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Best Indonesian Movies to Learn Indonesian

Indonesia is not a country that gets its fair share of cultural recognition.

It’s enormous, it’s diverse, and it’s breathtakingly gorgeous…but how many people outside its borders follow the lives of its celebrities or listen to its pop music? The Indonesian movies box office?

Not a whole lot, and they’re all the poorer for it.

Whether or not you’re a student of the Indonesian language looking for something to boost your listening comprehension, watching a couple of Indonesian movies is going to open the door to a whole new world of cinema.

Here’s a list of the best Indonesian films with something for everyone, so that you can find something good no matter what your favorite genre is. You’ll also find movies here from early 2000s to 2018.

Also keep in mind that you can look for Indonesian movies online (think Indonesian movies YouTube) or try searching for Indonesian movies on Netflix if none of these interest you (though I don’t really see that happening!). You may also be able to purchase Indonesian movies on Amazon. Here are the most common common Indonesian vocabulary that you may find in the movies.

Top verbs

Table of Contents

  1. Ada apa dengan Cinta?
  2. Merantau
  3. The Raid
  4. Dilan 1990
  5. Hujan Bulan Juni
  6. Negeri Dongeng
  7. Kartini
  8. Hantu Pohon Boneka
  9. Kafir: Bersekutu dengan Setan
  10. Comic 8
  11. Conclusion

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movie types


1. Ada apa dengan Cinta? (2002)

Ada apa dengan Cinta

  • Karena kita adalah satu.
    “Because we are one.”

Let’s start with one of the most recognizable Indonesian films to a local audience. Ada apa dengan… is a pretty common phrase meaning “What’s up with…” Here, Cinta is a play on words, because while it’s the name of the main character, it also simply means “love.”

Perhaps you can already tell that this is a love story, which makes up many Indonesian top movies. When it comes to Indonesian movies, romance is certainly a favorite.

Although named after the word “love,” Cinta and her girlfriends pledge to steer clear from high-school boy-girl romance, believing that they only need each other. When Cinta accidentally met Rangga, Cinta couldn’t shake her attraction to the knowledgeable and handsome Rangga, torn between the pledge she made with her best friends and the attraction inside her.

The film was an enormous success, launching the careers of the principal cast (several appear in other movies on this list). More than ten years later, they actually reprised their roles for a sequel, again to massively positive reception.


2. Merantau (2009)

Merantau

  • Setiap anak lelaki akan berjalan cari pengalaman hidup.
    “Every young boy will journey to face the trials of life.”

Indonesia doesn’t have the same reputation as China or Japan as a country known for its martial arts. Once you see one of the best Indonesian martial arts movies, though, that’s about to change for you.

A martial arts expert named Yuda journeys from his village to Jakarta to teach his style, known as silat. It’s not as easy to find work as he expected, but he’s not short on adventure. After intervening to stop a man from hitting a woman on the street, he finds himself thrown into the criminal underworld and on the run from human traffickers.

The action choreography is superb in this film, blasting it into the international spotlight. After it became such a hit, director Gareth Hew Evans started work on another film, using the same highly skilled actors…


3. The Raid (2011)

The Raid

  • Semuanya siap? Jalan!
    “Everybody ready? Move out!”

The Raid is by far the best-known Indonesian film in the West. It’s known for being absolute, distilled, non-stop action, as it involves a team of highly trained police fighting their way through a decrepit slum building to catch a crime lord.

What the director and actors learned about action filmmaking from Merantau gets turned up to eleven here, with truly heart-pounding sequences of choreography from start to finish. It more than earned its spot on our list of Indonesian movies to watch!

And you’ll still manage to learn some Indonesian from it as well, because the crime boss loves to taunt his pursuers—perhaps even more than is prudent.


4. Dilan 1990 (2018 )

Dilan

  • Nanti kita akan bertemu di kantin.
    “We’ll meet at the school canteen later.”

Many Indonesian popular movies are romances. Nostalgia for the 1990s isn’t limited to the West. This much-awaited film is based on the best-selling novel Dilan: dia adalah Dilanku Tahun 1990 or “Dilan: He Was My Dilan, 1990.”

It’s a romance about the one boy at school who’s too cool to care—and yet he’s sure he’s going to end up with the girl. That kind of confidence makes him a total mystery. How are her friends going to react when she tells them?

People all over the world love stories about school romances and adventures. With a film like this, you can see what it’s like to grow up in a school system that’s likely quite different from your own, and yet with enough of the same things for you to be able to connect with the characters.

Here are some tips to improve your pronunciation while watching movies in Indonesian.

Ways to improve pronunciation


5. Hujan Bulan Juni (2017)

  • Aku ingin mencintaimu dengan sederhana.
    “I want to love you simply.”

Is there anything more romantic than a poem-based love story?

Sapardi Djoko Damono’s well-known poem was turned into a feature film of the same name, a title which means “Rain in June.”

In the film, a literature professor named Pingkan gets the opportunity to travel to Japan for an extended study period. Her longtime significant other, Sarwono, feels left behind by this, and asks to accompany her to her hometown when she gives a lecture. Since he’s not from there, Pingkan’s father starts showering her with questions about their relationship.

