No less than 480,000 filmgoers all over Germany lined up to get tickets for the €13.5 million (US$16.5 million) domestic hit-in-the-making Downfall / Der Untergang on the film's first four days out, September 16-19*, 2004. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the controversial World War II drama depicts Adolf Hitler's last 12 days in his underground bunker.
The figures for Downfall were deemed particularly impressive because the nearly three-hour-long production only allows two screenings per evening. Bruno Ganz, the angel who becomes human in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, stars as the Nazi leader.
In an interview for the Bild tabloid, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl declared that Downfall "was a film that had to be made and I hope that as many people as possible will see it." The former chancellor added, "It is an important film because it gives the younger generation an introduction to how people were very much led astray by National Socialism."
Hitler film hardly a critics' favorite in Germany
Regarding Downfall, some German critics have been considerably less impressed than Helmut Kohl. "The German public will see a film that is far too long, ridiculous and ultimately banal," wrote the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. "[Producer Bernd] Eichinger and his director have involuntarily turned out the worst comedy of the year."
The respected Der Spiegel magazine, which had earlier featured Downfall on its cover, was equally dismissive, stating "One does not need a €13 million film which is about as harmless and superficial as a television soap opera to make the banal observation that humankind can be evil."
On a dissenting note, Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell selected Downfall as one of his twelve favorite movies at this year's Toronto Film Festival.
'Downfall' movie cast
Besides Bruno Ganz, Downfall also features Alexandra Maria Lara as Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun, Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels, Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels, Heino Ferch as Albert Speer, and Thomas Kretschmann as Hermann Fegelein.
* Downfall's "weekend" box-office figures also include Thursday screenings.
Photo of Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall: Constantin Film.