10 Best Sergei Eisenstein Movies, Ranked According to IMDb

10 Best Sergei Eisenstein Movies, Ranked According to IMDb

Movies


Sergei Eisenstein was a Soviet filmmaker active during the silent era, who directed several innovative and influential films that remain landmarks of world cinema. His most famous projects include Strike and Battleship Potemkin, both of which deployed cutting-edge editing techniques. In particular, Eisenstein is famous for his theories around montage, which were quickly embraced by subsequent directors.


Eisenstein mostly worked for the Soviet state, so the majority of his movies are works of propaganda. Nevertheless, the best of them are surprisingly complex, and often angered the very authorities who had commissioned them. Of course, Eisenstein’s films are now rather dated, but they are still key works in movie history. Watching them helps to give one a greater appreciation of how far the medium has come in the last century, as well as the significant role Eisenstein played in its evolution. These are the best of his projects, as ranked by the users of IMDb.


10 ‘Sentimental Romance’ (1930)

IMDb: 6.5/10

Sentimental Romance is a 20-minute French film Eisenstein directed in collaboration with Grigori Aleksandrov, another prominent Soviet filmmaker. It’s an experimental project with no narrative. Rather, it’s a montage of images, beginning with violent scenes of nature like crashing waves and collapsing trees, before gradually becoming more peaceful with shots of clouds and windswept grasslands. Eventually, we see interior shots of a woman singing a Russian song at a piano.

The whole thing is very abstract, meditative, and melancholy. It’s only worth checking out for the curiosity value, though the visuals shot by frequent Eisenstein collaborator Eduard Tisse are frequently impressive. The score by Alexis Archangelsky is also stirring and immersive, a perfect complement to the imagery. The result is essentially a cinematic poem, conveying various moods and leaving the rest up to the viewer’s interpretation. Sentimental Romance is no masterpiece, but it’s yet more proof of Eisenstein’s creativity and willingness to experiment.

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9 ‘Bezhin lug’ (1937)

IMDb: 6.7/10

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This work of Soviet propaganda focuses on a young farm boy named Stepok (Viktor Kartashov) and his father (Boris Zakhava). Unhappy with the government, the father resolves to sabotage that year’s harvest, but Stepok reports his dad’s crimes to the authorities out of loyalty to the Soviet state. The movie is essentially a celebration of being a government informant, but the Soviet government shut down production before it was completed. They accused it of being an artistic and political failure.

As a result, the movie was long thought lost, though fragments of it did survive and have been edited together to create a watchable (if incomplete) version of the project. Since then, Bezhin lug has been the subject of much academic analysis, particularly around its use of religious iconography and themes of good and evil. For instance, in one scene, Stepok’s dad quotes from the Bible, saying, “If the son betrays his father, kill him like a dog!” Perhaps the Soviet government halted the film’s production because they sensed it was more complex than the straightforward propaganda film they had requested.

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8 ‘Old and New’ (1929)

IMDb: 7.2/10

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Old and New (also known as The General Line) is a celebration of the Soviet government’s agricultural policies and the collectivization of farms. The plot follows Martha (Martha Lapkina), a young peasant woman who, inspired by the ideals of the October Revolution, transforms her farm into a collective farm. She joins up with four other farmers, and together, they overcome several obstacles to make their enterprise a success.

Eisenstein shoots tractors, tools, and farm animals with a poetic eye, as if they were magical or totemic. He also flexes his editing muscles, with rapid-fire cutting and extensive use of montage. While it valorizes new agricultural technologies, the movie also portrays some of the old ways of farming in an approving light, making it yet another somewhat contradictory statement from Eisenstein. It remains an intriguing curio, especially given the disastrous failure of many of the Soviet collective farms.

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7 ‘Que Viva Mexico’ (1979)

IMDb: 7.4/10

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Eisenstein began work on this avant-garde project in 1930 at the behest of the American socialist author Upton Sinclar, but it was never finished, only being stitched together into watchable form in 1979 by Grigori Alexandrov. The movie is a deep dive into Mexican history and various aspects of the country’s culture and traditions. It looks at the ancient Mayan civilization, the Spanish colonial era, as well as the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. Also featured are various Catholic celebrations and Day of the Dead festivities.

The production was beset by problems, including ballooning costs and a lack of communication between Eisenstein and Sinclair. The latter wanted the movie to be a kind of travelogue, but Eisenstein clearly began working on a sweeping cultural study. The surviving pieces of the film have generally been praised for their powerful imagery and deep dive into the country’s cultural and religious complexity.

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6 ‘October (Ten Days that Shook the World)’ (1927)

IMDb: 7.4/10

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October (Ten Days that Shook the World) was made to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia. This armed insurrection, led by Lenin‘s Bolshevik Party, was a key event in the fall of the Russian monarchy, the subsequent Russian Civil War, and the eventual creation of the Soviet Union. The film is a dramatization of the Revolution, starting with Lenin’s return to Russia from exile and ending with the establishment of a new government in the country.

