Downfall (2004 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Screenplay by Bernd Eichinger
Based on
Music by Stephan Zacharias[1]
Cinematography Rainer Klausmann[1]
Edited by Hans Funck[1]
Distributed by Constantin Film (Germany, Austria)
01 Distribution (Italy)
Release date
  • 16 September 2004 (2004-09-16) (Germany)
  • 17 September 2004 (2004-09-17) (Austria)
  • 18 March 2005 (2005-03-18) (Greece)
  • 29 April 2005 (2005-04-29) (Italy)
Running time
155 minutes[2]
Country Germany
Language German
Budget €13.5 million[4]
Box office $92.2 million[5]

Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 German-Italian-Austrian historical war drama film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by producer Bernd Eichinger. It depicts the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's rule over Nazi Germany in 1945, and is based on several accounts of the period. The film received critical acclaim upon release and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Several scenes from the film have become the basis for a widespread viral video phenomenon.


In November 1942, Hitler orders that a secretary be hired, with Traudl Junge getting the job at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia. The time then changes to Hitler's birthday in 1945. During the Battle of Berlin, an artillery blast wakes up Traudl, and the other assistants: Gerda Christian and Constanze Manziarly. Down in the Führerbunker, Hitler is informed by Wilhelm Burgdorf that Berlin is under attack and the Red Army has advanced to within 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) of central Berlin. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler leaves to negotiate surrender terms with the Western Allies behind Hitler's back after he refuses to leave the city. Meanwhile, a group of Hitler Youth members bolster defenses. Peter, one of the members, is urged by his father to desert but refuses.

SS physician Ernst-Günther Schenck convinces an SS general to allow him to ignore an evacuation order; Schenck is then requested by Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke to bring medical supplies to the Reich Chancellery. Hitler discusses his new scorched earth policy with his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, while Eva Braun holds a party that is broken up by artillery fire. After General Helmuth Weidling explains to Hans Krebs and Burgdorf that his alleged order to retreat to the west was a misunderstanding, Weidling is appointed to oversee Berlin's crumbling defenses. Hitler orders an attack from Felix Steiner's unit to stem the oncoming Soviet advance, but is told afterwards that Steiner could not mount the attack. Hitler subsequently flies into a furious rage at what he perceives as betrayal.

General Mohnke confronts Joseph Goebbels, who is relentless against civilians of the Volkssturm, while Hitler orders Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to find Admiral Karl Dönitz and help plan an offensive to recover the Romanian oil fields. Later, Martin Bormann interrupts a meeting between Hitler, Goebbels, and Walther Hewel to read a message from Hermann Göring requesting command and head-of-state. Hitler strips Göring of rank, and orders him arrested, naming Robert Ritter von Greim as replacement. Speer admits defying Hitler's scorched earth policy orders, however he does not punish Speer.

Hitler then receives a report that Himmler contacted Folke Bernadotte attempting to negotiate surrender. Hitler orders test pilot Hanna Reitsch to find him and his adjutant Hermann Fegelein. After learning that Fegelein has deserted, Hitler orders him executed. A drunken Fegelein is found in a brothel and executed by an RSD squad.

Reichsphysician SS Ernst-Robert Grawitz, head of the German Red Cross also responsible for Nazi human medical experiments, asks Hitler's permission to evacuate for fear of reprisal from the Soviets, which Hitler denies. Grawitz commits suicide by detonating two grenades, which also kills his family. Weidling reports no reserves left, and Mohnke reports that the Red Army is only 300 to 400 metres from the Reich Chancellery. Hitler reassures that General Walther Wenck's 12th Army will save them. After midnight, Hitler dictates his last will and testament to Traudl, before marrying Eva Braun. The following morning, Weidling reports the remaining armies are now incapable of any meaningful action. Hitler plans to kill himself before he can be captured, so Dr. Werner Haase explains the best method for suicide and administers poison to Blondi, Hitler's dog. Hitler bids farewell to the bunker staff, and gives Magda Goebbels his own Golden Party Badge before he and Eva commit suicide. Per Hitler's orders, they are cremated in the Chancellery garden. Krebs then meets with Marshal Vasily Chuikov to negotiate peace terms, but returns unsuccessful.

Goebbels refuses to surrender. Magda murders her six children with cyanide before she commits suicide with her husband in the Chancellery garden. As remaining staff in the bunker evacuate, Krebs and Burgdorf kill themselves. Weidling broadcasts that Hitler is dead and that he is seeking an immediate ceasefire. The remaining SS troops of the bunker try to flee the city; Hewel joins them, but after word reaches them of the surrender he and several others shoot themselves. Meanwhile, the child soldiers have all died except Peter, who discovers that a Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie squad has executed his parents. Traudl decides to leave. Peter pulls her through the masses, where they find a bicycle at a ruined bridge to leave Berlin.



