Top 30 Best Arthouse Movies of All Time: Must-Watch List

Art has always been a medium of expression and exploration, providing a platform to challenge the status quo and question the boundaries of creativity. Arthouse movies, in particular, embrace this ethos and offer a captivating alternative to mainstream cinema.

These films prioritize artistic expression over commercial appeal, often exploring unconventional themes, pushing boundaries, and leaving a lasting impact on viewers.

In this blog, we will explore the 30 best arthouse movies of all time, each a unique masterpiece in its own right, fostering a deep appreciation for filmmaking.

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Direct by: David Lynch | Rating: 7.9/10 | 379,175 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Mulholland Drive

One of the most mind-bending films of all time, “Mulholland Drive” is a surreal journey through the arthouse genre. Directed by David Lynch, the film follows a young woman who moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.

As she navigates the winding Mulholland Drive, reality and illusion blur, leading to a mysterious and mesmerizing narrative. Naomi Watts delivers a stunning performance, solidifying her place as a talented arthouse actress.

With Lynch’s signature blend of dreamlike imagery and enigmatic storytelling, “Mulholland Drive” takes viewers on a captivating and often unsettling journey into the depths of the human psyche.

2. Eraserhead (1977)

Direct by: David Lynch | Rating: 7.3/10 |‎ 125,571 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Mulholland Drive

A cult classic in the arthouse film genre, “Eraserhead” is a haunting exploration of existential dread.

Directed by David Lynch, the film follows Henry Spencer, a man trapped in a nightmarish world of industrial decay and bizarre occurrences. Blurring the line between horror movies and arthouse films.

“Eraserhead” is a visually stunning and emotionally unsettling experience. Lynch’s masterful storytelling and unique visual style create a sense of unease and discomfort long after the film ends.

With its enigmatic symbolism and surreal imagery, “Eraserhead” is a standout example of arthouse cinema at its finest.

3. Blue Velvet (1986)

Direct by: David Lynch | Rating: 7.7/10 |‎ 212,848 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Blue Velvet

“Blue Velvet” is a mystery thriller that showcases the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic small Colorado community. Directed by David Lynch, the film follows a young man entangled in a web of mystery and danger after discovering a severed ear.

With its twisted narrative and haunting imagery, “Blue Velvet” delves deep into themes of duality, desire, and the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of everyday life.

Lynch’s unique blend of arthouse sensibilities and genre film tropes make “Blue Velvet” a truly unforgettable cinematic experience.

4. Donnie Darko (2001)

Direct by: Richard Kelly | Rating: 8/10 | 841,236 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Donnie Darko

“Donnie Darko” is a mesmerizing arthouse film that defies categorization. Directed by Richard Kelly, the film follows a troubled teenager named Donnie, who is plagued by visions of a man in a rabbit costume.

As Donnie navigates the complexities of adolescence, time travel, and alternate realities, the film explores themes of fate, free will, and the nature of existence.

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a career-defining performance, capturing the essence of a young man struggling to make sense of the world around him.

With its intriguing narrative and thought-provoking themes, “Donnie Darko” has become a cult favorite in the arthouse genre.

5. Melancholia (2011)

Direct by: Lars von Trier | Rating: 7.1/10 | 193,750 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Melancholia

“Melancholia” is a visually stunning and emotionally devastating arthouse film directed by Lars von Trier. The movie follows the lives of two sisters, played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as they navigate a mysterious artifact hurtling toward Earth. As the impending doom of the planet looms, the film explores themes of depression, anxiety, and the fragility of human relationships. With its breathtaking cinematography, haunting score, and raw performances, “Melancholia” immerses viewers in a world of beauty and despair, leaving a lasting impact on all who experience it.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Direct by: Stanley Kubrick | Rating: 8.3/10 | 710,285 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Melancholia

Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a groundbreaking arthouse film that continues to captivate audiences today. The film takes viewers on a mesmerizing journey through time and space with its iconic imagery, minimal dialogue, and evocative music. From the lunar surface to the depths of the cosmos, “2001: A Space Odyssey” challenges audiences to contemplate the nature of existence and our place in the universe. Kubrick’s visionary direction and thought-provoking storytelling make this arthouse classic a must-watch for all film enthusiasts.

7. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Direct by: Darren Aronofsky | Rating: 8.3/10 | 888,901 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Requiem for a Dream

“Requiem for a Dream” is a harrowing arthouse film that explores the devastating impact of addiction on four interconnected lives.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film follows a young man and his mother as they descend into a spiral of drug abuse and shattered dreams.

