The emblematic salutes, the aggressively defiant rallies, the Hugo Boss-designed uniforms, the abhorrent slaughter of Jewish Europeans, the swastika. All are symbolic of Nazism and the tyrannical reign of Adolf Hitler. Traditionally, cinema in the West has laid bare the war crimes and evil that the powers that be in Nazi Germany were responsible for. There is a clear line between good guys and bad guys.
Yet many historians will attest to this not being strictly the case. The black-and-white rhetoric utilized by popular films typically depicts all those, from the foot soldiers to Hitler himself, as the root of all evil. It’s a given that the crazed, profoundly immoral Hitler, his cabinet, the Gestapo, and Nazi officers displayed a total disregard for a moral compass, and everything they represented was pure, uncontaminated evil.
However, there have been some films that highlight the trials and tribulations of the average soldier, obscured by blind allegiance, fear, and the very real threat of death should they not abide by Nazi command. In these movies, we are offered a rare glimpse into the lives of soldiers from a German and Axis perspective, allowing for a fuller historical perspective and even more humanity while also showing how sometimes ordinary citizens can allow evil to grow, and those that realize they are on the wrong side of history. Here are some of the best…
December 16, 2023: This article has been updated with more films and where each title is streaming.
15 13 Minutes (2015)
2015’s 13 Minutes (not to be confused with the natural disaster film) is the intense war drama from Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of Downfall. The film tells the true story of a carpenter Georg Elser (played by Christian Friedel), Hitler’s would-be assassin. In 1939, Elser planted a homemade bomb and attempted to kill the leader of the Nazi Party – but the bomb, which did kill eight people and injured 62 others, went off after Hitler left just 13 minutes before.
How 13 Minutes is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
13 Minutes explores the first unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler, while 2008’s historical thriller Valkyrie depicts the 1944 attempt by several high-ranking Nazi officers to overthrow Hitler. Both stories should be remembered for different reasons. 13 Minutes is a movie that emotionally depicts those brave enough to defy the totalitarian regime of the far right, doing so in a far more stripped-back, less pretentious, and more realistic manner than 2008’s Valkyrie. Rent on Apple TV+
14 The Counterfeiters (2007)
Nazis infamously didn’t take kindly to anyone who fit into the narrow bracket of Aryan, and smooth fraudsters were no different. In The Counterfeiters, Solomon (Karl Markovics), a card player and heavy drinker in Nazi Germany, is placed in a concentration camp. Catching the eye of the camp operators with his immense counterfeiting talents, he is upgraded, and so, the journey begins that places him at the center of one of the biggest acts of counterfeiting in history.
How The Counterfeiters is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
The Counterfeiters is a poignant tale of the desperation millions of Jews were subjected to. While the film doesn’t concern itself with the moral implications of such actions by a select group of Jewish concentration camp inmates, it does highlight the extent to which those with a skill to offer went to saving their own skin, regardless of the atrocities being committed to their people. Rent on Prime
13 Valkyrie (2008)
Bryan Singer was at the directorial helm for this World War Two action thriller. Valkyrie tells the tale of Operation Valkyrie, a covert internal plot to overthrow Hitler and the Nazi regime by assassinating the Führer and his closest confidants in his cabinet. This true story follows a number of German vigilantes disillusioned by the ardent fascism of the German government and subsequently plotting to blow up Hitler’s underground bunker.
Why Valkyrie is an Enthralling Film
While by no means a massive box office success, making just $201 million from its $90 million budget, Valkyrie offered a close examination of some of the unrest among factions of the German people, too afraid to speak out against the regime in fear of the repercussions. Valkyrie portrays a truly inspiring tale of courage, valiance, and selflessness, as this group of fearless men stick their heads above the parapet and risk it all to save both their country and the world from further destruction. Tom Cruise is, as always, exceedingly brilliant in the titular role, yet, it’s the performances of the supporting cast in Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, and Carice van Houten that keep this picture ticking along at a truly compelling pace. Stream on Prime and Pluto
12 Europa Europa (1990)
Traversing the story of a Jewish teenager, Solek, who must fend for himself after he becomes separated from his family following the devastating events of Kristallnacht. Finding himself at a Russian orphanage, Solek is captured by Germans, although by utilizing his skill of deception, he manages to convince his fellow soldiers that he is an Aryan German. While in the Hitler Youth, the young Salek becomes entranced by an ardent fascist, Leni, putting him in considerable jeopardy.
