Best Russian Movies for Language Learners

High Angle View Of Audience In Theater
Hany Rizk / EyeEm / Getty Images

Movies are an essential part of contemporary culture in Russia. Films made during the Soviet era, when access to Western cinema was restricted, are particularly beloved and well-known. Lines from favorite films are frequently dropped into everyday conversation, and contemporary films often contain up-to-date examples of casual slang and dialogue.   

Watching movies is an ideal way to learn the Russian language. Movies provide visual context for words and phrases you don't understand, making it easy to pick up new vocabulary as you watch. If you get confused by an idiom or want to listen closely to a particular pronunciation, you can always rewind and watch a scene over again. Many Russian-language films are available online and can be watched with English or Russian subtitles.

Whether you're a beginner or an advanced-level speaker, this list of the best Russian movies for language learners will help you take the next step towards fluency. 

01
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Ирония Судьбы, или С Легким Паром (The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath)

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Courtesy of Subscene

This iconic Soviet movie, featured on several Russian channels at once every New Year's Eve, is an essential part of Russian cinematic culture. The film tells the story of an unmarried doctor who goes to the sauna with his friends on December 31, gets drunk, and finds himself on a plane to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). In Leningrad, he winds up at an apartment identical to his own, which he enters using his own key. Hijinks ensue.

The plot serves as thinly veiled jibe against the uniformity of Soviet-era architecture and lifestyle. Despite the obvious political implications, however, the movie proceeds in a comic fashion, with plenty of musical numbers and rom-com scenarios to keep viewers entertained. The vocabulary is varied and easy to follow, so it's perfect for a beginning Russian language learner. 

02
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Москва Слезам Не Верит (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears)

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Courtesy of IMDb

This famous Soviet-era drama tells the story of three young women from small towns trying to make it in Moscow. The women live together in a dorm room and work at a factory. Over the course of the film, each one meets a young man and falls in love, but not all the love stories end well—most notably Katerina, who is abandoned by her lover after she becomes pregnant. However, when the film leaps 20 years into the future, the viewer sees Katerina get a second chance at love and fulfillment. You'll be so immersed in the compelling story that you won't even realize how many vocabulary words you're learning.

03
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Брат (Brother)

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Released in 1997, Брат became one of the most emblematic movies of 1990s Russia. Starring Sergei Bodrov Jr., the movie tells the story of Danila, who has just been released from compulsory military service, which had him fighting in the First Chechen War. Danila goes to Saint Petersburg to join his older brother and start a new life, but ends up embroiled in the gangster world, and soon begins working for the gang as a killer.

Despite being filmed on a budget, Брат became one of the most commercially successful Russian movies of all time. Ideal for intermediate to advance learners, the movie provides important commentary on the early post-Soviet period and is a must-see if you want to learn more about Russia’s recent history. 

04
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Нелюбовь (Loveless)

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Courtesy of Sony Pictures

The winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, this contemporary Russian drama follows the temporary reunion of two newly-divorced parents whose 12-year-old son has gone missing. Seen by critics as a realistic depiction of modern Russian life, the film provides plenty of examples of contemporary vocabulary and dialogue for language learners. Watch with either English or Russian subtitles, depending on your language level. 

05
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Зеленый Театр в Земфире (Green Theater in Zemfira)

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Courtesy of IMDb

This full-length music documentary depicts a concert by Russian rock singer Zemfira at the open-air Green Theatre in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Directed by Renata Litvinova, Zemfira’s friend and frequent collaborator, the film intricately weaves concert scenes with Zemfira's monologues and commentary. With its insight into Russian popular culture and entertaining performance scenes, this documentary is a fun and enlightening watch for Russian language learners at every level.