Attempting to craft a list of the best Belgian Movies to watch before you take a trip there or inspire you to visit presented unique challenges. First, Belgian cinema certainly lacks the abundance available with French and Italian cinema or even Czech cinema for that matter. Second, Belgian cinema didn’t really seem to come into its own (on the World Cinema scene, at least) until the 1980s.
And third, Belgian does not seem to boast many wanderlust-inspiring films. Or even just lighthearted movies that don’t revolve around murder, poverty or diseases.
So, this list of Belgian films that I have crafted has a recency bias and may also seem a little hodgepodge with a weird mix of genres. But we love a weirdo outsider on this blog. Without further ado, here are some of the best Belgian films to give you a peek into Belgian culture and history and (hopefully) inspire you to visit!
Best Belgian Movies That Will Make You Want to Visit Belgium
1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1973)
Director: Chantal Akerman Language: French Run time: 201m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
Let’s start with a Belgian movie that I have heard about many, many times yet never seen. I try to watch as many films directed by women as possible, which this one is and it is the only female-directed film on this list. But I have a slight aversion to films over 150 minutes. Good grief, 201 minutes watching three days in the life of a 1970s housewife living in Brussels seems DULL. But Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels is super highly rated and highly recommended by everyone (to my chagrin). There is a bit more to it than simply “watching a day in the life of a housewife” which I will not spoil, so I might get around to it someday.
Watch or don’t watch, I will back you all the way.
2. The Music Teacher (1988)
Director: Gérard Corbiau Language: French Run time: 99m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
At the time of writing, seven Belgian movies have been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards yet none have won. The Music Teacher is one of those movies. It is about a retired Opera singer who moves to the Belgian countryside and teaches two young opera singers so that they can compete in an international competition. I think some of these movies set in Belgium are going to be hard to find on streaming platforms, especially The Music Teacher. Unfortunately there just aren’t many great Belgian movies on Netflix but it’s worth a watch if you spot it somewhere.
3. Toto the Hero (1991)
Director: Jaco Van Dormael Language: French Run time: 91m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
The director of Toto the Hero, Jaco Van Dormael, won the Caméra d’Or award (first feature film) at Cannes Film Festival for this movie. It is about the life of a man named Thomas (who called himself Toto) who has reached old age and bitterly regrets the choices and direction of his life. Toto the Hero is a part-fantastical, part-realistic and wholly unreliable retelling of Toto’s life. I think magic realism, or films where you aren’t sure whether the narrative is “truthful” or made up (though it’s important to note all narrative films are dramatised), are so fascinating and this bittersweet comedy-drama is no exception.
4. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Directors: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde Language: French Run time: 91m 74% Rotten Tomatoes
This is why I said this list of Belgian movies is a little hodgepodge. I’ve given you an arthouse indie flick, two Oscar-nommed films, and now a black and white Belgian crime drama-slash-mockumentary. Do not believe anyone who tells you Belgian cinema is not multi-faceted! Man Bites Dog seems like a big-budget student film considering the three directors are also the editor, cinematographer and main actor. The film follows a serial killer named Ben who is the subject of a “documentary” about his “hobby.” It was actually banned in Sweden and Ireland so it’s a somewhat controversial film that has gained a cult following over the last 30 years.
5. Daens (1992)
Director: Stijn Coninx Languages: Dutch, French, Latin Run time: 138m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Yet another Best Foreign Language Film nominee, Daens is a biopic which makes sense because the Oscars bloody love themselves a biopic. It tells the story of a Catholic priest living in the Belgian city of Aalst (in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region) who makes it his mission to improve the working conditions in local factories at the turn of the 20th century. Seems like a noble cause for a man of God, but the diocese did not want their clergymen going into politics at this time. I’m surprised it doesn’t have a Rotten Tomatoes score given it was an Oscar nominee and is only 30 years old, but if you like gritty biopics about eccentric religious men I’m sure you will love this film.
6. Any Way the Wind Blows (2003)
Director: Tom Barman Languages: Dutch, French, English Run time: 125m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
I thought Any Way the Wind Blows was a proper obscure indie film when I first became aware of it and that no one would be able to find it. Not through streaming or anywhere else. But it turns out, the movie has a bit of a cult following in Belgium and it is easy to see why. It is directed by the lead singer of the Belgian band dEUS and the soundtrack is supposedly great. Any Way the Wind Blows is set in Antwerp where eight very different people meet at a big house party. It’s a lot “cooler” than many of the other Flemish movies on this list and is less, erm, dark and depressing. I can imagine if I were Belgian this is a film I would want other people to watch. Like a Belgian 24 Hour Party People (2002).
7. The Memory of a Killer (2003)
Director: Erik Van Looy Language: Dutch Run time: 123m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Most of the other famous Belgian movies on this list are primarily in French but I’m pleased there are lots of Dutch movies too. The Memory of a Killer is also known as The Alzheimer Case or The Alzheimer Affair in English. The other two titles kinda give the game away. An ageing assassin learns he has Alzheimer’s disease and decides to accept “one last job” before he retires. But with the police building a case against him and refusing to kill his last mark, our main man Ledda is up the proverbial creek and that relaxing retirement looks more and more unlikely. An American remake is in development so you know it’s a great film.
8. The Child (2005)
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Language: French Run time: 91m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
I’ve got three Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne films on this list but I could have included more. The directing duo are Belgian’s answer to the Coen Bros if the Coen Bros made consistently superb social realist dramas that dominated Cannes Film Festival every couple of years that is. The Child is the Dardenne brothers fourth *big* narrative feature film which they wrote, directed and produced. The movie follows a young, financially struggling couple who have a child. One of them makes an unforgivable mistake and the film follows the aftermath and consequences. Oh, and it won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at Cannes Film Festival.
