German cinematography has always been ahead of many others. Original, bold and brave to discover other worlds and parallel universes. From its very beginning, it brings us mind blowing stories and complex characters. This resulted in so many unforgettable movies which need to be mentioned and discussed.
German directors are among the most influential, from the visionary Fritz Lang, through Herzog and Haneke to Tykwer and Becker. It is a delight going through German cinematographic history and reminding oneself of so many masterpieces. Many won’t probably be mentioned, but hopefully the most memorable are here. These are the 15 best German movies of all time.
Fritz Lang was one of the pioneers of German cinematography. His ideas and originality went from Sci-Fi to interesting mystery thrillers. M is a gripping and intense thriller about a series of child abductions and murders in Berlin. There is a sneaky murderer who lures children with candy and the whole town is devastated since the murderer hasn’t been caught.
This movie, even though almost a hundred years old, already at that time showed us what the angry mob is ready to do. Without media as powerful as today’s, people were still informed about the most important things in their town. And murder was definitely one of those.
Many want to take matters into their own hands, even criminals who want to solve it their own way. But it doesn’t mean that it will be easier to find the murderer, on the contrary.
Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008)
A biographical drama about Germany in the 1970s. We follow a group of terrorists who killed, robbed and kidnapped at the time. They think they are doing the right thing to fight against their biggest enemy, American imperialism. They see it as the new way of Fascism.
To fight it, they use violence and inhuman means. They show what their true self is, but unfortunately, they are only a fish in a pond, since there is something much bigger behind these crazy ideas of theirs. The Head of the German police force becomes aware of it as he deals with these young criminals.
Das Experiment (2008)
One of the most disturbing German movies in the last twenty years. Based on the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971, this thriller gives you chills when you realize what the human mind is capable of. In a makeshift prison, a group of volunteers is divided into prisoners and wardens.
They have to follow some simple rules and behave as instructed and are free to leave whenever they want. Soon things start to lose their course and step by step those twenty men begin showing their hidden, secluded sides. An excellent psychological and behavioral study that will show us the dark side of a normal individual.
Lola rennt (1998)
If you want a movie which won’t let you rest for a minute, Lola rennt is definitely something for you. 80 minutes of pure action, running and changing life’s courses. Lola’s boyfriend Manni lost a huge amount of money that belonged to a bad guy and now it’s Lola’s turn to raise it somehow and meet him.
And this is basically it. The simplest of plots, but told through three alternatives which have a different outcome, due to some issues and changes while Lola runs. And she doesn’t stop running. We are rooting for these two petty criminals in love as if they didn’t get themselves in various illicit situations.
The chemistry between Moritz Bleibreu and Franka Potente, two huge German stars at the time is as if real and it gives this movie one more dimension.
Himmel über Berlin (1987)
When Germans make a movie, we can expect something out of the ordinary, most of the time. Himmel über Berlin is a completely different movie from any on this list. It is a fantasy drama with romantic elements, an elegy that shows the impact of our decisions. But we don’t have only humans here.
We meet two angels in West Berlin who observe humans, sometimes help them, many times successfully, but some not. But one of them doesn’t want to be an angel anymore. He wants to feel all aspects of human life, at the cost of not turning back. His reason is a woman.
But it is not certain he will find her once he becomes human. And this is a challenge he must accept.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Even though its 1927 original is maybe more famous, this version is the one which will not only give you chills, but also make you wonder if all this might be somehow real. Very realistically shot and done, Herzog’s version is intense and leaves us with this sense of unease which we would like to get rid of as soon as possible.
A somewhat changed story about the most famous vampire ever, Dracula, Nosferatu terrifies us since it doesn’t happen only in his castle. Herzog moved it to Wismar and brought terror even wider. Mina is once again the essential character, the one who causes all the trouble since Dracula becomes infatuated by her. In this version, through her portrait. Dracula brings death and fear with him to Wismar in this unusual view of this scary monster.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
The beginning of the 20th century was unbelievably fruitful for German cinematography. They were among the greatest and most influential and creative. They weren’t afraid of taking risks and serving the audience something completely different than they were used to.
Once again a horror movie, a mysterious and twisted story of obsession and craziness. Of a man who performed experiments on the verge of life and death. We learn the story from Francis, who recalls the horrors he recently went through with his girlfriend. We are drawn into a nightmarish dreamlike story that we will be afraid of getting out of.
