Czech cinema has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century, with many influential filmmakers and iconic films. From the surreal works of Jan Svankmajer to the gritty realism of the Czech New Wave, Czech cinema has produced a wide range of styles and genres.

Some of the most notable Czech films include the surreal stop-motion animated films of Jan Svankmajer, such as “Alice” (1988) and “Little Otik” (2000). The Czech New Wave of the 1960s produced such classics as “Closely Watched Trains” (1966) by Jiri Menzel, “Loves of a Blonde” (1965) by Milos Forman, and “Daisies” (1966) by Vera Chytilova.

More recent Czech films have also gained international recognition, such as the Oscar-winning “Kolya” (1996) by Jan Sverak and the acclaimed drama “I, Olga Hepnarova” (2016) by Petr Kazda and Tomas Weinreb.

Best Czech Movies

Czech cinema offers a diverse and fascinating array of films that are both entertaining and thought-provoking.

1. Closely Watched Trains (1966)

“Closely Watched Trains” (Ostře Sledované Vlaky) is a 1966 Czechoslovak film directed by Jiří Menzel, based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal. The film is set in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II and follows the story of a young railway apprentice named Milos, who works at a small railway station.

Milos dreams of becoming a hero and impressing a young girl, but he is plagued by insecurities and fears. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when he falls in love with a young conductor and becomes involved in a plot to sabotage a Nazi train.

The film is known for its bittersweet humor, its exploration of the human condition under oppression, and its poetic use of symbolism. “Closely Watched Trains” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1968, and it is considered to be one of the greatest Czechoslovak films of all time.

Closely Watched Trains (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Vaclav Neckar, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský (Actors)
  • Jiri Menzel (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

2. The Firemen’s Ball (1967)

“The Firemen’s Ball” (Czech: “Hoří, má panenko”) is a 1967 Czechoslovak comedy film directed by Miloš Forman. The film is a satire about a firemen’s ball held in a small Czech town that turns into a series of disasters and comic mishaps.

The film’s humorous and irreverent tone was seen as a criticism of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia, which did not take kindly to the film’s portrayal of authority figures as inept and corrupt. The film was banned by the government shortly after its release and Forman was subsequently forced to emigrate to the United States.

Despite the political controversy surrounding its release, “The Firemen’s Ball” is now considered a classic of Czechoslovak cinema and a landmark of the Czech New Wave. Its depiction of small-town life, social hierarchy, and human fallibility has resonated with audiences around the world and influenced generations of filmmakers.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1969, and Miloš Forman went on to have a successful career in the United States, directing acclaimed films such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus.”

The Fireman's Ball [DVD] [1967]
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

3. Kolya (1996)

“Kolya” is a 1996 Czech drama film directed by Jan Svěrák. The film tells the story of Louka, a middle-aged Czech musician and confirmed bachelor, who is hired by a young Russian woman to marry her so she can obtain Czech citizenship.

   

After the marriage, Louka is left to care for her 5-year-old son, Kolya, when she abruptly leaves the country. Despite their initial struggles and language barriers, Louka and Kolya develop a deep bond and friendship that changes Louka’s life forever.

The film features beautiful cinematography, a memorable musical score, and excellent performances, particularly from lead actor Zdeněk Svěrák, who co-wrote the screenplay with his son Jan. “Kolya” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1997 and is widely considered one of the greatest Czech films of all time.

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Buena Vista Home Video Kolya
  • Zdenek Sverák (Actor)
  • Jan Sverák (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

4. A Blonde in Love (1965)

“A Blonde in Love” (Czech: “Lásky jedné plavovlásky”) is a 1965 Czechoslovak comedy-drama film directed by Miloš Forman. The film is known for its gentle humor and charm, as well as its exploration of the complexities of love and relationships.

The plot of the film revolves around Andula, a young woman who moves to Prague from a rural town in search of love and adventure. She becomes involved with a series of men, each of whom presents her with different challenges and experiences. As she navigates the ups and downs of these relationships, Andula learns important lessons about herself and the nature of love.

The film is notable for its naturalistic style, which captures the everyday rhythms and experiences of ordinary people. It is also known for its use of music, which ranges from traditional folk songs to contemporary pop music. The film’s themes of love, sex, and relationships are explored with warmth and humor, and its characters are both relatable and endearing.

“A Blonde in Love” is considered a masterpiece of Czechoslovak cinema, and is one of Forman’s most beloved films. It offers a poignant and insightful portrait of life and love in mid-20th century Czechoslovakia, and continues to be widely admired for its timeless themes and universal appeal.

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A Blonde In Love [Blu-ray]
  • English (Subtitle)

5. The Shop on Main Street (1965)

“The Shop on Main Street” is a Slovak-Czechoslovak film directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, released in 1965. The film is set during World War II in a small Slovak town, and follows the story of a Slovak carpenter named Tóno who is appointed “Aryan controller” of a Jewish-owned button shop. Tóno struggles with his conscience as he becomes increasingly involved in the lives of the shop owner, an elderly Jewish woman named Rozália, and her community.