Why Europa Europa is a Deeply Affecting Movie
Arguably one of the more moving portraits that shed light on the perspective of those of a German and Axis persuasion. 1990’s Europa Europa is a truly touching and poignant depiction of a German Jew’s fight for survival. A film that offers more than a survival story, but a character study into the willpower and determination of one adolescent. Europa Europa never shies away from the atrocities of war, nor the barbarity the Jewish people suffered at the hands of the Nazi war machine. Detailing themes of love, loss, moral conflict, and desperation, this is one of the most defining war movies from the German and Axis perspectives of all time. Stream on Max and Prime
11 Cross of Iron (1977)
James Coburn stars in this screen adaptation of author Willi Heinrich’s novel, The Willing Flesh. Renamed Cross of Iron, the war drama follows the story of Corporal Adolf Steiner (Coburn), a well-renowned member of the German army, and winner of the famous Iron Cross. Leading a battalion into battle on the Eastern front, Steiner clashes with a fellow officer, Hauptmann Stransky, as the power-hungry Prussian captain leads them into grave danger.
How Cross of Iron is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Unsurprisingly, James Coburn’s display in the titular role is emphatic. Like many a war flick from a German or Axis perspective, Cross of Iron confronts the basic human instinct of survival. This is a slow-burning seminal war film that pits two warring Wehrmacht officers against each other in what is essentially a contemplative portrayal of internal unrest. Stream on Prime
10 Lore (2012)
Cate Shortland’s Lore is a grim, slow-building drama about Germany at the end of World War II. The film follows five destitute siblings making a 500-mile trip to their grandmother’s home after their Nazi parents disappear. Along the way, 16-year-old Lore (played by Saskia Rosendahl) and her siblings see a country in an almost apocalyptic state and understand that everything they were taught about the world is a lie.
How Lore is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Lore is a chilling and deeply affecting drama that traverses the hardships of the average German citizen during the five-year-long conflict. The immense destitution of the place they once called home is apparent throughout, and Lore must guide her young family through not just war-torn territories but through starvation, fear, robbery, and death. Stream on Prime and Tubi
9 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas delves into the uncontaminated innocence of youth in the face of the perils of wartime Germany. An infantile Asa Butterfield plays Bruno, the son of a Nazi general, a key overseer of the Jewish extermination camps. Unbeknownst to Bruno, he, along with his family, moves in alongside a concentration camp.
How The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Befriending a young Jew, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) from the other side of the fence, the pair’s childlike ignorance and unquestioning naivety paint a delicate yet wholesome painting on a Nazi-made canvas of death, destruction, and devastation. Featuring a baby-faced Asa Butterfield, this is a heartbreaking tale of when the innocence of youth collides with the depravity of a fascist dictatorship. Stream on Paramount+
8 The Captain (2017)
Released in both the shortened studio format and the four-hour director’s cut, Robert Schwentke’s Der Hauptman (The Captain) follows the true tale of a German soldier’s efforts to flee his war-torn country by impersonating a high-ranking Nazi officer.
How The Captain is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Shot in black and white, the movie’s composition perfectly encapsulates the chilling narcissism of deserter Willi Herold (played by Max Hubacher) and his devilish disposition. While The Captain offers a fascinating character study, this is really a film about a man’s audacious attempts to survive the harsh reality of war and the unsympathetic approach to deserters. Stream on Prime and Tubi
7 Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Letters from Iwo Jima
- Release Date
- December 19, 2006
- Ken Watanabe , Kazunari Ninomiya , Tsuyoshi Ihara , Ryo Kase , Shido Nakamura , Hiroshi Watanabe
Clint Eastwood was at the director’s chair for 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima, the first installment of two films on the bloody battle for the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. The sister films (the other being The Flags of Our Fathers) offer opposite perspectives from both the Japanese and American sides. It follows the story of the massively outnumbered Japanese soldiers who attempt to stave off the oncoming American bombardment as they seek to preserve their occupancy on a key stronghold.
How Letters From Iwo Jima is One of the Best Movies from The Axis Perspective
From an archetypal American patriot in Eastwood, it comes as somewhat of a welcome surprise how heart-rending, empathetic, and sensitive the film is towards the Japanese troops and the hardship they endured while trying to defend their homeland. Letters From Iwo Jima personifies the saying “no surrender”, and the lengths the Japanese soldiers went to both survive and defend their country. Rent on Prime and Apple TV+
6 Stalingrad (1993)
The infamous Battle of Stalingrad was perhaps the most bloodstained battle of the Second World War, with an estimated 20,000 deaths per day. The Germans, under-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the extreme conditions on the Eastern Front, sustained massive losses via both warfare and the freezing climate.
