This week we are taking a look at some of the most influential war films. Here is my top 10 list:
1. Saving Private Ryan
This Steven Spielberg war film is so unrelenting, so realistic and nothing has come close to be as emotional as this WWII action drama. Most war films have since tried to emulate the realities of war, but this film stands on its own. This film had such an impact on me when I saw it and it still carries the weight that it did when it came out. “Saving Private Ryan’s” success led to the amazing television show “Band of Brothers” as well as the Tom Hanks produced sequel series “The Pacific.” This film is an inspiration to all and shows what true heroes looked like during the Nazi-led campaign against the world.
2. The Great Escape
This film has one of the best ensemble casts is movie history. Steve McQueen leads the story as the “Cooler King,” helping lead his men from a POW camp. This film has a lot of heart, depth and tragic insights into Prisoner of War camps during WWII. James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner and Donald Pleasence are just some of the standout actors in this epic film. Two scenes that have always stood out to me: One being the celebration of the 4th of July where the camp prisoners make moonshine and parade around the camp singing Yankee Doodle Dandy. The other being the actual escape from the camp itself with an awesome motorcycle chase through the German countryside led by Steve McQueen. This is a fantastic film and a standout WWII drama.
3. Inglourious Basterds
The 7th film by Quentin Tarantino, this highly stylized World War II fantasy film shows a different side of history in being that, what if we killed Hitler before the war was over. Brad Pitt leads a band of Jewish American soldiers as they kill, scalp and make their way through the scum of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Colonel Hans Landa, aka “The Jew Hunter” is trying to find the Basterds and put a stop to their murderous tirade. This film is so much fun, with great action, suspense and dark comedy. Christoph Waltz who played Hans Landa was superb and his Oscar for this film was well deserved. This is just a fun, violent look at WWII which has never been seen before until film.
4. Apocalypse Now
This Vietnam epic shows the brutalities of a post WWII baby boomer generation. A direct modern adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s awesome book “Heart of Darkness,” this puts all those characters in the heart of the Vietnam War, as Martin Sheen’s character is searching for Colonel Kurtz, an ex soldier gone mad who is deep in the heart of the Vietnamese jungle. This is one of Coppola’s greatest films alongside “The Godfather” and other standout performances to note are Marlon Brando, Lawrence Fishburne in his first starring role, Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall. There are some major spectacle war sequences as well as an amazing soundtrack by the Doors. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”
Patton is the ultimate biography of hardass General George S. Patton. This biography has some amazing tank battle sequences as well as a riveting story into the life of this enigmatic foul mouthed General. Of course the best part about this film is the performance of George C. Scott who portrayed Patton. He was born to play this role and it is one of the greatest performances in a movie arguably ever. The opening speech in front of a big American Flag as Patton overlooks his troops is so good and iconic and it sets the tone for who Patton was as an individual. This film shines sheer brilliance.
6. The Patriot
One of Mel Gibson’s best films alongside “Braveheart,” “The Patriot” tells of a father who is helping fight for America’s independence from Britain during the late 1700’s. “The Patriot” has some amazing battle sequences, some heartbreaking drama and one of the cruelest villains ever put on screen. Mel Gibson shows such a wide range of depth as an actor in this amazing post-colonial American Revolution film. This is one of the only films about the American Revolution and I think it is one of the best in terms of drama, story, acting, and action. The film is unique, violent and sometimes heart shattering. We owe our American freedoms to these men of the Revolution, for without this heinous war, we would not be here.
7. The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick’s WWII drama of the battle of Guadalcanal is unrelenting, poetic and epic in scope. This is a much slower film than say “Saving Private Ryan” but it is equally violent and dramatic. This film is a masterpiece and most people forget this film ever existed because it came out the same year as “Private Ryan” and it never got the attention. The film takes the brutality of war and paints a poetic picture of the graphic nature of man and their savageness. This film has a great cast with Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, George Clooney, John Travolta, Elias Koteas, John Cusack and Adrian Brody. This is an amazing picture and if you never saw this film, do yourself a favor and check it out. It is extremely powerful.
8. The Flowers of War
Taking place just before the start of WWII, this film involves the genocide of the Rape of Nanking in 1937. Christian Bale stars as a westerner who poses as a priest and takes shelter inside an abandoned church. He must protect a group of ladies from being raped, tortured and ultimately executed by the Chinese government. This was a tiny foreign film that never was marketed in the U.S. Christian Bale is so excellent in this film and it is one of the most sad, powerful and realistic portrayals of war that I have ever seen. The battle sequences are bombastic and realistic and the acting is incredible. Most people have not heard of this film and it is tragic because this film is so good on many different levels. This is a must see and one of my favorite war films.
9. The Monuments Men
This is a film directed by George Clooney which in the vein of the “Great Escape,” has a huge ensemble cast with Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett. I think I was in the minority of people who liked this film when it came out but I stand by my decision. This was a sometimes sad, dramatic tale of a band of brothers who steal back all of the artwork that the Nazi’s had stolen all around Europe. This film had great acting, an engaging story and the chemistry between the men was spot on. I really enjoyed the story and I felt the same feeling watching this when I saw the “Great Escape” for the first time. I think George Clooney made a special little film here.
10. Zero Dark Thirty
This might be the most important war film for the millennial generation. This film chronicles the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, starting with the September 11, Terror attacks all the way to 2011 when a team of Navy Seals take him out. The film follows the CIA as they struggle to gain intelligence on the whereabouts of this nomadic leader. This film had a lot of controversy when it came out, from the torture techniques that America used on terrorists to the actual events of the mission carried out by the Navy Seals. Overall, this is a very important film, a fascinating one at that and it features some amazing performances, particularly from Jessica Chastain who plays the lead CIA operative. This is such a great film and it just shows the impact that the War on Terror has on society. This is a modern war film for the ages and it easily makes my top 10.
So there you have it, my complete list of war films.
Letters from Iwo Jima,
Black Hawk Down
Where Eagles Dare
Full Metal Jacket
Enemy at the Gates
So I’m curious to hear what you guys think. Do you agree with this list? What are some of your favorite war films? Let me know in the comments section below. I would love to hear your picks.