The film was a critical success, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966, and is considered a masterpiece of Slovak and Czechoslovak cinema. The film explores themes of complicity, guilt, and humanity in the face of prejudice and genocide. It is a powerful and emotional portrayal of the Holocaust from the perspective of an ordinary person caught up in the events of the time.

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6. Divided We Fall (2000)

“Divided We Fall” (Czech: “Musíme si pomáhat”) is a 2000 Czech film directed by Jan Hřebejk. The film takes place during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and tells the story of a couple, Josef and Marie Cízek, who decide to hide a Jewish man, David, in their apartment. The couple faces many challenges as they try to keep David’s presence a secret from their nosy neighbor and the Gestapo.

The film explores themes of resistance, sacrifice, and the complexities of morality during wartime. It was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001.

“Divided We Fall” is notable for its blend of drama, humor, and suspense, and for its portrayal of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It remains one of the most important films in Czech cinema, and a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the darkest of times.

   
Divided We Fall
  • Bolek Polivka, Csongor Kassai, Jaroslav Dusek (Actors)
  • Jan Hrebejk (Director) - Ondrej Trojan (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

7. Zelary (2003)

“Zelary” is a 2003 Czech film directed by Ondřej Trojan. The film is set in Czechoslovakia during World War II and tells the story of a young nurse named Eliska, who becomes involved with a surgeon who is part of the Czech resistance movement.

When the surgeon is wounded by the Gestapo, Eliska must leave her city life behind and go into hiding in a remote mountain village called Zelary. There, she adopts a new identity and learns to adapt to the simple, traditional way of life in the village. As she begins to form new relationships and a sense of community in Zelary, she also discovers unexpected love.

“Zelary” is a beautifully shot and emotionally powerful film that explores themes such as love, survival, and sacrifice in the face of war and oppression. The film was critically acclaimed and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. It is considered to be one of the most important Czech films of the early 21st century.

Zelary [DVD]
  • Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Anna Geislerova, Jaroslav Dusek (Actors)
  • Ondrej Trojan (Director) - Ondrej Trojan (Producer)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

3 Characteristics of Czech Movies

Dark humor: Czech movies are often known for their unique brand of dark humor, which combines satire, irony, and absurdity. This type of humor is often used to comment on serious social or political issues, such as corruption or oppression, in a lighthearted and playful way.

Visual style: Czech movies are also known for their distinct visual style, which often features vivid colors, surreal imagery, and unexpected camera angles. This style is often used to convey a sense of whimsy or fantasy, as well as to create a visual metaphor for the themes or ideas explored in the film.

Subversion of genre: Czech movies frequently subvert traditional genre conventions, often using them as a vehicle for social or political commentary. For example, the Czech New Wave of the 1960s frequently used elements of comedy and surrealism to critique the oppressive political regime of the time. This subversive approach to genre is often used to explore taboo subjects or to challenge mainstream cultural norms.

3 Reasons To Watch Czech Movies

Rich Cinematic History: Czech cinema has a rich and diverse history, with influential filmmakers such as Milos Forman, Jan Svankmajer, and Václav Havel. Czech films have been recognized globally for their artistic and intellectual merit, with several Czech films winning prestigious awards such as the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Unique Visual Style: Czech films are known for their distinct visual style, often blending elements of surrealism and dark humor with social commentary. Many Czech filmmakers also use animation and puppetry in their films, creating a distinctive and memorable aesthetic.

Insightful Social Commentary: Czech films often address important social and political issues, with a focus on human relationships, morality, and society. They provide insightful commentary on the challenges of living in a post-communist society, as well as broader issues of identity, freedom, and individuality. Watching Czech films can provide a unique perspective on the world, and expand your understanding of different cultures and societies.

   

Best Czech Movies – Wrap Up

In this list of best Czech movies, we’ve covered a range of films that showcase the unique voice and vision of Czech cinema. From classic works of the Czech New Wave, such as “Closely Watched Trains” and “The Shop on Main Street,” to modern masterpieces like “Divided We Fall” and “Kolya,” Czech cinema has a rich and diverse history.

We also looked at some lesser-known films that are worth discovering, such as the stop-motion animated film “Toys in the Attic” and the darkly comedic “Daisies.” Each of these films showcases the artistic talent and creative vision of Czech filmmakers, and their ability to tell compelling stories that resonate with audiences around the world.

Whether you’re a fan of drama, comedy, animation, or avant-garde cinema, Czech cinema has something to offer. It is a vibrant and vital part of the international film community, and continues to inspire and captivate audiences with its unique perspective and artistic vision.