When I wrote my post on ANZACS the other day I realized that there are quite a few great war mini-series out there. There are certainly more than 10 but out of all those I’ve seen or heard of, I would say, the 10 that I mention below are the ten you should really not miss. They all cover different wars or different aspects of the same wars. Many of them are better than most movies. My favourites are Band of Brothers, Hornblower, Sharpe and Generation Kill.
Wings (1976) WWI Air Combat. I must admit, I haven’t seen this yet but it has a great reputation among air combat fans and should be a nice companion to the WWII based series Piece of Cake.
Danger UXB (1979) WWII – Bomb disposal unit. I liked this series when I watched it quite a bit. It gives you a good feel for what a bomb disposal unit had to go through during the Blitz. All the different types of bombs. The characters are appealing and we get a good impression of civilian life during the Blitz as well. Here is my review.
Das Boot 1985 – WWII submarine. Das Boot exists in two versions. One is the cinema the other the TV version which was twice as long. I have seen the cinema version which is one of the best war movies there is. Some people prefer the longer TV version. It’s worth checking out.
ANZACS (1985) WWI. Infantry combat. I just reviewed the final episodes of this excellent mini-series that follows the ANZACS from Australia to Gallipoli and from there to the Somme and back home again. Great combat scenes and a nice “band of brothers” feel. It also contrasts British command and Australian insubordination in a funny way. Here is my review.
Piece of Cake (1988) WWII Air Combat. The series follows the men of the Hornet Squadron during the early weeks of WWII. It shows how inexperienced boys become excellent fighter pilots.
Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post.
Hornblower (1998 -2003) – Napoleonic wars. Naval combat. This is another extraordinary tale of one man’s ascent. Ioan Gruffud stars as Horatio Hornblower which might explain why I hear this series mentioned quite often by women. If you like Master & Commander, you will love this. It’s like a very long version with an appealing central character. It is based on the books by C.S. Forester. Here is my post.
Band of Brothers (2001) WWII. Infantry combat. This is one of the most amazing series. Based on the book Band of Brothers it follows the paratroopers of Easy Company from 1941 – 1945, starting in the US until the freeing of the KZ’s. The characters of this tight-knit company are very well depicted and you really care for all of them. Seeing them die or get wounded is harrowing. Some of the episodes, like the one called Bastonge, are so intense, they still overshadow most other WWWII infantry combat scenes I’ve seen before or after.
Generation Kill (2008) Iraq. Special unit. This is a series that is hard to get into, especially when you are used to others. It has a very slow build-up but after two episodes I really appreciated it. It achieves a very authentic depiction of modern warfare and shows how problematic it is to send a generation used to war games into combat. It shows how much is absolutely boring, just standing around and waiting. At the center of the unit is the “Iceman” Sgt Brad Colbert played by Alexander Skrasgard. The Iceman is an amazing character and even more so because he is based on a real person. This guy really always keeps his cool. The series is based on the account of an embedded journalist. Here’s the link to the book. And here is my post on The Iceman.
The Pacific (2010) – WWII. Infantry combat. If you do not compare this series to Band of Brothers, you will like it. It’s less the story a group of people than individual stories. The soldiers are also shown during their leaves and some love stories are incorporated. However the combat scenes are even grittier that those in Band of Brothers. Not pretty at all. My favourite episode is Rain on Cape Gloucester. Here is my Pacific short review.
Russia is another of those countries whose film production rarely disappoints. I haven’t seen all of the below mentioned movies yet but have read a lot about them and have seen parts of them. There are most certainly more but these seem to be the most important ones. They are quite different. Some, like 9th Company, are pure, gritty infantry combat, others like Come and See are more experimental. Mongol and Admiral are quite beautiful. What they all have in common is a feel of authenticity, and a way of showing how atrocious war is that is very unique and emotional. If you haven’t seen any Russian war movies so far, I would suggest you change that as soon as possible.
It is also worth mentioning other movies by Sergei Bondarchuk like War and Peace or Waterloo. They are all excellent but mostly co-productions with international stars that’s why I didn’t include them but chose The Story of a Man instead.
Do you have any favourite Russian war movies and/or recommendations?
I’m amazed about the length of this list and even more so as I know exactly I have certainly forgotten quite a lot. It seems as if the combination of love and war was extremely well liked. Some of the movies I have included are somewhat more on the war side, like Enemy at the Gates, others are much more romantic. I was also surprised to see that I have seen a lot of them. And also liked quite a a few. Some of my favourites are Admiral, The Man Who Cried, Gloomy Sunday, King Arthur, Aimée and Jaguar and The Cranes are Flying. Others like House of Fools sound interesting but I haven’t seen them. What struck me was how often the main theme is about two men falling for the same woman. Amazing. As if war wasn’t complicated enough.
