The 5 Best Movies About Refugees and Migrants, Ranked

Refugees and migrants have some of the toughest experiences, and these movies shed light on what they go through and endure.

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Some journeys are taken for desire, other journeys are taken for challenge, and then there are journeys taken out of sheer necessity. It's these latter journeys that feature life hanging in the balance as survivors fight their way out of hells unknown to reach blessed sanctuary.

It's one of the most powerful story archetypes in cinema. Most of us can empathize with the struggles of a person (or persons) trying to find home from a foreign land, risking disaster for uncertain triumph.

But only the best of these films manage to capture the alien nature of refugees and migrants who are forced to leave and adapt in the hopes of a better life. Here are our picks for those best movies.

5. Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck's film about diplomats trapped in a besieged US embassy in Iran would've been eye-rolling melodramatic if it hadn't actually happened in real life. This is a tale based on true events.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is a CIA operative who prepares himself for travel to Iran, tasked with rescuing those hidden workers. He must first find a way to get into the country, and then he must get everyone out, all without being detected by the authorities who are hunting them down.

So, what does he do? He crafts a narrative and pretends to be a Hollywood filmmaker looking for locations to film a sci-fi movie. His plan is to hide the workers in plain sight by spending a few days in Tehran, then leave the country with the workers in tow.

The tension in Argo ramps up to extraordinary levels as the workers have no choice but to follow Affleck's plan if they want to escape, all while knowing that they could be arrested and detained indefinitely if they're caught.

4. Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel Rwanda follows a tragic tale set during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and the extraordinary actions of one hotel manager who saved the lives of everybody who took refuge within his doors.

As the situation in Rwanda collapses, Paul Rusesabagina has to barter, borrow, and steal so he can bribe the evil militia against rooting out the "cockroaches" (known as the Tutsi) among the Rwandan people and killing them using ruthless methods.

Hotel Rwanda puts on full display everything that makes a person human. Not only does Paul struggle against the UN's inept intervention to get foreign nationals out, but he must also endure the pressures that weigh on him in surviving against those who would do him harm.

Don Cheadle's leading role is one of depth and visceral exhaustion, as his Paul fights with his life to protect those around him. His Oscar nomination for Best Actor was wholly deserved.

3. The Way Back (2010)

After being imprisoned in Russia during World War II, a group of POWs escape their hellish camp and head off into the frozen wastes that lay between them and a nearby friendly country.

As the group trudges on, they're subject to exhausting trials by the elements: scorching landscapes, barren deserts, thick forests, frigid blizzards, plus a few towns where they hope not to be caught.

Along the way, they pick up stragglers and say goodbye to those who can't finish the journey. But all throughout, they cling to the hope that lies beyond the horizon—the deliverance they can't see yet strive to have.

Peter Weir's final film is brutal and unrelenting, brought to life by a cast that gels together with ease, all while making us feel every painful step of their journey as they walk their way out of hell.

2. District 9 (2009)

After an alien ship appears in South Africa, the government sets up a camp for the ship's alien inhabitants. They're given the opportunity to live on Earth, but they're quickly subjected to cruel and suppressive treatment by the government officials who police the area.

However, when one "racially motivated" government official is exposed to some alien fuel, he begins to mutate into a "Prawn" himself (the derogatory term used for said aliens).

District 9 is a not-so-subtle allegory for the treatment migrants receive when they arrive in other countries seeking help, only to find prejudice. Sharlto Copley is outstanding in his leading role while showing the horrors of being forced to mutate into another creature altogether.

Neill Blomkamp's picture has a visceral power few others can boast when it comes to this subject, and he showcases the futility of motivated hatred towards those who are subject to harsh treatment.

1. Children of Men (2006)

In the near future, all humans are rendered sterile by an unknown condition, meaning no new babies have been born in years. When one woman miraculously becomes pregnant, her pregnancy represents the first known case of reproduction in 18 years.

But she's also an illegal immigrant in a dystopian Britain that ruthlessly hunts down people who enter the country without authorization.

And so Theo (Clive Owen) is tasked with escorting her, not only to personal safety but also to a place where her miracle could provide salvation to a humanity on the brink of tearing itself apart.

While feelings of desperation and fear permeate the film, they're always undergirded by a shining light of hope. Alfonso Cuarón and Clive Owen never let the audience forget that the message of this film is ultimately of hope and beauty, not radicalization or marginalization.

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