the 50 greatest world war ii movies

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As Quentin Tarantino's outrageous men-on-a-mission epic 'Inglourious Basterds' hits our screens, we at Time Out (with the assistance of Tarantino himself) thought it would be a fine time to revisit that most cinematic of conflicts. Some of our choices are stone-cold action classics, others are arthouse masterpieces, but all are worthy of celebration. Sign up today!

Click here for 40 through to 31...

50. Escape to Victory (1981)

Directed by John Huston A prison camp kickabout becomes an escape opportunity for Stallone, Caine, Pele and Moore.
It should be cinematic gold – football and war! Like those birthday cards in the For Boys section that picture a racing car jumping over a steam train full of cowboys, ‘Victory…’ apparently has everything for the sexually immature adolescent male. But this comic-book fantasy, wherein Allied POWs are forced to play a lose-lose football match against their captors, turns out to be something more subversive. By highlighting the charmless grandstanding of Sly Stallone over the silky skills of Pele and Bobby Moore, the film emphasises the common footballing culture of the assorted Krauts, Tommies and Frogs and becomes a rallying call to greater European integration. Paul FaircloughClick here for a clip from the filmClick here to read the original Time Out review

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49. The Keep (1983)

Directed by Michael MannGerman soldiers wake an ageless evil in a crumbling Carpathian castle.
The joker in the WWII movie pack, at least until ‘Inglourious Basterds’ hove into view, was this utterly bizarre cod-spiritualist dark castle chiller from a pre-‘Miami Vice’ Michael Mann. The mist-shrouded opening sequences, as Jurgen Prochnow’s dead-meat Nazi platoon occupy the titular fortress, rumoured to be stalked by evil spirits, are breathtaking, Mann’s superb eye for visual detail fusing with some spectacular design work to create a real atmosphere of impending dread. But it all begins to fall apart with the introduction of Scott Glenn’s Jewish translator (it doesn’t help that he’s saddled with the name Glaeken Trismegestus), who has some mysterious connection to the old castle. The film was drastically cut and limped out to a disinterested public, but it’s unashamed weirdness and wondrous sets have helped to build a pretty solid fanbase since. Director’s cut, please! Tom HuddlestonWatch the opening scenes

Read the original Time Out review

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48. Stalingrad (1993)

Directed by Joseph VilsmajerRussia V Germany – the battle of the titans.
There are few war stories more grim, empty and defeated than Joseph Vilsmajer’s epic depiction of the backbreaking battle between the German and Russian forces at Stalingrad. While the similarly-themed ‘Enemy at the Gates’ tried to turn the Russian story into a heroic tale of young studs at war, Vilsmajer’s film, focusing on the German side, treats the conflict with wide-open eyes, taking in every horrific, inhuman detail, every gunshot, every death by starvation, every body buried in the rubble. And so, while the film may stand as one of the most realistic depictions of WWII, it’s far from pleasant viewing. THWatch the trailer

Read the original Time Out review

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47. The Last Metro (1980)

Directed by Francois TruffautAll aboard for ‘Nazi-occupied Sesame Street’!Francois Truffaut’s cinematic swansong feels like a dense and hearty fruitcake compared to the light and fluffy soufflé that was his is first, ‘Les 400 Coups’, even though both were based on personal experiences. This handsome and nostalgic, if somewhat conventional ‘adult’ ensemble drama set almost exclusively in a Parisian theatre in the ’40s takes on ideas of heroism, fidelity, the interplay between art and censorship and the creative minutiae of putting on a play. Catherine Deneuve stars as an actress who is also the wife of a famed German-Jewish theatre director and the film documents her toil to conceal her husband from both the Nazis and braying anti-semitic drama critic, Jean-Louis Richard, while taking strange directions from the basement in which he is hiding. Though the film has its admirers – it cleaned up at the 1981 Ceasar Awards – one of the key criticisms it still faces (and one that Truffaut was fully aware of at the time of its making) is that the occupation of Paris is dealt with in only the most fleeting and superficial of ways. David Jenkins

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Quentin Tarantino says:

‘I don’t like Truffaut’s “The Last Metro”. It seems very phoney, like it’s made on Nazi-occupied Sesame Street. The story is all about the director of a theatre group hiding from the Nazis inside the theatre and ghost-directing his wife, Catherine Deneuve, and the leading man, Gerard Depardieu, from his hideout. And I watched it and thought: This is a great premise for a comedy, but it really doesn’t work as drama.’Watch the trailer
Read the original Time Out review

