Whether it be an action flick, a spy thriller, a romance, or a powerful drama, films have always transformed the history of World War II into living, breathing art.  So how to choose the best World War II movies ever made?

Check our list to see what we recommend based on the specific genre you are more interested in...

 

Best action scenes

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Story:

Directed by Steven Spielberg  and starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, the film follows a group of U.S. soldiers that go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper.

Main historical event: 

The Normandy landings

Reason to watch:

A furious men-in-combat film that balances comradely bromance, touching drama and some of the best action scenes ever made in any type of film. 

 

Special effects

Dunkirk (2017)

Story:

Christopher Nolan recounts the heroic efforts to evacuate Allied forces surrounded by Nazis on the beaches of France, following three seperate stories  – the soldiers on the beach, the Spitfires overhead, and the brave civilians who risk their lives to help with the rescue.

Main historical event:

Dunkirk evacuation

Reason to watch:

Nolan’s film is a stunning technical achievement and one of the most immersive films you could ever wish to experience.

War epic

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Story:

A British colonel cooperates to oversee a construction of a railway bridge for their captors after settling differences with a Japanese POW camp. It stars William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins.

Main historical event:

Japanese labour camp in Burma

Reason to watch:

As much a battle of wills as a great epic movie, this enduring classic won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Guinness, and remains a perennial cinema favourite.

Politics

Darkest Hour (2017)

Story: 

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is faced with a tough choice as he must decide whether to sign a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler's Germany or continue fighting the war against them.

Main historical event:

UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill's decision to fight in WWII. 

Reason to watch:

Winston Churchill has been portrayed on screen many times over the years,  but Gary Oldman’s performance is probably the finest and the prime reason this film must be seen.

Quirky

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Story:

A group of Jewish U.S. soldiers plan to assassinate Nazi leaders in France. Quentin Tarantino directed film stars Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger and Eli Roth.

Main historical event:

The assassination of Hitler (?)

Reason to watch:

A World War II epic which illustrates Quentin Tarantino’s brilliance and style. Inglourious Basterds is a big, bold, audacious war movie that is simply bloody entertaining, and all the performances are amazing.

Big classic

The Dam Busters (1955)

Story:

The Dam Busters chronicles the exhaustive development by engineer Barnes Wallis of the bouncing bomb and its subsequent deployment. Once the bombs are ready to be tested, Wing Commander Guy Gibson's  squadron must be specially trained to drop the sensitive weapons...

Main historical event:

The famous raid that destroyed two of Germany’s strategically important Ruhr dams in May 1943.

Reason to watch:

With its stirring theme music and spectacular (for the time) special effects,  the film is a tribute to unsung heroes and show the true human cost of war.

Romance

From Here To Eternity (1953)

Story:

The film is set in 1941 Hawaii and follow the lives of different soldiers, including a private who is punished for not boxing on his unit's team. It stars Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr. 

Main historical event:

Attack of Pearl Harbor

Reason to watch:

Fred Zinnemann made an epic and romantic film from James Jones’s controversial novel, which covers strong themes  such as adultery alongside the war itself.

Powerful drama

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Story:

Terrence Malick's adaptation of James Jones' 1962 novel stars Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn and Nick Nolte and follows a group of American soldiers fighting all odds in order to survive. As the war progresses, they lose out on each other while still hoping to win the war.

Main historical event:

The battle for Guadalcanal

Reason to watch:

The Thin Red Line boasts sumptuous production values and beautiful cinematography in this dreamlike study of men in war where powerful action scenes are mixed with introspection and philosophical thoughts.

Foreign language

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Story:

A companion piece to Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, which told the story of the battle for Iwo Jima from the American perspective, this is the better of the two films, told from the viewpoint of the Japanese.

Main historical event:

Battle of Iwo Jima

Reason to watch:

Clint Eastwood explores war from the 'enemy' perspective, and he eloquently and movingly humanises the Japanese soldiers, depicting them even more bound by tradition and honour than their American counterparts. 


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