Turkish cinema and directors have made significant progress in European cinematography and are well worth mentioning. From the 1920s and their short, silent movies, through their peak from 1950s to 1970s to the interesting and experimental movies in 2000 and onward. Turkish filmmakers didn’t always have everything as hoped for.
They have been dealing with censorship, legal issues and not to mention money problems. But they overcame everything and nowadays we can find all kinds of movies from different genres. Their favorite topic is everyday life told through dramas and comedies. But they are not afraid to experiment with other genres, too, such as science fiction. These are the 30 best Turkish movies of all time.
Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2019)
One of the most heartbreaking and emotionally devastating movies in European cinema in the last few years. An excellent remake of a 2013 Korean movie. It is an unforgettable story between a father and his daughter.
But it is not an ordinary story. This love surpasses many obstacles and shows the strength of a family connection. Prison is the setting of this story. A story of a mentally ill father who was wrongly accused of murder and his adorable six year old daughter. This movie will stay long in your minds and you will definitely not forget the feelings on screen, but also your own.
Winter Sleep (2014)
Another difficult and sad drama. Another life story about fight and misfortune. Everyday people with everyday situations of loss and struggle. Aydin runs a small hotel in central Anatolia where he lives with his wife NIhal and sister Necla. Aydin and NIhal are not on very good terms and Necla is recovering from her recent divorce.
The winter comes and everything gets covered in deep, silent, but somehow menacing snow. The hotel becomes a shelter, but also a place where all their differences, issues and problems enhance. This movie shows a great discrepancy between the rich and the poor and how they deal with each other.
The Butterfly’s Dream (2013)
This biographical drama uses the well known love element where two men fight for the love of a woman. But it is much more than a romantic story. It is a story about two poets in their early twenties. 1941, WWII is raging, everything is coated in famine and poverty. And these two men with a love for poetry deal with a severe illness. Tuberculosis is attacking their bodies.
They have always made bets on things that don’t belong to them. This time they decide to bet on a beautiful girl. They will write her a poem and when she chooses the winner, the other one will disappear from the equation. But it is more than obvious that both of them will fall in love with this girl.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
One of the best Turkish movies from the last decade. We have a lot here, a murder, the local prosecutor, a police officer and a doctor. They must find the victim of a murder. They already have the suspects, Kenan and his mentally challenged brother, since they confessed doing it. But something doesn’t seem right here.
This is so much more to this story than just a murder mystery. It is first of all a realistic portrait of an everyday life in Turkey, where a small man must fight a corrupt system. The movie is specific in its unconventional style and it includes all kinds of topics that the main characters discuss while trying to solve the case.
The Wild Pear Tree (2018)
An interesting story of a connection between a father and his son, wonderfully told and performed. A drama about Sinan who has always wanted to be a writer. After he comes back to the village where he was born, he wants to gather money to be able to publish his work. Unfortunately, his father’s debts get in the way.
This movie raised many questions about life in modern Turkey and dealt with the topic of a serious and ambitious son and a father who cannot be there for him due to his personal problems. A masterpiece that will make you think, but also get to know this rich and often complex culture.
Dry Summer (1963)
A Turkish classic and the winner of the Golden Bear at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival. It is a melodrama about a farmer who fights with his villagers. He claims ownership of the water that comes out of his land. He wants to build a dam to irrigate his crops.
This movie is a wonderful experience and a story that will move you. It shows the differences between the ones in position and the ones who must follow them. A political aspect is more than obvious here and the inspiration in Italian Neorealism gives it such a powerful note. It flows very naturally and puts much emphasis on its characters.
Turkish cinematography is full of excellent dramas that won’t let you calm for a while. They are highly engaging and often deal with much more than what is shown on the surface. This movie was filmed in director Ceylan’s Istanbul apartment and two main actors are his relative and close friend. Therefore everything is even more realistic and feels like a true story, honest and unpolished.
Two men and two complete opposites find themselves in an Istanbul apartment where we witness their differences and insecurities. Mahmut is wealthy and educated and Yusuf illiterate and lonely. This is a story of solitude and isolation, very introspective, but unusual and wonderful in its own way.
Saban, Son of Saban (1977)
One of the most famous Turkish movies of all time. A masterpiece. One which will make you laugh, but at the same time you will get involved in a classic mystery tale of whodunit. After leaving the army, Shaban and his friend Ramazan work in a nightclub. Shaban has a history with his commander Husamettin in the army and they once again meet at the club.
Husamettin is with his in-laws, not at all happy to see Shaban. But it seems they are somehow destined to be connected in a certain way. Ramazan’s family’s diamond has been stolen and Shaban and his friend are put in charge of finding the thief.
Motherland Hotel (1987)
This movie is dark, depressing and not easy to watch. One of the most painful movies in Turkish cinema. A crime drama set in a bleak hotel in a small Anatolian town. Its proprietor is a sad, lonely man whose life lost its meaning. He has it difficult to run the hotel, but somehow manages it with help of a young girl who works as a maid there,
One day, one of the clients leaves the hotel, but promises to come back soon. He suddenly becomes obsessed with this guest and completely loses touch with reality. He doesn’t want to take in any more guests and decided to close the hotel. This movie makes us think and reflect on our actions and decisions and therefore an unusual and pretty uncomfortable experience.
