The 21 Best Irish Movies

Get your St. Patty's Day party started right with the 21 best Irish movies.

By Chuck Walton

Best Irish Movies

© 20th Century Fox / courtesy Everett Collection

If you're home today with green beer and popcorn, here are our recommendations for celebrating St. Patty in the most cinematic way possible: the 21 best Irish movies streaming now (one for each year to the legal US drinking age).

The Commitments

Director Alan Parker (“Pink Floyd: The Wall”) brings a rollicking edge to the tale of a struggling young soul band called the Dubliners. Nearly 30 years after its release, it’s still the perfect party-starter for St. Pat.

The Commitments

Music / 1991 / R

Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), a self-proclaimed promoter, decides to organize an R&B group to fill the musical void in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. The band comes together but ends up consisting entirely of white musicians who have little experience with the genre. Even though their raw talent and lofty aspirations gain the group notoriety, the pitfalls of fame began to tear at their newfound friendships as they prepare for their big show. Based on the novel by Roddy Doyle.

My Left Foot

Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t just his generation’s greatest actor. He’s also a true Irishman (technically, Irish & British citizenships) through and through, and he’ll appear on our list a couple more times. Here, he’s Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy who can only move his left foot. And move it he does – all the way to the Academy Award for Best Actor.

My Left Foot

Biography / 1989 / R

No one expects much from Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), a boy with cerebral palsy born into a working-class Irish family. Though Christy is a spastic quadriplegic and essentially paralyzed, a miraculous event occurs when, at the age of 5, he demonstrates control of his left foot by using chalk to scrawl a word on the floor. With the help of his steely mother (Brenda Fricker) -- and no shortage of grit and determination -- Christy overcomes his infirmity to become a painter, poet and author.

The Departed

A remake of the also-excellent Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs,” Martin Scorsese’s take on the Boston Irish mob features all kinds of moles, snitches, black humor and top performances from an all-star cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg. Like a cherry on top, Jack Nicholson completes the circle in full scenery-chewing glory as top crime boss Francis “Frank” Costello.

The Departed

Crime Drama / 2006 / R

South Boston cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes under cover to infiltrate the organization of gangland chief Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). As Billy gains the mobster's trust, a career criminal named Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrates the police department and reports on its activities to his syndicate bosses. When both organizations learn they have a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin must figure out each other's identities to save their own lives.

Once

Want to see a Dublin-set romance that’s one of the greatest musical love stories ever told? The key to this film, about a couple of struggling musicians who meet cute and then continue to evolve, is that their connection is actually real (the two really were falling for each other during the moviemaking).

Once

Drama / 2006 / R

A vacuum repairman (Glen Hansard) moonlights as a street musician and hopes for his big break. One day a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova), who earns a living selling flowers, approaches him with the news that she is also an aspiring singer-songwriter. The pair decide to collaborate, and the songs that they compose reflect the story of their blossoming love.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

A few years before he was 007, Sean Connery starred as charming young Dubliner Michael McBride, who’s been tasked with replacing aging caretaker (and our protagonist) Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe). If that’s not enough to add to Darby’s misfortunes, the man's also somehow been captured by leprechauns. Lots of colorful, kid-safe adventures ensue.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Fantasy / 1959 / G

Just-fired Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) does not want to tell his daughter, Katie (Janet Munro), that his position has been taken by a dashing younger man (Sean Connery). Then, on his way home, Darby slips through a portal to the land of the little people. There he meets the leprechaun king, Brian (Jimmy O'Dea), and winds up accidentally bringing the little monarch home with him. Darby then demands Brian grant him three wishes, but the request brings Darby bittersweet, and unexpected, results.

In Bruges

One of Colin Farrell’s best performances and movies, this blackest of hit men comedies stars Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a couple of Irish assassins who are forced to hide out in Belgium. As a result, they gradually start to fall for its local charms, while keeping their distance from Ralph Fiennes as their ultra-agitated employer.

In Bruges

Action / 2008 / R

After a particularly difficult job, hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) head to Belgium to hide out until things cool down. Ray hates the medieval city they land in, but Ken finds its beauty and peacefulness enchanting. Their experiences become increasingly surreal and possibly life-changing as they encounter tourists, locals, an American dwarf and a potential romance for Ray.

The Boondock Saints

Norman Reedus, years before shotgunning his way through “The Walking Dead,” took the mantle of an A-list vigilante alongside his fellow co-hort and thespian Sean Patrick Flannery. Here, they’re Boston-based Irish Catholic twin brothers who’ve had enough of the despicable gangsters ruining their town. What to do? Fight fire with more fire – plus bullets. Lots of bullets.

The Boondock Saints

Crime Drama / 1999 / R

Tired of the crime overrunning the streets of Boston, Irish Catholic twin brothers Conner (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) are inspired by their faith to cleanse their hometown of evil with their own brand of zealous vigilante justice. As they hunt down and kill one notorious gangster after another, they become controversial folk heroes in the community. But Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), an eccentric FBI agent, is fast closing in on their blood-soaked trail.

