8 Best German Movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
Before you press play on this movie, we highly recommend you take a few very deep breaths. This 2018 thriller is wound so tight, you will need the extra oxygen to get through it without fainting. In his directorial debut, Swedish-danish filmmaker Gustav Möller uses very little in terms of resources to create this breath-taking atmosphere. While The Guilty feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, all it physically brings to the table is one man in a dark room. It plays with our imagination instead of blinding it with special effects. Similarly, the plot is also short and sweet: a police officer is temporarily sent to do emergency dispatch, when he receives a call that turns an ordinary shift into a hell ride. This is all we are going to give away before you've completed your breathing exercises. The movie's minimalist approach is held together by great acting from Jakob Cedergre, a screenplay to match, and incredible sound design. A real white-knuckle ride.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexander Clement, Anders Brink Madsen, Camilla Lau, Gustav Möller, Gustav Möller, Jacob Lohmann, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Jakob Cedergren, Jeanette Lindbæk, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, Laura Bro, Morten Suurballe, Morten Thunbo, Omar Shargawi, Peter Christoffersen, Simon Bennebjerg

Director: Gustav Möller

Rating: R

While quite testing for viewers, this is one of the craziest, most high-energy movies you'll ever watch. In this incredible German drama, child actor Helena Zengel plays Bernadette aka Benni, a traumatized 9-year-old child who tends to lash out and has been repeatedly suspended from every school she went to. Benni is a so-called “Systemsprenger” (which is the original German title). A system crasher is a child so uncontrollable and aggressive that, over time, she falls through the grid of special schools, foster care, and social work facilities. Despite the best efforts of her designated social worker, Frau Bafané, played by Gabriela Maria Schmeide, she is turned down by everyone, testing the patience of her surroundings, wherever she goes. A trip with Micha (Albrecht Schuch), a tough boxer and anger-management trainer, turns out to be the last resort. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher is intense, punky, and wild with an almost eerie sense of authenticity. Its devastating effect is helped along by its unique, hyperactive camerawork. Much like the social workers themselves, you might have a hard time keeping professional distance to all this. This intense drama will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Albrecht Schuch, Axel Werner, Barbara Philipp, Bärbel Schwarz, Bruno Thiel, Cederic Mardon, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Gisa Flake, Helena Zengel, Imke Büchel, Jana Julia Roth, Julia Becker, Lisa Hagmeister, Louis von Klipstein, Maryam Zaree, Matthias Brenner, Melanie Straub, Moritz Thiel, Peter Schneider, Roland Bonjour, Steffi Kuhnert, Tedros Teclebrhan, Till Butterbach, Victoria Trauttmansdorff

Director: Nora Fingscheidt

Rating: 12

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

It's impossible to describe this incredible movie as one thing or the other. It's an epic three-hour saga that takes you through the Nazi era, the communist era, the rise of capitalism, and the East and West German divide. But more than its historic value, it's a coming-of-age story, one that is based on the experiences of famed German artist Gerhard Richter. It's also a romance, following his experiences finding love and being hit with loss (in no particular order). If you liked the director's other work, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, you're sure to love this too.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Andreas Nickl, Anton Rubtsov, Bastian Trost, Ben Becker, Cai Cohrs, Chris Theisinger, David Schütter, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Florian Bartholomäi, Franz Pätzold, Hannes Hellmann, Hanno Koffler, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Hinnerk Schönemann, Ina Weisse, Jörg Schüttauf, Jacob Matschenz, Jeanette Hain, Johanna Gastdorf, Johannes Allmayer, Jonas Dassler, Jorg Schuttauf, Lars Eidinger, Luc Feit, Lutz Blochberger, Manfred Möck, Mark Zak, Martin Bruchman, Martin Bruchmann, Michaela Caspar, Oliver Masucci, Paula Beer, Pit Bukowski, Rainer Bock, Rainer Reiners, Saskia Rosendahl, Sebastian Koch, Stefan Mehren, Tom Schilling, Ulrike C. Tscharre

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Claudia Geisler, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Daniela Holtz, Eva Bay, Felix Romer, Frank Seppeler, Imogen Kogge, Jeff Burrell, Kathrin Wehlisch, Kirsten Block, Max Hopp, Megan Gay, Michael Maertens, Michael Wenninger, Nikola Kastner, Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf, Ronald Zehrfeld, Stefan Will, Trystan Pütter, Trystan Putter, Uwe Preuss, Valerie Koch

Director: Christian Petzold

Rating: PG-13

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

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