A Tale of Three Sisters (2019)
Turkish cinema is a great way to learn more about Turkey in general, but specifically its remote village and inland parts. They are not as vibrant and colorful as the photos we often see in the media. They are much darker and show this other side of the coin. The painful, realistic. Human.
In this movie, we follow a story of three sisters raised in foster homes, but due to a change in circumstances they are back in the father’s house. We are now faced with a difficult destiny of these three women who need to get used to the uncertainties and hopelessness of a remote, rough landscape of Central Anatolia. A stunning, slow paced movie that you will have to get used to at the beginning. But it will be worth it.
First psychological thriller on the list, but well deserved. It immediately gained popularity. This is a type of movie which won’t let you rest for a minute. You will be on the edge of your seat and constantly try to think of ways to get out of these impossible situations.
A bankrupt cargo ship with a crew. Stuck on board for months. And slowly something that causes them to sink into madness and terror. This short plot already gives you chills. And when you find yourself on that ship, you might also start feeling as if you’re losing your mind.
The Girl With the Red Scarf (1977)
One more Turkish classic, a must see movie which is a great introduction to Turkish cinema. Directed by the bold Atif Yilmaz, this movie also deals with complex and controversial topics. Social issues, love and sexuality are its main focus. It is a romance drama that raises a question of a woman’s dilemma between love and logic.
Asya falls in love with a truck driver from Istanbul, but he soon leaves her and she is now lost, insecure and without hope. But she will soon be given a second chance. This movie is a true representative of the romantic genre, a touching and warm story which you will definitely enjoy.
An emotional and wrecking drama. A love triangle in its most devastating form. A story about Cevat, Ugur and Zagor and their unusual relationship. Everyone is in love with someone and everyone wants to be included and seen. But everything is so wrong here.
But this is not a nice love story. It’s a story of obsession, of male dominance which culminates in an even uglier situation. Passion, murder and disappearance. We will be faced with different forms of struggle for love. Twisted and daring, this is a movie that shows the thin line between love and obsession.
Many times described as a prequel for the previously mentioned Kader, Innocence is another difficult drama that shows how people cope with real life problems and situations. Yusuf gets out of prison after ten years and needs to get used to a life outside his cell. It is not easy at all. He feels lost, scared and completely out of place.
This movie explores the dark side of the human psyche and gives us an excellent insight into some of the most difficult minds. It has a 7 minute long monologue by Bekir which is often seen as the idea and background for Kader eleven years later.
Time To Love (1965)
There is something about these old movies, the classic cinema era. They had a whole different vibe to them. Romantic love sometimes seems more romantic, when there is drama, drama is serious. They are really difficult to forget.
This romantic drama takes us to one of the Princes’ Islands, where a young painter wastes his days away. The days are long and rainy and he has nothing better to do than fantasize. He gets a job in one of the wealthy villas and falls in love with a woman he sees in a photograph.
Once again a true masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed. A love story ahead of its time, beautiful black and white cinematography and topics which weren’t that much discussed at the time. Don’t miss it.
The Small Town (1997)
Turkish filmmakers really love to set their movies in remote and secluded parts of their country. This story is told from a child’s point of view, innocent and honest. It changes time periods to give the audience a better view of the difference between childhood and adulthood.
This drama shows us the complexity of the adult world and the magic that is around us, but often unnoticed. It is the directing debut by Ceylan and it immediately shows his great talent and the bright future that awaits him.
Tosun Pasa (1976)
Turkish comedies are hilarious and a must see. One of the best in general when it comes to their cinematography. They will make you laugh but you will also learn a lot about their history. Especially in this one.
Set in 19th century Alexandria, two rival Turkish families are competing for the “Green Valley”. But no one plays fair and both families make a cunning plan. And when the plan starts falling apart, one family will do anything to win, even fake their poor butler Saban as the highest ranked Ottoman soldier in Egypt.
The Edge of Heaven (2007)
Another drama by the talented director Fatih Akin. In this movie we follow a man who travels from Germany to Istanbul to find the daughter of his father’s former girlfriend. But there is so much more we are going to discover and witness here.
Suddenly we get caught in a story about two women, Ayten, the political activist who runs from the Turkish police and settles in Germany. She is the one that’s been searched for. She befriends Lotte, a German girl and soon they get entangled in a web of political activism and fight for their lives and freedom.
The most famous Akin’s movie, one which you should not miss. Of German-Turkish production, once again set in both Germany and Turkey, this movie will give us an excellent insight into the culture and tradition that Turkish youngsters need to obey. A story of a 20 year old Sibel who wishes to please her traditional parents, but yearns for her freedom and life as a young woman.
She attempts suicide and ends up in a hospital where she meets a 40 year old Cahit who doesn’t want to have anything to do with Turkey. They befriend each other and soon fall in love, even though that wasn’t the plan at the beginning.
