World War 2 will forever be a challenging subject for artists to capture in any medium and the bloodiest war in human history deserves to be shown with accuracy and gritty truth. Some of the most accomplished directors in the film industry have taken on this intimidating subject, using their creativity to turn violence into art without letting the audience forget the message in some of the best war movies of all time.
Cinematic journeys through WW2 usually draw the eyes of awards judges and tough critics. Military and history enthusiasts will take nothing short of accuracy, leading to this genre having some of the bloodiest scenes in movie history. Spanning back to 1942, right in the middle of the war itself, these movies are the best in the genre.
10 The Great Escape (1963) – 8.2
Based on the book by Paul Brickhill of the same name, The Great Escape tells the true story of Allied soldiers who have become prisoners of war in a German camp. In an effort to break several hundred POWs out, they must find an elaborate and full-proof way to escape out of occupied Europe.
The Academy Award-nominated movie was directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, 1960) and stars some of the leading men of 1960s cinema, including Steve McQueen (Bullitt), James Garner (Maverick), and Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park).
9 The Cranes Are Flying (1957) – 8.3
The Cranes Are Flying is a Russian film that has been praised worldwide for its realism and hitting home with the emotions people felt everywhere with mandated drafting in WW2. The story centers on Veronika (Tatyana Samolyova), who has a romantic outing with her lover, Boris (Aleksey Batalov). However, the bliss ends shortly afterward because Boris gets drafted.
The film was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and received praise from many international critics. It’s important for fans of the genre to see the point of view from other countries during this period, which makes this 8.3 rating well deserved.
8 Das Boot (1981) – 8.3
Coming from the interesting and perhaps controversial point of view of the German Axis side of WW2, Das Boot tells the story of life inside a German U-boat and its claustrophobic effects.
The film was nominated for an impressive six Academy Awards and is ranked 76 on IMDb’s top 250 movies of all-time list. Esteemed director Wolfgang Petersen of Air Force One, The NeverEnding Story, and The Perfect Storm fame obviously did not disappoint viewers.
7 Come And See (1985) – 8.3
A particularly dark and gritty concept, Come and See tells the story of a young boy who finds a discarded rifle and joins the Soviet resistance. He experiences the horrors of WW2 and the gruesomeness of the opposing German forces.
The Belarusian film was directed by Elem Klimov (Rasputin) and is another praise-worthy example of the effects of the war throughout the world. The cinematography has been noted to contribute to the darkness of the film with the characters confronting the cameras head-on, bringing the audience into the brutality.
6 Inglourious Basterds (2009) – 8.3
Inglourious Basterds was a box office hit with the prolific Quentin Tarantino directing. The film tells the story of Jewish U.S. soldiers with a plan to assassinate top Nazi officials, which coincides with the same mission of a local theater owner. Comedy, drama, and adventure all roll into one incredibly entertaining movie.
Tarantino’s intricate imagery and captivating dialogue absolutely deserve a spot on this list. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and his role as Dr. Schultz is considered by many as Waltz’s best Tarantino role. The A-list cast included Brad Pitt, Eli Roth (Hostel), Michael Fassbender, and Diane Kruger (National Treasure).
5 Grave Of The Fireflies (1988) – 8.5
A unique medium for this subject matter, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated Japanese movie. The film tells the story of a boy and his little sister and their struggles to survive in Japan during WW2 after an American bombing separates them from their parents. The two children must rely upon each other in order to persevere and face the devastation.
Impressively, this movie is ranked #3 in IMDb’s top-rated animated movies of all time. Oscar-nominated director Isao Takahata gives audiences a glimpse of the effects on youths during the turmoil of the Pacific War through a genre typical to children, animation.
4 Casablanca (1942) – 8.5
Casablanca is inarguably one of the most classic movies of all time with its three Academy Award wins and timeless impression on cinema. It’s also unique because the film’s release in 1942 came right in the middle of the war, three years before its end in 1945, which influenced the actors’ connection to the subject by experiencing the war in real-time.
The film centers around an American expatriate café owner in French Morocco, whose former lover and her fugitive husband come for help to flee from the Nazis. Michael Curtiz (White Christmas) directs, with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid starring.
3 The Pianist (2002) – 8.5
The Pianist was a huge hit with its 2002 release and famed but controversial director, Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby). The film tells the true story of a Polish Jewish musician who has to navigate through the Warsaw ghetto after the mass destruction. The beauty of his piano playing in contrast to the brutal violence that surrounds him undoubtedly contributed to the three Oscars it won.
Adrien Brody (King Kong) plays the leading man and took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2003. This cinematic masterpiece definitely falls under Brody’s best roles of his career.
2 Saving Private Ryan (1998) – 8.6
This three-hour-long Steven Spielberg epic will forever be among the classic war films and one of Spielberg’s best movies of his career. Beginning with a gruesome opening scene depicting D-Day, Saving Private Ryan follows a group of U.S. soldiers who are sent on a mission behind enemy lines to find a paratrooper (Matt Damon) whose brothers have all been killed in the war.
The film took home an incredible five Oscars and was nominated for six others. Alongside Damon, the film’s amazing cast includes Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore (Black Hawk Down), Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, and Edward Burns (The Holiday).
1 Schindler’s List (1993) – 8.9
Holding the number one spot is another Steven Spielberg masterpiece with Schindler’s List. The film tells the true story of industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who becomes protective over his Jewish workforce after witnessing the persecutions from the Nazis in German-occupied Poland.
This cinematic marvel took the 1994 Academy Awards by storm winning seven Oscars out of its 12 total nominations. Supporting Neeson’s lead performance were Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter) and Ben Kingsley (Ironman 3). The realism of the WW2 drama did not suffer any Hollywood sugar-coating, which gives it its deserved top spot on the list.
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