The Netherlands can often be disregarded when it comes to contemporary art. This little European country, stuck between Belgium and Germany, is often outshined by its French and British neighbours. Yet, we shall remind you that the Netherlands has been one of the leading figures in the late Renaissance movement and Dutch painters were acclaimed all around the Western world.

Put in that context, it is not surprising that the first ever made Dutch movie was produced in 1896, only a few months after the very first movie screening ever, by the Lumiere Brothers in Paris, happened in December 1895. This first Dutch movie was a slapstick comedy called Gestoorde engelaar (Distruber Angler).

The Dutch cinema industry remained small but has been very influential nonetheless. Many Dutch directors and productions have been praised during International Film Festivals such as the Cannes Festival, Venice Festival or the Berlin Film Festival (the Big Three in the cinema industry lingo).

To compare British and Dutch cinema would not be fair as most of the Dutch cinema industry is publicly funded. Given the difference in population size, it is not surprising to learn that while British national movies generated more than £400 million in 2011, Dutch national films only generated £32 million for the same year.

The most expensive Dutch film ever produced, Black Book, released in 2006 cost €18 million at the time. In comparison, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,  which is considered by many as the most expensive British movie ever made, cost more than £190 million.

But money is not all. Dutch cinematographers have been hugely influential in the documentary genre despite relatively small fundings. Many Dutch directors and actors also had or have successful careers in Hollywood.

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"The Dutch film industry is a pretty small community, so within Holland, I think most actors know each other and have worked with each other. The actors that are working internationally - that's a small number."

- Michiel Huisman, Dutch actor, musician, and singer-songwriter.

Early cinema in Amsterdam.
The Central Theatre, built in 1935, was one of the first modern cinema theatres in Amsterdam.

A Brief History Of Dutch Cinema

Not wanting to be left behind, the Netherlands jumped on the cinematographic revolution during its infancy. In 1896, the first Dutch motion picture  Gestoorde hengelaar was produced by Machiel Hendricus Laddé.

In the early 1900's, a few Dutch directors were commercially successful including Willy Mullens, who is often considered as the father of Dutch cinema. In 1899, Mullens and his brother founded one of the first Dutch film production company: Albert Freres. One of their earliest production, The Misadventure of a French Gentleman Without Pants at the Zandvoort Beach, is a six-minute long silent comedy movie and is the oldest surviving Dutch film.

During the first couple of decades of the 19th century, Mullens and his brother were the main driving force behind the Dutch cinema industry.

However, in the 1930's, with the advent of talking motion pictures, the industry boomed and 37 movies were produced between 1934 and 1940. This boom came to a halt with the start of World War II and the invasion of the Netherlands by the Nazis.

Many directors, movie engineers and actors, who had fled the Third Reich, were forced to leave Europe and find refuge in the US.

For example, Douglas Sirk had very prosperous careers, and most of his 1950's Hollywood melodrama movies were commercial hits, even though critics were often divided.

Most Dutch famous directors have been documentary movie directors. A few years after WWII, when the country started to recover from the cost and effort of rebuilding the Netherlands, the Dutch government inaugurated the Netherland Film Fund (1957). One year later the Netherlands Film Academy was created and started offering training specific to the movie industry; screenwriting, documentary directing, editing, producing, sound design, cinematography, production design, as well as interactive visual effects.

"I had become a film director because I thought I could express something in an artful way."

- Paul Verhoeven, Dutch director, screenwriter and film producer.

Children's Movies

Despite a decline of the Dutch cinema during the 1970's, which the government tried to resolve by introducing tax cuts for the industry, one genre that has remained successful in the Netherlands has been children's novel adaptations.

Following the steps of family movie director Henk van der Linden (who produced almost forty children's movie from 1952 to 1984) and Karst van der Meulen (who produced a dozen of them in the 70's and 80's), the modern Dutch family film industry made some of the biggest hits of the Dutch cinema.

Until 2006, the movie adaptation of Crusade in Jeans (written by Thea Beckmann and adapted to the big screen by Ben Sombogaart) was the biggest budget for a Dutch movie.

The Dutch School of Documentary

Despite a decline in the genre following WWII, documentaries are still an important part of the Dutch movie business. Every year, The International Documentary Film Festival is held in the city of Amsterdam and it is considered to be one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world.

