As a Russian myself, I grew up watching Soviet movies and they have always been a staple of Russian TV. These classic films may not all be good, but they are still revered and held in high regard.
As a language learner, watching movies in the target language can be a fun and effective way to improve your skills. For those learning Russian, there are a number of classic Soviet films that not only showcase the country’s rich cultural history but also provide an opportunity to practice listening and comprehension.
In this article, I’m giving readers the chance to discover the very best of Soviet cinema and learn Russian at the same time. I’ll discuss 10 classic films that are both enjoyable to watch and effective in teaching Russian language and culture.
The best thing about these movies is that you can find them on YouTube, and they have subtitles. There’s even a Mosfilm channel that currently has 149 Soviet movies with English (also German and Spanish) subs. Some movies are fully voiced in English.
Москва слезам не верит
One of the most beloved Soviet films is “Москва слезам не верит” (Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981. The film follows the lives of three women over the course of several decades as they navigate love, work, and family in Moscow. The dialogue is relatively straightforward, making it a great choice for intermediate learners.
The main character is a girl named Katya. She comes to Moscow from the province and starts working at a factory. The first episode ends with Katya left all alone with a small child. In the second episode, she is a businesswoman with a successful career who is searching for happiness in her personal life.
It’s a drama that was made primarily for female audiences. However, it also has its humorous moments, especially with Katya’s friend, the confident and optimistic Lyudmila, who is also a gold-digger.
Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!
Another classic film is “Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!” (The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!), a New Year’s Eve comedy that has become a staple of Russian holiday traditions. The film’s plot revolves around a man who accidentally ends up in the wrong apartment after a night of drinking and falls in love with the woman who lives there. The dialogue is witty and fast-paced, making it a good choice for advanced learners.
I personally don’t like this movie, because I find main characters overly annoying and childlike, but in Russia, watching “Ирония” on New Year’s Eve is almost a tradition – it’s always broadcasted on TV on December 31.
“Служебный роман” (Office Romance) is another romantic comedy film directed by Eldar Ryazanov and it’s one of my favorites.
It stars Andrei Mironov and Alisa Freindlich as two office workers, Natasha and Igor, who fall in love despite the restraints of work and society. The film follows their romance and the obstacles that prevent them from being together. It is acclaimed for its humorous and endearing parable of the social restrictions of Soviet culture. It has since become a classic of Soviet cinema.
Война и мир
For those interested in historical dramas, “War and Peace” (Война и мир) is a sweeping adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel about the Napoleonic Wars. The film is over seven hours long and features a large cast of characters, so it may be challenging for beginners. However, the dialogue is rich with literary language and historical references, making it a rewarding watch for more advanced learners.
Иван Васильевич меняет профессию
“Иван Васильевич меняет профессию” (Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession) is a science fiction comedy. Yes, you’ve heard it right! Soviet science fiction.
The film is based on the play “Ivan Vasilievich” by Mikhail Bulgakov and tells the story of Ivan Vasilievich Bunsha, a Soviet building manager who, due to a time machine malfunction, finds himself in the 16th century in the body of Tsar Ivan IV of Russia. Meanwhile, the real Ivan IV is transported to the present day and finds himself in Bunsha’s friend apartment. The movie is known for its witty humor, absurd situations, and colorful characters, and is considered one of the most beloved and popular Soviet comedies of all time.
“12 стульев” (The Twelve Chairs) is another comedy film directed by Leonid Gaidai and released in. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, which tells the story of a former aristocrat Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov (with a funny nickname “Kisa”, pussycat) and a con artist Ostap Bender who team up to search for a fortune hidden in one of twelve chairs that were confiscated from the aristocrat’s family during the Russian Revolution.
The film is known for its humor and satire, as well as for its portrayal of Soviet society in the aftermath of the Revolution. I find it absolutelly hilarious! By the way, there’s also another version of the film that came out later, but most people, myself included, don’t like it as much as the first one.
Watch this clasic on YouTube with English subtitles.
Gaidai’s comedies are known for their slapstick humor, absurd situations, and memorable characters. There are many other films in this series that include “Operation Y and Other Shurik’s Adventures” (Операция “Ы” и другие приключения Шурика”), “The Diamond Arm” (Бриллиантовая рука), etc. These films are considered classics of Soviet cinema and are still popular among Russian audiences today.
As a learner of Russian you might also be interested in “Невероятные приключения итальянцев в России” (The Incredible Adventures of Italians in Russia) and “На Дерибасовской хорошая погода, или На Брайтон Бич опять идут дожди” (Weather Is Good on Deribasovskaya, or It Rains Again on Brighton Beach).
The movie tells the story of a lazy and carefree construction worker named Afonya, who spends his days avoiding work and pursuing his own interests. However, his life takes a turn when he falls in love with a nurse and becomes involved in a series of comedic misadventures.
The film is known for its humor and satire, as well as for its portrayal of everyday life in the Soviet Union. It features a talented cast of actors, including Leonid Kuravlyov, Evgeny Leonov, and Yevgeniya Simonova, who were all well-known in the Soviet film industry.
“Осенний марафон” (Autumn Marathon) is a romantic comedy directed by Georgiy Daneliya, again. The film follows the story of a philologist named Andrei who is torn between his wife, his mistress, and his love for poetry. The dialogue is witty and humorous, making it a great choice for intermediate learners. The film also provides a glimpse into Soviet life during the late 1970s, making it an interesting cultural experience as well.
А зори здесь тихие
“А зори здесь тихие” (The Dawns Here Are Quiet) is a Soviet war drama film directed by Stanislav Rostotsky. The movie is based on the novel by Boris Vasilyev, which tells the story of a group of young women who are sent to a remote military post during World War II to serve as anti-aircraft gunners.
The film is known for its strong female characters and its portrayal of the harsh realities of war. The main characters, led by the strong-willed and determined Sergeant Vaskov, are forced to confront their fears and overcome their personal struggles in order to defend their country.
I cried a lot watching this movie, because all the girls, young and beautiful, were dead at the end.
The movie won several awards, including the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1972. It has since become a classic of Soviet cinema and is still widely regarded as one of the best war films ever made.
Finally, we have “Сталкер” (Stalker), another science fiction film (this time it’s not a comedy) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky that explores deep philosophical themes. The film follows a guide who leads two men through a mysterious zone where their deepest desires may be fulfilled. The dialogue is sparse and often abstract, making it a challenging but rewarding watch for advanced learners.
Overall, watching Soviet films can be a great way to improve your Russian skills while also gaining insight into the country’s rich cultural history. Whether you prefer comedies, dramas, or science fiction, there is something for everyone in the world of Soviet cinema.