40 Of The Greatest Iranian Movies You Should See

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Iranian cinema has been ranked by many critics lately as the world's most important national cinema. Especially in the last twenty years, many international film festivals, famous directors and critics have honored Iranian cinema, and Persian movies have won hundreds of awards with their artistic achievements, universality, and their mostly dramatic, impressive stories.

Here are 40 of those beautiful, striking movies from Iranian cinema that you should definitely add to your watch list.

The list is not in any kind of rank order and the storylines were taken from IMDb

1. A Separation | IMDB: 8.5 (2011)

Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) argue about living abroad. Simin prefers to live abroad to provide better opportunities for their only daughter, Termeh. However, Nader refuses to go because he thinks he must stay in Iran and take care of his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who suffers from Alzheimers. However, Simin is determined to get a divorce and leave the country with her daughter.

2. Turtles Can Fly | IMDB: 8.0 (2004)

On the Kurdish refugee camp on the Iraqi-Turkish border, the boy Satellite is the leader of the kids. He commands them to clear and collect American undetonated minefields in the fields to sell them in the street market and he installs antennae for the villagers. He goes with the local leader to buy a parabolic antenna to learn the news about the eminent American invasion but nobody speaks English and Satellite that knows a couple of words is assigned to translate the Fox News. When the orphans Agrin and her armless brother Hengov and the blind toddler Riga come from Halabcheh to the camp, Satellite falls in an unrequited love for Egrin. But the girl is traumatized by a cruel raid in her home, when her parents were murdered and she was raped. She wants to leave Riga behind and travel with her brother Hengov to another place, but he does not agree with her intention.

3. About Elly | IMDB: 8.2 (2009)

A group of middle-class friends travel from Tehran to spend the weekend at the seaside. Sepideh invites Elly, who is her daughter's teacher, to travel with the three families in order to introduce her to their recently divorced friend Ahmad, now living in Germany. The next morning, the two women go shopping in the town and Elly says that she has to return to Tehran because her mother has been recently submitted to hospital for heart surgery, but Sepideh asks her to stay and hides her luggage. The children are playing in the sea and one mother asks Elly to watch them. Out of the blue, Sepideh's daughter calls to some men playing volleyball to rescue one of the children from the water. After rescuing the little boy they seek out Elly, questioning whether she has drowned or returned to Tehran. What has happened to Elly?

4. Children of Heaven | IMDB: 8.5 (1997)

Zahra's shoes are gone; her older brother Ali lost them. They are poor, there are no shoes for Zahra until they come up with an idea: they will share one pair of shoes, Ali's. School awaits. Will the plan succeed?

5. A Time for Drunken Horses | IMDB: 7.7 (2000)

After their father dies, a family of five are forced to survive on their own in a Kurdish village on the border of Iran and Iraq. Matters are made worse when 12 year old Ayoub, the new head of the family, is told that his handicapped brother, Madi, needs an immediate operation in order to remain alive. This heartbreaking tale shows the lengths to which a family will go in order to survive in the harshest of conditions, where even the horses are fed liquor in order to work.

6. The Cow | IMDB: 8.2 (1969)

Masht Hassan owns the only cow in a remote and desolate village. He treats the cow as his own child. When he is away, his cow dies. Knowing the relationship between Masht Hassan and his cow, the villagers hastily dispose the corpse, and when Masht Hassan comes back, they tell him that his cow ran away. Masht Hassan is devastated, he starts to spend all his time in the barn, eating hay, and slowly believes that he is the cow.

7. Bab'Aziz - The Prince That Contemplated His Soul | IMDB: 7.6 (2005)

Bab'Aziz - The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul is the story of a blind dervish named Bab'Aziz and his spirited granddaughter, Ishtar. Together they wander the desert in search of a great reunion of dervishes that takes place just once every thirty years. With faith as their only guide, the two journey for days through the expansive, barren landscape. To keep Ishtar entertained, Bab'Aziz relays the ancient tale of a prince who relinquished his realm in order to remain next to a small pool in the desert, staring into its depths while contemplating his soul. As the tale of the prince unfolds, the two encounter other travelers with stories of their own--including Osman, who longs for the beautiful woman he met at the bottom of a well, and Zaid, who searches for the ravishing young woman who fled from him after being seduced by his songs. A fairytale-like story of longing and belonging, filmed in the enchanting and ever-shifting sandscapes of Tunisia and Iran.

