When most people think of Soviet cinema, they picture arthouse classics by directors like Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Eisenstein, or they turn to powerful but often depressing war movies. However, in Soviet comedy there is a treasure trove of hits that millions of Russians today still look to as the golden era of Russian film. Generally non-Russians eschew these masterpieces for fear of poor comedic translation and also perhaps due to a little skepticism that stereotypically unsmiling Russians can produce truly raucous entertainment.
Well, here’s the truth – loud and clear. Soviet comedy gave the world some of the funniest entertainers and most hilarious stories of the 20th century. Sometimes slapstick and silly, other times subversive and serious, Soviet comedy makes for essential viewing for every cinephile, Russian enthusiast, and comedy lover. Here are the top 25 Soviet comedies for you to peruse at your pleasure. They’re all available to watch on Russian Film Hub.
A goofy young engineer manages to build a functional time machine in his Moscow apartment. However, upon testing it he invokes the wrath of his superintendent, Ivan, for shutting off the entire building’s electricity. To placate the angry Ivan, he shows him how the time machine works and soon ends up accidentally swapping him for his namesake and doppelganger, Tsar Ivan the Terrible of medieval Russia.
After a gang of thieves steals the golden helmet of Alexander the Great from an archeological dig in Central Asia, two of the gang members are apprehended, while their leader is still left to be caught. Back in Moscow, as luck would have it, the distraught head archeologist discovers the gang leader’s doppelganger – a kindly kindergarten principle. And so, the authorities concoct a wild plan. They send the sweet, gentle teacher into prison, pretending to be the gang leader, to extract information from the accomplices. Of course, though, things don’t go quite according to plan!
The Diamond Arm is a true comedy masterpiece, inhabiting a special place somewhere between Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean. A gentle accountant, Semyon Semyonich, find himself amid a smuggler conspiracy when he takes a cruise to Istanbul. And so begins a secret battle between the do-gooder dimwit, Semyon, and the crafty, but inept smugglers who want their jewels back.
A naïve young student, Shurik, comes down to the Caucasus to study local folk culture. Soon, he meets Nina, the most beautiful woman imaginable – she’s gorgeous, an athlete, and also a member of the Komsomol. However, he’s disappointed to learn that she’s already betrothed to another man, who approaches Shurik to help him take part in the Caucasian tradition of bride kidnapping. Only after he helps the man, though, does Shurik realize he’s made a terrible mistake and must go save Nina.
Operation Y is generally the first Russian film that Russian language students are shown in class. The reason is simple: its physical humor and scarcity of dialogue make this a film that is easy for all to understand and enjoy. Split between three short stories, the main character, Shurik, works at a construction site with a malicious hooligan, meets a beautiful girl under very strange circumstances, and has the bad luck of watching his grandmother’s house during a robbery.
Cinderella in the Urals is what The Girls is often referred to as. A lively young graduate and orphan moves to a small lumber town in the Urals to work as a cook. At a local dance, one of the lumberjacks makes a bet with his friends that he can make her fall in love with him within a week. The thing is, once she discovers the whole distasteful bet, he realizes he’s in love with her too and must win her back.
The beloved rom-com, Office Romance, tells the story of an unexpected workplace romance at a Moscow government statistics bureau. To try to get a promotion, the shy Anatoli tries flirting with his boss, the strict and serious Ludmila. They soon end up falling for one another – not, however, without a major hickup when Ludmila cottons on to Anatoli’s scheme!
Love and Doves, aka Love and Pigeons, is a heartwarming rom-com that shows that a man can fall in love with a woman, while still finding the space within his heart to not stop loving his dear little doves. But seriously, this is a very good film. It’s a playful portrayal of rural Russian life and comes from the same director of the smash hit and Oscar-winner, Moscow Does not Believe in Tears. Give it a watch!
Non-Russian cinephiles may be surprised to hear that this comedy is acclaimed director, Elem Klimov’s most popular film in the former Soviet Union. Yes, that’s right – it beats out his WWII classic, Come and See, often labelled the greatest war film of all time. Welcome, or No Trespassing is a hilarious story about a Soviet youth scouts summer camp and all the shenanigans the children get up to. After a young boy is expelled from the camp, he secretly returns for fear that his arrival home with give his grandmother a heart attack. Mayhem ensues.
Based on the novel by Ilf and Petrov, 12 Chairs is a rip-roaring tale about a treasure hunt for a batch of diamonds sewn into one of twelve chairs that belonged to a Russian aristocrat before the revolution. The conman, Ostap Bender, and vampirical-looking former aristocrat Ippolit Vorobyaninov take an exciting journey all across the early Soviet Union to trace down the valuable riches.
Every year on New Year’s Eve, millions of people all around the former Soviet Union rewatch this iconic, hilarious film. You’ve probably heard of its unique plot. Each year, Zhenya and his friends meet up at the bathhouse on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the New Year. This time, however, they get a little too drunk toasting Zhenya’s recent engagement. They accidentally put Zhenya, and not one of the others on a flight to Leningrad, in which he promptly passes out. When he wakes up, Zhenya hails a taxi to take him to his Moscow home address. And here’s the thing – in an amusing commentary on the bland uniformity of Soviet urban design, it turns out the exact same building exists at the exact same address in Leningrad, all the way down to matching front door keys. And so Zhenya ends up breaking and entering into a lovely lady, Nadya’s apartment. After early hostilities, as well as a stern interaction with Nadya’s fiancé, Zhenya and Nadya end up spending a magical New Year’s together. How could they not be fated to fall in love?