Aesthetically, Eisenstein innovated with the film. In particular, he introduced the technique he termed “intellectual montage”, which involves editing shots of seemingly unrelated objects to draw an intellectual comparison between them. In October, there’s one such notable montage of religious figures. It begins with a painting of Jesus, then cuts to images of Hindu gods, Buddha, Aztec deities, and finally a rudimentary stone idol. The scene is meant to critique religious beliefs and make the point that all faiths are essentially the same. This was in keeping with the official secular ideology of the Soviet regime.

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5 ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (1938)

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IMDb: 7.5/10

This historical drama takes place in the 13th century and centers around the legendary Russian hero, Prince Alexander Nevsky (Nikolay Cherkasov), who leads his people in repelling an invasion by the Teutonic Knights and their allies. It’s a true epic, culminating in a climactic battle sequence on the surface of a frozen lake. Alexander Nevsky is notable for being Eisenstein’s first sound film and one of his most popular projects on release.

It’s not as experimental as his other work, but it’s ambitious in its scale, particularly for the final battle. It’s thirty minutes long and is one of the finest on-screen battles of the 1930s. In addition, Alexander Nevsky, with its narrative about a Russian ruler fending off foreign invaders, has been interpreted as an allegory about the Soviet Union’s relationship with Nazi Germany. It was made at a time when relations between the two states were highly strained, foreshadowing the Nazi invasion a few years later.

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4 ‘Strike’ (1925)

IMDb: 7.6/10

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Set in 1903, Strike tells the story of a group of factory workers who, faced with oppressive working conditions and low wages, decide to go on strike. The governor sends in the military to suppress the workers, leading to a brutal showdown. The film is a prime example of Eisenstein’s mastery of editing, and especially the use of metaphorical montage. Here, he cross-cuts scenes of the workers being beaten with shots of animals being slaughtered. Similarly, another scene shows the workers being harassed by police officers, alongside a shot of a wealthy man squeezing juice out of a lemon.

Strike was Eisenstein’s first feature film after years working in the theater, and it’s an impressive debut. The editing was influential, and the film is generally held in high regard. In particular, most critics consider it one of Eisenstein’s most accessible movies and thus a good starting point for newcomers to his filmography. It’s also relatively short, at just 82 minutes long.

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3 ‘Ivan the Terrible, Part I’ (1944)

IMDb: 7.7/10

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This is the first entry in Eisenstein’s two-part historical epic about the infamous Russian czar Ivan IV (Nikolay Cherkasov). It depicts Ivan’s rise to power and his early reign, marked by political intrigue, conspiracies, and struggles for control. Specifically, the narrative delves into Ivan’s attempts to consolidate power, his conflicts with the Russian nobility, and the formation of the Oprichnina, a controversial political and military force.

The film is unabashedly maximalist, with massive sets and elaborate costumes to capture all the pomp and circumstance of the era. This is evident from the opening scene, which takes place in a ridiculously large throne room. The performance style is fittingly over-the-top and larger-than-life. Once again, Eisenstein plays with symbols, for example, portraying Ivan as a bird. He also uses color in interesting ways. Almost the entirety of the film is in black-and-white, except for ten pivotal minutes toward the end which are in vivid technicolor.

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2 ‘Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars’ Plot’ (1958)

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IMDb: 7.8/10

The second installment focuses on Ivan IV’s conflict with the boyars, a segment of the Russian nobility who were opposed to his rule. While Ivan tries to confiscate the boyars’ lands and undermine their power, they recruit assassins to murder him. The film digs a little deeper into Ivan IV’s psychology, with flashbacks to his childhood, while remaining as exaggerated and ornate as the first.

As with the first movie, Eisenstein uses color photography for one key scene where Ivan temporarily allows his cousin and challenger Vladimir (Pavel Kadochnikov) to pretend to be the emperor. The result is a bold historical spectacle, which may not make for enjoyable viewing but remains a significant work in the history of Eastern European cinema. Despite commissioning the film, the Communist authorities were not happy with the finished product, perhaps seeing the portrayal of Ivan as a veiled criticism of Stalin. It was completed in 1944, but the government suppressed it until 1958.

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1 ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (1925)

IMDb: 7.9/10

A group of sailors looking ahead in Battleship Potemkin
Image Via Goskino

Battleship Potemkin dramatizes a real-life mutiny that took place in 1905 aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin, where sailors rebelled against the oppressive officers. The crew overwhelm their superiors, tossing many of them overboard and seizing control of the vessel. They sail to the port of Odessa, where the locals welcome them as heroes. However, soldiers are soon dispatched to bring the sailors to heel and clamp down on the unruly citizens.

Battleship Potemkin is far and away Eisenstein’s most seminal film. It’s taught in film courses the world over due to its pioneering use of montage. In this regard, the film was key in the development of film grammar. It is also famous for the iconic sequence shot on the Odessa Steps, where rioting citizens are massacred by soldiers. This massacre never actually happened, but the scene has nevertheless been immortalized in cinematic history. The pinnacle of Soviet silent cinema, Battleship Potemkin has been cited as a favorite by a diverse array of directors, including Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Michael Mann, and Paul Greengrass.

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NEXT: The 10 Best Movies Recommended by the Coen Brothers



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