We’re all streaming movies and TV shows from home as we wait out this pandemic. Luckily, movies can be pretty good at scratching our travel itch, if only temporarily. So while we can’t head globetrotting at the moment, we can spend some time while safe at home watching movies that’ll take us across the world.
The following list comprises eight movies that take place in countries other than Canada and the United States. Most are dramas, although a few are documentaries. They’re all Netflix Originals, which means that they’re available to you regardless of whether you live in Canada or the United States. They may not be what you think of as typical travel films—The Two Popes, really?—but they showcase lands beyond the horizon and ways of living that we’re all missing out on while in self-isolation right now. If you want pure travel fluff, go watch Mamma Mia! or Eat Pray Love. If you want to watch something a bit more substantial that also showcases different regions of the world, this list is for you. Not all these movies are for all people, but everyone should find something on this list that they can enjoy.
Here are our recommendations for 8 Netflix Original Movies to watch to go globetrotting from home.
What Netflix Original Movies Should I Watch While Self-Isolating at Home?
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
This inspirational drama is based on the real-life story of William Kamkwamba, who remarkably built a windmill to power his small village in Malawi during the midst of a drought. The movie sticks fairly closely to William’s (Maxwell Simba) biography and focuses on his struggles with his independent father, Trywell (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also directed), his attempts to go to school, and his construction of the windmill to power a pump to irrigate his family farm. Most inspirational true stories make for treacly movies, but The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind manages to be touching without being preachy. It doesn’t belittle William’s struggle, but it also rightfully celebrates his ingenuity and the bonds with his community. It also lets you experience quiet, rural life in Malawi, both its hardships and its joys.
Into the Inferno
In this documentary, enigmatic German director Werner Herzog examines the field of volcanology. His main subject is Clive Oppenheimer, a volcanologist that Herzog befriended while making Encounters at the End of the World in Antarctica. Herzog follows Oppenheimer to Indonesia, Iceland, Ethiopia, and North Korea and focuses on both the science of volcanoes and the eccentric lives of those scientists that study them, who often put themselves in harm’s way to do their research. Into the Inferno serves as a science lesson on this fascinating field, but Herzog also injects it with some genuinely strange tangents and profound reflections about humanity.
This cheeky dramatic comedy plays like The Big Short, but for the Panama Papers, a journalistic investigation that revealed the inner workings of a vast money laundering scheme based out of a small law firm in Panama City. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who made the Ocean’s 11 series as well as Traffic and Contagion (perhaps we shouldn’t go there right now), and starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, and David Schwimmer among others, The Laundromat jumps across the globe to Africa, China, and the Caribbean as it explains the intricacies of money laundering to the audience and recounts various fascinating stories of people involved in the scheme. The film offers a bit of globetrotting while also serving as a primer on financial crimes, so it’s both education and entertainment.
The tale of Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king and hero that fought off the English and secured Scottish independence during the Middle Ages. Starring Chris Pine as Robert, the film is a typical medieval epic, with rousing speeches, candle-lit cinematography, and massive battles in the mud. It was shot on location across Scotland and narratively serves as a kind of sequel to Braveheart, so if you liked that film, you’ll enjoy this one. As well, it lets you bask in the gorgeous Scottish landscape, which is always a bonus.
Roma will probably forever be remembered as the film that should’ve won Best Picture the year Green Book did. Well, it’s more than a historical footnote for movie buffs; it’s also a stunningly-beautiful cinematic memory of life in Mexico City in the 1970s. Director Alfonso Cuarón wrote the film as a tribute to his nanny who raised him and his siblings in the 1970s in the wealthy Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. It follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an Indigenous maid, as she cares for the children of a wealthy family and survives personal tragedies and political strife. The film is shot in painterly black-and-white and is as beautiful an ode to an individual, a neighbourhood, and a city as you’ll likely ever watch.
This personal documentary explores Sandi Tan’s past growing up in Singapore and her experiences making movies with an enigmatic, and ultimately villainous, older man who eventually absconded with all the footage of her various projects, never to be seen again. It’s fascinating as a look into a young woman’s artistic awakening and her reflections on her past art. For travellers, it’s also an insightful look into Singapore and the burgeoning artistic scene of a city that had little-to-no movie culture in the early 1990s, when much of the events take place. Shirkers gives you an intimate look at this city nation in a way that not even the best documentary from an outsider’s perspective could manage.
This masculine action film takes a bunch of your favourite male actors (Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garret Hedlund, Pedro Pascal) and sends them into the jungles of South America—specifically the ‘tres fronteras’ region uniting Peru, Brazil, and Colombia—to rob a cartel boss. Much of the film takes place in the jungles of the Andes Mountains, with the characters passing through remote Peruvian villages and over stark mountaintops. It’s heavy on action and bravado, but in the midst of all the entertaining theatrics is a frequently gorgeous look at a remote part of the world.
The Two Popes
This dramatic two-hander focuses on the contentious relationship between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) in the brief period before Benedict abdicated and Francis was elected pope. Their conversations exclusively take place in Vatican City, but there are also flashbacks to Pope Francis’s life in Buenos Aires when he was a young man joining the Jesuits. If you’re pining for a trip to the Sistine Chapel or a stroll through the barrios of Buenos Aires, The Two Popes will tide you over until we can get back to travelling the world for real.