If you have known German movies about world war 2 or Hitler, then you may have to change your views. Besides films about WWII and Hitler, there have been many fantastic movies in the German language that don’t show war. Though this article indeed includes war movies, you will find other genres some best German films ever made.
Watching foreign films not only gives us ecstatic feelings but it explores a different world with different cultures and economic position of the country. Foreign language films also show us the progress of the country’s film industry. We have already been accustomed to some of the worldwide genius filmmakers from Germany.
Watching movies especially, good movies is like experiencing life through someone else. You may have been familiar with names such as Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, Werner Herzog, Robert Weine Etc. Germany is one of the richest cultural hubs in the world. If you like these names, you should add these 20 best German films of all time to your list.
At the time, it was difficult to watch any movie in the German language or foreign language films on TV except for a few film festivals. Because of the advent of OTT platforms, it has been easier to experiment with world movies.
There are many German movies streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime right now. Like Colonia, Kidnapping Stella, or even the popular German show, Dark is available on Netflix but you may not get a few Oscar-winning German movies there. You can try Amazon Prime Video or Mubi to get a glimpse of those Oscar-worthy German films.
Be it for your language learning purpose or finding out some inspiration for filmmaking purposes, good movies are always worth watching. There are a lot of good German movies. Let’s start with the list of the 20 best German movies of all time. Please don’t make the list from best to worst order because every movie is a masterpiece.
20 Best German Films of all Time
- The Boat (1981)
German movies are filled with war. It is not possible to start this list without any war film. So, it includes The Boat as one of the popular German war movies released in 1981. Being one of the most expensive German films, it used two full-scale submarine models to explore the world of WWII’s U-boats. The film won a huge audience and received numerous Oscar nominations. It is based on the true story of a German submarine and its crew during World War 2.
- Downfall (2004)
Downfall is a fantastic movie in the German language. This visually appealing film portraying the last days of Hitler’s life is worth mentioning on this list. It details Hitler’s young secretary’s narration about the final days of Hitler’s kingdom when he was in the bunker. Bruno Ganz as Hitler gives a daring and stunning performance of his life. The film even made space to receive an Oscar nomination, though it didn’t win.
- The Counterfeiters (2007)
Though the film is an Austrian film, all the locations were in Germany portraying the country’s popular Nazi era. The film focuses on a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon Sorowitsch forging fake foreign currency during his concentration camp in the Nazi era. With its marvelous storytelling and performance, The Counterfeiters received Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007.
- Nowhere in Africa (2001)
It’s another movie in the German language which reserved a place in winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001. When Jewish were the target of Hitler, they were either detained or killed by the ruling party. Based on the autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, the film explores the life of an emigrated Jewish family who escaped from the Nazi concentration camp in Germany to Kenya to live a better life.
- Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
If you are looking for the best German movies, you can be certain that you will find Good Bye, Lenin on that list. Because of its fresh portrayal of a tragicomedy, the film received several major awards and nominations except for Academy Award. It’s a story of a family in East Germany where the mother goes into a coma but when she wakes up, it’s her son’s responsibility to protect her from a fatal attack by not telling her that the Berlin Wall has fallen along with communism.
- The Lives of Others (2006)
There are numerous thriller movies in the German language but The Lives of Others is probably the best one. Winning several major awards including Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it set the record of 11 nominations as an international feature film. Before the falls of the Berlin wall, an agent is assigned to spy on a writer and his lover but soon he finds himself fascinated by their internal lives.
- Barbara (2012)
This visually stunning film explores a person’s dilemma and emotional attributes throughout the film. When Barbara, a lady doctor is banished to an isolated rural hospital in East Germany, she realizes her loneliness and dilemma in her new life. To deal with it, she feels connected with the main doctor there in the hospital. This artistic humanoid drama was selected for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Award but didn’t get any nominations.
- The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008)
This gives us a glimpse of the Red Army Faction, a terrorist organization in West Germany during the period between 1967 and 77. The film received a nomination for the Academy Award as well as Golden Globe. If you love to watch action movies, this German movie should be on your list. Because of its raw portrayal of the terrorist, it gives us some horrible scenes that could be admirable as well as worth watching.
- Nosferatu (1922)
When Germany was experimenting with expressionism in films, Nosferatu was born along with expressionism in films. The film became an inspiration to the whole world of filmmakers since then. With this film, F.W. Murnau became a popular face in world movies. Nosferatu set a remarkable example of the silent era of German films.
