Watching movies is undeniably one of the best ways to learn a new language because they help you understand the quirks and intricacies of the language’s culture. When it comes to Turkey, the nation’s tumultuous history is inextricably linked with its visual culture, and one can see this connection in Turkish cinema. Immerse yourself with our list of the best Turkish movies for learning Turkish — there’s something here for everybody!
This sensitively crafted documentary by Ceyda Torun explores the corners of daily life that are rarely seen in the light. Told from the perspective of Istanbul’s stray cats, this Turkish film acts as a love letter to the city, providing insight into the cats and their relationship with the city’s citizens. The dialogue within this film is kept brief, and the simple vocabulary about everyday life makes this a good movie for beginners and intermediates to learn basic Turkish, as well as enrich their understanding of the country’s busiest metropolis.
2. A Touch of Spice
Interestingly, due to Turkey’s ongoing history of strict censorship laws, many of the best films for learning about Turkish culture are made by non-Turkish filmmakers. Enter A Touch of Spice by Greek director Tassos Boulmetis. The film offers a tender portrayal of those whose lives were torn apart by the Istanbul Pogrom of 1955, where organized mob violence in Istanbul attacked the city’s Greek minority.
This multilingual film, which follows a protagonist caught between two worlds, gives Turkish learners an invaluable insight into the impact of the Greco-Turkish conflict. This is especially important because aspects of this conflict can still be felt today on both sides of the border.
Written by one of Turkey’s most prominent comedians, Cem Yılmaz, spoof-film G.O.R.A. simultaneously celebrates and pokes fun at the sci-fi genre. The outlandish comedy follows Arif, a carpet dealer and serial forger of UFO photography who suffers an ironic fate when aliens abduct him. Despite some challenging vocabulary and frequent references to space exploration, the dialogue is relatively easy to follow, making this a great satire film for intermediate to advanced Turkish learners.
4. Istanbul United
Istanbul United is a 2013 Turkish-German documentary by Farid Eslam and Olli Waldhauer that centers around the fans of three rival football teams who came together during the Gezi Park protests. This fast-paced film offers fascinating commentary about life in Turkey under Erdoğan’s regime — particularly how traditional enemies formed alliances against the common threat of the government’s violent suppression of basic human rights.
Not only is Istanbul United one of the best Turkish movies for learners to inform themselves about the country’s current political climate, but this multilingual film is an easy tool for learning Turkish slang and everyday vocabulary.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age drama offers an intimate portrayal of teenage girls growing up in a conservative, rural town in the Black Sea region. Following five rebellious sisters’ difficult transitions from girlhood to adulthood, this compelling piece of cinema examines traditional gender roles in Turkey and their relevance in today’s society. With its beautiful cinematography showcasing Turkey’s lesser-explored regions, this film gives viewers an intriguing, alternative portrayal of life in contemporary Turkey. Meanwhile, the everyday, conversational language makes Mustang ideally suited to intermediate learners.
6. Kış Uykusu
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Kış Uykusu, translated into English as “Winter Sleep,” is a compelling drama that examines the highly prevalent socio-economic inequality in Turkey. Aydın is the central character and anti-hero of Kış Uykusu, and it is his privileged status as a wealthily retired actor that simultaneously alienates him and connects him to those around him.
This critically acclaimed film is considered the crown jewel of the Turkish cinematic renaissance, having won the 2014 Palme d’Or on the 100th anniversary of Turkish cinema. Despite the film’s complex language and themes, Kış Uykusu offers an enthralling plot that completely absorbs the viewer, making it a great resource for Turkish learners at an intermediate to advanced level.
7. Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam
Released in 1982, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World) by Çetin Inanç instantly became a cult classic thanks to its blatant use of bootleg scores and footage from popular Western movies. In fact, the liberal use of stolen scenes and heavy-handed references to the Star Wars franchise is what gave Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam its unofficial moniker, “Turkish Star Wars.”
In this rollercoaster ride of a film, protagonists Murat and Ali find themselves stranded on a desert planet and must team up against a host of evil monsters to escape captivity. With its easily recognizable plot points and uncomplicated dialogue, this so-bad-it’s-good action movie is accessible to learners of all levels, making it a fun way for beginners to start learning Turkish.
8. The Girl With The Red Scarf
Lauded as one of the most important movies from the Golden Age of Turkish cinema, The Girl with the Red Scarf tells the story of İlyas, a womanizing truck driver from Istanbul who falls in love with a woman named Asya while working in a remote village. Their love story is shaken by infidelity and violence, which prompts Asya to leave İlyas with their young child in order to carve out a life for herself. This timeless romantic drama is an essential piece of Turkish cinema, and while the occasionally challenging vocabulary makes the film ideally suited to intermediate learners, The Girl with the Red Scarf’s enduring legacy makes it an exciting movie for Turkish learners of all levels.