The 16 Best Movies in German for Language Learners to Watch
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 watching movies in German.
Read on for 16 recommendations to get you started!
- 1. “Lola rennt” (“Run Lola Run”)
- 2. “Das Leben der Anderen” (“The Lives of Others”)
- 3. “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”)
- 4. “Das weiße Band” (“The White Ribbon”)
- 5. “Good Bye Lenin!”
- 6. “Revanche”
- 7. “Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant” (“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”)
- 8. “Nirgendwo in Afrika” (“Nowhere in Africa”)
- 9. “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” (“The Baader Meinhof Complex”)
- 10. “Paradies: Liebe” (“Paradise: Love”)
- 11. “Sissi”
- 12. “Keinohrhasen” (“Rabbit Without Ears”)
- 13. “Die Feuerzangenbowle” (“The Punch Bowl”)
- 14. “Soul Kitchen”
- 15. “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” (“Germany. A Summer’s Fairytale.”)
- 16. “Absolute Giganten” (“Gigantic”)
- Tips on Learning German through Movies
1. “Lola rennt” (“Run Lola Run”)
If you want to travel to Berlin and get a taste of the Berlinerisch dialect, this film might be the right one for you. This classic German movie (1998) 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 differently. Fast and riveting, this film offers the perfect distraction when you’re bored of conjugating verbs!
2. “Das Leben der Anderen” (“The Lives of Others”)
Do you wonder what it was like to live in the former communist East Germany? This drama and political thriller (2006) tells the story of Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler who is assigned to spy on the playwright Georg Dreyman.
The film traces Wiesler becoming 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. “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”)
What was Hitler thinking and doing during the last 10 days of his life? This film (2004) 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 the whole time.
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. “Das weiße Band” (“The White Ribbon”)
From one of Europe’s most celebrated directors, Michael Haneke, comes this sobering portrayal of religion, authority, and violence in a small northern German town in the early 1910s.
The film’s dark take on society and family, though beautiful and powerful, can be hard to watch. However, if you’re looking for a film that packs a punch, “The White Ribbon” (2009) will deliver 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 about themes that are easy to follow.
5. “Good Bye Lenin!”
If you’re more in the mood for a comedy, this film (2003) might be a better choice for you! Alex’s mother, a staunch supporter of the Socialist Unity Party 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!
“Revanche” (2008) 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 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 on the edge of your seat and gives you a good glimpse into a side of Austria that you may never get to see!
7. “Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant” (“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”)
This film (1972) 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. “Nirgendwo in Afrika” (“Nowhere in Africa”)
This heart-wrenching film (2001) offers a 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 stories of 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. “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” (“The Baader Meinhof Complex”)
Based on the book by Stefan Aust, this action-packed film (2008) 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. “Paradies: Liebe” (“Paradise: Love”)
This film (2013) 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 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!
Right after World War II, a genre of movies called Heimatfilm (homeland film) became popular in Germany. The genre romanticized life in the countryside and had simple stories, often entailing clearly “good” and “bad” characters that fight for the love of a woman, with the “good” guy always winning. The plot is easy enough to follow and once you’ve seen one Heimatfilm, you’ve almost seen them all.
“Sissi” (1955) is a classic Heimatfilm that all Germans know. The simple plot follows Princess Elisabeth, nicknamed Sissi, her sister Néné and the young Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph I, as the three of them get caught between betrothals, familial obligation and love.
For a beginner, “Sissi” has a simple enough plot to follow that you won’t get lost concentrating on what the characters are saying. Since the movie is actually Austrian and the characters are Austrian and Bavarian, the accents might be a bit challenging with the slightly rolled “r,” but they’re still very clear compared to what you might actually encounter in Bavaria or Austria.
12. “Keinohrhasen” (“Rabbit Without Ears”)
The romantic comedy “Keinohrhasen” (2007) is written by, directed by and stars Til Schweiger, one of Germany’s A-list celebrities that English-speaking audiences will recognize from “Inglorious Basterds.”
Its plot is easy to follow: a man gets into trouble and is sentenced to 300 hours of community service at a daycare. He grew up in the same neighborhood as the woman running the daycare and he always used to tease her, so she despises him.
After overcoming a challenge together in the daycare, they start to get to know each other better, all is forgiven and they fall for each other.
