Russia and the Soviet Union have produced some amazing movies over the years. Outside of Russia, the most famous Russian movies are innovative montage masterpieces by director, Sergei Eisenstein, and art house classics from another influential director, the poetic Andrei Tarkovsky. When you see top Russian movie lists, you’ll often find they’re full of movies from these two directors.
I’d like to present something different to you, though. This list features the top 20 most popular Russian and Soviet movies according to Russians themselves. As such, I hope this provides you with an interesting window into what Russians tend to enjoy and what movies they find most memorable from their country’s special cinematic history.
To form this list, I’ve gone through the most popular Russian movies on Kinopoisk – Russia’s version of IMDb (source: here). I think that’s the fairest way to rank these movies – based on number of votes and rating from a Russian-speaking audience.
You can watch all these movies right here on RussianFilmHub.com.* So, without further ado, here are the top 20 most popular Russian and Soviet movies according to Russians.
*To watch these movies, just click on the title links!
Ivan Vasilyevich Changes His Profession is a fun Soviet sci-fi film directed by Leonid Gaidai. You’ll see a lot of Gaidai’s movies on this list – he really was the blockbuster wizard of the late 1960s and early 1970s, creating box office hit after box office hit.
This film, sometimes titled, Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, is based on a play by Mikhail Bulgakov and tells the story of an inventor who creates a time machine that opens a portal to the 16th century. The inventor then accidentally swaps his apartment building manager, Ivan Vasilyevich Bunsha, with his namesake and doppelganger, Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Laugh follows laugh, as the bumbling Soviet building manager and the angry Tsar swap roles.
Operation Y is another classic Soviet comedy by prolific director, Leonid Gaidai. It was his first feature film and is enormous fun to watch. The movie consists of three short stories which follow the adventures of a naive university student named Shurik. For many Russian language students, Operation Y is the first Russian movie they experience. It’s full of slapstick humor and is altogether quite easy for a foreigner to understand.
The Diamond Arm is one of the most beloved Soviet comedies and is the third most popular movie in Russian cinema history – earning 77 million box office views. It’s also my personal favorite Gaidai movie.
In a Black Sea port town, a criminal gang operates by smuggling precious coins, gems, and jewelry into the USSR, and then laundering them by “discovering” the treasures hidden underground. In a short time, the sweet, naive family man, Semyon Gorbunkov, will become entangled with this gang and their conspiracies.
Only Old Men Are Going to Battle is a wonderful Ukrainian movie about WWII. The film’s plot is based on the real-life memoirs of famed Soviet fighter pilot, Vitaly Popkov, whose squadron doubled as an amateur choir during the war. This iconic movie contains memorable characters and some gorgeous musical numbers.
Gentlemen of Fortune is a hilarious Soviet crime movie that you must watch. The police get a kindhearted kindergarten teacher who is a doppelganger of a gang leader to infiltrate said gang.
This movie almost didn’t make it to the big screen because of all its prison jargon. However, the Soviet security services were big fans of the movie – it reflected well on them and, on top of that, it brought the Minister of Internal Affairs to tears from laughing. Finally, the movie was approved after then Soviet leader, Brezhnev, saw it and loved it.
The main events of The Dawns Here Are Quiet take place in 1942 during the Second World War. The setting is on the Soviet front with Finland. We meet a squad of Soviet anti-aircraft gunners who are stationed at a railway junction in the rear of the front line. The commander, Sergeant Major Vaskov, is a serious man who requests from his higher-ups that he is given soldiers who don’t drink or chase women. Because of this, he is assigned a group of young women soldiers.
What ensues are countless stories of individual heroism. SPOILER ALERT, sadly, each of the young Soviet women dies, one by one. In this way, this popular movie memorializes the countless Soviet women who gave their lives in the war – something that most war movies tend not to do.
Kidnapping, Caucasian Style is another superb Gaidai film. The title and plot are references to two literary works both titled, The Prisoner of the Caucausus – one, a poem by Alexander Pushkin, the other, a novella by Leo Tolstoy. The plot of the movie centers around an old Caucasus tradition of bride kidnapping.
Two songs from the movie have become household tunes in the former Soviet Union. The first is A Little Song About Bears; the second is If I Were a Sultan.
If you’ve enjoyed Basil Rathbone, Benedict Cumberbatch, or Robert Downey Jr. in their Sherlockian roles, you’ll absolutely have to check it out this sublime Soviet Sherlock adaptation. Split over five films in eleven episodes, this Soviet Sherlock is famous for its faithful portrayal of the original source material, atmospheric design, and superb acting. In fact, Vasily Livanov, the actor who played Sherlock, was made an honorary MBE by the Queen of England for his superb performance. No other Russian or Soviet actor has received such an honor.
Heart of a Dog immediately achieved international acclaim after its release and is rated the top Russian movie on IMDb. It has also come to be recognized as a masterpiece back home. The movie is an adaption of Mikhail Bulgakov’s eponymous novella. And it’s famous for its how faithfully it follows the original text.
Bulgakov wrote the original story in 1925 while under investigation by Soviet police. It was only in the 1960s that the general Soviet public got to read this lost text after it started to be distributed through “samizdat” – underground, dissident publishing. Only in 1987 was the book finally officially released through official channels. As such, this 1988 film adaption came to the screen exceptionally soon after the official release of the novel.
Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears is one of the most beloved Soviet films of all time, at home and abroad. It’s the second-highest Russian box office performer, selling 84.4 million tickets. On top of that, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
This hit is often said to be the movie that best depicts the famous Russian soul. American President Ronald Reagan himself watched the movie many times before he first met his counterpart, then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Cranes Are Flying achieved overseas acclaim in a way no Russian movie ever had before. It won the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. As such, The Cranes Are Flying holds the distinction of being the only Russian or Soviet winner of this prestigious prize.
The film is full of sublime cinematography, direction, and editing. On top of that, it’s remarkable for the incredible acting of Tatyana Samoylova, who played the lead character, Veronika. She performed the role with such authenticity and soul that it’s rare to meet someone who hasn’t wept during her moving final scene.
Officers is a movie defined by its famous famous motto:
“There is such a profession – to defend the homeland!”
«Есть такая профессия − Родину защищать!»
As the film’s plot sweeps through terrible conflict after conflict of the 20th century, we get to experience the pain, fear, horror, love, and friendship of two soldier friends and their shared romantic interest. The lifelong devotion between these three characters gave comfort to a Soviet movie-going audience that was still reeling from the terrible aftereffects of the Second World War.
White Bim Black Ear is a touching story about the loyal and honorable dog, Bim. He enjoys a happy life with his kindly owner, Ivan Ivanovich. Together they go hunting, in many ways evoking Turgenev’s Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.
Sadly, when Ivan is hospitalized with hearts problems, he and Bim have to separate. Bim ends up becoming homeless and experiences a mix of hardships and adventures. This heart-wrenching movie was widely applauded for its touching story and impressive animal acting. It even competed for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and inspired many similar pet-related hits.
Fate of a Man is the directorial debut of famed director and actor, Sergei Bondarchuk. The film tells the gripping story of a man who lost everything. During WWII, Andrei loses his entire family to the conflict. Deciding that there is no reason to return to his hometown after the war, Andrei moves to the Urals in search of a new life. Once there, he finds meaning when he meets a young boy who has also lost all his loved ones.
Office Romance is one of the Soviet Union’s most beloved comedies and one of director, Eldar Ryazanov’s many popular movies, up there with The Irony of Fate.
The film tells the story of an unexpected workplace romance. Anatoli works as a government bureaucrat in Moscow. The director of his division is a bossy woman, Ludmila. After the timid Anatoli tries flirting with Ludmila to help with a promotion, the two end up falling in love with each other.
Sergei Bondarchuk’s They Fought for Their Country is often called one of the best films about WWII. The movie’s plot takes place in the summer of 1942, when the Germans were continuing to push deep into the Soviet Union. As Soviet soldiers and civilians flee in an unorganized flight, a small regiment attempts to hold off the German advance at a river crossing.
This movie features some stunning acting from many of the more well-known stars of the day: Vasiliy Shukshin, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Yuriy Nikulin, Georgi Burkov, Nonna Mordyukova, and Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy. It’s definitely worth watching.
Brother, aka Brat, is for sure the most popular post-Soviet Russian movie there is. This gritty St. Petersburg gangster film is ruthlessly entertaining and absolutely worth watching.
After completing his national service in the Russian army, Danila returns home to the provinces and doesn’t know what to do with himself. His mother recommends he goes to St. Petersburg to get help from his successful brother. And so, he moves there.
We soon discover that Danila’s older brother is a gangster and assassin. And Danila soon follows his example and becomes a hitman. Along the way, he forms interesting new relationships and becomes a fan of the rock band, Nautilus Pompilius. However, after some time, Danila comes to realize that killing has become too easy for him.
Ballad of a Soldier is an art house favorite and one of the most internationally celebrated Russian movies ever. It won awards at the BAFTAs and Cannes, and was also nominated for an Oscar. It provides a compelling account of the Soviet home front during World War Two through the story of one young soldier’s journey home on leave to visit his mother.
The Girls is one of the most popular Soviet movies from the 1960s. This heartwarming movie is sometimes likened to Cinderella in the rural Urals.
After graduating from her orphanage school, Tosya comes to work in a small village in the Ural mountains. The community’s economy is based on the local timber industry and soon Tosya finds herself surrounded by boisterous lumberjacks. Soon, two rival lumberjacks place a bet on who can win Tosya’s heart first. Of course, Tosya eventually finds out about the whole affair and ends up feeling insulted and humiliated. Despite this, you won’t be able to stop yourself from hoping for a successful romance when you watch this fun movie.
Welcome, or No Trespassing is effectively Moonrise Kingdom, Soviet-style. For sure Wes Anderson was influenced by this amazing cult film.
This hilarious movie about life in the Soviet pioneer (scouts) camps in the mid-1960s is a creation of Elem Klimov, of Come and See fame. Amazingly this movie was Klimov’s first feature film and the diploma work that he submitted for this film school graduation.
Non-Russians are often surprised to hear that Welcome, or No Trespassing is a more famous and beloved movie in the former Soviet Union than Come and See. It became an instant hit (13.4 million box office tickets in Soviet theaters) and remains eminently quotable to this day.