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The Best Films for German-Learners
English-Language Movies for the German Classroom

Top Films in English - For German-Learners

A film list for teachers and students of German

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Amadeus DVD
"Amadeus" (1984) by director
Milos Forman is on our list
of English-language films.

Hollywood and other productions in English can help students learn more about the cultures of Germany, Austria or Switzerland. They also can offer an interesting look at history. However, teachers and students should keep in mind that Hollywood's "reel" version of culture and history is not always the real thing.

While Milos Forman's Oscar-winning AMADEUS is an excellent film, it distorts certain aspects of Mozart's life (and Austrian history) for dramatic purposes. I usually pair that film with a "Hollywood versus History" assignment, asking the students to research and identify points where Hollywood and history don't agree. (There are many, but for one thing, the film totally eliminates Mozart's sister and several other historical people connected with the composer.)

Students and teachers should be aware that most Austrians cringe at the mere mention of the great American movie classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC. While Austrians hate the film's stereotyping and obvious factual errors, "SOM" does offer wonderful glimpses of Salzburg and its surrounding area. But students of German should not view this film, or any film, without some good background information. They should also know more about geography than the filmmakers apparently did. (No, you can't just hike over a mountain into Switzerland from Salzburg!)

With these caveats in mind, I present the following list of English-language films related to German-speaking Europe. I recommend many (but not all) of these Hollywood and British productions for German-learners (preferably in their DVD versions; not all films are on video/DVD). Some are more suitable than others for classroom use. See my comments below.

TEACHERS > Do you need a Film Permission Form for your German classes? You can adapt this sample to your needs.


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The Best English-Language Films
for German-Learners

