Top 10 Best World War I Movies

by Kali Tuttle
World War I

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.

Honorable Mentions

Legends of the Fall (1994)

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.

World War I

Image via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

#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.

World War I

Image via The Ace Black Blog

#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.

World War I

Image via Times-Call Entertainment

#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.

World War I

Image via Are You Screening?

#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.

World War I

Image via Variety

#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.

World War I

Image via Janks Reviews

#4: Paths of Glory (1957)

I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that Stanley Kubrick excels at creating quality war picturesPaths 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.

World War I

Image via The 405

#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!

World War I

Image via Motion State Review

#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.

World War I

Image via NME

#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.

World War I

Image via Express

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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The Animation Commendation August 24, 2018 - 11:06 am

“like super handsome oh my gosh”, crushing much, lol?

I’ve not seen any of these 10 (although I’ve intended to watch The African Queen on a number of occasions) with the exception of War Horse which I gave up after an hour because I was just too bored.

But a WWI film that I do enjoy is the 2014 British miniseries, 37 Days, starring Ian McDiarmid. It doesn’t feature the war itself, but focuses on the 37 days between the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the UK declaring war on Germany. It focuses on all the behind-the-scenes negotiations and treaties and talks that the UK and all these other powers had with each other before the war pretty much got blown out of proportion and as a history fan, I quite enjoyed this aspect of a war film.

18cinemalane August 22, 2018 - 8:52 pm

Great list, Kali! It’s a funny coincidence that I came across this list because I just signed up to participate in The World War One On Film Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, where I will be reviewing Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero.

the50yearoldpoet August 22, 2018 - 6:28 pm

I think Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan deserves a mention.

Kali Tuttle August 23, 2018 - 6:07 pm

You’re probably right. I’ve never been a huge fan of that but it is a classic!

the50yearoldpoet August 23, 2018 - 6:13 pm

It’s all about opinions.

The Inner Circle August 22, 2018 - 6:26 pm

While I would have switched “The Red Baron” with “Flyboys”,kudos for listing both films as you are right that Flyboys gets overlooked…it is a fine film and James Franco is very good here. Nice list….

backuphill August 22, 2018 - 6:05 pm

I used to show two of those movies, in part or in total, to my high school students during my history classes. All Quiet on the Western (1930) I showed in total and Gallipoli I showed in part. There were other movies too, of course, but from this list that is what I showed. My students always wondered why I showed them such sad movies…

Nick Kush August 22, 2018 - 5:56 pm

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