In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section German Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Cinema (Before 1918)
  • Weimar (1919–1933)
  • Nazi Cinema (1933–1945)
  • Late 1940s–1960s Cinema in East and West Germany
  • Post-1989 German Cinema
  • Gender and Sexuality

Cinema and Media Studies German Cinema
Caryl Flinn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0034


German film has had a uniquely prolific and diverse history. Its output ranges from experimental efforts during the Weimar era, including its renowned Expressionist films; to a heavily controlled nationalized cinema under the Third Reich; to unadventurous but popular genre films from “Western” and “Eastern” industries in the 1950s; to the inquisitive Neue Deutsche Film (New German Cinema) in the late 1960s through the early 1980s; to post-unification fiction films exploring German themes in transnational, multiethnic contexts. Throughout its history, this compelling national cinema has attracted an active group of intellectuals, from cultural critics such as Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer in the Weimar era to a wide range of contemporary film historians across the globe. It attracts feminist and queer scholars and transnational and ethnic studies scholars. Germany’s two art film movements, Expressionism and the New German Cinema, have generated considerable scholarly discussion, but more recently, popular and even disparaged forms and periods (e.g., the sentimental Heimat film, Nazi cinema, etc.) have received more attention.

General Overviews

Of the overviews available in German, Jacobsen, et al. 2004 is among the most definitive, containing informed overviews of topics related to film production and consumption. Chapters range from experimental film, East German cinema, feminist cinema, “exile films,” and film and television, written by prominent scholars in the field. Another useful introduction is Schneider 1990, which gives a well-researched overview of German film and television industries. In English, Bergfelder, et al. 2002 covers the expanse of German film and emphasizes audience study, archival research, and traditional historiography. Hake 2008 is a concise scholarly overview of the entirety of German film production; it also examines the idea, assumptions, and questions of a “national cinema.” Silberman 1995, while a little older, combines film texts, social and political histories, and critical and theoretical inquiry.

  • Bergfelder, Tim, Erica Carter, and Deniz Göktürk, eds. The German Cinema Book. London: British Film Institute, 2002.

    This sizeable anthology distinguishes itself, almost polemically, from earlier approaches by attending to underexamined periods and filmmaking, such as popular films outside of the Weimar or New German Cinema periods. Its frequent engagement with issues of ethnic diversity and transnationalism makes it one of the most up-to-date collections.

  • Brockman, Stephen. A Critical History of German Film. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010.

    Textbook whose historical overview is provided by discussing canonical film texts; covers a century of filmmaking.

  • Hake, Sabine. German National Cinemas. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Hake is a leading scholar of German film history. This academic book is a straightforward introduction to the topic.

  • Jacobsen, Wolfgang, Anton Kaes, and Hans Helmut Prinzler, eds. Geschichte des deutschen Films. 2d ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2004.

    Outstanding anthology that covers a range of topics across over a century of German cinema. Articles include work by top German historians and film scholars.

  • Schneider, Irmela. Film, Fernsehen & Co.: Zur Entwicklung des Spielfilms in Kino und Fernsehen; Ein Uberblick uber [uber neets an umlaut] Konzepte und Tendenzen. Heidelberg, Germany: C. Winter, 1990.

    Overview of feature films in the television and film industries.

  • Silberman, Marc. German Cinema: Texts in Context. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

    Silberman’s work is highly recommended for classroom use, situating case studies of individual films within their historical, social, and industrial contexts.

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