The Top 20 Russian Films, According to Russians

Ask an Amer­i­can film stu­dent to name the mas­ter­pieces of Russ­ian cin­e­ma, and you will get a selec­tion of Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalk­er, The Mir­ror) and a soup­con of Eisen­stein. And no doubt those are true, rev­er­en­tial clas­sics. But what do Rus­sians con­sid­er their best-loved films? That’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

This list from the Russ­ian Film Hub presents 20 films rat­ed by Kinopoisk, the country’s ver­sion of–movies that hold a spe­cial place in their hearts, ones that have affect­ed the cul­ture, the ones that peo­ple can quote by heart. There’s not one Tarkovsky here at all.

Bet­ter yet, all these films are avail­able to watch on the Russ­ian Film Hub site, and with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. (Most are YouTube embeds from the Mos­Film chan­nel, but not all).

1. Ivan Vasi­lye­vich Changes His Pro­fes­sion
2. Oper­a­tion Y and Shurik’s Oth­er Adven­tures
3. The Dia­mond Arm
4. Only Old Men Are Going to Bat­tle
5. Gen­tle­men of For­tune
6. The Dawns Here Are Qui­et
7. Kid­nap­ping, Cau­casian Style
8. The Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes and Dr. Wat­son
9. Heart of a Dog
10. Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
11. The Cranes Are Fly­ing
12. Offi­cers
13. White Bim Black Ear
14. Fate of a Man
15. Office Romance
16. They Fought for Their Coun­try
17. Broth­er
18. Bal­lad of a Sol­dier
19. The Girls
20. Wel­come, or No Tres­pass­ing

Now, there are a few films on the list that art house fans will rec­og­nize. The Cranes Are Fly­ing won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1958, one of the high­est acco­lades a Russ­ian film had received in the post-war peri­od. Mikhail Kalatozov’s film is set before and after World War II, and lead actress Tatyana Samoylova’s Veroni­ka is as icon­ic a role as Ingrid Bergman in Casablan­ca, guar­an­tee to make an audi­ence weep at the end. (The film is avail­able to screen to Amer­i­can view­ers, as you can watch in on Cri­te­ri­on Chan­nel and HBO Max.)

Sim­i­lar­ly Grig­o­ry Chukhrai’s Bal­lad of a Sol­dier is a well-loved war dra­ma, direct­ed by a man who had fought in World War II him­self. Despite a series of prob­lems dur­ing pro­duc­tion, it has gone on to be inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized. (It too is only avail­able to Amer­i­can view­ers through Cri­te­ri­on.)

How­ev­er, the rest of these titles will be new to a vast major­i­ty of non-Rus­sians. The top three on the list and num­ber sev­en are by Leonid Gaidai, Russia’s best known com­e­dy direc­tor, sim­i­lar to a Blake Edwards or a Harold Ramis. Gaidai’s plots usu­al­ly cen­ter around con­men and mis­tak­en iden­ti­ty, and the num­ber one film in the list–Ivan Vasi­lye­vich Changes His Pro­fes­sion, from 1973, is a time trav­el caper where an apart­ment man­ag­er and a bungling bur­glar are trans­port­ed back to the 16th cen­tu­ry, while Tsar Ivan the Ter­ri­ble is brought into 1973. It gets com­pared to Mon­ty Python, Napoleon Dyna­mite, and Han­na-Bar­bera car­toons on Let­ter­boxd, and while the word play might not make it through the trans­la­tion, it is con­sid­ered hilar­i­ous regard­less. (All four of Gaidai’s films were huge box office hits.)

Also of note is Wel­come, or No Tres­pass­ing, a wacky kids’ camp com­e­dy (think Wes Anderson’s Moon­light King­dom) in which the young’uns get one over on their adult cap­tors. Direc­tor Elem Klimov would go on, 20 yeas lat­er, to direct Come and See, one of the most har­row­ing and bru­tal anti-war films out there.

Not every film is from the height of the Cold War, either. Broth­er, from 1997, is a gang­ster film set in the mean streets of St. Peters­burg, and is con­sid­ered one of the most pop­u­lar post-Sovi­et Russ­ian films.

And final­ly, the list has room for an adap­ta­tion of Sher­lock Holmes that, accord­ing to review­ers on Let­ter­boxd, rivals that of Jere­my Brett and Basil Rath­bone.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Film Posters of the Russ­ian Avant-Garde

Watch Hun­dreds of Free Films from Around the World: Explore Film Archives from Japan, France, and the U.S

The Simp­sons Reimag­ined as a Russ­ian Art Film

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.