12 Russian War Movies You Must See

Russia is another of those countries whose film production rarely disappoints. I haven’t seen all of the below mentioned movies yet but have read a lot about them and have seen parts of them. There are most certainly more but these seem to be the most important ones. They are quite different. Some, like 9th Company, are pure, gritty  infantry combat, others like Come and See are more experimental. Mongol and Admiral are quite beautiful. What they all have in common is a feel of authenticity, and a way of showing how atrocious war is that is very unique and emotional. If you haven’t seen any Russian war movies so far, I would suggest you change that as soon as possible.

The Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost (2010) Dramatic infantry combat. The Germans attack the Brest Fortress from all sides. Soldiers and civilians fight for their life. (See my review)

Admiral (2008) The true story of Admiral Kolchak. WWI and Russian Revolution. War Movie and Love Story. (Here is my review)

Mongol (2007) The story of the rise of Genghis Khan. (Here is my review)

9th Company aka 9 Rota (2005) Gritty infantry combat in Afghanistan. It has similarities with Platoon but the characters are very different, very emotional. (See my review)

The Thief aka Vor (1997) Childhood drama that starts during WWII.

Come and See aka Idi i Smotri (1985) A young boy gets caught up in the atrocities of WWII.

The Dawns here are Quiet aka A zori zdes tikhie (1972) The story of a group of female soldiers during WWII.

Ivan’s childhood aka Ivanovo detstvo (1962) A young boy works as a spy at the eastern front. Three Soviet officers try to take care of this boy-child.

Ballad of a Soldier aka Ballada o Soldate (1959) A 19-year-old soldier gets a medal for bravery. On his leave he meets a girl on the train and falls in love with her. (Here’s my review)

The Story of a Man aka Sudba cheloveka (1959) The story of a man whose life is destroyed by WWII. When his village is bombed his wife and children are killed.

The Cranes are Flying aka Letyat zhuravli  (1957) A young woman waits for the love of her life to return from the war. The movie shows the battlefield and the home front. (See my review)

Battleship Potemkin aka Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925) A silent movie classic. One of the first war movies ever with a lot of famous scenes. Very expressive.

It is also worth mentioning other movies by Sergei Bondarchuk like War and Peace or Waterloo. They are all excellent but mostly co-productions with international stars that’s why I didn’t include them but chose The Story of a Man instead.

Do you have any favourite Russian war movies and/or recommendations?

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54 thoughts on “12 Russian War Movies You Must See

  1. Guy Savage says:

    I have seen all of these. While I thought Admiral was an incredible spectacle, I thought it was a bit disappointing overall (the civil war subsumed by a love story). Have you seen 1612?

    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend Commissar

    • I’m not surprised that you have seen them all. I know what you mean about Admiral but in this case I liked the love story and didn’t care all that much. I haven’t seen 1612 yet but I’ve got it. I’ll look for your suggestion, thank you.

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    Another excellent list! Thanks.

    Until I started my blog I never even remotely considered watching a Russian film. I have been amazed at what I had been missing. I have watched several in the last year and none have disappointed. Here are my impressions:
    Mongol – A
    9th Company – A
    Come and See – B
    Ballad of a Soldier – B+
    The Cranes Are Flying – A
    Battleship Potemkin – B

    I can add “Prisoner of the Mountain” = A / two Russian soldiers are held hostage by Chechnyan rebels

    • Thanks, Kevin. I agree mostly with your rating, maybe not for Battleship Potemkin. I hated watching it, to be honest, but still think it’s outstanding for the time.
      I vaguely remember Prisoner of the Mountain. My problem are the titles. I watch Russian movies with German subtitles. There is also much more available. Often co-prodcutions former German Democratic Republic /Russia. But then it’s hard for me to find the English title.

  3. Crooked Mick says:

    You might like

    “Alexander Nevsky” (1938) – a classic (propaganda) piece, but I think it still holds up – the imagery of the Teutonic army and the ice battle are excellent

    “Marsh-brosok” (aka “The Forced March”) (2003) – Chechen war from the POV of a young Russian soldier, perhaps a bit simplistic in terms of the realities of the political situation, but not bad as a war movie

    “Ivan Groznyy” (aka “Ivan the Terrible”) (1944/ 1958) – not just about war, but more like “War and Peace”

  4. Guy Savage says:

    Popped in to say that I am halfway through Burnt by the Sun 2 (3 hrs long). This is one you might want to check out. Watch Burnt by the Sun 1 first though otherwise it’ll be hard to follow. Some real life events from WWII here.

  5. Guy Savage says:

    I must say that some scenes from Burnt by the Sun II were very difficult to watch (the German tank scene), but bloody realism beats -“war as adventure” in Max Manus.

