Tired of watching western films about a superhero that saves the world and gets the girl? Tired of talking about western films that had been made and remade a bunch of times? Wondering if there are any other types of films to be discovered? Well, there are, and some movies (Russian movies) are brilliant!
What do you say we take a little stroll and look to get some information about the best Russian movies ever made?
The goal is that by reaching the end of this article, you will garner appreciation for Russian films, get some insight into Russian culture, and probably see a movie that can change your life.
Table of Contents
1. Leviathan (2014)
A beautiful and intriguing take on contemporary Russian socio-political issues. The movie deals with political corruption head-on, with the style that is solely unique to its director, Andrey Zvyagintsev.
The film criticizes Russian politics, without ever feeling too preachy. Simply put, this is a tale about a man trying to save his house from being demolished by the corrupt mayor of a coastal Russian town. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Movie. Many people think that this is one of the best new entries in Russian cinema.
IMDB score: 7.6/10
2. War and Peace (1966)
Voyna i mir
A film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War and Peace is one of the greatest Russian movies. How do you make that gigantic book into a movie? Well, you split it into four parts.
This Russian film series was directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and was released back in 1966. For those people who don’t wont to read the book (or don’t have the time), but still want to lie to their friends that they did, this movie is a must-see.
The film won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, a Golden Globe Award, and the Grand Prix at the Moscow International Film Festival.
IMDB score: 8.3/10
3. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom
Arguably one of the best documentaries and the best Russian movie ever created, this Soviet-era silent film is praised for its inventiveness, as well as for its historical value. It shows the lives of ordinary people, bringing us closer to that specific period in time.
Through the lens of the camera, we are allowed to see the most intimate moments of this thing that we call “the human experience.”
The movie was directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife, Yelizaveta Svilova. The language of cinema, as we know and love, wouldn’t have been possible without this masterpiece and its amazing director.
IMDB score: 8.4/10
4. The Mirror (1975)
The first of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films that made it onto this list. The movie follows a nonlinear narrative that revolves around a dying poet and memories of his life.
Woven throughout its structure is a story about the poet’s childhood, his mother, and the impact the Soviet Union had on the lives of its citizens.
Now considered as one of the best Russian movies ever created, at the time of its release, the film got mixed reviews by the critics for its nonconventional way of storytelling.
This movie feels like a poem, amazingly captured on film, by Russia’s most famous and well-known director. Many consider this film to be the greatest movie a Russian director has ever made.
IMDB score: 8.1/10
5. Come and See (1985)
Idi i smotri
The film plot focuses on the young Russian boy who finds an old rifle and decides to join the Soviet resistance movement and make history.
Set amidst the Second World War, the movie’s hyper-realism is beautifully complemented by its philosophical and psychological themes.
Directed by Elem Klimov and based on a 1978 novel “I Am from the Fiery Village,” this Russian movie perfectly balances different thought-provoking themes, while still managing to be extremely entertaining, just like the movies from Hollywood.
The movie was effectively censored by the Soviet government, for almost 8 years, before being allowed to continue its production. This only adds to the film’s allure and significance.
IMDB score: 8.3/10
6. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Back in 1905, during the Russian revolution, the crew of the battleship Potemkin revolts against the ship’s officers.
Revolt leads to a street protest, which in turn, later leads to a brutal massacre of the populace in the city of Odessa in Russia.
Directed by a great Soviet director Sergei M. Eisenstein this movie was truly ahead of its time and one of the most influential films in cinema history. Considering the fact that the film is almost a hundred years old, it holds up pretty well.
The film is silent and in black and white, so I can only recommend it to film connoisseurs.
IMDB score: 8.0/10
7. Andrei Rublev (1966)
This one can be easily called the best movie that was censored during the Soviet Union reign over Russia and neighboring countries.
The film is based on the life of a Russian icon painter, Andrei Rublev. It depicts the hardships of creating art under an oppressive regime, while also speaking about religion and how deeply connected the Russian medieval society was to it.
Directed by magnificent Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, this Russian movie is an absolute must-see!
After more than 50 years from the movie release, it still holds the place as one of the all-time great films, and will certainly hold its title for many years to come. It certainly does not get any better than this because many think that this is one of the grates movies in the world.
IMDB score: 8.1/10
8. Alexander Nevsky (1938)
This film has two directors, one of whom you will recognize if you read this article up to this point. Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitriy Vasilev were responsible for creating this Russian movie that everybody needs to see.
