my top five favorite war movies

note: this is a Real Life photo, not a screenshot from a movie – I put it in the post because, well, I like it.

You’ll probably notice that most of the movies on the list I’m about to share with you are Old Movies.  The ones made in the forties and fifties and sixties, (in fact, there are only three modern films shared out between the favorites and runners-up), and there’s a reason for that.  War films made in that time era feel much more real to me, and I think it’s because WWII wasn’t just some distant, faded memory for the actors and directors and writers (or a memory of a memory of a memory like it is for younger people like me), it was real, something that all of them experienced in some way or another.  They had a story to tell, and they told it.  There’s a sort of energetic intensity about old war films that I love.

(Also, the fact that all except two of these movies are set during WWII doesn’t mean I have a bias against WWI or the Civil War or the American Revolution – I’ve just hardly watched any movies set in those time periods.)

In random order.

{The Devil’s Brigade}

LIMITED RUN! ONE DAY ONLY! ENDS SUNDAY NIGHT! "The Devil's Brigade" (1968) | Jerry's Hollywoodland Amusement And Trailer Park

I believe The Devil’s Brigade was one of the first WWII movies I watched, and even though I was in my ‘not interested in WWII and old movies’ stage, I found myself interested in spite of myself.  For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of, as I put it, ‘mind-numbing’ fighting (at least not at first), it was simply the story of two different Allied forces that had to learn how to work together – in this case, the Americans and Canadians.  There was lots of entertaining brawling and funny moments and I quite liked it, ‘for a war movie’.  A couple months ago, I decided to re-watch it, and it was just as good (better!) than I’d remembered.  It’s great how the Canadians are actually focused on and presented in such a good way (just check out this scene, if you want proof). (Ashley, if we ever meet, WE ARE WATCHING THIS MOVIE.)  The Devil’s Brigade isn’t without is sad parts (particularly the death of two characters I’d grown rather fond of), but overall it’s a fun movie with lots of glorious moments of teamwork and hilarious bits of dialogue. (The main theme is worth checking out, by the way.  Very militaristic, of course, but a great piece of music in its own right, too.)

{Saints & Soldiers}

Saints and Soldiers - Christian Movie/Film on DVD/Blu-ray.

I’ve reviewed this already, so I’ll just direct you to that post.  Highly emotional, highly amazing, and highly recommended.  And available on Youtube.

{The Longest Day}

6/18/14  9:10p 20th Century Fox  ''The Longest Day''  All Star Cast  Poster  1962  Best Picture Oscar Nom

Oh, man.  This film blows my mind. (As does the book.)  There are so many story lines and plot threads and characters and they’re all woven into one, big, epic piece of cinema history.  Just thinking about it gives me chills.  I suggest watching this film one rainy afternoon (or evening), with as few distractions as possible, so you can concentrate and fully absorb the scope and overflowing awesomeness (used in the ‘awe-inspiring’ sense).  There’s the grand sweep of the overall story, along with the tiny details of each soldier’s and civilian’s story, and by the end, as the theme music starts up as vehicles roll and men walk out through Omaha beach, I felt…satisfied.  There’s really no other word I can use.  Three hours of little threads of story all combining to form a narrative tapestry that’s nearly unbelievable in how it all fits together so perfectly, like a thousand-piece puzzle.  The Longest Day is hugely satisfying, because it gives you an experience.  Not just a movie, an experience. (And, again, listen to the theme.)

{Pork Chop Hill}

This is my sister’s movie.  Or, so she says.  According to her, it was the first war movie she watched and actually liked (I was away at the time she watched it, so I hardly knew a thing about it when I agreed to watch it a little while ago) which, I suppose, does make it kind of hers.  Although since I love it too, I kind of want it to be ‘ours’, but she’s very firm about it being hers, a feeling that I do understand (something I’ll talk about more in the next film on the list).  Anywho.  I thought this film was set during WWII, but it actually takes place during the Korean War – not that that fact took anything out of my enjoyment of a fine piece of old Hollywood.  Gregory Peck is my favorite ‘olden days’ actor, and he did a fantastic job (as always).  I’ll admit that I watched Pork Chop Hill half for Gregory Peck and half for Rip Torn (who didn’t come in until, oh, over halfway through, but when he did make an appearance, it was great), but I ended up really liking the film for its other qualities too.  It’s the simple (and yet not-so-simple) story of soldiers trying to take and hold a hill, and very tightly focused.

{Stalag 17}


This is my film.  I don’t know why Stalag 17 grips me in the way that it does, but…it does.  It’s funny and tragic and gut-wrenching and intense and dramatic all at once.  There’s a horde of different (some immensely likable, some immensely unlikable) characters that all feel very, very real.  The movie is two different genres in one – war and suspense.  The story is tightly paced and draws all kinds of emotions out of the audience, but I can’t really put a finger on why Stalag 17 is so very much my movie.  I was flipping through an old notebook of mine from eight years ago, and even then, I’d listed one of my favorite films as Stalag 17.  Maybe it has something to do with how much the story and characters draw me in.  Hope that Manfredi and Johnson will escape (and anger against Sefton suggesting they won’t).  Despair when their bodies lie in the mud the very next morning.  Distrust towards Sefton, laughter at Harry and Animal’s antics, pity for Joey (and that one, little moment of pure happiness when everyone’s so excited about his new piccolo), and a hundred other different feelings.  Whatever the reason is, it’s one of my favorite movies period (not just a favorite war movie), and I don’t watch it nearly enough. (Also available on Youtube.)

