Many people, even World Cinema fans, have been sleeping on Czech movies. While France, Italy and the UK were enjoying their New Waves in the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia was too. Czech films were (and still are) daring, often satirical comedies with amateur or semi-amateur actors and focus on the plight of the ordinary common person under Communist rule. The government banned many of the films at the time, which usually means the filmmakers were doing something right.
Czechoslovakia declared its independence from Austria-Hungary in 1918. The Czech Republic finally declared its independence in 1993, shortly after the fall of communism. And since 2016, Czechia is the country’s official short name. Of course, there was a lot of reshuffling of borders in between as progress is rarely linear. This post is not a history lesson, but it is about the best Czech movies. And I think it is important to keep in mind what I might mean by “Czech” when discussing mid-century movies.
Czech cinema is not my speciality, but I do love watching movies from countries I either plan on visiting or have visited. Maybe you are the same. So, this is a curated list of some of the best Czech films that will give you a brief overview of Czech cinema but they are also films that will make you want to visit!
Best Czech Movies That Will Make You Want to Visit Czechia
1. Loves of a Blonde (1965)
Director: Miloš Forman Language: Czech Run time: 90m 93% Rotten Tomatoes
If you expected this list of famous Czech movies to begin with The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1952) then you are mistaken. Yes, it is the most internationally successful Czech film, but it doesn’t provoke many wanderlust-inspiring thoughts about Czechia or feature lovely locations. Instead, we’re starting with Loves of a Blonde. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and follows the relationship between a smitten young woman living in a rural Czech factory town and an indifferent male musician from Prague.
Movies that (successfully) dissect the turmoil of romantic relationships are so timeless and transcend language barriers. Loves of a Blonde is one of these movies.
2. Closely Watched Trains (1966)
Director: Jiří Menzel Languages: Czech, German Run time: 92m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
The Oscars may have nominated Loves of a Blonde for Best Foreign Language Film but the next year Closely Watched Trains actually won. Closely Watched Trains is a coming-of-age tale set during WWII about a young train conductor experiencing his first tastes of love and lust. Let me be the first-ever person to compare Closely Watched Trains to the hit British TV show Derry Girls. They both straddle living in a volatile environment with the innate urge to be young and have fun effortlessly.
3. Daisies (1966)
Director: Vera Chytilová Language: Czech Run time: 76m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
The first three films on this Czech movies list are directed by the powerhouse, pioneering Czech filmmakers of the New Wave: Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, and now Vera Chytilová. The latter, who directed this film, is like the Czech version of Agnès Varda. And Daisies is an ultra-feminist, refreshingly funny caper if ever I saw one. Two young women decide to throw caution to the wind, pull pranks, and rebel against consumerist, conservative society. Daisies is set in Prague, is surreal and very, very silly.
4. Marketa Lazarová (1967)
Director: František Vláčil Languages: Czech, German Run time: 165m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
Why are the most revered films in a type of cinema always “heavy” and depressing? Why can’t a film like Mrs Doubtfire (1993) be lauded and recommended in film classes? Okay, I didn’t pick a great film to prove my point, but it still stands. In 1998, film critics voted Marketa Lazarová the best Czech movie of all time. It is set in the Central Bohemian Region during the Middle Ages and tells the story of a girl who is kidnapped to be the “mistress” of a rival clan leader. Not quite the satirical barrel of laughs that other Czech movies in the 1960s are. But, as you can see from the Rotten Tomatoes score, an apparent masterpiece.
5. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
Director: Jaromil Jireš Language: Czech Run time: 73m 81% Rotten Tomatoes
This is a film for all you goths and weirdos out there and it might make a great double feature with Carrie (1976), the Stephen King adaptation. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a surrealist fantasy horror where the audience is asked to climb down the rabbit hole of Valerie’s dreamy, tenuous grasp of reality. We are talking nuns, vampires, witch hunting, crypts, what have you. A creepy cornucopia of characters. Not for everyone but a good recommendation for cult or macabre film fanatics.
I do not know where in Czechia it is supposed to be set, but director Jaromil Jireš shot Valerie and Her Week of Wonders in the Czech town of Slavonice.
6. Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973)
Director: Václav Vorlíček Language: Czech Run time: 83m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Three Wishes for Cinderella also goes by Three Nuts or Hazelnuts for Cinderella. Whatever the name, you can probably tell this is a fairytale film. It is based on the Bohemian version of Cinderella by Božena Němcová which, in itself, is a version of the original folk tale by the Brothers Grimm. I watched this film for the first time when studying fantasy cinema at University and instantly adored it. It is a popular festive film in many European countries and it has a delightful folksy feel. And many men in brightly coloured tights.
7. My Sweet Little Village (1987)
Director: Jiří Menzel Language: Czech Run time: 98m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Imagine Hot Fuzz (2007), take away the plot, set it in Czechoslovakia and maybe you might have something similar to My Sweet Little Village? Possibly. Probably not. In reality, it is about two colleagues living in a small, rural community who misguidedly believe they would be better without one another. Yet another Czech film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, My Sweet Little Village is a joyous, lighthearted indie movie.
8. The Elementary School (1991)
Director: Jan Svěrák Language: Czech Run time: 100m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
For whatever reason, most of Poland’s prominent films (internationally, anyway) are set in World War II. This warped, one-note impression of Polish cinema in the World Cinema landscape is thankfully not the case with Czech cinema. This film is the second and last WWII film on this list and in fact, The Elementary School barely makes the cut as it is set in 1946. In a Prague suburb, a school with unruly pupils hires a so-called war hero to shake things up. It is a highly regarded film and was also up for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.
