World War II Movies: Celebrating D-Day Through Film

History was never my best subject in school, but there are certain events which don’t require a significant background knowledge to appreciate. D-Day, on June 6th, 1944, is one of those events.

There are many ways in which individuals can and have and will honor the events of that day, and those which both preceded and followed it. As this is a film website, my efforts – small as they may be – are geared at identifying some films whose subject matter corresponds to World War II and opening a discussion on that topic.

Listed below are, in no particular order, some World War II inspired films and some of my thoughts about them. I encourage you to respond with a comment, with your thoughts on what I’ve listed, additional films which should be included, and anything else on the topic you feel might be relevant. If you have a film you’d like to add to the list, and you have a quote about it, provide that below, along with your Twitter handle, and I might add it to the article.

Enemy At The Gates

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During the WWII battle of Stalingrad, two snipers, a Russian, and a German, are locked in a battle of wills and marksmanship, while the Russian is boosted to the status of hero by a political official.

Easily my favorite scene in the movie is where Jude Law and Ed Harris are in something of a standoff, trying not to give away their exact position to one another, but knowing that they need to use the opportunity to end things between them. Great acting from both throughout the under-appreciated film.

The Pianist

A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II.

Though it doesn’t come about until near the end of the film, it’s great to see the interactions between the film’s protagonist and a member of the opposition forces, and how even though they are on opposing sides, there’s still an acknowledgment of humanity.

Casablanca

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Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications

I hesitate to even put this on the list, as the war is little more than just a backdrop in one of film history’s more highly regarded films. The era in world history certainly has its impact on character motivations throughout, and thus it is a film which should be regarded among the group listed here.

Inglorious Basterds

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner’s vengeful plans for the same.

Though there are certainly some revisionist portions of the film, it features some very strong performances and puts the war more in context of how it affected different individuals.

Empire Of The Sun

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Based on an autobiographical novel, tells the story of a boy whose privileged life is upturned by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, December 8, 1941. Separated from his parents, he is eventually captured, and taken to Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, he attempts to reconstruct his former life, all the while bringing spirit and dignity to those around him.

Such a great performance by a young Christian Bale, I found it very interesting to see the war and military occupation through the eyes of a child, especially in something of a survival film.

Pearl Harbor

“Pearl Harbor follows the story of two best friends, Rafe and Danny, and their love lives as they go off to join the war.”

Say what you will about the script and performances by the various actors involved, some of the action scenes are exceptional.

Valkyrie

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In Nazi Germany during World War II, as the tide turned in favor of The Allies, a cadre of senior German officers and politicians desperately plot to topple the Nazi regime before the nation is crushed in a near-inevitable defeat. To this end, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an Army officer convinced he must save Germany from Hitler, is recruited to mastermind a real plan. To do so, he arranges for the internal emergency measure, Operation: Valkyrie, to be changed to enable his fellows to seize control of Berlin after the assassination of the Fuhrer. However, even as the plan is put into action, a combination of bad luck and human failings conspire on their own to create a tragedy that would prolong the greater one gripping Europe.

Many of the movie lovers I know aren’t fans of Tom Cruise or his movies, but I’m not one of them. The film was certainly entertaining, but a greater appreciation for the film comes as you learn all of the ways in which they incorporated significant amounts of actual history into its production.

Schindler’s List

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

Undoubtedly one of the more emotionally gripping films about World War II, it’s a must-see film for anyone who wants to understand the grim realities of the Holocaust.

Saving Private Ryan

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Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.”

One of the most brutally realistic scenes I’ve ever seen, the Normandy landing in this film is one I’ll never forget. The rest of the film has plenty in the way of emotional and action filled moments which land it near the top of my list in terms of all-time great war films.

Mentions from others:

Paratroop Command (1955)

Quentin Tarantino: “This is a movie I’m a huge, huge fan of, directed by one of my favourite directors, William Witney, an American who quit the movie business to go into the army and made this after serving. You can tell it’s directed by someone who’s been there. It follows a group of paratroopers in Italy, but one of them is a fuck-up. And he accidentally kills one of his team. It’s an accident, but the team blames him. So he has people in the platoon who want to kill him, just waiting for the right gunfight. And the end of the movie is so exciting. They see these German tanks and they know they’re the only ones who know where these tanks are headed. So they have to cross a field of landmines. They use their grenades trying to blow up the landmines, but it doesn’t work. So they have no choice but to send one guy in after another until he gets blown up. Eventually, somebody will get to the other side.”

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3 responses to “World War II Movies: Celebrating D-Day Through Film

  1. Great review! And so very important and relevant to acknowledge. I too was a huge history buff, but didn’t have enough time to double major in it :\ Great movies listed…Saving Private Ryan still terrifies every time I see it.

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