9. In Bruges (2008)
Director: Martin McDonagh Language: English Run time: 107m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Alright, is In Bruges a Belgian film? Probs not. But is it the most internationally famous film set in Belgium? For better or worse, yes. Therefore it makes the list. It is a black comedy-crime film starring Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell as a duo of assassins instructed to hide out in Bruges after a job went wrong. Not only is it slightly absurd and hilarious, but I particularly love that Gleeson’s character is such a great traveller. He wastes no time sampling the strong Belgian beers, floating along the canals and exploring the Belfry of Bruges. This film is the reason I’ve even visited Bruges and it is a must-watch if you are planning a trip.
10. Loft (2008)
Director: Erik Van Looy Language: Dutch Run time: 118m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Ladies, Matthias Schoenaerts has finally arrived on the scene/blog post. The prominent Flemish actor’s first on-screen appearance was actually in Daens and he also appeared in Any Way the Wind Blows before defecting to Hollywood in the early 2010s. I particularly get a lot out of his performance as Tilda Swinton’s devoted yet ultra-cool toyboy in A Bigger Splash (2015). Anyway, back to the Belgian crime drama Loft. Five married men use an Antwerp loft as a covert meeting place for themselves and their mistresses. When they find a dead body in the loft, each suspects the others of committing the grievous crime.
Do not confuse with the American remake The Loft (2010) also starring Matthias Schoenaerts and directed by Erik Van Looy because, apparently, it is awful.
11. The Kid with a Bike (2011)
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Language: French Run time: 87m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
The Dardenne brothers round two. You could say that they were off their game with The Kid with a Bike because it only won the Grand Prix at Cannes, which is the second-best prize. And it shares the award with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011). However, I prefer *slightly* happier social realist films so I’d rather watch The Kid with a Bike any day. Especially since I’m supposedly giving you recommendations of Belgian movies that will make you want to visit! In the city of Liege (in the French-speaking region of Wallonia), young Cyril is abandoned by his father but is given a second chance at a happy life when he meets Samantha. The plot may not stay that positive throughout but the soundtrack and vivid spring colours will trick you into thinking it will for a while.
12. Bullhead (2011)
Director: Michaël R. Roskam Languages: Dutch, Limburgish, French Run time: 128m 87% Rotten Tomatoes
This is one of the better known Belgian films, possibly because it stars our pal Matthias Schoenaerts and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Alas, no luck for the Belgians again. Set in Sint-Truiden, a city in the Flemish region, Schoenaerts stars as a cattle farmer who is lured into the world of underground cattle doping. I had no idea there was such a thing as the Belgian “hormone mafia” but every day is a school day when you watch movies. Well, when you watch certain movies. Probably not Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015) or Isn’t It Romantic (2019) but I am happy to be proven wrong. I think Bullhead is regarded as one of the best Belgian films of the last 15 years so definitely one to watch before a trip there.
13. Two Days, One Night (2014)
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Language: French Run time: 95m 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Our final journey into the hopeless world of the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is Two Days, One Night starring Marion Cotillard. Set in the industrial town of Seraing, Cotillard plays a factory worker who is made redundant after her bosses incentivise her colleagues to work longer hours to cover her shifts. Over a weekend, she visits every colleague who voted her out to persuade them to reject their bonus so she can come back. I would say this is one of the more hopeful of their films (which isn’t saying much) and Marion Cotillard is just an amazing actress. No awards at the Cannes Film Festival, but Cotillard was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars which seems like a pretty big win for Belgium. Despite the fact she is French. Awks.
14. The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
Director: Felix van Groeningen Language: Dutch Run time: 111m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
Another cheery film, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows the relationship between Didier and Elise as they fall in love over their mutual appreciation for tattoos and bluegrass music in the city of Ghent. When Elise falls unexpectedly pregnant, the happy couple stays happy until their daughter is devastatingly diagnosed with cancer. Despite the depressing parts of the film, I do love movies like Wild Rose (2018) which is about country music but set somewhere where you would not expect people to be that into country music. The Broken Circle Breakdown would probably make a great double feature with Crazy Heart (2009).
15. The Brand New Testament (2015)
Director: Jaco Van Dormael Language: French Run time: 113m 82% Rotten Tomatoes
In the few years since its release, The Brand New Testament has already earned itself cult movie status in Belgium. For those of you who have spent your life looking for God, look no more. He is a grumpy git who lives in an apartment in Brussels with his daughter. She becomes tired of her father’s constant abuse of all the humans so she hijacks his computer and creates mischief. Thankfully, the film isn’t too batsh*t and is reigned in just enough so that most critics and viewers appreciate the film’s witty surrealism and subversion of Christianity.
BONUS: If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969)
Director: Mel Stuart Language: English Run time: 99m 60% Rotten Tomatoes
This is a wee bonus film because it is only partly set in Belgium. But it is a classic travel-inspiring movie so it may be of interest to you if films about death and cancer don’t make you want to head off on your holidays! If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium creates a comedy out of the type of characters you’d expect on a coach trip in the 1960s. And their charming, scammy tour guide, of course. The group visits Brussels and Bastogne in Belgium as well as London, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Venice and Rome in Italy. I’m so glad we’re ending on a happy, jolly film!
Other Belgian Movies: De Witte (1934), Peace in the Fields (1970), Brussels By Night (1983), Farinelli (1994), La Promesse (1996), Rosetta (1999), Everybody’s Famous (2000), The Son (2002), The Misfortunates (2009), Marina (2013)
And those are the best Belgian movies that will inspire you to visit Belgium! Have you seen any of these films set in Belgium or have you visited Belgium? Let me know in the comments below!