Top 20 Korean Movies Of All Time and their IMDB Scores

Korean cinema has always been a goldmine of truly memorable films but has only recently made it into the 'mainstream' with films like Train to Busan. If you want something a little different and a cinema genre with a very distinctive style, it's well worth delving into the wonderful world of the best Korean movies. From gritty dramas to blood-curdling horrors, powerful and emotional examinations of the human condition to outright shoot-em-up gangster flicks, the best Korean movies of all time are an eclectic mix of powerful visual entertainment and deeper, more thought-provoking content.

At VOX Cinemas, we love discovering new films, and Korea is a rich vein that’s just begging to be mined. So we’ve put together the list of the top 20 Korean movies and their IMDb scores so you can immerse yourself in some genuinely exciting films. (A warning: some of these movies are both violent and frightening, so may not be suitable for family viewing).

1. Oldboy – 2003 (8.4)

One of the best Korean movies ever produced, Oldboy is intense, utterly absorbing, and will have you pinned to your seat from start to finish. Oh Dae-Su spent 15 years in confinement and is finally free. However, he has just five days to find his captor again and get his revenge. But there’s much more to this than simple retribution – is he being manipulated once again? Starring Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, and Kim Byeong-Ok.

2. Memories of Murder – 2003 (8.1)

In a small town in a remote rural province, two young women are brutally attacked and murdered. The local detectives put very little effort into solving the case, and use it as an excuse to brutalise potential suspects. Then a new detective from the capital takes over. When a third victim turns up, it’s clear that they’re dealing with a devious and cunning serial killer. Starring Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Roe-ha Kim, and Jae-ho Song.

3. The Wailing – 2016 (7.4)

Some of the best Korean movies are from the horror genre, and The Wailing is one of the most chilling you'll ever watch. A stranger arrives in a village and soon after, a mysterious illness starts to spread like wildfire. Is the stranger the cause of the village's woes, or is there a supernatural element to this particular plague? Starring Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Kwak Do-won, and Chun Woo-hee.

4. The Handmaiden – 2016 (8.1)

A tale of intrigue and deception is the focus of one of the most popular Korean movies of recent years. A young woman is hired to perform the role of handmaiden to a fabulously wealthy Japanese heiress, but is she the woman's confidant, or is she merely working her way into a position of trust to defraud the heiress of her riches? A multi-layered thriller that examines the culture of Japan and the relationship between the two women in particular. Starring Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, and Moon So-ri.

5. Snowpiercer – 2013 (7.1)

The most popular Korean movies don’t usually include science fiction, but Snowpiercer is a worthy exception. The Korean love of trains forms the focal point of this thriller, set in a world where climate change has wreaked havoc and the survivors spend their time on the ‘Snowpiercer’ train travelling around the globe. What emerges is that even in the most adverse of conditions, social order and class inevitably take over eventually. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris. Directed by Bong Joon-ho.

6. Parasite – 2019 (8.5)

Parasite is a seminal examination of greed and class structure and one of the best Korean movies of all time. A friendship develops between a wealthy family and a destitute clan desperate to climb out of their cramped, shabby basement home in Seoul. A series of lies, deceit and subterfuge allows them to slowly worm their way into the comfort of the Park’s home. But will their plot be thwarted by the Parks’ housekeeper? Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, and Choi Woo-sik.

7. I Saw The Devil – 2010 (7.8)

Not, as you might first think, a horror movie, but an outstanding action thriller that takes you on a rollercoaster of a ride. After his fiancé is brutally murdered, secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon uses all of his fieldcraft and training to track the killer. The twist? In this case, he finds him, but then lets the murderer go again so that he can play a vicious, vindictive game of cat and mouse. A superb film that examines just how far a ‘good’ person will go when they’re pushed. Starring Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jeon Gook-hwan, and Ho-jin Chun.

8. The Chaser – 2008 (7.8)

The best Korean movies are multi-layered and complex, and none more so than The Chaser. A disgraced ex-police officer turned pimp suddenly feels the heat when one of his ‘girls’ goes missing. It keeps happening, and he has to find out why and where they’re ending up before he ends up destitute and in even deeper danger. Sarring Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Yeong-hie Seo, and Kim Yoo-jung.

9. The Man From Nowhere -2010 (7.7)

The ‘quiet man pushed to violence’ is a recurring theme in many of the best Korean movies, and this action-thriller embraces that, taking it to the next level. A pawn shop owner takes on a violent drug lord to protect a young boy, tapping into his own violent past to go up against a pack of thugs intent on murder. Starring Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Tae-hoon, and Kim Hee-won.

