12 Best German Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score.

But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment.

Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Assor, Andre Hennicke, Anna Lena Klenke, Burak Yigit, Daniel Fripan, Eike Frederick Schulz, Eike Frederik Schulz, Franz Rogowski, Frederick Lau, Hans-Ulrich Laux, Laia Costa, Lena Klenke, Martin Goeres, Max Mauff, Philipp Kubitza

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Rating: Not Rated, R

Transit is based on a WWII novel — though you wouldn’t be able to tell from first glance. While the characters talk of German fascists occupying France, anachronistic details (like modern technology and clothing) suggest we haven’t gone back in time at all. Director Christian Petzold isn’t trying to confuse us: by blurring the backdrop, he’s making the terror and the desperation of the story more immediate — removing the distance that might have prevented us from really feeling what happens.

The uncanny historical echo effect works as intended, because the parallels Transit subtly draws between the past and today are horribly clear. What’s more, the movie’s intentionally ambiguous framing suffuses the plot with an otherworldly sense of mystery, a quality that gradually intensifies as Georg (Franz Rogowski) desperately searches for a one-way ticket out of hellish bureaucratic limbo before he finds himself waylaid by that most mysterious emotion of all: love. Unshakably haunting and undeniably poignant, this is a movie that will live under your skin.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Àlex Brendemühl, Antoine Oppenheim, Barbara Auer, Emilie de Preissac, Franz Rogowski, Godehard Giese, Grégoire Monsaingeon, Justus von Dohnányi, Lilien Batman, Louison Tresallet, Maryam Zaree, Matthias Brandt, Paula Beer, Ronald Kukulies, Sebastian Hülk, Trystan Putter

Director: Christian Petzold

The Teacher’s Lounge is one of those movies where a simple misunderstanding is blown out of proportion, so much so that it causes the fabric of a community to unravel into chaos. Aided by a precise score, it ticks like a timebomb, with every second filled with so much dread and anxiety you have to remind yourself to breathe. It’s an impeccable and taut thriller, but it also works as an allegory about modern-day surveillance and authority. Director İlker Çatak gives the Gen-Z students and their much older teachers a level field where they struggle for control, and the result is both bleak and funny. It’s often said that schools are a microcosm of the real world, but nowhere is that more apparent than here. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Antonia Luise Krämer, Eva Löbau, Katharina M. Schubert, Kathrin Wehlisch, Katinka Auberger, Leonard Stettnisch, Leonie Benesch, Lisa Marie Trense, Michael Klammer, Özgür Karadeniz, Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett, Uygar Tamer

Director: İlker Çatak

Rating: PG-13

Quaint and quirky, Le Havre is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the power of compassion and the importance of community. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city of Le Havre. The charming characters are easy to root for as this community of everyday people bands together to help this young boy reunite with his mother. Even as the film rejects the unempathetic responses to the refugee crisis, it utilizes gentle humor and a light cadence to invoke empathy for others that should exist.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Wilms, Corinne Belet, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Ilkka Koivula, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kati Outinen, Patrick Bonnel, Pierre Étaix

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andrei Mateiu, Bryan Jardine, Cezara Dafinescu, Cosmin Pădureanu, Dana Marineci, Daniel Filipescu, Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Hartmut Stanke, Ingrid Bisu, Ingrid Burkhard, Irene Rindje, John Keogh, Julischka Eichel, Jürg Löw, Luana Stoica, Lucy Russell, Manu Sabo, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Miriam Rizea, Nicolas Wackerbarth, Niels Bormann, Ozana Oancea, Peter Simonischek, Radu Bânzaru, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Sava Lolov, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Ursula Renneke, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Victoria Malektorovych, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Maren Ade

Rating: R

Taking place entirely on beachside farmlands in Denmark, Land of Mine takes a particularly intimate—and visually distinct—approach to war. The fighting may be over, but the film remains a tense and emotionally distressing, with all the pain and violence being carried over onto these German boys being forced to clear the beaches of live explosives with their bare hands. The relationship between these young men and their vengeful Danish commanding officer may progress a little quickly for some, but their volatile bond only emphasizes that rage isn't meant to be felt forever, and that war is a destructive cycle that eventually needs to come to an end.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: August Carter, Emil Belton, Joel Basman, Johnny Melville, Karl Alexander Seidel, Laura Bro, Leon Seidel, Levin Henning, Louis Hofmann, Mads Riisom, Magnus Bruun, Maximilian Beck, Mette Lysdahl, Michael Asmussen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Oskar Belton, Oskar Bökelmann, Roland Møller, Roland Moller

