The 20 best Irish movies of all time, ranked

The 20 best Irish movies of all time, ranked

From Once to The Banshees Of Inisherin, celebrate St. Patrick's Day with these gems from the Emerald Isle

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Image: Clockwise from top: The Crying Game by Palace Pictures, The Banshees of Inisherin by Searchlight Pictures, The Secret of Kells by New Video

When you think about Ireland, the first thing that comes to mind may not be the country’s robust film industry. But the fact is that Ireland is responsible for some of the most charming (Waking Ned Devine), soulful (Once), and dramatic (In The Name Of The Father) films you’ll ever see. And, seeing as how today happens to be St. Patrick’s Day, we figure it’s as good a time as any to have a cultural moment that celebrates Irish films and filmmakers.

Of course, several titles on this list revolve around the Troubles. While it remains a tragic time in Irish history, the long-running struggle led some great Irish directors to process the conflict through their art, resulting in some truly powerful films. We’ve also tapped into comedies, musicals, and romances in many forms, ensuring a broad spectrum of the Irish experience. So hoist a glass (Guinness or Jameson’s should do the trick) and enjoy our countdown of the finest films ever from the Emerald Isle.

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20. The Irish Pub (2013)

20. The Irish Pub (2013)

The Irish Pub - (Official Trailer)

Alex Fegan’s lauded documentary The Irish Pub tells the stories of Ireland’s oldest public houses, the people who run them, and the colorful patrons who’ve helped keep them in operation for decades and, sometimes, centuries. If you’re all about cobblestone streets, pints of Guinness, and Irish history, check out this love letter to Irish pub culture.

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19. Darby O’Gill And The Little People (1959)

19. Darby O’Gill And The Little People (1959)

Darby O Gill And The Little People 1959 Trailer

Albert Sharpe stars as the titular caretaker who tries to capture a tribe of leprechauns and their king in Disney’s Darby O’Gill And The Little People. Janet Munro and Sean Connery are also featured in this fantasy-adventure film that’s universally acclaimed and surprisingly underseen.

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18. The General (1998)

18. The General (1998)

The General Trailer 1998

Brendan Gleeson plays real-life Irish crime boss Martin Cahill—the mastermind behind several notorious heists in the early 1980s—in The General. Directed by John Boorman, it also features Jon Voight as the police inspector on Cahill’s tail. Shot in black and white, The General won best director honors for Boorman and the Palme D’Or for best film at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Gleeson would go on to win Best Actor and the movie would claim Best Feature at the Irish Film and Television Awards.

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17. Philomena (2013)

17. Philomena (2013)

Philomena Official Trailer #1 (2013) - Judi Dench, Steve Coogan Movie HD

Based on a true story, Philomena stars Judi Dench as Philomena Lee, an Irish woman forced to give up her son for adoption and has been searching for him for the past 50 years. Directed by Stephen Frears and based on the 2009 book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, Philomena was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Dench. Steve Coogan is also excellent as author-journalist Sixsmith, who is initially hesitant about investigating Lee’s case.

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16. Odd Man Out (1947)

16. Odd Man Out (1947)

Three Reasons: Odd Man Out

The 1947 film noir classic Odd Man Out, set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is the oldest movie on this list. Directed by Carol Reed, the movie follows James Mason as Johnny McQueen, a wounded Nationalist leader on the lam after escaping from prison. Based on the novel of the same name by F.L. Green, Odd Man Out is almost universally regarded as a masterpiece and it won the BAFTA award for Best British Picture.

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15. Belfast (2021)

15. Belfast (2021)

BELFAST - Official Trailer - Only In Theaters November 12

Kenneth Branagh directed the coming-of-age drama Belfast starring Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds. The movie, which Branagh describes as his “most personal,” is about a young boy growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the onset of the Troubles in 1969. It was nominated for seven Oscars, winning for Best Original Screenplay.

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14. The Crying Game (1992)

14. The Crying Game (1992)

The Crying Game (1992) Official Trailer - Forest Whitaker Thriller Movie HD

Neil Jordan directed The Crying Game, a thriller starring Stephen Rea as an IRA volunteer named Fergus who befriends a captured British soldier named Jody (Forest Whitaker). Fergus promises to take care of Jody’s lover, Dil (Jaye Davidson), who has a personal secret we’re pretty sure everyone knows by now—but we’re still not going to tell you. The movie, with its haunting titular song by Boy George, was nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

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13. Michael Collins (1996)

13. Michael Collins (1996)

Michael Collins - Original Theatrical Trailer

Michael Collins was an Irish revolutionary and politician at the forefront of Ireland’s struggle for independence from Britain in the early 20th century. In director Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, Liam Neeson plays the titular freedom fighter alongside costars Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, and Julia Roberts. Although generally praised and nominated for two Academy Awards, the movie was criticized for some historical inaccuracies.

