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DEFA Movies

From 1946 to 1992 about 730 Movies were produced by DEFA. Wolfgang Staudte's "Die Mörder sind unter uns" celebrated its premiere in October 1946 as the first German film of the post-war period and is one of the most successful films in German film history. Over four decades, feature films across all genres were made, some of which still enjoy cult status today. The novel adaptation "Jakob der Lügner" (1974) even earned the German Democratic Republic (GDR) an Oscar nomination. Films critical of the regime or films whose actors left the GDR were often censored or banned and disappeared from the screen as so-called basement films until after reunification.

In 1946/47, the first feature film shoots took place in the former Althoff Studios in Potsdam-Babelsberg as well as in the Tobis Studios in Berlin-Johannisthal, soon to be joined by the old Ufa Film Production Studios in Babelsberg. In October 1946 Wolfgang Staudte's "Die Mörder sind unter uns" premiered in Berlin as the first German feature film of the post-war period. The film starring Hildegard Knef, was shot in bombed-out Berlin and deals with the crimes and consequences of the Second World War. With over 6 million viewers, it is still one of the most successful productions in German film history. It was also shown in the Western occupation zones and later in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Between 1946 and 1992, DEFA produced over 730 movies for the cinema, including international co-productions and many award-winning films. Feature films such as the fairy tale "Die Geschichte vom kleinen Muck" (1953), reached up to 13 million people.

Some DEFA movies became classics and acquired cult status, even after the end of the GDR - for example, "Die Legende von Paul und Paula" (1973) about the affair of a married man with a single mother. When the two leading actors Angelica Domröse and Winfried Glatzeder left the GDR in the early 1980s, the film was banned from being shown on GDR television, but after reunification it was re-released in cinemas and was even screened in 2005 in the retrospective "Rebel with a Cause: The Cinema in East Germany" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

DEFA feature films also include many literary adaptations such as "Der Untertan" (1951), "Nackt unter Wölfen" (1963), "Der geteilte Himmel" (1964) or the co-production with GDR television "Der kleine Prinz" (1966). The novel adaptation "Jakob der Lügner" (1974) was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign language film in 1977 – the first and only nomination of the GDR. In co-production with France, the Babelsberg studios produced literary adaptations featuring stars such as Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli, Jean Gabin and Bernard Blier.

Among the commercially most successful films of the DEFA are numerous fairy tale adaptations loved by children and adults alike. The movie "Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel" (1973), co-produced with the Czech film studios Barrandov, is still a popular Christmas film in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Norway, Austria and Switzerland.

DEFA in addition, produced numerous biographical films about famous historical figures such as Vincent van Gogh, Francisco de Goya, Ludwig van Beethoven or Alexander von Humboldt. Among them were also numerous socialist and communist role models such as Karl Marx, Clara Zetkin, Ernst Thälmann, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The biographies of women's rights activist Louise Otto-Peters and the famous surgeon and gynaecologist Ignaz Philip Semmelweis were also filmed by DEFA. Other films that proved popular with the public were opera and operetta films, brought to the cinema at great expense, such as "Figaros Hochzeit" (1949), "Zar und Zimmermann" (1956), "Der fliegende Holländer" (1964) and the 70mm film "Orpheus in der Unterwelt" (1974).

At the beginning of the 1960s, DEFA began producing so-called "Indian films" - the Westerns of the GDR. DEFA attached great importance to ensuring the stories depicted were historically accurate. In its films, it took the perspective of the Native Americans and thus created a counter-design to the American Westerns, which were told almost exclusively from the point of view of the white immigrants. In their presentation, the DEFA "Indian films" also stood out from the popular Karl May film adaptations of the FRG that were made at the same time. Just like the films with Pierre Brice as Winnetou, DEFA relied on a recurring star - Gojko Mitić played the "Indian Chief" in almost every film.

In the context of the Space Race between the USA and the Soviet Union and the moon landing in 1969, science fiction films were made at DEFA from the 1960s onwards. The technical and visual effects of these productions were often remarkable for their time. The films reflected the belief in unlimited technical progress as an inherent part of the communist utopia.

Some DEFA films were not screened in the GDR or fell victim to state censorship shortly after their release. These banned films, also known colloquially as cellar or rabbit films, were mainly made in the 1960s and mostly dealt critically with everyday life in the GDR. The best known of these films is "Spur der Steine" (1966) with Manfred Krug in the leading role. It was not long before he was taken off the programme because of "anti-socialist tendencies". Many of these cellar films were made accessible to the public again or for the first time after reunification and they still attract great international interest today.


Production period

Number of films
approx. 700

Running time
5-180 min

35mm | coloured, b/w

Society, history, fairy tales, biographies, art, culture, Science-Fiction

Filming locations
Germany (East), Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Cuba

Browse collection DEFA Movie

Mit mir nicht, Madam! (1969)Mit mir nicht, Madam! | 1969

Spur der Steine (1966)Spur der Steine | 1966

Solo Sunny (1980)Solo Sunny | 1980