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The 10 Best Russian Movies for Learning Russian

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

There are few shortcuts to learn Russian. But if there's one way to ‘hack' your path to fluency, it's watching Russian movies.

You get to practice so many important things: listening skills, real-world vocabulary, and cultural insights. But the most important thing? Time spent practicing. If you're anything like me, sitting down with a dictionary or textbook is a great way to fall asleep. But movies? You can spend entire nights just watching films while putting your language skills into practice!

The following Russian films will give you many entertaining hours of viewing pleasure and practice. I've divided them into older Soviet movies and modern films. You can look at Russian life through the window of the past – or modern through a modern lens.

Let's start with 5 Soviet movies!

Бриллиантовая рука (The Diamond Arm)

Released: 1968
Directed by: Leonid Gaidai
Suitable for: Fans of old (slightly silly) comedies

IMDB average rating: 8.5
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 86%

The Story
An ordinary Soviet citizen accidentally gets caught up in an illegal jewelry smuggling operation when he goes on a relaxing trip abroad.

Notes for Russian Learners
A movie from 1968? Won't that be horrible to watch? Incorrect. It's actually a great movie to see as your first array into Russian cinematography. The Russian used at time may seem slightly archaic, but it's still perfectly understandable. And it will be free of the slang used in many modern movies.

Oh, did I mention that it's available for free on YouTube with English subtitles? In fact, you can watch it here if you want to:

Bonus Tip: Check out the YouTube channel Mosfilm. You can find many Soviet movies there for free.

Иван Васильевич меняет профессию (Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future)

Released: 1973
Directed by: Leonid Gaidai
Suitable for: Those who want to know what medieval Russia might have looked like

IMDB average rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 87%

The Story
A simple Soviet building manager from the 20th century looks extremely similar to the great Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible from the 16th century. He would have never known this fact, until one day when his neighbor creates a time machine.

Notes for Russian Learners
Another great movie for those who want to learn more about Russian history. One of the main characters, Shurik, is an actor in several more movies, which are also great to watch.

Ирония судьбы (Irony of Fate)

Released: 1976
Directed by: Eldar Ryazanov
Suitable for: ‘Unexpected romance' lovers

IMDB average rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%

The Story
Zhenya goes with his friends to the sauna for New Year’s Eve, but gets on the wrong plane home after having several drinks too many. He only finds out after he has finally arrived at his own apartment. Or has he?

Notes for Russian Learners
Just like many of us watch the Home Alone movies for Christmas, Russians watch Irony of Fate on New Year’s Eve. It's a true classic in the realest sense of the word. And if you're serious about learning Russian, it's a must see movie. It will put you instantly ‘in the know' with Russians.

The film was also banned from Russian TV during the perestrojka (1985-1987), as Gorbachev found that it promoted alcohol too much.

Служебный роман (Office Romance)

Released: 1977
Directed by: Eldar Ryazanov
Suitable for: Fans of old romantic films

IMDB average rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 94%

The Story
Life at a statistical bureau completely changes when one of the shy employees (male) falls in love with the tyrannical boss (female).

Notes for Russian Learners
Another great movie to learn about life in the USSR. Just as with the other Soviet movies on this list, you can watch it for free on YouTube. Also, many people consider it to be one of the best Russian romantic films ever made.

Москва слезам не верит (Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears)

Released: 1980
Directed by: Vladimir Menshov
Suitable for: People who want to know what life was like in the Soviet Union

IMDB average rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 87%

The Story
The movie follows three girlfriends from their teen years to middle age, how they find a career and look for love 50 years ago in the capital of Soviet Russia, Moscow.

Notes for Russian Learners
The movie is pretty long, and can be somewhat boring. But if you're willing to stick it through, you'll get a perfect view of communist Moscow and the pressure that was on young girls to find and marry Mr. Right as soon as possible. (A fact still a part of the Russian mentality.)

Modern Russian Movies

Now, let's check out some modern Russian films!

Жмурки (Dead Man's Bluff)

Released: 2005
Directed by: Aleksej Balabanov
Suitable for: Those into criminal comedies

IMDB average rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 79%

The Story
The movie follows two low level gangsters, Serega en Simon, in the wild 90's in Nizhniy Novgorod. They get into trouble after failing a mission for the big criminal Sergei Mikhailovich. Luckily, they get one more chance to redeem themselves by doing a large heroin deal. But will they manage?

