Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

The Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (given as Best Foreign Language Film prior to 2020) is one of the Academy Awards handed out annually by the U.S.-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given to a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.[1]

Academy Award for Best International Feature Film
Awarded forExcellence in International Film with a predominantly non-English dialogue track
CountryUnited States
Presented byAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
Formerly calledAcademy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (until 2020)
First awarded1947
Currently held byRoma (2018)

When the first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929, to honor films released in 1927/28, there was no separate category for foreign language films. Between 1947 and 1955, the Academy presented Special/Honorary Awards to the best foreign language films released in the United States. These awards, however, were not handed out on a regular basis (no award was given in 1953), and were not competitive since there were no nominees but simply one winning film per year. For the 1956 (29th) Academy Awards, a competitive Academy Award of Merit, known as the Best Foreign Language Film Award, was created for non-English speaking films, and has been given annually since then.

Unlike other Academy Awards, the International Feature Film award is not presented to a specific individual (although it is accepted on-stage by its director), but is considered an award for the submitting country as a whole. Over the years, the Best International Feature Film Award and its predecessors have been given almost exclusively to European films: out of the sixty-eight awards handed out by the Academy since 1947 to foreign language films, fifty-seven have gone to European films,[2] seven to Asian films,[3] five to films from the Americas and three to African films. Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini directed four Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award–winning motion pictures during his lifetime, a record that remains unmatched as of 2015 (if Special Awards are taken into account, then Fellini's record is tied by his countryman Vittorio De Sica).

The most awarded foreign country is Italy, with 14 awards won (including three Special Awards) and 28 nominations, while France is the foreign country with the largest number of nominations (37 for 12 wins, including three Special Awards). Israel is the foreign country with the largest number of nominations (10) without winning an award, while Portugal has the largest number of submissions (34) without a nomination.


When the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929, no foreign-language film was honored. During the early post-war era (1947–1955), eight foreign language films received Special or Honorary Awards. Academy leader and board member Jean Hersholt argued that "an international award, if properly and carefully administered, would promote a closer relationship between American film craftsmen and those of other countries". The first foreign language film honored with such an award was the Italian neorealist drama Shoeshine, whose citation read: "the high quality of this motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity". In the following years, similar awards were given to seven other films: one from Italy (The Bicycle Thief), two from France (Monsieur Vincent and Forbidden Games), three from Japan (Rashomon, Gate of Hell and Samurai, The Legend of Musashi), as well as a Franco-Italian co-production (The Walls of Malapaga). These awards, however, were handed out on a discretionary rather than a regular basis (no award was given at the 26th Academy Awards held in 1954), and were not competitive since there were no nominees but simply one winning film per year.[4]

A separate category for non-English-language films was created in 1956. Known as the Best Foreign Language Film Award, it has been awarded every year since then.[5] The first recipient was the Italian neorealist drama La Strada, which helped establish Federico Fellini as one of the most important European directors.[4]

During the Academy's board of governors meeting on April 23, 2019, it was decided that the category would be renamed Best International Feature Film beginning at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020. It was argued that use of the term "Foreign" was "outdated within the global filmmaking community", and that the new name "better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience". Animated and documentary films will also be permitted in this category. The existing eligibility criteria remain.[6][7]


Unlike other Academy Awards, the International Feature Film Award does not require films to be released in the United States in order to be eligible for competition. Films competing in the category must have been first released in the country submitting them during the eligibility period defined by the rules of the Academy, and must have been exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial movie theater.[1] The eligibility period for the category differs from that required for most other categories: the awards year defined for the International Feature Film category usually begins and ends before the ordinary awards year, which corresponds to an exact calendar year. For the 80th Academy Awards, for instance, the release deadline was set on September 30, 2007, whereas the qualifying run for most other categories extended until December 31, 2007.[8]

Although the award is commonly referred to simply as the Foreign Film Oscar in newspaper articles and on the Internet,[9] such a designation is misleading, since a film's nationality matters much less than its language. Although a film has to be non-American in order to be nominated for the award, it also has to be in a language other than English. Foreign films where the majority of the dialogue is in English cannot qualify for the International Feature Film Award, and the Academy has usually applied this requirement very seriously by disqualifying films containing too much English dialogue, the most recent case being that of the Nigerian film Lionheart (2019).[10] Despite the basic importance of the foreign language requirement, a completely dialogueless film such as the Algerian dance film Le Bal (1983) was nominated in the Foreign Language Film category.

Another disqualifying factor is a film's television or Internet transmission before its theatrical release, hence the Academy's rejection of the Dutch film Bluebird (2004).[11] A film may also be refused if its submitting country has exercised insufficient artistic control over it. Several films have been declared ineligible by the Academy for the latter reason, the most recent of which is Lust, Caution (2007), Taiwan's entry for the 80th Academy Awards.[12] The disqualifications, however, generally take place in the pre-nomination stage, with the exception of A Place in the World (1992), Uruguay's entry for the 65th Academy Awards, which was disqualified because of insufficient Uruguayan artistic control after having secured a nomination. It is the only film so far to have been declared ineligible and removed from the final ballot after having been nominated for the Foreign Language Film Award.

