What Are Some Great Movies About War?
October 6, 2010 7:34 AM   Subscribe

We're watching Gettysburg, which is a great education in the Civil War for our 15-year-old son. What are other great movies about battles and war?
posted by musofire to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Define "great"? Exciting? Historically accurate? Well filmed? All of the above?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:37 AM on October 6, 2010

Continuing the civil war theme: Glory with Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.
posted by MustardTent at 7:37 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Platoon" is a great movie about the Vietnam War, although it might be too adult for a 15 year old. There is a tremendous difference between the Civil War which has a certain nobility, as the war that successfully brought an end to slavery in America, and the Vietnam War which was both misguided and unsuccessful in its effort to prevent North Vietnam from conquering the south and making Vietnam into a united communist nation (which it remains today, as one of the last communist nations on Earth following the fall of the USSR).

There are a huge number of good movies (and not so good movies) about WW II, which comes close to being an obsessive topic of American film. I'll let someone else suggest one.
posted by grizzled at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2010

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a pretty good take on ship-to-ship Napoleonic-era naval combat.

Ran has some awesome, albeit fictional, battle scenes set in feudal Japan (though that one's probably going to be over the head of a lot of teenagers).

Saving Private Ryan is almost the canonical take on D-Day and Western Front WWII combat.

I could keep going all morning, but I'm sure there will be a lot of good suggestions here.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on October 6, 2010

Oh yes, "Kelly's Heroes" is a delightful and unconventional look at WW II.
posted by grizzled at 7:41 AM on October 6, 2010

Das Boot pretty much defines the WWII U-boat movie for me.
posted by jquinby at 7:42 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

The following left an impression on me as a young man: Gallipoli, All Quiet On The Western Front, The Great Escape, and The Longest Day.

More recently, there was Saving Private Ryan.
posted by knile at 7:42 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's at a good age for Blackadder Goes Forth.
posted by permafrost at 7:42 AM on October 6, 2010

The Thin Red Line
Saving Private Ryan
All Quiet on the Western Front
Full Metal Jacket
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 AM on October 6, 2010

Oh, the Guns of Navarone.
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 AM on October 6, 2010

Gods and Generals is fantastic, and is the prequel for Gettysburg. Many people don't like it, but I thought it was great.

Also, the movies might lead to him reading the books by Jeff and Michael Shaara.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:45 AM on October 6, 2010

Where Eagles Dare. Great in it's large-scale cheesiness. Also The Dirty Dozen
posted by jquinby at 7:46 AM on October 6, 2010

Battle of Algiers for the nitty-gritty details of what occupation and insurgency look like.
posted by proj at 7:47 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paths of Glory
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:47 AM on October 6, 2010

The Great Escape
posted by dfriedman at 7:51 AM on October 6, 2010

Band of Brothers
posted by kookaburra at 7:52 AM on October 6, 2010

On the WWII front, don't forget Band of Brothers and The Pacific. They're miniseries, not movies, but they are a fantastic look at WWII in more depth than a single movie.
posted by alaijmw at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2010

Not movies, but miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific are two very well done, mostly accurate accounts of two very different fronts in WWII.

The first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan should be required viewing for every kid that age. The rest of the film is typical Spielberg crapola but it does have some powerful scenes in it.

Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima show two sides of the same battle. Flags Of Our Fathers also shows a lot about how propaganda worked on the home front.

A Bridge Too Far is an older, but really good movie about a major operation (Market/Garden) in WWII and has a great cast.
posted by bondcliff at 7:55 AM on October 6, 2010

Ken Burns' The Civil War was an amazing miniseries on PBS. I watched it more times than I can count when I was younger.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:55 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Thin Red Line.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:57 AM on October 6, 2010

Band of Brothers is hands down the best miniseries I've seen, ever. Only SPR comes close in greatness if the question is strictly movies, in my opinion.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:58 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by catastropher at 8:05 AM on October 6, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, such great suggestions, thanks! Yes, we loved Band of Brothers.

Exciting? Historically accurate? Well filmed? All of the above?

