15 WWI Movies You Should Watch

It’s an interesting thing that while there is a huge amount of American movies on WWII, the really outstanding WWI movies mostly come from other countries. It’s no coincidence but I’m not going to elaborate on the reasons, it may suffice to say, that the leading film making countries for WWI are Australia, France and the UK. There are many movies but those below are the ones I consider to be must-sees if you want to delve into the topic. I have reviewed all of the below mentioned movies with one exception. You can find the links at the end of each entry.

While I usually arrange these lists chronologically I did split them into countries of origin in this case.

Australia

Gallipoli (1981). One of the classic WWI movies. A Peter Weir film starring the young Mel Gibbson. The focus is on two friends who enlist more in a spirit of adventure than patriotism. They will take part in one of WWI’s most futile battles, at Gallipoli, in Turkey. The end of the movie is harrowing and gives a good impression of the absurdity of the war.

The Lighthorsemen (1987) This is one of the very rare cavalry combat movies. It has a nice “band of brothers” feel. Highly watchable. The Lighthorsemen were fighting in Africa and their achievement is legendary. Something the Australians are still proud of. Review

Beneath Hill 60 (2010).  Another movie which shows an outstanding and truly amazing Australian victory. The movie is set in the trenches and beneath them and shows how much the miners contributed to the war. Review

France

La Grande Illusion – Grand Illusion (1937) This is a classic. One of Jean Renoir’s great movies starring the unforgettable Jean Gabin. It has a very surreal touch which should emphasize the absurdity of war. It’s a prisoner of war movie. Review

La vie et rien d’autre – Life and Nothing But (1989). Beautiful movie focussing on the time after the war. So many men were lost on the battle fields, so many dead soldiers not identified. One woman is looking for her husband in this bleak but beautiful Tavernier movie. Review

La Chambre des officiers – The Officer’s Ward (2001). WWI is notorious for the facial wounds. No other war has scarred men like this one (due to the specific explosives). This is a movie which focuses on these wounds. Of all the war movies I have seen (many), this was one of the best but also one of the hardest to watch. I had nightmares. Review

UK

The Blue Max (1966). An air combat movie with a German POV. Themes are class and the arrogance and sporting mind of the combat pilots. Most pilots in WWI were aristocrats, not so Lt Stachel. Review

Aces High (1976). An air combat movie, not one of the best but not bad either. Less character driven than the last one. Review

Regeneration – Behind the Lines (1997). Based on Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy it looks into shell shock, the war experience of some famous poets and the birth of a medical discipline, namely psychiatry. Review

All the King’s Men (1999). The movie tells the story of a company who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. As if they had been swallowed. It illustrates how badly prepared some of the troops were, especially at the beginning of the war. The English had a hard time in some terrain, notably Africa. The story begins like a ghost story but you will find out what happened to the company. It’s all too real. Review

My Boy Jack (2007). The movie tells the true story of Rudyard Kipling’s son Jack. The story is exemplary. Misguided patriotism makes Kipling push his only son who is very illfitted and as visually impiared as a mole to join. At first I had a problem with Daniel Radcliffe as Jack but other than that this is an excellent and very emotional movie. And so heartbreaking. Tissues might be needed. Review

US

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). One of the first war movies ever. Quite ground breaking. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s eponymous novel. It has one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a war movie. Review

Paths of Glory (1957). Kubricks’ classic look at the short comings of French high command and the horror of trench warfare. Review

Germany/France/UK

Joyeux Noël – Merry Christmas (2005). This is one of my personal favourites for more than one reason. It shows an incredible true story, the story of the little peace during the great war. During the first Christmas the troops stopped fighting and got together to play football in no mans’ land. The actors are all great and chosen from their respective countries. Review

The Red Baron (2008). This is one of those guilty pleasure movies. It was criticized in Germany because it didn’t emphasize the “hunting and sport” spirit that drove the aristocratic pilots like von Richthofen, called the Red Baron, to join up. He is shown like a hero. The negative side is not touched. Funny enough this is only true for the German version, the English got it better. Review

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The War Movies of Mel Gibson: A List

There are several actors who have returned more than once to the war movie genre, Mel Gibson is one of them.

While I didn’t always like his characters or had a problem to forget the obnoxious man behind them, some of them are very good. Watching them all you can go chronologically through almost every major war. That’s why I didn’t order them according to the year they were filmed in but according to the year they were set in.

Two of my favourite war movies star Mel Gibson, one is the WWI movie Gallipoli, the other one the Vietnam movie We Were Soldiers. The latter, as good as it is, is also a problematic movie but I will look into that in a future post. I haven’t seen all of those mentioned below and am afraid that some, like Attack Force Z, aren’t exactly memorable. I tried to give them a star rating which is, of course, purely personal.

Braveheart (1995) 13th century Scotland. Inspired by the true story of William Wallace a Scottish rebel. 4*****

The Patriot (2000) American Revolution. An epic drama. A farmer leads the Colonial Militia after his son has been murdered by a British officer. 3.5***

Gallipoli (1981) WWI. Story of two Australian friends who volunteer and fight in the trenches of Gallipoli. 5*****

Attack Force Z (1982) WWII. Secret mission against the Japanese. Not seen probably 2**

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) Indonesia. Story of a reporter and a photographer. Not seen. Probably 3***

Air America (1990) Laos during the Vietnam war. A pilot is recruited by a corrupt CIA organization. Not seen. Probably 2**

We Were Soldiers (2002)  Gritty infantry combat and portrayal of home front. A bit glorifying but overall too gruesome to not be called anti-war. 5*****

Which ones have I forgotten? Which are the ones you like? Should The Bounty be included?