The film was based upon the books Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich (1945), by historian Joachim Fest; Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (1947), the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries (co-written with Melissa Müller); Inside the Third Reich (first published in German in 1969), the memoirs of Albert Speer, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials to survive both the war and the Nuremberg trials; Hitler's Last Days: An Eye–Witness Account (first English translation 1973), by Gerhard Boldt; Das Notlazarett unter der Reichskanzlei: Ein Arzt erlebt Hitlers Ende in Berlin by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck; and Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936–1949 (1992), Siegfried Knappe's memoir.

Ganz conducted four months of research to prepare for the role, studying an 11-minute recording of Hitler in private conversation with Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim in order to properly mimic Hitler's conversational voice and distinct Austrian dialect.[6]

The film is set mostly in and around the Führerbunker. Hirschbiegel made an effort to accurately reconstruct the look and atmosphere of the bunker through eyewitness accounts, survivors' memoirs, and other historical sources. According to his commentary on the DVD, Der Untergang was filmed in Berlin, Munich, and in a district of Saint Petersburg, Russia, which has many buildings designed by German architects, which was said to resemble many parts of 1940s Berlin. Hirschbiegel said that the film's makers sought to give Hitler a three-dimensional personality, telling NBC: "We know from all accounts that he was a very charming man – a man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism."[7]

Its impending release in 2004 provoked a debate in German film magazines and newspapers. The tabloid Bild asked, "Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?"[7] On its broadcast in the UK, Channel 4 marketed it with the strapline: "It's a happy ending. He dies".[8]

At the beginning of the film and at the very end, an excerpt was used from the documentary Im toten Winkel (2002) that featured the real Traudl Junge expressing her guilt and shame for admiring Adolf Hitler in her youth.


The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives Downfall an approval rating of 91% based on 138 critics (an average rating of 8 out of 10) and the consensus, "Downfall is an illuminating, thoughtful and detailed account of Hitler's last days."[9] The film has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic (based on 35 critics), indicating "universal acclaim".[10]

Much praise was directed towards the film's accuracy in showing the acts of Adolf Hitler, and Bruno Ganz's portrayal of him. Critics also lauded the portrayal of the powerful setting the film unveils in the final closing moments of World War II.[11] The New Yorker film critic David Denby noted with respect to the film's depiction of Hitler:[12] "By emphasizing the painfulness of Hitler's defeat Ganz has [...] made the dictator into a plausible human being. Considered as biography, the achievement [...] is to insist that the monster was not invariably monstrous – that he was kind to his cook and his young female secretaries, loved his German shepherd, Blondi, and was surrounded by loyal subordinates. [...] This Hitler may be human, but he's as utterly degraded a human being as has ever been shown on the screen, a man whose every impulse leads to annihilation."

Hitler biographer Sir Ian Kershaw wrote in The Guardian:[13] "Knowing what I did of the bunker story, I found it hard to imagine that anyone (other than the usual neo-Nazi fringe) could possibly find Hitler a sympathetic figure during his bizarre last days. And to presume that it might be somehow dangerous to see him as a human being – well, what does that thought imply about the self-confidence of a stable, liberal democracy? Hitler was, after all, a human being, even if an especially obnoxious, detestable specimen."

Addressing other critics like Denby, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "I do not feel the film provides 'a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did', because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient. As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil." [14]

The author Giles MacDonogh criticised the film for sympathetic portrayals of Wilhelm Mohnke and Ernst-Günther Schenck. Mohnke was rumoured, but never proven, to have ordered the execution of a group of British POWs in the Wormhoudt massacre near Dunkirk in 1940, while Schenck's experiments with medicinal plants in 1938 allegedly led to the deaths of a number of concentration camp prisoners.[15] In response, the film's director stated he did his own research and did not find the allegations as to Schenck convincing. Mohnke strongly denied the accusations against him, telling historian Thomas Fischer, "I issued no orders not to take English prisoners or to execute prisoners."[16]


The film was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the 77th Academy Awards. The film also won the 2005 BBC Four World Cinema competition.[17]

The film was also ranked number 48 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[18]


The movie is well known as the inspiration for "Downfall parodies", often called "Hitler Rants". One scene in the film, in which Hitler launches into a furious tirade upon finally realizing that the war is lost, has become a staple of internet videos.[19] In these videos, the original German audio is retained, but new subtitles are added so that Hitler and his subordinates seem to be reacting instead to some setback in present-day politics, sports, entertainment, popular culture, or everyday life. Other scenes from various portions of the film have been parodied in the same manner, including the scenes where Hitler orders Otto Günsche to find SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, where Hitler discusses a counterattack against advancing Soviet forces with his generals, where Hitler is having dinner and learns of Himmler's betrayal, and where Goebbels vows to his generals that he will never surrender the city of Berlin to the Russians.