The film is gorgeously shot in Manado, Solo, and Japan, and as part of the story there are nine readings of Sapardi’s poems. It’s an amazing story about love and family—and with so much culture packed into two hours, how could you miss it?


6. Negeri Dongeng (2017)

  • Senang, sedih, sebel, capek…uff!
    “Happy, sad, upset, exhausted…phew!”

Indonesia is known as a country of islands, and, occasionally, volcanoes. Many foreigners living there for years would be hard-pressed to name more than a handful of mountains.

So this docudrama ends up being educational and inspiring at the same time! It’s about a tight-knit group of friends who take on the pretty extreme challenge of climbing Indonesia’s tallest mountains. Seven friends, seven cameras, seven mountains.

These aren’t Everest-style escapades of ice and snow, but rather grueling hikes through thick jungle in stifling heat that soon gives way to thin air and gusts of wind that threaten to blow the tents off the mountainside.

All of the footage is absolutely sublime, and it exposes you to jaw-dropping views of parts of Indonesia that rarely get attention, like Papua and Sulawesi.


7. Kartini (2017)

Kartini

  • Adikku akan menjadi Raden Ayu.
    “My child will become royalty.”

It’s the late 19th century, and Indonesia is very different from today. The Dutch East India Company maintains political control, while the local Javanese regents run things in Central Java. Perhaps you can imagine that this is not a world where women have a whole lot of autonomy. Our heroine Kartini wants to change that.

This is the true story of Indonesia’s most famous woman emancipator, who worked so hard for her cause that she’s still memorialized every year with a national holiday: Hari Kartini or “Kartini Day.”

Language learners may be interested in the film as it authentically introduces quite a lot of Javanese phrases, seeing as the Indonesian language wasn’t standardized until the 1940s. Fortunately, there are subtitles for those sections.


8. Hantu Pohon Boneka (2014)

  • Aku merasa boneka ini aneh…
    “I’ve got a strange feeling about this doll…”

The name of this film translates to “Ghost of the Doll Trees” and if that’s not spooky I don’t know what is.

A troubled family moves far away to try and reconcile after the death of their father figure. But their presence angers a pair of ghosts, who “befriend” the youngest daughter. What can the family do but unite and try to fight back?

Indonesians love a good horror film. Hantu Pohon Boneka was very well-received, but it’s only one of dozens that come out every year.


9. Kafir: Bersekutu dengan Setan (2018 )

  • Apakah dia…orangnya?
    “Is he…the one?”

Here’s another, seeing as Indonesian horror movies are so well-received.

The subtitle, which translates as “Allying with Satan,” should give you a bit of a hint about what this film has in store.

When the head of a family dies under strange circumstances, it’s only natural that the mother would be distraught. But “distraught” doesn’t cover her strange behavior. Eventually, it’s up to her daughter to discover what’s going on, and to fight back against forces far beyond her control.

Don’t confuse this film, which enthralled audiences upon release, with another horror film by the same name released in 2002. That one got only middling reviews—better save your time for the movies that count.


10. Comic 8 (2014)

  • Kita serius merampok bank. Ikut nggak?
    “We’re gonna rob a bank. You in?”

Everybody knows the general idea behind a heist. You get the team together, everybody’s got their own specialty, and then you crack the joint wide open.

Only, what if you never got the team together in the first place? What if everybody just had the same idea to rob the same bank at the same time? That’s Comic 8.

Everyone’s got their own reason for this heist, and once it all starts coming together, everyone is more invested than they thought they would be. The whole thing is played for laughs, naturally, and if you’ve got any previous exposure to Indonesian media, you may recognize certain celebrities playing larger-than-life versions of themselves.

The film was such a hit that a two-part spiritual sequel was immediately fast-tracked into production, called Comic 8: Casino Kings. Check those out as well if the fun wasn’t enough in the first film!


11. Conclusion

Which of these top Indonesian films do you plan on seeing, and why? Did we miss any good ones, and are there any Indonesian movies (2019) you’ve seen? Let us know!

What’s the best way to use these Indonesian films to boost your skills in Indonesian? Honestly, the simplest way is just to watch them. Put in that time to just get exposed to the language, and you’ll pick up quite a bit naturally.

If you’re interested in putting in a little bit more work to get results faster, it’s a good idea to watch a film (or maybe just an important scene) three times—once with no subtitles, watch the Indonesian movies with English subtitles the second time, and then a third time with no subtitles again, where you’re really paying attention to every word.

If you happen to have a way to get some actual DVDs from Indonesia, they’ll usually have Indonesian captions so that you can follow along and read as you watch. That’s my preferred way to watch foreign-language movies, and it trains your reading and listening skills simultaneously.

And then beyond the language benefit, you get great exposure to pop culture that can’t be studied. Amaze your friends and colleagues by quoting a film or comparing them to one of the characters—and they might be so impressed that they invite you to their next movie night!

That said, all of your practice and hard work will pay off! And IndonesianPod101.com is here to help you achieve greatness in your Indonesian language skills. Visit our array of insightful blog posts, free vocabulary lists, podcasts, and MyTeacher program (for Premium Plus members who want a one-on-one learning experience). Our tools + your determination = Indonesian mastery.

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