Russian culture is celebrated around the world for the many gems it has produced across the arts. Naturally, Russian language learners are keenly aware of this. After all, one of the most common reasons people learn Russian is to better appreciate Russian literature. However, while trying to read Russian literature can be an amazing way to improve your Russian, there’s an even better way – watching Russian movies.
Quickly, to note, however great movies are for your Russian, of course studying Russian grammar and vocab are also vital. Please check out RussianEnthusiast.com – a great Russian language website with an amazing free beginner’s course!
Russian cinema has an extensive range of awesome movies that anyone can and should enjoy. Exploring Russian movies is for sure a highly entertaining and rewarding pursuit.
While I admit my bias towards loving Russian cinema (I run this Russian movie website – Russian Film Hub), I am absolutely certain that watching Russian movies is an excellent way to practice and improve your Russian language level. When I studied Russian in university, I found some of my biggest gains in Russian vocabulary knowledge, understanding of Russian culture, and general ability to converse with Russians came from the many joyful hours I poured into watching Russian movies.
Here are the main benefits Russian language learners receive from watching Russian movies:
There are so many excellent Russian and Soviet movies to watch. And everyone has different tastes in movies, so I’d highly encourage you to explore Russian Film Hub to see if you can find anything that matches your interests. That being said, here are the ten best Russian movies every Russian language learner needs to watch. You’ll find five Soviet classic films and five contemporary Russian movies. They all have English subtitles and contain a level of Russian appropriate for a Russian learner.
Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures is a fun comedy that is usually the first Russian film Russian students are shown in class. It consists of three short films in one movie – all tied in by the hilarious, bumbling character of Shurik. This classic gives a witty take on what life was like for student-aged Soviets in the sixties. It also provides a great introduction to the work of Russia’s greatest comedy director, the top 25 Soviet comedies!
Brother – though most people, including non-Russians call it Brat – is the definitive Russian cult film. This breakout hit follows a recently discharged young Russian soldier’s exciting journey into the murky crime underworld of 1990s St. Petersburg. While the way Russian is spoken is probably not what Russian students would want to emulate, it’s still an excellent film for language learners. If you can understand its fast-paced dialogues, Russian gangster slang, and regional dialects, you know you’re doing great at learning Russian!
This Oscar-winning Soviet rom-com is known as the film that best represents the famous Russian soul (русская душа). It’s even said that former US President Ronald Reagan watched the film before conducting negotiations with the USSR, all to better understand how Russians think. Definitely check out this film and take advantage of its relatively easy to understand dialogues and commonly recognized quotations.
Curious about which other Russian films won an Oscar? Check out our list here of all the Oscar-winning Russian films.
Gentlemen of Fortune is just such a funny film. A kindergarten principle who is the spitting image of a Soviet gangster is enlisted to help the police who are trying to catch his doppelganger. Much like Brat, Gentlemen of Fortune is full of the Russian gangster vernacular that you probably don’t want to emulate while speaking Russian. However, it’s an amazingly enjoyable film that will help teach you how not to speak everyday Russian.
I’m pretty sure The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! is the most famous Russian movie in the West. And watching this film every New Year’s continues to serve as a staple holiday tradition for millions of Russians to this day. The Irony of Fate of course follows the bumbling Zhenya, who gets so drunk in the bathhouse (banya) with his friends that he ends of mistakenly flying to St. Petersburg. There, all because of the cloned nature of Soviet residential developments, Zhenya ends up breaking into a stranger’s apartment. Along the way, the droll characters in this story teach many useful Russian phrases you can use all year round.
Leviathan is one of the most celebrated Russian films to have come out in recent years. The work of the brilliant Russian director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Leviathan tells the story of the corrupt power structures that degrade a remote Russian fishing town in the far north. Featuring stunning visuals and a gripping plot that is biblical in nature, you should definitely consider watching this shining light of contemporary Russian cinema. For language learners, the plot features some great jargon on politics and legal matters that is worth learning.
If you enjoy exploring Russian history, you absolutely must watch Andrei Rublev. This world class classic masterfully explores the brutal medieval world that Russia’s most celebrated icon painter, Andrei Rublev, lived in. Watch the beautiful traditions of the peasanty of medieval Rus’ and see if you can copy from their often playful dialogues.
Attraction is a recent Russian sci-fi hit about an alien space shuttle that crashes to earth. Wildly exciting to watch, this movie is probably the best in this list that will show you how everyday Russians today talk. On top of that, Attraction is filled with a star-studded cast. So, if you want to improve your accent and learn how to speak like a Russian movie star – this is the film to watch.
Dark Planet is another excellent recent sci-fi film that’s well worth watching. Russians really make superb sci-fi! Off in the year 2157, a pilot has to make an emergency landing on an unknown planet. What he finds is a global society facing much the same problems and challenges that faced humanity in the 20th century. This fascinating story provides plenty of opportunities to pick up Russian vocab and phrases that’ll help you discuss the world around you.
Of all the many brilliant Russian movies about WWII, Battle for Sevastopol perhaps provides the most inspiring tale of individual heroism. The film follows the wartime exploits of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of the most decorated snipers in military history. Pavlichenko was quite the wordsmith – what Russian learner wouldn’t want to emulate the grandiloquent speech she gave to the American media in 1942:
«Мне 25 лет, на фронте я успела уничтожить 309 фашистских захватчиков. Не кажется ли вам, джентльмены, что вы слишком долго прячетесь за моей спиной?»
“I am twenty five years old. At the front I have already managed to destroy three hundred and nine fascist invaders. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you’ve been hiding behind my back for too long?!”
If you want to explore more cinema about Russia’s wartime experience, you should definitely take a look at our list of the top 25 Russian and Soviet war movies!