My Top 10 Favourite War Movies – Revisited

I re-watched Glory the other day and while I still think it’s a very good movie, I don’t think it deserves to be in my Top 10 nor will it end up in my Top 20. Top 50 certainly. This made me think that it’s about time to revisit my Top 10. I had to replace Glory and I also decided to get rid of Band of Brothers. It is excellent, absolutely deserving of being watched and re-watched but it’s a mini-series and not a movie.

So here is the list which will probably change again, sooner or later.

Black Hawk Down

Stalingrad

Platoon

When Trumpets Fade

The Thin Red Line

Gallipoli

Joyeux Noel

Hamburger Hill

Cross of Iron

The Army of Crime

Two movies were almost included Days of Glory and Das Boot.

I’m in the process of re-watching and while I know that Black Hawk Down, Stalingrad, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and The Thin Red Line will stay on the list, I’m not a 100% sure about the others.

Which movies would have to be on your Top 10?

Australian War Movies: A List

Australia, like so many other countries, has participated in many wars and  it is actually amazing that, even though it hasn’t done all that many war movies, has done some that are considered to be the best of their kind. I am talking about the three movies of the Australian New Wave, Gallipoli, Breaker Morant and The Lighthorsemen. They are very different but all three are outstanding. When just starting this blog I watched and reviewed another, much more recent movie, Kokoda. It is flawed but still a very good movie. I started to wonder if there are any other ones and found a few that I haven’t seen. The latest one on the list is from 2010.

Whoever is familiar with my blog knows that I make lists that I often consider to be a work in progress. It is very possible that this list will change over the months and years.

40’000 Horsemen (1941): WWI

The Rats of Tobruk (1944): WWII; North Africa.

The Odd Angry Shot (1979): Australians in Vietnam.

Breaker Morant (1980): Second Boer War. True story. The court-martial of Breaker Morant. Three officers are accused of a war crime. Outstanding legal drama and a truly tragic story (see my post on Breaker Morant).

ANZACS (1985, TV mini-series): Thanks to Soldier’s Mail I can add this one to my list. WWI, ANZACs are followed from Gallipoli to the battlefields of the Somme, Vimy Ridge etc.

Gallipoli (1981): WWI, ANZACs on the Turkish front. Intense infantry combat. Magnificently displays the senselessness of it all.

The Highest Honor (1982): WWII. True story. British and Australian raid on Japanese occupied Singapore harbour.

Attack Force Z (1982): WWII, Southwest Pacific.

An Indecent Obsession (1985): WWII, Pacific (?)

The Lightorsemen (1987): Australian cavalry. WWI. There aren’t many movies on cavalry combat that are truly outstanding. This is one of them (see my post on The Lighthorsemen).

Blood Oath (1990): WWII, Indonesia. Australian POWs suffers abuse from Japanese captors.

The Last Bullet (1995, TV): WWII, South Pacific

Changi (2001, TV mini-series): WWII, Singapore, Australian POW’s.

My Brother Jack (2001, TV): Outbreak of WWII.

Kokoda (2006): The war in the Pacific. On the Kokoda trail. Pretty gruesome look at an untrained group of volunteers who meet a fierce enemy in the jungle. Focuses on the story of two brothers. Not bad at all (see my post on Kokoda).

Beneath Hill 60 (2010): WWI, Western front. Australian miners fighting in the tunnel systems.

Any important movies that I left out?

All The King´s Men (1999): The Company That Was Said To Have Been Swallowed by a Cloud

Whatever happened to Sandringham company at Gallipoli in 1915?

Were they really swallowed up by a giant cloud? Was there really a mist so dense that they could have disappeared in it? Did angels lead them to more heavenly grounds? Many tales like these are reported from many a battle field. Angels descending, mists forming, whatever not.

This is a true story. The Sandringham company did disappear. One of the versions that is  told in  All The King´s Men of the vanishing of over a hundred men is quite spooky. It has been for a very long time the preferred version and was definitely the one that the king was meant to believe. I really do not want to spoil this movie for you and will therefore not even hint at the true explanation. It should suffice to say that it was far more tragic than miraculous.

Sandringahm was one of the residences the Royal Family liked to stay at in summer. The 150 men that formed the company were headed by the king´s  Estate Manager Capt. Beck. They were servants, grooms and gardeners. The idyllic setting of Sandringham was referred to as paradise. What a stark contrast to the burning hot plains of Turkey.

The moment the company sets foot on Turkish ground it is obvious what an ill-fated campaign this is. The maps are wrong, the terrain is too hard to handle, the enemy has been totally underestimated. With hindsight historians say that Gallipoli was one of the most futile battles of WWI that was full of senseless battles.

WWI cost over 1 million of British and Commonwealth soldier´s lives. Half of them never got a proper grave. Compared to that the disappearance of some 150 men seems little. But to the estate and the little village who lost all their young men in one moment this was a catastrophe.

The BBC has done a good job with this movie. The actors, in particular David Jason and Maggie Smith, are excellent. The first parts achieve to create a very spooky atmosphere that only vanishes when the true reasons are revealed.