Mixing education and entertainment is perhaps the most effective way to learn. As you lounge in front of the TV more often than you ever have before, there’s no better time to improve or polish your German. Check out our scintillating selection of 15 amazing German movies.
1. The Wave (Die Welle)
Our list starts with this drama, which delves into the psychology of persuasion. It explains phenomena like Hitler’s influence over the nation, which some continue to find inexplicable. In The Wave, a university professor launches a series of peculiar experiments that quickly get out of control.
Like Das Experiment, which is also on our list of the top 15 German movies to see, this movie offers a very powerful portrayal of mass psychosis and why authoritarianism succeeds. Can fascism happen in the modern world? Absolutely.
2. Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg)
Drama is Germans’ forte, hardly surprising from a country that’s survived so much. Kreuzweg provides a dramatic portrayal of a young girl’s devotion to her religion, in this case Catholicism.
Nothing can weaken the devout teen’s faith, not the nice boy in her life or even the modern world.
3. Hitler’s Children (Hitlers Kinder)
This short drama and psychological thriller centers around the influence and impact of fascism on younger people. Intermediate and advanced speakers will find it very useful.
4. Against the Wall (Gegen die Wand)
Cahit Tomruk, a middle-aged German of Turkish origin, wallows in drugs and alcohol after his wife’s death. He decides to kill himself by driving his car into a wall, but survives. He is taken to a mental institution, where he meets a Turkish-German woman who has also tried to commit suicide.
She shares with him that she’s suffering from her conservative family’s strict rules and asks him to marry her formally. He declines at first, but later changes his mind, and that’s when things get interesting.
5. Das Experiment
This movie is based on Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, where he got half of his students to “play” prison guards and the other half to “play” prisoners. Soon, the experiment gets out of control with the guards abusing their power and the prisoners.
The real police had to intervene to stop the psychology professor’s experiment. Zimbardo does prove a point – how easy it is to succumb and begin to abuse one’s position of authority.He was an expert witness in the defense of an Abu Ghraib guard in the case on torture charges more than 30 years later. In 2004, Abu Ghraib prison made international headlines when the press published photos of military staff abusing Iraqi prisoners.
6. Axolotl Overkill
A teenage girl from Berlin loses her mother. As she mourns her death, she becomes obsessed with a criminal in the hospital, to which she has been admitted.
7. Run Lola Run (Lola rennt)
Lots of people have seen and almost everyone has heard of this movie. Try watching it in German with German subtitles. It’s ideal for beginners and intermediate learners.
In this German thriller from 1998, Lola (Franka Potente) must find a lot of money in twenty minutes. If she doesn’t, her boyfriend will die.
Barbara, a doctor who tries to leave East Germany during the Cold War, is arrested and sent to an isolated rural medical facility, where she is monitored by the State Security (Staatssicherheit).
This is a poignant story about her new and difficult life. It’s a good option if you like slower, artsy films.
9. Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (Die letzten Tage)
This 2005 film is about the last days of a young member of White Rose, a non-violent, anti-Nazi student resistance group, which was part of the movement “German Resistance to Nazism.” Sophie Scholl was executed on February 22, 1943 after being found guilty of high treason.
10. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
In this famous German movie, a Staatssicherheit agent is ordered to spy on a Berliner playwright in East Berlin in the 1980s, but doing so becomes increasingly painful for him.
Ulrich Mühe, the leading actor, was a theater star in East Germany during the Cold War. He has said preparing for this role was extremely easy, all he needed to do was “remember” the days.
11. The Turbulent Man (Der bewegte Mann)
Here’s a fun, lighthearted comedy for a change (you’ve probably gathered that Germans aren’t big on comedy, but there are exceptions, like this).
Doro dumps Axel, who needs to find a new place to stay. He meets the transgender male Walter, who tells him he’s more than welcome to live with him – in the hopes of seducing him, obviously.
At a party, Axel decides to move in with Norbert, Walter’s best friend, instead.
Norbert is a gay man who has just been dumped by his boyfriend. Norbert starts hitting on Axel while they look at old photos at Doro’s apartment, where Axel is still living.
As Doro unexpectedly shows up, Norbert (who has stripped down in the meantime) hides in the closet. Doro tells Axel she’s pregnant with their child and wants to get back together. She discovers the naked Norbert in the closet, but Axel manages to explain it away, and he’s eager to become a father. Soon, he forgets about Norbert. But can Norbert forget him?
12. Anatomy (Anatomie)
In this riveting horror/thriller, Franka Potente is a medical student taking a summer course at the Medical School of the elite University of Heidelberg. During a course on anatomy, she’s in for a surprise – a young man she met before turns up for dissection. Her professor finds out she knew him and mocks her, daring her to dissect his heart.
If that weren’t strange enough already, she notices some quite unusual cuts on the body. The professor says the morgue probably handled the corpse badly, but she’s not convinced and starts investigating the man’s death. Soon, we realize nothing is as it seemed.
She finds a strange “AAA” mark near the young man’s ankle when she goes for a sample to perform an independent test. What follows? Mysteries surrounding an ancient, powerful order, sacrifice, and more.
13. The Boat (Das Boot)
If you like classic war films, you’re in for a treat. This epic tells the story of the German U-boats in the Atlantic during WWII, yet manages to retain a modern feel at the same time.
It was among the most expensive German movies to make because the team created two full-scale submarine models for the exterior and interior shoots.
You’ll notice the actors are unusually pale and unkempt. This was not planned – they had to work inside a true-to-life replica!
Even the wildest house party will seem tame after you watch the opening scene of The Boat, playing out in a French nightclub.
14. Nowhere in Africa (Nirgendwo in Afrika)
This 2002 Oscar-winning classic, for the most part set in isolated regions in Kenya, is a moving work of art if there ever was one. It tells the story of a family of Jewish refugees that moves to a small Kenyan farm prior to WWII.
The mixture of English, German, and Swahili makes it more authentic with its insightful focus on the relationships between the locals and the family members.
15. Downfall (Der Untergang)
This Oscar-nominated classic is famous both in and outside Germany. Critics converge on the opinion that the leading actor (Bruno Ganz’) depiction of Hitler is one of the few truly convincing and compelling ones. Hitler’s angry speeches come alive.
Don’t take our word for it – Downfall became a sensation on YouTube with hundreds of videos dubbing over the speeches.
I admit this is the only WWII film I’ve liked. Its being German is one reason it’s so convincing. It shows the human side of things and the reasons they were what they were.
The German people’s reaction as they realize the Nazi regime is doomed is more realistic than anything. The regime’s own reaction – just as much. I was surprised at how rationally the people were able to accept devastating downfall and make the gravest decisions of their lives.
How to Watch Movies Effectively to Learn German
Start by leveraging the potential of subtitles. Listen in German without subtitles only if you’re advanced. Beginners should use German subtitles, but listen in their native language. Intermediate learners should listen in German, but use subtitles in their mother tongue.
Watch movies you like
Not everyone enjoys documentaries, which German teachers should consider because we are so quick to recommend them. If you’re not engaged, you won’t remember much.
Choose genres you enjoy. If you’re a drama or a thriller fan and you’re learning German, you’re certainly in luck.Finally, increase your engagement by:
Writing new vocabulary downIt is worth it even though it might keep you from completely relaxing. Extensive research has shown that writing things we have learned down can help us remember them better.
You will enjoy the film and learn effectively at the same time, thereby improving your prospects.
What other movies do you think should be added in this list? Leave a message in the comments!