Some Dutch documentary makers gained international recognition, and the most famous of all is Joris Ivens, who received a Cesar award as well as a Golden Lion (the highest prize awarded during the Venice Film Festival) and he was also given a career achievement award at the Venice Film Festival.

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“But the cinephile is … a neurotic! (That’s not a pejorative term.) The Bronte sisters were neurotic, and it’s because they were neurotic that they read all those books and became writers. The famous French advertising slogan that says, “When you love life, you go to the movies,” it’s false! It’s exactly the opposite: when you don’t love life, or when life doesn’t give you satisfaction, you go to the movies.”

― François Truffaut, French film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film critic.

Picture from the movie Twin Sisters.
Twin Sisters is an epic love story based on the Dutch bestseller by Tessa de Loo that has been read by more than 3.5 million readers in Holland and Germany.

Can You Name The 10 Best Dutch movies?

Even though the Dutch cinema industry is quite small and does not release as many movies as, say France or Britain, it is no easy task to pick and choose the 10 Best Dutch Films ever produced.

But we tried. By cross-referencing as many sources as we could, from the Internet Movie Database to Dutch and international critics, here is our list of the 10 best ever produced by the Dutch film industry.

  1. Black Books, (Zwartboek), 2006Paul Verhoeven 
  2. Soldier of Orange, (Soldaat van Oranje), 1977, Paul Verhoeven 
  3. Borgmann, 2013,  Alex van Warmerdam
  4. Wild Romance, 2006,  Jean van de Velde
  5. Character (Karakter), 1997, Mike van Diem
  6. The Fourth Man, (De Vierde Man), 1983, Paul Verhoeven
  7. Twin Sisters, De Tweeling, 2002, Ben Sombogaart
  8. Turkish Delight (Turks Fruit), 1973, Paul Verhoeven
  9. App, 2013, Bobby Boermans
  10. Oysters at Nam Kee’s, (Oesters van Nam Kee), 2002, Pollo de Pimentel

You probably noticed that one name comes back a few times in this ranking: Paul Verhoeaven. 

This Dutch director, screenwriter and film producer has been the most prolific and successful Dutch movie maker of the last four decades. Not only did he produce some of the best Dutch movies ever, but he was also able to export his talent to Hollywood studios.

While you probably never watched one of his Dutch films, you probably saw or at least hear of some of his American productions, such as Starship Troopers (1997) featuring Neil Patrick Harris or Hollow Man (2000) with Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin and Elisabeth Shue.

“In my experience, there are billions of dollars available for pieces of s**t. As soon as the material distinguishes itself by something interesting, financing becomes a problem.”
― Rutger Hauer, Dutch actor, writer, and environmentalist.

Can You Name Ten Famous Dutch Actors?

Unless you are Dutch, the answer to that is most likely "no".

The number of Dutch actors to get worldwide recognition may not be many, but even when they do it is unlikely that you will identify them as being Dutch. So let's give Dutch Actors some recognition.

We won't go too far back in the history of cinema, not wanting to confuse millennials. But one of the very first Dutch actor to have made it in Hollywood was Rutger Hauer, which most Sci-fi nerds will recognise as the cyborg replicant Roy Batty in the original version of the movie Blade Runner (1982). Most recently he appeared in the HBO series True Blood.

Thekla Reuten, one of the main character in the Oscar-nominated movie Twin Sisters, was also part of the cast of In Bruges (2008) which starred Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. She was also in The American along with Georges Clooney and starred in In Transit with John Malkovich and Daniel Bruhl.

You may also know Lotte Verbeek for her role in The Borgias, Outlander, The Blacklist or Marvel's Agent Carter.

Sylvia Hoeks, another Dutch actress that you may have spotted in the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 and played a different replicant.

Other famous Dutch actors include Marwan Kenzari, Vincent van Ommen, Michiel Huisman,  Yorick van Wageningen, Saskia Mulder or Antonie Kamerling.

Rutger Hauer posing during the Venice Film Festival.
From left to right, US actor Edward James Olmos, English director Ridley Scott, US actress Daryl Hannah and Dutch Rutger Hauer, pose during a photocall for the movie out of competition "Blade Runner: The final cut" during the 64th Venice International Film Festival.

While not enjoying budgets as big as Hollywood's, the Dutch movie industry, which was born with the advent of the motion pictures, has been thriving on the independent and documentary international scene. With almost 1,000 screens throughout the Netherlands, the cinema will remain a big part of Dutch people's lives for years to come.


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