More often than not, Jewish films do not revolve around the religion of the minority and are considered to be Jewish solely because of the time and place they are set in, which a lot of times could be the World War II. They could also be considered Jewish because of their cast or because of the filmmakers involved in the making of the film. An example of this would be Woody Allen’s films. Jewish films and directors have been a major part of Hollywood since ages, with their numbers probably reaching thousands. So choosing a few good ones out of so many can at times be an unnerving task. What makes a movie worth watching can be relative and may not usually include movies that just won awards. Some movies do have major flaws and imperfections in them but that does not mean they’re not good enough.
The films mentioned below may not be the best, but they’re all surely worth your time and deserve a chance. Some of these are highly acclaimed movies, some are award-winning masterpieces while some just make you laugh and cry with the character. We’ve managed to create a list of top Jewish movies so that there’s something for everyone’s taste. You can watch several of these Jewish movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
15. Schindler’s List (1993)
This biopic about Oskar Schindler is a well known Jewish film. It’s so good you can revisit it again and again from time to time. The film tells the story of Oskar Schindler and how his life had entirely changed during World War II after he started to empathize with the lives of the Jews around him. Oskar initially was a greedy profit-seeking businessman who was just worried about the functioning of his factory while his Jew employees were being sent to concentration camps. He decided to give these Jews a roof under which they could hide, but soon, his factory became the home for many other Jews who just want to avoid going to the concentration camps. A selfish greedy businessman finally begins to show the good in him as he saves the lives of more than a thousand Jews from getting gassed at a nearby camp. ‘Schindler’s List’ is one of the best Jewish films out there and this classic should not be missed.
14. Life is Beautiful (1997)
‘Life is beautiful’ is about how one can manage to find happiness even in the darkest of days. It tells us the story of a father who uses fantasy and humor to protect his son from the dark and hostile world all around them which is full of Nazi death camps. He makes his son imagine the whole Holocaust as a game and the winning prize of this game would be a tank. Roberto Benigni has done almost everything in this film, from writing to directing and even acting. He got nominated for 4 Oscars and won two of them for Best Picture and Best Acting and he truly deserves it for his breathtakingly good and fresh performance. ‘Life is Beautiful’ is one film that you will never regret watching.
13. The Pianist (2002)
‘The Pianist’ takes you on a journey through the struggles of a musician during World War II as he suffers the pain of losing his family and hides looking for shelter in the ruins of the war-torn world all around him. This film, starring Adrien Brody, is an adaptation of an autobiography written by Wladyslaw Szpliman that goes by the name ‘The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945’ wherein the writer, who was a Polish radio station pianist, describes how the beginning of World War II changed the city of Warsaw entirely and filled it with terror that was unknown to people before. This cinematic masterpiece not only shows the atrocities that were committed against the Jews but tells a heartfelt story of an innocent man who makes desperate attempts to evade capture by the Nazis.
12. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ is another Holocaust story that may send you chills down your spine. The film is seen through the eyes of a young innocent child named Bruno who befriends a Jewish boy from the other side of the fence of a concentration camp. But this forbidden friendship leads to some very disturbing consequences that were not at all expected by anyone. It is certainly not recommended for children below the age of 12 without parental guidance. This disturbingly sad film has an ending that can break even the strongest people out there and is a must watch for anyone who wants to step inside the true horrors of World War II.
11. The Chosen (1981)
‘The Chosen’ is set in 1944 Brooklyn where two young men, in spite of having lived in the same neighborhood and being the same age, don’t really know each other at all. Danny Saunders and Reuven Reuven belong to two very different families — one comes from a very conservative family and avoids contact with anyone outside his community while the other one comes from a more liberal family. Soon, an event that could potentially make the distance between them grow even further does the exact opposite — it brings them together. The two become really close friends discussing their own likes and dislikes and how parental and societal pressures bring them down. As the two grow up and start drifting towards the calling of their own communities, their friendship is threatened and could be torn apart all over again.
10. Yentl (1982)
‘Yentl’ is a very unique drama romance that has enough twists and turns to keep you entertained throughout the film. It tells the story of a young woman named Yentl who disguises herself as a man to enter an orthodox school. Things get complicated when she falls in love with a man named Avigdor who is her classmate. But that’s not where it ends. Things get messed up even further when Avigdor’ fiance falls for Yentl. This film is like an 80s Jewish version of the coming of age classic, ‘She’s the Man’.
