It surprises me that people will give this list a low rating simply because they dislike one film on it. I think the fact that The Thin Red Line often provokes intense feelings, due to a viewer intensely disliking the film or absolutely loving the film shows that the film is, at the very least, noteworthy. Even people who dislike it are motivated to talk about it, though they often seem to want to convince others that their opinion of it is the "real" opinion, that is to say, they try simply to convince others that the film sucks (often without offering any kind of valid criticism). I disliked Inglorious Basterds. I thought it was a horrible film, but that doesn't mean I think the whole list is garbage. Personally, I do think The Thin Red Line is a masterpiece. Other people don't have to like it, but dismissing the whole list because you don't like one film on it seems really silly to me. Again, the intensity of feeling that The Thin Red Line prompts suggests to me that it is an important film. Love it or hate it, many who've seen The Thin Red Line are motivated to say something about it. It's still discussed with passion, almost 15 years after it was released. I have to agree with the one reviewer who doesn't understand all the talk about Saving Private Ryan. There are many, far better war films. Full Metal Jacket. Apocalypse Now. Der Untergang. Paths of Glory.
The 50 greatest World War II movies: part five
In Part Five, we’re travelling from the depths of the Atlantic to the hallowed halls of heaven, from the deserts of Africa to the bunkers of bombed-out Warsaw, and on to the jungles of the South Pacific.
10. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)Directed by Isao TakahataCartoon carnage and animated anguish in this harrowing Ghibli tragedy.Anyone who’s ever dismissed cartoons as being, you know, for kids, may want to seek out this haunting animated drama from Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki’s number-two guy over at Japan’s Studio Ghibli. His film adopts the template formed by Elem Klimov three years earlier in ‘Come and See’ by offering a child’s-eye-perspective of wartime atrocities. But like Miyazaki’s masterly ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ from the same year, it also expounds on the methods used by children to block out the horrors of the world (namely, day dreaming, fantasy, unrealistic optimism). It cannot be overstated how heartbreaking and painful ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is, following a young teenage boy and his toddler sister as they are forced to go it alone in the Japanese wilderness as US bombers lay waste to the cities. Their efforts to stay alive are initially successful, but as food becomes scarce and the willingness of others to share rations becomes more infrequent, the struggle for survival grows more and more futile. Critic Roger Ebert rightly named it the one of the greatest war movies ever made. One thing’s for certain: once seen, it will never be forgotten. DJWatch the subtitled trailer
9. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric PressburgerPowell and Pressburger attempt to explain Anglo-American relations.Impossible as it is to watch some Powell & Pressburger films without wondering if the pair were stuffing their pipes with something more than Old Shag, this skewed, kaleidoscopic take on the redemptive power of love tops all of their work for sheer ambition alone. As the title suggests, Big Themes are up for consideration as David Niven’s bomber pilot misses his rendezvous with death only to fall foul of the heavenly bureaucrats who insist his time is up. This being Niven, the sly old dog spends his final minutes of life chasing a pretty and enthusiastic young filly, in the process dividing heaven over whether their love should be allowed to blossom and he to live. There probably isn’t enough shooting and shouting here for some purists, but if a film that asks why some die and some live, and that rails against the cold indifference of the gods, isn’t a war movie, what is? PF
Watch a clip from the film Read Time Out's review