With its raw, unflinching portrayal of addiction and its consequences, “Requiem for a Dream” is a powerful and emotionally charged cinematic experience.

Aronofsky’s masterful storytelling and visually striking imagery leave a lasting impact, making “Requiem for a Dream” one of the best arthouse films ever.

8. Brazil (1985)

Direct by: Terry Gilliam | Rating: 7.9/10 | 209,717 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Brazil 1985

“Brazil” is a dystopian arthouse film that combines dark humor, surrealism, and social commentary to create a thought-provoking narrative.

Directed by Terry Gilliam, the film tells the story of a man caught in a bizarre bureaucratic system after a case of mistaken identity and a mysterious accident.

Through its rich visual tapestry and memorable characters, “Brazil” challenges societal norms and explores themes of individuality, freedom, and the struggle against oppressive systems.

Gilliam’s imaginative vision and satirical take on bureaucracy make “Brazil” a beloved arthouse classic.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Direct by: Michel Gondry | Rating: 8.3/10 | 1,063,573 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a beautiful arthouse film that delves into the complexities of memory, love, and the human experience. Directed by Michel Gondry, the movie stars Jim Carrey as Joel, a man who undergoes a procedure to erase memories of a failed relationship. As the process unfolds, Joel relives the cherished moments of his past, forcing him to confront the true nature of love and loss. With its inventive storytelling, stunning visuals, and heartfelt performances, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” has rightfully earned its place as one of the best arthouse films ever.

10. Upstream Color (2013)

Direct by: Shane Carruth | Rating: 6.5/10 | 34,787 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - upstream color

“Upstream Color” is a mesmerizing arthouse film that defies conventional narrative structure. Directed by Shane Carruth, the movie follows a young woman entangled in a mysterious cycle of identity, control, and transcendence.

As she navigates a world of enigmatic circumstances, the film explores themes of love, loss, and the interconnectedness of all life.

Through Carruth’s poetic storytelling and ethereal imagery, “Upstream Color” challenges viewers to embrace ambiguity and introspection, offering a deeply personal and transformative arthouse experience.

11. The Holy Mountain (1973)

Direct by: Alejandro Jodorowsky | Rating: 7.8/10 | 47,266 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - The Holy Mountain

“The Holy Mountain,” directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a bold, audacious, arthouse film that defies conventional storytelling.

Visually stunning and rich in symbolism, the movie invites viewers to embark on a surreal journey through a world of allegory and philosophical musings.

Through its enigmatic narrative and mind-bending imagery, “The Holy Mountain” challenges societal norms and satirizes various institutions, including religion and capitalism.

Jodorowsky’s visionary approach to filmmaking sets this arthouse classic apart, solidifying his place among the greatest arthouse directors of all time.

12. The Fountain (2006)

Direct by: Darren Aronofsky | Rating: 7.2/10 | 247,478 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - The Holy Mountain

“The Fountain” is a visually stunning arthouse film that explores love, mortality, and the pursuit of eternal life.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film follows a young man who embarks on a quest to find a mythical tree with life-giving powers.

As he delves into the mysteries of time and existence, the film weaves together three parallel narratives that explore the human desire for immortality and the fragility of life.

With breathtaking cinematography, masterful storytelling, and emotionally resonant performances, “The Fountain” profoundly mediates the human condition and the nature of existence.

13. Death in Venice (1971)

Direct by: Luchino Visconti | Rating: 7.4/10 | 22,808 votes

Best Arthouse Movies - Death in Venice

Directed by Luchino Visconti, “Death in Venice” is a haunting arthouse film that explores themes of beauty, desire, and the transience of life. Based on Thomas Mann’s novella, the movie follows a composer obsessed with a young boy while vacationing in Venice. Through its evocative cinematography and nuanced performances, “Death in Venice” captures the melancholic beauty of unrequited longing and the profound loneliness of the human experience. Visconti’s masterful direction and the film’s timeless themes make it a standout arthouse classic.

14. The Pillow Book (1995)

Direct by: Peter Greenaway | Rating: 6.5/10 | 13,523 votes

“The Pillow Book” is a visually sumptuous arthouse film that explores the interplay of art, identity, and desire.

Directed by Peter Greenaway, the movie follows a single mother named Nagiko, played by Vivian Wu, as she navigates the world of calligraphy and sensuality.

