10 action-packed Soviet & Russian movies starring... tanks!



Directors N. Kurikhin and L. Menaker/Sputnik
What’s the origin story of the legendary T-34 tank, why were the Nazis so afraid of the Soviet KV tank and who is ‘The Tank God’?

1. Skylark (1964)

It’s June 1942. Anti-tank gun crews are being trained at a German military base using captured Soviet T-34 tanks manned by Soviet prisoners of war used as human targets. Not wanting to die in vain, one of the tank crews (and a French Resistance fighter who joins them) decides to try to break free in their T-34…

Director Leonid Menaker said its plot was inspired by real events, which he had read about in a newspaper: “One of the crews managed to start their T-34. They escaped from a tornado of shelling, spent two hours circling on German territory until they reached a bridge, just as a group of schoolchildren was crossing it. In order to escape, the tank crew had to run the kids over. In the end, the tank did not move... German soldiers, who by then, had caught up with the tank riddled it with fire. The commander was captured and was hanged in the evening of the same day... This is where I got the idea for the movie.”

2. The Feat of Farkhad (1967)

Similar to ‘Skylark’, the plot of this movie, too, centers around an escape from German captivity in a tank. This time, the attempt to escape is undertaken by Captain Farkhad Abbasov.

‘The Feat of Farkhad’ is one of the few Soviet movies about World War II, where the main characters are soldiers from the Soviet Central Asian republics. The lead part was played by Uzbek actor Dzhavlon Khamrayev, with the rest of the cast consisting of Latvian and Estonian actors. And the movie was even shot by Uzbek filmmakers in Kaliningrad Region.

3. The Chief Designer (1980)

In March 1940, two T-34 tanks camouflaged beyond recognition and accompanied by continuous track tractors, made a secret 750 km journey from Kharkiv to Moscow, where they were presented to the country’s leadership. It was then that the momentous decision to start mass production of the famous T-34 was made.

The movie ‘The Chief Designer’ depicts those events, with a particular emphasis on the fate of the creator of the T-34, Mikhail Koshkin. The engineer did not live to see how his brainchild showed itself during World War II. Participation in that journey to Moscow and the return to Kharkiv by tank had a detrimental effect on his health. He died on September 26, 1940.

4. Corps of General Shubnikov (1981)

It’s the winter of 1942 and German troops are preparing an offensive to free the 6th Army of Friedrich Paulus encircled in Stalingrad. Major General Nikolai Shubnikov’s mechanized corps is tasked with thwarting the enemy’s plans…

This movie has some vivid battle scenes, but also suffers from a number of historical inaccuracies. It features T-34-85 tanks, which only appeared in the Red Army in 1944, post-war Ural trucks, as well as BTR-40 light armored personnel carriers, which were used to portray German vehicles, but which were, in fact, first manufactured in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

5. The Combat Vehicle Crew (1983)

This movie is a retelling of a confrontation in the summer of 1943 between a T-34 tank under the command of Alexander Menshov and a German tank ace. This duel became a kind of a forerunner of one of the largest tank battles in history - the Battle of Prokhorovka.

The plot of ‘The Combat Vehicle Crew’ is based on the true story of tank crewman Alexander Milyukov. In the Battle of Kursk, he destroyed a newest German V Panther tank during a one-on-one duel. Milyukov, who survived the war, also wrote the script for the movie.

6. Klim Voroshilov-2 Tank (1990) 

At the very start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, a motley group of random people, consisting of a shell-shocked sergeant, a cadet, a street kid and a physics teacher, stumble upon a KV-2 heavy tank abandoned by its crew. All four come up with a bold and crazy idea to go to war with the enemy in this tank.

‘Klim Voroshilov-2 Tank’ was one of the last movies to be made in the USSR. The project was strapped for money, so part of the movie had to be shot on black and white film. Getting a genuine KV-2 tank for filming also proved impossible, so a redesigned Joseph Stalin (IS) tank had to be used instead.

7. White Tiger (2012)

The plot is set in the summer of 1943. Soviet troops are in panic. A mysterious German Pz. VI heavy tank, nicknamed ‘The White Tiger’ by soldiers, is destroying scores of Soviet military hardware, all the while remaining invulnerable to enemy guns. Tank operator Ivan Naydenov, who miraculously survives a collision with this “ghost” tank, decides to find and destroy it. On this difficult mission, he will be assisted by a “tank god”, whose voice he hears…

White Tiger is an unusual war movie. It is more of a mystical thriller or a philosophical parable, whose main idea is that war is a monster that cannot be defeated. “Of course, I am against war,” director Karen Shakhnazarov said. “But I am interested to find out: can we somehow put an end to it? Can we do it? Or is it something inseparable from human nature?” 

8. Invincible (2018)

The plot of ‘Invincible’ is based on the true story of Semyon Konovalov. On July 13, 1942, in a battle near Rostov-on-Don, the crew of a KV-1 heavy tank, which the Germans dubbed “ghosts”, under his command, destroyed 16 tanks, two armored vehicles and eight vehicles with enemy service personnel.

The filmmakers tried to recreate that historic event with maximum accuracy. They scouted museums for restored Soviet T-34 and KV-1 as well as German Pz. V Panther tanks. The filming took place near Mozhaysk in Moscow Region, where heavy fighting for the Soviet capital took place in 1941.

9. Т-34 (2018)

This spectacular and expensive military blockbuster is packed with computer graphics (and a must-watch for fans of ‘World of Tanks’!). Its plot is, in many ways, similar to that of ‘Skylark’: The crew of a Soviet tank, who are meant to be used as a live target for Wehrmacht servicemen, escape from a German military base in a T-34. However, this is where the similarities between the two movies end and the plot of ‘T-34’ begins to follow its own storyline.

Recalling his preparations for tackling the movie’s main protagonist, that of Lieutenant Nikolai Ivushkin, actor Alexander Petrov said: “Before filming ‘T-34’, I rented a small room for several weeks and covered its walls with wartime photographs, depicting those who fought in the war, who were in captivity or under occupation. Every day, I would go there, turn off my phone and spend several hours reading, thinking, peering into those faces, into those eyes. I was, thus, getting into the right frame of mind.” 

10. Tanks (2018)

The famous tank run from Kharkiv to Moscow, which was retold in the Soviet movie ‘The Chief Designer’, inspired filmmakers once again, this time in the 21st century. However, the original story was supplemented with a host of fictional details.

For greater entertainment value, the film creators decided to add to the plot a group of German saboteurs and even a gang of White Guards hiding in the woods since the Civil War. Their task is to prevent Koshkin and his T-34 from reaching Moscow and, thus, prevent the Red Army from getting this new and powerful tank.

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