8. Rome, Open City (1945)Directed by Roberto RosselliniNeo-realism meets street-level resistance drama in Rossellini’s first masterwork.The scars of European conflict and Nazi occupation were still deep and tender in Rome circa ’44, but this unsightly vista of societal desolation chimed with the documentary instincts of Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. The ironically-titled ‘Rome, Open City’ was written by neo-realist figurehead Sergio Amidei along with a then-24-year-old Federico Fellini and drew on the real issues and situations during the years of conflict. It’s split pretty cleanly into two main chapters, the first centring on the wedding of Pina (Anna Magnani, offering one of her most harrowing performances) to Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), a member of a tearaway clique attempting to hide resistance fighter Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) from Nazi patrols. Without giving away the plot, the second part deals with the upshot of this set-up, and demands that we witness the inhumane operational tactics of Nazi command. Suffice to say, the brutality of the occupying regime is presented with a shocking frankness, not only its utter indifference towards class, age, gender and religion, but its total lack of logical purpose. Rossellini allegedly shot the film using leftover celluloid from other movies, which not only lent it a mussy, newsreel aesthetic, but a real sense of urgency and anguish. Three years later, the director chose to tell a similar story but from a German perspective in his document of the trials of life in post-war Berlin, ‘Germany Year Zero’. DJWatch one of the film’s most horrific sequences
Read Time Out's review
7. Cross of Iron (1977)Directed by Sam PeckinpahSam Peckinpah reinvents the frontline action picture with big side portion of hell.Sam Peckinpah’s odyssey on the Russian front manages to have its ration cake and eat it, consistently espousing anti-war philosophy through protagonist Sgt Steiner (James Coburn) while revelling in some of the most beautiful carnage ever committed to film. As shell bursts slice men in slo-mo and trees explode into matchwood, Steiner reveals himself a stoical killer with loyalty only to his squad, and we love him even more because he just can’t help sticking it to the officer class. Not even fatherly James Mason escapes Steiner’s ire, so what hope is there for Maximillian Schell’s fantastically camp poodle of a Prussian officer who is out to gain the Iron Cross and show his war hero Papa that having a manicure in a war zone doesn’t make you any less of a man. If the persistent rumour that Sergio Leone was planning a Stalingrad movie with De Niro makes you weep for what might have been, take some comfort here, where the Iron Crosses grow. PF
Quentin Tarantino says:
‘I’m a big fan of Peckinpah’s “Cross of Iron”. I saw it the day it opened. It was playing in a theatre that I would ride my bike or take a bus to, but for some reason I couldn’t take the bus and my bike was jacked up, so I had to walk, which took three hours. And then I was hit on by the janitor of the theatre. I was terrified. But I still went back and watched the movie. I was a little boy, I didn’t know anything about the Russian front, so I guess it went over my head. I learned to appreciate it later. But one of the interesting things is that it came and went in America but was such a hit in Europe that it inspired rip-offs for years. And one of them is the movie that I took the name “Inglourious Basterds” from. It was an Italian rip-off.’Watch a clip from the film
6. Kanal (1957)Directed by Andrzej WajdaA country loses its innocence in the aftermath of war. Andrzej Wajda mourns.Andrzej Wajda was part of that generation of European filmmakers who experienced the war as children or young adults, whose parents fought and died, whose friends and relations were killed or deported. But, as Tarantino points out in his comment on ‘Hangmen Also Die’ (see entry Number 14), these films are rarely gloomy, or even recriminatory. ‘Kanal’ is, admittedly, a daunting film, detailing the journey of a Polish resistance platoon from one side of Warsaw to the other following the uprising. Forced to take shelter in the sewers, the men are separated and picked off one by one. But it’s more tough than mournful: the film never feels less than absolutely real, eschewing holy-light heroism in favour of stark, truthful storytelling. ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ is even better, depicting one single day in the life of a puckish, rebellious teenager, played by ‘Polish James Dean’ Zbigniew Cybulski, as the Germans prepare to leave town. It’s barely a war film at all – moments of conflict are rare and sudden, though the sense of a people driven under by years of brutality can be felt throughout. This is a film more interested in life than in death, in youth, romance, and freedom: even if, as Wajda knew when making the film, that freedom was to prove short-lived. THWatch the incredible four-minute tracking shot that opens ‘Kanal'