Yes, with an emphasis on raising interesting questions of history. The movies don't have to be dead on historically accurate (no movie is), but they should give a sense of why people were fighting the war and why things turned out the way they did.
posted by musofire at 8:08 AM on October 6, 2010

Der Untergang (Downfall). Might be a bit heavy depending on your son's maturity level.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:10 AM on October 6, 2010

For something totally different, how about 1776? Not many battle scenes per se, but it's about the revolution. And it's a musical!

Appropriate for children, with the exception of the "whoring" that the founding fathers were in favor of. Not that 15 is a child...
posted by CathyG at 8:11 AM on October 6, 2010

The HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers is simply not to be missed.
posted by kayzie at 8:11 AM on October 6, 2010

How can it be that no one has mentioned The Bridge on the River Kwai yet?
posted by SLC Mom at 8:15 AM on October 6, 2010

Far from a documentary, Empire of the Sun is a memoir of JG Ballard's childhood in Japanese-occupied China during WWII. I found it compelling at his age, and made me think about war's effects on civilian non-combatants.
posted by workerant at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Apocalypse Now
A somewhat postmodern take on the senselessness and chaos of wartime. It's a recommended film regardless of whether you want war movies or not, and pretty intense in most parts. Recommended to get a sense of why the Vietnam War got such a bad rap.

More style than substance, but I like it because it gives you a sense of wartime storytellers weaved their stories - our soldiers were brave and impeccable, theirs were ugly monsters. Don't expect anything deeper though.

Enemy at the Gates
Saw it ages ago, so I can't comment on the quality now, but it's a story about a Russian sniper starting at the Battle of Stalingrad and how as he becomes famous for his skill, he develops a lethal rivalry with a German sniper.

Grave of the Fireflies
Few films do a better job of depicting civilian life in a war. The story focuses on two kids as they try desperately to survive in a Japan where American air bombings threaten survival at every moment. Very, very hearbreaking, but it doesn't have any "action", so it's not *exactly* a war film.

The Hurt Locker
Something of a character study, but it's shot with all the precision of a documentary, so much so that it's often hard to imagine that what you're watching is pure fiction created by a director. It's very intense in its depiction of the incredible psychological stress that has to be taken by bomb defusal squads - doubly so for the ones serving in hostile, unpredictable territory. It didn't win all those oscars for nothing.

The Pianist
Again, caught this one only halfway, and it's a survival story about a small-time Jewish pianist as he tries to survive just one more day in Nazi Germany on the verge of destruction. So no battles here, but it's one of Brody's better performances and depicts the life of Jews during the Holocaust.

Waltz With Bashir
An Israeli pseudo-documentary where the director suffered from a lost memory about his involvement in the war in Lebanon. He interviews many of his former comrades and tries to piece together the war again, trying desperately to find out what it was that caused him to lose that memory. I think it's all real, and it has a few battle sequences. Definitely what you're looking for, assuming animation is no bar.

Where Eagles Dare
A classic, this one is like a Western - an Allied special forces team is inserted deep into Nazi territory to infiltrate a castle... where eagles dare. No big battles or war landscapes here, but it's riveting action and even a few good plot twists.
posted by Senza Volto at 8:26 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Enemy at the Gates.

633 Squadron
12 O'Clock High

If he starts feeling a bit too gung-ho about it, Grave of the Fireflies. Lots of war, not much battle. Have kleenex handy, keep sharp objects distant.

Alternately: If you have cable, the British series The World at War from the early 70s cannot be beat, and is compelling watching.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:35 AM on October 6, 2010

For something rather different try Henry V. Muddy bloody battle, but the method of presentation is quite different.

Alexander is basically an awful film, but the battle scenes are quite interesting from the perspective of someone who'd read the account of the same battles by Arrian - well-realised battles, rest of film terrible. Watch the battles!

Another one to approach would be war films made during WW2, that present an 'official' version of war - two that are good are We Dive At Dawn and In Which We Serve. On the same theme you could have a look at the Olivier Henry V, a very different beast from the Branagh one because it was intended as a rally to arms.

