The following films from the last decade are listed in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent and working backwards in time. Many of the big-budget, widely-released movies may be found just about anywhere. (It’s important to note that this is not an all-inclusive list.)
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1.The Perfect Candidate (2019)
Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia, directed this film. Film about a young Saudi doctor’s bid for office in the local city elections was nominated for a Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion.
2. Wadjda (2013)
A film directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifaa Al Mansour. Wadjda, a 10-year-old girl who lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, is the protagonist of the film, which is subtitled in English. “Wadjda is a fun-loving entrepreneur who always tests the limits of what she can get away with, even though she lives in a conservative world.”
3. Incendies (Scorched) (2010)
At the 2011 Academy Awards, this 2010 French Canadian film was up for Best Foreign Language Film. In Scorched, a film adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play, two identical twins, one from Montreal and the other from the Middle East, set out to uncover the truth about their mother’s life after she dies. The majority of the action takes place in Fuad, a fictional country in the Middle East that serves as a parody of Lebanon for those familiar with the region. Mostly in French and Arabic, with English subtitles, the film is shown. See a trailer for Incendies on the Sony Classics website.
4. Sex in the City 2 (2010)
In 2010, the famed Manhattanites Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha take their schtick on the road to Abu Dhabi… so we had to include this fluffier variation. It was shot in New York and Morocco since Abu Dhabi wouldn’t allow them film there, as Audra pointed out in her guest letter from the editor.
5. Son of Babylon (2009)
Filmmaker Mohamed Al Daradji narrates the narrative of 12-year-old Ahmed, who joins his grandmother on a journey across Iraq in search of the whereabouts of Ahmed’s father, who was killed in the Iraq War in 1991 and has never been found by his family. At the 2010 Berlin International Picture Festival, Al Daradji took home two honors for his work on this film. With English subtitles in Arabic and Kurdish.
6. Journey to Mecca (2009)
Ibn Battutah, one of the world’s greatest explorers, makes his pilgrimage to Mecca in this IMAX film, narrated by Ben Kinsley, which takes place in 1325. A trailer for the film may be seen on the film’s page.
7. Laila’s Birthday (2008)
A judge has returned from overseas to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he must earn a livelihood by driving his brother-in-taxi law’s because the government has ran out of money to pay his wages. It takes place on his daughter’s 7th birthday, and the New York Times calls it a “black urban comedy that conveys fury in fleeting jabs of absurdist observation.” In Arabic with English subtitles, the film is available for viewing.
8. The Kingdom (2007)
An American compound has been bombed in Saudi Arabia, and a team of FBI agents from the United States travels to the country to investigate. The cast includes Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Batman. The film was shot in Arizona, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi, not Saudi Arabia.
9. Persepolis (2007)
Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic novel of the same name, this French animated picture depicts the coming-of-age of an Iranian girl during the Islamic Revolution. At the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, this film was awarded the Jury Prize Ex-aequo.
10. Rendition (2007)
Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Peter Sarsgaard star, along with Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep, in this major motion picture release. He begins to question his employment after being assigned to supervise the torture of a detainee at an unnamed covert detention facility outside the United States, played by Gyllenhaal. “Roger Ebert” stated in a Chicago Sun-Times review of the film on October 19, 2007 “Rare and valuable is a picture like ‘Rendition’. … Torture and personal responsibility are at the heart of this film’s message. It also knows the difference between what is right and bad.”
11. Redacted (2007)
This fictional story, mainly based on the 2006 Mahmudiyah shootings and rape of an Iraqi teenage girl by US forces, is written and directed by Brian De Palma. Reconstruction of the story by the US media is shown in the film, which uses a range of media sources, including the soldiers’ own video, local TV reports, security cameras, helmet-cams, and more. De Palma earned the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion award for Best Director for his work on the film.
12. Captain Abu Raed (2007)
When a group of impoverished children mistake an elderly airport cleaner for an airline pilot in this short by Jordanian director Amin Matalqa, they are shocked. Children are enthralled by him as he relates his trip stories and encourages them to follow their dreams and aspirations. In Arabic with English subtitles, the film is available for viewing. At the 2007 Dubai International Film Festival, the film was honored with the Muhr Award for Best Actor and the 2008 Sundance Audience Award for World Cinema-Dramatic.
13. Ahlaam (translated varyingly as “Utopia” or “Dreams”) (2006)
In 2004, Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Al Daradji shot this film in Baghdad, right in the midst of the conflict there. In the midst of the “Shock and Awe” campaign of the Iraqi invasion, the novel follows the history and present lives of three Iraqi mental patients. The film is subtitled in both Arabic and English. The film was recognized by the Brooklyn International Film Festival, the Carthage Film Festival, the Istanbul International Film Festival, and the Leeds International Film Festival for its outstanding performances and visual effects. This year, Variety named Mohamed Al-daradji its Middle East Filmmaker of the Year.
14. It’s Winter (2006)
Iranian-British director Rafi Pitts’ melancholy movie about three Tehran residents: a husband who leaves his wife and children behind to work overseas, his wife, and a new man who enters into the neighborhood. The film is in Farsi, with English subtitles available.
15. A New Day in Old Sana’a (2005)
Written and directed by British-Yemeni writer Bader Ben Hirsi in Sana’a, Yemen, the love drama was shot on location. English and Arabic subtitles are provided for the film. When it screened at the Cairo International Film Festival, it was named the best Arabic film.
As an additional resource, consider checking out this video from Arab Film:
16. Syriana (2005)
George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Jeffrey Wright appear in this geopolitical suspense thriller that weaves together elements of oil, politics, the economy, and the CIA. Oscar and Golden Globe prizes for Best Supporting Actor went to George Clooney.
17. Hidalgo (2004)
Human-horse love story: 3,000-mile horse race across the desert takes a Pony Express courier from the late 1800s to the Middle East.
18. The Syrian Bride (2004)
An Israeli filmmaker’s comedy-drama about a Syrian-Israeli border village’s Druze bride who is betrothed to a Damascus-based Syrian comedian. As a result, it was nominated for a total of four international film festival prizes in 2004.