With its fusion of narrative, imagery, and tactile exploration, “The Pillow Book” offers a multisensory cinematic experience. The film delves into themes of artistic expression, eroticism, and the borders between life and art.

Boasting exquisite cinematography and a captivating performance by Paul Bettany, “The Pillow Book” is a remarkable arthouse gem.

15. V for Vendetta (2005)

Direct by: James McTeigue | Rating: 8.2/10 | 1,169,277 votes

Directed by James McTeigue, “V for Vendetta” is a politically charged arthouse film that combines elements of a thrilling action movie with a thought-provoking exploration of collective ideals.

Set in a dystopian future, the film follows a masked vigilante, known only as V, as he seeks to overthrow a totalitarian regime. With its resonant themes of freedom, identity, and the power of ideas.

“V for Vendetta” captures the zeitgeist of our times. Natalie Portman delivers a captivating performance, further elevating the film’s arthouse appeal.

16. Only God Forgives (2013)

Direct by: Nicolas Winding Refn | Rating: 5.7/10 | 117,297 votes

“Only God Forgives” is a visually striking arthouse film exploring revenge and redemption’s dark underbelly.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the movie follows an American drug dealer embroiled in a violent confrontation with a mysterious figure called The Angel of Vengeance.

Through its atmospheric cinematography, brooding score, and subdued performances, “Only God Forgives” delves into the depths of the human psyche, challenging audiences to confront their capacity for violence and justice.

With its arthouse sensibilities and exploration of existential themes, the film leaves a lasting impact on viewers.

17. I Killed My Mother (2009)

Direct by: Xavier Dolan | Rating: 7.4/10 | 31,168 votes

“I Killed My Mother” is a poignant arthouse film that explores the complexities of a mother-son relationship.

Directed by Xavier Dolan, the movie delves into the tumultuous emotions of a troubled teenager as he navigates the challenges of adolescence and the strained interactions with his mother.

With its raw and intimate portrayal, “I Killed My Mother” captures the turbulent emotions of youth. The longing for independence and the profound impact of parental relationships.

Dolan’s skillful storytelling and nuanced performances make this arthouse film a striking and emotionally resonant cinematic experience.

18. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

Direct by: Alain Resnais | Rating: 7.8/10 | 35,401 votes

Directed by Alain Resnais, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” is a seminal arthouse film that explores love, memory, and the lingering scars of war in the aftermath of World War II.

The movie follows a French actress and a Japanese architect engaging in a passionate affair in Hiroshima through its poetic dialogue, nonlinear narrative, and haunting imagery.

“Hiroshima Mon Amour” delves into the complexities of human emotions and the lasting impact of collective trauma.

Resnais’ masterful direction and the film’s profound themes have solidified its place as one of the most influential arthouse films ever.

19. Last Days (2005)

Direct by: Gus Van Sant | Rating: 5.7/10 | 23,606 votes

Directed by Gus Van Sant, “Last Days” is a contemplative arthouse film that draws inspiration from the final days of musician Kurt Cobain.

The movie follows a troubled artist, played by Michael Pitt, as he navigates a world marked by loneliness, addiction, and existential angst.

With its minimalist approach and reflective tone, “Last Days” immerses viewers in the intimate solitude of the main character, delving into themes of isolation, artistic expression, and the search for meaning.

Van Sant’s nuanced filmmaking and Pitt’s captivating performance make “Last Days” a powerful exploration of the human condition.

20. Enter the Void (2009)

Direct by: Gaspar Noé | Rating: 7.2/10 | 87,025 votes

“Enter the Void,” directed by Gaspar Noé, is a visually mesmerizing arthouse film that immerses viewers in the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. The movie follows a young man who, after his death, becomes a disembodied spirit observing the lives of those he left behind.

Through its hallucinatory visuals, nonlinear narrative, and hypnotic cinematography, “Enter the Void” explores themes of reincarnation, drug-induced experiences, and the interconnectedness of life.

This arthouse masterpiece challenges conventional storytelling and pushes the boundaries of cinematic artistry, offering a transcendent and mind-altering experience.

21. Lady Vengeance (2005)

Direct by: Park Chan-wook | Rating: 7.5/10 | 85,180 votes

Directed by Park Chan-wook, “Lady Vengeance” is a captivating arthouse film that delves into the nature of vengeance and the complexities of the human spirit.