Read Time Out's review (Kanal)
Read Time Out's review (Ashes and Diamonds)
5. Went The Day Well? (1942)Directed by Alberto CavalcantiThose Nazis picked the wrong sleepy village in this surprisingly tough English fantasy.Those of us who grew up with much-missed national treasure Dame Thora Hird’s passive, grandmatronly demeanour sandwiched between every episode of ‘Countdown’ can only watch in amazement as, at the climax of Cavalcanti’s masterful wartime chiller, she gamely starts picking off invading Nazzies with a rusty old hunting rifle. The plot, in which Gerry parachutes into a sleepy English village and sets about clearing the way for a major invasion, may be fantasy, but it’s alarmingly powerful. Released well before the Normandy landings, ‘Went The Day Well?’ was made to remind all those bicycling bobbies, cheeky pub-dwelling chappies and self-satisfied lairds that they, too, may one day have to take on an entire paratroop division armed only with national pride and a malacca walking stick. THWatch a clip from the film Read Time Out's review
4. The Big Red One (1980)Directed by Samuel FullerSam Fuller revisits his own personal battlefield in this masterful travelogue.The original ‘Band of Brothers’, and one of the most detailed, all-encompassing and nourishing WWII flicks of them all. For a long time, the film was chiefly remembered as the movie Mark Hamill made between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Empire’, but thanks to a first-rate twenty-first century recut – restoring 47 lost minutes – the film has taken its place in the pantheon. It’s richly deserved: essentially a memoir of Fuller’s own wartime experiences – and a fitting tribute to the men who served alongside him – the film takes in almost the entire European theatre, from North Africa to Italy, and up into France, Germany and Czechoslovakia. But this is far from a straightforward shoot-em-up travelogue, bringing in bizarre and often cruel humour, marvellous characterisation and one of the oddest war-movie scenes of them all, as our heroes assist with childbirth in the belly of a stranded Nazi tank. All this, and one of the most intensely moving concentration camp scenes in cinema. A masterpiece, no less. TH
Click here for an intro to the 2004 restoration Read Time Out's review
3. Das Boot (1981)Directed by Wolfgang PetersenJurgen Prochnow is running both silent and deep in this U-Boat chiller.Originally made as a five-hour miniseries for German TV, cut to feature length for worldwide consumption and finally expanded again to a 210-minute ‘director’s cut’, Wolfgang Petersen’s breathless, terrifying U-boat drama remains the most unsettling and claustrophobic of all WWII movies. The film is a masterclass in economical, tight-space storytelling, piling the pressure on both characters and audiences until the sprockets squeak. The infamous ‘tiefer… ’ sequence, as captain Jurgen Prochnow pushes the sub to life-threatening depths, is almost unwatchable. THWatch footage of a real Nazi U-boat in action
Read the original Time Out review
2. The Thin Red Line (1998)Directed by Terrence MalickThe grim poetry of conflict in Terrence Malick’s spiritual elegy.Filmmaker. Journalist. Recluse. Inventor of the automatic catflap. By the time of ‘The Thin Red Line’, Terrence Malick had been languishing in self-imposed exile for two decades while his first two films, ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’, grew in both stature and influence. So it was no surprise that on his prodigal return to filmmaking, the Hollywood elite would line up to volunteer. The released cut of Malick’s film, an adaptation of James Jones’s fictionalised memoir of the battle for Guadalcanal, features Sean Penn and John Cusack in major roles, with smaller parts for Nick Nolte, George Clooney, John Travolta and Woody Harrelson. What’s even more astonishing is the list of folks who either hit the cutting-room floor – including Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke – or were considered for parts but, for one reason or another, eventually missed out, including Nicolas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton.
