The 13 Best World War Two Movies

The 13 Best World War Two Movies

It's a war that spanned the globe, blew holes across three continents and directly touched the lives of billions, including filmmakers, actors and their crews. So yeah, there have been some pretty good movies made about the Second World War.

Many have been terrible, sure, but some have been amazing, worthy of not just being good war movies, but some of the best movies ever made. These 13 movies are the very best of them.

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN

This is a very good movie about one of the war's most pivotal struggles, but it's most remarkable in 2015 for two reasons. The first is that if you like Star Wars — especially the bits with starfighters whizzing around shooting at each other — George Lucas owes a ot o this movie and its dogfighting sequences. The second is that holy shit every aircraft used in this flick is a real fighter from the war. Even the ilming as done using WW2 aircraft, like a two-seater Spitfire.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR

What happens when you throw just about every big-name actor from the 1970s into a single movie? You get a slightly ponderous, though ultimately epic recreation of Operation Market Garden, one of the Allies' most daring (and tragic) failures. The setup runs a little too long, but the depiction of the paratrooper's deteriorating situation is masterful, and was a big inspiration for the developers of Call of Duty 2 (indeed, Call of Duty's Captain Price is based on this movie's Captain Price).

Also, Gene Hackman is the best/worst in this movie.

TORA TORA TORA

Similar to Battle of Britain in that it's a good movie made great by its over-the-top use of real aircraft and equipment for its battle scenes. The most famous being this unscripted crash-landing scene, which nearly killed a couple of stuntmen. A key to its success is the fact it's a joint American-Japanese production, with directors like Kurosawa and Toshio Masuda working on the sequences involving Japanese personnel, which help give them a different (and welcome) feel.

THE LONGEST DAY

Until Private Ryan came along, this was the D-Day movie. And really, outside of Spielberg's opening (though Longest Day's is no slouch either), this remains the better film about the invasion as a whole. Another huge cast benefits from the input of soldiers and officers who actually fought on the beaches, both Allied and German, and massive battle sequences really bring the Normandy invasion to life.

THE PIANIST

Of all the acclaimed movies dealing with Nazi atrocities behind the lines (Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful), this is the standout. Adrien Brody is heart-breaking as Władysław Szpilman, a Jewish pianist from Poland who is rounded up and bounced around the machinations of Germany's ghettos and concentration camps.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Not every Second World War movie needs to be stick to the facts. Tarantino's revenge porn tale of a squad of Jewish soldiers wreaking havoc behind German lines is more comic book than history book, but it's remarkable all the same. From Christoph Waltz's Jew Hunter to the almost insufferable bar sequence, this movie is awesome.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

The conditions the prisoners of war who built this bridge and railway worked under were hellish. This movie about their struggles is anything but. Not just one of the great war movies, this is one of the great movies, period.

STALINGRAD

Lots of movies, shows and documentaries have been made about Stalingrad, perhaps the single most important battle of the war. None have been as powerful as Joseph Vilsmaier's 1993 classic, which tells the story of a squad of German soldiers plucked from a beachside vacation and thrust into the horrors of the Eastern Front. Needless to say, this is not a feelgood movie.

DAS BOOT

One of the defining Second World War movies, and with good reason: Wolfgang Petersen's epic (the uncut version runs for almost five hours) captures the conditions, camaraderie and madness of a German submarine crew. It's one hell of an achievement to make the act of just watching a movie feel as tense and claustrophobic as being in an actual submarine.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

It's a dumb movie, but not every Second World War movie has to take itself seriously. Another big cast (the 60s and 70s sure loved their ensembles) sees Allied inmates try and escape from a German POW camp. It's all fun and games and whistling and motorbikes until, well, the end, when we're brutally reminded that, yes, maybe this war wasn't a game after all.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

I don't like this movie very much. But it's intro alone gets it on this list. It's hard to believe we're approaching the 20th anniversary of Spielberg's blockbuster, because in all the time since we're yet to see another sequence so powerfully and brutally capture the visceral horrors of war.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

A few years back, Clint Eastwood made two movies about the Second World War. One, Flags of our Fathers, was terrible. The other, however, is a masterpiece. Japanese soldiers are so often portrayed in films as fanatical monsters, but Letters — which is filmed entirely from the Japanese perspective, starring Japanese actors speaking Japanese — shines a light on the conditions and pressures facing its troops as the Allies closed in their homeland.

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

If you haven't seen this movie, it might look strange having an animated feature on a list like this. If you have, you'll know why it's here. In all the decades since the war, there hasn't been a sadder and more gut-wrenching story of collateral damage than the tale of Seita and his sister Setsuko. I'm tearing up even writing about this movie.

Before you pen furious emails, know that the following movies were seriously considered, but a line had to be drawn somewhere, and while all excellent flicks these didn't quite make the list: Dambusters, Thin Red Line, Guns of Navarone, Downfall, Dirty Dozen, Enemy at the Gates, Patton and Big Red One.

That's it! Now may also be a good time to remind you that as good as all of these movies are, none of them are as good as Band of Brothers.


The Bests are Kotaku's picks for the best things on (or off) the internet.


Comments

    No 'Empire of the Sun'?

    That movie is amazing!

    In a Bridge Too Far's case, not just every major English or US actor. What I liked about this movie is that they kept every language as it is and didn't put on a silly accent. You get to see every good Dutch and German actors from the time as well who took part in that movie.

    no Enemy at the Gates?

