Arab cinema, a vibrant and diverse field of artistic expression, has a rich history that spans over a century, dating back to the silent film era. While it may not have the global recognition of Hollywood or Bollywood, it is a vast cinematic landscape, offering films that touch upon unique cultural nuances, socio-political issues, and universally relatable narratives.

The films produced in this region provide an insightful view into the Arab world, painting a picture that is far more complex and multifaceted than the stereotypical portrayal often seen in western media.

Arab cinema encompasses the film industries of numerous countries in the Arab world, including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, among others. Each of these countries has its distinct style, cinematic history, and socio-political context, contributing to the diversity of Arab cinema.

The stories told in Arab cinema are as diverse as the region itself. Themes of love, loss, joy, struggle, revolution, and tradition are depicted through various genres, including drama, comedy, thriller, and documentary.

These narratives, rooted in the region’s rich history and cultural heritage, provide a valuable platform for Arab voices, encouraging dialogue and understanding.

Best Arab Movies

Many Arab films have gained international acclaim, competing in prestigious film festivals and winning awards. These films, characterized by their authentic storytelling, stunning cinematography, and engaging performances, are opening up the world to the real stories of the Arab world, breaking down stereotypes, and promoting cultural exchange.

The following list introduces some of the best films in Arab cinema, each telling a unique story that contributes to the region’s cinematic tapestry. These films represent the artistic depth and diversity of Arab cinema, offering audiences a glimpse into the heart and soul of the Arab world.

1. The Night (Al-Lail)

“The Night” (original title: “Al-Lail”) is a 1992 Egyptian drama film directed by Mohamed Khan. It tells the story of a middle-aged, middle-class couple, Samir and Siham, whose lives take a dramatic turn when Siham discovers that Samir is having an affair with his younger secretary.

As the film progresses, “The Night” delves into the emotional complexities and conflicts within the marriage. Siham grapples with her husband’s infidelity, while Samir struggles with guilt and tries to navigate the repercussions of his actions.

“The Night” explores themes of love, betrayal, societal expectations, and the changing dynamics of relationships. It offers a nuanced and introspective portrayal of the characters’ emotional journey and the challenges they face.

The film received critical acclaim for its realistic depiction of human emotions and its sensitive portrayal of marital discord. It showcases the talents of renowned Egyptian actors such as Madiha Kamel and Ahmed Zaki, who deliver powerful performances in their respective roles.

Please note that “The Night” (Al-Lail) is a distinct film and should not be confused with other movies that may have similar titles.

Nujum Al-Lail
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • Globe Style UK (Publisher)

2. The Mummy (Al-Mummia), aka The Night of Counting the Years

“The Mummy” (Al-Mummia), also known as “The Night of Counting the Years” or “The Mummy’s Shroud,” is a 1969 Egyptian film directed by Shadi Abdel Salam. The film is often hailed as a classic of Egyptian cinema and is renowned for its artistic and historical significance.

Set in the 19th century, “The Mummy” tells the story of a rural Egyptian family who have been secretly plundering and selling ancient Pharaonic artifacts from a hidden burial site. The film explores themes of identity, cultural heritage, and the moral implications of the family’s actions.

The protagonist, Wanis, played by Ahmed Marei, struggles with his loyalty to his family and his growing sense of responsibility towards preserving Egypt’s cultural legacy.

As the story unfolds, Wanis grapples with the consequences of their actions and the ethical questions surrounding the excavation and trade of ancient artifacts.


“The Mummy” is highly regarded for its cinematography, which captures the Egyptian landscape and archaeological sites with stunning visuals. The film’s meticulous attention to detail in its set design and costumes also contributes to its acclaim.

Despite its critical success, “The Mummy” initially faced limited distribution and recognition. However, it has gained international recognition over time and is now considered a landmark film in Egyptian cinema history.

Its exploration of cultural identity and heritage resonates with audiences, and its restoration in recent years has helped introduce it to wider audiences outside of Egypt.

The Mummy (1999)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah (Actors)
  • Stephen Sommers (Director) - Stephen Sommers (Writer) - James Jacks (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Watch out for ZouZou (Khally ballak min ZouZou)

“Watch out for ZouZou,” also known as “Khally ballak min ZouZou” in its original Arabic title, is an Egyptian comedy film released in 1972. Directed by Hassan Al-Imam, the film stars iconic Egyptian actress Soad Hosny in the lead role.

The story revolves around ZouZou, a young woman who dreams of becoming a famous singer and actress. Despite facing numerous obstacles and societal pressures, ZouZou remains determined to pursue her passion.

The film explores her journey, as she navigates the challenges of the entertainment industry, love interests, and the expectations placed upon her.

“Watch out for ZouZou” combines comedy, music, and drama to depict the struggles and aspirations of its protagonist. It reflects the social and cultural dynamics of Egypt during that era, addressing themes of gender roles, ambition, and the pursuit of dreams.

The film was a commercial success and helped solidify Soad Hosny’s status as one of Egypt’s most popular actresses.

