This coming Monday is Memorial Day and for most people it’s simply a day off from work. However a good movie can remind us of the men and women who have bravely put their lives at risk during times of war; other films can even shed light on the plight of civilians. This is by no means a definitive list of all the war movies but rather a well-rounded lineup with everything from animated films to black-and-white to films to even alternate history films; some movies may be more well known than others but all deserve to be seen at least once. Take a look below, make sure to click the titles to watch the trailers, and let us know what movie you think should be on this list.
Grave of the Fireflies – Being an animated movie from Japan no doubt raises immediate comparisons to Saturday morning anime shows but nothing could be further from the truth. “Grave of the Fireflies” is without a doubt the most depressing movie on this list as it follows two children struggling to survive in war torn Japan near the end of World War II. With beautiful hand drawn animation and a moving soundtrack this film will find the most jaded movie viewer struggling to hold back the tears with it’s unflinching look at the loss of innocence in times of war.
Glory – There are not too many exciting movies about the Civil War but “Glory” is definitely riveting thanks to its incredibly talented cast. Telling the story of the nation’s first African-American regiment the cast includes fantastic parts from Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and an Academy Award winning turn from Denzel Washington. Also featuring a superb soundtrack from James Horner, “Glory” is a vastly underrated and undermentioned film and definitely deserves a view this coming weekend.
Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima – Yes this is cheating since it’s two movies for one spot but these films definitely work best as a double feature. Directed by Clint Eastwood these two films focus on the battle of Iwo Jima during the Pacific campaign of World War II with each film dedicated to one side of the fight with “Flags” focusing on the Americans and “Letters” on the Japanese. Well-shot and well-acted throughout, these films are best shown together to heighten it’s message that good and honorable men can be found fighting on either side of a war.
The Great Escape – There are few actors who have conveyed “cool” as much as Steve McQueen did and this is one of his finest films. A classic World War II movie with an incredibly catchy theme song, “The Great Escape” has worked its way into pop culture inspiring everything from “Toy Story 3” to countless television episodes. Featuring a sense of humor that has held up well over the years, contrasting perfectly with its more serious moments, “The Great Escape” is a perfect film to watch with the parents or even grandparents.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Russell Crowe always makes for a riveting leading man and “Master and Commander” is no exception. While a bit long the film rewards patient viewers with its depiction of life at sea during the Napoleonic wars as it follows a British warship on a dangerous mission. This is a movie best experienced on a wide screen with a serious sound system because when the canons begin to fire it will be easy to feel as though you’re standing on the deck of the HMS Surprise.
The Great Dictator – By far the oldest film on this list, “The Great Dictator” was released all the way back in 1940 and was written and directed by film legend Charlie Chaplin. Worried by the rise of fascism in Europe at the time, Chaplin stars in this comedic satire with the story revolving around a case of mistaken identity where Chaplin’s bumbling barber is mistaken for the titular Hitler-parody. If you are to watch one clip from any of these movies make sure it is Chaplain’s stirring speech; it’s a powerful scene that radiates optimism and determination that the world can actually be made a better place if only we can put aside our prejudices.
Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino does World War II. Who could not be hooked after a premise like that? Bloody, impeccably filmed, and with dialogue you can sink your teeth into, “Basterds” finds Tarantino in fine form and with his most-ambitious film yet. A homage to movies like “Dirty Dozen” and “Kelly’s Heroes” the film cuts a bloody swathe through history as Tarantino rewrites it with the help of Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz. Waltz’s Academy Award is indeed deserved as his turn as Colonel Hans Landa is a cinematic villain for the ages; “Inglorious Basterds” is a gleefully violent upending of the war film and one no movie lover should miss.
The Last of the Mohicans – Set against the backdrop of the French-and-Indian war, “The Last of the Mohicans” is just as much a romantic movie as it is a war film. Daniel Day-Lewis, who has never been less than perfect in any of his roles, plays Hawkeye and fills the characters with wisdom and passion as he races across the new frontier to save his love; the final fifteen minutes capture one of the greatest foot chases ever shot on film. With incredible cinematography and a stirring soundtrack “The Last of the Mohicans” can work well as both a guy’s night movie or a love story for an evening with the significant other.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – The humor in Stanley Kubrick’s take on the Cold War is as dark as the black-and-white that it’s shot in. As one of Kubrick’s earlier films his trademark eye for cinematography is still being developed but “Dr. Strangelove” is still full of iconic shots such as the image of a man riding a falling nuclear bomb or any of the outrageous scenes in the War Room as the President attempts to negotiate with Russia despite a rather inebriated Soviet Premier. “Dr. Stragelove” is a great choice for those who like their films darkly satirical but with enough humor to help the medicine go down.
Saving Private Ryan – This is the high watermark that all war movies have come to be judged by. Neither a condemnation of war nor a glorification, “Saving Private Ryan” keeps its focus on the human element and not a message. Led by a humble and sublime Tom Hanks alongside a superb backing cast, this is what redefined war movies with its trademark unique color filter and gritty realism; the storming of Normandy beach is still one the most visceral scenes ever put to screen. All that could be said about “Saving Private Ryan” has probably already been said; all that remains is to experience the film if you have not already. This was Steven Spielberg’s ode to the Greatest Generation and in turn he created one of the greatest, if not the greatest, war movies of all time.