The 25 Best World War II Movies Ever Made

These films don't glorify war. They examine the horrors of one of humanity's darkest hours.

The 25 Best World War II Movies
The 25 Best World War II Movies

The best way many people first realized about World War II was inherently cinematic. A black and white dichotomy of “good guys” and “unhealthy guys” laid earlier than us with tales of heroic sacrifice, secrecy, and an evil, inhumane villain on the root of all of it. For these causes, WWII has held large relevance in cinema—each for its compelling narrative and for its fodder as jingoistic propaganda.

Nonetheless, our understanding of this War, and the humanitarian disaster at its root, has vastly expanded. Ironically, so have the movies depicting it. As we revisit early cinema’s patriotic depictions of WWII, in addition to fashionable cinema’s extra nuanced interpretations, it’s vital that we bear witness to the realities of this period. To let our consumption cease on the American exceptionalist position as “heroes” on this occasion, with out correct context and evaluation, is to danger letting history repeat itself.

In fact, learn a book when you’re at it, too, however right here is the very best round-up of WWII films that correctly handle and protect the memory of this main moment in history.

From Here to Eternity

On the eve of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, three Army soldiers find themselves in a variety of romantic entanglements while stationed in Hawaii.

Dunkirk

There’s a lot more to this Christopher Nolan-directed film than Harry Styles’s cameo in it. (Though, it’s certainly a welcomed contribution.) The film confronts the Allies’ evacuation of Dunkirk, on the shore of northern France, from the perspective of land, sea, and air.

Downfall

This Oscar-nominated thriller depicts Adolf Hitler’s final days as he hides in a Berlin bunker.

Black Book

A Jewish singer goes undercover for the Dutch resistance in order to infiltrade the Nazi headquarters in Netherlands.

The Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick returned from a 20-year hiatus for this quiet reflection on the horrors of war.

The Great Escape

Based on Paul Brickhill’s nonfiction book of the same name (but done so with great fictitious liberty), The Great Escape follows the escape of British Commonwealth soldiers from a POW camp in Nazi Germany. The film has since become a classic in cinema history, especially for, as one might guess, its chase scenes.

The Longest Day

This Oscar-winning epic tells the story of D-Day through various points of view—from both the Allied and German sides.

Son of Saul

A prisoner in Auschwitz saves the body of a young boy from the crematorium in this intense depiction of morality and spiritual survival.

Life Is Beautiful

A dutiful Italian father tries to shelter his son from the dangerous truth of the Holocaust in Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning film.

Jojo Rabbit

Few comedians are bold enough to cast themselves as Adolf Hitler. Taika Waititi’s satirical spin on Nazi Germany explores a more innocent perspective of the era from a Hitler Youth member, whose perception of the war is clearly skewed by his naivety. This naivety meets reality, though, when he forms an unlikely relationship with a young Jewish girl who is hiding in his house.

Das Boot

This celebrated drama gives an inside look at what happened beneath the surface on a German U-boat.

Empire of the Sun

A young Christian Bale stars as an English boy separated from his family in Japan-controlled China.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

A British colonel leads a team of POWs in a Japanese camp to build a bridge for their captors—and plans an uprising.

Come and See

This Belarusian anti-war film tackles the atrocities of the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe. Told through the perspective of a teenaged boy in Belarus, the film’s grave subject matter is confronted with both poetics and realism.

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino’s absurdist take on propaganda film depicts the brutal death of Adolf Hitler.

Saving Private Ryan

Spielberg brought the horrific violence of war front and center with the staggering depiction of the Invasion of Normandy.

Patton

George C. Scott gives a tour-de-force performance as the complex and controversial general George S. Patton.

Stalingrad

A complicated love affair erupts amid the Nazi invasion of Stalingrad in this celebrated Russian film.

Grave of the Fireflies

Two Japanese children struggle to survive in the waning days of WWII in this highly celebrated animated film.

Letters From Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood finds sympathy for the enemy in this Oscar-nominated epic.

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the brilliant British cryptanalyst who cracked the code on the Nazi German Enigma machine, responsible for encrypting confidential communications. Beneath this influential man, though, is a coded life of his own.

Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus is the definitive on-screen depiction of the Holocaust.

The Dirty Dozen

A rag-tag group of convicts bind together for a suicide mission on the eve of D-Day in this Oscar-winning epic. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.

Casablanca

One of the greatest films ever made—period—this one practically set the standard for the war-torn romance genre.

Defiance

Four brothers join Russian resistance fighters in the Eastern-European woods, slowly building camps of Jewish refugees.

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