Best German Films for German-Learners

Persone guardare film nel cinema scuro
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Which German movies are best for German-learners?

Many of my readers already know that I'm a big fan of German cinema. I even have an entire Web site devoted to the German-Hollywood Connection. It's sort of a hobby of mine.

I'm also a firm advocate of showing German films in the classroom. Movies in German can be a great benefit to anyone learning Germanif the teacher and/or student knows how to go about it. In that vein, I wrote an article for the Fall 1993 issue of Die Unterrichtspraxis entitled “Marlene Dietrich in the German Classroom” which was about a German film project that I have done with my high school students over the years. With a suitable approach, even “ancient” black-and-white movies like “Der blaue Engel” (1930) can be successfully turned into a learning experience for 16-year-old students.

But when Franka Potente burst onto the scene in “Run Lola Run,” German teachers finally had something very modern to work with. My students love that movie! I love that movie! But if you want to learn German, you can't just casually watch “Lola rennt” or any other German film, so I developed some “Lola” worksheets for classroom use. 

But what other films are best for German-learners? Obviously, everyone will have their own opinion, and some films are more suitable than others. 

There are certain criteria we used to come up with that list, as well as a longer list of 30 films that you can view on the next page. Here are the main criteria:

  • Must be a sound film in German (no silent films).
  • Must be a film generally available on video in the English-speaking world.
  • Must be entertaining or interesting in some way for German-learners.
  • The intended audience is German-learners who are at least 18 years old.


Although foreign-language teachers in my district are allowed to show R-rated foreign movies in a high school classroom (using a parental permission form), I know that in some US school districts that isn't the case, so for survey purposes, we set the age limit at 18 and over. (Don't get me started on the ratings debacle: “The Harmonists” is rated “R” in the US, but “6 and up” in Germany!) And although I have shown parts of Fritz Lang's wonderful “Metropolis” (along with the Queen music video with “Metropolis” scenes) to my students, as a silent film, “Metropolis” doesn't make our list. But Downfall (Der Untergang), the Heimat chronicle (now on DVD), and Nowhere in Africa (Nirgendwo in Afrika) do.

Because of space limitations, we could only include 10 films in our poll. 
 

Top German Movies

The Top 35+ Best Films for German

Our movie poll was limited to only ten films, and some of the films listed below were not available on DVD or video at the time of our survey. So here is an updated list of more than 30 films in German (some from Austria or Switzerland) rated highly by me, by various film critics, and film Web sites. In most cases, the films listed are available on DVD in the American (NTSC, Region 1) video standard with English subtitles. For some films you can click on the title to learn more. We also have a list of the best films in English for German-learners, plus a full German Movie Index by title.

Please note that some of the Region 1 DVD releases listed below are rated R in the U.S. and may not be suitable for viewing by students under the age of 18. Teachers should always preview any film they plan to show in the classroom and be aware of their school district's film policies. 

​Films in the list below are in alphabetical order with year and director and the original German titles shown in italics.

Die besten deutschen Filme

  1. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) Werner Herzog
    Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
  2. The American Friend (1977) Wim Wenders
  3. Beyond Silence (1996) Caroline Link
    Jenseits der Stille
  4. Blue Angel, The (1930) Joseph von Sternberg
    Der blaue Engel
  5. Boat Is Full, The (1982) Markus Imhoof
    Das Boot ist voll is about Switzerland during WWII.
  6. Das Boot (1981) Wolfgang Petersen
  7. BRD Trilogy (1970s) Rainer Werner Fassbinder
    DVD set: The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, Lola
  8. Brother of Sleep (1995) Joseph Vilsmaier
    Schlafesbruder
  9.  (2005) Oliver Hirschgbiegel
    Der Untergang
  10. Europa, Europa (1991) Agnieszka Holland
    Hitlerjunge Salomon
  11. Faraway, So Close (1993) Wim Wenders
    In weiter Ferne, so nah
  12. Fitzcarraldo (1982) Werner Herzog
  13. Good-Bye Lenin! (2003) Wolfgang Becker
  14. Go, Trabi, Go* (1990) Peter Timm
  15. Harmonists, The (1997) Joseph Vilsmaier
    Comedian Harmonists
  16. Heimat (6-film series) Edgar Reitz
    Heimat (now on Region 1 DVD)
  17. The Inheritors (1997) Stefan Ruzowitzky
    Die Siebtelbauer
  18. Lives of Others, The* (2006)
    Das Leben der Anderen is about the East German Stasi.
  1. M (1931) Fritz Lang
  2. Marlene (1986) Maximilian Schell
    (Interview with Dietrich in Ger. & Eng.)
  3. Marriage of Maria Braun, The (1978) Rainer Werner Fassbinder
    Die Ehe der Maria Braun (part of Fassbinder's BRD Trilogie)
  4. Men* (1990) Doris Dörrie
    Männer - a German comedy!
  5. * (2003)
    Das Wunder von Bern was Germany's 1954 soccer win.
  6. Mostly Martha (2001) Sandra Nettelbeck
    Bella Martha/Fünf Sterne
  7. Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, The (1974) Werner Herzog
    Kaspar Hauser
  8. Nasty Girl, The (1990) Michael Verhoeven
    Das schreckliche Mädchen
  9. Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979) Werner Herzog
    Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht
  10. Nowhere in Africa (2001) Caroline Link
    Nirgendwo in Afrika - Acad. Award Best Foreign Film
  11. Rosenstrasse (2004) Margarethe von Trotta
    Rosenstraße
  12. Run Lola Run (1998) Tom Tykwer
    Lola rennt is one of the best German films ever
  13. Sophie Scholl - The Last Days (2004) Marc Rothemund
    Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage
    Topic: 'The White Rose' (see below)
  14. Stalingrad (1992) Joseph Vilsmaier
  15. The Tin Drum (1979) Volker Schlöndorff
    Die Blechtrommel
  1. White Rose, The* (1983) Michael Verhoeven
    Die weiße Rose (anti-Nazi group; true story)
  2. Vaya con Dios* (2002) Zoltan Spirendelli
  3. Wings of Desire (1987) Wim Wenders
    Der Himmel über Berlin
  4. Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, The (1993) Ray Müller
    Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl

Some of the directors above, notably Fritz LangWim Wenders, and Wolfgang Petersen, have also made films in English. For obvious reasons, our list does not include English-language films, but there is another category of interest to German teachers and students: Hollywood films in German.

Since all non-German films shown to a wide audience in Germany are dubbed into German, it can be both amusing and instructive for English-speaking German-learners to view well-known Hollywood productions in German. And since the students are usually already familiar with the film's story, the lack of subtitles is not a serious drawback. The main disadvantage is that such films are usually in PAL video or Region 2 DVD format, requiring a multi-system player. Although some Hollywood films in German are available as NTSC video from various outlets, in my experience the quality is poor. It is best if you can obtain an original German DVD or video.