Learn German with Movies: 10 Great Movies for Learning Real German

Recognizing regional dialects and slang is key to understanding the German language.

With somewhere between 50 and 250 dialects, you better start getting used to them!

One way to acquire an ear for these everyday regionalisms is to learn them through German films.

Read on for 10 recommendations to get you started!


Why Learn German with Movies?

It’s simple, really. Here are three reasons:

  • Movies are just fun and entertaining. You can reserve them for times when you’re just too exhausted to do anything more intense (eg. like talking to your language partner or doing flashcards). It’s like leaving your easiest exercises until the end of a workout, when you have the least energy.
  • Movies also tend to use natural conversational German.
  • Also, movies are a wonderful way to get culturally fluent. Talking about a popular movie is a great way to connect with German friends. Just think about all the English conversations you wouldn’t be able to participate in if you didn’t know any famous English-speaking celebrities.

So drop that Hochdeutsch textbook for now and start streaming one of the following German-language films! They are sure to knock your socks off.

Tips on Learning German through Movies

To learn German as effectively as possible, it isn’t enough to just watch the movies and expect to soak up the vocabulary. You should watch them actively, and keep track of new vocabulary. If you hear an unfamiliar word, you should write it down and look it up in a good dictionary. Review them on a regular basis and use them with your German friends.

You should also definitely make use of programs available for learners. For example, you can sentence mine from films using Anki (or utilize one of the many user-made decks already out there).

Take another example: Instead of looking up unknown words phonetically in a dictionary, you can use a program that defines unknown words in videos for you. FluentU is one program that does this: It provides learners with authentic German videos including movie clips and trailers, combined with interactive subtitles so you can check the definition of any word as you watch. Toggle English and German subtitles on or off as you need for an extra challenge or boost.

FluentU has other ways to help you study with authentic German. For instance, as you come across new vocabulary words, you can add them to your flashcards without leaving the video player. You can then study them with personalized quizzes that include speaking opportunities on the iOS and Android apps.

Each video on FluentU is also accompanied by a quiz, an interactive, dual-language transcript and a key words bank. This can help you focus your learning as well as practice your German reading skills.

Learn German with Movies: 10 Great Movies for Learning Real German

1. “Run Lola Run” (“Lola rennt”) (1998)

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If you want to travel to Berlin and want to get a taste of the Berlinerisch dialect, this film might be the right one for you. This classic German movie follows Lola who has to find 100,000 German marks in twenty minutes in order to save her boyfriend’s life. Her boyfriend, a small-time criminal, has lost his boss’ money and will now get killed unless Lola comes up with the money.

The film is told three times in three different “runs,” each starting with the same premise, but ending completely different. Fast and riveting, this film offers the perfect distraction when you’re bored of conjugating verbs!

2.”The Lives of Others” (“Das Leben der Anderen”) (2006)

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Do you wonder what it was like to live in the former communist East Germany? This drama and political thriller tells the story of Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler who is assigned to spy on the playwright Georg Dreyman.

The film traces as Wiesler becomes emotionally involved in the lives of those he is meant to spy on and disillusioned with the tactics of the East German government. This film will not only improve your German skills by exposing you to a range of accents, but its popularity among Germans makes it a great conversation piece when you want to practice your Deutsch!

3. “Downfall” (“Der Untergang”) (2004)

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What was Hitler thinking and doing during the last 10 days of his life? This film tells this exact story. If you’re looking for a historical drama, look no further. This controversial but fascinating portrayal of Hitler will have you white-knuckling your sheets.

You might also learn a bit about the Austrian dialect as actor Bruno Ganz is known to have prepared intensively for his portrayal of Hitler by studying videos of the Führer to get the accent down pat. Maybe not the way you wanted to learn about Austria, but this film is a must-see!

4. “The White Ribbon” (“Das weiße Band”) (2009)

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From one of Europe’s most celebrated directors, Michael Haneke, comes this sobering portrayal of religion, authority, and violence in small northern German town in the early 1910s.

