Great American films that take place in other countries

Great American films that take place in other countries

Some of the greatest films in American cinema were set in other countries. Most often, this is because the stories and characters demand it: “Casablanca” could never be set in Kansas, and “Apocalypse Now” could never be set in Illinois. But both films, set in Morocco and the northern Philippines, respectively, are thoroughly American productions both in theme and in presentation.

To further explore this niche subset of American cinema, Giggster compiled a list of great American films that take place in other countries. To qualify, the film had to score above a 7.0 on IMDb, be at least co-produced by an American production company, primarily be in English, and primarily take place outside of the United States. Metascores are provided for critical context.

In some instances, American films set in other countries can act as the best critiques and explorations of everything the U.S. is and stands for. At the very least, these films can offer American audiences the opportunity to see the world without leaving their hometown megaplex or household couch.

The films run the gamut genre-wise—from comedy to action to romance—but each film is likely to engage any viewer with a passion for cinema.

Humphrey Bogart, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman pose for a publicity still for the Warner Bros film ‘Casablanca'.
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Casablanca (1942)

- Director: Michael Curtiz

- IMDb user rating: 8.5

- Metascore: 100

- Runtime: 102 minutes

Set and filmed during World War II, “Casablanca” follows expatriate nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) as he is confronted with helping his ex Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her rebel husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) flee safely from the Germans who are after him. Bogart and Bergman perform their roles with career-defining fervor. The writing, with help from screenwriters Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, cemented lines like, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” into the cultural lexicon. “Casablanca” won several Academy Awards in 1944 including for Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

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Orson Welles in a scene from ‘The Third Man’.
London Film Productions

The Third Man (1949)

- Director: Carol Reed

- IMDb user rating: 8.1

- Metascore: 97

- Runtime: 93 minutes

“The Third Man” is a classic film noir that centers on author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) as he travels to postwar Vienna only to inadvertently find himself investigating the murder of his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Aside from the memorable performances, the film stands out for its use of dramatic lighting reminiscent of German expressionism—fittingly influenced by early European cinema, while maintaining a very American noir pace and plot. The cinematography ultimately netted the movie an Academy Award.

Gene Kelly in a scene from ‘American in Paris’.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

An American in Paris (1951)

- Director: Vincente Minnelli

- IMDb user rating: 7.2

- Metascore: 83

- Runtime: 114 minutes

“An American in Paris” is a romantic musical film starring and choreographed by one of the world’s greatest dancers, Gene Kelly. In the film, Kelly plays a struggling American artist living in Paris who falls in love with a local Parisian played by dancer Leslie Caron in her film debut. Filmed with Vincente Minnelli’s characteristic visual vibrancy, “An American in Paris” is notable for being Kelly’s artistic and choreographic masterpiece.

Steve McQueen on a motorcycle in a scene from ‘The Great Escape’.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

The Great Escape (1963)

- Director: John Sturges

- IMDb user rating: 8.2

- Metascore: 86

- Runtime: 172 minutes

“The Great Escape” follows a group of British soldiers as they plan their escape from a Nazi prisoner of war camp. The film features an all-star ensemble cast including Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, and Charles Bronson. The plot is taken from Paul Brickhill’s nonfiction book of the same name.

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Elliot Gould talking with a uniformed officer and Donald Sutherland examining an x-ray in a publicity still from ‘MASH’.
Silver Screen Collection // Getty Images

MASH (1970)

- Director: Robert Altman

- IMDb user rating: 7.4

- Metascore: 80

- Runtime: 116 minutes

“MASH” is a dark comedy war film from director Robert Altman. With Altman’s signature use of a talented ensemble cast (including Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland), “MASH” offers audiences a peek into the lives of the staff of a Korean War field hospital as they use humor to cope with the horrors of war. The film was one of the most popular movies of the 1970s and went on to become a long-running television series. It won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1971.

Roy Scheider and Francisco Rabal in a scene from ‘Sorcerer’.
Paramount Pictures

Sorcerer (1977)

- Director: William Friedkin

- IMDb user rating: 7.7

- Metascore: 68

- Runtime: 121 minutes

“Sorcerer” is a film adaptation of George Arnaud’s French novel “Le Salaire de la peur.” The story follows four men from various parts of the world who are assigned to transport gallons of nitroglycerin through the jungles of South America. The film features a stunning performance from Roy Scheider and a score from the German electronic band Tangerine Dream. Director William Friedkin cited the film as a favorite among his work.

