12 Best Anti-Fascist Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Dean Strober, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Marcus, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is back in full form with this three-hour movie based on a true story. His creation has one of the most beautiful depictions of happiness ever seen in film, portraying the simple yet joyous life of a farmer in the Austrian mountains. You'd have to see it for yourself to understand, but how Malick depicts this character's love for his wife (and her love for him), their children, and even their farming rituals are nothing short of cinematic wizardry. 

This peaceful existence changes when World War 2 intensifies and this farmer is called to serve for the Nazis. He refuses to enroll out of principle and puts himself and his family at great danger and alienation from their village. The question at the center of the film is one that other villagers and the church ask him a lot: what good can his actions do? And the title of the movie is taken from A George Eliot quote: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alexander Fehling, Alexander Radszun, August Diehl, Bernd Hölscher, Bruno Ganz, Chris Theisinger, Dieter Kosslick, Dimo Alexiev, Ermin Sijamija, Franz Rogowski, Joel Basman, Johan Leysen, Johannes Gabl, Johannes Krisch, Johannes Nussbaum, Jürgen Prochnow, Karin Neuhäuser, Karl Markovics, Katja Lechthaler, Leonard Kunz, Maria Simon, Mark Waschke, Martin Wuttke, Matthias Schoenaerts, Max Malatesta, Max Mauff, Michael Nyqvist, Michael Steinocher, Monika Lennartz, Moritz Katzmair, Nicholas Reinke, Sarah Born, Sophie Rois, Thomas Mraz, Tobias Moretti, Ulrich Brandhoff, Ulrich Matthes, Valerie Pachner, Waldemar Kobus, Wolfgang Michael

Director: Terrence Malick

Rating: PG-13

At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Andrée Damant, Benoit Magimel, Bernie Bonvoisin, Choukri Gabteni, Christian Moro, Christophe Rossignon, Cut Killer, Edouard Montoute, Félicité Wouassi, Florent Lavandeira, François Levantal, François Toumarkine, Heloise Rauth, Hubert Koundé, Joseph Momo, Julie Mauduech, Karim Belkhadra, Karin Viard, Laurent Labasse, Marc Duret, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mathilde Vitry, Nabil Ben Mhamed, Olga Abrego, Patrick Médioni, Peter Kassovitz, Philippe Nahon, Rywka Wajsbrot, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sandor Weltmann, Sébastien Tavel, Solo, Souleymane Dicko, Thang-Long, Vincent Cassel, Vincent Lindon, Virginie Montel, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Rating: Not Rated

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse

Director: Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña

As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig. 

Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Bunshi Katsura, Bunshi Katsura Vi, Hiroko Seki, Mahito Tsujimura, Minoru Yada, Osamu Saka, Reizō Nomoto, Sanshi Katsura, Shûichirô Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yoko Soumi, Yu Shimaka

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

When Russian director Vitaly Mansky is commissioned by the North Korean government to make a documentary about an average Pyongyang child, he follows their every guideline. Except the end result, Under The Sun, is the complete opposite of what they had intended. For example starting every take earlier than they thought, he makes the documentary about the watchdogs around the child and other mechanisms of propaganda. He uses quiet storytelling to expose how brainwashing in a fascist regime takes place, and how the people caught in it function. May just be the smartest, most important film you can watch on North Korea.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Hye-Yong, Kim Jong-un, Lee Zin-Mi, Oh-Gyong, Yu-Yong

Director: Vitaliy Manskiy, Vitaly Mansky

Rating: Not Rated

This 2009 Palme d'Or winner is filmed beautifully in black and white by Michael Haneke. In equal parts mysterious and disturbing, it is set in a northern German village in between 1913 and 1914 where strange events start to happen seemingly on their own. The people of the village, who feel as if they were punished, try to investigate it as the events start affecting them one by one. As they speculate on who is behind the acts that never stop, the film unfolds its slow but captivating plot. A brilliant and unique movie.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Birgit Minichmayr, Branko Samarovski, Burghart Klaußner, Burghart Klaussner, Carmen-Maja Antoni, Christian Friedel, Detlev Buck, Enno Trebs, Ernst Jacobi, Fion Mutert, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Janina Fautz, Jonas Jennerjahn, Josef Bierbichler, Kai-Peter Malina, Klaus Manchen, Krzysztof Zarzecki, Leonard Proxauf, Leonie Benesch, Levin Henning, Lilli Fichtner, Luzie Ahrens, Malin Steffen, Marcin Tyrol, Maria Dragus, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Marisa Growaldt, Mercedes Jadea Diaz, Michael Kranz, Michael Schenk, Miljan Chatelain, Paraschiva Dragus, Paula Kalinski, Rainer Bock, Roxane Duran, Sebastian Hülk, Sebastian Łach, Sebastian Pawlak, Steffi Kuhnert, Stephanie Amarell, Susanne Lothar, Theo Trebs, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Vincent Krüger