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46. Triumph of the Will (1935)

Directed by Leni ReifenstahlThe birth of the 1,000-year Reich, according to arch-propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.Perhaps the cinematic Rosetta Stone that unlocks much of the sentiment (mostly hatred and anger) on the remainder of this list, Reifenstahl’s ‘Triumph… ’ is still arguably the most famous propaganda film ever made. A gaudy celebration of Teutonic immovability, it documents the 1934 Nuremburg rally for which Adolf Hitler descends from the clouds like some toothbrush-moustachioed deity to ‘review the columns of his faithful followers’. Reifenstahl employed some of the most innovative cinematographic techniques of the day in order to capture the full glory of a revitalised Germany. From speeches, processions and shots of strapping, semi-clad men washing each other and engaging in a friendly tussle to epic panoramas filled with Aryan poster boys marching in strict formation, it’s a dangerous if dull film that now takes on more of a cautionary (pathetic, even?) tenor. Tellingly, it was exec produced by one A Hitler. DJ Watch the closing scenes of the film

Read Time Out's review

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45. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Directed by Steven SpielbergSteven Spielberg adapts JG Ballard’s memoir of Japanese iniquity.Empire of the Sun’ came smack in the centre of Steven Spielberg’s mid-’80s slump: ‘Temple of Doom’ had been excoriated for excessive violence, and there was still ‘Always’ and ‘Hook’ to come before the director’s ‘Jurassic Park’/‘Schindler’s List’ rebirth. As a result, the film tends to be passed over: weak box-office performance and lack of (then) recognisable stars left the film in a limbo from which it has never really managed to emerge. But there are some incredible moments in ‘Empire of the Sun’. The choice to hire Tom Stoppard to adapt JG Ballard’s autobiographical novel pays dividends with a tight, focused script and some memorable characters, not least John Malkovich’s Machiavellian hipster Basie. Allen Daviau’s sterling cinematography and John Williams’s stirring score add a sense of grandeur (and, at times, glitz), and Spielberg himself was still in his more-light phase, drenching the screen with dazzling searchlights, blazing buildings and, at the climax, Hiroshima itself. TH
Watch the film’s most spectacular scene: ‘P-51, Cadillac of the Skies!’

Read the original Time Out review

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44. The Dam Busters (1954)

Directed by Michael AndersonDum Dum Dum Dum duh duh Dum Dum...
Zoom! Boom! Splash! etc.
The Dam Busters’ represents that particularly British type of cinematic military endeavour – one that isn’t considered to be truly up to snuff unless it has shuffled us in and out of an endless series of stuffy boardrooms, past a chain-smoking array of lab-coated eggheads and through a rigorous testing process before allowing its audience to experience anything approaching excitement. Happily for us, the lengthy development section of the film is lent charm and eloquence by an especially fine turn by the ever-impeccable Michael Redgrave as ‘bouncing bomb’ boffin Barnes Wallis. The actual busting of the dams of the Ruhr Valley is an edge-of-the-seat, seat-of-the-pants affair that wrings a good deal more exhilaration than it has any right to from sequences that deal in hand-drawn tracer-fire and obvious miniatures. Soon to be remade by Commodore Peter Jackson from a script by Wing Commander Stephen Fry. Adam Lee Davies
Watch for the trailer

Read Time Out's review

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43. Days of Glory (2006)

Directed by Rachid BoucharebThe war seen through the eyes of a brotherly band of North African conscripts.Proof positive that there are still hundreds of untold WWII stories still to be filmed, Rachid Bouchareb’s powerful drama shines a light on those North African soldiers drafted in to fight for the Free French after D-Day. The film itself is no masterpiece – it’s entertaining and well-characterised, but a mite predictable – but what remains impressive are the ripples it created: after the film’s release, the French government agreed, for the first time, to begin paying compensation to the remaining widows of North African fighters. Proof that a work of art can have direct political impact. THWatch the trailer

Read the original Time Out review

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42. Hannibal Brooks (1969)

Directed by Michael WinnerOllie Reed packs his trunk and heads for the Alps.Long before he was Britain’s premier insurance salesman, Michael Winner was a reliable directorial journeyman, helming everything from ‘Death Wish’ to ‘Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood’. Winner's contribution to the ’60s-’70s Technicolor WWII boom was this odd, likeable Alpine adventure, in which plucky POW Ollie Reed (back when he was a dish, rather than a drunk) is put in charge of the elephants at Munich zoo and attempts to flee with one to Switzerland when the city is firebombed. Along with some spectacular landscape photography and the cheerful rapport between Reed and his pachyderm pal, most of the film's undoubted charm stems from a peculiar, compelling performance by the underused Michael J Pollard, cheekier than a boatload of monkeys as a renegade American platoon commander raising merry hell behind enemy lines. THWatch the genius original trailer