In the 13th century Holy Roman Empire, together with Teutonic Knights, tried to occupy and seize the Russian city of Novgorod. The defense of the city was led by the prince Alexander, popularly known as Alexander Nevsky (hence the name of the Russian film). The composer for this movie was no other than Sergei Prokofiev.
There are no words in any language to describe the music in this movie – Russian music (there are). It beautifully complements everything that is shown on the screen, while also at the same time managing to be its own separate thing—definitely a must-see (but also a must-listen?).
IMDB score: 7.6/10
9. Hamlet (1964)
Can William Shakespeare’s beautiful usage of the English language be translated into Russian? This film answers that question, and the answer is yes.
Directed by Grigoriy Kozintsev, the movie is an adaptation of the famous play Hamlet, written by the above mentioned Shakespeare.
Highly political, Russian rendition of Hamlet managed to slip through the cracks of the Soviet censorship bureau, probably because of the popularity of the original material.
Kozintsev, while speaking about the Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), famously said: “Olivier cut the theme of government, which I find extremely interesting. I will not yield a single point from this line”.
IMDB score: 8.3/10
10. 12 (2007)
Can one man do everything? Well, he can if his name is Nikita Mihalkov. Director, screenwriter, producer, and actor, Nikita, was responsible for creating this modern Russian-language remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry men.
The plot is centered around a jury in who’s hands lays the fate of a young Chechen boy accused of murdering his stepfather. At first, it seems like the boy is guilty, but later, as the plot develops, we find out that there is more to it.
Mihalkov was awarded the Special Lion at the 64th Venice International Film Festival. The movie also got an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. This adaptation is one of the most popular Russian movies in the west.
IMDB score: 7.7/10
11. The Barber of Siberia (1998)
Set in late 19th century Russia, the movie depicts the story about love, romance, life, and rivalry. Made less than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the movie is about a romance between an American woman, Jane Callahan, and a Russian soldier, Andrej Tolstoy.
Dripping with meaning, this film represents everything that is great about the art of cinema and Russian movies. Mozart’s and Chopin’s works are a part of the soundtrack.
Directed, and partially written by Nikita Mihalkov, The Barber of Siberia held the title of the most expensive Russian-made film, with a budget of 35 million dollars. It is definitely one of the movies from Russia that everybody must-see.
IMDB score: 7.8/10
12. Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
I couldn’t just pick one of Tarkovsky’s films, so I had to include Ivan’s Childhood in the list as well. The film follows the story of an orphaned young boy called, well, Ivan. Set during World War II, this Russian drama sets itself apart from other Soviet-era war films by not glorifying the war experience.
Tarkovsky tried to convey his hatred of war in the context of Soviet Russia, and in my opinion, he succeeded in doing just that.
Filled with flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling, this is an emotional tale about wars’ most precious commodity: human life.
Like many of Tarkovsky’s movies, this one also coveys the themes of life and world. Some think that from all of Tarkovsky’s films, this one is the strongest.
IMDB score: 8.1/10
13 Solaris (1972)
Tarkovsky again? You must be joking. This movie, based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel, is a masterpiece of science fiction and one of the best Russian films.
Psychologist Kris Kelvin travels to the space station orbiting the new planet of Solaris to help the station’s crew with emotional problems presumably caused by the fact that they are in a space station. Alone… In space.
Choosing not to focus on technology, as western movies of this genre tend to do, this film is a thought-provoking journey into the human psyche. The movie won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
IMDB score: 8.1/10
14. Stalker (1979)
Really now? You can’t be serious.
Directed by Andrey Tarkovsky, this Russian art film is a combination of science fiction and philosophical and psychological themes that only he can make.
It centers around a new and mysterious site called the “Zone.” Expedition into this site, led by the “Stalker” is in search of a room that supposedly grants the person’s innermost desires.
Considered by many as a cult classic, The Stalker is still one of the best Russian movies ever made. One thing to note, this film is really slow. I mean really, really slow. But, if you stick through the slow parts, you will be greatly rewarded with a gripping and meaningful journey into the human mind.
IMDB score: 8.2/10
15. The 9th company (2005)
Young Soviet Army recruits are stuck in the Afghanistan war, and then the Soviet Army forgets about them. Like really, literally, just forgets about them.
Based on a true story, this Russian movie is not only an action-packed thrill ride but also succeeds in telling a deeper dramatic story about the Afghanistan war, its political background, and a more personal story of its participants, members of the 9th company and Soviet Russia.
The movie was directed by a Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk and is one of the highest-grossing Russian language films of all time and most intriguing among contemporary Russian films.
IMDB score: 7.1/10