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

There is no shortage of resources—be it books, films, articles, or interviews—about the atrocities Ferdinand Marcos unleashed on the Philippines. And yet, in the years since his exile and eventual death, his family has returned to power in the country, winning the hearts and (manipulated) minds of the masses.

In The Kingmaker, director Lauren Greenfield (who earlier directed the equally revealing The Queen of Versailles) exposes how this came to be, with a focus on the titular kingmaker herself, Imelda Marcos. It’s chilling how much of Imelda’s stated goals in this documentary, which spans five years, have come true. History repeats itself, and Greenfield skillfully and delicately captures the delusion, irony, and blatant corruption of a family dead set on owning a country, as if it were another luxury to purchase (or in the case of the Marcoses, pocket). 

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Andres D. Bautista, Benigno Aquino III, Bongbong Marcos, Etta Rosales, Imee Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Leni Robredo, Mary Yturria

Director: Lauren Greenfield

Rating: R

The Wave is a movie about manipulation, National Socialism and the authoritarian development at a German school. The well-liked teacher Rainer Wenger presents a social experiment to his students which quickly expands to a much larger scale. His experiment, named “Die Welle” (the wave), is part of a project week at the school about different forms of governments. During his pedagogical approach to the topic Wenger goes through an alarming process, which is fascinating to observe as a viewer. The screenplay is based on a Californian experiment “The Third Wave” from 1967 and its novel from 1981 which became a classic piece of literature in German-speaking countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alexander Held, Amelie Kiefer, Christiane Paul, Cristina do Rego, Dennis Gansel, Elyas M'Barek, Elyas M'Barek, Fabian Preger, Ferdinand Schmidt-Modrow, Frederick Lau, Friederike Wagner, Hubert Mulzer, Jacob Matschenz, Jaime Krsto Ferkic, Jennifer Ulrich, Johanna Gastdorf, Joseph M'Barek, Jürgen Vogel, Karoline Teska, Lennard Bertzbach, Marco Bretscher-Coschignano, Maren Kroymann, Max Mauff, Max Riemelt, Maximilian Vollmar, Natascha Paulick, Odine Johne, Teresa Harder, Thomas Sarbacher, Tim Oliver Schultz, Tino Mewes

Director: Dennis Gansel

Rating: Not Rated

Stereotypically made to look like one-note villains in many other films, the kinds of characters who lead Land and Freedom are rightfully depicted as people acting out of a desire for something constructive and good. Through director Ken Loach's trademark approach to no-frills storytelling, the complex ideologies motivating each of these factions against the common enemy (and against each other) are laid out with crystal clarity. In fact, the most exciting confrontations in the film aren't the skirmishes between the fascists and the revolutionary militias, but the debates held between allies, as they figure out the next best steps forward for every liberated person involved.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance, War

Actor: Angela Clarke, Daniel Muñoz, Eoin McCarthy, Francesc Orella, Frédéric Pierrot, Ian Hart, Icíar Bollaín, Jordi Dauder, Pep Molina, Rosana Pastor, Suzanne Maddock, Tom Gilroy

Director: Ken Loach

In Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, Katja is seeking justice after the killings of her Turkish husband and their young son in a terrorist bomb attack. Diane Kruger in the role of Katja delivers a powerful and rather grueling performance, for which she was awarded Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival. Her grief is vivid and forces viewers to bear witness to her inescapable pain. In the Fade also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, beating astonishing films such as Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. This moving story about a fearless woman determined to take justice into her own hands to fight the cruelty of others delivers a message that needs to be heard.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bousdoukos, Aysel Iscan, Denis Moschitto, Diane Kruger, Edgar Selge, Hanna Hilsdorf, Henning Peker, Johannes Krisch, Karin Neuhäuser, Laurens Walter, Numan Acar, Samia Chancrin, Şiir Eloğlu, Ulrich Brandhoff, Ulrich Tukur, Uwe Rohde, Yannis Economides

Director: Fatih Akin

Rating: R