10 Best Korean Movies that you must Watch in 2021

Best Korean Movies: The South Korean film cinema is informally known as Hallyuwood, with ‘Hallyu’ referring to the wave of popularity and interest in South Korean content that arose first during the 1990s and had subsequent revivals, and the ‘wood’ taken from ‘Hollywood.’ The Korean film industry took its first breath after the liberation of Korea from Japan in 1945.

The films produced by the industry have taken strong influences by significant events such as the Japanese occupation of Korea, the division of Korea into North and South, the democratization of South Korea, and globalization, to name a few. If you are looking for Top 10 Korean Films this article is for you!

There has been an unprecedented rise in recent years in the success of South Korean films both on a domestic and international scale. The industry has produced colossal box office successes as well as cult classics. Korean stars have gained global recognition, and many have crossed over to star in Hollywood projects. 

What Korean Movies Should You Watch?

The Busan Film Festival held annually in South Korea is one of the most prestigious film festivals to be held in Asia. Korean films have also gone on to receive prizes in major film festivals across the globe, including Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto Film Festivals.

With such a tremendous number of films to its credit, it is super difficult to pick just a few South Korean movies. But we’ve tried our best to select those few that will serve as excellent introductions to the culture and language of South Korea. 

Top 10 Korean Films

Cool Facts About Korean Cinema

  • The first South Korean movie kiss took place in 1954, in the film ‘The Hand of Destiny.’ It caused quite the scandal, but the film itself was successful. 
  • The North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il (father of the current ruler of North Korea) kidnapped a South Korean actress and her ex-husband separately during the 1970s. They were forced into movie-making by the tyrant until their escape in 1986.
  • The film industry’s renaissance period started after the introduction of democracy in the 1980s. Filmmakers were allowed the creative freedom they deserved and no longer had to make propaganda films.
  • The most financially successful South Korean movie of all time, The Admiral, is about Korean general fighting and winning a naval battle against the Japanese.

Reasons Why Korean Films are Incredible

South Korean films are known to be thought-provoking and intense, tackling issues such as the class divide, the constant strife with the sister country of North Korea, the education system, the modernization of Korea and its subsequent effects, and much more. A single film will give you significant insight into the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of the country. You can also check out Korean Winter Fashion Trends; 26 Best Korean Winter Outfit to learn more about Korean fashion.

How Did We Decide?

The films we’ve selected for your perusal are critically acclaimed, cult classics or box office successes, and sometimes all three! You can try out FluentU to binge-watch Korean movies for free.

Here is a list of Top 10 Korean movies for you to watch in your free time!

↓ 10 – A Tale of Two Sisters

Genre: Psychological horror, mystery thriller

Release Date: June 13, 2003

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writer: Kim Jee-woon

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Synopsis: A young girl is released from a mental institution. She returns to her countryside home, where her father, younger sister, and step-mother live. A series of disturbing events occur, which slowly reveal the truth behind her institutionalization.

Box Office: $1 million worldwide against a budget of $3.7. It is the highest-grossing horror film in South Korea.

Critical Reception: It received positive reviews from movie critics, with an 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • It’s a truly original film with a creepy and deliciously ghastly tone. Fans of intense, R-rated horror films will enjoy the movie immensely.
  • The plot is twisted and cleverly unspools, leaving the viewers on the edge of their seats.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 9 – Mother

Genre: Thriller

Release Date: May 28, 2009

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Park Eun-kyo

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Synopsis: A mother tries to prove the innocence of her intellectually disabled son when he is accused of murder.

Box Office: $17 million against a budget of $5 million.

Critical Reception: It received critical acclaim, with a 96% average rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It appeared on several ‘top-ten lists and won numerous accolades.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The film will upset your expectations at every turn, proving itself to be an unconventional thriller.
  • The root of the film is a mother’s dilemma of proving her child’s innocence and going to any lengths necessary to achieve that. It’s something a lot of people will relate to.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 8 – Okja

Genre: Action-adventure

Release Date: June 28, 2017

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson

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Synopsis: A young girl, along with her grandfather, are the caretakers of a super-pig called ‘Okja.’ After ten years of staying with the family, the CEO of a multinational corporation takes Okja away and transports her to New York. Mija, the young girl, follows her friend with the sole intent of rescuing her.

Box Office: $2 million against a budget of $50 million.

Critical Reception: It has an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was proclaimed one of the most influential films of the decade in 2019 by the New York Times. It received a standing ovation during the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • It’s a joint Korean-American venture and features an all-star cast, including the likes of Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Lily Collins.
  • The performances are, of course, incredible. The lead actress Ahn Seo-hyun steals the show, Tilda Swinton is a force to be reckoned with, as usual, and Jake Gyllenhaal appears in a very entertaining avatar.
  • The CGI is the coolest! And you will fall in love with how cute Okja looks.
  • The movie will tug on your heartstrings! It shows how beautiful the relationship between humans and animals can be and also how the former can exploit the latter for its purposes.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 7 – The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Genre: Historical drama, action-war

Release Date: July 30, 2014

Director: Kim Han-min

Writer: Jeon Chul-hong, Kim Han-min

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Synopsis: Featuring an ensemble cast, the film is based on the historical battle of Myeongnyang. Admiral Yi Sun-sin commands a perilous but successful naval struggle with only a dozen ships, winning against the Japanese naval fleet consisting of 333 vessels.

Box Office: $138.3 million against a budget of $18.6 million. It became the most-watched film in the country after James Cameron’s Avatar.