8. Taste of Cherry | IMDB: 7.7 (1997)

Middle-aged Mr.Badii is planning to commit suicide and desperately seeks anyone to assist him - he has already dug out the grave in the mountains, but the assistant will have to bury him when he will do the deed. He asks Kurd soldier, Afghan seminarian, but everyone refuses by some reason. Finally he finds an old Turkish taxidermist, who has a sick son and previously attempted suicide himself, and he agrees to assist Badii.

9. The Color of Paradise | IMDB: 8.2 (1999)

Mohammad, a boy at Tehran's institute for the blind, waits for his dad to pick him up for summer vacation. While waiting, he realizes a baby bird has fallen from its nest: he chases away a cat, finds the bird, climbs a tree, and puts it back. His father finally comes and takes him to their village where his sisters and granny await. The lad is a loving student of nature and longs for village life with his family, but his father is ashamed of him, wanting to farm the boy out to clear the way for marriage to a woman who knows nothing of this son. Over granny's objections, dad apprentices Mohammad far from home to a blind carpenter. Can anything bring father and son together?

10. The White Balloon | IMDB: 7.7 (1995)

Razieh wants a fat goldfish for the Iranian New Years celebration instead of the skinny ones in her family's pond at home, because the fat fish looks like it's dancing when it swims. After many attempts she and her brother convince their mother to give them her last bit of money. Between their home and the fish store, Razieh loses the money.. She finds it, but it is temptingly just out of her reach.

11. Where is the Friend's Home? | IMDB: 8.1 (1987)

An 8 year old boy must return his friend's notebook he took by mistake, lest his friend be punished by expulsion from school.

12. Life and Nothing More... | IMDB: 7.9 (1992)

After the earthquake of Guilan, the film director and his son, Puya, travel to the devastated area to search for the actors of the movie the director made there a few years ago, Khane-ye Doust Kodjast? (1987). In their search, they found how people who had lost everything in the earthquake still have hope and try to live life to the fullest.

13. Through the Olive Trees | IMDB: 7.7 (1994)

The movie focuses on one of the events in Zendegi Edame Darad (1992), and explores the relationship between the movie director, and the actors. The local actors play a couple who got married right after the earthquake. In reality, the actor is trying to persuade the actress that they should get married.

14. Baran | IMDB: 7.8 (2001)

Young Lateef works on a construction site in Tehran with some Turks and a few illegal Afghan workers. When Lateef is given heavier tasks to compensate for new Afghan worker Rahmat, he resents his displacement and treats Rahmat cruelly. After one of his pranks, however, Lateef discovers Rahmat's secret--he is a girl named Baran. Latif's heart softens towards Baran and he shows his new affection for her by doing what he can to ease the hardships she suffers at work. When government inspectors force all Afghans to be fired from the site, Lateef discovers he cannot bear to be without her. Jeopardizing social standing and endangering his own well being, Lateef stops at nothing to save his love.

15. Blackboards | IMDB: 6.9 (2000)

Itinerant Kurdish teachers, carrying blackboards on their backs, look for students in the hills and villages of Iran, near the Iraqi border during the Iran-Iraq war. Said falls in with a group of old men looking for their bombed-out village; he offers to guide them, and takes as his wife Halaleh, the clan's lone woman, a widow with a young son. Reeboir attaches himself to a dozen pre-teen boys weighed down by contraband they carry across the border; they're mules, always on the move. Said and Reeboir try to teach as their potential students keep walking. Danger is close; armed soldiers patrol the skies, the roads, and the border. Is there a role for a teacher? Is there hope?