{Runners Up}

~Hills Are For Heroes – Actually a two-parter Combat! episode, but it’s just as long as movie (and it’s fantastic), so I’m including it.

~Battle Of The Bulge – This almost made the favorites list.  An excellent drama, from both the Allied and German points of view.

~War Horse – The only WWI film on either list.  I’ve watched this one several times and the story of Albert and Joey never gets old.

~Twelve O’Clock High – Another Gregory Peck film, and one of my favorite roles of his.  It’s like an air-force version of The Devil’s Brigade.

~Walking With The Enemy – More a Holocaust movie than a war (WWII) movie, but it deserves to be on this list.  Emotionally exhausting, but it’s well worth watching.

What are some of your favorite war movies?



9 thoughts on “my top five favorite war movies

  1. Another great review Eva. I thought it was interesting your observation that the older WWII movies feel more real. Most younger audiences, who grew up on a diet of modern mega budget movies packed with computer generated images, may disagree – but contemporary movies lack the nuances of the older ones. A point in case is the Combat! TV series (and totally agree ‘Hills are for Heroes’ is fantastic). Most WWII veterans were only in their early 40s when that series was made and many of them were responsible for show. Combat! was created by a WWII veteran (Robert Pirosh) and the first season was mostly directed by a WWII veteran (Robert Altman) and many of the cast, writers and producers served in WWII. So while the battle scenes may not look as realistic as something like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ – somehow the quieter moments of the show had a more authentic look and feel about it simply because Combat! was made by people who were there.

    My top 5 would be:
    *Twelve O’Clock High (Gregory Peck)
    *Men In War (Robert Ryan)
    *Attack (Jack Palance)
    *The Story of GI Joe (Robert Mitchum)
    *Hell is for Heroes (Steve McQueen)

    and of course, an honorary mention of Combat!’s remarkable two parter ‘Hills are for Heroes’ directed by series star Vic Morrow.


  2. These are truly the cream of the crop. You might also like: The Man Who Never Was, PATTON, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (not strictly a war movie but rather looks at the effects of war on one man and his family), & The Great Escape.


  3. Out of this list, I’ve actually seen only The Longest Day, though Stalag 17 is on my to-watch list. I was interested in War Horse when I saw the trailer before it came out, because I love horses, but a relative who saw it told us it was very violent. What did you think?

    There’s another good WWII film I bet you’d like: The Enemy Below. It’s about an engagement between an American destroyer and a German submarine, and it follows both captains as they each try to out-maneuver the other. (They’re played by Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, who were both in The Longest Day.) I saw it a couple years ago and really enjoyed it.


    • Personally, I don’t think War Horse is really too violent (even though it’s rated PG-13 for violence). There are explosions and people get shot (of course), but there’s no gore or graphicness, as far as I can remember (I haven’t watched it in a while). Probably the most disturbing part is when Joey (the horse) gets tangled up in barbed wire. And even then, it’s not so much any explicit blood or anything as it is the IDEA of a horse trapped in barbed wire.

      Ooooh, I’ll have to look that one up! It sounds great.


  4. I haven’t seen “The Devil’s Brigade” or “Saints and Soldiers.” YET. I remember seeing “Pork Chop Hill” years ago and liking it fairly well. “Stalag 17” is amazing, and I adore “The Longest Day.” My list of my 10 favorite war movies is here, but to summarize, they are these:

    1. The Great Escape (1963) — completely amazing
    2. Hell is for Heroes (1962) — written by Combat!-creator Robert Pirosh! Delicious.
    3. Operation Pacific (1951) — clean and wonderful
    4. The Longest Day (1962) — you know this is perfect
    5. Gettysburg (1993) — sweeping and beautiful
    6. Monuments Men (2014) — feels like it was made in the ’60s! Love it.
    7. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) — a true classic
    8. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) — very epic, but a little slow in spots
    9. Defiance (2008) — chilling and grim
    10. D-Day: The Sixth of June (1956) — sad and haunting and lovely

    I would totally recommend all of those to you EXCEPT Defiance because it’s rated R. Some of the others have a few bad words, but nothing worse than in The Longest Day. I think you would LOVE Hell is for Heroes because it has a very C!-like flavor. You can buy it brand-new on Amazon for $6.


    • I’ve heard of Hell Is For Heroes, so I’m going to check my local library’s website for it right now. 🙂 If I do watch it, I’ll let you know what I think. (And I’ll bet it’ll be fantastic.)


    • Hi Hamlette. Yeah, ‘Hell is For Heroes’ is incredible. It is like a Combat! episode without the restrictions imposed on a weekly TV series.

      Eva – look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.


  5. Hi! I just found your blog, and I really like it.
    I definitely need to see some of these movies. Here are five war movies that I really love.
    The Dirty Dozen (1967)
    The Great Escape (1963)
    The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
    Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
    The Guns of Navarone (1961)


  6. Pingback: movie review: stalag 17 | coffee, classics, & craziness

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