9. Shoah (1985)
Directed by Claude Lanzmann, ‘Shoah’ divides the tragic story of the Holocaust into three categories — enforcers, survivors, and watchers and presents stories of various concentration camp survivors in the form of testimonies, experiences of the witnesses of the Warsaw Ghettos and the accounts of an officer from Treblinka. It includes archival footage that was recorded for 11 years by Lanzmann who refused to put it out without executing the whole thing in an organized documentary. The 9-hour documentary is a record of the pain and the darkness that lurked everywhere during the Holocaust and gives you a disturbing real view into a world full of terror.
8. Trembling before G-d (2001)
This film recounts the personal stories shared by Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who were gay or lesbian and portrays the dilemmas faced by these people when they found themselves stuck between their love for their religion and the Biblical restrictions that it imposes on their sexual preferences. It recalls the bold stories of these people who proudly tried creating a balance between their faith and what they truly were and managed to spread a message that shows admirable strength. ‘Trembling Before G-d’ is all about the power of love and how one should learn to accept themselves.
7. The Prince of Egypt (1988)
‘The Price of Egypt‘ is a story that revolves around the lives of two brothers — one of them is an orphan with an unknown secret past and the other one is a descendant of the true royal blood. They grow up to become the best of friends and have a healthy rivalry going on between them all the time. But their loyalty towards each other is tested when one unravels the secrets of his past and discovers that he is Hebrew. He also realizes that his true calling is to become the spokesperson of the people he truly represents while the other one becomes the ruler of one of the greatest civilizations of the world. Children and adults will equally love this classic and it also offers some educational content for the young viewers from the Bible.
6. Exodus (1960)
The film recalls the incidents that lead to the formation of Israel as a Jewish state post-World War II. The movie starts with Jews bound on a ship on their way to Israel. Soon, the passengers are offloaded in Cyprus. An American Intelligence officer then somehow manages to get all of them back on board but they then face restrictions from the British to move further. However, they manage get past this dilemma and move forward. The film also depicts how Israel was attacked by their Arab neighbors after declaring their independence.
5. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
‘Fiddler on the Roof‘ is known to be one of the best films in this sub-genre and is one that you should really watch. It tells the story of a Jewish peasant who struggles to get his three daughters married amid an ongoing issue that threatens the peace of their village. This film forces you to look at life with a whole new perspective and teaches you how one can differentiate between the things that are worth living for and the ones that worth dying for.
Read More: Best Holocaust Movies of All Time
4. Waltz and Bashir (2008)
‘Waltz and Bashir’ is an animated historical drama about a man named Ari Folman who gets these tiny visions of the 1982 Lebanon War for which he had served as a soldier. But what he does not understand is that why can he not recall his memories of the war entirely. As he tries to unravel this mystery, he gets trapped deeper and deeper into the disturbing images of his own memories. This film shows the viewpoint of a soldier during a war and how it completely differs from those who have been viewing the war from the outside. If you manage to understand the context of the movie with respect to the main character, you will love it.
Read More: Best Civil War Movies of All Time
3. A Serious Man (2009)
‘A Serious Man’ is another comedy-drama that revolves around the life of a professor named Larry Gopnik. Larry finds himself in the middle of a turmoil where certain incidents of his life make him question his depressing existence. Amid all of this, Larry tries to figure out the true meaning of his life along with his family while things continue moving downslope. ‘A Serious Man’ is overall a great intellectual comedy and you will certainly enjoy every bit of it. The film is based on the basic principles of quantum mechanics and because of this, it has universal appeal for those who understand the concept.
2. The Infidel (2010)
This lovely comedy not only reflects on the Jewish culture but on Muslims as well. ‘The Infidel’ is the hilarious story of a man named Mahmud Nasir, a successful business owner who discovers that he was adopted and is not actually a Muslim. He’s actually Jewish. The film traces his journey as he tries to balance out his upbringing with his new discovery and between all of this, he tries to find a sense of belonging amongst his own people. It has some really crude language, so make sure that you’re not watching it with someone who might get offended.
Read More: Best Street Racing Movies of All Time
1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Written and directed by Woody Allen, ‘Crime and Misdemeanors’ presents two different parallel stories of adultery. One is about how a New York-based Doctor is blackmailed by his mistress who threatens that she will tell his wife about their long term affair. In the other story, a filmmaker struggles to stop himself from indulging in an adulterous relationship to escape his unhappy marriage, while making a new documentary. Woody Allen may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those who have learnt to appreciate his brilliance will surely love this classic.
Read More: Best Socialism Movies of All Time