16. Fireworks Wednesday | IMDB: 8.0 (2006)

On the day before their holiday trip to Dubai, a wife who believes her husband is unfaithful enlists the help of Roohi, a young women sent by an agency to clean the house. She asks Roohi to make an appointment and gather information at the salon of the woman she suspects. Roohi is betrothed, innocent of marital discord. Over the course of the day, she, the couple, their small son, the wife's sister and husband, and the beautician engage in a series of exchanges, confrontations, and prevarications. Are the wife's suspicions unwarranted; is her behavior imperiling her marriage? Acts of kindness may go awry. And the trip to Dubai?

17. The Circle | IMDB: 7.4 (2000)

In a hospital waiting room a woman learns her daughter, Solmaz Gholami, has just given birth. The ultrasound test had prepared the family for a boy. The baby, it turns out, is a girl. The joy the mother anticipated turns to terror for she knows her son-in-law's family will abandon her daughter. The old woman flees as the in-laws arrive. On the crowded streets of Tehran - a place where women are not permitted to stay out on their own or smoke in public - two women are also on the run. Arezou and Nargess have just been granted temporary leave from prison but they have no plans to return. They manage to scrounge together enough money for the bus trip to Nargess' hometown, but she lacks proper identification, and the police are searching everyone at the station. Meanwhile, their friend Pari has just escaped from prison in order to have an abortion.

18. Close-Up | IMDB: 8.2 (1990)

Pretending to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf making his next movie, Hossain Sabzian enters the home of a well-to-do family in Tehran, promising it a prominent part in his next movie. The actual people involved in the incident re-enact the actual events, followed by the footage from the actual trial that took place.

19. The Lizard | IMDB: 8.4 (2004)

Reza is a petty thief who escapes jail by posing as a mullah. When he has to stay in disguise longer than he expected, he accidentally becomes the revered leader of a small-town mosque, bringing people flooding in with his on the hoof sermons featuring sexual innuendo and references to 'brother' Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

20. The Wind Will Carry Us | IMDB: 7.6 (1999)

Irreverent city engineer Behzad comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative. In the meanwhile the film follows his efforts to fit in with the local community and how he changes his own attitudes as a result.

21. Kandahar | IMDB: 6.8 (2001)

Nafas is a reporter who was born in Afghanistan, but fled with her family to Canada when she was a child. However, her sister wasn't so lucky; she lost her legs to a land mine while young, and when Nafas and her family left the country, her sister was accidentally left behind. Nafas receives a letter from her sister announcing that she's decided to commit suicide during the final eclipse before the dawn of the 21st century; desperate to spare her sister's life, Nafas makes haste to Afghanistan, where she joins a caravan of refugees who, for a variety of reasons, are returning to the war-torn nation. As Nafas searches for her sister, she soon gets a clear and disturbing portrait of the toll the Taliban regime has taken upon its people.

22. Songs of My Motherland | IMDB: 7.3 (2002)

During the war between Iran and Iraq, a group of Iranian Kurd musicians set off on an almost impossible mission. They will try to find Hanareh, a singer with a magic voice who crossed the border and may now be in danger in the Iraqi Kurdistan. As in his previous films, this Kurdish director is again focusing on the oppression of his people.

23. Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame | IMDB: 7.3 (2007)

A young girl zealously wants to go to school and learn to read and write. Almost everywhere she is met with hostility or indifference. The only young boy who takes her to his school is thrown out by the teacher, because helping her prevented him from coming in time. - It must not go unnoticed that the schoolgirls and the female teacher are likewise hostile toward this girl. None of them want her in the classroom. On her way home she and other girls are taken as prisoners by boys playing talibans. They tear her school book to pieces (or rather what was left of it after the schoolgirls had done the same thing.) The "taliban boys" threaten to stone their girl prisoners. The girl's attempts end in complete failure.

24. Leila | IMDB: 7.8 (1997)

Leila and Reza meet in a kind of celebration and fall for each other. Having discovered their love, they get married soon only to find out the infertility of Leila. That's when Reza's authoritative mother starts wheedling Leila to persuade Reza into second marriage for the sake of having a grandchild. Leila accepts at first but is unaware of her own strain threshold.

