The Best World War II Movies Ever Made!

Sep 24, 2007 (Updated Sep 25, 2007)

The Bottom Line Are the "best World War II movies" also the "best WAR movies PERIOD"?? They just might be. Take a look at MY 10 fave WW2 flicks...

When it comes to war movies, it doesn't take very long for a film buff to realize that there's really only two kinds of great war flicks: those about World War II, and everything else. In fact, it's not a much of stretch to say that a list of The 10 Greatest World War II Movies could very well also be The Ten Best WAR Movies Of All Time.

No disrespect intended to the veterans of other wars, but World War II is really "the big war". It was a war of epic proportions with fierce, well-matched opponents and clearly delineated "good guys" and "bad guys". It was a war that really was fought on almost every continent and every ocean, and it was a war of great stakes and characterful heros and villains. It's no wonder that World War II is the subject of the vast majority of great war movies, and it's no wonder that World War II movies continue to attract audiences (and dollars) like few other genres. Personally, I can't imagine a strong male leading actor not taking on a World War II role at least once in his cinematic career, and a lot of star names show up in my list of the best WWII films ever made.

But enough chatter, let’s get down to bombs and bullets…

10. -- Stalag 17 (1953)
Tempers flare and sparks fly when prisoners in Stalag 17 realize they have a spy in their midst. How else would the Germans know about every rules infraction, or the illicit radio? How else would they have snipers ready at the exact place and time of an escape attempt? Suspicion falls on Sergeant Sefton, masterfully played by William Holden. Jokes and gags sprinkled through the movie were probably thought risque at the time, but I find them a bit droll and often unlikely. Still, an excellent flick that I could easily watch a dozen times more.

9. -- The Caine Mutiny (1954)
I'm a huge Bogey fan, and I loved reading Herman Wouk's classic psychological profile of a naval commander's collapse under the pressures of war. Bogart's performance on the witness stand during the court martial scenes is eclipsed only by the haunting visual image of his nervously clacking metal balls...

8. -- Patton (1970)
This is a great movie because it’s so much more than just blood and guts and bombs and bullets. This is a movie that gets into the mindset of one of the war’s most colorful generals --- a guy with unshakable conviction and drive, but difficulty dealing with the political nuances of an often inefficient allied chain of command. Some war movie afficianados find the bio emphasis detracting from the war focus, but I’ve always thought it brought a level of depth to the subject that was too often missing. IMHO, this is the role George C. Scott was born to play, and the movie is his magnum opus.

7. -- Stalingrad (1993)
Intense. I feel like I'm practically slogging my way through the frozen winter as I deal with a billion adversities in one of the most unbelievably fierce battles of World War II. If you ever thought Hell was a blazing inferno, you've never seen Stalingrad...then you'd know that hell just might be a frozen tundra with you staring down the barrels of an unending sea of Red Army rifles.

6. -- The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)
Obi-Wan Kenobi gives into the dark side of the force in this classic WWII flick. Okay, so Alec Guinness is actually in his second most famous role here --- that of Col. Nicholson, a British commander in a Japanese POW camp. Nicholson endures torture at the hands of the Japanese, but eventually gives in to their demands that he order his men to help build a bridge for the occupying Japanese troops in Burma. He does it to build his men’s spirits, and to give them a project to occupy their time, but the project also saps Nicholson’s focus, his loyalty, and his common sense. And of course, the movie features the most haunting whistling of any flick in cinematic history...

5. -- Schindler's List (1993)
There’s going to be people who don’t think this movie belongs on a war movie list, but I don’t know how you can separate the Nazi death camps and the brutality of the SS from the war itself. You can’t, and you shouldn’t. This is a stunning movie that unflinchingly portrays the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and focuses on how one Nazi insider used his position, contacts, and war profits to save the lives of 1,100 Jews. The movie is exhausting, powerful, and an emotional roller coaster, but it’s also unforgettable.

4. -- The Great Escape (1963)
A brilliantly captivating flick! (Excuse the lame pun.) The movie is wonderful though, telling the story of a group of allied POWs who escape from a supposedly "escape proof" German prison camp. One of the reasons I like this flick so much is that it has all the high-intensity of a fictitious drama, yet it is actually based on true events. Its hard to imagine a grand escape plan that would involve 70 prisoners busting out of a high-security German POW camp, but that's exactly what the story is all about. Perhaps not as "accurate" as some of the other flicks on this list, it's certainly got some of the most powerful entertainment value of the bunch. (And everybody loves Steve McQueen's motorcycle run...)

3. -- Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
If you ever want to know why the 2001 release of Pearl Harbor sucks so bad, all you have to do is catch Tora! Tora! Tora!, the movie that really captures the story, the history, the people, the events, and even America's shock at the unexpected attack. The movie also succeeds so dramatically because the American and Japanese sides are both depicted with dignity and honesty (and the Japanese actually speak Japanese....always a sign of a good war flick.)

2. -- The Longest Day (1962)
D-Day. The Longest Day is an epic depiction of the turning point of World War II in Europe --- the enormous pre-planning that went into it, the enormous sacrifices that made it happen, the costly blunders that might well have cost Germany the war, if not at least France. It's a great movie for a dozen different reasons: it's grand scope, it's accuracy, the fact that Germans speak German, French speak French, and Americans and Brits speak English is not to be underestimated in bringing home a sense of authority that you'd normally get only from a documentary. Big name stars are sprinkled through the cast as well, and I love that no single one of them dominates in a story as big and grand in this: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton...heck, even Sean Connery can be seen in here! Great flick, from start to finish!

1. -- Das Boot (1982)
This is, quite simply, the best movie about naval warfare to ever grace the silver screen. Yeah, it takes an investment of more than 3 hours to watch the thing, but you come away so mesmerized that it feels like the time passed in a blink of an eye. It's a stunning portrayal of how the wartime tables turned on a confident German U-boat fleet of wolfpack hunters, as Allied fortunes turned and the wolves became the hunted, forced to flee, and hide, and endure the terror of incessant depth charge barrages. It's an emotional roller coaster that takes you from the elation of triumph to the humility of survival and the ultimate despair of defeat. It's also a movie that's powerful in its depiction of enemy combatants not as monsters, but as human beings who feel the same things we might feel. A masterpiece!

Bottom Line...
There you have it. The 10 greatest flicks about the single greatest war ever fought.

Do you think I've overlooked a great WW2 flick that "should made the list"?? Post a comment and share your thoughts!

Read all comments (25)

About the Author ID:
Location: Lone Star State
Reviews written: 1798
Trusted by: 1009 members
About Me: If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.