The movie follows a young woman seeking retribution against those who wronged her in the past. With its stunning cinematography, poetic violence, and rich character development, “Lady Vengeance” explores themes of forgiveness, redemption, and the blurred line between good and evil.

Through its masterful storytelling, Park Chan-wook offers a thought-provoking exploration of morality, justice, and the enduring power of the human spirit.

22. A Bittersweet Life (2005)

Direct by: Kim Jee-woon | Rating: 7.5/10 | 42,563 votes

“A Bittersweet Life” is a South Korean arthouse film directed by Kim Jee-woon. The movie follows a loyal enforcer named Sun-woo, played by Lee Byung-hun, as he becomes embroiled in a life-altering conflict between loyalty, love, and vengeance.

Through stylish cinematography, poetic violence, and nuanced performances, “A Bittersweet Life” explores themes of honor, duty, and the human capacity for compassion.

Kim Jee-woon’s masterful direction and Lee Byung-hun’s commanding presence elevate this arthouse film to a thrilling and emotionally resonant cinematic experience.

23. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Direct by: Chantal Akerman | Rating: 7.5/10 | 13,387 votes

“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is a groundbreaking arthouse film directed by Chantal Akerman. The movie follows the mundane yet profound rhythms of a single mother’s daily life.

Exploring themes of domesticity, routine, and suppressed desires. With its minimalist style, long takes, and unflinching observations. The challenges traditional cinematic storytelling and radically deconstructs gender, labor, and societal expectations.

Akerman’s visionary approach to filmmaking and the film’s intimate portrayal of a woman’s life make it a standout example of arthouse cinema.

24. Holy Motors (2012)

Direct by: Leos Carax | Rating: 7/10 | 48,564 votes

Directed by Leos Carax, “Holy Motors” is a mesmerizing arthouse film that blurs the boundaries between reality and performance.

The movie follows a mysterious man, played by Denis Lavant, as he embarks on a series of enigmatic, transformative personas and identities throughout a single day in Paris.

Through its kaleidoscopic imagery, nonlinear narrative, and playful exploration of identity, “Holy Motors” celebrates the boundless possibilities of storytelling and self-expression.

Carax’s inventive direction and Lavant’s captivating performances create a truly unique and unforgettable arthouse experience.

25. Stalker (1979)

Direct by: Andrei Tarkovsky | Rating: 8.1/10 | 142,819 votes

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, “Stalker” is a mysterious arthouse film that defies easy categorization.

The movie follows a guide known as a “Stalker,” who leads a writer and a scientist through a forbidden zone to reach a mysterious artifact that grants wishes.

Through its atmospheric cinematography, meditative pacing, and philosophical musings, “Stalker” explores themes of desire, belief, and the human condition.

With its enigmatic narrative and haunting imagery, this arthouse classic invites viewers to contemplate the nature of reality, the boundaries of perception, and the power of faith.

26. Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Direct by: Lars von Trier | Rating: 7.9/10 | 115,744 votes

Directed by Lars von Trier, “Dancer in the Dark” is a heartbreaking arthouse film combining musical drama elements with a thought-provoking exploration of societal injustices.

The movie stars Björk as Selma, a factory worker with a degenerative eye condition who dreams of being a musical star. Through its evocative cinematography and raw performances.

“Dancer in the Dark” explores themes of sacrifice, resilience, and the pursuit of happiness, even in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Lars von Trier’s bold filmmaking and Björk’s powerful portrayal make this arthouse film a profound and emotionally resonant experience.

27. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Direct by: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky | Rating: 8/10 | 15,632 votes

Directed by Béla Tarr, “Werckmeister Harmonies” is a mesmerizing arthouse film that delves into the complexities of life, suffering, and longing.

The movie follows a young man named János, who becomes entangled in the mysterious events unfolding in his small Hungarian village. Through its atmospheric cinematography, subdued performances, and contemplative pacing, “Werckmeister Harmonies” captures the essence of human existence.

They explore themes of alienation, loneliness, and the search for meaning. With its blend of philosophical musings and haunting imagery, this arthouse gem offers a transformative and reflective journey to all who experience it.

28. The Tree of Life (2011)

Direct by: Terrence Malick | Rating: 6.8/10 | 182,968 votes

Directed by Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life” is a visually stunning arthouse film that spans generations, exploring the interconnectedness of all life.

The movie weaves together the story of a young boy growing up in Texas, his discordant relationship with his father, and the origins of life itself through its breathtaking cinematography, poetic narration, and profound themes.