My politically incorrect choice would be The Dambusters (it's triumphal in a way that makes some people uncomfortable now). It takes a mission from inception to end which I think makes it both informative and satisfying as a film.

I'd disagree strongly with Senza Volto's recommendation of 300, as that wasn't how ancient storytellers told the stories of war - it was far more common to portray you enemy as a worthy opponent, because it refelects better on you as a warrior if you kill a worthy opponent. The portrayal of the Persians at the time is nothing like that in 300 - yes they made redware pots that portray the attempted rape of a Persian by a couple of Athenians, it's not like they liked them, but it's nothing like Miller's bizzare version.

Oh, and seconding Das Boot most strongly. It's the only serious war film I try and regularly re-watch.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:52 AM on October 6, 2010

A Battle of Wits is a great view of advanced tactics in warring states China.
Red Cliff is a bit over the top, but still one of the better movies also dealing with warring states.
Bang Rajan covers the massive war between Burma and Thailand in which Burma sent over 100,000 troops.
posted by yeloson at 8:57 AM on October 6, 2010

Response by poster: Are there any good movies about the American Revolutionary War? Or earlier European conflicts? (Aside from the Henry V movies.)
posted by musofire at 9:21 AM on October 6, 2010

I'm hesitant to recommend anything featuring Mel Gibson, but Braveheart covers some of the Wars of Scottish Independence (13th century.)
posted by workerant at 9:35 AM on October 6, 2010

The Sharpe's Films are also an awesome look at 1800's warfare.


They do an interesting job of highlighting the issues of people being able to buy their way into command, especially.
posted by yeloson at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by FauxScot at 10:01 AM on October 6, 2010

yeloson: "he Sharpe's Films are also an awesome look at 1800's warfare."

I was going to recommend the Sharpe books, which are where I'm heading directly after I finish the last (NOOOO!) in the Aubrey-Maturin series. I know he dedicated at least one of the books to Sean Bean, so there seems to be some love for the movies from Bernard Cornwell.

As far as Revolutionary War stuff, The Patriot wasn't too bad, though it apparently played fast and loose with history. If it's the era you want to capture, rent the John Adams miniseries from Netflix. Outstanding stuff.
posted by jquinby at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2010

In military history class our prof had us watch a bunch of movies (mostly not great ones). The ones that made a big impact were Black Hawk Down--not so much because it's a good movie, I hated it, but because of the sense it gave of how the lives of the Americans and Somalis were valued--and Go Tell the Spartans, which is a good summary of what the Vietnam War became famous for without veering all over into fantastical territory like Apocalypse Now does.

I haven't seen it but The Hurt Locker got really good reviews.
posted by phoenixy at 10:37 AM on October 6, 2010

1776 is a great revolutionary war movie, but a 15 year old boy will probably fiind it really cheesy.
posted by hermitosis at 10:42 AM on October 6, 2010

Lawrence of Arabia is a classic.
posted by TedW at 10:43 AM on October 6, 2010

I always recommend Carl Foreman's 1963 The Victors, based on the war memoirs of Alexander Baron.
posted by Abiezer at 2:22 PM on October 6, 2010

The Thin Red Line is my pick for greatest war movie of all time.
posted by malaprohibita at 2:29 PM on October 6, 2010

Oh, also Klimov's Come and See for a view of WWII from the Soviet side.
posted by Abiezer at 2:29 PM on October 6, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front
The Battle of Britain
posted by pompomtom at 3:08 PM on October 6, 2010

The Alamo is good. Zulu is exceptional. 9th Company - Soviets. Afghanistan. Chilling.

Black Hawk Down is not bad, but not as good as the documentary - to my mind. (Or was it this documentary? I think the former.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:50 PM on October 6, 2010

Surprised that these haven't been mentioned yet: The Big Red One is very good, Catch-22 and (to a much lesser extent) What Did You Do In The War, Daddy give a darkly comic view of WW II; another comedy that is not for everyone but is notable for its second-billed star is How I Won the War.
posted by TedW at 7:59 PM on October 6, 2010

Tae Guk Ki: Korean War


Red Cliff I, Red Cliff II: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
posted by Upal at 4:42 PM on October 7, 2010

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