The dialogue is written the way people speak in everyday life, so you’ll pick up useful slang and phrases. Additionally, kids feature prominently in the movie since the daycare is the main location, so when the adults are talking to them, again, it’s easy to follow.
13. “Die Feuerzangenbowle” (“The Punch Bowl”)
Similarly to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Die Feuerzangenbowle” (1944) requires audience interaction in some circles. It’s become a tradition at some universities throughout Germany to have massive “Die Feuerzangenbowle” viewings around Christmas, where audience members will be raising their glasses, turning on flashlights, ringing alarm clocks and quoting famous lines.
“Die Feuerzangenbowle” is a great way for beginning German learners to get some specific cultural insights, especially since it’s a movie people get really enthusiastic about. The movie itself, being filmed and released at the end of World War II, is funny and light, serving as a short distraction from the reality at the time.
The story follows a man who, due to being homeschooled, goes back to school disguised as a youth to experience what he’s missed out on. He pulls pranks on teachers and the school director and, in the meantime, falls in love with the director’s daughter.
The movie is actually based on a 1933 novel by Heinrich Spoerl, which you might enjoy reading before watching the screen adaptation.
14. “Soul Kitchen”
This 2009 comedy revolves around a local Hamburg restaurant and its Greek-German proprietor, Zinos. The run-down joint is having financial problems, Zinos lacks medical insurance and ends up with a slipped disc, his brother is out of prison and his girlfriend is a journalist going to Shanghai.
All of these threads are brought together into a funny, coherent movie with a great cast.
Out of the movies on this list, “Soul Kitchen” is probably one of the more difficult ones to follow as a beginner, due in part to the talk about financial and physical problems. However, it also provides useful vocabulary in an entertaining context and there are other, easier topics to follow, such as relationships and food.
15. “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” (“Germany. A Summer’s Fairytale.”)
Germany is a soccer-crazed nation and in 2006, the country played host to the FIFA World Cup. The national team was a favorite to win the title on its home turf, and “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” is a documentary following the team on its way to trying to win its fourth World Cup.
More broadly, the movie documents how, for the first time in a long while, Germans began to show a sense of national pride publicly. Given the country’s history, this was a big change.
If you’re not into soccer, this probably isn’t the movie for you. But if you want to learn sports vocabulary, especially when it comes to Germany’s favorite, then this documentary is a good place to pick it up.
You’ll also get familiar with the names of stars and coaches that have played a role on the national team—Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim “Jogi” Löw.
16. “Absolute Giganten” (“Gigantic”)
This movie follows three young friends, one of whom has decided to leave Hamburg since his probation for a juvenile offense is up. He doesn’t tell his friends about his plans until the day before, leaving them confused about why he would abandon them. As a result, their last night together involves partying, foosball, music and cars.
The main themes in the movie—friendship and leaving home—are universal ones that make this an easy movie to follow. There’s no specialized vocabulary to make it any more complicated than listening to a group of friends talking, and they don’t speak in a dialect that’s difficult to understand.
Tips on Learning German through Movies
With so many resources available online, not being able to find movies in German is no excuse. Because Netflix has expanded quickly throughout the world, the number of foreign movies available has also increased, including those from Germany. You can also check out Amazon Prime Video, which has a really comprehensive list of German 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 dictionary. Review them on a regular basis and use them with your German friends.
Alternatively, you can watch your favorite English movies with German voiceover. German dubbed movies are easy to find online, or you can watch video clips on YouTube, like this one:
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).
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 of the best websites and apps for learning German the way native speakers really use it. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Watch authentic media to simultaneously immerse yourself in the German language and build an understanding of the German culture.
By using real-life videos, the content is kept fresh and current. Topics cover a lot of ground as you can see here:
Vocabulary and phrases are learned with the help of interactive subtitles and full transcripts.
Hovering over or tapping on any word in the subtitles will automatically pause the video and instantly display its meaning. Interesting words you don’t know yet can be added to a to-learn list for later.
For every lesson, a list of vocabulary is provided for easy reference and bolstered with plenty of examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
Your existing knowledge is tested with the help of adaptive quizzes in which words are learned in context.
To keep things fresh, FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and recommends further lessons and videos based on what you've already studied.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)
Whether you go with an older movie or a newer one, watching in German is a great way for beginners to pick up some new vocabulary, practice listening comprehension or just get insights into the culture. So take a break when you’re on your next Netflix binge and put on a German movie!
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