Read the original Time Out review

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41. Mr Klein (1976)

Directed by Joseph LoseyAlain Delon’s war profiteer finds himself on the sharp end of a Gestapo investigation.Following a great run of bleak British character pieces, American exile Joseph Losey headed to France in the early ’70s and threw himself wholeheartedly into the cause of the Euro-pudding: over-budget, half-baked historical dramas packed with periwigs and powder. But he also found time to make this gripping Paris-set holocaust thriller, which suffers from the same expanded runtime and unfocused plotting as its contemporaries, but benefits from a superb central character and some genuinely suspenseful sequences. Alain Delon plays Klein, a black marketeer profiting from the war by buying up the possessions of wealthy Jews before they are shipped off to the camps. But when Klein himself is mistaken for a Jew thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up, he finds himself on the same side of the fence as his victims, facing deportation and death. For all its failings, Losey’s film creates a compelling portrait of a city in the grip of terror, its populace struggling to maintain any semblance of normality. TH
Watch the original French trailer

Read the original Time Out review

Click here for 40 through to 31...

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Dave Calhoun, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston, Quentin Tarantino



Users say

49 comments
Philip Dunphy
Philip Dunphy

Bit of a contrast between the original and latest reviews of Escape to Victory!

cooperdy4
cooperdy4

Just been through them all and some right crap has made the list but no enemy at the gates and no A bridge too far??? who the hell does these thing cus they need shooting. enemy at the gates is not everyones cup of tea I admit but A bridge too far is an epic film and I cant believe its not on here.

Mack
Mack

Run Silent, Run Deep and From Here to Eternity!

haripal nagi
haripal nagi

the greatest ww2 movie of this planet I think 'war and rememberense' by dan curtis

james Gorringe
james Gorringe

What about Von Ryan's Express? I have just placed on e bay a copy of the book signed by the author David Westheimer.

Bob
Bob

Where is the Great escape?

Debjeet
Debjeet

Pearl harbor is the best war romance film ever made.. cinematography and scipt is just brilliant..

Rizwan siddique
Rizwan siddique

I think " Pianist " the best movie of ww 2 movies all abuot

Nadeem Ahmad
Nadeem Ahmad

pearl harbor is one of the best movie related to world war

George
George

Where hte hell is A Bridge Too Far?

valkyrie
valkyrie

@vicky you mean force 10 from navarone?

Lilbama
Lilbama

Battle Ground is one of the best ever for a older movie, Band of Brothers is the best as well as Saving Private Ryan for a newer made movie. But if you have not seen Battle Ground with Van Johnson and James Whitmore, check it out, it was filmed in 1949 about the Battle of the Bulge.

Chris
Chris

Wheres saving private Ryan that was a great movie

Manos Georgopoulos
Manos Georgopoulos

Hey, where is Sahara with Humphrey Bogard? Are you kidding us? This should DEFINITELY be at the Top 10.

avgust
avgust

I Love history and i want to know about history more and more.

terrence
terrence

my grandad was in the army

pisher
pisher

The Story of GI Joe is, quite simply, the greatest WWII movie of all time. However, Grand Illusion, which may in fact be the better movie, is about WWI.

maryjoy
maryjoy

i love to learned wat history before was..we dnt feel wat people feel suffering bfore..a lot of people sacrefice lives in different intension,beliefs,..people that they only want piece,freedome,by loving of there countries,i salute u guys..god bless u all..love to learned bout world war11.

ARP
ARP

Answer to 'jace gaffney' - is 'Overlord' the film tilte that you are looking for (1975 is fairly recent).

jace gaffney
jace gaffney

my votes are for Renoir's GRAND ILLUSION (1937) and Wellman's STORY OF G.I. JOE (1945). Also, I would like sommeboody to give me the name of a fairly recent, British black and white faux doc on World War II shot excluusively from the point of view of a recent, raw recruit

Richard
Richard

Another trio of good WWII action films in the mid-60s that all dealt with a subject that could have extended or even turned the tide in WWII were "633 Squadron" (1964) The Nazi's are developing a special fuel for rockets. "Operation Crossbow" (1965) Hitler's V1 (doodlebug) and V2 (rocket) plant must be destroyed, and "The Heroes of Telemark" (1965) The Germans' must be defeated in their attempt to build an atom bomb. All three of these films deserve at least an honorable mention which in my small way I've now done.

