With the Academy Awards right around the corner, today we look at the Top 5 War Era Movies of all time. We should clarify, that these movies are not movies that focus on the principle subjects of combat but more on a story being told or shown with war as a backdrop.
1. Apocalypse Now
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now is an American classic regardless of genre. Francis Ford Coppola directs this epic Vietnam War drama starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. It tells a story of US Army Captain Benjamin Willard’s mission to travel up Nung River into Cambodia and assassinate renegade Special Forces Colonel William Kurtz. Along his journey Willard is spotted by an Air Calvary officer played by Robert Duvall who assists Willard in moving up the river. Issues during principle filming, such as Martin Sheen’s heart attack and Coppola’s insistence on authenticity, led to the production going massively over budget and caused the production schedule to go from a planned six weeks to nearly 16 months. While Hollywood expected the film to be a complete disaster, within a year of its release it had established itself as a classic, mainly with younger viewers.
2. Schindler’s List
This 1993 classic is based on a true story of Austrian-German businessman Oskar Schindler, and his plight to save Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The story begins with Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) arriving in recently occupied Krakow, Poland, and progresses after he bribes local German officials into letting him take over an enamelware (kitchen products) factory. To save on costs he brides local German officials to allow him to employ Jews, and he quickly establishes a friendship with Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley). As the war progresses Schindler finds himself shifting his focus from making money to saving lives. After once again bribing German officials, Schindler decides to move his workers to a new factory thus saving as many as possible from transport to Auschwitz. While the film is nearly all black and white, there is a few splashes of color to represent profound moments during the film. Director Steven Spielberg’s request to film in the real Auschwitz was denied, so an exact replica was built right next to it. As chilling as it may seem, while filming in Poland, an elderly woman mistook actor Ralph Fienns, who was offset in his full SS costume, as a Nazi supporter and said “the Germans were charming people. They didn’t kill anybody who didn’t deserve it.”
3. The Bridge on the River Kwai
Winner of 7 Academy Awards, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a telling story about English prisoners of war undertaking a massive bridge project at the direction of their Japanese captors. While it is considered one the finest movies ever made, it may be best known for the song (“Colonel Bogey’s March”) whistled during the march into camp. Starring William Holden and Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai is more of a story of overcoming the situation in the face of adversity, as it is about building a bridge or surviving Japanese capture. While the story is completely fiction, it does have a startling similarity to the Japanese construction of the Burma Railway betwen1942 and 1943. In 1997 when a bridge was actually constructed to span the River Kwai, engineers decided to make it a near replica of the one in the movie.
4. The Great Escape
Based of the true story of the mass escape from Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner of war camp for Allied air crews, the Great Escape is star studded affair that takes a look into the planning and execution of one of the most daring escape attempts of World War II. While there is no main star to the movie, the film focuses more on the team and each person’s individual roles in the escape. The story plays out over the span of months spent digging, and figuring out every minute detail – such as how to get rid of the excavated dirt from the tunnels or how to master forged documents – amongst other things. Out of the planned 250 escapees, only 76 actually escape through the tunnel before the German find and stop the rest from attempting. The film follows the 76 escapees as they try and make it to various locations of safety. In all, only 3 make it to unoccupied territories, while 50 are caught and executed and 23 are returned to the camp.
5. Come and See
Come and See is probably the least known movie on the list. “Why?” you might ask, because it’s foreign – Russian to be exact, Belarusian to be even more exact. Come and See tells the horrifying story of the German invasion and occupation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, what would later break away and become Belarus. There is nothing fancy about this film, in fact it almost seems low budget, but remember we are talking about a film filmed in Russia during the 80’s. What it lacks in fancy graphics and technical sophistication, it makes up with pure rawness and violently graphic story telling. The story is essentially about a young boy who is forcefully absorbed into the local resistance movement and is unfortunately left behind to fend for himself. He eventually meets up with a girl of similar age and the film proceeds to tell their story of surviving the horrors and savagery of war. The best part about this film is that since it was filmed outside the Hollywood shadows, it was not bound or defined by what Hollywood would consider either successful or appropriate. If you haven’t seen this movie, take the time to give it a try.