How Stalingrad is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Joseph Vilsmaier’s Stalingradis a devastating illustration of an army battalion’s hellish experience of the noxious conditions in the Russian city. Outnumbered by a staggeringly vast Soviet army, and pilloried by the glacial elements, the German soldiers must fight for their survival against all odds. This is another film that humanizes German soldiers, allowing for a great deal more empathy than what has become standard in the subgenre. No Streaming Available
5 Land of Mine (2015)
Land of Mine
- Release Date
- December 3, 2015
- Martin Zandvliet
- Roland Møller , Louis Hofmann , Joel Basman , Mikkel Boe Følsgaard , Laura Bro
- 1hr 40min
Inspired by real events, following the end of WWII, the once Nazi-occupied Denmark has been left riddled with millions of undetonated shells upon its shores. Predominantly baby-faced German prisoners of war are forced to embark on a treacherous mission to dispose of every shell left on Danish beaches, and all just by hand. Land of Mine provides a deeply emotional depiction of a group of frightened, anxious German foot soldiers who gradually form a bond with their Danish commander-in-chief.
How Land of Mine is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
The film restores a sense of humanity, soul, and relatability to a group of young men paying for the callous actions of their former dictator. With a budget of just $4 million, Land of Mine is a truly outstanding piece of filmmaking, and the stunning performances from its young stars are touching tributes to those who lost their lives while working on what was essentially a suicide mission. Stream on Prime, Hulu, and Starz
4 Downfall (2004)
- Release Date
- September 8, 2004
Downfall documents the final days of Hitler’s sovereignty as the chancellor of Nazi Germany. As the Russians close in on Berlin and Hitler’s bunker, the fascist dictator becomes increasingly unhinged, losing his grip on reality. Surrounded by leading Nazi officials from Himmler to Goebbels and his pining lover, Eva Braun, the end is nigh for this despicable episode of villainy.
How Downfall is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
The story is told by the tongue and hand of Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge, whose book inspired the film, and whose voice can be heard narrating the final scenes. In turn, this is an utterly compelling account of the last days of the Third Reich and a fascinating, very close-to-the-bone examination of how the last days of Nazism panned out. Stream on Prime and Tubi
3 Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies
- Release Date
- July 26, 1989
- Tsutomu Tatsumi , Ayano Shiraishi , Akemi Yamaguchi
- Not Rated
- 1hr 29min
1988’s Grave of the Fireflies is a heartbreaking, semi-biographical, animated movie from Studio Ghibli following Seita and his sister, Setsuko, who are separated from their parents after an American firebomb rips through their area, killing their mother. The pair navigate themselves through troubled waters, watching over one another as they face emotionally challenging situations that test their resolve.
How Grave of the Fireflies is One of the Best Movies from The Axis Perspective
The harrowing movie serves as a lesson in survival, compassion, and the human instinct to care, depicting the Japanese side of the war and countless casualties in an emotionally devastating way. Grave of the Fireflies offers a unique take on war through the artistic lens of animation, and while it may very initially appear to sap this barbaric act of its bloody potency, it quickly becomes a deeply visceral experience and one that is undeniably affecting. Stream on Apple TV+
2 Schindler’s List (1993)
- Release Date
- November 30, 1993
- Steven Spielberg
- Universal Studios
Schindler’s List may be an unconventional entry for this list, but one that deserves its place. Spielberg’s monochromatic B&W masterpiece was a film that concluded a stellar year for the Saving Private Ryan director. Schindler’s List offers an alternative view of Nazism and the immense suffering of the Jews at their hands.
How Schindler’s List is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
Unlike Son of Saul and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List isn’t solely about the plight of more than six million Jews but about the selfless actions of an influential member of the Nazi party, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), an industrialist who employs his position of power as a way of protecting the Jewish population under his tenure. This true story is a moving, profound, and beautifully poignant picture that captures the horrors of concentration camps but also the humanity of a high-ranking Nazi who realized he was wrong and looked to do something about correcting his affiliations which is such a hateful group. Stream on Apple TV+
1 Das Boot (1981)
Arguably one of the best war films of all time, Das Boot affords the frightfully lucid experience of what it was like on board the German submarine U-96. Accompanied by war correspondent Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), the submarine’s crew contends with everything from mind-numbing lengths of boredom, perilous underwater patrols that put the lives of the shipmates at risk, and rapidly diminishing rations that threaten to starve those on board, all while submerged 300 meters below the sea’s surface and embroiled in oceanic warfare.
How Das Boot is One of the Best Movies from a German and Axis Perspective
For a low-budget film, Das Boot is remarkably accomplished; the authenticity of the sound effects really adds to the palpable tension, suspense, and permanent sense of danger felt within the tight confines of the boat. Arguably, no film has depicted the monotony of waiting for combat, combined with the painful tension of anticipation, that soldiers experience as well as Das Boot. Rent on Prime