When investigating films thinner than one hundred nanometers, X-ray diffraction at synchrotron sources has been the method of choice in order to achieve enough signal. When films, however, exhibit a nanocrystalline microstructure and consist of light elements also diffraction reaches its limits. Here we provide case studies on reflection anisotropy spectroscopy that is sensitive to elastic distortions of the lattice or the symmetry breaking of a crack pattern. Thin films only start reflecting less than their bulk counterparts, when their thickness reaches several tens of nanometers and thus experiments can be extended to the single digit nanometer thickness regime. The case studies focus on plastic deformation and fracture on the phase change media as well as colored and noble metal thin films for applications in wearable electronics.