A Farewell to Arms (US 1932) Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Affair between an English nurse and American soldier during World War I.
Dark Journey(UK 1937) Conradt Veidt and Vivien Leigh. Spies of from opposing sides fall in love. Gone with the Wind (US 1939) US Civil War. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel.
A Yank in the RAF (US 1941) Tyrone Power and Betty Grable. Americans serving in the British forces meet and rekindle an old flame.
Casablanca (US 1942) WWII, Morocco. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest classics of cinema history. (See my review)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (US 1943) Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War.
Crash Dive (US 1943) Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews. A submarine lieutenant and his commander fall in love with the same woman.
From Here to Eternity (US 1953) WWII, Pearl Harbor. Love and drama before the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Great actors (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra), great story.
Battle Cry (US 1955) Love and drama among a group of young Marines.
The End of the Affair (UK 1955) Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, John Mills in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel about a novelist who falls in love with a married woman during WWII. There is a later version of the same movie, see below.
A Town Like Alice (UK 1956) Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna starring in a WWII romance set in Asia. A British woman, POW of the Japanese, falls in love with an Australian soldier.
D-Day, The Sixth of June (US 1956). On their way to the Normandy a US and a British officer remember their love for the same woman.
A Farewell to Arms (US 1957) Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel. It tells the story of an affair between an English nurse an American soldier on the Italian front during World War I.
Sayonara (US 1957) Marlon Brando as US air force major who falls in love with a Japanese performer. Based on a novel by James Michener
Yanks (US 1979) WWII. British woman falls in love with an American soldier while her husband is at war. Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave and others.
Hanover Street (UK 1979) Margaret is a nurse in England during WWII and married to a secret agent. Things get complicated when she falls for David, an American pilot. Starring Harrison Ford, Christopher Plummer and Lesley-Ann Down.
We’ll Meet Again (UK 1982 TV mini-series) WWII, Britain. American bomber pilots in the UK.
Winds of War (US 1983, TV mini-series) Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw. WWII, America, until the attack of Pearl Harbor.
A Year of the Quiet Sun (Poland/Germany/US 1984) A US soldier in Europe falls in love with a Polish refugee after the war.
The Last of the Mohicans (US 1992) Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in an epic of the war between British and French colonialists and Indians.
1942: A Love Story (India 1993) Bollywood drama starring Anil Kapoor. A young Indian couple, both from wealthy backgrounds, find themselves caught up in the 1940’s Indian revolutionary movement against their families who are under the thumb of a sadistic British general.
Braveheart (US 1995) 13th Century Scotland. The fight against the British rule. Some love this epic, some hate it, still it’s impressive for many reasons. Starring Mel Gibson and Sophie Marceau.
The English Patient (US/UK 1996) WWII, North Africa and Italy. Two interwoven love stories. The first is the tragic story of a married woman falling for a Hungarian count. The second tells the love between a nurse and a soldier from a bomb disposal unit. With Kirstin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Willem Dafoe. (See my review)
In Love and War (US 1996) WWI, Italy. the story of the love between Ernest Hemingway and the nurse Agnes von Kurowsky starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock.
Aimée and Jaguar (Germany 1999) WWII, Germany. Holocaust. Two women fall in love in Berlin during the war. One of them is Jewish and in the Resistance.
The End of the Affair (UK/US 1999) Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel. A novelist falls in love with a married woman during WWII in London. She leaves him without an explanation. Two years later he has her followed to try to find out why she left him.
Gloomy Sunday (Germany/Hungary 1999) Set in WWII Budapest. Starring Joachim Król and Ben Becker. This is such a beautiful movie. Another love triangle. A young woman loves a Jewish restaurant owner. One day he hires a young pianist. She falls in love with the young man but still loves the older one. They save the life of a German man who also falls in love with the woman. When WWII breaks out the German comes back. He has turned into a Nazi officer who loves to abuse his power. Gloomy Sunday tells also the story of the famous Hungarian song Gloomy Sunday that is said to have caused more suicides than any other song ever.
The Man Who Cried (UK/France 2000) Starring Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Christina Ricci. A Russian Jew falls in love with a gypsy during WWII in Paris. She befriends another Russian who helps her find work in a theater. For lovers of sumptuous movies and opera.
Dark Blue World (Czech Republic/UK/Germany/Denmark/Italy 2001) Czeck fighter pilots in England in WWII. Two pilots, a very young one and an older one fall in love with the same woman.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ( UK/US/France 2001) WWII, Italian troops in occupied Greece. Based on Luis de Bernières eponymous novel, starring Penélope Cruz and Nicolas Cage. An Italian commander falls in love with a Greek girl whose fiancée is fighting in the war as well.