      Before you pen furious emails, know that the following movies were seriously considered, but a line had to be drawn somewhere, and while all excellent flicks these didn’t quite make the list: Dambusters, Thin Red Line, Guns of Navarone, Downfall, Dirty Dozen, Enemy at the Gates, Patton and Big Red One.

    your list is missing enemy at the gates

    edit: how dare you call the great escape a "dumb" movie!

    Last edited 30/11/15 11:13 am

    No "life is beautiful"?

    If I made a world war 2 movie list that'd EASILY be top 3.

    Last edited 30/11/15 11:15 am

    Downfall is worth a mention too, an incredible film about Hitler's last days in the bunker. Unbelievable performances and it spawned the ranting Hitler meme.

    Terrible list as always. Should include the following:

    Isla: She Wolf of the SS
    Pearl Harbor
    1941
    Iron Eagle III
    Delta Force
    Hot Shots! Part Deux

    Last edited 30/11/15 11:27 am

    I liked Cross of Iron.

    Downfall was pretty good, but i guess being in a bunker the whole film is quite boring.

    Great Escape sits at the top of my all time favorite movies (like thyco, you dare to call Great Escape a dumb movie? For shame), so good to see that in there, but I'd toss Dambusters in as well.

    Umm...Schindler's List?

      Oh man, I bought that on DvD and for some reason it comes one 2 disks and has an intermission. Like its a long movie but Im at home I can just hit pause.

    Dambusters
    Life is Beautiful
    Schindler's List

    All would make my top WWII list. I don't think it's fair to bump the latter two in favour of the Pianist - they could probably all have made the list.

      Oh man. Schindler's List still kicks my arse to this day. Such a powerful film.

        The girl in the red dress. Right in the feels, every single time.

      I was pretty surprised Schindler's List didn't make it.

        Great movie, possibly because it didn't focus as much on the "soldiers war", if that makes sense.

          Yeah, but Grave of the Fireflies is on here, and that wasn't a guns and explosions movie either.

    Makes you realise how many well-made movies were based around WW2 when so many good films don't even make the list (The boy in the striped pyjamas). But even though there's a lot of films about previous wars (WW2, Vietnam, Cold War), there doesn't seem to be much about current wars, other than The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

      Lone Survivor, American Sniper, Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines, Jarhead, The Messenger, Three Kings.

      And that's all I can recall names of currently.

        The Kingdom was pretty damned amazing as well. Not really a war film like the others, but worth a mention.

        Some pretty good stuff there, but I was kinda thinking more along the lines of post-2001, "War on Terror" sort of stuff (like American Sniper) where as some of those films (great as they are) are based on events from two decades ago. I was wondering if Hollywood has just been reluctant to make more modern war films because of how divided a lot of people are over the conflicts in the Middle East, where as support for the cause against Hitler was much more unanimous. Just a thought bubble, really.

    Why a list of 13?

    I mean with this bit at the end

    didn’t quite make the list: Dambusters, Thin Red Line, Guns of Navarone, Downfall, Dirty Dozen, Enemy at the Gates, Patton and Big Red One.

    You could of done 20.....

    Last edited 30/11/15 12:14 pm

    I quite liked Fury

      I have a funny relationship with Fury. I expected a lot more, and the first time I saw it, I wasn't disappointed, but a little underwhelmed. Although I picked it up on BD, and it grows on me more every time I watch it.

      Brad Pitt is always fantastic, but I really enjoyed Shia Le Beouf and Jon Bernthal's performances too.

        I think what let Fury down was the last act. The death dominoes and overly heroic sacrifices I think soured the message that the beginning of the movie was trying to sell - that the brutality of war changes everyone.

          Indeed... after the whole "1 tank left" after the Tiger encounter I sorta saw the movie devolving into another last stand type flick with one man surviving and sure enough it did.

          I don't mind it per se... but it just clashed a fair bit w/ the first 2 acts. It's as if you had the writers try to set up a story for act 1 to 2 and then suddenly swapped writers for the final act.

      I liked Fury but the finale was... Weird. I didn't like that part to say the least.

    Honorable mention for The Thin Red Line. I know it was mentioned, but that does get overlooked a bit. Long movie, slow pacing with a ton of introspection, but very powerful.

    I love Saving Private Ryan. I remember going to the movies to see it with my dad, and the Omaha beach landing just left my jaw on the floor. Was the most brutal thing I'd ever seen in a war movie to date. Still not sure it's been topped, either.

    Das Boot is also a personal favorite. Long film, but the atmosphere they managed to build and the weariness on all the actors was incredible. I read somewhere the production and filming of it was actually ridiculously long, so the weariness on the actors by the end was partially authentic. Not sure if true, but would explain a few things.

    Would highly recommend Come And See.
    Possibly one of the most devastating movies about war ever made.

    Kelly's Heroes!

      Thank you... The other Clint Eastwood being where eagles dare...

      I just watched that again the other day! You know what was awesome about it? It wasn't strictly a war film. It was a heist movie with war happening around it. It didn't get too preachy, and in the end, they won!

      I think Battlefield Bad Company captured that aspect of it really well.

    the Great Escape is a dumb movie? I, but, just um um, nope I have no words...

    I'm thinking the more recent movie, Unbroken could at least get an honourable mention. That one was quite powerful and based on a true story.

    Gallipoli
    The Lighthorsemen
    Beneath Hill 60

    Aussie classics.

    Twelve O'clock High.
    Hell in the Pacific.
    Das Boot.

    I really should rewatch Battle for Britain there's so many amusing jokes/stereotypes in there that really went over my head back then..

    for example one of the Luftwaffe pilots on the raid having a call sign "Heinz Tomato" =P

    Kakoda, Australia's battle of Thermopylae 2000 fresh out of boot against 10000 professionals

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