  6. I would recommend Russian WWII movie ‘The Star’ I watched it recently and was pleasantly surprised.

  7. mayank says:

    ‘Franz+Polina’ this is nice movie, besides ‘War fighter’ was awesome and also ‘sniper a weapon of retalliation’……i have watched all movies in the list. Russian movies are realistic. Love them.

  8. Ivan says:

    Hi! I would recommend russian movie “War”. I have found this film with English subs:

  9. Fedor says:

    I don’t like some movies from the list, but that’s my personal opinion.

    But there is a small factual mistake about the great movie The Dawns here are Quiet. The women in the movie are not snipers; they are simple soldiers, AA gun operators without any special combat training. Yet they have to face highly trained German commandoes.

  10. Marius says:

    I highly recommend:

    – The Cuckoo = Kukushka (2002). Karelian front. Two soldiers, from the opposing Soviet and Finnish armies, end up stranded in the Karelian forest wilderness and are sheltered by a local Saami woman. From then on, their three-way human relationships unfold.

    (I would also mention an earlier war movie by the same director, Aleksandr Rogozhkin – Checkpoint = Blokpost (1998/1999), depicting life of several young Russian conscripts at a checkpoint during the 1st Chechen War. Did not impress as strongly as the two other films I mention, but is a solid one.)

    – Our Own = Svoi (2004). Eastern front, around Pskov. Germans take a village and capture a large number of prisoners. As they shephard the column, three men manage to make an escape: a young sniper (whose native village is nearby), a politruk (political commissar), and a chekist (state security officer). They try to find refuge in the sniper’s village, which is occupied by the Germans. Great acting performance by the great Bogdan Stupka (deceased only a few months ago) in the role of the young soldier’s father. IMHO, essential viewing for any lover of war movies.

  11. […] If you’d like to watch other Russia war movies – here is a list: 12 Russian war movies you must see […]

  12. nem baj says:

    Unlisted I think, these are part of my own top 10 of Russian-speaking films:

    Arsenal (Арсенал)Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1927. World War One, Revolution and Civil War in Kiev.Okraïna (Окраина)Boris Barnet, 1933. World War One and Revolution seen by the inhabitants of a small town.The Forty-First (Sorok pervyy, Сорок первый)Grigoriy Chukhray, 1956. In the Kazakh desert during the Civil War, a Red sniper falls for her prisoner, a White officer.The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye, Восхождение)Larisa Shepitko, 1977. A parable on moral decay and resistance during the German occupation of Belarus.Twenty Days Without War (Dvadtsat dney bez voyny, 20 дней без войны)Aleksey German, 1977. A journey through the illusions of war propaganda.

  13. nem baj says:

    Unlisted I think, these are part of my own top 10 of Russian-speaking films:

    Arsenal (Арсенал)
    Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1927. World War One, Revolution and Civil War in Kiev.

    The Outskirts (Okraïna, Окраина)
    Boris Barnet, 1933. World War One and Revolution seen by the inhabitants of a small town.

    The Forty-First (Sorok pervyy, Сорок первый)
    Grigoriy Chukhray, 1956. In the Kazakh desert during the Civil War, a Red sniper falls for her prisoner, a White officer.

    The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye, Восхождение)
    Larisa Shepitko, 1977. A parable on moral decay and resistance during the German occupation of Belarus.

    Twenty Days Without War (Dvadtsat dney bez voyny, 20 дней без войны)
    Aleksey German, 1977. In 1943, a journey through the illusions of war propaganda.

  14. nem baj says:

    Two post-USSR movies on the same theme (hostage taking in Chechnya), but with very different approaches:

    Prisoners of the Mountains (1996) on the empathic-tragic side.

    War (2002) on the cynical-nationalist side.

    Worth watching together. 🙂

  15. Any idea of a movie that was from the black and white days it involves a female train engineer, I believe she became a Russian national figure.

  16. Pavel Parshev says:

    Russian film about First Battle of Grozny 1994-1995 (Russian-Chechen war) – “Chistilishe (Purgatory)”:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0846774/

    Soviet film about Great Patriotic War – “They Fought for the Motherland” – one of the most popular in Russia:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073488/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obBpLyIgbww&list=PLz2tbJ1zNiwDzrqB86RRCe-lDnSatg1_A – the first part
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWwVex6Y-tg&list=PLz2tbJ1zNiwDzrqB86RRCe-lDnSatg1_A – the second part
    Soviet film about Battle in Stalingad – “Goryachiy sneg (The Hot Snow)”

    Russian film about post-war syndrome (Chechen syndrome) – Zhivoy (Lively)

    Also advise you to watch movies in the series “Liberation” by Yuri Ozerov (Scales of this serial movie exceed even the “War and Peace” by Sergei Bondarchuk.)
    P.S. In any case not watch movies “Stalingrad” by Fyodor Bondarchuk (son of Sergei Bondarchuk) and “Burnt by the Sun” by Nikita Mikhalkov – It’s just a stupid joke and trolling people and checking the adequacy of contemporary Russian society. Our society has successfully met the test and these idiotic movies caused storm of indignation among the majority of viewers.