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12. The Secret Of Kells (2009)

12. The Secret Of Kells (2009)

The Secret of Kells (2009) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The animated fantasy film The Secret Of Kells, set in ninth-century Ireland, tells the tale of a sheltered young boy who embarks on an adventure with an “illuminator” who possesses the ancient unfinished Book Of Kells. The Secret Of Kells was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Academy Awards, but lost to Pixar’s Up. Co-director Tomm Moore’s so-called “Irish Folklore Trilogy” continued with 2014’s Song Of The Sea and 2020’s Oscar-nominated Wolfwalkers.

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11. The Banshees Of Inisherin (2022)

11. The Banshees Of Inisherin (2022)

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures

In The Banshees Of Inisherin, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play longtime besties Pádraic and Colm, whose relationship reaches a crisis when Colm suddenly decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic. The tragic black comedy, directed and written by Martin McDonagh, received a whopping nine nominations at the 95th Academy Awards, although no one walked away with any pots (or statuettes) of gold.

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10. Once (2007)

10. Once (2007)

Once (2007) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová play struggling Dublin musicians in the romantic musical drama Once, written and directed by John Carney. Hansgard and Irglová’s “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and the soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy. This charming treasure of a film was later adapted into a Tony-winning stage musical.

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9. Waking Ned Devine (1998)

9. Waking Ned Devine (1998)

Waking Ned Devine Trailer 1998

A lot of movies on this list are heavy dramas, which makes the lighthearted comedy Waking Ned Devine a breath of fresh air. The Kirk Jones-directed film is about two friends (Ian Bannen and David Kelly) who deduce that the lottery winner in their small Irish village of 52 people is the titular character, who died from shock after winning. Since only Ned Devine can collect the prize money, the townspeople band together to convince the claim inspector that Devine is still alive and kicking. This is a delightfully charming little fable with real heart.

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8.Brooklyn (2015)

8.Brooklyn (2015)

BROOKLYN: Official HD Trailer

In Brooklyn, American-born Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s to seek better employment. The romantic drama directed by John Crowley and based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for Ronan at the 2016 Academy Awards. It’s a rare immigrant story with a female lead and one of the better films about the immigrant experience.

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7. In The Name Of The Father (1993)

7. In The Name Of The Father (1993)

In The Name Of The Father (1993) Official HD Trailer [1080p]

Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s of Irish descent on his father’s side, plays Gerard Patrick “Gerry” Conlon—a man mistaken for an IRA sniper—in the biographical crime drama In The Name Of The Father. Based on the story of the Guildford Four—four people wrongly accused of a pub bombing that killed a civilian and four off-duty British soldiers—the film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Day-Lewis.

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6. My Left Foot (1989)

6. My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot Official Trailer HD - Daniel Day-Lewis Brenda Fricker (1989)

The biographical comedy-drama My Left Foot, directed by Jim Sheridan, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a man born with cerebral palsy who is only able to control the movements of his left foot. Day-Lewis won a Best Actor Oscar and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for their performances in this small-budget winner.

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5. Bloody Sunday (2002)

5. Bloody Sunday (2002)

Bloody Sunday (2002) ORIGINAL TRAILER

Paul Greengrass wrote and directed the historical drama Bloody Sunday, based on the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Derry, Northern Island, that was also the subject of U2’s early classic “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (a live version of the song plays over the film’s end credits). Starring James Nesbitt and Tim Pigott-Smith, the film won several honors, including the Audience Award at Sundance and the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

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4. Hunger (2008)

4. Hunger (2008)

HUNGER Trailer (2008) - The Criterion Collection

Hunger is a historical drama about IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, who organized the famous 1981 Irish hunger strike that led to the death of 10 prisoners. Michael Fassbender delivers a riveting performance as Sands. Directed by Steve McQueen, the movie won the Caméra d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

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3. The Quiet Man (1952)

3. The Quiet Man (1952)

The Quiet Man (1952) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

John Ford directed this romantic comedy-drama featuring cinematographer Winton Hoch’s stunning images of the Irish countryside. Both men won Oscars (Ford’s fourth) for their work on The Quiet Man, which stars John Wayne as an Irish-born retired boxer and Maureen O’Hara as the lass with whom he falls in love. Ford and Wayne were known for their work on Westerns and action movies, so The Quiet Man was seen as a triumphant stylistic change.

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2. The Commitments (1991)

2. The Commitments (1991)

The Commitments - OFFICIAL TRAILER

This fun, boisterous 1991 musical comedy-drama from director Alan Parker is based on the novel The Commitments by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. Robert Arkins plays a music fanatic obsessed with 1960s Motown who form a soul band with a group of working-class youths in Dublin. The film was such a musical sensation that it produced two soundtrack albums, and both were hits on the Billboard charts, with the first soundtrack going triple platinum.

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1. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

1. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

The Wind That Shakes The Barley - Official Film Trailer

Ken Loach directed the war drama The Wind That Shakes The Barley, set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, which took place between 1919 and 1923. Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney play brothers in Cork County who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and, at the time of its release, became the highest-grossing Irish-made independent movie in history.

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