Artistic director Sandra Hebron said this year's festival had an emphasis on "politics, history, memory."
"But we have very fine films on topics ranging from pop music to prison life, from sheepherding to sport," she said.
The festival has snagged the first public screening of the new 007 adventure, "Quantum of Solace." It will make its debut for a paying audience on Oct. 29, immediately after a world premiere for an invited crowd including Prince William and Prince Harry. The film opens around the world beginning Oct. 31.
Other high-profile offerings at the festival are Oliver Stone's "W," which stars Josh Brolin as President Bush; Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the revolutionary icon, "Che"; and Woody Allen's Spanish-set "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
Films receiving gala screenings include Israeli director Ari Folman's animated anti-war feature, "Waltz With Bashir"; "The Brothers Bloom," a caper film from U.S. director Rian Johnson ("Brick") starring Rachel Weisz and Adrien Brody; and "Easy Virtue," a 1920s period comedy starring Ben Barnes as a young man who shocks his upper-crust English family by bringing home his American bride, played by Jessica Alba.
The festival closes Oct. 30 with "Slumdog Millionaire," "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle's film about an Indian teenager on the verge of winning a fortune on a TV quiz show.
A strong slate of British films includes director Steve McQueen's "Hunger," about Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands, and Michael Winterbottom's "Genova," which stars Colin Firth as a bereaved academic adrift in the Italian port city. Other British features include "Telstar," Nick Moran's film about legendary music producer Joe Meek, and Liverpool-born director Terence Davies' homage to his home town, "Of Time and the City."
Among the stars lined up to attend are Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, Liam Neeson and Omar Sharif.
Founded in 1957, the London festival aims to show the best of the past year's world cinema to a British audience and does not hand out major awards like rival festivals in Cannes, France, Toronto or Venice, Italy.
But Amanda Nevill, director of festival sponsor the British Film Institute, said London hopes to "compete more equally with the other great festivals of the world." This year's lineup of almost 300 films from 43 countries includes a record 15 world premieres.