Sunday, February 28, 2010

Best war movies and shows (1)

Here's a round-up of my favorite war movies, ordered by conflict. One thing that's instantly obvious is that while there's a huge number of WWII and Vietnam War movies, good WWI movies are a bit hard to come by. Did I forget something important? Leave a comment.

Also, regarding WWII, there are many other great films that are not actually centered around any battles per se, but tell stories of e. g. concentration camp inmates or POWs. These movies (such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Pianist (2002), Life Is Beautiful (1997), Schindler's List (1993) or also Der Untergang (2004), famous for its creation of the Ranting Hitler meme) are not included here and will be topic of a separate post.

Historical: Hero (2002)
While not a war movie per se, Hero has some of the most amazing shots of the historical army of Qin in the first part of the movie. This turns into a nearly ridiculous fight when Jet Li start to fend of the millions of arrows launched by them. This movie is so amazing throughout, when you watch it on the big screen some of the scenes are just so beautiful that you nearly forget to breathe.

Honorable mentions: Braveheart (1995), The Warlords (2007), Musa (2001), Red Cliff (2008). Yes a lot of Asian movies on this list, they really have a knack for those prehistoric drama stuff.

World War I: Paths of Glory (1957)
There are some people who hold this as Stanley Kubrick's greatest movie, and I can understand why: it has all the markings of a perfect modern movie, a great star (Kirk Douglas), some battlefield action scenes, courtroom drama, etc. All in all, well worth a watch even though it's more than half a decade old now.

Honorable Mention: All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). This was even made for TV, it's quite long but a good movie.

World War II: Band of Brothers (2001)
Not a movie, but a 10-part television drama produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and hands down the best coverage of WWII ever. The series follows some paratroopers from the day of the Normandy landing until they reach and occupy Germany, and each episode has a bit of a different focus. The episode centering on the field medic (episode 5 or 6 I think) is extremely intense and gives a very haunting image of the horrors of war. Excellent throughout.

Honorable Mentions: Das Boot (1981), The Thin Red Line (1998), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). Das Boot has gotten some recognition for its great depiction of the life on the German submarine U-96, being re-released as a Director's Cut with an additional hour to the original theatrical version (209 minutes) in 1997, but the version to watch here is the full original 6-hour version that was broadcast on television in the eighties. Tora! Tora! Tora!, an American-Japanese co-production is one of my favorites despite (or maybe because of) its clinical approach and lack of real plot.

Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Behold this amazing original trailer for Apocalypse Now, the big daddy of all Vietnam War movies. It was among the first being filmed and contains so many great scenes depicting the absurdity of that conflict, I don't even know where to begin; from the first shot to the surfing scene, or the lit-up bridge or the final scenes at Angkor in Cambodia. Remind me to finally watch the re-release Redux already, I've had that on my list so fucking long already.

Honorable Mentions: The Deer Hunter (1978), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Platoon (1986). These are all good in their own right, Deer Hunter was a favorite for a long time because the story is so unassuming and not primarily centered on the war itself.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (modern conflicts) next week.


  1. And honourable mention ought to also go to the 2007 Polish-produced movie Katyń. This movie is about the 1940 NKVD massacre of the same name, after Russia occupied Poland in 1939. The movie is riveting, and the execution scenes near the film's conclusion are heart-wrenching and very difficult to watch. The fear of death in the Polish officer's face when he knows he's about to be executed brought tears to my eyes.

  2. I fully agree with the Vietnam war series and would only add to the honorable list: Hamburger Hill (my #5) and the TV show Tour of Duty.

    Regarding WWII, I am more reserved about the Thin Red Line and would prefer movies like "A bridge too far" or Stalingrad (not the Sniper story, the full Stalingrad battle story).
    The singing Panzer crew scene in The Battle of the Bulge is also a very intensive moment, even if the rest of the movie is not up to the par (without saying that the Belgian area does not look at all like depicted)


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