Critical Reception: It has an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • Um, hello? Choi Min-sik? Only the most celebrated and gifted actor in South Korea and one of the best actors in the world!
  • The CGI is sophisticated and realistic, and the action in the film is super intense!
  • The film has an inspiring message: against-the-odds victories are possible if one only sticks to one’s goal with conviction and dedication.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 6 – A Werewolf Boy

Genre: Fantasy romance

Release Date: October 31, 2012

Director: Jo Sung-hee

Writer: Jo Sung-hee

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Synopsis: A young girl who has moved to the countryside for her health with her family discovers a feral boy on her farm and attempts to civilize him.

Box Office: The film was a sleeper hit and grossed $41 million at the box office.

Critical Reception: The film won its actors numerous awards and was extremely popular with the audience, making it achieve cult-classic status.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • If you enjoy the bittersweet feeling of your heart being broken, you’ll love this film. It’s a melodrama, so there’s bound to be some tears.
  • The film was novelized close to its release! How cool is that?
  • The baby-faced leads, Park Bo-young and Song Joong-ki, are too adorable to handle. They’re also formidable actors, something you won’t help but noticing.
  • It’s a poignant, beautiful, and excellent film you’ll quickly get emotionally invested in.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 5 – Extreme Job

Genre: Action-comedy

Release Date: January 23, 2019

Director: Lee Byeong-heon

Writer: Bae Se-young

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Synopsis: A group of narcotics detectives is offered redemption after failing their last mission: they must apprehend an international drug gang. Trouble arises when the chicken joint they’re working undercover at becomes famous for its food.

Box Office: $120 million against a budget of $5.8 million. The film was a commercial success and broke many box office records.

Critical Reception: It has an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film received several nominations for the 55th Baeksang Awards.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • It’s a family-friendly, feel-good movie you can sit back and enjoy with the entirety of your clan.
  • The film has entertaining kick-butt action scenes your inner fangirl or fanboy will take delight in.
  • It has a wicked and eccentric sense of humor sure to tickle you senseless.
  • Kevin Hart plans to remake this film!
  • The lead cast has incredible comedic timing and chemistry, making it impossible for the audience not to invest in their relationships.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 4 – Oldboy

Genre: Neo-noir, action-thriller

Release Date: November 21, 2003

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Jun-hyung, Park Chan-wook

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Synopsis: A seemingly innocent man imprisoned for 15 years finds freedom. He tries to figure out the reason for his imprisonment.

Box Office: $15 million against a budget of $3 million.

Critical Reception: It is regarded as one of the best Korean films of all time.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The breakout film is unforgettable. It appears to be your regular mystery-thriller until the highly disturbing reveal and plot twist. Seriously, you will not see it coming, and you will be horrified by it.
  • It has an English-language remake starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen that was released ten years after the original.
  • The film is actually based on the Japanese manga of the same name!

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 3 – Train to Busan

Genre: Action-horror

Release Date: July 20, 2016

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Writer: Park Joo-suk

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Synopsis: A young girl and her father find themselves trapped in a train headed for Busan amid a zombie outbreak.

Box Office: It grossed $98.5 million against a budget of $8.5 million.

Critical Reception: The film’s take on the zombie genre was praised as being unique. It has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The film has an uncomplicated plot and fast pace, which makes it easier to sit back and enjoy it for the entertaining piece of media it is.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 2 – Snowpiercer

Genre: Science-fiction, action

Release Date: August 1, 2013

Director: Bong Joon-h0

Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson

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Synopsis: A scientific experiment gone-wrong leads to the world being encased in ice and snow. The surviving population lives in the Snowpiercer super-train, where the rich inhabit the ‘front’ and the poor struggle to survive in the ‘tail.’ Sick and tired of the cruelty inflicted by the train’s authority, the people in the tail section rise up and rebel.

Box Office: It grossed $86.8 million against a budget of $40 million.

Critical Reception: The film was loved by the critics, with the majority praising the performances and direction. 

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The performances of Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans are extraordinary.
  • The film is nail-bitingly intense and gory, making it the perfect weekend distraction.
  • The violence and harshness of the film are balanced by the dashes of comedy.
  • The class disparity in the film is heartbreaking and realistic, despite being shown in an imaginative setting.
  • It is based on a French graphic novel, so you can even read the book (the English version, of course) if you want to.
  • It is a visually stunning film, featuring impressive sets and costumes.
  • Despite its bleakness, the film demands to be rewatched.

Watch the Trailer:

↓ 1 – Parasite

Genre: Black comedy, thriller

Release Date: May 30, 2019

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Han Ji-won

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Synopsis: All the members of a poor family manage to get jobs at the house of the same wealthy family through deception and trickery. They become parasites, leeching off of the wealthy owners.

Box Office: $258.8 million against a budget of $15.5 million.

Critical Reception: Parasite achieved a 99% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, which is considered a genuinely prestigious honor, as well as four Academy Awards.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • Parasite was a massive critical success, gaining approval from movie critics and movie-goers worldwide. The film received numerous award nominations and even won the Best Film Oscar. If you live in a hole and haven’t watched it yet, you need to do it right now!
  • The film deals with socio-economic problems such as the class-difference, poverty, social inequality, effects of capitalism in South Korea, which makes it relatable and realistic.
  • The unpredictable plot twists in the film will shake you to your core!
  • The film features stunning cinematography and mixes several different genres like drama, horror, thriller, and comedy.

Watch the Trailer:


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