In alphabetical order with year and director
* Titles with some German dialogue
FILM (date) Director Comments/Reasons to View
Amadeus (1984)
Milos Forman
Prague stands in as old Salzburg. Entertaining Academy Award-winning production; Mozart's music, historical value (but not always accurate).
The Big Lift* (1950)
George Seaton
Historical post-war Berlin and background on the Berlin Airlift; some German spoken; weak story with Montgomery Clift, but shots of Tiergarten and Reichstag in 1949 are fascinating!
The Bourne Supremacy*
(2004) Paul Greengrass
Filmed on location in Berlin with the German Franka Potente ("Lola rennt") and Matt Damon, whose German sounds pretty good. See Bourne in Berlin for a more detailed look at locations. - Get the DVD: Compare prices
  COMPARISON FILMS: Hollywood films such as "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Parent Trap" and even "The Sound of Music" can be compared with the original German film or literary work. For instance, if you have a copy of "Das doppelte Lottchen" (DVD or video) it is fun to compare that 1950 German film with both the 1966 and 1998 Disney "Parent Trap" films. (The 1998 version is more faithful to the original.) Erich Kästner's book is not too difficult for advanced German classes. An updated "Emil und die Detektive" film (on DVD) was released in Germany in 2000. It could be compared with Kästner's book or the earlier German film (1956). See DVD Tips for more on playing German DVDs.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick
  See "Comparison Films" above
Not for high school, but this film (based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 "Traumnovelle") is suitable for German lit classes; compare the film with the Austrian original.
Fatherland (1994)
Christopher Menaul
What if Nazi Germany had won the war? That's the premise of this film, based on the novel of the same name by Robert Harris. 1964 retro-futuristic Germany is ruled by a 75-year-old Hitler. Europe is now "Germania," and Joseph Kennedy, Sr. is president of the US. Rutger Hauer as an SS officer and Miranda Richardson as an American reporter. Interesting, but not a truly useful classroom film for German—and not as good as the book.
A Foreign Affair* (1948)
Billy Wilder
An above-average post-war drama with historical glimpses of Berlin only a few years after 1945. Marlene Dietrich; some German spoken; Billy Wilder comedy
Fräulein (1958) Henry Koster A Hollywood film more notable for its cast than its plot. German-born Koster (Hermann Kosterlitz) directs Theodore Bikel, Helmut Dantine, Mel Ferrer, and Dana Wynter in this love story set in post-war Berlin. Filmed on location.
Freedom Fighter (1988)
Desmond Davis
Made-for-TV movie set in divided Berlin in 1961. Tony Danza plays an idealistic American GI whose sweetheart is stranded in East Berlin by the newly erected Wall; he vows to help as many East Berliners as possible to escape to the freedom of the West. Other cast members include Sid Caesar as a philosophical holocaust survivor and David McCallum as a martinet Communist military officer. The film was shot in West Berlin, one year before the Wall came down. Mediocre film with some historical value.
Luther (2003) Eric Till Historical value; filmed in Germany. Finally your students will know who the "original" Martin Luther is!
Marlene* (1986)
Maximilian Schell
Interesting interview with Marlene Dietrich (in both English and German); Schell deals well with Dietrich's refusal to appear on camera
One, Two, Three* (1961)
Billy Wilder
Filmed on location in Berlin just before the Wall went up in 1961. James Cagney is the head of Coca-Cola's German division in Berlin. It's interesting to hear Cagney speaking German (sort of), and to see Tempelhof (as a movie set) when it was still Berlin's main airport. Features a young Horst Buchholz as a Communist East Berliner. An enjoyable Billy Wilder screwball comedy with some historical value (Berlin in the early 1960s).
Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg
Earned seven Oscars; holocaust history; an excellent film suitable for mature students; despite the "R" rating, I showed it to high school students using a parental permission form.
Shining Through* (1992)
David Seltzer
A decent spy flick with Liam Neeson as a Nazi officer. It's fun to listen to Melanie Griffith as a German-speaking spy, although in real life her accent would have no doubt blown her cover.
The Sound of Music (1965)
Robert Wise
No, "Edelweiss" is not the Austrian national anthem! It's not even Austrian. Five Oscars. Scenes of Austria and Salzburg.
Note: Wolfgang Reinhardt, son of the famous German stage producer/director Max Reinhardt, produced a German film entitled Die Trapp Familie in 1956. Unlike Hollywood's "Sound of Music," Reinhardt's film was such a big hit in Germany and Austria that two years later he produced a sequel, Die Trapp Familie in Amerika.
WEB > The Making of 'Sound of Music' - German-Hollywood.com
The Third Man* (1949)
Carol Reed
Views of postwar Vienna; many scenes in German; famous "cuckoo clock" line in the Riesenrad; zither "Third Man Theme"; well-crafted British film with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Italian/Austrian actress Valli. See: The Third Man in the Classroom.
Thomas Crown Affair*
(1999) John McTiernan
One of those rare cases when the remake is better than the original. The René Russo German interrogation scene is fun to watch, as is the entire film (but not for German).
Town Without Pity* (1961)
Gottfried Reinhardt
Filmed entirely in Germany; fair amount of spoken German; Kirk Douglas investigates a GI rape case in a small German town; title song was a hit in the '60s.
  NOTE: This list does not include many other Hollywood films that may be suitable for "German" culture. I have intentionally left out war films like "The Longest Day" (featuring a lot of German with English subtitles), "Stalag 17," "Where Eagles Dare" or "The Great Escape," which despite being good films, tend to promote the "Hogan's Heroes" Nazi stereotype. Most students have seen such movies on their own anyway, while very few have ever seen classic films such as Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three" or Carol Reed's "The Third Man."
  *Titles with some German dialogue

WEB > The German-Hollywood Connection

The great thing about Hollywood movies is that they are usually easy to find and buy or rent. Even local video/DVD outlets carry film classics and some fairly obscure Hollywood titles. However, some of the films listed above may not be currently available on video or DVD.

If you have difficulty finding these DVDs or videos where you live, see our German DVD/Video Guide and online DVD and Video Sources.

NEXT > Movie Poll results

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