The 7 Best Films For Learning Indonesian

With romcoms, dramas, comedies and more, you have lots of options for watching movies in Indonesian.
The 7 Best Films For Learning Indonesian

Historically, it’s been somewhat difficult to find non-English movies in English-speaking countries. The dominance of Hollywood threatened to make the world a monoculture. The advent of streaming services, however, has allowed for a lot more diversity in the movies available to you. Indonesian movies especially are very easy to find, with Netflix in particular having a vast array of Indonesian comedies, dramas, romcoms and action flicks available for streaming. If you’re learning Indonesian, then, you’re in luck. And we have a few recommendations that will give you a chance to both listen to the Indonesian language and learn more about the Indonesian culture.

If you’re interested in really learning the language as you watch, we have some tips for learning with movies. The best advice for any beginner is to pay careful attention to the subtitles as well as to what you’re hearing. It may be difficult to match the two at first, but even if you only understand a little bit, movies are a great way to practice your listening comprehension. And if you want to challenge yourself, you can rewatch movies and turn the subtitles off to see how much you understand.

Indonesian Movies To Watch If You’re Learning The Language

Tilik (“Ladies On Top”)

We’re starting off our list with a short film that caused quite a stir when it appeared online in 2020: Tilik. The 30-minute movie follows a group of women as they travel to a hospital to visit the woman who is the village head. The controversy is over the representation of women in the film, who some critics say are shallow stereotypes, while others say break with convention and portray the diversity of the country. Either way, the short has already garnered over 25 million views online. And because it’s short, it can be a good starting point for people who are learning Indonesian.

Tilik is available for streaming on YouTube.

My Stupid Boss

Lest you think that bad bosses are specific to any one country, the 2016 comedy My Stupid Boss assures you that there is managerial idiocy all around the globe. Based on a series of four novels by the same name, it’s a satire of what it’s like to work for someone with more confidence than competence. And it’s ridiculously silly (I mean, the boss’s name is literally Bossman). It already has one sequel, My Stupid Boss 2. As a word of warning, the movie is a joint project between Indonesia and Malaysia, and the use of Malaysian in certain scenes might be confusing to a beginner Indonesian learner.

My Stupid Boss is available for streaming on Netflix.

Opera Jawa (“Requiem From Java”)

Java, one of the over 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia, is home to over half of the people who live in the country. Set on the island, the 2006 film Opera Jawa is a musical based on the story “Abduction of Sita,” as told in the Sanskrit epic the Rāmāyana. It’s about a love triangle in a small village that eventually leads to a civil war among the residents. And if the word “musical” makes you think of Rodgers & Hammerstein, you would be pretty far off. Opera Jawa showcases classical Javanese music and dance.

Opera Jawa is available for streaming on Fandor.

Habibie & Ainun

Serving only from May 1998 to October 1999, B. J. Habibie was the shortest-serving president in Indonesia’s history (his predecessor was president for 31 years). And yet it’s clear that Habibie had a lasting legacy, ushering in the Reformation era in the country. And one of his most interesting testaments to his legacy is Habibie & Ainun, a 2012 biographical film about Habibie and his wife, which is one of the most successful films in Indonesian cinematic history. It was so popular that it spawned two prequels, Rudy Habibie and Habibie & Ainun 3.

Habibie & Ainun and Rudy Habibie are both available for streaming on Netflix. As of now, Habibie & Ainun 3 is not yet available in the United States.

Pengabdi Setan (“Satan’s Slaves”)

One of the most popular genres of Indonesian movies is horror, and the 2017 movie Pengabdi Setan is one of the most recent installments. It’s a story of intergenerational supernatural terrors (so basically, if you liked Hereditary you might like this one). But be warned: it’s a lot harder to read subtitles when you’ve got your hands over your eyes.

Pengabdi Setan is available for streaming on Shudder and Tubi.

Love For Sale

A 41-year-old man who lives alone with his turtle is not the most obvious choice for a romcom hero, but that’s the premise of Love for Sale. When Richard Achmad is goaded into finding a date for a wedding, he signs up for a dating service. Unlike Tinder or Hinge, however, this service matches an eligible bachelor with a partner. What he doesn’t realize right away, however, is that the app puts him in a contract for 45 days. Over the course of this period, he finds himself opening up for the first time in his adult life. Which leaves him all the more devastated when the 45 days are up and he realizes the woman he was matched with wasn’t really in love with him, and was only doing her job. That may sound like a spoiler, but is really only the first of many revelations in this movie’s look at love, connection and capitalism.

Love for Sale (and its sequel, Love for Sale 2) are both available for streaming on Netflix.

Jagal (“The Act Of Killing”)

Jagal is one of the most famous Indonesian movies in the world, but it’s also one of the most intense documentaries you’ll ever watch. The 2012 film is a present-day look at the aftermath of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, during which hundreds of thousands of people were killed over politics (namely, Communist party members and supporters were the ones murdered). It’s widely considered a masterpiece, presenting a complicated portrait of mass murder.

Jagal is available on Amazon Prime, Sundance Now and a number of other streaming services.

Want to learn more Indonesian?
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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