“Watch out for ZouZou” is remembered for its catchy songs, colorful costumes, and the charismatic performance of Soad Hosny, who became an icon of Egyptian cinema.

The film’s blend of humor, romance, and social commentary resonated with audiences and continues to be celebrated as a classic in Egyptian cinema.

It showcases the talent and charm of Soad Hosny while offering a glimpse into the entertainment industry and societal expectations of the time.

4. The Cruel Sea (Bas-Ya-Bahar)

“The Cruel Sea” is a 1953 British war film based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Monsarrat. It was directed by Charles Frend and starred Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, and Denholm Elliott.

The film follows the story of the Royal Navy’s corvette named HMS Compass Rose and its crew during World War II.

Set in the Battle of the Atlantic, “The Cruel Sea” portrays the challenges faced by the crew as they navigate treacherous waters and engage in the dangerous task of escorting merchant ships and hunting down German U-boats.

The film explores the psychological and physical toll that the war takes on the men, their relationships, and the sacrifices they make to protect the convoys.

“The Cruel Sea” is known for its realistic depiction of naval warfare and the human drama that unfolds amidst the perilous conditions at sea. It offers a harrowing and gritty portrayal of the sacrifices made by those who served in the Royal Navy during World War II.

The film received critical acclaim for its strong performances, authentic production design, and its ability to capture the intensity and emotional depth of wartime experiences.

It is considered one of the classic war films and is highly regarded for its accurate representation of naval operations during the Battle of the Atlantic.

The original novel, “The Cruel Sea,” written by Nicholas Monsarrat, was also well-received and is considered a significant work in the naval fiction genre.

Both the book and the film shed light on the demanding and dangerous nature of convoy duty and the resilience of the men who served in the Royal Navy during the war.

The Cruel Sea
  • Hardcover Book
  • Reprint Society (Publisher)

5. Fertile Memory (Al Dhakira al Khasba)

“Fertile Memory” (Al Dhakira al Khasba) is a 1980 documentary film directed by Michel Khleifi. It is a Palestinian film that offers a glimpse into the lives of women living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

The film focuses on two women, Sahar Khalifeh and Fatma Rashed, who represent different generations and perspectives within Palestinian society.

Through their conversations and personal stories, the film explores themes of memory, resistance, and the challenges faced by Palestinian women in the occupied territories.

“Fertile Memory” is known for its intimate portrayal of the everyday struggles and resilience of Palestinian women, as well as its depiction of the political and social realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The film offers a nuanced perspective on the effects of occupation and displacement on individuals and communities.

Please note that my knowledge is based on information available up until September 2021, and there may have been subsequent developments or details related to “Fertile Memory” that I’m unaware of.

Fertile Memory
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Farah Hatoum, Sahar Khalifeh (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

6. The Dupes (Al-makhdu’un)

“The Dupes” (original title: “Al-makhdu’un”) is a critically acclaimed film directed by Tawfik Saleh. It was released in 1972 and is considered a landmark of Arab cinema. The film is based on a novel by Ghassan Kanafani.

Set against the backdrop of the Palestinian struggle for independence, “The Dupes” follows the journey of three Palestinian refugees seeking a better life. The film explores themes of displacement, political oppression, and the quest for dignity.

The story centers around three men: Abu Khaizaran, a middle-aged man driven by a desire for justice; Marwan, a young idealist; and Ra’fat, an opportunist. Together, they embark on a dangerous journey across the border, hoping to find work and a brighter future in Kuwait.

“The Dupes” depicts the hardships faced by the refugees as they confront the harsh realities of exploitation, betrayal, and disillusionment. It delves into the complexities of their relationships and the sacrifices they make in pursuit of their dreams.

Tawfik Saleh’s direction in “The Dupes” is praised for its poetic storytelling and strong social commentary. The film captures the struggles and aspirations of the Palestinian people during a critical period in history, shedding light on their plight and the challenges they faced.

“The Dupes” is notable for its visual aesthetics, showcasing the harsh landscapes of the Arabian desert and the stark realities of refugee life. The performances of the cast, including Saleh Bakri and Abdallah Gheith, are highly regarded for their authenticity and emotional depth.

The film received international acclaim and remains an important work in Arab cinema.

It is often considered a masterpiece for its powerful portrayal of the Palestinian experience and its exploration of universal themes of hope, disillusionment, and the human quest for freedom and dignity.

7. Man of Ashes (Rih Essed)

“Man of Ashes” (original title: “Rih essed”) is a 1986 Tunisian drama film directed by Nouri Bouzid. The film is known for its powerful exploration of societal taboos and its critique of the oppressive cultural norms prevalent in Tunisian society at the time.

“Man of Ashes” centers around a young woman named Aziza (played by Rim El Benna) who lives in a conservative rural village in Tunisia.

Aziza struggles to navigate the restrictions imposed on her by her family and the traditional values of her community. She becomes a victim of abuse, both physical and psychological, as she tries to assert her independence and challenge the oppressive societal norms.