Richard
Richard

Oh no! Has The Young Lions with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift been passed by?

mammuso
mammuso

it's a cool site, great films.. sharebitz.weebly.com is the best movie discription

jwow
jwow

these aresome movies about ww2 - flyboys, american history x , apt pupil i have watched them on megavideo blinkx remote its great and so are the movies take my edvice!!! ;)

J.L.
J.L.

What? No "KING RAT"? Disturbing.

Fleep
Fleep

The best WW2 movie of all time is Saving Private Ryan

Conscientious Objecktor
Conscientious Objecktor

Michael Hsu said... "Nobody's even ever heard of the other movies mentioned by this article. " Then the list is useful, you abject tool. Also I.B. is crap, I don't care what way you look at it. Das Boot isn't boring unless you have ADHD. I HAVE ADHD and it's still tension-filled for me, because I make myself invest effort in watching it for the payback. Stick with your worthless Hollywood remakes if you like - your loss completely.

Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin

You said it, loupou22 - just what is the damn point of this list? Michael Hsu made the only really intelligent comment here...

Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin

Hey's were'd all my witty repartee with that lime creep Thomson go? Goddamn TO communist censorship!

Richard Todd
Richard Todd

No, and you win the prize for being a cock and not getting the joke.

loupou22
loupou22

What is the point of a list that inlcudes films like 'The Keep', which was badly hacked by the studio, after firing mann, and which is not even available on DVD in that poorly hacked form! How about the 50 greatest war movies that we can actually all purchase and enjoy - idiots

Frank
Frank

Richard Todd, do I detect a note of genuine bitterness in your comment, beyond the usual web-comment fury? Any chance you once applied for a position and were rejected? I can just picture you, waiting eagerly by the phone. Finally giving up, and muttering to yourself, 'I know more about film than those morons anyway. Just look at the length and girth of my DVD collection!'

Richard Todd
Richard Todd

You know, Lee, I don't think the films and reviews on this list are predictable enough. After all, where's Saving Private Ryan. Oh, there it is. Silly me. it was all predictable after all. Even down to Come And See at No.1 - how discriminating TO staffers think they are; and how they trail pitifully behind every DVD collection in the land.

DM
DM

One of my favorite WWII-Movies is "The Way Ahead". I thought it was one of the best War Movies of all time.

David Thomson
David Thomson

As Britain's foremost film bore and gazer up my own anal passage I feel I must take exception with TO's omission of Karl Iguanadon's seminal 1923 silent epic Der Rote Kampfschlager - literally seminal in this instance as leading man Otto von Ramstien ejaculates over the camera lens in the final scene of the Nuremburg rallies.

Dave Tool
Dave Tool

Lee and Richard are fascist snobs - WW2 was a rich man's war fought for the Jew bankers of New York as revealed in last weeks Socialist Worker. But Bin laden fucked them right back. So there! Vote Socialist Labour!

Richard Todd
Richard Todd

Lee, you took the words right out of my mouth. Luv ya, babe.

Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin

Good point, Richard Todd, but I wonder how many of TO's readership even know when WW2 was or who fought in it and why? But, yes, more lists otherwise I might have to form my own opinion.

Richard Todd
Richard Todd

I love lists. They tell me what to think by quantifying things I'm ignorant of. Now I can talk about these films at parties and people will think I'm smart and impressive. Especially girls. More lists, please, TO!

Rex
Rex

There's a great little WWII movie called The Bridge (Die Brucke) which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1960. It won the Golden Globe and a fistful of other awards. A very good forgotten war picture that's worth a look!

Michael Hsu
Michael Hsu

Inglourous Basterds is the only movie that deserves to be on this list. Nobody's even ever heard of the other movies mentioned by this article.

Seanán kerr
Seanán kerr

Ah here, come on, Empire of the Sun is Speilberg's best film, easily top twenty, surprised Boorman's "The Power and the Glory" hasn't made it, or for that matter "From here to eternity"

dayi
dayi

I think the best ww2 movie is 1969´s Osvobozhdenie, just watch it, it won´t need further explanation

Terry Snodsbody
Terry Snodsbody

Love this list. All my faves in there and no stone seemingly unturned.



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