25 Great War Movies for Veterans Day

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This Veterans Day, I’ve decided to make a list of my 25 greatest war movies.  Now some movies on the list really aren’t actual war films, as they may have no violence depicted.  But the theme of military veterans struggling to make it after years of combat is considered timely.  The films are in order by year and not in order of 1-25.

All’s Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – Young Germans are persuaded to fight for their country during World War I, but soon quickly realize that war isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. One of the most powerful anti-war films ever made, it’s still packs a punch 90+ years later with its brutal scenes of war.

The Grand Illusion (1937) – A clash between the aristocracy and the working class comes together in an unlikely place, a German WWI POW camp. One of the greatest films of all time, director Jean Renoir put together a story of the absurdity of war and its class warfare origins.

Casablanca (1943) – An expat bar owner reluctantly helps out an old flame and her new husband with resistance ties escape from the Nazis. The quintessential romantic drama with WWII as a backdrop, it’s been on hundreds of top 10 all-time list selections.

The Best Years of our Lives (1946) – Three veterans must adjust to life after WWII. One of the most realistic films about veterans and the struggles they face after life on the battle field. Real live veteran Harold Russell won the Oscar for his portrayal of a Naval veteran.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) – An adaptation of Stephen Crane’s novel about a Civil War Union soldier who struggles to find the courage to fight in the heat of battle. Directed by John Houston, the movie’s lead character was WWII veteran Audie Murphy, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on the battlefield.

Stalag 17 (1953) – After two Americans are killed while escaping from a German P.O.W. camp in World War II, the barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer. Based on the stage play, director Billy Wilder puts together one of his best films, with William Holden winning a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the cynical American POW.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – British POWs are forced to build a railway bridge across the river Kwai for their Japanese captors in occupied Burma (Myanmar), not knowing that the allied forces are planning a daring commando raid through the jungle to destroy it. The first of director David Lean’s epics, which brings together a powerful group of actors, including Alec Guinness, William Holden and Sessue Hayakawa.

Paths of Glory (1957) – During WWI, after refusing to attack an enemy position, a French general (George Macready) accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer (Kirk Douglas) must defend them from a trumped-up court martial and firing squad. Director Stanley Kubrick’s attention to detail makes this one of the most powerful anti-war films. The film was so controversial for its anti-military message that it was banned in Spain, Switzerland and France for many years.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – The story of T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks. David Lean wins the second of his Best Director for this visually stunning epic war drama. Peter O’Toole would begin his long, prestigious acting career as a leading man in this WWI classic.

The Longest Day (1962) – The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. This was 20th Century Fox studio’s most expensive productions to date, and producer Darryl F. Zanuck spared no expense in making this epic as real as possible. The film had four different directors (American, German, British and French) and an international ensemble of actors, many who were WWII veterans on all sides of the war.

The Great Escape (1963) – Based on a true story, allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German POW camp during World War II. This was Steve McQueen’s “breakout” role to super stardom, best remembered for his motorcycle ride across the German countryside, which is considered one of the best jump stunts ever performed.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) – During World War II, a rebellious U.S. Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers. Real life US Marine vet Lee Marvin gives a gutsy performance as the officer leading a rag-tag group of military prisoners on a secret mission. This was also former NFL running back, Jim Brown’s acting debut.

Patton (1970) – The World War II phase of the career of controversial American general George S. Patton. Played with passion by George C. Scott, he won the Academy Award for best actor for the role, however he declined the Oscar. In a letter to the Motion Picture Academy, he stated that he did not feel himself to be in competition with other actors. The opening monologue, delivered by Scott as General Patton with an enormous American flag behind him, remains an iconic and often quoted image in film.

The Deer Hunter (1978) – An in-depth examination of the ways in which the Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of several friends in a small steel mill town in Pennsylvania. Only three years after the fall of Saigon, this was one of the first films to deal with the horrors of the Vietnam War. The notorious Russian Roulette scene was one of the most intense and controversial moments in movie history.

Apocalypse Now (1979) – Based on the short story, “Heart of Darkness”, an Army officer is given a secret mission to kill a renegade Colonel in Cambodia. Director Francis Ford Coppola took four years to complete the film, and encountered immense difficulty during the shooting, which included the US Military not cooperating with the production and it’s stars Martin Sheen (Heart Attack) and Marlon Brando (Weight).

The Big Red One (1980) – A battle-hardened Army Sergeant leads a young group of soldiers during different European campaigns of World War II. Director Sam Fuller used his own war experiences in the original 1st Infantry Division to show the rigors of war to his viewers. Though severely edited when released, it was re-edited with 47 minutes of footage and re-released to much fan fair in 2004.

Das Boot (1981) – An inexperienced U-boat crew has to survive a secret mission and a young German woman is torn between loyalty for her home country and the French resistance. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, the film is one of the most realistic films depicting life in a submarine from a German standpoint.

Gallipoli (1981) – Two Australian sprinters face the brutal realities of war when they are sent to fight in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during World War I. This was one of the first films that depicted the Australian war effort during WWI, although it modified events for dramatic purposes and contains a number of significant historical inaccuracies.

Platoon (1986) – A recruit who volunteered for military service in Vietnam, finds himself caught in a battle of wills between two sergeants, one good and the other evil. The film is a shrewd examination of the brutality of war and the duality of man in conflict. Director Oliver Stone used his experiences serving in Vietnam to help make this film his masterpiece. He would make two other films based on the Vietnam experience, “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Heaven & Earth”.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) – A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue. Director Stanley Kubrick revisits the horrors of war as he did in ‘Paths of Glory’ 30 years earlier. Real life Marine drill instructor R. Lee Emery steals the first 45 minutes of this film with his improvised performance as the brutal Gunnery SGT Hartman.

Glory (1989) – Colonel Robert Gould Shaw leads the Union Army’s first all-black volunteer company, all the while, fighting prejudices from both his own Army, and the Confederates. Though the story itself was fictional, the movie was one of the most powerful depictions of the Civil War ever producer, with powerful performances by Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. Unlike traditional World War II films that were subdued in its depiction of war, director Steven Spielberg puts the viewer right in the middle of the invasion in stunningly graphic detail.

The Hurt Locker (2008) – During the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work. This film was historic, in that it was the first movie to win Best Picture by the Motion Picture Academy with a woman at the helm as director. Despite that, this was an incredibly powerful film about capturing the heroism of the average soldier while facing the nightmares of war.

Inglorious Basterds (2009) – In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner’s vengeful plans for the same. Director Quentin Tarantino puts together a revisionist history take on World War II events, and adds his own flavor from his previously made films.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) – A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s Team 6 in May 2011. Director Kathryn Bigelow gets behind the directors chair for another military drama and uses a woman CIA agent as her main focus of the story.

Dunkirk (2017) – Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Commonwealth and Empire, and France are surrounded by the German Army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II. What makes this film so effective is it’s use of sound and editing. It was shot on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large-format film stock. It has extensive practical effects, and employed thousands of extras as well as historic boats from the evacuation, and period airplanes.

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About smoothjazzandmore

I'm a TV producer and an Internet radio broadcaster. I also write for my blogs (An Op-Ed Blog and a Football Blog) here at WordPress.
This entry was posted in Movies, Veterans Day, War Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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