Critics were largely nonplussed on first encountering ‘The Thin Red Line’: while some accepted its fragmented, episodic nature and mystical longeurs as part and parcel of the Malick experience, others found the film indulgent. Admittedly, it has flaws: there are moments when the voiceover becomes simply too poetic, too dreamlike, the entire movie seems about to drift off into some kind of dubious patchouli-induced spiritual trance. But such moments are few and fleeting, and what surrounds them is one of the great cinematic masterworks of the past few decades. The overriding theme in Malick’s work – the central core of every one of his films – is the transition from youth to adulthood, from innocence to experience, from paradise to reality, and ‘The Thin Red Line’ is no exception. Malick paints Guadalcanal as a kind of lost Eden, the two opposing armies as equally invasive, and ultimately insignificant in the face of eternal nature. The soldiers which comprise these armies are viewed as individuals, as questing souls on their own ultimately destructive spiritual journeys, but also as mere facets of the natural world, no more important than the plants, birds and insects which surround them. It's an extraordinary vision of war, and indeed of humanity – godlike but ultimately sympathetic. Malick avoids the icy subjectivity often attributed to Stanley Kubrick and explores not just hearts and minds, but the souls of men in combat. TH
Watch a trailer for the film
Read the original Time Out review
Author: Adam Lee Davies, Dave Calhoun, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston, Quentin Tarantino
Michael, you mention that your uncle was on Guadalcanal. So what? You don't even tell us why you mention that. James Jones, who wrote The Thin Red Line (TTRL), also served on Guadalcanal and I think the film is an excellent adaptation of the book. TTRL is not for everyone. I often hear people say "you either love it or hate it" about almost every film, but reaction to The Thin Red Line is often quite polarized. I have heard from numerous combat veterans from WWII and other conflicts who say they found TTRL very profound. I rarely hear from WWII veterans who despise TTRL but veterans of more recent conflicts sometimes dislike it. So what? The fact they've been in combat doesn't make their opinion any more objective than anyone else's opinion. In many ways, I don't even consider TTRL a "war film" because I see it more as being about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. IMO, Saving Private Ryan was one of the worst war films that I have ever seen (and yes, I saw it well before TTRL) and there are plenty of bad war films. Maybe you could explain why you think TTRL was "shameful?" Maybe, also, the next time you decide you mention your uncle you could explain how your uncle's combat experience shaped your opinion. All you say is that your uncle was on Guadalcanal. So what? Did you forget to say that 'he was on Guadalcanal and thought the movie was bad so I have to agree with him' or are you simply mentioning that he was on Guadalcanal because you think it makes your opinion more valid? As for your implication that war films should respect those who "have given so much for the freedoms we enjoy" I couldn't disagree more. Das Boot is one of the best examples I can think of: it's an excellent war film and it makes no attempt at glorifying it's protagonists or trying to evoking sentimentalism about the 'heroic sacrifices' of those who died. There's nothing wrong with war films that simply show war as an ugly, dirty, unnecessary aspect of humanity or even war films that are comedic or have moments of comedy. Just because a war film doesn't celebrate or show the kind of respect to veterans which you believe they deserve doesn't make them poor films. I think that some of the best films are films that challenge what we believe, not simply those that reinforce our beliefs.
Your list is really crap. The thin red line was shameful...my late uncle received the bronze star on Guadalcanal, and another on Luzon. Other movies deserve to be here, like the Longest Day, To Hell and Back, Go For broke, Patton, Tora Tora,Tora, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. Listing comedies like Kelly's hero's, Inglorious bastards and the like only show your disrespect for those who have given so much for the freedoms we enjoy.
Are you insane, The Thin Red Line a masterpiece!? I would like to know what it is I'm missing that you critics see in this turkey, because next to TTRL Rambo is Shakespearean
I suppose that " the longest day" is the best movie has ever bade on world war 2 coz it only tells a story of war without any judjement. It's awesome and terrific . I've even watch that more and more times. then " Schindler list" is in second place.
I call bullsh*t!! List of best WWII movies and no mention of "Tora Tora Tora" or "The Longest Day". This list has absolute zero credibility....
All this talk about Saving Private Ryan is hilarious. Noone who has ever watched more than a handful of war movies would even consider that crap for a real list. Amazing..
Inglorious Basterds was boring, lifeless, silly garbage. Tarantino's worst movie by far. I love how he says that you can't make the Dirty Dozen anymore, yet with his unlimited resources in Hollywood he casts; Brad Pitt. And Eli Roth? Yeah, those two guys hold their own against people like Charles Bronson. I can think of ten famous actors off the top of my head that could easily fill up a Dirty Dozen-esque movie.
How could a list of 50 WWII films not include "Patton" which I wold argue should be #1. I would also have included "Von Ryan's Express" , "Tora , Tora, Tora", and "The Longest Day".
All this anti-Tarantino talk is horshit. I am a man who watches a wide assortment of films and Quentin is by no means one of my favorite directors, but credit cannot be denied when it is due. Especiallty when it is denied through the use of ludicrous statements lacking any specific examples (and thus credibility).