25. Gabbeh | IMDB: 7.1 (1996)

An elderly couple go about their routine of cleaning their gabbeh (a intricately-designed rug), while bickering gently with each other. Magically, a young woman appears, helping the two clean the rug. This young woman belongs to the clan whose history is depicted in the design of the gabbeh, and the rug recounts the story of the courtship of the young woman by a stranger from the clan.

26. The Cyclist | IMDB: 7.4 (1987)

The wife of Nasim, an Afghan immigrant in Iran, is gravely ill. He needs money to pay for her care, but his day labor digging wells does not pay enough. A friend connects Nasim to a two-bit promoter who sells tickets to watch Nasim ride a bicycle continuously for a week. The promoter brings in sick and aged spectators, haranguing them to find hope in Nasim's strength. Aided by his son, who feeds him as he rides, Nasim grinds out the days and shivering nights. Local officials believe this may be a plot and Nasim may be a spy; they try to sabotage him as do those who bet he won't finish the week. Will desperation alone get Nasim the money? Is any triumph an illusion?

27. Offside | IMDB: 7.2 (2006)

"Offside" is about a group of Iranian girls who attempts to enter Tehran's Azadi Stadium dressed as boys in order to watch a big football match but some get caught and arrested. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, women are not allowed to enter the stadiums.

28. The Mirror | IMDB: 7.6 (1997)

A girl in traditional female clothing, with her arm in plaster, comes out of school one day and doesn't find her mother meeting her. She decides to travel home herself though she doesn't know her address and remembers the road only visually.

29. The Father | IMDB: 7.5 (1996)

Mehrollah is a 14-year-old boy who is forced to find a job to support his family after his father dies. He travels to the southern parts of Iran, looking for work. Upon his return to his hometown, he notices certain changes in his family.

30. The Day I Became a Woman | IMDB: 7.3 (2000)

A film comprised of three interconnected vignettes that depict women at three stages of life in Iran. The first part centers on a young girl on her ninth birthday who is told that she can no longer play with the boys she had been playing with only the day before because she is now a woman. Told from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl who does not feel like or know what the word "woman" refers to, we see how devastatingly this affects both the girl and the boy with whom she had been friends. The second part is about a young woman who decides to enter a bicycle race against her husband's wishes. As first, the husband and then increasing numbers of men from her village ride beside her on horseback to convince her to return home. The race begins to symbolize a freedom that she desperately wants from the limitations that have been placed on her. Finally, the third part shows us an old woman who has come into some money and is now free to do what she wants.

31. The Runner | IMDB: 8.0 (1984)

Amiro is a young boy who has lost his home during the war. He spends his days by working odd jobs, until he realizes that the only way that he can realize his dreams is by enrolling in school. In school, he has conflict with other students. Finally there is a competition to see who can say the whole alphabet in one breath.

32. A Moment of Innocence | IMDB: 8.0 (1996)

A forty year old ex-cop goes to Tehran to meet with the director Makmalbaf and act in his latest film. Twenty years ago the director had wounded the policeman with a knife in an attempt to disarm him to take his gun. The filmmaker, who fought against the Shah's regime, was arrested and spent several years in prison. So, today, he proposes to man to reconstruct the story cinematically: each of them will choose a guy to play their roles. The boys chosen take things very seriously and, in the end, will not fight, but rather, will offer one another... the bread and flowers!

33. Crimson Gold | IMDB: 7.6 (2003)

For Hussein, a pizza delivery driver, the imbalance of the social system is thrown in his face wherever he turns. One day when his friend, Ali, shows him the contents of a lost purse, Hussein discovers a receipt of payment and cannot believe the large sum of money someone spent to purchase an expensive necklace. He knows that his pitiful salary will never be enough to afford such luxury. Hussein receives yet another blow when he and Ali are denied entry to an uptown jewelry store because of their appearance. His job allows him a full view of the contrast between rich and poor. He motorbikes every evening to neighborhoods he will never live in, for a closer look at what goes on behind closed doors. But one night, Hussein tastes the luxurious life, before his deep feelings of humiliation push him over the edge.