“The Tree of Life” invites viewers to contemplate the intricacies of existence, our place in the universe, and the eternal power of love. Malick’s visionary filmmaking and Brad Pitt’s compelling performance make this arthouse film a true masterpiece.

29. In the Mood for Love (2000)

Direct by: Wong Kar-wai | Rating: 8.1/10 | 164,023 votes

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, “In the Mood for Love” is a visually mesmerizing arthouse film that explores the complex emotions of love, desire, and loneliness.

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the movie follows two neighbors who develop a deep connection after discovering their respective spouses are having an affair.

Through its intimate storytelling, lush cinematography, and evocative soundtrack. “In the Mood for Love” captures the bittersweet essence of unrequited longing. The ache of missed connections and the enduring power of human connection.

Wong Kar-Wai’s delicate touch and the film’s haunting beauty have established it as a timeless arthouse classic.

30. Beau Travail (1999)

Direct by: Claire Denis | Rating: 7.3/10 | 13,987 votes

Directed by Claire Denis, “Beau Travail” is a visually stunning arthouse film that delves into masculinity, identity, and desire themes. The movie occurs in Djibouti and follows a group of French soldiers.

“Beau Travail” depicts the nuances of military life and the complexities of human relationships through its atmospheric cinematography, evocative imagery, and minimalist storytelling.

Denis’ masterful direction and the film’s poetic exploration of the human psyche make it a standout arthouse film, capturing the ambiguities of desire, loyalty, and the universal need for connection.


What is considered an arthouse film?

An arthouse film, also known as an art film, is a type of movie that strays from the mainstream commercial path to create a unique artistic expression. These films are typically independently produced, outside of the central film studio system, and are aimed at a niche market rather than a mass market audience. They are intended to be serious, artistic works, often experimental and not designed for mass appeal, and made primarily for aesthetic reasons rather than commercial profit. Arthouse films are known for their distinctive storytelling and focus on personal creative vision, and they often explore unconventional or highly symbolic content. They are pivotal in fostering diversity, pushing cinematic boundaries, and cultivating a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Does Netflix have arthouse films?

Yes, Netflix offers a wide range of arthouse films available for streaming, catering to the diverse interests of film enthusiasts. The streaming platform has a dedicated category for “Independent” and “Critically acclaimed” films, making it convenient to discover and watch arthouse movies from home. From contemporary arthouse gems to timeless classics, Netflix’s vast library features a variety of arthouse films, ensuring that there is something to suit every taste and preference.

What are artsy movies called?

Artsy movies, also called arthouse films, are diverse films that prioritize artistic expression, experimental storytelling, and creative vision over commercial success. These movies often feature unconventional narratives, thought-provoking themes, and a distinct visual style. Arthouse films challenge traditional filmmaking conventions, offering a unique and immersive cinematic experience. They embrace the artistry of filmmaking, using imagery, symbolism, and innovative techniques to create a captivating and impactful movie-watching experience.

What are the best arthouse movies of the 21st century?

Some of the best arthouse movies of the 21st century include “In the Mood for Love” (2000), “Russian Ark” (2002), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), “The Tree of Life” (2011), “The Hunt” (2012), “Under the Skin” (2013), “Moonlight” (2016), and “Parasite” (2019). Other notable mentions include “Werckmeister Harmonies” (2000), “Mulholland Drive” (2001), “Yi Yi” (2000), “A Prophet” (2009), and “Dogtooth” (2009). These films are known for their unique storytelling, unconventional cinematography, and thought-provoking themes.


Arthouse movies offer a unique and thought-provoking cinematic experience. From the surrealism of “Mulholland Drive” to the atmospheric “Melancholia,” these films challenge traditional storytelling and push the boundaries of filmmaking. Whether you’re a fan of existential themes or experimental narratives, there’s something for everyone in the world of arthouse cinema.

So, grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and immerse yourself in the captivating world of arthouse movies. These films may not always be mainstream, but they are bound to leave a lasting impression. Don’t hesitate to step outside your comfort zone and explore arthouse cinema’s rich and diverse landscape.

Check out our list of the 30 best arthouse movies if you want recommendations. From cult classics like “Eraserhead” to modern masterpieces like “The Tree of Life,” this list will introduce you to some of the most influential and visually stunning films ever made. Expand your cinematic horizons and discover the beauty of arthouse cinema today.

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