The popularity of South Indian films, commonly referred to as Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, and Sandalwood, has grown immensely in recent times. The southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka are home to these industries and churn out plenty of movies, both critically acclaimed and box-office hits all year round.
The distinctive storytelling approach used in South Indian films is one of the factors contributing to their appeal. These films frequently include compelling narratives centring on interpersonal interactions, social issues, and family values. South Indian films are renowned for their striking graphics, captivating soundtracks, and well-written dialogues.
The huge fan following of South Indian actors, many times also contributes to the appeal of cinema from the region. Actors like Rajinikanth, Mammootty, Yash, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, Allu Arjun, Mahesh Babu, and Vijay, among several others, enjoy enormous fan bases both in India and abroad, so naturally films starring them are hugely anticipated.
South Indian films are distributed in various languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, and have a large viewership. This has aided in broadening their influence and popularity beyond India, including in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore.
The rise of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar has also boosted interest in South Indian films. Viewers can now easily access these movies from the convenience of their homes, at any time and from anywhere.
Thanks to the growing popularity of South Indian films, the focus from Bollywood is shifting. A lot of these films being remade in Bollywood has also opened up the audiences, both at home and internationally to a more creative and diverse outlook on Indian filmmaking.
Here are some of the best South Indian movies to watch
1. Bahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The End (Telugu)
It is no surprise that the Bahubali series is one of the best South Indian movies to watch. These two epic historical dramas, both of which were directed by S. S. Rajamouli, are now well-known in both India and beyond. Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty, and Tamannaah are among the ensemble cast members. Owing to their massive box-office collections, these are certainly among the must-watch South Indian movies, especially for their stunning VFX and background scores.
2. Kabali (Tamil)
Tamil film Kabali, directed by Pa. Ranjith, stars Rajinikanth as the title character. The Malaysian-set gangster thriller is renowned for its beautiful sights and stirring language. For Rajinikanth fans, this is definitely one of the best South Indian movies. The film is based on the story of a real-life don, but it’s packed with true Rajini touch (there’s a reason he’s known as Thalaivaa, are we correct?).
3. Vikram Vedha (Tamil)
R Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi play the main characters in Pushkar-Gayathri's crime thriller Vikram Vedha, which is set in Tamil. The film is renowned for its brilliantly choreographed action pieces and features a distinctive storytelling approach, and is easily one of the must-watch South Indian movies. The Hindi version of the same movie was made recently, however, the impact caused by the original is still considered massive.
4. KGF: Chapter 1 (Kannada)
You’ve most certainly heard the popular tunes from KGF all over Instagram reels. KGF, a period drama with a 1970s setting, is directed by Prashanth Neel and stars Yash in the lead role. The movie is packed with fantastic visuals and exciting action scenes. Considered among the best South Indian movies to watch, KGF has everything a movie buff will need- a tight script, excellent music and loads of drama.
5. I (Tamil)
This must-watch South Indian movie is a romantic suspense film that was directed by Shankar and stars Vikram and Amy Jackson. The film is known for its original and unique plot and stunning visual effects. For those who like romance with a twist, this is definitely one of the best South Indian movies.
6. Rangasthalam (Telugu)
Directed by Sukumar, Rangasthalam is a revenge drama which is set in an Indian village in the 1980s. The film, which stars Samantha Akkineni and Ram Charan in the lead roles, struck a chord with viewers for its accurate depiction of rural life. Watch it for stellar performances and storytelling.
7. RRR (Telugu)
The period drama RRR, which S. S. Rajamouli directed, is set in the time just before independence. One of the most Internationally acclaimed films, it stars Jr. NTR and Ram Charan in key roles. The film also took home the National Award for Best Special Effects, along with the International Grammy and Oscar for the song 'Naatu Naatu' at this season’s award shows. You didn’t need us to tell you this, but this is definitely one of the best South Indian movies to watch!
8. Premam (Malayalam)
Premam (Malayalam) is a coming-of-age romantic drama directed by Alphonse Puthren and starring Madonna Sebastian, Sai Pallavi, and Nivin Pauly. The film is well-known for its likeable characters and catchy music. If you’re a fan of character-led story-telling in movies, this is definitely a must-watch South Indian movie.
9. Pariyerum Perumal (Tamil)
Pariyerum Perumal is a social drama directed by Mari Selvaraj and raises awareness about the prevalent caste prejudice in Tamil Nadu. Kathir and Anandhi play the key characters in the film, which has garnered numerous honours for its potent performances. The movie has stellar performances and a script that easily got it a spot in the list of the best South Indian movies of all time.
10. Arjun Reddy (Telugu)
Telugu film Arjun Reddy is a love drama that stars Vijay Deverakonda and Shalini Pandey. It was directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga and due to its candid and chaotic depiction of love and heartbreak, the film has developed a cult following. There has been extensive commentary around the portrayal of the lead character in the film, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a must-watch South Indian movie for cinema buffs. For those who didn’t know, this movie was remade in Bollywood and starred Shahid Kapoor as Kabir Singh - the hero with severe anger management issues. If you loved the Bollywood movie, watch the original. Needless to say, both versions of the movie went on to become huge successes.
11. Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam)
Directed by Madhu C. Narayanan, this family drama stars Fahadh Faasil, Soubin Shahir, and Shane Nigam. The movie gained fame for its accurate depiction of interpersonal interactions and familial dynamics. The subdued portrayal of rural Kerala is a visual treat too. Watch it if you’re in the mood for something more intense than usual.
12. Master (Tamil)
Vijay Chandrasekhar and Vijay Sethupathi play the titular roles in Lokesh Kanagaraj's action-thriller Master, which is shot in Tamil. The film has become a smash hit and is popular for its gripping action scenes and impressive acting by the lead and supporting actors, making this one of the best South Indian movies to watch.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the best South Indian movies to watch. More and more movies keep getting added to this list, with well-executed storylines or stellar performances or amazing action set pieces, and at times all of them together (here's looking at you Super Deluxe). We cannot not mention Kantara (Kannada) if you like fantasy-folklore, Bangalore Days (Malayalam) if you're looking for coming-of-age stories, Jai Bheem (Tamil) if a brilliantly written court drama is what want to watch, and Ante Sundaraniki (Telugu) if light-hearted rom-com is your genre.
If you’re a movie buff, also keep an eye out for the biggest Bollywood releases of this year!