10. Mother – 2009 (7.7)

When her son is framed for a young woman’s violent murder, a mother has to take over the search for the real killer so she can clear her son’s name. A mother’s love for her child is the central theme of this action-thriller, and she’ll stop at nothing to get to the truth, whatever that may be. An intense and powerful film that draws you in and keeps you mesmerised from start to finish. Starring Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, and Je-mun Yun.

11. Lady Vengeance – 2005 (7.5)

Part of the Vengeance Trilogy, Lady Vengeance tells the tale of a woman wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade and who also has her child snatched away from her. Once she's released, she goes on a bloodthirsty revenge streak against those who wronged her and her child whilst trying to rebuild the relationship with her estranged daughter. Starring Nam-mi Kang, Jeong-nam Choi, Hye-Sook Go, and Bok-hwa Baek.

12. Joint Security Area – 2000 (7.7)

The border between North and South Korea is a volatile place where nervous guards watch each other constantly. In one of the most popular Korean movies (certainly on the southern side of the border!), an incident in the DMZ leaves two soldiers dead and an international investigation team trying to figure out what exactly happened. Will they get the cooperation they need from both sides to get to the truth? Starring Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Kim Tae-woo.

13. A Bittersweet Life – 2005 (7.5)

Korean gang culture is incredibly complex, ruled by a system of honour and respect alongside brutal violence and unswerving loyalty. But what happens when you go against the expressed wishes and commands of your mobster boss? In this intense crime drama, that’s exactly what happens, and the consequences are extreme. Starring Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-a, Yeong-cheol Kim, and Hwang Jung-min.

14. New World – 2013 (7.5)

In this intense action thriller, an undercover policeman is tasked with bringing down one of Korea’s criminal masterminds. But as the lines blur for this dedicated officer, he starts to question where his loyalties truly lie, and if Project ‘New World’ really is the answer to destroying the power of Korea’s largest crime organisations. Starring Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, and Park Sung-woong.

15. Bedevilled – 2010 (7.3)

Korean horror doesn’t always involve supernatural monsters. Sometimes, it examines the horrors that humans can commit against each other. Bedevilled looks into this theme, with the story of a young woman on a remote island who is desperate to escape her life of slavery and brutality. She sees the arrival of a beautiful woman here to visit her grandparents as the key to the end of her enslavement, but will the woman finally help her escape? Starring Yeong-hie Seo, Seong-won Ji, Min-ho Hwang, and Min Je.

16. A Tale of Two Sisters – 2003 (7.1)

A surefire winner in any list of the top 20 Korean films of all time has to be this psychological horror, where the ghosts are the least of your worries. After spending time in a psychiatric institution, two sisters finally return home to a weak father and a cruel and abusive stepmother. The situation is compounded by a ghost determined to drive the sisters insane once again. Starring Lim Soo-jung, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-su, and Moon Geun-young.

17. Sympathy for Mr Vengeance – 2002 (7.5)

Part of the Vengeance trilogy, one of the most popular Korean films explores just what a simple man will do to help his sick and dying sister. It involves kidnap, ransoms, and a kind, gentle man who surprises himself over just how far he’s willing to go to save a loved one. The Vengeance trilogy is one of the best franchises to come out of the Korean film industry and deserves its place in the top 20 Korean movies and their IMDb scores. Starring Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doona, and Ji-Eun Lim.

18. The Host – 2006 (7.1)

This modern take on the good, old-fashioned monster movie is a revelation, as well as being a genuinely chilling and gripping horror film. From the depths of Seoul’s Han River emerges a terrifying monster. But this particular creature is the result of years of toxic waste being pumped into the river by a military base. So is nature simply taking revenge for the arrogance of mankind? Starring Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Park Hae-il, and Bae Doona.

19. The Age of Shadows – 2016 (7.1)

Set in the late 1920s, this action-packed movie is one of the best Korean films of all time. It tells the tale of a cell of brave resistance fighters determined to fight the Japanese invaders in their own way, causing as much mayhem as they can. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues between the Korean resistance cell and the Japanese investigators tasked with stopping them before they can wreak havoc by blowing up Japanese facilities in Seoul. Starring Jeon Yeo-been, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Gong Yoo.

20. Train To Busan – 2016 (7.6)

And finally, we have one of the best Korean movies that also found international fame as one of the most intense and genuinely frightening zombie movies ever. Train to Busan is the film that really launched Korean cinema into the international arena and proved to be hugely popular across the world. The film, which certainly takes some inspiration from classics such as 28 Days Later, tells the struggle for survival of a train full of passengers travelling from Seoul to Busan during a zombie apocalypse. This film is truly edge-of-your-seat stuff and demonstrates why we love Korean cinema so much. Starring Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, and Su-an Kim.

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