  17. Fegelein says:

    Hmm… the list is interesting but not unexpected.

    I am sad that 9’th company shows up. Honestly, there’s nothing special about it, other than the fact that it’s a Russian war movie done in a more western style, looking like “Full Metal Jacket”, “Platoon”, and “Pork Chop Hill” in turn. It’s not that great as a movie or as a historical piece. The real battle of Hill 3234 would have been far more incedible, for all the paratroopers were wounded, but only 3 died despite the absolute best efforts of all of Afghanistan to kill them.

    I think than Afghan Breakdown (Афганский Излом) should be on there, being called by veterans, the most realistic and accurate film about Afghanistan, It’s also a good piece to watch, though i wouldn’t recommend it as a date movie. I think of it as being somewhat like a predeessor to Spec Ops: The Line in terms of how it starts out looking like a typical war movie before it spirals into increasingly morally grey territory before ending unhappily, contrasting to how television wars end, with helicopters firing some missiles at invisible enemies, never doing any wrong before flying off into the sunset to go home.

    • Thanks for your comment. I haven’t seen Afghan Breakdown – I guess I should watch it.
      Personally, I think 9th Company is very similar in some ways to the US movies you mention but not in the way it treats emotions. I found the exchnage on their fears and other elements very different from anything you’d see/hear in a US movie. Otherwise – sure it’s similar.

  18. Its an impressive list sir. I have watched some of it and the rest I think I will be checking my netflix if they have good copy.

  19. I may have 3 more additions:

    A quiet outpost (tikhaya Zastava) – I really liked this one, situatted in the troubled afghan-tadshik-border region after the breakdown of the USSR. Resembles actual historical incidents.

    Gentlemen Officers: Save the Emperor – weird title but a rather nice film about a soldier sent out to save the life of the Czar in the Russian civil war. (Right before the end you can her the best carbine bolt action sound I ever heard in a movie)

    Third proposal is actually a series which is easily the best I ever saw. it is called “Shtrafbat” for “penal bataillon” and pictures the life of soldier in WW2 that have fallen out of Stalin’s favour. It is a very, very good experience to watch after some of the films compiled in this great list of yours, that approach the topic with quite a bit of bias and propaganda. (which does’nt make them bad films but they should be watched with that in mind.)

    Hope you like these.

    • Fedor says:

      Just keep in mind, that Shtrafbat has absolutely nothing to do with reality =)

      Just another anti-Russian movie. And yes, it is weird that Russian create anti-Russian movies.

      FYI – in case of penal battalions people ‘fallen out of Stalin’s favor’ means deserters, cowards, and such. And serving in Shtrafbat was not a death sentence. Yes, Shtrafbats were sent to most dangerous missions, but only if they were around. If not – regular units would be sent. So ‘dangerous’ does not mean ‘suicide’ here.

      I someone truly fell out of Stalin’s favor – he would not get out this easy.

      • Interesting comment, Fedor. Thanks.
        I’m interested to watch it anyway.

      • I did not see Shtrafbat as an anti-russian movie at all. That would be a very shallow and short-sighted way to look at it. It is probably not even anti-Stalin.

        I think it adds some perspective. It wasn’t all brotherly love and heroism in the 1940s.

        also, please be aware that I do not think for a second taht ANY movie about war is completely propaganda free. Especially not American ones. But the Americans have Oliver Stone, too.

    • Thanks for this, Jack. I’m very grateful for these suggestions. There’s often that propaganda issue with Russian movies, but keeping that in mind, makes them worthwhile nonetheless.
      I hope I can find the first two you mention.

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  22. Ahmad says:

    I love war movies from Russia and eastern block pls pls pls write the name in English so that I will try to get the sub in English there are so many excellent war movies from Russia and Ukraine but no sub pls load the movie with sub pls pls pls

    • I hear you. There are many movies from those countries. I try to always give the English titles.

      • Ahmad says:

        Brother thanks for your reply. There are so many Ukrainian and Russian war TV movies on YouTube. Everything is in Russian language even the name. I wish I could find those movies with sub I even can’t tell you the name because written in Russian . Any way thanks brother. Ahmad

  23. Ahmad says:

    Brother if you want to see the best war movies go to Youtube and type russian war movies with eng sub. After watching russian war movies i hâve stopped watching américan war movies . Américan stands nowhere in front of russian as far as war movies is concern.thanks

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