The 7 Best Films For Learning Dutch

From a documentary about a young motocross racer to a disturbing psycho thriller, we have something here you’ll enjoy.
November 19, 2020
The 7 Best Films For Learning Dutch

When you’re learning Dutch, it’s important to find the right mix of work and play. We won’t sugarcoat the fact that learning grammar can sometimes be a bit of a slog, but the key to staying motivated is by mixing in learning methods that aren’t just rote memorization. One great way to supplement your learning is by diving into the world of Dutch movies. Not only will it give you exposure to the language, but also it’ll provide a look into Dutch culture and art. Even if you’re not quite advanced enough to turn off the English subtitles yet, you can get a lot out of the experience.

Admittedly, there aren’t quite as many Dutch movies as there are, say, English or Spanish ones. The Netherlands isn’t exactly known for its cinematic output; this isn’t a dig at the country, it’s just the realities of an industry that requires a lot of capital to survive anywhere. Still, there are a number of excellent films you can watch. To get you started, here are seven of our favorite Dutch movies, roughly organized from easiest to hardest for learners to understand.

7 Dutch Movies To Watch

Ja zuster, nee zuster (“Yes Nurse, No Nurse”)

We’re starting this list with a bang: Ja zuster, nee zuster is a 2002 movie musical based on a 1960s Dutch sitcom. The plot of the show revolved around a cast of ridiculous old people who lived together in a nursing home. Hijinks ensue! The popular musical sitcom ran for 20 episodes, but almost the entirety of the original show was lost because the originals were taped over. Thus, this movie is the primary way it’s survived. This is a good option for beginners because the sentences are not too complicated, and the music allows for lots of vocab repetition.

You can rent Ja zuster, nee zuster on various streaming platforms, and you can also find the soundtrack for the original show online.

Ik ben echt niet bang! (“I’m Never Afraid!”)

Ik ben echt niet bang! is a short documentary, coming in at only about 20 minutes. It’s a 2010 film about an 8-year-old boy named Mack who is a professional motocross racer. If that doesn’t provide enough drama, Mack was born with a rare heart condition that causes his heart to be on the right side of his body. It’s a short, powerful watch, and the length and subject make it a good option for someone who is just starting out learning Dutch.

Ik ben echt niet bang! is available for free on YouTube

Minoes (“Undercover Kitty”)

As you might be able to guess from the English title, Minoes is a children’s movie. But that makes it all the better for less advanced Dutch learners, because the language is less complex. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Annie M.G. Schmidt, who was also the writer for the original Ja zuster, nee zuster. (Schmidt is a beloved Dutch writer who is well worth knowing when you’re learning the language.) The movie is about a cat that turns into a human journalist, who uses her contacts in the cat community to bring down a chemical factory magnate. It’s all a bit silly, but also fun!

Minoes is available on Kanopy, and can also be rented from various other streaming services.

Zwartboek (“Black Book”)

The Netherlands tends to be overlooked by Americans making art about World War II, but the country faced its own tribulations during that period. The country was invaded by Nazis in 1940 and it remained occupied throughout the war. Zwartboek dramatizes the era, following Dutch-Jewish singer Rachel Stein, who joins the undercover resistance against the Nazis. Even if you haven’t seen any other Dutch films, you’re probably familiar with the work of this film’s director, Paul Verhoeven. He started making American films in the 1980s, directing RoboCopTotal Recall and Showgirls, among others. Zwartboek, released in 2006, was his first film in Dutch in over 20 years.

Zwartboek can be found on Amazon Prime, Tubi and Crackle, and can also be rented on various other streaming platforms.

Antonia (“Antonia’s Line”)

Antonia moves us from Dutch movies about World War II to the period immediately after, when the titular character — widowed during the war — returns to her hometown with her adult daughter. The movie is described as a “feminist fairy tale,” combining strong women characters with elements from older folk stories (someone is even cursed at one point). The movie covers some intense topics, like sexual assault and suicide, so be warned if you’d rather not watch a movie about that. But if you’re only worried it’ll be too depressing, know that Antonia also features numerous lighter moments, and is even sometimes classified as a dramatic comedy.

Antonia is available for streaming on Hoopla, Kanopy and Tubi, and it can also be rented from various other streaming services.

Spoorloos (“The Vanishing”)

The 1988 film Spoorloos is often described with a single word: “unsettling.” The movie is about a man whose wife is abducted while on vacation. He becomes obsessed with finding her, and after three years of no luck he starts to receive letters from the man who abducted her. It isn’t exactly a pleasant watch — the ending in particular is terrifying — but if you enjoy movies like The Shining, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too (Stanley Kubrick has allegedly watched it multiple times).

Spoorloos is available with a subscription to the Criterion Collection, and it can also be rented from various other streaming services. There is also a 1996 American remake starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland called The Vanishing, so make sure you’re watching the right version. But if you do end up watching the American version, just know the ending is different, so it won’t necessarily spoil the Dutch one.

Ober (“Waiter”)

Ober is the story of Edgar, a waiter who is incredibly down on his luck. His wife is sick, and his customers actively bully him while he’s trying to do his job. This may sound like a typical Dutch black comedy filled with strange characters, but the story takes a turn for the weird when Edgar decides to visit the home of Mark Rietman, who happens to be the screenwriter for…Ober. If you’re into meta stories, this film is a great choice. Be warned, though, that because of the convoluted nature of the plot, the dialogue is a little bit more complex than anything else we’ve included on this list.

Ober is available for streaming if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, and it can also be rented on various streaming platforms.

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Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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