Picking the best, top-notch World War II movies was no easy task – there are so many excellent films to choose from, from old classics to newer movies about this war. Movie Crunch gives you the 15 Greatest WW2 Movies of All Time… and while we know you won’t agree 100%, you should find some of your favorites on the list.
15. Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Enemy at the Gates features an amazing cast in Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes and Bob Hoskins. While not loved by all, this World War II entry is an interesting story about the conflict between two snipers – a tense war drama that just barely makes our list because 1) Jude Law is a bit too pretty and 2) the accents need a little more work.
14. The Thin Red Line (1998)
John C. Reilly
The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s excellent adaptation of James Jones’ fictionalized memoir, brings to life the story of young soldiers during the battle for Guadalcanal. While The Thin Red Line may be lighter on action than other war films, (and some argue a bit of a snoozefest), it still manages to masterfully tell the story with stunning performances by the often overlooked James Caviezel and always-brilliant Sean Penn as Private Witt and Sergeant Welsh. This war movie makes our list for the emotional connection between the soldiers who form the bonds of family while fighting for their survival.
13. The Guns of Navarone (1961)
The Guns of Navarone is an action film at its best, with Gregory Peck leading his ragtag crew on a mission most impossible. With a cast that includes heavy weights Anthony Quinn and David Niven, Guns of Navarone’s caper includes action and suspense – and never falls short on the entertainment spectrum.
12. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
E. G. Marshall
More than just fun to say, Tora! Tora! Tora! is a much more competent retelling of the events of Pearl Harbor than that crapfest 2001 film starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale (don’t get us started on that mess). Tora! Tora! Tora! does justice to the history of this World War II event by giving both an American and Japanese viewpoint to the story.
11. Catch-22 (1970)
Purists will argue that the film version of Catch-22 can’t hold a candle to the Joseph Heller novel it’s based on, but the movie still holds a place on our top 15 WWII movie list. Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen, and Orson Welles star in this tale of a guy who pretends he’s insane to get out of the war. Only, as the title of this black comedy tells, it’s a no-win situation.
10. Patton (1970)
George C. Scott
Karl Michael Vogler
Could anyone else but George C. Scott play General Patton? We don’t want to know – Scott was brilliant as the U.S. Army commander, depicted in this biopic that showed Patton’s life, warts and all. Plus, that iconic opening monologue with George C. Scott in front of a massive American flag and seven Oscar awards only cement how great this film is.
9. From Here to Eternity (1953)
If you think From Here to Eternity is just a romantic encounter between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on a Hawaiian beach, think again. Eternity looks at military life before/during/after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, although that kissing-in-the-surf scene really sticks with you. A classic.
8. The Longest Day (1962)
We love this one if, for nothing else, having the most stellar war movie casting of the bunch. John Wayne, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum all in one film? Yup. Epic war movie? You got it. The Longest Day recreates D-Day and, while Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” gets top marks for the Normandy opening scene, many favor The Longest Day as being a better story when compared to Ryan’s overly sentimental tale.
7. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The Dirty Dozen is straight up classic, directed by Robert Aldrich and starring always solid Lee Marvin as the rebel army major who has to train a dozen criminals to assassinate Nazi officers. Dirty Dozen comes in a bit short on drama, but there’s loads of action to carry this one. Plus… Lee Marvin. Did we mention Lee Marvin? Total guy movie that’s worthy of repeat viewings.
6. The Great Escape (1963)
We could totally do a “Steve McQueen. ‘Nuff said” thing here, but we’ll give The Great Escape a little more to its credit than a great leading man. An all-star lineup with McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Sir Richard Attenborough, James Garner (so young!), Donald Pleasence and David McCallum as men escaping a German POW camp – it’s a testosterone adventure that includes a tunnel escape AND a motorcycle chase? Count us in.
5. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Clint Eastwood is the man – two of Eastwood’s best efforts ever (okay, they’re all great) is Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, back to back storytelling of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers tells of the seven US Marines who raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima and what happened after the event was captured in that very famous photo. “Letters” is a companion to “Flags,” telling the tale from a Japanese soldier perspective.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
No best of WWII movie list would be complete without Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, a slightly more sentimental entry on the list, but a winner nonetheless. Private Ryan’s opening scene of the American soldiers landing at Omaha Beach is by far one of the most memorable war scenes in recent film history. Saving Private Ryan delves deeper into character study than some of the others listed, with excellent performances by Jeremy Davies, Tom Hanks, Adam Goldberg and the rest of the cast.
3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Let’s face it – Inglourious Basterds totally kicked ass and put Quentin Tarantino on top of his game yet again. A World War II film starring Brad Pitt? You’ve got our attention – now add an amazing script, top-notch acting and a blend of war film and spaghetti western and you’ve got a film masterpiece. We know there are naysayers out there who will hate on Basterds, but we think it’s an instant classic.
2. Schindler’s List (1993)
Spielberg’s masterpiece was nothing short of brilliant, placing it firmly at the top of our best World War II movie list. Schindler’s List is an emotional account of the Holocaust, with a portrayal of war profiteer Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saved many Jews’ lives during the horrific ordeal. The story and terrific acting make this one epic WWII drama.
1. Das Boot (1981)
Is there any other WWII submarine movie that could make our list besides Das Boot? Well, maybe… but Das Boot is the best of the bunch, the holy grail of sub movies. This subtitled psychological drama about a German U-boat sub captures the claustrophobia of submarine existence in a powerful story that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. If you haven’t yet, check out the Director’s Cut of Das Boot – a longer running time, but that extra footage never bores.