Notes Concerning This Playlist:
Here compiled for, your pleasure, is a list of films which are World War II related or adjacent presented in (mostly) chronological order. Some films span many years but principle events take place in one year that necessitates that film’s placement within that primary year. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list but it does serve as a good start for your World War II viewing pleasure. I will included a ranking 1-5 with 1 being “totally skippable” and 5 being “Must See”. Each of these are good movies and so even a two or one is not low in this list. The rankings are merely to assist in helping you decide which films to stretch your budget for.
There are some films on this list whose historic accuracy is utterly lacking but that is not the purpose of this list. The purpose is to find those films which best capture the appreciation we should all have for The Greatest Generation. Some films whose backdrop is in the time period but whose plot does not revolve around it were excluded (I.e. Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade) but this is not a critique on their quality.
The Sound of Music
Allow me to qualify my reason for ranking The Sound of Music so low. The Sound of Music is utterly unmissable as a lover of cinema or musicals. As a film adjacent to World War II, however, it is inessential to understanding the events surrounding that war. Please watch it, but I can not recommend it as necessary to this particular playlist.
The Zookeeper’s Wife
I cannot stress how wonderful this film is. Gary Oldman is batting a thousand in this performance as Winston Churchill. The film captures the essence of the English spirit early on in the war. Do.Not.Skip.This.
Dunkirk would not be ranked as high without Darkest Hour preceding it but these two films back-to-back are a one-two punch. If you watched Darkest Hour you owe it to yourself to follow it up with Dunkirk. Still, Dunkirk is a powerful film on its own and t deserves your viewing for that alone.
Why don’t we have a better version of this event on film yet?
Like The Sound of Music, Casablanca is not essential to experiencing World War II specifically on film, but this romance only plays out due to the interference of the war. It’s not a musical, so if that offends your sensibilities you won’t get any of that. However, if you think yourself even slightly a movie fan, see this movie.
Thin Red Line
Enemy At The Gates
The Great Escape
Saving Private Ryan
I would be remiss if I did not recommend this absolutely seminal work of cinematic art. The horror of war is played alongside the sheer honor and valor of young men in this masterpiece of war cinema. Don’t skip.
A Bridge Too Far
I’ve made the case for a couple of films on this list which are not as involved with the war as they could be, but this is the crown jewel of those in that category. Watch what is, in my opinion, Spielberg’s magnum opus (an article for another day) and see what the Allies were up against and what was at stake. Humanity is on display here.
Letters from Iow Jima
Flags of Our Fathers
War can cause us to sacrifice our principles and humanity, in fact it usually requires it of us. Hacksaw Ridge is based on a remarkable true story which flies in the face of that. A pacifist with a sense of duty goes to war. It is fitting that this list ends on a film so firmly rooted in humanity and precisely what makes us call these people the Greatest Generation.