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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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?

The Lighthorsemen (1987) or One of the Rare Movies on Cavalry Combat

I would say this is one of the lesser known war movies but that says nothing about its quality.

I already mentioned this movie for its portrayal of a soldier who is unable to shoot.

Lighthorsemen is wonderful for many reasons. It tells the true  story of the Australian Cavalry´s participation in WWI in Palestine. British and Australian troops had to confront the German and Turkish forces. The Light Horse had already fought in many battles, among them at Gallipoli. The movie´s realism is convincing. The character portraits are nicely drawn. One soldier is more likable than the other and we slowly get to know each one  in the regiment, and follow them from the early beginning to the battle scenes. This is one of those movies in which you really care about the protagonists. There is even a love story between Dave, the soldier who can´t shoot, and a nurse but it is discreetly kept in the background.

The essential story line of Lighthorsemen follows the 4th Light Horse Brigade in Palestine in 1917 until the battle of  Beersheba where they  achieve what 60000 infantry men could not do. They  break through the entrenched infantry and free the city. This is not an easy endeavor. The heat is scorching, water is scarce and it is a massive strain on the horses.

The battle scenes, especially the final charge,  are really exciting.  We see  the whole regiment  fly along under the line of fire. A fabulous scene.

I am not sure it is a 5 star movie, but it certainly is a solid 4.5.

And, maybe surprising for a war movie involving combat, it has a certain lighthearted quality and cheerfulness stemming from  the fact that those nice lads manage to achieve the impossible.

Was I a bit cryptic? Hope so. Just want to lure you into watching this fine film.