Perhaps this is just me but I am astonished for all the list and all the debate that John Frankenheimer's The Train is not listed in any ones thoughts. A sombre moody early 60's match between an nihilist Burt Lancaster and art obsessed German officer Paul Schofield. The film affords Lancaster bags of elbow room to slowly turn from nihilist to anger driven French citizen taking a course of undermining Schofield's attempts to ship the finest of French art back to the fatherland. Cinematography, sound engineering, direction and triumphal performances from both Schofield and Lancaster .... yet not worthy of a WWII best 50??
Worst move rankings of all time! Saving private ryan is top 5 without a doubt, empire of the sun is top 10...wheres tora tora tora???? THIN RED LINE number 1????!!!! Clearly a liberal gave these rankings!! hahaha....hopefully nobody actually uses this. Das boot was good by the way...but U571 is another one that should be one here. Did i say this review was terrible yet? LOL
There is no selection of a Tarantino movie on TimeOut's list, so my previous comment was, on that basis, in error. Tarantino's near-encyclopedic enthusiasm for film is unquestionable. In speaking of the movies he admires and loves, and which precede his generation, Tarantino does a welcome service to the general movie-going audience (if they're paying attention). And his "Pulp Fiction" deserves worthy place in cinema and the wider pop culture. What is questionable, though, is why he was asked to be a contributing author to a list of top-50 WWII films. (In servile deference to cynical marketing directives perhaps? I.e., I can think of no wide-release film about WWII, including noted parodies and satirical treatments, that could be more thoroughly distasteful than what was clearly foreseeable about "Inglorious Basterds.") I.e, wouldn't better judgment have prevailed had a more qualified individual and director (e.g., Roman Polanski or Wolfgang Petersen), or a noted veteran or civilian survivor or historian of war, been asked to contribute to such a list instead of, or at least in addition to, Tarantino? Unfortunately, TimeOut's highlight of Tarantino defies appropriateness for its subject: his movies reflect an ongoing lack of maturity and humility* -- absent qualities of which serve well his jejune audience and the popular box office, but hardly honor the character traits that are inseparable from the realities of war. In no serious way has his life been shaped or impacted by war, and it shows. (*Tarantino's one exception being the wonderful, but non-war-themed, "Jackie Brown.")
A fairly good list. However, no small irony that it overlooks outstanding films from Japan such as: Masaki Kobayashi's epic "Human Condition," Kinji Fukasaku's "Under the Flag of the Rising Sun," and the animated "Barefoot Gen" (which should replace the maudlin "Grave of the Fireflies," and be ranked farther down). Other posters have also mentioned Kon Ichikawa's anti-war films "The Burmese Harp" and "Fires on the Plain." An important distinction, though: these two films are not necessarily or effectively critical of imperial Japan, and are thus not as potent or courageous, in a Japanese historical context, as are the three previously noted films. Similarly, that Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" makes TimeOut's list, rather than any of the above-noted films, registers a revisionist ignorance both of history and a more relevant, global cinema. And then there is the U.S.-Japan co-production "Tora! Tora! Tora!", which other posters have also mentioned deserved inclusion on the list. Most commendable about TimeOut's list? Its top selection of Elem Klimov's "Come and See" -- a film inspired by Klimov's wife, director Larisa Shepitko's phenomenal masterwork "The Ascent." My top three selections would be: "The Ascent," "Come and See," and Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot" -- but with all three to share equal #1 status. To assign these three, truly unrivaled masterpieces against each other, in hierarchical order, would be its own form of war insanity. And special kudos for Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," though I think it should be ranked in the top ten. The most glaring travesty of rank on TimeOut's list? Placing "The Thin Red Line" ahead of "Das Boot." Malick's "pretty" pretensions have no business being anywhere on this list. Other dubious selections: titles by Spielberg and Tarantino. Their movies either don't merit being on this list at all, or should be ranked far lower. Other unfortunate omissions: Robert Bresson's "A Man Escaped," Andrei Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood," Gillo Pontecorvo's "Kapo," Vittorio De Sica's "Two Women," Jean-Pierre Melville's "Leon Morin, Pretre," Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17," "Volker Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum," Andrzej Zulawski's "The Third Part of the Night," Roberto Rossellini's "Germany Year Zero," and RenÃ© ClÃ©ment's "Forbidden Games." Someone else mentioned William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives" and Alain Resnais's "Muriel," but, technically, these are post-WWII films, however richly notable. There are always titles that get missed. Indeed, WWI films ("All Quiet on the Western Front," "Gallipoli," and "Paths of Glory," for example), post-WWII-related films, if not numerous solid war features and documentaries, from any era and from all around the globe, have something potent, unique and/or challenging to offer. Nevertheless, I appreciate TimeOut's overall attempt at tonal and stylistic diversity. There's something here for everyone's tastes -- if not plenty more films to grow with.