Since the 2006 (79th) Academy Awards, submitted films no longer have to be in an official language of the submitting country.[13] This requirement had previously prevented countries from submitting films where the majority of the dialogue was spoken in a language that was non-native to the submitting country, and the Academy's executive director explicitly cited as a reason for the rule change the case of the Italian film Private (2004), which was disqualified simply because its main spoken languages were Arabic and Hebrew, neither of which are indigenous languages of Italy.[14] This rule change enabled a country like Canada to receive a nomination for a Hindi-language film, Water. Previously, Canada had been nominated for French-language films only, since films shot in Canada's other official language (English) were ineligible for consideration for the Foreign Language Film category. Before the rule change, Canada had submitted two films in different languages—the invented-language film A Bullet in the Head in 1991 and the Inuktitut language film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner in 2001. Inuktitut, one of the country's aboriginal languages, is not official throughout Canada, but was (and still is) official in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Neither film earned a nomination. The rule change, however, did not affect the eligibility of non-English speaking American films, which are still disqualified from the category due to their nationality. Because of this, a Japanese-language film like Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) or a Mayan-language film like Apocalypto (2006) were unable to compete for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, even though they were both nominated for (and, in the case of Letters from Iwo Jima, won) the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which does not have similar nationality restrictions.[15] The nationality restrictions also differ from the practice of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for their analogous award for Best Film Not in the English Language. While BAFTA Award eligibility requires a commercial release in the United Kingdom, that body does not impose a nationality restriction.[16]

All films produced inside the United States have been ineligible for consideration for regardless of the language of their dialogue track. This fact also included films produced in U.S. overseas possessions. However, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and used to be eligible despite Puerto Ricans having had American citizenship since 1917. Their best success in this award was receiving a nomination for Santiago, the Story of his New Life (1989).[17] However, as of 2011, the Academy decided not to allow submissions from the territory anymore.[18]

Submission and nomination process

Every country is invited to submit what it considers its best film to the Academy. Only one film is accepted from each country. The designation of each country's official submission has to be done by an organization, jury or committee composed of people from the film industry. For example, the British entry is submitted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the Brazilian entry is submitted by a committee under its Ministry of Culture. Names of the members of the selecting group must be sent to the Academy.

After each country has designated its official entry, English-subtitled copies of all submitted films are shipped to the Academy, where they are screened by the Foreign Language Film Award Committee(s), whose members select by secret ballot the five official nominations. Final voting for the winner is restricted to active and life Academy members who have attended exhibitions of all five nominated films. Members who have watched the Foreign Language Film entries only on videocassette or DVD are ineligible to vote.[1] These procedures slightly were modified for the 2006 (79th) Academy Awards, with the Academy's deciding to institute a two-stage process in determining the nominees: For the first time in the history of the award, a nine-film shortlist was published one week before the official nominations announcement.[19] In the meantime, a smaller, 30-member committee which included 10 New York City-based Academy members was formed, and spent three days viewing the shortlisted films before choosing the five official nominees. Residents of the city hosting the country's second largest film industry[20] were allowed to participate for the first time in the selection process for the Foreign Language Film Award nominees.[13]


Unlike the Academy Award for Best Picture, which officially goes to the winning film's producers, the Foreign Language Film Award is not given to a specific individual but is considered an award for the submitting country as a whole. For example, the Oscar statuette won by the Canadian film The Barbarian Invasions (2003) was until recently on display at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City.[21] It is now on display at the TIFF Bell lightbox.

The rules currently governing the International Feature Film category state that "the Academy statuette (Oscar) will be awarded to the picture and 'accepted by the director on behalf of the film's creative talents".[1] Therefore, the director does not personally win the Award, but simply accepts it during the ceremony. In fact, the award never has been associated with a specific individual because its creation, except for the 1956 (29th) Academy Awards, when the names of the producers were included in the nomination for the Foreign Language Film category. Officially, a director like Federico Fellini is considered never to have won an Academy Award of Merit during his lifetime, even though four of his films received the Foreign Language Film Award (the only Academy Award that Fellini personally won was his 1992 Honorary Award). However, producers Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti are considered to have won the 1956 Foreign Language Film Award given to Fellini's La Strada (1954) because their names explicitly were included in the nomination.[22]

By contrast, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language is awarded to the director and producer—that award's rules specifically state that the nomination and award is presented to the director and/or if "a producer equally shared the creative input with the director, both names may be submitted. A maximum of two individuals will be nominated per film".[16]

In 2014, it was announced that the name of the director will be engraved onto the Oscar statuette in addition to the name of the country.[23]

Criticisms and controversies

Because each country chooses its official submission according to its own rules, the decisions of the nominating bodies in each respective country are sometimes mired in controversy: for instance, the Indian selection committee (Film Federation of India) was accused of bias by Bhavna Talwar, the director of Dharm (2007), who claimed her film was rejected in favor of Eklavya: The Royal Guard (2007) because of the personal connections of the latter film's director and producer.[24]