The Republic of ShKID is a humorous and heartwarming story about the early Soviet Union’s attempt to round up and care for the many street children there were, and send them on the right path. To learn more, watch this charming film to enter into The Republic of ShKID, a separate state proclaimed by the pupils of the Dostoevsky school-commune.
Yuri Detochkin is a Robin Hood-style fighter for justice. Through his work as an insurance agent, he detects bribe-takers and speculators, then steals their cars, giving the proceeds to local orphanages. Soon enough, though a police investigation has detective Podberezovikov close on Detochkin’s heels. And even closer than he thinks, as the two share a love for theatre that sees them play together in amateur performances.
It Can’t Be! is a collection of three short, satirical stories that aptly and wittily ridicule ever-present human traits. Sadly, though, the film was the last major hit of Rockstar director, Leonid Gaidai, whose other films, like Ivan Vasilyevich Changes His Profession and The Diamond Arm, are also on this list.
Nadya is a lovely young woman working at a research institute. Her friend, Susanna, is concerned, however, that Nadya is over thirty and still not married. So she gives Nadya some direction on how to charm her coworker, a frivolous Don Juan. Soon enough, though, Nadya realizes that the happinness and love she sought will not come through her illusions and tricks.
Mimino is a tragicomedy about a provincial helicopter pilot, Mimino, who dreams of becoming an international jet pilot after meeting a beautiful stewardess. To pursue his dreams, he moves from his small town in Georgia up to Moscow. After a bout of boyish tomfoolery, Mimino does succeed in becoming a pilot for a big international jetliner. However, with the achievement of his goals comes the realization that deep down he just wants to go home. This is a movie that resonates with the millions of people from across the former Soviet Union who have moved to Moscow to seek their fortune.
This is truly one of the funniest Soviet films there is. It all begins with a dying émigré grandmother who tells her granddaughter that she hid a valuable treasure underneath a lion statue in Leningrad many years ago. The only problem is, several other people overhear her share this special information. What’s more, Leningrad / St. Petersburg is absolutely full of lion statues. And so a series of unbelievable adventures begins for the various Italians who are in hot pursuit of the treasure.
Afonya is the story of a drunken and depressed man, with romance yet unkindled in his soul. He doesn’t quite realize it, but his life is spiraling into a worse and worse state. Eventually, he comes to realize that one woman – Katya – is the one who can save him. More sad rom-com than this comedy, Afonya is perhaps what the average Western viewer might expect from a Russian comedy. It is a truly excellent film all the same.
The White Sun of the Desert is a gripping Soviet Red Western, or “Ostern,” about a Red Army soldier returning home after service in Central Asia. On the way, he battles with bandits operating on the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. As part of this, he frees the harem of the bandit leader, Abdullah. Truly a wild journey. The film is also celebrated for its excellent music. Definitely check it out!
No, Three Plus Two isn’t some allusion to a five-year plan that’s in touch with reality (good one, right?). It’s an entertaining battle of the sex between three male friends and two female friends who end up competing over their favorite seaside camping spot. This fun film is notable for its beautiful scenery – it was shot in Crimea. It’s also well known as the first star performance of the brilliant actors, Andrei Mironov, who played hilarious roles in several of the films on this list, like Beware of the Car, The Diamond Arm, and Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia.
A new highway is set to be built right through the property of a garage cooperative. So, the cooperative holds a meeting to reduce the number of spaces in the property and divvy up the ones that remain. However, something mysterious happens. The meeting gets locked in and there is no way out. It seems an anonymous member has taken an unusual step to make share a just allocation takes place! An unbelievable story, you might think. However, it’s all based on the real life story of director, Eldar Ryazanov’s horrifying experience watching the Mosfilm studio’s own garage cooperative unjustly decide their own allocation.
The Man from Boulevard des Capucines is a fun Soviet Western, or “Ostern.” In the lead role, star actor, Andrei Mironov, plays a projectionist who is roaming the Wild West, trying to reason with violent locals by showing them silent films. At times he succeeds, at times he doesn’t. No matter, his idealistic journey of cinematographic enlightenment brings many laughs and adventures.
Walking the Streets of Moscow is a truly sumptuous film visually. No other film compares with its gorgeous portrayal of the Russian capital. Most Russians know the movie as well as its famous title song. It’s also well known for including the first main film role of Nikita Mikhalkov, now a household name for films like Burnt by the Sun. Walking the Streets of Moscow’s director, Georgiy Daneliya, has shared an amusing anecdote from filming. When they’d already finished shooting part of the film, a young Mikhalkov demanded a raise is his pay from 8 to 25 rubles per day. When Daneliya replied that he would find another actor for the role, Mikhalkov burst into tears, begging for forgiveness.
Autumn Marathon is a difficult but funny film to watch. It tells the sad tale of Andrei Buzykin, a wretched man with a weak character who tries to lead a double life between his wife and mistress. In the end, he loses them both – neither one believes him even when he is telling the truth. Consider this a philosophical comedy.
Logistically speaking, Striped Trip is a film about the difficulties of transporting wild tigers and tigers across the ocean. Especially, when they get out of their cages and scatter across the ship’s deck. on in 1961. Of course, this is a comedy and the film is full of laughs as the animals take control of the ship. There is, of course, a happy ending, though, as an animal lover, Marianna, is able to rescue the situation.
The Marriage of Balzaminov is a funny story and one of the films that best tells about life in 19th century Russia. A petty bureaucrat, Balzaminov, is looking for a wealthy bride. However, all the rich women seem to be looking for rich husbands. However, with the help of his mother’s intrigues, Balzaminov manages to get the rich mercahant, Belotelova, to be his wife.