Enigma (UK/US/Germany/Netherlands 2001) Dougray Scott, Kate Winslett and Jeremy Northam starring in this WWII drama about a young heartbroken man trying to break the Enigma code.
Pearl Harbor (US 2001) Real blockbuster cinema. WWII. Pearl Harbor. Two young bomber pilots are in love with the same young woman, a nurse. Slick, good-looking movie with equally good-looking actors (Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck).
Enemy at the Gates (US/UK/Germany/Ireland 2001) Showdown of two snipers in Stalingrad. The Russian sniper is a local war hero and in love with a Jewish woman who is in the resistance. Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris in a beautifully shot war drama. (See my review)
House of Fools (Russia/France 2002) A war movie that is no war movie. Set in a mental institution during the Chechen war.
Charlotte Gray (UK/Australia/Germany 2002) Cate Blanchett in a movie based on Sebastian Faulk’s novel. She plays a Scottish nurse who joins the French Resistance looking for her boyfriend, a RAF pilot who got lost in France.
Yossi and Jagger (Israel 2002) Love between two Israeli soldiers stationed on the Lebanese border.
Resistance (US/Netherlands 2003) Starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond. WWII, occupied Belgium. A reconnaissance plane crashes. The pilot, Ted, is brought to Claire and Henry Daussois who are in the Maquis Resistance. Ted and Claire fall in love.
Cold Mountain (US 2003), Renée Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in a story of the American Civil War.
Head in the Clouds (UK/Canada 2004) Starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend,Thomas Kretschmann. A romantic drama set in 1930’s England, Paris, and Spain. Three people share an apartment in Paris, one lives a hedonistic life, the others want to join the fight against fascism.
Island at War (UK 2004, TV mini-series) WWII. The channel islands during German occupation. After the island is invaded by German forces, life changes drastically. The series focuses on three families.
A Very Long Engagement (France/US 2004) Audrey Tautou in a movie about a woman whose husband doesn’t return from the battlefields of WWI and sets out to look for him.
King Arthur (US/UK/Ireland 2004) An epic adventure of war and romance starring Clive Owen, Keira Knigthley, Mads Mikkelsen, Ray Winstone and Ioan Gruffud. The re-telling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights.
The Christmas Card (US 2006, TV) A US soldier visits a town from where a Christmas card has been sent to him during his tour in Afghanistan.
The Poet (Canada 2007) A Rabbi’s daughter and a German soldier fall in love in Poland in WWII. Starring Nina Dobrev and Daryl Hannah. (See my review)
Closing the Ring (UK/Canada/US 2007) Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine and Mischa Barton in a love story that plays then – during WWII – and now. A woman between two men. One is a pilot and gets lost after crash landing in Ireland during WWII. In today’s Ireland a young man finds the wedding ring and brings it to the woman living in the US. Set in Ireland and the US.
Admiral (Russia 2008) Russian revolution. A real heartbreaker. The true story of Admiral Kolchak and his lover. (Here is my review)
Dear John (US 2010) Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in a weepy romance about a young Marine who falls in love prior to 9/11. When he leaves for Iraq their love is tested.
What about you, have you seen many of these movies? Did you like them? Have I forgotten one you would like to recommend?
Those of you who know this blog, are aware of the fact that I try to do as many lists of war movies as possible. Some by conflict, some by country. This is a dynamic process and thanks to some readers I’m constantly updating them.
Since updating the lists is quite time-consuming I can’t always do it immediately but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those who contribute regularly and to mention especially the List on Australian war movies which has undergone a lot of changes since I first posted it. I recently got a few new suggestions and will have to update it, but it’s already worth looking at.
While I was compiling this list I realized that I have seen more war movies set in Roman times than movies set in Ancient Greece. Maybe it isn’t surprising as there has not been a proper “Ancient Greece Wave” yet. Most of the movies I found depict the story of Helen of Troy. Surprising. The most famous one is certainly Troy, closely followed by 300. I don’t mind them but they are not among my favourites either. In any case I prefer 300, I must say it is quite special and I included it on my List of 15 Most Original War Movies. My problem with Troy is the fact that I don’t like some of the actors (Who? Guess!).
Helen of Troy (US 1956) directed by Robert Wise, starring Rossana Podesta, Jacques Sernas, Cedric Hardwicke
Esther and the King (IT/US 1960) directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Joan Collins, Richard Egan, Denis O’Dea
The 300 Spartans (US 1960) directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson. Persian wars.