34. The Willow Tree | IMDB: 7.5 (2005)

Blind since childhood, Youssef has a devoted wife, loving daughter, and successful university career, but his affliction fills him with secret torment. As if in answer to his prayers, a clinic restores his sight- a miracle that is double-edged. Although this new world of sight and color floods him with ecstacy- the breathtaking images seen through his reawakened eyes include a dazzling vista of snow-blanketed hills, a shower of molten gold sparks in a jewlery foundry, an array of lollipop lights behind a rain-speckled car window- it also plunges him into a labyrinth of confusion and temptations. A pretty student begins to enclipse his previously invisible wife; he silently watches a subway pickpoket, who fixes him with a look of withering complicity. Eager to claim the lost life he feels he is owed but unable to take the next step, Youssef is inflamed with possibility and paralyzed with egoism.

35. Half Moon | IMDB: 7.3 (2006)

Mamo, an old and legendary Kurdish musician living in Iran, plans to give one final concert in Iraqi Kurdistan. After seven months of trying to get a permit and rounding up his ten sons, he sets out for the long and troublesome journey in a derelict bus, denying a recurring vision of his own death at half moon. Halfway the party halts at a small village to pick up female singer Hesho, which will only add to the difficulty of the undertaking, as it is forbidden for Iranian women to sing in public, let alone in the company of men. But Mamo is determined to carry through, if not for the gullible antics of the bus driver.

36. Beautiful City | IMDB: 7.9 (2004)

Akbar has just turned eighteen. He has been held in a rehabilitation centre for committing murder at the age of sixteen when he was condemned to death. Legally speaking, he had to reach the age of eighteen so that the conviction could be carried out. Now, Akbar is transferred to prison to await the day of his execution. A'la, a friend of Akbar, who himself has undergone imprisonment for burglary, soon after his release tries desperately to gain the consent of Akbar's plaintiff so as to stop the execution.

37. No One Knows About Persian Cats | IMDB: 7.3 (2009)

Negar and Ashkan, two young Iranian songwriters, decide to set up an underground band and look for other musicians to join them, but the authorities keep putting a spanner in the works. Fed up with being hindered from expressing themselves, the two young people try to get documents to leave the country for Europe.

38. Border Cafe | IMDB: 7.5 (2005)

An independently-minded Iranian widow and mother flouts tradition by re-opening her late husband's Europe/Asia border café in this socially-oriented drama from director Kambozia Partovi. In the wake of her husband's death, Reyhan (Fereshtei Sadre Orafaei) longs to re-open her late spouse's café despite rigid social standards that explicitly discourage her from doing so. Isolated from her friends and neighbors for her headstrong efforts to get the business back on her feet, Reyhan also faces pressure from her conservative brother-in-law Nasser (Parviz Parastoei) -- who longs to take Reyhan as his second wife as permitted by custom. Despite Nasser's vengeful efforts to break Reyhan's spirit and put her out of business, Reyhan's culinary skills soon begin drawing a healthy clientèle that includes kindly Greek trucker Zakariyo (Nikolas Padapopoulis); whose relationship with the determined restaurateur may provide an exit from her current crisis.

39. Bashu, the Little Stranger | IMDB: 8.1 (1989)

During the Iran-Iraq War, Bashu, a young boy loses his house and all his family. Scared, he sneaks into a truck that is leaving the area. He gets off the truck in the Northern part of the country, where everything from landscape to language is different. He meets Naii, who is trying to raise her two young children on a farm, while her husband is away. Despite cultural differences, and the fact that they do not speak the same language, Bashu and Naii slowly form a strong bond

40. Hamoun | IMDB: 8.3 (1990)

Hamoon's wife is leaving him. He is also unsuccessfully trying to finish his Ph.D. thesis. He is forced to reexamine his life. In a series of flashbacks and dreams, Hamoon tries to figure out what he did wrong.

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