid-century retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth transports the action from the moors of Scotland to feudal Japan, with a famous warrior killing his sovereign at the behest of his wife. The film won two of Japan’s prestigious Mainichi Film Awards upon its original release in 1957.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
This stomach-churning film, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, tells the story of two brothers who rob their parent’s jewelry store. An indisputably bad idea, things go from bad to downright disastrous when their father, Charles (Albert Finney) decides to exact revenge on the thieves, not knowing they are his own children.
King of New York
Filmmaker Abel Ferrara said it best: “It makes Scarface look like Mary Poppins”. A bloody underworld thriller, Christopher Walken stars as the ruthless Frank White, a drug lord determined to take over the city. A dud on release, it rightly has earned a reputation as a cult classic, not least for Walken’s performance; it was in this film he patented his offbeat eccentricity, which here is extraordinarily unsettling. Dance moves are on point, though.
A haunting, surreal nightmare, Dogtooth is not an easy watch; still, the 2009 film from Yorgos Lanthimos is remembered as the most important Greek release in decades, and not without reason. As elegantly shot as it is disturbing – and it can be grotesquely disturbing – Dogtooth tells the story of a couple who keep their teenage children hidden from the world, keeping them in line with sadistic acts of violence. Sex is ever present. A film with its own power.
It’s all in the title: this film tells the story of the Baroque painter. Though plenty is made of his intense approach to work, the fun is in watching Caravaggio’s riotous, drunken and debauched life. Derek Jarman’s film also marks the screen debut of both Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean.
This unsettling supernatural thriller is an uncomfortable and at times bizarre watch. Jessica Harper stars as a ballet dancer who transfers from America to Germany to join a well-regarded academy. Things aren’t right: maggots fall from the ceiling, a dog has its throat ripped out, there are murders. A tense, disturbing film, full of gore.
This mysterious Japanese drama tells the story of a woman whose husband appears to have taken his own life. The film is about her contracting and expanding sadness as she raises their new child, meets someone else and moves to a coastal village. Visually exquisite, Maborosi has a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Me Without You
Anna Friel and Michelle Williams star as Marina and Holly, in a story of a friendship which seems to poison both as much as it pleases them. We first meet the pair at 12 years old, and follow them intermittently as they grow up. The friendship is intense, confusing, troubled, sometimes bitter and often treacherous. It is, then, very real, and refreshing to watch because of it.
One of Werner Herzog’s most bombastic works, Fitzcarraldo, follows a man who embarks on the outlandish plot to run a steamship over a hill in the Amazon basin to access a new site for a rubber factory. It pits man against nature in a way that all the best Herzog movies do, and opened the director’s filmography up to a wider audience in the early Eighties.
The Bad Sleep Well
Kurosawa turned his attention to corporate corruption for his 1960 drama The Bad Sleep Well – an acerbic tale of betrayal, revenge and greed. Protagonist KÅichi Nishi manages to infiltrate a powerful company to find those responsible for the death of his father, in a story influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Director Andrea Arnold’s take on Emily Brontë’s masterpiece is a real thrill ride: raw, heady, strange, beautiful. A very different beast to previous adaptations, it divided critics upon its release, but it is now widely viewed as the gothic novel’s most electrifying reimagination.
Wendell B Harris Jr’s bone dry black comedy is a forgotten treasure. It won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize in 1990, and has been described by the BFI as “a lost masterpiece of Black American cinema”. They also called its director “a triple-threat filmmaker of original and eccentric talent”. Telling the story of a man who, tired of his low-level job, decides to con his way into several professional positions, the film is a tantalising and discomforting meditation on racism and identity.
The Hidden Fortress
One of the incredible run of Kurosawa films in the Fifties, The Hidden Fortress follows two Japanese peasants who agree to make the journey into enemy territory, but who fail to realise their passengers are a general and a member of the royal family. While it’s often overlooked in favour of the director's other films like Seven Samurai and Ran, it’s a beautifully shot gem that is well worth discovering.
Heaven Knows What
Before the Safdie Brothers connected with a worldwide audience with their adrenaline and anxiety-inducing movies Uncut Gems and Good Time, they made this desperately sad drug addiction drama based on a true story. The movie stars Arielle Holmes playing a version of herself as a homeless heroin addict, who director Josh Safdie befriended while living in New York.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
This classic 1928 French silent movie is early Hollywood at its most direct and expressive, telling the story of Joan of Arc’s final days and execution in England. Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s cinematography is striking even nearly 100 years on, but it’s Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s timeless performance that gives the film its impact.
Declared by some as one of the greatest films ever made, Tokyo Story is the story of elderly parents in west Japan who travel to the capital to visit their busy, grown children. The parents don’t receive the kind of welcome they’d hoped for, and the film becomes a meditation on the notion of family ravished by time and distance. A subtle and heartbreaking piece of work.
Tom of Finland
This biography focuses on the life of the man who helped inspire a generation of gay men to be proud of their identity in Finland following the Second World War. It tells the story of Touko Laaksonen, an artist who returned to Helsinki after the war and challenged traditional society by publishing erotic drawings. It’s a sensitively done and moving account of a man who made a real difference in his time.
Night of the Hunted
This unsettling and intriguing psychological French drama is the story of the inhabitants of a mental hospital who have lost their memories in an unexplained environmental accident. Jean Rollin’s movie is a dark, oppressive look at dystopia and depravity, but it’s one that will stay with you.
Swedish sci-fi, anyone? This movie is set in a world destroyed by climate change, with hi-concepts and ruminations on human behaviour in a crisis. The dystopian drama is set onboard a spaceship hurtling through space on its way to Mars, asking big questions and offering intimate, relationship-driven drama in equal quantity.