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9. The Ride (1994)
Director: Jan Svěrák Language: Czech Run time: 90m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
I love featuring travel-focused and lighthearted films on these lists. They are slightly more likely to inspire you to visit somewhere than tonnes of horror or crime-focused films. In particular, I love showcasing movies filmed in the Czech Republic like The Ride. Two friends buy a car and road trip around the country where they pick up a mysterious yet charming woman along the way. What the two men don’t know is that she has someone looking for her, someone with a better car… A true independent 1990s film.
10. Kolya (1996)
Director: Jan Svěrák Languages: Czech, Slovak, Russian Run time: 105m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
Yes, this is the third Czech film on this list, in a row, directed by Jan Svěrák. Maybe he is the Czech version of Quentin Tarantino and the 1990s was *his* decade. I don’t know! Like I said, not an expert on Czech cinema, but I stand by my choices. In particular, I stand by Kolya. Not only did it star the director’s father which I love (like when Emilio Esteban shot The Way (2010) starring his dad Martin Sheen), but he bagged the country’s second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film! Making this one of the most universally loved Czech Republic movies of all time.
Set in 1988, a Prague-based, blacklisted Philharmonic cellist must take care of a five-year-old boy after gets hitched to his mother in a sham marriage. I am a sucker for reluctant parental figure movies though they generally make me weep.
11. Cosy Dens (1999)
Director: Jan Hřebejk Language: Czech Run time: 115m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Another absolute banger from the Czech film industry. Cosy Dens is set in 1967 and 1968, leading up to the Prague Spring which was a period of mass protest in Czechoslovakia. It focuses on two families and supporting characters who all have different viewpoints surrounding communism, capitalism, nationalism, all the “isms.” I think watching movies like Cosy Dens is great for travellers who want to gain some kind of insight into what the general feelings are around historic events in an entertaining and accessible way.
12. Loners (2000)
Director: David Ondříček Language: Czech Run time: 103m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Loners is one of those weirdo, existentialist movies that probably didn’t do great at the box office but gained a cult following in the years following. It has a huge cast and the Prague-based characters deal with complicated romantic feelings, break-ups and life-changing accidents which are interconnected through fortuitous and chance encounters. It is a typical 2000s film if ever I saw one. And though there isn’t an official Rotten Tomatoes critics score, audiences rated it 93%.
13. Autumn Spring (2001)
Director: Vladimír Michálek Language: Czech Run time: 100m 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Many of the Czech movies on this list so far centre around young people, so it’s nice when great films like Autumn Spring come along with a different perspective. Instead of succumbing to a senile and sedentary lifestyle, Fanda spends all of his savings, plays pranks and shirks responsibilities. Honestly, it might be quite a hard film to find (there are barely any Czech Movies on Netflix or other streaming platforms internationally as it is) but worth a watch if you spot it.
14. Walking Too Fast (2010)
Director: Radim Špaček Language: Czech Run time: 146m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Walking Too Fast is often compared to Germany’s The Lives of Others (2006) which is about the extreme surveillance of East Berlin residents during the 1980s. This film is actually a thriller starring a self-destructive and dangerous protagonist who is a secret police agent. This is probably the darkest psychological film on this list which isn’t saying much. But if you’re into that, you now have a good recommendation!
15. Fair Play (2014)
Director: Andrea Sedláčková Language: Czech Run time: 100m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
We haven’t had a female-led Czech movie on this list since the 1970s, so I thought it was about time to recommend another. And it is directed by a woman, too. Fair Play is set in the 1980s and focuses on an Olympic wannabe sprinter called Anna. When Anna discovers her coaches are giving her steroids, she resists but her mother finds a way to secretly drug her so that she will win and be able to emigrate from Czechoslovakia. And, in turn, be no longer under the watchful eye of the Czech secret service.
I’ll be honest, it is probably one of the lesser films set in the Czech Republic on this list but that is only because the standard is so high.
16. Home Care (2015)
Director: Slávek Horák Language: Czech Run time: 92m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
I watched Home Care at the Leeds International Film Festival in 2015 and thought it was such a touching film about ordinary people seeking quiet yet enriched lives. Vlasta is the protagonist and she is a home nurse, dedicating her time to tending to sick people in their homes. Not a job I’d like to do, I’ll tell you that. When Vlasta gets ill, she must accept help from others while standing her ground about the type of care she needs. Lovely, yet often heartbreaking movie.
17. Charlatan (2020)
Director: Agnieszka Holland Language: Czech Run time: 118m 91% Rotten Tomatoes
The last Czech film on this list is Charlatan, directed by renowned Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland. It is a biopic based on the life of Jan Mikolášek, a Czech healer who used plant-based and alternative medicine to cure his patients. He was famous, unconventional and ultimately caught the attention of the wrong people. The film is set in Czechoslovakia during the first half of the 20th century, after all. Many critics didn’t like the biased point of view that is clearly evident when you watch the film but agree it’s brilliant nonetheless.
Other Czech Movies: The Shop on the High Street (1965), Intimate Lighting (1965), The Party and the Guests (1966), The Fireman’s Ball (1967), The Ear (1970), Seclusion Near a Forest (1976), Panel Story (1979), Divided We Fall (2000), Želary (2003), The Painted Bird (2019)
And those are all the best Czech movies that will inspire you to visit Czechia/Czech Republic! Have you seen any of these top Czech movies or visited Czechia? Let me know in the comments below!
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