Disclaimer: do no watch this film on a rainy day! The film’s dark take on society and family, though beautiful and powerful, can be hard to watch. However, if you are looking for a film that packs a punch, “The White Ribbon” will deliver it as it leads you through the inexplicable series of events that begin to plague this small Protestant village.  This film is also perfect for German students because the actors speak very slowly and clearly and about themes that are easy to follow.

5. “Good Bye Lenin!” (2003)

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If you’re more in the mood for a comedy, this film might be a better choice for you! Alex’s mother, a staunch supporter of the Socialist Unity Part of East Germany, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma in October 1989. During her coma, the Berlin Wall falls and East Germany becomes home to Burger King restaurants, Coca-Cola advertisements, and West German migrants. When Alex’s mother wakes up, the doctor informs him that if his mother suffers another shock, it may cause a fatal heart attack.

Alex resorts to absurd and often humorous tactics to try to shield his bed-ridden mother from the changing world around her. Again, if you want to visit Berlin or the former East Germany, this film should be on the top of your list!

6. “Revanche” (2008)

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Here comes another film for you Austria aficionados! “Revanche” is great if you want to get a good feel for what kind of German awaits you in the land of schnitzel and strudel! The film is a thriller about the foredoomed relationship between Alex, a Viennese ex-con, and a Tamara, a Ukrainian prostitute, who wish to leave Vienna and start a new life together.

To finance this plan, Alex decides to rob a bank but the plan goes awry. As it addresses the themes of guilt, redemption, and fate, the film keeps you at the edge of your seat and gives you a good glimpse into a side of Austria that you may never get to see!

7. “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (“Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant”)(1972)

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This film is another German classic and a great introduction to German cinema. The New German Cinema director Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates an insular dreamland of jealously, madness, and domination set only within the walls of Petra von Kant’s home.

Without you realizing it, Fassbinder drags you into Petra’s complex psyche as she inflicts psychological abuse on her maid Marlene and falls madly in love with the beautiful working-class Karin. If you’re thinking about travelling to the south of Germany, this film will also expose you to the quirky and cute Bavarian accent via the elusive Karin!

8. “Nowhere in Africa” (“Nirgendwo in Afrika”) (2001)

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This heart-wrenching film offers the unique depiction of German culture outside of Europe. It follows a Jewish family as they escape Nazi Germany in 1938 and migrate to Kenya to run a farm. The film presents the experience of immigrating to somewhere new, especially somewhere as different as East Africa.

Living between two worlds, the memories of Germany and the reality of Kenya, the family must adapt and try to create a new life. If you’re interested in Jewish refugees and World War II history, there is no other German film that has a more compassionate perspective. Though interspersed with Swahili and English, the characters in “Nowhere in Africa” primarily speak in a clear, straightforward German, which is perfect for German students!

9. “The Baader Meinhof Complex” (“Der Baader Meinhof Komplex”) (2008)

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Based on the book by Stefan Aust, this action-packed film covers the early years of the notorious far-left militant group, the Red Army Faction, from 1967 to 1977. If you’re looking for a film with guns and explosions, you will find it in “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

It portrays the radical political actions of young post-Nazism revolutionaries who believe that American imperialism is the new face of fascism. If you don’t know much about the RAF, a group that remains controversial in Germany to this day, this film will keep you glued to your seat and familiarize you with plenty of slang words!

10. “Paradise:Love” (“Paradies: Liebe”) (2013)

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This film is one of a kind. It’s culturally insightful, disturbing, and fascinating all at the same time. It follows a 50-year-old Austrian woman, Teresa, as she travels to a beach resort in Kenya. During her travels, Teresa engages in sex tourism, finding young prostitutes to sleep with and subsequently worrying about whether they really find her attractive. At times funny and at other times disturbing, “Paradise: Love” is a movie you will never forget.

It’s perfect if you want to brush up on your Austrian dialect. Because the film is shot without a traditional script, there’s no better film if you want to prepare for your upcoming trip to Vienna!

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