This is Memorial Day weekend – when we should remember and honor the soldiers, marines and sailors who have died serving in defense of the United States of America and other countries. So I thought it would be appropriate to put together a list of classic war movies to commemorate the holiday…
This is by no means a complete list, just some favorites of mine and the writers here at Screen Rant that came to mind and have made an impact on us – We’ve also added films that were recommended by our readers in the past as fine examples of this genre. Feel free to add your favorites and nudge my memory over any obvious ones I may have forgotten in the comments below.
Casablanca (1942) – Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman, a classic if there ever was one: Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II, an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications – and woe unto anyone who thinks of doing a remake of this film!
Flying Tigers (1942) – John Wayne leads a band of American Mercenaries called upon by China to help fight the Japanese two years before Pearl Harbour.
Midway (1976) – All star “real men” cast: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn and Robert Mitchum in dramatization of the battle that turned out to be the turning point of the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) – John Wayne stars in this version of the battle of Iwo Jima.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – William Holden and Alec Guiness (yes, Obi-Wan) in a story about a British colonel who co-operates with the Japanese to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their captors – while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
The Caine Mutiny (1954) – Humphrey Bogart in an unusual role as a US Naval captain who shows signs of mental instability that jeopardizes his ship, causing his first officer to relieve him of command and face court martial for mutiny.
The Dirty Dozen (1967) – This AWESOME fictional story of a US Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers in World War II stars Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas and other fantastic actors.
Flying Leathernecks (1951) – John Wayne leads “The Wildcats” squadron into the historic WWII battle of Guadalcanal.
From Here to Eternity (1953) – Another star-studded classic with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra. A private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit’s team, while his captain’s wife and second in command are falling in love.
The Great Escape (1963) – Another “must see” WWII film. It stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Coburn as members of several hundred Allied POWs who plan a mass escape from a German POW camp.
Mister Roberts (1955) – Henry Fonda was brilliant in this film starring alongside James Cagney and a very funny Jack Lemmon won an Oscar for his role in this WWII semi-comedy.
Patton (1970) – Probably the crown jewel of George C. Scott’s acting career where he portrays the most famous U.S. General, ever. The film earned 7 Oscars including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture (back in the day when the Oscars actually meant something).
Stalag 17 (1953) -Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss and Peter Graves. When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German POW camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer.
Where Eagles Dare (1968) – Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as allied agents who stage a daring raid on a castle where the Nazis are holding an American General prisoner… but that’s not all that’s really going on.
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – Directed by Robert Wise, starring Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Jack Warden and Don Rickles (yes, THAT Don Rickles) about a U.S. sub commander, obsessed with sinking a certain Japanese ship, butts heads with his first officer and crew.
The Guns of Navarone (1961) – Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn: A British team is sent to cross occupied Greek territory and destroy the massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) – A dramatization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the series of American blunders that allowed it to happen.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) – A true Memorial Day film, it honors the spirit and soul of military men on the hunt for Private James Ryan, whose brothers were killed in action. The opening minutes of Steven Spielberg’s WWII film represent war in one of the most realistic settings every seen on screen.
Band of Brothers (2001) – Technically, not a movie, but brotherhood has never been so brilliant displayed on film or television. The core of what makes a group of military men a true squadron is explored by the HBO miniseries that follows a squad brought closer together by war.
Other films that have been recommended to me as fine World War II films include:
- The Enemy Below
- The Hunters
- Objective: Burma!
- The Eagle Has Landed
- Sink the Bismark
- The Longest Day
- To Hell and Back
- They Were Expendable
- North Star
- Catch 22
- Action in the North Atlantic
- God is my Co-Pilot
- Guadalcanal Diary 30 Seconds over Tokyo
- The Fighting Sullivans
- Mrs.Miniver Wake Island
- Air Force
- Kelly’s Heroes
And yes, I think Schindler’s List is a very powerful film and the man it was based on was incredibly heroic, but I focused on films about the military in memory of those who served and died.
What are your favorites? What do you think should be on this list?
UPDATE: Apparently we missed a whole bunch of movies that readers say should be on this list – no disrespect was intended. Here are another 32 World War II films judged to be excellent by our readers:
- 12 O’Clock High
- 36 Hours
- A Bridge Too Far
- A Midnight Clear
- A Walk in the Sun
- Battle of Britain
- Battle of the Bulge
- Command Decision
- Cross of Iron
- Darby’s Rangers
- Flags of Our Fathers
- From Here to Eternity
- Hell is for Heroes
- In Harm’s Way
- Judgment at Nuremberg
- Letters from Iwo Jima
- PT 109
- Sink the Bismark
- Story of G.I. Joe
- The Best Years of Our Lives
- The Big Red One
- The Dam Busters
- The Deep Six
- The Devil’s Brigade
- The Guns of Navarone
- The Longest Day
- The Pacific (HBO Series)
- The Thin Red Line
- Von Ryan’s Express
- Wake Island