Some 5 years ago I couldn’t recommend anything to Russian learners to watch on Netflix, but today things are changing for the better! To tell the truth, I’m very proud that the international movie network is becoming more interested in Russian cinematography. In this post, I’ll share top movies and shows on Netflix that will improve your Russian.
For the last couple of years, Netflix has bought a few great shows made in Russia. They authentically depict historical events and daily life in a country, but not only that. If you’re tired of Hollywood-style shows, movies made by Russian directors, who have their own unique perspective on events, are a great choice.
Good news everyone! All of the shows listed here have English and Russian subtitles, so you will understand every single word. The following shows and movies will not only enrich your vocabulary but will give you a much broader understanding of different events that took place in Russia at different times.
In this post, you will find:
- Authentic Russian shows – made by native directors in Russian
- Shows about Russia – made by foreign directors in English
And if you can’t find the one you need, make sure to visit this page, where I’m showing other sources where you can see Russian movies with subtitles in different languages.
Tips to Watch Russian Movies on Netflix
Before we get straight to the point, look through these three brief recommendations that will allow you to turn watching movies into an effective learning tool.
#1 Make Sure to Learn Appropriate Phrases
Very often the protagonist says a cool phrase that we want to memorize and include in our speech. That’s a good idea! But make sure it’s not something outdated (like from historical movies) or rude (from gangster thrillers). Or for instance, in The Road to Calvary show, that I’m talking about below, they use many words that were popular 100 years ago, but not now.
#2 Don’t Rely on Subtitles too Much
Keep in mind that English subtitles on Netflix don’t give a word-by-word translation, they represent the general idea of what has been said. Therefore, you need to make sure of what has been said exactly. Luckily, native subtitles repeat each word that has been pronounced in Russian. You can use them to check the exact meaning.
#3 Minimise Subtitles Usage
Use subtitles at the very beginning to get acquainted with the plot and the main characters. Once you’ve watched three episodes, switch off all subtitles. That may be very uncomfortable at first, but by the end of the season, you will still understand all the events.
Authentic Russian Shows
This section includes Russian shows in Russian starring Russian actors: a great option to boost your comprehension skills.
The Road to Calvary IMDb 7,9
This periodic drama is based on one of the most outstanding of Tolstoy’s novels, The Road to Calvary. It shows us the evolution of the life of two sisters Katya and Dasha, who overcome the terror of WWI, a revolution, and a very bloody civil war.
In his novel, Tolstoy realistically depicts the faith of “intelligentsia” – the educated part of Russia. In this show, personal drama mixes with national tragedy. Here you will see peoples’ life from the inside: with love, passion, and terror.
Silver Spoon IMDb 7,9
The plot of the story revolves around the life of a “rich son” Igor, who has an idle lifestyle with night racing in a Porsche and hanging out in luxury clubs. After an accident on the road his father makes him serve in a local police department where Igor builds up new relationships with people.
This movie has been rated so high on IMDb because it’s a typical procedural drama, so familiar to a Western viewer (a drama that shows the daily routine of a certain professional, where each episode can be watched separately). I should warn, though, that it’s full of stereotypes about “rich Russian sons”, that made this film so unpopular among locals who clearly see this in opposition to real life.
Fartsa Imdb 7,4
Do you think the market and entrepreneurship didn’t exist in the USSR at all? They did, but in very perverted forms. This criminal drama introduces a phenomenon familiar to every single Soviet citizen – fartsovka (or, shortly – fartsa): illegally buying goods from foreigners and selling them inside the USSR.
In the 1950s to the 1980s, a normal thing such as buying a caste recorder or a pair of jeans from a tourist was a criminal action, punished by imprisonment. But the protagonists are taking this risk to help his friend to pay off his debt. The show aptly depicts mundane Soviet realities and the criminal underworld.
The Method Imdb 7,5
Some 10 years ago, the best Russian movie the Western audience could see was a historical documentary. But times have changed. How about a modern Russian detective psychological thriller?
This show depicts the story of Rodion Meglin – the best investigator, working with the police. One day he is ordered to train an intern – a beautiful and really smart girl Esenya, who appears to have her own skeleton in the cupboard. Her mother died under mysterious circumstances and her dad knows far more than he says. These events force Esenya to master detective skills to investigate the main crime in her life.
Trotsky Imdb 7,1
The show depicts the life path of one of the most controversial leaders of the Russian Revolution. People outside the former USSR have hardly ever heard of Trotsky, but he is said to be an “executive producer of the Revolution”. After Lenin’s death, Trotsky became Stalin’s greatest rival.
His ideology prepared a solid ground for the terror that was in the country in the 1930s. Alexander Tsekalo, the show’s co-producer said: “When we were working on the script, I read so much unpleasant information about Trotsky that I wanted to take a shower afterwards.”
Sparta Imdb 6,6
This detective drama begins with the suicide of a school teacher who jumped out of a window. The investigator finds out that there were other similar incidences and all who died played a bloody computer game called “Sparta”.
Though the premise seems very promising, the depiction of virtual reality seems poorly-made in comparison with typical Western alternatives. However, critics point out good acting, which saves the show. Despite the lack of experience, Russian directors are experimenting with new genres and Netflix rewards them generously.
Locust Imdb – 5.6
This thriller tells us a story of a poor country poet and a rich city girl who happened to fall in love with each other. The protagonists don’t want to wait: they want to get everything right here and right now: riches, power, and love. As a result, their passion makes them commit brutal crimes.
Movies and Shows about Russia
If you are not ready to watch films in Russian, the following shows could be an alternative. They are made by non-Russian directors in English. Unfortunately, there are not many of them on Netflix.
Russian Doll Imdb 8.0
The show tells us the story of 34-year-old Nadia who dies every day but every time wakes up in her friend’s bathroom at her birthday party, the same as in Groundhog Day. Her task is to solve the riddle and get out of the trap.
What about Russia? Well… not much, actually. Nadia, raised in the US, is an independent person working in IT. However, authors often address the Russian topic by using details such as Russian dolls. Nadia herself is a huge allusion to Russian culture; her character (I think) was borrowed from the Russian pop star Alla Pugacheva, with a storm of red hair, affection towards black clothes, and a straight-forward and freedom-loving spirit.
Empire of Tzars with Lucy Worsley Imdb 7,7
This is a classic documentary by British historian Lucy Worsley, who travels to Russia to tell us the magnificent 300-year-old story of the Romanov dynasty. This movie is a great choice to expand your knowledge of Russian history: basic facts, dates, and events are put into a great story.
The Battle of Russia Imdb 7,2
This documentary was made in 1942 at the time when the Soviet Union was fighting against Nazi Germany on the Western Front. Nowadays, the movie itself has become a part of history and I would recommend you treat it that way. The film may be classified as Soviet propaganda and it is a must-see for those who want to see how it worked on the other side.
The Last Tzars Imdb 7,2
The movie reveals the fall of the house of the Romanovs, the last Russian tsar Nikolai II and his family. This is a fantastic drama, both for the Tsar’s family and for the whole Russian people who were in a very bloody revolution.
This is a good film to watch, but please don’t rely on it as on historically accurate source; this is a work of art first and foremost. Many circumstances are shown very differently from reality, partially for the sake of drama and partially because of the lack of research.
Does Netflix Work in Russia?
Yes, Netflix works in Russia perfectly well. Registration works as usual.
I would be glad to know your opinion on my list and which Netflix movies help you learn Russian. Share your opinions in the comments below.