The film addresses themes such as gender inequality, patriarchy, and the oppression of women in traditional societies. It delves into the complexities of Aziza’s life, exploring her desires, frustrations, and dreams for a better future.

“Man of Ashes” gained international recognition for its bold and unflinching portrayal of taboo subjects and its honest depiction of the challenges faced by women in conservative societies.

The film’s exploration of the protagonist’s journey towards self-discovery and empowerment resonated with audiences and earned critical acclaim.

By challenging societal norms and exposing the harsh realities faced by women, “Man of Ashes” contributed to a broader conversation about gender dynamics and social change in Tunisia and beyond.

It remains an important film in Tunisian cinema and is often cited as a significant work of Arab cinema for its thought-provoking themes and powerful storytelling.

Man of Ashes [DVD]
  • Mohamed Dhrif, Mouna Noureddine, Sonia Mansour (Actors)
  • Nouri Bouzid (Director)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

8. The Call of the Nightingale (Doa al-Karawan), aka The Nightingale’s Prayer

“The Call of the Nightingale” (original title: “Doa al-Karawan”) is a 1959 Egyptian drama film directed by Henry Barakat. It is also known as “The Nightingale’s Prayer” in English. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Taha Hussein.

Set in a rural village in Egypt, “The Call of the Nightingale” revolves around the story of Amna, a young woman who seeks revenge for the honor of her sister, Salma.

When Salma is seduced and abandoned by a wealthy landowner’s son, Amna becomes determined to avenge her sister’s honor and restore her family’s dignity.

Amna’s journey for justice leads her to make difficult choices and confront the societal norms and traditions that restrict her. The film explores themes of honor, love, sacrifice, and the struggle for justice in a traditional society.

“The Call of the Nightingale” is considered a classic of Egyptian cinema and is renowned for its powerful storytelling, emotional depth, and strong performances. It showcases the talents of iconic Egyptian actress Faten Hamama in the role of Amna.

Please note that the availability of “The Call of the Nightingale” or “The Nightingale’s Prayer” may vary depending on your location and the platforms or sources you have access to.

The Nightingale's Prayer [DVD]
  • Mazhar, Ahmed, Hamama, Faten (Actors)
  • Barakat, Henri (Director)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

9. 12 Angry Lebanese

“12 Angry Lebanese” (original title: “12 hommes en colère”) is a 2009 Lebanese documentary film directed by Zeina Daccache.

The film is a stage adaptation of the play “12 Angry Men” by Reginald Rose and features a cast of inmates from Roumieh Prison, the largest prison in Lebanon.

The documentary follows the journey of the inmates as they rehearse and perform the play within the prison walls. Through the process of staging the play, the film explores themes of justice, prejudice, and the power of empathy.

It delves into the personal stories and backgrounds of the inmates, providing insights into their lives, experiences, and the social issues that have led them to incarceration.

“12 Angry Lebanese” offers a unique perspective on the criminal justice system and the lives of incarcerated individuals. It humanizes the inmates and challenges preconceived notions about them, emphasizing the importance of understanding and compassion.

The film received critical acclaim and was praised for its powerful storytelling and the performances of the inmate cast. It has been recognized internationally and has shed light on the transformative power of theater and the potential for rehabilitation within the prison system.

12 Angry Men (1957)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Reginald Rose (Writer) - George Justin (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

10. Chitchat on the Nile (Thartharah fawq al-Nil) aka Adrift on the Nile

“Chitchat on the Nile,” also known as “Thartharah fawq al-Nil” in its original Arabic title, is a novel written by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz.

It was first published in 1966 and later adapted into a film with the same name in 1971. The film is sometimes referred to as “Adrift on the Nile” in English.

The story is set in 1960s Cairo and revolves around a group of friends who spend their nights on a houseboat called “Omar’s Dream” on the Nile River.

The characters represent different segments of Egyptian society, including a communist, a cynic, a businessman, a newspaper editor, and a woman who becomes the object of desire for many of the men.

“Chitchat on the Nile” explores the political and social climate of the time, touching on themes such as disillusionment, political apathy, and the search for meaning in life.

The characters engage in intellectual discussions, debates, and humorous banter as they grapple with their individual struggles and their place in Egyptian society.

The novel and the film adaptation are known for their satirical and critical depiction of Egyptian society. They offer a commentary on the social, political, and moral dilemmas faced by the characters, and by extension, the broader society.

Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel laureate in Literature, is renowned for his insightful portrayals of Egyptian society and his ability to capture the nuances of human interactions.

“Chitchat on the Nile” is considered one of his notable works, showcasing his keen observations and his use of irony and humor to address social issues.

The film adaptation of “Chitchat on the Nile” by Salah Abu Seif received acclaim for its faithful adaptation of Mahfouz’s novel and its performances. It is regarded as a classic of Egyptian cinema and an important contribution to the country’s cultural heritage.

Adrift on the Nile
  • Mahfouz, Naguib (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 01/01/1994 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)