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10 Greatest war films of all time


4th Jun 2018 Film & TV

10 Greatest war films of all time

To celebrate the release of the iconic war film The Dam Busters, available to stream on Apple TV and Amazon Prime, we've compiled a list of the ten greatest war films of all time 

There's something about the action of a war zone that has us on the edge of our cinema seats, waiting to see how it'll all turn out. Here are ten of the greatest war films of all time from the 1930s to the 2000s. 

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Credit: Pinewood Studios 

This now-iconic take on the Vietnam War was directed by the pioneering master of cinema Stanley Kubrick, and follows smart-aleck Private Davis (Matthew Modine) and his fellow marine corp recruit Private Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio) as they endure the rigours of basic training under the watchful eye of the foul-mouthed drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey).

The audience watches as the two protagonists embark on very different paths, shocking us with an abrupt change of pace unusual in film editing at the time. The film plot eventually catches up with Private Davis as a wartime journalist, covering the bloody Battle of Hue.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Credit: DreamWorks Pictures 

One of the most epic war films of all time, Saving Private Ryan was directed by Steven Spielberg, whose star as one of the most popular directors and producers in film history is yet to wane.

"Saving Private Ryan became the highest-grossing film of 1998, and won five Academy Awards"

Set during the invasion of Normandy (Operation Overload) during the Second World War, the film stars Tom Hanks, Vin Diesel, Tom Sizemore, Giovanni Ribisi, and Edward Burns as a squad searching for a paratrooper (Matt Damon) who is the last-surviving brother of four servicemen. A critical and commercial smash hit upon release, the film became the highest-grossing film of 1998, and won five Academy Awards.

Dunkirk (1958)

Directed by Leslie Norman, starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough and a cast featuring genuine army officers, Dunkirk is one of the most authentic representations of conflict during the Second World War. The film follows the dramatic events leading up to Operation Dynamo, where upon the British Army attempted to rescue fellow soldiers and allied troops from Nazi occupied France.

"Dunkirk never shies away from the brutality of war and the bravery of its soldiers"

Seen from the dual perspectives of a jaded journalist in search of propaganda and a weary soldier desperately trying to give his troop some hope, Dunkirk never shies away from the brutality of war and the bravery of its soldiers.  

A new restoration of Dunkirk was released in 2017 from STUDIOCANAL as part of their Vintage Classics Collection: facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm

Downfall (2004)

Credit: Constantin Film 

Downfall is a German historical war drama depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler’s (played by Bruno Ganz) rule over Nazi Germany in 1945, based on several accounts of the period.

The film received widespread critical acclaim upon release and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the same year. Many readers will be familiar with several scenes from the film which have become the basis for a viral video phenomenon!

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Credit: Omni Zoetrope

From the legendary director of The Godfather, comes this very different take on the Vietnam War, adapted for the time period from the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, changing its setting from the late 19th-century Congo.

Starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Dennis Hopper, the film became known for various issues plaguing the set, from near-fatal illness to severe weather destroying expensive sets. Once released, the film won the top honour at Cannes Film Festival—the Palme D’Or, and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It’s now considered not only one of the greatest war films, but one of greatest films of all time.  

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Having received a ten-minute standing ovation when it first premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Hacksaw Ridge—the extraordinary true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss directed by Academy Award winning director Mel Gibson—went on to be nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture.

Andrew Garfield plays a soldier who joins the army as a combat medic and becomes a war hero, in spite of his refusal to point or shoot a gun. Parts of this film where Doss all but stares death in the face will certainly have you on tenter hooks. 

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Credit: Touchstone Pictures 

Now for something more romantic—this sweeping historical drama is based on the events of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, which led to the US entering the Second World War. It follows American friends Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), as they enlist to fight in the war as pilots.

Rafe departs to Europe to fight alongside the British Royal Air Force, leaving behind his girlfriend Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), who becomes close with Danny. They reunite in Hawaii on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite initial negative critical reception, the film was a box office hit and to this day remains one of the most popular romantic war films.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Credit: ITC Entertainment 

Based on the Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, the film was directed by Lewis Milestone and released in 1930 to wide critical acclaim. One of the earliest epic war films, it was considered a realistic and harrowing account of the indescribably traumatic experiences of the First World War.

"All Quiet On The Western Front was considered a realistic and harrowing account of the indescribably traumatic experiences of the First World War"

The film was the first to win the Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. Due to its perceived anti-German message, the film was banned by Hitler in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken as Russian-American steelworkers whose lives are changed forever by the Vietnam War, the film won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as marking Meryl Streep’s first Oscar nomination.

The film entered the popular cinematic lexicon with its infamous Russian roulette scene and will soon be restored and re-released in 4K by Studiocanal.

The Dam Busters (1955)

Credit: Associated British Picture Corporation 

Regarded as a British classic, The Dam Busters was directed by the late Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run/Around the World in 80 Days). Based on the legendary true story of Commander Guy Gibson and his squadron, the film (1955) captures all the thrilling action and suspense of the magnificent exploits of a group of young pilots and their crews, charged with taking out the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany with an ingeniously designed bouncing bomb.

Starring Richard Todd as Gibson and Michael Redgrave as scientist and engineer Dr Barnes Wallis, the film also immortalised composer’s Eric Coates’s masterpiece: The Dam Busters March.

The Dam Busters is available to stream on Apple TV and Amazon Prime. 

Banner Credit: mptvimages.com

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