In America

Irish auteur Jim Sheridan (writer/director/producer) tells an affecting tale about an Irishman (Paddy Considine) who relocates his family to New York to realize his dream of becoming an actor. It’s anything but a fantasy life for the unit, though, as he and his long-suffering wife (Samantha Morton) experience daily torments and memories of a family tragedy.

In America

Drama / 2002 / PG-13

The Sullivan family emigrates from Ireland to New York City as father Johnny (Paddy Considine) chases his dream of being an actor. Living in a small Hell's Kitchen apartment, the family settles into American life despite their deplorable living conditions. Wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) works at an ice parlor while Johnny looks for work as an actor, both haunted by memories of their dead son, Frankie. Daughter Christie (Sarah Bolger) documents the family's American journey with a video camera.

Michael Collins

Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) directs this historical tale about Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), who led the efforts of the Irish Republican Army to achieve independence from Britain in the early 20th century. Later, Collins is faced with a moral dilemma after he negotiates a treaty with the British and is asked to betray his former friends.

Michael Collins

Drama / 1996 / R

In the early 20th century, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) leads the Irish Republican Army with the help of his friends Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn) and Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman), in a violent battle for Ireland's independence from Britain. But, when he fears the defeat of his revolution, Collins negotiates a treaty with the British, deeming him a traitor to the IRA. When he receives orders to murder his friends, Collins must decide where his loyalties lie.

The Crying Game

Number 10 on our list is also from director Neil Jordan, who caused a stir with this early ‘90s Miramax title about an IRA member who develops an unexpected relationship with the girlfriend of a British soldier his group had kidnapped. Issues of race, gender, sexuality and nationality all play out in this Oscar-nominated picture – along with a most memorable title tune.

The Crying Game

Thriller / 1992 / R

Irish Republican Army member Fergus (Stephen Rea) forms an unexpected bond with Jody (Forest Whitaker), a kidnapped British soldier in his custody, despite the warnings of fellow IRA members Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar). Jody makes Fergus promise he'll visit his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson), in London, and when Fergus flees to the city, he seeks her out. Hounded by his former IRA colleagues, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the enigmatic, and surprising, Dil.

Bloody Sunday

Paul Greengass, the action maestro behind the second and third “Bourne” movies, achieves an equally tense and riveting movie experience with this documentary-like re-telling of the events of January 30, 1972, when a peaceful protest march in the Northern Irish town of Derry exploded into a massacre where British soldiers fired upon the crowd, killing 13 and injuring 14 more.

Bloody Sunday

Drama / 2002 / R

On January 30, 1972, in the Northern Irish town of Derry, a peaceful protest march led by civil rights activist Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) turned into a slaughter. British soldiers suddenly opened fire on the defenseless crowd, killing 13 people and wounding 14 more. Shot as if a documentary, this film follows Ivan throughout the day as it chronicles the events leading up to the horrific incident and the bloodied, confused aftermath that followed.

The Secret of Kells

A critically acclaimed animation that’s equal parts history, magic and Celtic mythology, “Kells” tells the story of a young Irish calligrapher who’s recruited to complete a number of dangerous tasks as his community prepares for an attack by approaching Vikings.

The Secret of Kells

Animated / 2009

In the remote Irish woods, Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) prepares a fortress for an impending attack by a Viking war party. Unbeknown to Cellach, his young nephew Brendan (Evan McGuire) -- who has no taste for battle -- works secretly as an apprentice in the scriptorium of the local monastery, learning the ancient art of calligraphy. As the Vikings approach, revered illuminator Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives at the monastery and recruits Brendan to complete a series of dangerous, magical tasks.

In the Name of the Father

Four years after “My Left Foot,” director Jim Sheridan and actor Daniel Day-Lewis re-teamed for the story of Irishman Gerry Conlon, a small-time petty thief who left Belfast for England and was wrongly accused of bombing a British pub. For the next 15 years, Conlon was forced to fight for his life, and clear his name.

In the Name of the Father

Docudrama / 1993 / R

Unemployed young Irishman Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) gets by as a petty thief in 1970s Belfast. When local IRA leaders get fed up with him, he flees to England and meets up with his friend Paul Hill (John Lynch). On the same night that the IRA bombs a nearby pub, the friends get kicked out of their communal digs and are forced to sleep in a park. He returns to Belfast, but is arrested as the prime suspect in the bombing and imprisoned, where he spends 15 years trying to clear his name.

Sing Street

From “Once” director John Carney comes another gem that combines authentic sentiment with some great music. This time, the setting is Ireland in the 80s, where a likeable young lad sets out to start his own pop band, discover his identity, and of course, win the heart of an equally likeable young woman.

Sing Street

Music / 2016 / PG-13

In 1985, a Dublin teenager (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) forms a rock 'n' roll band to win the heart of an aspiring model (Lucy Boynton).

Waking Ned Devine

The ‘90s were a good time for fun indie comedies (e.g. – “The Full Monty,” “Swingers,” “Trainspotting,” etc.) and “Waking Ned Devine” is no exception. It’s a totally charming tale about two loveable blokes who conspire with their townsfolk to take the lottery winnings after a local hits the jackpot, suffers a heart attack and dies before he can collect the prize. Now it’s up to them to convince the officials that there’s a “new” Ned Devine.