In recent years, the Academy's definition of the term "country" has caused debate. The submissions for the 75th Academy Awards, for instance, became shrouded in controversy when it was reported that Humbert Balsan, producer of the critically acclaimed Palestinian film Divine Intervention (2002), tried to submit his picture to the Academy but was told it could not run for the Foreign Language Film Award because the State of Palestine is not recognized by the Academy in its rules. Because the Academy previously had accepted films from other political entities such as Hong Kong, the rejection of Divine Intervention triggered accusations of double standards from pro-Palestinian activists.[25] Three years later, however, another Palestinian-Arab film, Paradise Now (2005), succeeded in getting nominated for the Foreign Language Film Award. The nomination also caused protests, this time from pro-Israeli groups in the United States, which objected to the Academy's use of the name Palestine on its official website to designate the film's submitting country.[26] After intense lobbying from pro-Israeli groups, the Academy decided to designate Paradise Now as a submission from the Palestinian Authority, a move that was decried by the film's director Hany Abu-Assad.[27] During the awards ceremony, the film eventually was announced by presenter Will Smith as a submission from the Palestinian Territories.[28]

Another object of controversy is the Academy's "one-country-one-film" rule, which has been criticized by filmmakers.[29] The Guardian wrote that the idea of a Best Foreign Language Film category is a "fundamentally flawed premise" and this is the "most critically sneered-at of all Oscar categories."[30] It also stated "In a perfect world—or, at least, as perfect a world as would still allow for gaudy film-award pageantry—there’d be no need for a separate best foreign language film Oscar. The fact that, after 87 years, the Academy has yet to honor a film not predominantly in English as the year's best says everything about their own limitations, and nothing about those of world cinema".[30]

Winners and nominees

Awards by nation

See also


  1. 80th Academy Awards – Special Rules for the Best Foreign Language Film Award Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  2. Europe's tally includes 14 nominations and four wins for the U.S.S.R. and its successor states. It also includes five Special/Honorary Awards: two won by Italy, two won by France and one shared between them for The Walls of Malapaga (1949). The latter award is counted only once in Europe's tally, whereas it is included twice in the country-based table as it figures in both Italy's and France's tallies.
  3. Number includes 3 Honorary Awards for Japan.
  4. Levy, Emanuel (2003). "Chapter 11: The Oscar and the Foreign-Language Picture". All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (2nd ed.). New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8264-1452-6. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  5. Pryor, Thomas M. (October 2, 1956). "'Oscar' Created For Foreign Films" (fee required). The New York Times: 39. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  6. Kay, Jeremy. "Academy leaves Netflix eligibility rule intact, changes name of foreign language category". Screen. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
  7. Donnelly, Matt (April 24, 2019). "Netflix Can Chill: Academy Rules No Change in Streaming Oscar Eligibility". Variety. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
  8. 80th Academy Awards – The Awards Year and Deadlines Archived November 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  9. "Countries choose Oscar contenders", BBC News, 2005-09-27. Retrieved November 19, 2007.
  10. Dore, Shalini. "Academy grounds Holland's Bluebird", Variety, 2005-12-12. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  11. Dore, Shalini. "Academy rejects Lust Caution as Taiwan Oscar entry" Archived October 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Variety, 2007-10-18. Retrieved November 5, 2007.
  12. 79th Academy Awards – Rule Changes Archived February 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 2006-06-30. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  13. "More Academy Resistance to Films from or About Palestine" Archived December 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, The Jerusalem Times, 2005-10-26. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  14. Kilday, Gregg. "Apocalypto on foreign Globes list", The Hollywood Reporter, 2006-11-28. Retrieved November 9, 2007.
  15. "EE British Academy Film Awards: Rules and Guidelines 2015/16" (PDF). British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  16. Cinema Paradiso" Wins Foreign Language Film: 1990 Oscars
  17. Puerto Rico queda excluido de la carrera por el Oscar; El Nuevo Día (October 5, 2011)
  18. Zeitchik, Steven. "Foreign Oscar list down to nine", Variety, 2007-01-16. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  19. NYC Film Statistics Archived February 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting. Retrieved November 19, 2007.
  20. Québec Cinema: The Whole Story – A major exhibition on Québec film Archived November 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Musée de la civilisation, 2006-05-03. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  21. "La Strada" Wins Foreign Language Film: 1957 Oscars
  22. "Oscars to Add Winning Foreign Language Director's Name on Statuette". The Wrap. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  23. "India's entry to Oscars caught in a legal tangle", Reuters India, 2007-09-29. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  24. Doherty & Abunimah. "Oscars' double standard turns Palestinian film into refugee", The Electronic Intifada, 2002-12-10. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  25. 78th Academy Awards – Nominees and Winners Archived August 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  26. Agassi, Tirzah. "Middle East tensions hang over Palestinian nominee for an Oscar", The San Francisco Chronicle, 2006-02-26. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  27. "Tsotsi" Wins Foreign Language Film: 2006 Oscars
  28. Galloway, Stephen. "Filmmakers questions Oscar's foreign movie rules", Reuters, 2007-11-09. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  29. "Oscars 2015: what will win best foreign language film?".
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