- Downfall box office: Surely one of Germany’s most controversial movies ever – and one of its costliest – Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Adolf Hitler movie, hardly a critical favorite in its native country, has turned out to be a sizable domestic hit. Bruno Ganz stars as the increasingly off-kilter Führer; Juliane Köhler is Eva Braun.
Downfall box office: Despite controversy & ridicule, Adolf Hitler drama becomes a hit in its native country
The story of Adolf Hitler’s final days in his underground Berlin bunker, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s hit-in-the-making Downfall / Der Untergang: Hitler und das Ende des 3. Reiches has sold no less than 480,000 tickets in its first four days out (Sept. 16–19) in Germany.
Attendance figures were deemed particularly impressive because the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time allows only two screenings per evening.
One enthusiastic attendee seems to have been former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who told the Bild tabloid that Downfall “had to be made and I hope that as many people as possible will see it,” adding that it “is an important film because it gives the younger generation an introduction to how people were very much led astray by National Socialism.”
‘Worst comedy of the year’
Some German critics, however, have been far less impressed with this €13.5 million drama adapted by producer Bernd Eichinger from historian Joachim Fest’s bestseller Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich and from the memoirs of the Nazi dictator’s last personal secretary, Traudl Junge.
“The German public will see a film that is far too long, ridiculous and ultimately banal,” sneered the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. “Eichinger and his director have involuntarily turned out the worst comedy of the year.”
Its prior cover story notwithstanding (see link in the intro to this article), Der Spiegel was just as dismissive: “One doesn’t 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, the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell selected Downfall as one of his 12 favorite movies at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.
In the Downfall cast: Bruno Ganz (more further below) as Adolf Hitler, Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun, Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge, Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels, Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels, Heino Ferch as Albert Speer, and Thomas Kretschmann as Hermann Fegelein.
One of the most successful German movies ever
Update: As found at boxofficemojo.com, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall ultimately collected a remarkable $39.1 million in Germany and $53.1 million (likely incomplete) elsewhere. Worldwide total: $92.2 million, undoubtedly making it one of the most successful German movies ever released.
Its top international markets, most of them in Western Europe, were: France ($6.4 million), the United States/Canada ($5.5 million), Spain ($4.6 million), Denmark ($4.3 million), the United Kingdom/Ireland ($3.6 million), and the Netherlands ($3.5 million).
Unique Hitler movie
In the last six decades or so, Bruno Ganz is the latest actor to portray Adolf Hitler. He’s also the only one to have starred as Der Führer in a big-budget (by German standards) German-language production.
Below are a few notable movie Hitlers*, nearly all of them featured in supporting roles or in minor/largely forgotten titles:
- Carl Ekberg in Man Hunt (1941), Citizen Kane (1941), The Wife Takes a Flyer (1941), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and What Did You Do in the War Daddy? (1966).
- Bobby Watson in Hitler – Dead or Alive (1942), Nazty Nuisance (1943), The Hitler Gang (1944), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), A Foreign Affair (1948), The Story of Mankind (1957), On the Double (1961), and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962).
- Albin Skoda in G.W. Pabst’s The Last Ten Days / Der letzte Akt (1955), reportedly the first German feature about Adolf Hitler.
- Richard Basehart in Stuart Heisler’s Hitler (1962).
- Fritz Diez several times, most notably in Yuri Ozerov’s Soviet-made Liberation (1969–72) film series.
- Alec Guinness in Ennio De Concini’s Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973).
- Anthony Hopkins in George Schaefer’s made-for-TV The Bunker (1981).
* There’s also (sort of) Charles Chaplin, who plays both a Jewish ghetto barber and Tomainian Leader Adenoid Hynkel in the Chaplin-directed political satire The Great Dictator (1940).
Bruno Ganz: Long & prestigious international career
In movies since the early 1960s (more steadily since the mid-1970s), Bruno Ganz has been seen in about 50 features. Notable titles include:
- Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977), Wings of Desire (1987), and Faraway So Close! (1993).
- Eric Rohmer’s The Marquise of O (1976), which earned Ganz a Best Actor German Film Award.
- Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil (1978).
- Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).
- Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee Children of Nature (1991).
- Silvio Soldini’s Bread and Tulips (2000), which earned Ganz a Best European Actor nomination.
Ganz was most recently seen in a small role as a scientist in Jonathan Demme’s U.S.-made political drama The Manchurian Candidate, a remake of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 classic. Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, and Meryl Streep star.
“Downfall Box Office: ‘Unlikely’ Hitler Hit” notes
Bruno Ganz Downfall movie image: Constantin Film.
“Downfall Box Office: ‘Unlikely’ Hitler Hit” last updated in September 2023.