Ranking the best – and most ultimate – German action movies!
Germany is not known for action films, and the main reason is that there are not that many! The market for German-language productions is small compared to English-language films, but the real cause is that almost all German film studios rely on government subsidies for partial financing of their productions. And the films that are green-lighted are mostly art-house films, historical dramas or comedies, but not genre flicks.
And yet every once in a while a brave independent film-maker demonstrates that action made in Germany is possible. In this list we’ll present you the 10 best action flicks to ever come out of Germany. This list is one of the few good reasons to learn German, another big one is being able to understand Arnold Schwarzenegger when he speaks in his native language. Achtung, Action!
Special Mention: Alarm for Cobra 11 (TV Series)
A German cop show that featured some of the best car stunts and crashes you’ll ever see in a TV series, and that would make the masters of explosive vehicle action PM Entertainment very proud! Check out the video below for a best-of compilation, with cars being catapulted tens of meters high through the air, and stuntmen running for their lives as cars are flying left and right of them!
10) Ultimate Justice (2017)
Genre veterans Mark Dacascos and Matthias Hues are the big names that carry this indie actioner. Gus is captain of a team of special ops agents. He and his team are called back to action by their former Commander to find his kidnapped daughter. They embark on a deadly journey ripe with betrayal and intrigues. Ultimate Justice is an ultra-low budget version of The Expendables, but it’s nice to see it filmed against the backdrop of German cities and countryside, as opposed to the usual Bulgarian setting for a change.
If you were never bothered by the absurd plot logic of your typical Cannon flick, you’ll find yourselves at home immediately, and especially the plot resolution is totally bonkers. But it’s not really a problem, as the action keeps coming at good rate and is staged pretty neatly. All shootouts and fights are choreographed rather well, even though there rarely are any surprises. One exception is German martial arts prodigy Mike Moeller who steals the show from pretty much everyone, and delivers some bad-ass fights. Despite rather bland visuals and wooden acting, Ultimate Justice provides enough excitement to be a commendable effort.
9) Autobahnraser (2004)
A large part of the German Autobahn, the country’s highway system, has no speed limit, and Autobahnraser (aka A2 Racer) paid a rather dubious homage to this fact. The premise of the film is almost identical to that of the first part of the Fast & Furious series. A group of illegal racers is infiltrated by an undercover cop who soon embraces their lifestyle and becomes one of them. The story backbone is all that Autobahnraser shares with its peer, as it is essentially a teen comedy mixed up with some car action.
For German standards, the film is a big-budget production with flashy visuals and pretty solid car action sequences. They do not disappoint and feature plenty of crashes and jumps, even though they are not even close to being on the same level as the Fast & Furious franchise. The film is also a feast for German car fetishists, with the full spectrum from vintage classics to high-end sports cars on display. Featuring actors from German soap operas speaking dialogues on the level of a porn movie, and cracking sex jokes even 14-year old’s wouldn’t laugh at, it’s best to deposit your brain in the glove compartment if you want to have some fun with this total no-brainer.
8) Lasko: Death Train (2005)
Under Siege – Vatican Commando could have been an alternate title for Lasko: Death Train. The film is centered around Lasko, a traumatized ex-soldier with serious martial arts skills who became a Catholic monk to find inner peace. A group of terrorists steals a deadly virus and tries to make its escape on a train with hundreds of pilgrims en route to a religious festival. When they are threatening to release the virus and kill everyone on board, Lasko becomes their only hope. Mathis Landwehr, who plays Lasko, has become a prominent figure in the German action genre since the early 2000s. He’s an excellent martial artist showing off some serious moves in his role as stoic but resolute monk.
On the action front we get everything a genre fan could wish for: fights, car chases, and a couple of huge explosions. The film moves at a good pace with the occasional cheesy dialogue thrown in for good measure. Lasko: Death Train is the best advertisement for the Catholic Church in action movie form ever, and should be compulsory viewing for Sunday school! The film was followed by the TV show Lasko: The Fist of God (aka Lasko: Die Faust Gottes) for everyone who can’t get enough of our Catholic Kung Fu monk!
7) Immigration Game (2017)
An action film with social commentary is always an honorable attempt in my book, and Immigration Game effectively utilizes the backdrop of the 2015 European migration crisis. In the near future, Germany has closed its borders for refugees. The only chance to obtain a residence permit is to take part in the TV show “Immigration Game”, where every German citizen is allowed to kill the “participants” while they are running for their life through the streets of Berlin. Joe rescues a refugee from a gang of “players”. He is captured, and forced to sign up for the game. The film’s premise is inspired by movies like The Purge and The Hunger Games with some added media satire elements.
German martial arts star Mathis Landwehr takes the lead role, and delivers a pretty solid performance both on the acting and physical front. The urban jungle of Germany’s capital becomes the stage for a murderous chase, and some pretty brutal fights. The heavy use of the shaky over-the-shoulder cam is actually alright for a movie that follows terrified people desperately running for their life. Apart from a slightly annoying plot twist at the every end, Immigration Game is a thrilling piece of independent genre cinema.
6) Der Clown (2005)
Based on a rather forgettable TV series, Der Clown (aka The Clown: Payday), drops most of the drama baggage and becomes a festival of car crashes and explosions instead. After his girlfriend Claudia was killed in a shootout with the gangster Zorbek, Max retired from his calling as masked vigilante The Clown, and works as a security guard in a shopping mall. When Claudia’s sister is abducted by Zorbek during a heist, Max picks up his trail, and an explosive hunt begins.
