Top-something Arabic films that you really should see

Top-something Arabic films that you really should see
Our can't-miss list of Arabic films. Know of more? Disagree? Tweet us using the hashtag #arabyfilms.
6 min read
09 Dec, 2014
Is this Palestinian animation the best Arabic film? Send us your thoughts

This is a non-exhaustive list of what we consider must-watch Arabic films from across the region. The list is focused mostly on documentaries, is highly subjective and was collected in a wholly unscientific way. Films, moreover, are not listed in order of preference.

Make your way through and don’t be shy. Tweet us using the hashtag #arabyfilms. Tell us what you think about our list, argue for your own favourites or just have a rant. Your suggestions – and ours - will help others survive another long, dark winter.


is a film about the ‘death boats’ that smuggle North African – and now, more and more, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian – migrants to Europe. The film, directed by Merzak Allouache, focuses on a group of ten young people – Harragas - who decide to take the risk and pay smugglers to ship them to a better life in Europe.

Trailer for Harragas


A personal favourite is Excuse my French by Amr Salama. The film has proven that even good films can achieve commercial success in Egyptian theatres, with revenues exceeding 8 million EGP (US$1.1 million) after 12 weeks. This is a comedy about a Christian boy from a well-off family who is suddenly forced to go to a public school after his father, a bank director, dies of a heart attack.

Trailer for Excuse my French

The Square
is an Oscar-nominated documentary by Jehane Noujaimi, telling the story of the Egyptian uprising at Tahrir Square through the accounts of several young Egyptians who met at the square and rose up against Hosni Mubarak together.

Trailer for The Square

Factory Girl
is another Oscar-nominated movie, this one about a young factory worker Hiyam who falls in love with Salah, the new manager of the textile workshop where they are both employed. Class incompatibility, gender roles and moral mores are all explored with comic and tragic results in this return to movie-making after a several-year hiatus by director Mohamed Khan. Khan came to prominence along with a group of directors who pioneered socially engaged cinema in the 1980s, when Egyptian movies were still dominated by musical melodrama.

Trailer for Factory Girl


A World Not Ours
by Mahdi Fleifel is about Ein al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. An account of belonging, friendship, hardship and lost homeland based on personal recordings, historical footage, and family archives.

Trailer for A World Not Ours

The Lebanese Rocket Society is a fascinating film about a time when Lebanon dared to dream big. Directed by Khalil Joreige and Joanna Hadjithomas it tells the story of physics professor Manoug Manougian and a small group of his students from the Haigazian University who started testing and launching rockets in the 1960s. They named their project the Lebanese Rocket Society and for a short period of time it was a source of national pride.

Trailer for The Lebanese Rocket Society



Horses of God follows two brothers, Yachine and Hamid, who grow up in the slums near Casablanca. The film trails their gradual radicalisation that tansformed them from street kids to two of 12 bombers involved in the May 16, 2003 Casablanca bombings that killed 33 people. Directed by Nabil Ayouch the film was presented Un Certain Regard at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

The film was inspired by Ayouch refusal to believe that violence is nameless and blameless. In an interview earlier this year, the director said:

“For me, violence comes from somewhere. Violence has a source, and it's not black or white. We have to really pay attention to why a ten-year-old boy can become a suicide bomber… Sometimes it's important to get into the real life of those people, from the very beginning, from where the story begins."

Trailer for Horses of God


The Wanted 18: The True Story of Bovine Resistance is an animated documentary by Amer Shomali. The film focuses on an incident during the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s in Beit Sahour near Betlehem, where a group of Palestinians buy a small herd of cows partly to boycott Israeli milk but also to ensure access to milk during curfews. The Israeli army orders the group to close down the farm or face demolition because the cows were deemed “a serious threat to the national security of the state of Israel." The cows are sent into hiding and become the focus of a full military search. The incident, and the film, showcase the sometimes surreal conditions under Israeli occupation.

Teaser for The Wanted 18


With Syria going through uprising and war, it little surprise that death, conflict and destruction are the main themes in recent Syrian productions.

The Immortal Sergeant by Ziad Kalthoum (official selection for the Locarno International Film Festival) is a documentary based on Kalthoum’s own experience of serving in the Syrian army as part of his mandatory service. Kalthoum served during 2012 and lives a double life: during the day he serves at the army’s Basel al-Assad theatre, which hasn’t screened a film in the past 15 years. During the afternoons, he continues his work as an assistant director in a Syrian production Ladder to Damascus by a well-known director Mohamed Malas.

To cope with the schizophrenia of his life he starts filming, capturing the dilemma of the director whether to continue working during war and the Orwellian Syrian reality, the Baath graffiti that reads: "Yes to the builder of modern Syria. We love Assad" as the country is gradually destroyed.

Special mentions: Silvered Water, a self-portrait by Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedrixan (premiered in the Special Screenings section in Cannes in 2014) and Return to Homs by Talal Derki (won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014).


Challat of Tunis is a mockumentary following director Kaouther Ben Hania in her search for the man called Challat by Tunisian media who slashed 11 women from his motorbike back in 2003, also known as the "Tunisian Jack the ripper". She interviews the victims (some supposed victims too), men at a café, including some who express support for Challat, claiming that if a woman dresses immodestly, she deserves what happens to her. Eventually, having lost hope that she will find the real Challat, Ban Hania holds an audition to find someone to play him instead. A man called Jallel Dridi answers the call, claiming he is Challat.

Trailer for Challat of Tunis


Karama Has No Walls tells the story of Yemen’s 2011 uprising with a focus on the Friday of Dignity – Jumaat al-Karama on March 18, 2011, when government snipers killed 53 protestors. The film, directed by Sara Ishaq, was a 2014 Oscar nominee in the short documentaries category.

Trailer for Karama Has No Walls

Sara Ishaq, a Yemeni-Scottish director, also directed The Mulberry House, an autobiographical story of coming to terms with her mixed identity and her return to Yemen after a 10-year absence as a 27-year-old, just in time to witness the uprising unfold.

Trailer for The Mulberry House


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