When it comes to war movies, there are two wars that seem to get way more silver screen recognition than the others: the Vietnam War and World War II. While this makes for some great cinema, it diminishes the importance of other equally bloody wars that also changed the world.
One of those “forgotten wars” is World War I. Despite involving millions of men and causing high casualties, it tends to get glossed over. It’s important to pay tribute to those who fought that war and the movies that document it. It’s part of our history, so we mustn’t forget it.
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Aces High (1976)
My Boy Jack (2007)
The Lost Battalion (2001)
Hell’s Angels (1930)
Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
The Fighting 69th (1940)
The Red Baron (2008)
The Grand Illusion (1937)
#10: Wings (1927)
Wings may not be on a lot of radars anymore, but it sure was in the time it was filmed. This silent film depicts the brutal yet beautiful air battles of World War I. Compared to today’s film technology and special effects, it’s really not that exciting. But for 1927, this was some amazing filmmaking. The tracking shots are absolutely magnificent and the action shots high up in the sky are simply breathtaking. You feel like you’re actually up there with the pilots. The acting may leave something to be desired, but I think Wings is definitely worth a watch. Plus, you’ll get to witness some of the greatest silent actors to ever take the silver screen: Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, and Charles “Buddy” Rogers.
#9: A Farewell to Arms (1957)
Based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, A Farewell to Arms is delightfully scandalous and tragic. Rock Hudson stars as Lt. Frederick Henry, the American Army volunteer who falls in love with a beautiful British nurse, Catherine Barkley (Jennifer Jones). Shot in the glamorous hills and mountains of Italy, it’s filled with gorgeous scenery to create an ugly contrast to the violent events happening in the world. While not exactly your gritty war film, it does have a certain allure to it; love and war make for a tantalizing combination. It romanticizes an aspect of human history to make it easier to digest, but it doesn’t hide the brutality of the war either.
#8: The African Queen (1951)
The African Queen isn’t your typical war film; Humphrey Bogart plays an uncouth captain of the riverboat The African Queen and Katharine Hepburn is the snobbish missionary. Their goal? Attacking an enemy warship with their little riverboat. Of course, the two personalities clash and there’s lots of humorous dialogue coupled with heart-pounding action. It shows a side of World War I often ignored — the African front. It also shows a side of Bogart not often seen — the side that can be easily cowed by females. From the whirlwind romance to the amusing wisecracks to the adventure of the riverboat, this film is a ride from beginning to end.
#7: A Very Long Engagement (2004)
It’s important to note once again that America is not the only place in the world that creates fantastic movies. A Very Long Engagement, a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), is an alluring tale of love and war. Audrey Tautou (also of Amélie) stars as young Mathilde, who falls in love with young, super handsome (like, super handsome oh my gosh) Manech (Gaspard Ulliel). When Manech disappears from the trenches of the Somme during World War I, Mathilde will go to any lengths to find where her love is. Like Amélie, the film is aesthetically pleasing to the eye; each scene masterfully blends innocence with adulterated material to mimic the war’s contrasting effect on its victims. A Very Long Engagement is as emotional as it is beautiful and joyful. Also, be on the lookout for Jodie Foster, who plays Elodie Gordes in the film.
#6: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
When I first watched this film, I had to check the release date because it’s surprisingly well-shot for 1930. It takes a different view of the war — the enemy’s side. A group of young German schoolboys enlist in the army and become increasingly disillusioned with the horrors of the world around them. Like I said before, for 1930, it’s astoundingly realistic and even graphic at times. There are especially wonderful tracking shots during the charge scenes that are perfectly-timed. However, like every war movie, it is heartbreaking and it shows that war is a horrible thing. Don’t expect to come out of this one happy.
#5: Flyboys (2006)
Just in case you weren’t aware, James Franco is really hot; but that’s beside the point. I don’t get why Flyboys doesn’t fly with critics — it’s actually quite a good movie. It tells the story of the Lafayette Escadrille: America’s first fighter pilots. It takes us through their training, their friendships, their battles, and their heartbreaks. Despite what critics say, I found the action scenes to be intense and gripping. Sure, it’s not as sleek as today’s dogfights with jets, but that’s what makes it so exciting. These guys are in the open air, nothing between them and the sky, and they’re fighting their hearts out with rickety old planes. It’s a great film about the pilots of World War I.
#4: Paths of Glory (1957)
I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that Stanley Kubrick excels at creating quality war pictures; Paths of Glory is no different. The film stars Kirk Douglas as a French colonel who must defend his men from a war-hungry general who wants to lead them on suicide mission after suicide mission. Paths of Glory does a spectacular job of addressing the formerly taboo subject of shell-shock (or post-traumatic stress disorder, as we’d call it today). It shows the early French attitude toward what they thought was just a case of laziness and goldbricking. Even for a black-and-white film shot in the 1950s, it’s a depressingly gritty film that depicts the horrors of World War I well. Not to mention it includes the stunning cinematography of the master Kubrick.
#3: Gallipoli (1981)
Gallipoli brings a lot of my favorite things together: Australians, handsome young men, war history, and scenes that make me cry. The film stars Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two sprinters who are thrown into the brutal Gallipoli campaign of World War I. It brings notoriety to a lesser-known part of the war and the Australians who do not receive nearly as much credit as they deserve for their efforts in the war. The friendship between the two sprinters will make you laugh and cry repeatedly throughout the film. Gallipoli deserves much more attention than what it currently gets. Make sure to have a box of tissues on hand for this one!
#2: War Horse (2011)
Directed by the esteemed Steven Spielberg and based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is an interesting film in that it doesn’t focus on a person — it focuses on a horse. When young Albert’s (Jeremy Irvine) beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry, he enlists in the army himself to fight in the trenches of World War I. However, we are with Joey from that point on, traveling with him through the war as he watches the horrors unfold before him. The film itself has such high artistic value and almost makes me cry with how beautiful it is. It is able to evoke a sense of nostalgia and sadness for a people and a time that none of us have ever experienced. Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston also show up for cameos during the film. If you only watch one World War I film, I recommend that this be the one.
#1: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lawrence of Arabia is not only a good World War I movie, it’s a good movie overall. Starring Peter O’Toole as the titular character, T.E. Lawrence is a British officer who unites the warring Arab tribes to fight the Turks during World War I. What truly makes this film superb is O’Toole’s tremendous acting skills. He is able to convey in a mere facial expression what some actors could not in paragraphs of dialogue. The epic film takes us through the journey of war and what it does to men. It also introduces us to the themes of corruption, disappointment, and hatred for difference between people. David Lean directs a film with such great emotional and historical value that it deserves to be on every top 10 list.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on top 10 World War I films? Did we miss any? Comment down below!
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