With Christopher Nolan’s Second World War epic Dunkirk right around the corner, there’s no better time to brush up on your war-movie history. Wars have always been popular for moviemaking, but World War II holds top place as the most cinematically-depicted event ever. Over the past 70 years, movies have been made covering almost every possible aspect of the conflict in both the European and Pacific theatres.
Here are five WWII movies covering a range of perspectives and themes that you should see before heading to the cinema for Dunkirk:
5. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Released as a companion to Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story of the Pacific Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese. In my opinion the better of the two films, Letters from Iwo Jima does an excellent job of capturing a non-American perspective on the war and giving a voice to the Japanese soldiers who fought and died on the island in defence of their homeland.
4. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Despite any reservations you may have about Mel Gibson, his story about pacifist combat medic Desmond Doss and his heroic actions during the Battle of Okinawa is one of the best war movies of the past decade. Hacksaw Ridge chronicles the true story of Doss’s initial struggle to join the military as a conscientious objector and his alienation from the other soldiers due to his religious beliefs and refusal to kill or carry a rifle. Doss earns his comrades’ respect as well as a Medal of Honour, however, when he singlehandedly saves 75 men on Hacksaw Ridge. The film effortlessly goes from very touching moments to brutal battle scenes and does both extremely well.
3. Das Boot (1981)
This German film from Wolfgang Peterson follows the crew of the German submarine U-96 in the Atlantic Ocean as it attempts to disrupt British shipping in the Atlantic. The film works on many levels and showcases the life of a typical U-boat crew and the mix of terror and boredom that accompanies many missions. Another film that effectively captures a non-American perspective on the war, Das Boot sheds light on some of the crew members’ motivations for joining the navy and offers up an interesting analysis of the psychological effects of war (and living in a steel tube under the ocean).
2. Schindler’s List (1993)
The only film on this list to focus mainly on civilians rather than soldiers, Schindler’s List tells the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler and his attempts to save imprisoned Jews from death by employing them at his factory. You can’t talk about the Second World War without acknowledging the horrors of the Holocaust, and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List captures many of these horrors with heart-wrenching accuracy. Winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (among others), Schindler’s List, although difficult to watch at times, is a must-see film depicting an important aspect of World War II– just remember to have a box of tissues close by.
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Widely considered one of the best war movies ever made, it’s no surprise Saving Private Ryan is on this list. The second film on this list to be directed by Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan follows Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and his small team of U.S. Army Rangers as they carry out a mission to rescue and bring home Private James Ryan after Ryan’s three brothers are killed in action. Aside from featuring the most realistic and visceral depiction of war ever put to the screen in the form of the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, Saving Private Ryan is a tale of camaraderie and sacrifice that shouldn’t be missed by anyone interested in the Second World War. If you only watch one movie from this list make sure it’s Saving Private Ryan because it will likely be the movie that everyone will use as a point of comparison to describe how good Dunkirk is.
While World War II was a horrific and destructive event in human history, there’s no denying that it has been the source for many excellent films. There’s no way I could have included all of the great and worthwhile World War II movies on this list, but these are five that, for me, really stood above the rest. With legendary director Christopher Nolan now about to release his new film Dunkirk, it’s clear that the war is, and will continue to be, a backdrop for many future feature films.
Are there any other movies that you think should’ve been on this list instead? Will you be seeing Dunkirk when it comes out? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below!
(Sources: The Guardian)