WWII Inspired Amazing Films

Sept. 3 marked the 75th anniversary of V-J Day and the official end of World War II (the war in Europe had ended some months earlier on May 8, 1945). Over the course of six years, some 70-85 million people died … 50-56 million as a direct result of the war with an additional 19-28 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. War is never a good thing, but WWII in particular represents a seemingly endless trove of stories to tell, from the battlefield to the home front, from sweeping epics to love stories.

The writers at London’s TimeOut teamed up with writer/director (and occasional actor) Quentin Tarantino to sift through the many WWII-themed movies produced over the years to compile a list of what they humbly submit to be the 50 best World War II movies of all time. It’s an eclectic mix of films, starting with nine produced during the war and ending with 2017’s Dunkirk. As may be expected, the list is dominated by stories that take place during the war in Europe. Only one (Das Boot) takes place at sea. A few are set in North Africa (including Ice Cold In Alex) while seven take place in the Pacific theater (including From Here to Eternity and The Bridge on the River Kwai[1]).

There are plenty of testosterone-fueled battle scenes, to be sure, but these films are not all cut from the same cloth. There are also intimate dramas (Hell in the Pacific) and sympathetic portraits of “the enemy” (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Letters From Iwo Jima). Scattered through the list are three documentaries (including two tied for 16 and the nine-hour epic Shoah, cut from some 350 hours of original interview footage); three comedies (from the low key screwball comedy I Was a Male War Bride to the rather dark To Be or Not To Be, famously featuring the character Concentration-Camp-Ehrhardt and released during the war in 1942); one horror film (The Keep), and one animated film (the Japanese anime Grave of the Fireflies). All of which, of course, are represented in the EIDR registry.

50 Best World War II Movies of All Time

Rank Title Year EIDR ID
1 Come and See (Idi i smotri) 1985  10.5240/244A-E364-9F6F-0E2C-947A-3
2 The Thin Red Line 1998 10.5240/4F91-626C-A16D-14B1-1F57-O
3 Schindler’s List 1993 10.5240/81A5-9F3A-3BB1-0C42-0901-X
4 Shoah 1985 10.5240/BC58-8A9B-B6D8-4548-2FD2-G
5 Das Boot 1981 10.5240/5BE3-94DC-4C6F-37D5-D693-V
6 Went the Day Well? 1942 10.5240/8E1D-AED2-1DAE-4213-511E-I
7 Dunkirk 2017 10.5240/B581-8D4F-95AE-92CA-4584-V
8 The Cranes Are Flying 1957 10.5240/FA89-CECC-4952-404B-188E-4
9 A Matter of Life and Death 1946 10.5240/C289-7680-A1D3-6EAC-75C6-U
10 The Big Red One 1980 10.5240/9D68-5005-A2D8-C75D-1F2D-M
11 Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru No Haka) 1988 10.5240/F7D4-6FC4-C713-3F10-28C4-5
12 Kanal 1956 10.5240/4094-7A3A-3D70-B2D9-23D3-K
13 Cross of Iron 1977 10.5240/9811-E5C0-B04F-8DAA-BA9A-0
14 Rome, Open City (Roma città aperta) 1945 10.5240/4321-5DDF-A218-CC2E-EA95-9
15 The Dirty Dozen 1967 10.5240/54E2-5444-FD25-C45B-BADC-U
16 Listen to Britain 1942 10.5240/0FEB-7320-4F69-1FBE-7EA2-R
16 Fires Were Started 1943 10.5240/CDD9-A911-DE8A-5030-99EB-3
17 Night And Fog (Nuit et brouillard) 1956 10.5240/B625-C7B1-FC1E-6597-2F47-3
18 From Here to Eternity 1953 10.5240/7D62-F4C9-8E45-8708-6FC4-J
19 Hangmen Also Die! 1943 10.5240/36E6-A4F5-1AB6-A23C-D330-R
20 Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo) 1962 10.5240/EE89-4C71-AD62-FF3C-FF0F-Z
21 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 1943 10.5240/BFF0-32B6-949E-E27A-1C4B-L
22 Downfall (Der Untergang) 2004 10.5240/90B8-917D-FA2D-8B1A-65E3-1
23 Son of Saul (Saul fia) 2015 10.5240/AE9B-4F3B-8421-02FB-4CE1-V
24 The Great Escape 1963 10.5240/9897-0A62-0AA1-E5FD-7903-C
25 To Be or Not To Be 1942 10.5240/01E2-7BC2-B41D-119B-914B-5
26 Attack 1956 10.5240/A0C2-80D7-D83F-C5DA-922F-4
27 Army of Shadows (L’armée des ombres) 1969 10.5240/4E5E-A8A4-CAD7-E88A-B740-S
28 The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957 10.5240/257C-777E-76A2-E7AA-6552-3
29 Saving Private Ryan 1998 10.5240/FAB2-2231-DF9A-8170-9D0C-F
30 Empire of the Sun 1987 10.5240/FC8F-A7CA-B877-A284-6C05-5
31 Hell in the Pacific 1968 10.5240/6C8C-0728-F062-7DFB-2401-O
32 Ice Cold In Alex 1958 10.5240/9C66-C548-8F2F-6E11-5D4D-1
33 Millions Like Us 1943 10.5240/A9FF-969D-40DA-6186-2796-0
34 Letters From Iwo Jima 2006 10.5240/E727-9E32-70E3-6E4F-AF3B-H
35 Germany, Pale Mother 1980 10.5240/5434-E271-636F-0D9C-2B7E-8
36 The English Patient 1996 10.5240/F605-EBD1-1D29-2D7D-BE28-9
37 Kelly’s Heroes 1970 10.5240/4840-7024-FBCF-5DB0-E5F2-H
38 A Walk in the Sun 1945 10.5240/8206-E40B-9590-3D07-E08E-G
39 Where Eagles Dare 1968 10.5240/F0AE-E03B-6994-0269-E830-R
40 The Inglorious Bastards 1978 10.5240/BACB-B33E-6214-CFBB-2165-Z
41 Battle of Britain 1969 10.5240/46B5-046F-ACA3-A502-7ECC-X
42 Black Book (Zwartboek) 2006 10.5240/5A51-EED5-8DE2-1D85-C5DC-H
43 I Was a Male War Bride 1949 10.5240/C1D6-7484-853F-C9FB-CAF1-V
44 The Dam Busters 1954 10.5240/7FBE-E8B9-C7C0-8707-AB6C-D
45 The Pianist 2002 10.5240/5356-EE24-D4C8-5201-D903-5
46 Days of Glory 2006 10.5240/D974-8F8C-68E9-AB10-92CE-7
47 The Keep 1983 10.5240/D2A4-2C49-5656-DB76-8864-Z
48 Stalingrad 1993 10.5240/16C6-02C4-024A-A4CB-5AA1-O
49 Escape to Victory 1981 10.5240/D458-EE8F-6582-7CD9-35CC-N
50 Paratroop Command 1959 10.5240/917D-D2CF-1919-B0F7-F97E-I


[1] Funny story. The book upon which the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai is based was written by the Frenchman Pierre Boulle. He received an Academy Award in 1958 for Best Adapted Screenplay, even though he did not speak English. The script was actually written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who had been blacklisted in Hollywood for their Communist ties. (By 1957, the fact that the US and Russia were allies in the war had long been forgotten and the many pro-Russian films produced during the war had been quietly put back on the shelf, including Gregory Peck’s film debut in Days of Glory.) In 1984, the Academy issued Oscars to Foreman and Wilson and the re-issued film now bears their names in it credits.