Waking Ned Devine

Comedy / 1998 / PG

When best friends Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) discover someone in their small Irish village has won the lottery, they immediately set off to see if the winner is in a sharing mood. Deducing that Ned Devine is the lucky man, O'Shea and O'Sullivan pay him a visit, only to find him dead from shock. Since Devine is the only one who can claim the prize, the townsfolk band together to convince the claim inspector that O'Sullivan is really Devine, and split the cash.

Brooklyn

Academy Award-nominated Saoirse Ronan stars here as an Irish immigrant making her way through 1950s New York. It’s a heartfelt drama that’s equally old-fashioned, gritty and romantic at the same time, and an instant reminder why Ronan’s been nominated for Oscars three times over.

Brooklyn

Drama / 2015 / PG-13

Young Irish immigrant Eilis Lace (Saoirse Ronan) navigates her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother's home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her past disrupts her new vivacity, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

The Boxer

The third time’s still a charm for filmmaker Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis, taking on a complex story about a former IRA member and pugilist named Danny Flynn, who tries to escape his violent past, but is constantly pressured by political forces and operatives that threaten to destroy him and his new relationship with a woman and her young son.

The Boxer

Drama / 1997 / R

Rising teen boxer and Belfast native Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis) was imprisoned for 14 years after getting involved with the Irish Republican Army. Newly freed from jail in his early 30s, Danny returns home and attempts to put his life back together. Reopening his neighborhood gym and reconnecting with his lost love, Maggie (Emily Watson), now a single mother while her husband is in prison, Danny battles against his former IRA compadres, including the militant Harry (Gerard McSorley).

The Secret of Roan Inish

A family film from acclaimed indie filmmaker John Sayles (“Return of the Secaucus 7”), this magical movie concerns a young girl named Fiona who hears folklore about the selkies – seals that can shed their skins and become human. After returning to her family’s homeland on the island of Roan Inish, Fiona believes she’s discovered her long lost brother, who may have been taken by the selkies and is now living by the sea.

The Secret of Roan Inish

Drama / 1994 / PG

Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is a young Irish girl with an unusual family history, including a long-missing baby brother. When she goes to live with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland, Fiona hears stories about her ancestors, tales that involve mythical creatures called selkies who can shift from seal to human form. After Fiona ends up on the small island of Roan Inish, her family's ancestral home, she believes she may have found her little brother living by the sea.

Circle of Friends

In the ‘90s, Chris O’Donnell did stints in all types of movies, from the excellent “Scent of a Woman” to the less-so “Batman & Robin.” Minnie Driver also made a name for herself in high profile movies like “Sleepers” and “Good Will Hunting.” Here, they’re both equally effective in a smaller film that recounts the highs and lows of a trio of young women in 1950s Ireland, and the dapper doctor’s son who becomes a part of all their lives.

Circle of Friends

Drama / 1995 / PG-13

At university in Dublin in 1957, awkward Benny (Minnie Driver) is introduced to handsome Jack (Chris O'Donnell), the son of a doctor who is unsure about following the family business. While Benny and Jack fall in love, Benny's old friend Nan (Saffron Burrows) is less fortunate. Nan wants to raise herself from her lower-class roots with a marriage, but her chosen man impregnates and abandons her. All three must grapple with conflicts between their physical desires and religious upbringings.

Gangs of New York

While it’s not quite as across-the-boards-successful as “The Departed,” Scorsese and DiCaprio’s earlier collaboration alongside stalwart Daniel Day-Lewis, is plenty enthralling as blockbuster, bloody entertainment about early 20th century New York and the conflicts that occurred for Irish immigrants trying to stake their claim to the American dream.

Gangs of New York

Drama / 2002 / R

Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young Irish immigrant released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against his father's killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), a powerful anti-immigrant gang leader. He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting's inner circle. Amsterdam's journey becomes a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860's New York.

Far and Away

His accent’s a little iffy in spots, Tom Cruise is plenty earnest and intense (which granted, is a given for the guy in any role) as an Irishman who fancies fellow countryman Nicole Kidman and travels to America with her in search of land and a better life. After the aspiring pugilist loses a big match, the couple’s forced to come up with another way to gather the funds to make it out west. But they don’t call him Top Gun for nothing. Along with epic filmmaking from veteran Ron Howard, “Far and Away”’s a fine enough capper for any Irish celebration.

Far and Away

Drama / 1992 / PG-13

Joseph (Tom Cruise) and his landlord's daughter, Shannon (Nicole Kidman), travel from Ireland to America in hopes of claiming free land in Oklahoma. The pair get sidetracked in Boston, where Joseph takes up boxing to support himself. When he loses a pivotal fight, the two are left penniless. Now faced with poverty, the two must find new ways to scrape by. As their affection for each other grows, Joseph questions whether he is truly what Shannon needs in her life.

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