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Rating: R

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei directs his attention towards the ongoing refugee crisis, the biggest displacement of people since World War II. His documentary is apolitical and tries to focus on the human side of the picture. It's not a news report or a commentary on the causes of the situation. Instead, it's a combination of heartfelt stories spanning 23 countries that showcase people's battle for dignity and basic rights. A truly epic movie complemented by impressive drone footage that's as impressive as it is sad.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fadi Abou Akleh, Hiba Abed, Israa Abboud, Marin Din Kajdomcaj, Rami Abu Sondos

Director: Ai Weiwei, Weiwei Ai

Rating: PG-13

A black and white movie, A Coffee in Berlin is an early Woody Allen reminiscent film with a great emphasis on the emotions it handles.  It flows naturally, telling the story of Niko, a young college dropout in a period of his life where he has to face loneliness and lack of money and success. He goes from observing the people of Berlin to first realizing he is becoming a stranger to them and then lastly deciding to do something about his life. It's a whimsical German film with a lot of heart, as much of a tribute to youth as it is a tribute to the city of Berlin.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Altomirianos, Andreas Schroders, Annika Ernst, Arnd Klawitter, Fred Aaron Blake, Frederick Lau, Friederike Kempter, Inga Birkenfeld, Justus von Dohnányi, Katharina Schüttler, Katharina Schüttler, Leander Modersohn, Lis Böttner, Marc Hosemann, Martin Brambach, Michael Gwisdek, Robert Hofmann, Rolf Peter Kahl, Sanne Schnapp, Steffen Jürgens, Theo Trebs, Tim Williams, Tom Schilling, Ulrich Noethen

Director: Jan-Ole Gerster

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

The late German actor Ulrich Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a merciless Stasi officer who has doubts about the loyalty of a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his wife Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) to the communist party. To say he spies on the artist couple is an understatement: in true Stasi fashion, he watches them day and night, listens in on their conservations, reads their mail, and watches them have sex. However, it turns out this was a tad too close, because Wiesler becomes increasingly absorbed in them and is forced to question his obedience as a Stasi officer. In his feature film debut, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck delivers a quietly chilling melodrama on a topic that still affects the lives of many East Germans and was deserving of more attention. It is also a telling piece on the inhumane nature of totalitarianism and the humanity of individuals that are forced to live with it. A special film that will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anabelle D. Munro, Bastian Trost, Charly Hubner, Fabian von Klitzing, Gabi Fleming, Gitta Schweighöfer, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Harald Polzin, Herbert Knaup, Hildegard Schroedter, Hinnerk Schönemann, Hubertus Hartmann, Inga Birkenfeld, Jens Wassermann, Kai Ivo Baulitz, Klaus Münster, Ludwig Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Martina Gedeck, Matthias Brenner, Michael Gerber, Paul Faßnacht, Paul Maximilian Schüller, Sebastian Koch, Sheri Hagen, Susanna Kraus, Thomas Arnold, Thomas Thieme, Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Volker Michalowski, Volkmar Kleinert, Werner Daehn

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R

If you’re expecting a twisty and thrilling look at a dangerous group of hackers who hide deep within a military bunker in Europe, and who refer to their entire operation as “straight from a James Bond movie,” then you might be disappointed with Cyberbunker, a dragging documentary that relies too heavily on talking heads for momentum. It takes 30 minutes to establish the relevance of these figures, and a full hour before it finally explains the actual crime and wrongdoings they’re complicit in. The most interesting parts of the case, like the FBI’s involvement, Cyberbunker’s links to the propagation of child pornography, and the group’s advocacy on internet privacy, are completely buried beneath a stack of unnecessary tidbits. I appreciate the effort of the filmmakers and the interviewees coming together to make something decently informative, but by the end of it, you’re left wondering whether all this was better off as a Wikipedia article.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Director: Kilian Lieb, Max Rainer

Rating: PG-13

Two people with different thoughts on love discover a common ground: they’re both anti-romantics. Realizing they got off on the wrong foot, they spend more time with each other and bond over realistic ideas of modern love. At one point, Maria (Rosalie Thomass) and Karl (Laurence Rupp) even diss romantic comedies for their cheesy music and naive understanding of fate and destiny. Their conversations are engaging and thoughtful, even and especially when they oppose one another. But just when you think you’re watching something smart and novel, Maria and Karl fall into the same implausible trappings they claim to hate. Suddenly, the film turns soft and transforms into the romantic comedy it once criticized. If only it had pushed into anti-romance territory even further and allowed Maria and Karl to truly hash out their differences, thorns and tension and all, then this could have been a truly interesting romantic film. Instead, it’s a standard romantic comedy that’s worse off for pretending to be above the genre, even though it’s really not.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Arash Marandi, Charleen Deetz, Cora Trube, Denise M'Baye, Jakob Schreier, Jerry Hoffmann, Laurence Rupp, Margarethe Tiesel, Maria Hofstätter, Özgür Karadeniz, Paula Schramm, Rosalie Thomass

Director: Shirel Peleg

Rating: PG-13