When you learn German or any other language, you might be wondering where to find the best German movies for your level.
Once you've nailed the fundamentals of German, it can be interesting to find a challenge to sharpen your skills!
Watching movies in German is an effective and entertaining way to improve your listening abilities. You'll also learn new vocabulary and phrases with minimal effort.
It’s never been easier to watch German movies online, with limitless libraries of German films out there. But how do you get the balance right between material that's too difficult and finding German films that are just challenging enough for your level?
That's where this post comes in. I'll share my favorite German films for intermediate learners. That way, you won't waste time struggling through all the German movies on Netflix that are too difficult for you.
Plus, I'll give you some tips to make the most of movie watching to actually learn more German, like informal language that will make you sound more like a native speaker.
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How To Learn German With Movies
Before I dive into the list of the best German films for beginners, I'd like to give you a few tips for maximizing your learning potential with movies. Let's get into them:
- Read a description of the film first, to gain a basic idea of what you'll be watching. You could take a look at the movie's entry on Wikipedia for instance.
- Watch the movie from beginning to end without subtitles. You don't have to understand every single word to grasp the context of what's going on. If you're busy looking at subtitles, you may be missing out on some essential visual cues.
- Watch the film with Untertiteln, or subtitles. This time, turn on the subtitles, listening for any new words or phrases. Ideally, you should try to watch with German subtitles. However, if this seems too challenging, you can switch to English.
- Prepare a vocabulary list. Many of the films below have vocabulary lists available online. You can also find questions and exercises to complete after watching that test your comprehension skills.
- Pay attention to pronunciation. Focus on the pronunciation and sentence structure during the film to improve your speaking skills. You can even repeat certain lines out loud and compare them with the original.
- Learn with a friend and choose a movie that piques your interest the most. That way you'll be more motivated to work on it and you can even discuss it together in German. Failing that, you could also try this out with your language tutor.
Still wondering how to make the most of a foreign language film? Check out this post.
9 of the Best German Movies For Intermediate Learners
Now, let's take a look at the nine German movies for learners with an intermediate understanding of German.
1. Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run)
This 1998 thriller that takes place in Berlin will keep you on the edge of your seat thanks to its fast-paced narrative. A young woman is the main character in this film, Lola, and she only has 20 minutes to recover 100,000 Deutsche Marks for her criminal boyfriend.
If she can't find the money in time, her boyfriend will die. What makes this movie stand out is that you get to see how three different scenarios play out.
Lola's race restarts each time with the frantic phone call from her boyfriend. However, slight changes and nuances result in different outcomes.
This kind of storytelling also happens to benefit you as an intermediate learner. Why? Well, even if you didn't understand certain aspects of the story the first time around, you get two more opportunities to catch them.Plus, you'll also get to learn some German slang and contemporary expressions throughout the film.
“Barbara” is a 2012 drama set in 1980's East Germany under the communist regime. This Berlin Film Festival winner tells the story of a young woman who is nurse transferred to a small clinic after requesting entry to West Germany.
This punishment from the Stasi, or state security service, hinders her attempts to join her lover in the west and start a new life.
The film examines the social circumstances in German pre-unification and is a great insight into German history in the cold war period. During this time, political defiance and an increased desire to migrate west were resulting from oppression and surveillance.
If you enjoy history you'll appreciate this story of an often overlooked yet culturally-relevant era. You'll gain a deeper understanding of German culture as the film reveals stereotypes about West Germans and the restrictions that limited their lives before the reunification.
3. Die Welle (The Wave)
The 2008 political thriller tells the story of a teacher giving his students a practical course on fascism. Through a series of questionable social experiments, the professor teaches a lesson on mass manipulation that gets out of hand.
This film is guaranteed to spark a conversation on group dynamics and individuals' desires to belong. Don't forget to mention this one during your next Stammtisch! (Group meeting)
Based on a true story, this controversial film is a fun way to strengthen your vocabulary and grammar on the topic of authoritarianism.
By the end, you'll be able to explain to your friends how human behavior makes us all susceptible to following a leader blindly like Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
4. Das Boot (The Submarine)
The classic war movie, “Das Boot”, is a German film from 1981. A fictional tale tells the story of a German submarine, or U-Boot, crew during World War II.
You'll learn an abundance of military phrases as you follow the German marines on their fight against the Allies. The unique aspect of this film is that it shows the second World War from the Germans' perspective.