By 2010, there were thousands of such parodies, including many in which Hitler is incensed that people keep making Downfall parodies in a case of metaparody.[20]

The parodies, as well as the film itself, have also gained a cult following, spawning a community of YouTube users who call themselves "Untergangers",[21][22][23] devoted to the practice of making Downfall-related videos. Some of them have cited their reasons for making the parodies.[24] Stacy Lee Blackmon, a YouTube user known for maintaining the Hitler Rants Parodies channel,[25] has over 1,651 videos to his name as of October 2017. In an interview with the Swedish magazine show Kobra, Blackmon denied that parody makers are neo-Nazi sympathizers and stated that the Unterganger community disparages Nazism.[22]

The film's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, spoke positively about these parodies in a 2010 interview with New York magazine, saying that many of them were funny and they were a fitting extension of the film's purpose: "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."[26] Nevertheless, Constantin Film has taken an "ambivalent" view of the parodies and has asked video sites to remove many of them.[27] On 21 April 2010, the producers initiated a removal of parody videos from YouTube.[28] This prompted posting of videos of Hitler complaining about the fact that the parodies were being taken down, and a resurgence of the videos on the site.[29]

In October 2010, YouTube stopped blocking Downfall-derived parodies.[30] Corynne McSherry, an attorney specializing in intellectual property and free speech issues[31] for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said: "All the Downfall parody videos that I've seen are very strong fair use cases and so they're not infringing, and they shouldn't be taken down."[32] Constantin Film went on to produce and distribute the Hitler-themed comedy Look Who's Back (2015), which includes an extended spoof of the oft-parodied scene from Downfall.[33]

In January 2012, British Labour MP Tom Harris stepped down from his Internet adviser role following adverse media reaction to his Downfall parody ridiculing Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.[34]

In July 2013, Jefferies Group, an American investment firm, was ordered by a Hong Kong court to pay $1.86 million to former equity trading head Grant Williams for firing him for sending out a newsletter that linked to a Hitler parody video, mocking JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.[35][36]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Elley, Derek. "Downfall". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  2. "DOWNFALL (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 24 December 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  3. "Downfall (2004)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  4. "Eichinger-Film "Der Untergang": Bruno Ganz spielt späten Hitler". Spiegel Online (in German). 16 April 2003. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
  5. "DOWNFALL". Box Office Mojo.
  6. Diver, Krysia; Moss, Stephen (25 March 2003). "Desperately seeking Adolf". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  7. 1 2 Eckardt, Andy (16 September 2004). "Film showing Hitler's soft side stirs controversy". NBC News. MSNBC.
  8. "Hitler: The Lost Files". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  9. "Downfall (Der Untergang) (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  10. "Downfall Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  11. Smithey, Cole (9 May 2005). "German Filmmakers do Justice to the Fall of Hitler's Empire". Smart New Media.
  12. Denby, David (14 February 2005). "David Denby's comments on Der Untergang". The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  13. Kershaw, Ian (17 September 2004). "The human Hitler". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 July 2009.
  14. Ebert, Roger (11 March 2005). "Downfall". Chicago Sun-Times.
  15. Eberle, Henrik, MacDonogh, Giles and Uhl, Matthias. The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin, New York: PublicAffairs, 2005, p 370. ISBN 1-58648-366-8
  16. Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. 2008, p 26.
  17. "Downfall wins BBC world film gong". BBC. 26 January 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2009.
  18. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 48. Downfall". Empire.
  19. "The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody". BBC News. 13 April 2010.
  20. Boutin, Paul (25 February 2010). "Video Mad Libs With the Right Software". The New York Times. pp. B10. Retrieved 26 February 2010.. The Hitler parody is at
  21. "Internetting: a user's guide #18 - How downfall gained cult status". The Guardian. London. 5 July 2013. Archived from the original on 31 October 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  22. 1 2 "Kobra - Del 2 av 12: Hitlerhumor" (in Swedish). SVT Play. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  23. Brady, Tara (31 July 2015). "Oliver Hirschbiegel: from Hitler to Princess Diana and back again". The Irish Times. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  24. Evangelista, Benny (23 July 2010). "Parody, copyright law clash in online clips". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  25. "The Passion of the Hitler: The World's Most Prolific Downfall Parodist Speaks". Heeb. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  26. Rosenblum, Emma (15 January 2010). "The Director of Downfall Speaks Out on All Those Angry YouTube Hitlers". New York. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  27. Finlo Rohrer (13 April 2010). "The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody". BBC News. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  28. Finlo Rohrer (21 April 2010). "Downfall filmmakers want YouTube to take down Hitler spoofs". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  29. "Parody, copyright law clash in online clips". San Francisco Chronicle. 23 July 2010.
  30. "Constantin Film are not blocking parodies any more". Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  31. "EFF's Staff | Electronic Frontier Foundation". 25 April 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  32. "YouTube Pulls Hitler 'Downfall' Parodies". NPR. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  33. "Führer Humor: The Art of the Nazi Comedy". The Atlantic. 20 December 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  34. "MP Tom Harris quits media post over Hitler joke video". BBC News. 16 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  35. "Jefferies Must Pay Fired Trader $1.86 Million, Court Says - Bloomberg". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  36. Linkins, Jason (9 July 2013). "The 'Downfall' Internet Meme Has FINALLY Made Somebody Rich". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 July 2013.

Further reading

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