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7 great movies inspired by German books

Scott Roxborough
March 29, 2018

From Thomas Mann's controversial novel to a satirical book about Adolf Hitler: DW's KINO team picked its seven favorite film adaptations of German works of literature.

Film still from "Er ist wieder da"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Constantin Film Verleih GmbH

It's fair to say Virginia Woolf hated movies based on books. In her essay "The Cinema," the author of "Mrs Dalloway" even compares films to parasites that exploit and devour literature and deliver results disastrous for both genres.

She writes, for instance, that the silent movie adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" reduces the "charm, passion and despair” of Tolstoy's protagonist to a crude display of "teeth, pearls and velvet."

'An attack on literature'

Tolstoy himself was more benevolent, and while he saw movies as "a direct attack on the old methods of literary art," the great Russian novelist welcomed the assault. "I rather like it," he said in 1908, claiming that movies, then barely a decade old, were "closer to life" than novels. 

All writers, he forecast, would have to adapt to the shadowy screen and the cold machine.

The Russia writer was right, of course. Over the course of the 20th century, movies became the dominant medium for storytelling, and filmmakers largely ignored Woolf's remarks on book adaptations. Literature -- from great novels to pulp fiction to comics -- remains the primary source of cinematic inspiration.

Read more: KINO favorites: Top 10 science fiction films from Germany

Blockbusters and forgotten masterpieces

To show that not all movies based on books are mediocre at best, DW's movie magazine KINO has dusted off the bookshelves and picked seven great movies adapted from great German novels.

It's a selection of comedy, drama and historical fiction inspired by modern-day classics as well as works by winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

We’ve left out one film in a class of its own: Volker Schlöndorff's Oscar-winning adaptation of "The Tin Drum" from Nobel Prize-winner German author Günter Grass. We’ve already given "The Tin Drum" its due in two other KINO Favorites shows: it made the cut for both our "Best German Directors" and "Best German Dramas".

Some of the movies became blockbusters, while some of them were forgotten or overlooked. Click through the gallery and let us know if you think some of the stories shouldn't have left the pages.

Read more: KINO favorites: Top 10 food scenes in film