Oscars: Facts about Best International Feature Film Award

With the Oscars approaching this weekend and a name change to the Foreign Film category, it’s time to learn more about this award that celebrates films produced by our neighbors around the globe. The Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film until this year) is handed out annually to a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.

When the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929, there was no category for foreign language films. Between 1947 and 1955, the Academy presented Special Awards to the best foreign language films released in the U.S. Because these awards were not handed out on a regular basis and didn’t have any nominees, they were not competitive. For the 29th Academy Awards in 1956, a competitive Academy Award of Merit, known as the Best Foreign Language Film Award, was created for non-English speaking films. It has been awarded annually since then.

Unlike other Academy Awards, the International Feature Film award is not presented to a specific individual and is considered an award for the submitting country as a whole. Over the years, the award has been given out almost exclusively to European films. Of the awards handed out by the Academy since 1947 to foreign language films, more than 80% of award have gone to European films. The most awarded foreign country is Italy, while France is the foreign country with the largest number of nominations. Israel is the foreign country with the largest number of nominations without winning an award, while Portugal has the largest number of submissions without a nomination. Last year’s winner, Roma was from Mexico.

Dozens of foreign language films have won Academy Awards outside of the Best Foreign Language Film category. The foreign language films with the most awards are Sweden’s Fanny and Alexander and Taiwan’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with both winning four awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Roma each received ten Academy Award nominations, the highest number of nominations ever garnered for a foreign language film. While an Oscar win in this category doesn’t always transfer to the box office in the US or abroad, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon certainly cashed in. It is the top grossing Best Foreign Language Film winner of all time with an estimated $213M in box office revenue. It grossed $128M in the U.S. alone, making it the highest-grossing foreign-language film produced overseas in American history.

While many films had buzz and high hopes leading into the ceremony, no foreign-language film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture in the Academy’s 90-year history. Only 11 foreign-language films have even been nominated for Best Picture. Take a look at the list below:

Foreign-language films nominated for a best picture Oscar




Grand Illusion France 1938
Z Algeria 1969
The Emigrants Sweden 1972
Cries and Whispers Sweden 1973
The Postman Italy 1995
Life is Beautiful Italy 1998
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Taiwan 2000
Letters from Iwo Jima US 2006
Armour Austria 2012
Roma Mexico 2019
Parasite South Korea 2020

The 2020 nominations for Best International Feature Film are as follows:

  1. Corpus Christi
  2. Honeyland
  3. Les Misérables
  4. Pain and Glory
  5. Parasite

Parasite, a scathing comedy-thriller from Bong Joon Ho, has been generating buzz that it may finally break the mold and earn a foreign film win for Best Picture. Last year, it became the first South Korean movie to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best International Feature and Best Director, all three of which were firsts for South Korean cinema. Parasite already reached new bounds this award season when it became the first foreign-language film to take home the Screen Actors Guild Award for best cast in a motion picture.

The movie, about a poor family scheming its way into working for a wealthy family, has grossed more than $160 million worldwide. Discussions about a limited series adaptation for HBO are already underway.

Can Parasite pull off what no other foreign film in Oscars history has done before? Tune in Sunday, February 9, 2020, live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT to find out!