Martin Sheen in a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’.
United Artists

Apocalypse Now (1979)

- Director: Francis Ford Coppola

- IMDb user rating: 8.5

- Metascore: 94

- Runtime: 147 minutes

One of the most influential movies on this list, “Apocalypse Now” is an epic war film with elements of a psychological thriller. The movie is loosely inspired by the 1899 Joseph Conrad novella “Heart of Darkness.” It follows Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) as he takes on a secret mission and must travel from South Vietnam to Cambodia to assassinate a fellow officer who is experiencing a mental break. The film, also starring Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall, is a masterpiece of director Francis Ford Coppola’s and won a plethora of awards.

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James Woods, Jim Belushi and John Savage in a scene from ‘Salvador’.
Cinema ‘84

Salvador (1986)

- Director: Oliver Stone

- IMDb user rating: 7.4

- Metascore: 69

- Runtime: 122 minutes

“Salvador” follows journalist Richard Boyle (James Woods) as he gets entangled in both sides of the Salvadoran Civil War. The film, based on true events, was co-written by director Oliver Stone and the real-life Boyle and is heavily critical of U.S.-backed military dictatorships of the time.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy in a scene from ‘Before Sunrise’.
Castle Rock Entertainment

Before Sunrise (1995)

- Director: Richard Linklater

- IMDb user rating: 8.1

- Metascore: 77

- Runtime: 101 minutes

The first in Richard Linklater’s moving Before trilogy, “Before Sunrise” follows two young travelers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train and end up spending a night together wandering the streets of Vienna. The film stands out for its natural pacing, minimalistic conversation, and the palpable chemistry of the two lead actors. Much of the dialogue between Hawke and Delpy was improvised, adding additional depth to the whirlwind romance.

Matt Damon in a scene from ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’.
Paramount Pictures

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

- Director: Anthony Minghella

- IMDb user rating: 7.4

- Metascore: 76

- Runtime: 139 minutes

“The Talented Mr. Ripley'' is a psychological thriller starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman. The film follows Tom Ripley (Damon) as he’s sent from New York to Italy to return Dickie Greenleaf to his father. Mistaken identities, sneakiness, and malice ensue in the film, which received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Screenplay.

Tom Cruise, Shun Sugata, and Ken Watanabe in a scene from ‘The Last Samurai’.
Warner Bros. Entertainment

The Last Samurai (2003)

- Director: Edward Zwick

- IMDb user rating: 7.8

- Metascore: 55

- Runtime: 154 minutes

“The Last Samurai” stars Tom Cruise as an American military advisor who learns and embraces the way of the samurai in 19th-century Japan. An epic in the truest sense, the film is a fascinating glimpse into the turbulent Westernization of Japan. The film features expert performances from Cruise and Ken Watanabe.

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from ‘Lost in Translation’.
Focus Features

Lost in Translation (2003)

- Director: Sofia Coppola

- IMDb user rating: 7.7

- Metascore: 89

- Runtime: 102 minutes

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star in “Lost in Translation” as an unlikely pair crossing paths in Tokyo. Johansson and Murray bring charming performances to director Sofia Coppola’s second feature. The movie managed to be both a critical and commercial success despite its relatively small budget, taking home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson in a scene from ‘The Darjeeling Limited’.
Twentieth Century Fox

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

- Director: Wes Anderson

- IMDb user rating: 7.2

- Metascore: 67

- Runtime: 91 minutes

“The Darjeeling Limited” is a comedy-drama from director Wes Anderson starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman. The film follows the three actors playing brothers who meet up in India for a spiritual journey one year after their father’s death. With Anderson’s signature aesthetic and humor, the film explores familial dynamics and relationships. Anderson co-wrote the film with Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.

Jessica Chastain and Jessica Ann Collins in a scene from ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.
Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

- Director: Kathryn Bigelow

- IMDb user rating: 7.4

- Metascore: 95

- Runtime: 157 minutes

The thriller war drama “Zero Dark Thirty” centers on the international hunt for Osama bin Laden. Set in various locations across the Middle East, the film stars Jessica Chastain in an Academy Award-nominated performance. The film was released just a year and a half after bin Laden’s assassination and acts as a fascinating in-time depiction of world events.

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Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh in a scene from ‘Midsummar’.
A24

Midsommar (2019)

- Director: Ari Aster

- IMDb user rating: 7.1

- Metascore: 72

- Runtime: 148 minutes

The horror flick “Midsommar” follows young couple Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor) as they travel to Sweden with friends for a rural village’s midsummer festival. Unusual rituals and cult-influenced violence unravel the already doomed trip. Equally unsettling and beautifully shot, “Midsommar” has become a modern-day cult classic.