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9 famous German actors you might recognise

9 famous German actors you might recognise

While there are many talented German actors out there, only a few of them have made it big in the movie industry abroad. Here are some of the good and great of Germany’s most famous actors!

Internationally famous German Actors 

Famous German actors don't just play officers or soldiers in films about the First and Second World Wars - they star in all types of film, from comedy and romance to action and horror. Here's some big names you probably recognise - although you might not have realised they're German!

Daniel Brühl

One of Germany’s most famous and versatile actors is the multitalented Daniel Brühl, who rose to international fame in the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds - a film through which many other German actors also rose to fame (as we'll see below). Barcelona-born Daniel Brühl has acted in films across the world, from Poland to the United States. 

Brühl has appeared in films such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Rush (2013). More recently, Brühl has delighted Netflix audiences in the TV series The Alienist, and even landed a role as the Marvel villain Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War (2016). 

Here he is in action, as Dr Laszlo Kreizler in Netflix's The Alienist

Diane Kruger 

German-American Diane Kruger, much like Brühl, found fame from Quentin Taraninto’s Inglourious Basterds, and since then, her career has only gotten better and better. Having appeared in French, German and English-language films, Kruger is truly an international hit. 

Aside from acting, Diane Kruger has also had a strong career as a model, and has featured in People magazine’s annual 50 most beautiful people in the world list. She won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival and has also received the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award from the Screen Actors Guild in the United States. 

Here's Kruger in the trailer for The Operative (2019):

Christoph Waltz

Undoubtedly, Christoph Waltz is one of Germany's most famous cultural exports (although Austria would probably also claim him as theirs - he has a parent from each country). Yet another face in Inglourious Basterds, Waltz has been able to land roles in significant films such as the James Bond franchise and Django Unchained

Waltz is one of the most decorated German actors, having received two Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. Waltz’s international success has even seen him host an episode of the US’s primetime TV show Saturday Night Live

You can see Waltz in his directorial debut in the movie Georgetown (2019) below:

German actors in Hollywood

Though it is often thought that being in Hollywood is the key to fame, not all actors who make it into the industry manage to get the credit they deserve. As time goes by, new actors take over and the classics get forgotten - here’s some great German actors that managed to make it in Hollywood. 

Marlene Dietrich

As one of the most famous faces of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Marlene Dietrich truly earned a place on this list. Though she sadly passed away in 1992, she greatly outlived many of the other stars of her era in Hollywood. While Dietrich was known for her stunning looks, she also had a truly generous, humanitarian side, which she put to particular use during the war - housing German and French exiles, and helping them in their struggle to get citizenship in the US. 

Thanks to the internet, while Dietrich is no longer with us, her legacy lives on. Here she is singing "Where have all the flowers gone?" in 1963:

August Diehl

Named by Gala magazine as “the most important German actor of today” in 2006, it was always clear that August Diehl was going to be a big star. After he got his big break in Inglorious Basterds in 2009, Diehl stayed in Hollywood to work alongside Angelina Jolie on the action-thriller film Salt, in 2010. 

Diehl is talented off-screen too, as he speaks four languages - German, Spanish, French and English, and he also plays the guitar. 

Here's a brief glimpse of Diehl in the trailer for Salt (2010):

6. Michael Fassbender

The German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender is another of the most-decorated actors to have been born in Germany. In 2015, he was nominated for the Academy, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG awards for his role in the biopic Steve Jobs.

In a major career change, Fassbender has started taking part in auto racing in more recent years. He currently competes in the European Le Mans Series, representing Proton Competition. 

See Fassbender in action in Trespass Against Us (2016):

Most famous German actors in Germany 

Enough of Germans who made it big abroad - it’s time to appreciate some homegrown talent that Germans love! These three German actors, though not necessarily well-known faces abroad, are some of the most recognised actors at home in Germany.

Klaus Kinski 

Much like Marlene Dietrich, Klaus Kinski was a cinema classic in Germany before his tragic death in 1991. Kinski was known for being an intense performer with a volatile personality off-screen. It has been suspected that Kinski suffered from schizophrenia, as the actor was seen to behave erratically over the span of his career. His eccentric personality was reflected in a wide range of eclectic films he directed himself, especially towards the end of his life. 

Despite struggles with his mental health, Klaus Kinski was still able to land major roles and make a huge name for himself both in Germany and abroad. His earlier films saw him stay in Germany, but as his career picked up, he ventured across the water into the United States. 

Here's the original trailer for one of Kinski's most successful films, Fitzcarraldo (1982):

8. Udo Kier

Born in Cologne near the end of World War Two, it is hard to think that becoming an actor was an easy task for Udo Kier. From the day he was born, he was thrown into adversity - having to be dug out of the rubble of the hospital where he was born with his mother, after it was blown up in the conflict. Nevertheless, Kier pushed forward with his dream to become an actor, eventually landing a role in the 1966 short film Road to St Tropez

Fast forward to today, where Udo has featured in more than 220 films worldwide, and dozens of TV shows. He has also worked extensively as a voice actor, and has used his skills for roles in international films such as Scooby Doo and video games. 

See the 77-year-old in action in the trailer for Swan Song (2021):

9. Jürgen Vogel

As a former child model, it has always been clear that the place for Jürgen Vogel to be is on the big screen. Vogel claims to have been inspired to follow a career in acting after watching the movie Taxi Driver (1976), and managed to strike luck in 1989, finally catching a break in the German film Bumerang-Bumerang

He has since gone on to star in many films and TV shows, including several episodes of the hit German crime drama Tatort.  

Here's Vogel talking about his teeth in an interview in 2008 (you can turn on English subtitles at the bottom of the video):

The German actors that made it big

So there you have it: Germany is home to some fine acting talent. Have a favourite German actor that didn't make our list? Let us know in the comments below!

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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