I get the sense that the author simply has a poor film education. Just off the top of my head: A Guy Named Joe Best Years of Our Lives Mrs. Miniver Marriage of Maria Braun Patton Catch 22 Caine Mutiny Stalag 17 Hope and Glory
Big Red One: 80s poster boys and 60 year old platoon sergeant?- pa-pa-plerlease! Cross Of Iron: trite, comicbook, bombast. And why couldn't Coburn (48 year old platoon sergeant) get a fricking haircut. Tora Tora Tora? Dont make me laaaff. I'll get me helmet
Some good choices (Matter of Life & Death + Kellys Heroes), but where is A Bridge to Far? Also I hope that Escape to Victory was put in a a joke!
All the films listed in the top ten are superb. However I feel the magnificent "Cross Of Iron" should be Number 1. Great, great film.
Excellent choices Larry, I was going to say the same thing but must add Black Rain - the Imamura version of course. Surely one of the best war films I have ever seen.
I think Quentin Tarantino is an over-rated copykat asshole and he knows it. He simply does not have the intelligence and the sensibility to understand Truffaut and his "Last Metro" one of his finest films. Unlike many other directors Truffaut lived the war. He did not learn about the WWII watching videos and munching popcorn. Tarantino should be lecturing on the art of xeroxing great directors.
The first half of T T T is a bit slow, admittedly. But the second half more than makes up for it. In particular, the sequence aboard the Japanese aircraft carriers as the strike force launches in the pre-dawn -- I think this may be the most impressive aviation sequence in any film ever made.
Hi Eugene, The Pacific War was indeed part of the conflict, hence the inclusion of The Thin Red Line, Grave of the Fireflies and Hell in the Pacific. Tora Tora Tora wasn't left out for geographical reasons, but simply because it's, well, a bit boring.
I think that the exclusion of Tora! Tora! Tora! is inexcusable. The Pacific war was part of the Second World War too.
Tom...Ha! Glass houses and all that. Curse my film addled brain for mixing them up! Thanks for responding - I'm just glad to see WTDW on the list, given the numbers of times I watched it and the essays I wrote at Uni. Wonderful film...all the business with the continental number 7's!
Simon, fair cop. It'd been a while since I saw that one, and events blended together. But, for the sake of absolute truth, it is in face Muriel George, playing Mrs Collins, who whacks up the Gerry with the axe.
Good list, but, ahem, I believe it would be Muriel Collins swinging the axe in that amazing scene in Went The Day Well? Thora Hird instead plays a Land Girl, who along with Elizabeth Allan, takes rifle shots at the Nazis at the climax. Bit more research next time, perhaps?
I'm inclined to agree with some of Larry's points (Although I believe A Walk in the Sun is listed)especially over the flawed The Keep. Perhaps Wyler's nigh perfect Best Years of Our Lives is not strictly a WW2 film, perhaps. Nevertheless I'm glad to see Cross of Iron, The Big Red One and especially the monumental The Thin Red Line ranked so highly.
Have you guys lost your mind? No Story of GI Joe, no Best Years of Our Lives, No Objective Burma? No A Walk in the Sun? No Germany Year Zero, No Paisan? Burmese Harp? No Muriel? No Forbidden Games? No What Did You Do in the War Daddy? No Marriage of Maria Braun? No Lilli Marlene? No Mrs. Miniver? No Let There Be LIght? No They Were Expendable? Have you guys lost your minds?
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