Der Clown radiates a very coarse charm as soap-opera characters clash with high-octane sequences. The plot is as thin as the acting is wooden, and is only held together by its spectacular set pieces. From the cast, you may recognize ex-Bond villain Götz Otto as sleazy criminal who always carries a stack of hand grenades with him, you know, just in case. But the real stars of this film are the special effects and stunt teams. Trucks, cars, helicopters, even a plane, nothing is safe from being blown up by the German pyrotechnicians. It all looks pretty spectacular, and Der Clown will make old-school action fans drool!
5) Sky Sharks (2020)
No list of German movies can be complete without Nazi zombies. But this time they come with flying cyborg sharks! Scientists discover an old Nazi battleship in the melting polar ice. Flying sharks are unleashed with undead riders that bring terror to the sky and threaten to unleash a new world war.
Sky Sharks feels like the completely bananas baby of Iron Sky and Sharknado. And it’s chock-full of awesome action sequences, with bloodthirsty cyborg zombies and their weaponized mounts chewing up airplanes just because they can! Their attacks are not for the squeamish, as zombies and sharks are not known to kill with subtlety.
Some fun is also to be had through with the trashy dialogues. All the German actors speak English with a heavy accent, which really adds to the charm. The CGI sharks look great, as do the practical effects, and lots of neon lights and a wacky Space Synth soundtrack give us a nice throwback to 1980s aesthetics. Even though the outcome is a bit uneven, it’s clear that a ton of creativity and hard work went into this film. Sky Sharks is modern Grindhouse action at its best, and we’re hinted at a possible sequel: Sky Frogs!
4) The Challenge (2005)
A German kung fu flick, that sounds about as credible as a Swedish comedy, but make no mistake, The Challenge (aka Kampfansage: Der Letzte Schüler) is the real deal! A global war has devastated the world, and human society is reset to medieval times. Fire weapons are not functional anymore, and tyrant Bosco rules over the land with his army of martial arts warriors. Only Jonas, who carries with him the secret of an ancient fighting school, can stand up to him. The Challenge cleverly utilized the idea of a world without fire weapons to put as much as fighting action on the screen as possible, and preceded the awesome TV series Into The Badlands that used the same premise by about 10 years.
Decaying buildings, overgrown streets, and a couple of nice CGI backgrounds of crumbling skylines are all director and writer Johannes Jaeger need to create an immersive setting at low cost. Martial arts specialist Mathis Landwehr takes the lead role, and together with all other fighters in the film delivers some spectacular action sequences with lots of spinning kicks against the post-apocalyptic backdrop. The Challenge is an atmospheric and action-packed journey, and another fine example of German indie action film making.
3) Der Letzte Bulle (2019)
Der Letzte Bulle (aka The Last Cop) is Germany’s answer to Demolition Man. In 1994, police detective Mick Brisgau is injured during a shootout, and falls into a coma from which he awakes 25 years later. He gets gets reinstated and is assigned a new partner who does not approve of his archaic investigation methods and macho attitude. Together they manage to pick up the trail of the shooter who caused Nick’s ordeal. The film is an adaptation of a successful German TV series. A manly cop wakes up in a world he does not understand with different societal norms and unknown technology.
Testosterone is out, sensitive and caring men are in. The film is far from being a harsh critique of our 21st Century society, though, but treats all its characters with respect, and manages to present inter-generational conflicts in a darn funny way. German bodybuilder Ralph Moeller has a supporting role and delivers what may be the best performance of his life as Brisgau’s friend and aging gym owner Ralf, that echoes his own career in a charming and slightly melancholic way. A buddy cop movie with a terrific sense of humor, Der letzte Bulle shows that masculinity is not toxic if your heart is at the right place.
2) Operation Dance Sensation (2003)
A decade before action movie parodies saw a revival by Kung Fury and the likes, a most awesome predecessor was made in Germany! Jackson is a decorated Vietnam veteran, but 25 years later his skills are not in demand anymore. He makes a modest living as a bounty hunter by killing the ninjas of his archenemy and former squad mate Atlas. The disco Dance Sensation that is located right at the American-Iraqi border becomes a base for Atlas and his associates to facilitate illegal weapons deals. When Jackson and Atlas both show up on the dance floor to for a dance contest, it’s killing time!
Operation Dance Sensation achieves the impossible: mixing Grease with all your favorite 1980s action flicks against the backdrop of a German small-town drabness. The film is a self-aware zero-budget masterpiece with charming caricatures of classic action heroes and villains. Jokes are delivered every tens seconds, and most of them hit bull’s eye. The action is awesome too, with one absurd sequence after another, with rockets that fly through the screen attached to strings, a children’s birthday ruined by ninjas, and barrels of fake blood being thrown around. Operation Dance Sensation is the perfect party film for action enthusiasts!
1) Plan B (2016)
Another German martial arts banger is the winner of our ranking, a non-stop action spectacle with a great sense of humor. The three young stuntmen Phong, Can and Cha are invited to an audition but turn up at the wrong address, a shack full of gangsters. They are tasked with finding a secret safe somewhere in the city while their manager is held hostage. Their search takes them to different places with no one giving the hints away without a fight. It’s a simple plot, a scavenger hunt with lots of adversaries to beat up at every new location. Our involuntary heroes are battling gangbangers, graveyard cultists, and are seriously getting their ass kicked by a brothel madam (played by American stuntwoman Heidi Moneymaker).
The fights are of a level that rival those of the best American and Asian martial arts flicks, with awesome moves, and a perfect choreography that is captured by the camera with sharp editing. The three main protagonists have a great on-screen chemistry, and have since moved on to Hollywood to work as stunt actors in big-studio productions. Let’s hope they will join forces again at some time and deliver another masterpiece such as Plan B, a passionate and charming love letter to genre cinema and the best action film to ever come out of Germany so far!