Although the vocabulary may not be as relevant in everyday conversation, you may impress a few native speakers with these uncommon words. Some examples include “war correspondent”, or Kriegsberichterstatter and Einsatzbefehl, or “mission order”.
I also recommend this top German movie to learn the meanings of word stems. For example, Einsatz means commitment or mission, and Befehl means command.
Understanding the definitions of stem words, prefixes, and suffixes can help you interpret the meaning of any unfamiliar terms you stumble across in the future.
5. GoodBye Lenin
The 2003 comedic tragedy includes several of German's most popular actors and is arguably one of the best films in German. Once again, the story of Goodbye Lenin takes place behind the Berlin Wall in East Berlin.
In this movie, a boy's mother has a heart attack and falls into a coma shortly before the Mauer (wall) falls. She wakes up one year later, right after the Berlin Wall falls and reunification starts.
To shield his mother from stress and a fatal heart attack, the boy proceeds to pretend that nothing has changed in East Berlin. However, the transition of the nation from the communist regime to capitalism proves challenging to hide.
At the same time, you'll learn how life changed for Germans during the transitional reunification period. You'll also find out more about Ostalgie, or the feeling of nostalgia some Germans experience for the time when East Germany and West Germany were separated.
The main character Alex, played by Daniel Brühl, gives an outstanding performance upholding the illusion East Berlin still exists. This comedy includes many moments that will have you laughing your socks off.
6. Das Experiment (The Experiment)
If you enjoyed “Die Welle”, you should check out “Das Experiment”, a 2001 German thriller featuring a similar social test.
In this movie, participants are given the role of guard or prisoner for two weeks. As the story progresses, the guards begin to abuse their newfound power, leading to a riot that quickly escalates.
This film about leadership, humanity, and social psychology is sure to ignite discussions and help you develop your vocabulary.
Suspension builds as the lines between reality and acting become increasingly blurred in this story. You may even learn some new German words to tell a confrontational narrative of your own.
7. Paradies: Liebe (Paradise: Love)
“Paradies: Liebe” is one of three movies in a 2012 series that tells the stories of German individuals attempting to achieve their ideals of perfection.
The other two films are “Paradies: Hoffnung” (hope) and “Paradies: Glauben” (belief). This European Film Award winner follows a German woman traveling to Africa for sex tourism.
During her trip, the tourist meets and falls in love with an African man. Later, she learns that the young man she thought was in love with her has been exploiting her for money.
As this is an Austrian film, you'll gain exposure to the Austrian dialect and insights into culturally-relevant issues. This enticing drama will also help you learn more colloquial words and expressions.
8. Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant (The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant)
The 1972 film is a prime example of the New German Cinema by the famous director, Rainer Fassbinder.
Petra von Kant, a fashion designer, going through a midlife crisis, begins a lesbian love triangle with her maid as well as one of her models. However, this movie isn't about second-wave feminism in the 1970s.
The film explores the social aspects of control, persuasion, codependency, and narcissistic behavior that lead to isolation. Fassbinder criticizes the inherent expectations of modern interpersonal relationships through visual storytelling.
By the end, you'll have a better understanding of how human relationships were affected by materialistic values following National Socialism.
9. Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa)
Based on an autobiography, this Academy Award-winning German film takes place during World War II, but this time in Kenya.
A Jewish family moves from Germany to Africa to seek refuge during the war. The story chronicles the family's interactions with the local people and their adjustment to a new culture.
You'll find that the German in this film is spoken in simple-to-understand terms, supplemented by the occasional phrase in English and Swahili.
You rarely see good german movies that examine German culture outside of Germany. However, this 2001 film does an excellent job of portraying the challenges of culture shock for those who fled Germany during WWII.
Netflix offers this movie so you can easily watch it online at home.
Why Learn German by Watching Movies?
German films not only immerse you in the language, but they also help you develop cultural, historical, and social fluency that you wouldn't learn elsewhere.
When you watch German films, you'll hear spoken language in different contexts and situations that you may not get the chance to experience in day-to-day life. Especially if you don't live in a German-speaking country.
Additionally, with German cinema you'll learn slang, colloquialisms, and dialects together with the correct pronunciation.
Finally, watching foreign films add variety to your learning German routine, keeping you engaged and motivated throughout your language journey.
Which German films do you enjoy watching? Are there any of the best German movies missing from this list? Let me know in the comments. Until next time, enjoy the film, or as I say, viel Spaß beim Film!