Notes for Russian Learners
Zhmurki is great if you want to learn some Russian slang. The 90's in Russia were a very tumultuous time, and this movie gives you an overview (albeit a comedic one) of the criminal scene during that time.

If you're a fan of movies such as Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels, you'll also love Zhmurki. Other films from the same director, such as брат (Brother) are also highly recommended.

Ёлки (New Year Trees / Six Degrees of Celebration)

Released: 2010
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Suitable for: Everyone on NYE

IMDB average rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 66%

The Story
Russia is the largest country on our planet, but this comedy shows us how everyone gets together for New Year’s Eve. The movie follows 11 different cities in Russia, telling the story of several characters and how their stories are all accidentally related.

Notes for Russian Learners
It's a good movie to learn what modern life in Russia is like, including the expressions people use. The movie is based on the theory of ‘six handshakes', which says that every other person in the world is only six connections away from you. Also, there are five sequels, all set on New Year’s Eve. So if you like this movie, you'll have much more to look forward to.

Горько! (Kiss Them All!)

Released: 2013
Directed by: Zhora Kryzhovnikov
Suitable for: People who want to know what a Russian wedding is like

IMDB average rating: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes rating: unavailable

The Story
Natasha and Roma dream of a modern wedding to start their married life together. Their father, a well-connected city official, has other plans. He wants the wedding to be as traditionally Russian as possible.

Notes for Russian Learners
This was one of the first Russian movies I ever saw. It made me very curious about what it would be like to be a guest at a Russian wedding. In 2017, I attended one. And I can say that this movie shows a pretty close depiction of reality. It’s a must watch if you have a Russian partner, or are invited to a Russian wedding.

I know two Russian girls that are marrying foreigners this year. Both in Russia or Ukraine. One of the grooms was inspired to have his wedding in Russia after watching this movie. In the other relationship, the girl keeps this movie a secret and doesn't want her fiance to watch it, in order not to scare him.

Белые ночи почтальона Алексея Тряпицына (The Postman's White Nights)

Released: 2014
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky
Suitable for: Those who wonder what life in a small Siberian town is like

IMDB average rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 67%

The Story
An extremely sad film about people in a small town in Siberia that, despite being close to a spaceport and all the modern technologies, still live their lives as if it was the 19th century. The only connection the town has is the mail, and the film follows how Aleksey, the local mailman lives his life.

Notes for Russian Learners
Despite the fact that the movie doesn't contain a huge amount of dialogue, it's a must watch if you're interested in Russian culture. Especially if you've only traveled to Moscow or Saint Petersburg, where you haven't seen the REAL Russia. This movie shows you what life is like outside the big cities.

Защитники (Guardians)

Released: 2017
Directed by: Sarik Andreasyan
Suitable for: Fans of superhero movies

IMDB average rating: 4.0
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 24%

The Story
During the Cold War, Russia created squads of superheroes in the case of a new world war. With the threat gone, they now live quiet lives. That is, until an emergency calls them back to serve their fatherland.

Notes for Russian Learners
Don't let the 4.0 score on IMDB scare you. It's one of the funniest Russian action movies Russia has produced. What do I mean by this? How could you not love a superhero movie with an enormous man-bear that rips through enemies like a knife cuts through butter?

How to Get the Most Language Gains for Watching Russian Movies

The great thing about these movies is that it doesn't matter what your current level in Russian is. Most of them can be found with English subtitles, so even if you've just started learning, you can watch them.

Here are some good tips for learning a language by watching movies:

  • If you're a beginner, watch with Russian audio and English subtitles. This is great for letting your ears grow accustomed to Russian sounds.
  • Once you get a little better, see if you can manage Russian voice and Russian subtitles.
  • You'll know you're good at Russian once you can watch movies without any subtitles at all!

What's Your Favorite Russian Movie?

It's impossible to make a list of the 10 best Russian films. But the previous 10 will give you many hours of viewing pleasure. And once you're done, you can always check out more movies from the same directors (especially Leonid Gaidai, Aleksei Balabanov and Timur Bekmambetov).

If you've watched a Russian movie that's not on the list, but just as good, share it in the comments!

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Arie Helderman

Language Blogger

Arie Helderman started learning Russian four years ago and shares which strategies and tips have worked for him at Learn the Russian Language.

Speaks: Dutch, English, Russian

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