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.
But how do you get the balance right between material that's too difficult and films that are just challenging enough for your level?
That's where this post comes in. I'll share my favorite films for intermediate learners. That way, you won't waste time struggling through movies 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.
By the way, if you're not at the intermediate level yet, but you're itching to get started in German, check out German Uncovered, my story-based course that will take you from beginner to conversationally fluent through the power of reading.
How To Learn German Through Movies
Before I dive into the list, 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 foreign language movies? Check out this post.
Next, let's take a look at the nine best German movies for intermediate learners.
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. The main character in this film, Lola, 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. This Berlin Film Festival winner tells the story of a nurse who is 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.
The film examines the social circumstances in German pre-unification. 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.
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 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 WWII 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 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. Once again, the story takes place in East Berlin.
In this movie, a boy's mother falls into a coma shortly before the Mauer (wall) falls. She wakes up one year later, right after the reunification.
To shield his mother from stress, the boy proceeds to pretend that nothing has changed. However, the transition of the nation to capitalism proves challenging to hide. This comedy will have you laughing your socks off.
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 and West were separated.
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.
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 film takes place during WWII, 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 the German is spoken in simple-to-understand terms, supplemented by the occasional phrase in English and Swahili.
You rarely see a film that examines 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.
Best German Movies: Why Watch German 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, you'll learn slang, colloquialisms, and dialects together with the correct pronunciation.
Finally, movies add variety to your learning routine, keeping you engaged and motivated throughout your language journey.
Until next time, enjoy the film, or as I say, viel Spaß beim Film!