It tells the story of a Vampyre, Count Orlok who preys on the wife of his new residence, Hutter. After 100 years of its release, it is still one of the best examples of German horror films which became a subject in film schools.
This is one of the all-time famous German movies that no one can stop watching till the end. Today, when we shout about Vampyre films, Nosferatu showed the way in 1922. The film is available on Mubi.
- Metropolis (1927)
When science fiction was only limited to books, Metropolis was a surprising film. It still remains one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Directed by Fritz Lang, the movie became an influential entity in the film industry.
His vision of the grim futuristic society with political allegory where workers are trampled by the upper class to develop a country’s future affected many of the world’s filmmakers. As Germany is a rich cultural hub, Metropolis proves how the cinema industry was at a time when people could barely think about a sci-fi film at such a level.
- Wings of Desire (1987)
Germany has given us some of the most influential movies of all time. There is a list of remarkable German movies making the world film industry richer. This unique piece details two angels who oversee the people of Berlin. One of them falls in love and feels too connected to the materialistic world. He starts to long for the enjoyment of physical existence. This philosophical piece with its poetic portrayal remains a beautiful golden-era film of all time.
- The Tin Drum (1979)
Who can better portray life’s journey than Volker Schlondorff? It’s our wish not to grow up in an injustice world. The same story is reflected in this movie. Adapted from the novel by Gunter Grass, it tells the story of an unusual boy who doesn’t want to grow up in this hypocritic world.
Starting from his childhood days to adolescence to old age, it is beautifully portrayed through a child who never grows up. The film won various major awards including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. 40 years after its release, it is still celebrated as one of the top German movies of all time.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Another example of a German horror movie that became an influence on the whole world is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Robert Wiene. It’s a story of a hypnotist who uses his somnambulist to commit murders. The film uses some horrible images with its dark visual style. It’s another example of the German expressionist film which became an influential entity later to the whole world.
- The White Ribbon (2009)
According to the director, the film is about the roots of evil. Micheal Haneke keeps the authenticity throughout the film. It depicts the society and family in a small village in northern Germany. Though it didn’t win an Oscar, there were several major awards attached to the film including Palme d’Or and Golden Globe. It is unquestionably a masterpiece from Haneke. Its hypnotic cinematography lures audiences throughout the film.
- M (1931)
If you look for the best German thriller films, M would pop up in and around the top place. If you are familiar with “It (2017)”, let me tell you M had already shown a long back. The film centers on a serial killer who kills children just like Pennywise. With this film, Fritz Lang developed many cinematic methods. It is still considered one of the greatest German films of all time in crime and thriller features.
- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
We get some remarkable films from Fritz Lang that are world-class. This is another best German films that influenced many filmmakers around the world. Aside from entertaining audiences, he could use allegory, metaphor, and expressionism so perfectly in his films.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse witnesses the same thing, this time metaphorically. Some critics believe he used Dr. Mabuse intentionally to show the attributes of Hitler. Based on Norbert Jacques’s character, the film centers on Dr. Mabuse who plans to terrorize the city from behind the jail. If you are learning German and searching for some German movies for beginners, this movie gives you the ultimate lesson.
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
It’s an epic historical drama. Directed by Werner Herzog, the film follows the journey of Lope de Aguirre, a conquistador who leads an expedition team to El Dorado to search for Gold. Time magazine has already declared the film as one of the 100 Best Films of All Time. Some amazing locations with remarkable cinematography hold your attention throughout the film. The film developed a cult following later.
- Angry Harvest (1985)
Angry Harvest is a deed of human longing for love, sex, dependence, and desire. Leon is a wealthy farmer who gives shelter to a refugee Jewish family during World War II. It leads to a relationship between Rosa and Leon. But the following incidents end with tragedy. The film received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Though the film remains less popular, if you are looking for humanoid drama, Angry Harvest can fulfill your quest.
- The Pedestrian (1973)
Another expressionist movie in the German language. The film was a collaboration between Germany, Switzerland, and Israel. Directed by Maximillian Schell, it follows an elderly businessman’s evaluation of himself when he comes to know that the newspaper is buzzing about his Nazi involvement in the past. The film received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Golden Award.
- The Devil Strikes at Night (1957)
Filmo Maniac looks for good movies which are entertaining as well as the subject of study. Many of the German films somehow related to war. But despite the relationship with war, German films are somewhere different by not showing war directly. Set in World War II, the film follows a serial killer who murders women who never got arrested because there is a political connection to the murder. The film received a nomination for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.