Discovering the culture of a country is an important aspect of learning a new language. When I was learning German at school, I had German teachers who would make sure we discover classic German films and books. As I later moved to Germany, I discovered several films which are not exactly classics but are very popular amongst German people. I listed in this post German films to see if you are learning German. This list includes classic German films, but also further German films that are popular in Germany or internationally.
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1) Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), Josef von Sternberg
This is a classic German film which I watched at school. This is the film that started the career of the famous German actress Marlene Dietrich.
2) Nosferatu , F. W. Murnau
This is a German expressionist horror film from 1922. The film is inspired from Dracula. Compared to modern horror films, it is not that scary. The vampire looks a little like a rabbit. The film is widely seen as a classic though.
3) M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M), Fritz Lang
The film revolves around the action of a serial killer who is attacking children. Before each crime, the killer is whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. Both the police and the criminal underworld are trying to catch the killer. I watched this film at school too.
4) Lili Marleen, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder is the most famous German film director ever. You can’t write about German cinema without quoting him. I watched Lili Marleen at school too. The film is based on the life of the singer Lale Andersen, who used to sing Lili Marleen. The interesting thing about that song is that it became popular in its German version in nazi Germany and in its English version (sung by Marlene Dietrich) in America. One of the most powerful scene of the films shows how a small group of German soldiers gets lost in a battle. They suddenly hear the melody of Lili Marleen and follow the music as they think it will lead them to the German side. However, they discover too late that this is the English version and that they went directly to the allies. Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder’s muse, plays the role of Lale Andersen.
5) Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), Wim Wenders
I watched extracts of this film at school too. This is the story of an angel who falls in love with a young woman and decides to become a man to be able to be with her.
6) Winnetou films, Harald Reinl
As a French woman living in Germany, I wondered about all the German people speaking to me about famous French actor Pierre Brice. Actually, I had never ever heard about Pierre Brice before. I found out that he is perfectly unknown in France, but a great star in Germany because he played the role of the young Apache warrior Winnetou in a series of German westerns. I did not see the films but read the book Winnetou by Karl May. The book is entertaining but a little old fashioned. I found it sometimes a little ridiculous because the narrator, whose name is Karl just like the author, is a kind of German superman. He is a German student discovering the far west but in a week, he already kills two buffaloes, catches a wild horse and kills a grizzly with his pocket knife. This is not really realistic. The only person who is that good is the Apache warrior Winnetou and they both become best friends.
7) Der letzte Fußgänger (The Last Pedestrian), directed by Wilhelm Thiele and starring Heinz Erhardt
Heinz Erhardt is a very popular comical actor in Germany. I watched The Last Pedestrian with my husband and found it very sweet. This is the story of a newspaper archivist who wants to spend some holiday in the nature. Kiki, a young girl supposed to go to boarding school, is however not so keen on going to school and prefers following the shy man in his wanderings. He tries at first to get rid of her but gets attached to her. In the meantime, his boss at the newspaper finds the holiday pictures he sent to his colleagues and decides to publish them.
8) Der Räuber Hotzenplotz (The Robber Hotzenplotz), Gustav Ehmck.
This children movie is very popular in Germany. The Robber Hotzenplotz is originally a children book by Ottfried Preußler.
9) Drei Mann in einem Boot (Three Men in a boat), Helmut Weiss.
This is the German adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome’s novel. Popular actor Heinz Erhardt is playing one of the main characters
10) Die Feuerzangenbowle (The Punch Bowl), Helmut Weiss
This is the story of a famous young writer who, while speaking with some friends about their past, realizes that he missed out on something because he was educated at home and never go to school. He decides to go undercover as a pupil in a small town Highschool. The famous actor Heinz Rühmann plays the main character in the film.
11) Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It happened in broad daylight), Ladislao Vajda
Swiss playwright Freidrich Dürrenmatt wrote the original screenplay. The film tells the story of a police inspector who, in the frame of an investigation about the murder of a little girl, promises to the mother that he will find the killer. Even after leaving the police, he keeps looking for the killer.
12) Lola rennt (Run Lola Run), Tom Tykwer
I watched this film at school. I found a little strange but interesting. Lola’s boyfriend is a bagman and he lost 100.000 DM in the subway. Lola has twenty minutes to find the money and save her boyfriend. She leaves her place and runs as fast as she can to find her father, a bank manager, and ask him for the money. The interesting thing about the film is that there are actually three films in one. As Lola fails to save her boyfriend, the film restarts and Lola runs again. She is a few seconds later this time and it changes the destiny of everyone she meets. Yet she fails again and the film start once again. The third time, there is finally a happy end.
13) Die Unendliche Geschichte (Never-ending story), Wolfgang Petersen
I watched several time this film as a child because it was very popular in France too then. This is a fantasy film based on a novel by German novelist Michael Ende.
14) Good Bye Lenin, Wolfgang Becker
I watched this film with my German class. This is a film you should see if you are interested in the history of the German reunification. This is the story of a family in East Germany. As Alex gets arrested while taking part in an anti-government demonstration, his mother Ariane has an heart attack and falls into a coma. She wakes up eight months later but the doctors warn that she should not have another shock. Her children are worried though. She was an active member of the communist party. How can they prepare her to the political change in the country? They decide to hide the truth and pretend that the German Democratic Republic is still the same as ever. There are many funny moments in the film as Alex is becoming increasingly creative in order to explain to his mother the changes of her daily life. However, the film is very emotional too.
15) Der Untergang (Downfall), Oliver Hirschbiegel
The film was very controversial because it portrayed the last days of Adolf Hitler. However, the film worked very well. Both the public and the critics appreciated it.
16) Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer (The Flying Classroom), Werner Jacobs
This is a film about two classes in a school having a run feud. The film is based on a novel by Erick Kästner, a very popular German author.
17) Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa), Caroline Link
This is the adaptation of the autobiographical novel of the same name by Stefanie Zweig. The jewish Redlich family leaves Nazi Germany and goes to Kenya. Their little daughter Regina loves Africa and is very happy. Her parents have more difficulties to adapt to the life of farmers in Africa. The film won several awards. There is also a sequel to the book that was not adapted as a movie, the book’s name is Irgendwo in Deutschland (Somewhere in Germany).
18) Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), Volker Schlöndorff
The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Günther Grass. Günther Grass received the Nobel Prize of literature.
19) Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
The film is about the monitoring of East Berlin residents by agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s secret police. The film won several awards. The monitoring of East Germany citizen by the Stasi is still a very painful one. After the reunification, people were given access to their personal Stasi file and some discovered that they had been betrayed by close friends or by their spouse.
20) Kokowääh (intentional misspelling of Coq au vin), Till Schweiger
Till Schweiger is a very popular actor in Germany. This film was very popular in Germany. This is the story of a writer dealing with the emergence of his 8-year-old natural daughter (played by Schweigers own daughter Emma) and finally building a close relationship with her.