The 15 Best Movies Influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s Theater Techniques

The 15 Best Movies Influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s Theater Techniques's icon

Created by Igor Brynner_1989.

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Since the beginning of cinema, the theater has been a major influence on the medium. Cinematic staging is largely based on precepts from the theater. Though cinema developed its own language, a lot of traces of theater are still present. To point out the obvious, most acting techniques come directly from theater.

Perhaps in Hollywood cinema the major influence was the Stanislavski system. Stanislavski proposed a school of acting where the actor was expected to control every facet of his performance in order to mix theatrical emotions with real ones to create a truly dramatic performance. This style can be seen in Robert De Niro’s performance in Raging Bull, or in almost every Daniel Day-Lewis performance.

The literary counterpart of this was incarnated in the person of the German poet and writer Bertolt Brecht. Brecht proposed the “epic-theater”, where the thoughts were more important than emotion. For Brecht a play was completed outside the theater, in the reflections of the audience when the play is over. To achieve this he employed the verfremdungseffekt (distancing effect), a strategy which constantly reminded the audience that they were in a theater.

In Brechtian theory, if the spectator knows that what he is watching is fiction and is not driven by an emotional identification, he can complete the play in his mind. Brecht was also a Marxist and his main interest was to expose contradictions from the stage, and involve the audience. He never gave complete answers which would go against dialectical exercise.

The influence of these ideas became so prominent, that there are a number of examples of them in cinema. Some of his techniques became popular in modern cinema, though not necessarily with the same objectives Brecht had in mind. Addressing the audience by breaking the fourth-wall was one of Brecht’s revolutions, but now this is quite normal, and is not always related to distancing ideas. This 15 films listed are among the finest examples of Brecht’s lessons applied to film.

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  1. 7 new

    Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos

    1968 — a.k.a. The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless, in 3 top lists Check
  2. 8 new


    1972 — a.k.a. History Lessons, in 0 top lists Check
  3. 1 new

    Die 3 Groschen-Oper

    1931 — a.k.a. The 3 Penny Opera, in 7 top lists Check
  4. 9 new

    O Lucky Man!

    1973, in 5 top lists Check
  5. 6 new


    1969, in 5 top lists Check
  6. 3 new

    Meghe Dhaka Tara

    1960 — a.k.a. The Cloud-Capped Star, in 12 top lists Check
  7. 5 new


    1968 — a.k.a. Death by Hanging, in 8 top lists Check
  8. 12 new


    1990, in 5 top lists Check
  9. 15 new


    2004, in 0 top lists Check
  10. 2 new

    Monsieur Verdoux

    1947, in 11 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

    1989, in 8 top lists Check
  12. 4 new

    Pierrot le fou

    1965 — a.k.a. Pierrot le Fou, in 15 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Funny Games

    1997, in 13 top lists Check
  14. 14 new


    2003, in 13 top lists Check
  15. 10 new

    Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma

    1975 — a.k.a. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in 13 top lists Check
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Last updated on Feb 19, 2018; source