Learn the Russian Way of Life! 8 Online Movies That’ll Teach You Language and Culture
Is time travel something you’d be interested in?
I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in that?
Imagine being able to see the clothes, hear the slang and try the trends throughout a country’s history for yourself!
Although we don’t have a magic carpet or a time machine, we have another magical resource to help us—online movies.
Learning Russian while watching movies is a fantastic way to boost your language skills without feeling like you’re studying.
It’s also a great way to discover Russian culture and understand the issues that are important to native speakers. Watching movies that focus on different eras ramps up this type of learning—you’ll get the Russian perspective on historic events you might already know about, or find out about events that’ve impacted how Russians act and talk today.
In this post, we’ll show you captivating Russian movies you can stream online that focus on everything from World War II, to Moscow in the ’80s, to medieval upheaval. Some will have you laughing, others will have you crying… but all of them will kick your language skills up another level!
How Can Movies Help You Learn Russian?
There are so many reasons that movies can help you improve Russian beyond simply practicing listening comprehension (as important as that is!). For example, you can achieve more natural-sounding pronunciation by watching Russian movies. You’ll be immersing yourself in native Russian speech and can watch how the actors move their mouths to make those distinctly Russian sounds.
Movies will also help broaden your understanding of Russian vocabulary. Movies from the ’60s, ’80s and ’90s help you hear Russian vocabulary as it’s changed throughout the years. Similarly, you can understand more about Russian history and its culture from watching movies on related topics. Bring history to life instead of simply reading about it!
And of course with contemporary movies, you’ll hear the expressions, fun idioms and slang terms that you can except to encounter in real life conversations.
If you feel that you can benefit from seeing the words in print as well as spoken out loud, you can use Russian subtitles (if offered) to read along with the dialogue.
You can even take your learning up a notch by watching Russian movies and other videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Grab the Popcorn: 8 Russian Movies to Stream Online Tonight
Historical movies like “Царь” bring facts to life. They create a vivid and colorful lens for you to view Russia, its history and vocabulary from past eras. This movie helps you see for yourself life in Russia during the 16th century, from the architecture and outfits to the power struggles that defined the time.
This film tells the story of Ivan IV Vasilyevich, better known throughout history as “Ivan the Terrible” or “Ivan the Fearsome.” He ruled as the Prince of Moscow starting in 1533 and as Tsar of Russia starting in 1547. Watch how Ivan comes to believe that he’s trusted with a holy mission to rule Russia, and crushes his enemies in his quest to become Tsar before the Last Judgement (which he believes is coming).
Hear old Russian words that were used in the 1500s and familiarize yourself with terms from the Old Russian language. Although many of them are outdated today, they’ve paved the way for more modern terminology.
As Ivan believes that he’s on a mission from God, the film also provides a great opportunity to hear words to describe religion, forgiveness, sin and duty. The speech is slow-paced, which provides a chance for beginner and intermediate learners to boost their comprehension skills.
“Вор” (“The Thief”)
This film was nominated for a Golden Globe and for an Academy Award after its release in 1997.
It takes place after the end of World War II and tells a common story known to so many during that time. A young mother without a husband is left without a place to live, so she rides the train in search of a new dwelling. She meets a man who presents himself as an officer, but later it becomes known that he’s a thief.
It’s a touching film that tells the difficult story of the economic times for many Russians after the war, and how families had to go to drastic measures to survive.
One of the most interesting takeaways from the film is how the stepfather teaches his stepson about what it takes to be a man, which offers a chance to hear words describing manhood (from the Russian perspective).
“Я буду рядом” (“I’ll Be Around”)
A more modern film from 2012, this presents a great look at the so-called “new Russians,” or middle class and wealthier individuals who live a much more comfortable life than Russians of the past.
The main character, Inna, is a single woman who works as a manager in a restaurant in Moscow. Inna has a good life, surrounded by colleagues and her beloved six-year-old son, Mitya.
However, she finds out that she has a brain tumor and a limited time to live—thereby coming to terms with the end of her life and setting out on a mission to find foster parents for Mitya.
This is a great chance to hear how adults speak to children in Russia and the movies gives an accurate portrayal of modern family life in Russia.
While history often focuses on the tragedies that occurred during World War II in major cities, this film shows how small towns were affected as well. “Враги” tells the story of what happened in 1942 in Belorussia, a country that was part of the USSR.
It takes place in the town after occupation by the Germans. Both sides are coming to terms with the new normal—the Germans learn Russian while interacting with the residents.
However, when a young Russian blows up a German train, the choice has to be made to execute the boy, even if that means ending the calm that’s been established.
As the Germans in the film learn Russian, you can hear basic words and phrases for beginners. Also, you’ll learn vocabulary having to do with the war and the era.
Made in the early 1980s, this film helps us see that the desire to enter show business isn’t just restricted to Hollywood.
In Russia, aspiring actors and actresses move to the capital, Moscow, to pursue their dreams. This is a story of a young girl who leaves her small town to move to the big city, where she finds and is used by a boyfriend.
See the outfits, hear the music, listen to the poetry and discover the terms that were popular in the ’80s. Also, experience for yourself the type of entertainment Russia made during that time.
In the first part of the movie, the protagonist is still a student, so you can learn words that describe school and college life. The later parts showcase her aspiring acting career, sharing terms particular to that industry.
This black-and-white classic, made in the 1960s, is based on a Russian novel by Vera Panova. It shows Russia as it was from the 1920s to the 1960s, and its inhabitants, who mostly lived in small towns.
This film is about a married couple—Evdokim, who works in a factory, and Evdokiya, a housewife. He’s a silent, hard-working type, while she’s a passionate and beautiful young woman who hasn’t yet gotten over her first love. As they have no children of their own, they’re fostering others.
While they and their lives may seem simple and boring, the movie actually shows that’s not the case!
Understand for yourself the life of most Russians during that time period, and learn words that were commonly spoken by smalltown residents in the early- to mid-1960s.
This film is great for Russian students as the speech is slow and the narrator helps viewers understand the context of the movie.
Here’s a movie for your… reading skills?
That’s right! This 1925 movie is actually a silent film, so you’ll be reading Russian while you watch. It tells the story of a pre-Bolshevik Revolution period, when a strike by factory workers occurred in 1903 Russia, as well as its aftermath.
When a factory worker is accused of stealing a piece of machinery, he ends up taking his own life. As a result, the other workers rise up against the Tsarist regime. The government officials take strong measures to end the strike.
“Стачка” sends a strong message, often comparing the treatment of factory workers to that of animals, specifically cattle.
Due to the silent film style, where only a few words are on screen at a time, this is a good one for beginner Russian learners who want to dip their toes into authentic Russian culture and film history.
This war drama has great significance—it was banned by the Soviet Union for 20 years because of its messages on anti-Semitism and women’s rights. It wasn’t screened until the late ’80s, after which it was renowned internationally.
Clavdia Vavilova, a pregnant commissar (a Communist political worker) is sent to live with a Jewish family. Although at first, both she and the family strongly dislike each other due to political beliefs, they soon realize that they have a lot in common and grow extremely fond of each other.
This is the perfect chance to learn Communist terms as well as words that describe the Russian Civil War.
It would take many textbooks to learn about the different time periods and events in the movies suggested in this article. However, just one to two hours at a time will allow you to experience each individual epoch for yourself, all the while learning terminology having to do with that time.
Renata Ilitsky is a professional content writer with over 10 years of experience. She specializes in creating unique and engaging content for any industry. To read some of Renata’s other work, please view her writing portfolio.