Das weiße Band (2009)
Probably one of the most mysterious German movies recently, this black and white feature takes us to the horrible events in a German village a year before World War I. It is a slow mystery drama that will make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. At the same time, you will want to find out what is going on and be left in the dark.
People disappear, parents bully their children, sexual assaults happen. A callow teacher narrates the story and wants to find a connection between all these accidents. It slowly becomes obvious they are all parts of ritual punishments. But who is getting punished and why?
Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
One of the greatest, the most discussed in the last 15 years. This movie is suspenseful, emotional and shocking. This time we are in 1984 and follow an officer with the Stasi, the East German secret police. He happens to believe there is much more to specific people around him and orders surveillance.
He begins to listen in on them and slowly starts to get attached and begins helping them. But he gets in too deep and finds himself too involved. So much that the unbelievable will happen.
This movie won’t let you rest and will keep you alert until its very end. Known for having an unforgettable ending, it will definitely be discussed long after you’ve seen it.
Das Boot (1981)
Many German movies bring us WWII as their main topics. Das Boot is one of them, too. But this time the environment is completely different and especially the atmosphere. Claustrophobic and scary, this is not a war movie we were used to at the time. This is a story of a group of soldiers in a German submarine.
While fighting for their country, at the same time trying to survive and accomplish impossible missions and understand why they are doing it. They are questioning the ideology of the government and the drives people have. This is so much more complex than just a war movie. Probably that’s why it is one of the most popular war movies ever.
Good Bye, Lenin (2003)
How would you feel if everything changes after you’ve been away for a longer period? But not somewhere else, but in a comma? And you woke up one day and the world is different. And people around you knew that you wouldn’t take it calmly.
This is what happens in this funny, but complex movie. We follow the story of a young man who protests against the regime in 1989 East Germany. His mother suffers a heart attack while witnessing police arresting him. She wakes up after the fall of the Berlin war and her son knows that she shouldn’t be under stress.
He doesn’t tell her the truth but keeps living as if DDR still existed. This movie is full of comic situations, but it is also a serious view on the politics which Germany has been undergoing for many years.
Joyeux Noël (2005)
And now something a bit different. A well known topic of WWI, but from a completely different point of view. The pacifist. Based on a true event. One night of peace, harmony and unity. On Christmas Eve, German, English and British soldiers decided to call an informal short truce.
There is music, sports and laughter. There are people who forgot about their differences and hatred and simply wanted to feel human again. Aware of the consequences, they decide to disobey the rules and share food and goodwill with their friends and enemies.
Even though covering a sad topic in general, this time we were given a feel good moment where we were shown that soldiers are simple people who only do their job most of the time.
What a revolutionary movie. As if Fritz Lang came from the future. Once again a Sci-Fi movie filmed in the 1920s. Remarkable, artistic and visually stunning. A must see. The movie is of course set in the future, in a Utopian society of a city of Metropolis. It is a city of wealth and prosperity. And everything functions perfectly.
Until Freder Fredersen, one of those rich residents follows a woman with a group of children and discovers an underground world of workers who help the Metropolis’ machinery to function. He soon finds out that some of them are forming a revolutionary group to fight for their right to a better life. He finds himself in something which might end up in anarchy and war between the ones above and under.
It is fascinating how minds worked and how ahead of their time some people were then. Lang is proof of that, a director who never lets you make peace with the things you see. He wants you to react, rebel and think of possible solutions.
Knocking On Heaven’s Door (1997)
Maybe not as famous as the others on this list, this movie is a must see. A remake of a five year older Canadian drama, it does it justice. A beautiful story of two young men who meet at a hospital and decide to make the best of their lives. Both are terminally ill but don’t want to greet death in their hospital bed.
They decide to elope and live their last days to the fullest. With their bucket lists on their minds, the charismatic and complicated Martin and the quiet and insecure Rudi, embark on a journey that will give them purpose and make them cherish life’s biggest gifts. And what’s most important, they will form a friendship so strong and meaningful.
A sad story, but told with so much character and wit that at times we forget what’s behind it. Schweiger and Liefers are masterful in their performances, a duo that should be put on the list of one of the most iconic movie pairs ever.
Der Untergang (2004)
One more German movie nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t win, but it is still one of the most famous European movies from 2000. It brings us the story of Hitler’s last days, told by his final secretary. He gives his confessions in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.
There are a few more perspectives from various characters which will face us with Hitler we didn’t have a chance to see before. It has been described and viewed as pretty controversial for revealing Hitler’s human side, but it still gained popularity and received praise, especially for Bruno Ganz’s interpretation of Adolf Hitler.