A village in a rural Northern part of Turkey. Tradition, morale and respect. But five orphan girls have broken the rules and must be punished. They have been seen playing with boys on the beach. And the conservative society saw nothing innocent in that. Their punishment will be harsh, but that won’t break them.
A very good insight into the lives and hardships in rural parts of this interesting country. It gives us a picture of the role of women in these hidden parts and how they have to obey the rules and live the lives they were destined to.
My Father and My Son (2005)
What happens when you don’t fulfill your parents’ wishes. An excellent depiction of differences in a family. Sadik is arrested due to his political views. As a left wing journalist, he is not suitable in 1980s Turkey. After getting arrested and spending some time behind bars, Sadik learns that he has not much time left, so he decides to bring his son to meet his estranged family.
A memorable must see movie, and one of the highest grossing movies even in Turkey. One of director Irmak’s best movies, this one shows us what differences in a family can do to people.
The Chaos Class (1975)
One more comedy classic from Turkey. They have really true gems in the genre, easily being one of their best achievements and most watched movies. And with good reason. They are witty, clever and incredibly funny.
This time we follow a group of students in a dormitory where they never get tired of new pranks. And they become even more inspired when a new headmaster arrives. We are about to witness unforgettable situations that will make us laugh our hearts out.
Similar to the Italian neorealist masterpieces, Hope is a realist drama of an illiterate man and his family. He is a poor carriage driver who needs to provide for his family’s existence. Unfortunately, bad luck follows him and he loses one of his horses. The man slowly begins to understand that no one is going to help them and here we start witnessing his loss of hope and fall into despair.
Beautifully shot, with breathtaking cinematography and wonderful narration, this movie must not be forgotten and should be put on everyone’s movie list. It shows how far people are ready to go to save the ones they love most.
Three Monkeys (2008)
A must see crime drama, powerful and strong. The lives of a modest family living their simple lives near the Bosphorus change very fast due to one fatal decision. A chain reaction is set off and no one will even imagine its outcome until the very end of the movie.
Ceylan is definitely one of the most talented Turkish directors and once again we find ourselves in his dark and atmospheric world of secrets and choices. He shows how people react when they are given a choice and how greedy they might become after being faced with more than they are used to.
The Wall (1983)
Director Guney didn’t hide his political views and openly expressed them in his movies. Against his country’s “fascistic” government, Guney didn’t refrain himself from criticizing people in power. In The Wall, he shows us the way teens were mistreated in Turkish prisons.
Based on real events, this movie is a true drama that won’t leave you indifferent. Children in prisons are tortured and live in unimaginable conditions, at the same time trying to survive them and fight back. This movie shows Turkey’s cultural and spiritual fall.
The Road (1982)
This movie was written by the director Guney and his assistant Goren while Guney served his prison sentence. One again a strong criticism of Turkish political views and governmental injustice. It follows a story of five prisoners who were given home leave. It shows the hardships of getting used to the world outside prison.
There’s been a lot of controversy around this movie, due to its controversial topics and open criticism, but it still gained a lot of praise and finally won the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
The Herd (1978)
This list simply must be filled with Guney’s movies. Turkish cinematography is really rich in interesting and brave stories, mainly thanks to him. And later on more talented directors who certainly stated him as one of their greatest role models.
The Herd is a story of a journey from Eastern Turkey to Ankara. Due to a local blood feud, a farmer family decides to sell their sheep far away from their village. The story that follows is full of sad situations and heartbreaking decisions. Typical for Guney, who isn’t afraid of showing the disappointing social issues that Turkey was going through at the time.
The Bandit (1996)
The movie which brought people back to Turkish cinemas. It was the turning point for Turkish cinematography and therefore a movie that cannot be missed. A crime thriller drama about the legendary gangster Baran the Bandit. After serving 35 years in prison, he is aware that a lot has changed. But he didn’t forget anything.
He travels to Istanbul to get revenge upon his best friend who betrayed him. He befriends a young man on the road and soon finds himself with more than one task to deal with.
A movie about a friendship between a boy and a dog. One that will leave you with teary eyes. Aslan finds a wounded fighting dog and decides to take care of him. Even though against his family’s approval, Aslan keeps him and forms a special bond with the thankful animal.
This is a wonderful story about loyalty and friendship. It is a portrayal of a small caring boy who goes against everyone and saves a poor soul left to die. Typical of those kinds of movies, involving animals and their relationship with humans, this one will certainly make you feel emotional and warm in the end.
Times and Winds (2006)
We cannot avoid drama in Turkish movies. They do it so well. They are realistic and honest and show it as it is, without making anything prettier. This drama shows us the pains of growing up. Told from a youth’s point of view, it is not as innocent as we might expect. It is much darker and much more disturbing.
Omer and Yakup give us their view of the world. And both of them didn’t have a nice childhood and their view is crooked and everything but nice. Once again set in the rural parts of Turkey, this time the mountains, it shows the difficulties of growing up and living a harsh mountain life.