The development of nuclear weaponry and cinema can be traced back to nearly the same time, so naturally, there has been a good deal of films made in the wake of the world wars and the ones that followed suit.
War in cinema heightens, the mundane through jingoistic fervor and glamourizes violence and atrocities. These films truly familiarise us with the bloodshed and inhumanity of warfare. War films chronicle both the heroism and the horrors of our war heroes.
The moral dilemmas and the psychological tensions make very beautiful tales. One of the very few justifiable things to come out of war is probably very good cinema; some of which we will cover on our list.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains.
IMDb Rating: 8.5/10
The film is set in the war-torn, colonized French colony of Casablanca. The Great War has left millions of refugees and expatriates desperate and stranded in Ricks’s joint. Rick is an American with his own bar in this port city. For con artists and the easily preyed-upon refugees, Rick’s is a hub. Humphrey Bogart’s iconic Rick is doing fine until Ilsa walks into his gin joint. This film with heroes, wars, and affairs in France is a classic of the institution of cinema.
All Quiet on The Western Front (1930)
Cast: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, Arnold Lucy, John Wray
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
Directed by Lewis Milestone this flick is a war genre classic. It is premised upon the book of the same title by author Erich Maria Remarque. This is one of the best documentation of the horrors of The Great War.
This anti-war film recounts the tales of horror that befall Paul, Kropp, and Behn. But the atrocities of war affect every character in the film intensely. The glorious cause is promoted to the young boys and they are taken into the army only to have their illusions shattered; only to find there is no glory in the gore of war. They find out after starvation, amputations and deaths how harrowing the trenches are.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
Cast: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart.
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
This film directed by the German director Ernst Lubitsch was released when the Second World War was still ongoing. “To be, or not to be” is a metaphor in the film for the human moral dilemmas during love and war. With fervors of passion and threats of death at the hand of the Nazis, the film is set in Nazi-Occupied Poland.
Maria and her husband Josef Tura perform in Gestapo Headquarters as theatre actors. Their creative freedom to satirize the nazis is slowly being curbed. To add to Tura’s trouble a polish war pilot is in love with Maria and wants her to be recruited as a spy. This historical black comedy involves Hitler and the extreme antisemitism that deeply entrenches the western world.
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger
IMDb Rating: 8.3/10
Set in Nazi-occupied France, Brad Pitt leads an anti-nazi political organization called the “Basterds”. Their modus operandi of killing nazis is creative and gruesome in quintessential Tarantino fashion. Aldo Raine instructs his recruits to show no mercy to the nazis as they deserve no humanity. It is a historical reimagination of Hitler’s life and dissent against him. The senseless violence coupled with the dark humor makes Tarantino an excellent innovator of filmmaking.
Cast: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Patrick McGoohan
Mel Gibson’s Braveheart is widely recommended as one of the best war films. Set in the end of thirteenth century Scotland, Gibson also stars as the protagonist William Wallace.
William is a little Scottish boy who witnesses the horrific death of his father and his associates at the hands of the English. William is then fostered by his father’s brother who travels with him all across Europe. William comes back several years later and falls in love with a Scottish woman named Murron. They elope as there is a risk of jus primae noctis (which allowed people of official privilege to rape brides on their wedding night). Although William is able to save his wife’s honour but not her life. Now he mobilizes the Scots for the war of revenge.
Cast: Monica Bellucci, Giuseppe Sulfaro, Elisa Morucci, Luciano Federico.
IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
From one of the best Italian directors of his generation, Giuseppe Tornatore is set in the era of
Benito Mussolini; who is an autocrat and he has declared war. Malena is deeply inspired aesthetically by Fellini.
The film recounts the story of Malena, a beautiful woman who is forced into prostitution because of her husband’s death and the collapsing economy. But her father’s student, Renato is infatuated with her. This heart-wrenching tale as the skies of Sicily turn red with the explosives, will ensure not one dry-eye in the house.
Jojo Rabbit (2020)
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson
IMDb Rating: 7.9/10
Jojo is a little boy on the brink of Nazi collapse, living in a fictional German town. He has a friend called Adolf, who is an imaginary caricature of the historical Adolf Hitler. Jojo although is heavily indoctrinated with the glorified violence of the nazis is unable to kill rabbits, hence nicknamed Jojo Rabbit. In this dark comedic film, Jojo’s mother gives refuge to a Jewish girl, without Jojo’s knowledge. Jojo although often gets into verbal disagreements with his mother about the war, she is the only person he has left. But Jojo’s blind anti-semitism is quickly challenged once he befriends the girl in the attic.
The Pianist (2000)
Cast: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Emilia Fox, Ed Stoppard.
Premised upon the autobiographical book by Polish-Jewish composer Władysław Szpilman, it is one of Polanski’s most insightful projects.
Our protagonist Szilpman’s radio program is disrupted by the attacks of Germany during the Polish invasion.
Although after that disastrous event, Szpilman celebrates as there are false promises from the English and the French. The protection never comes and soon he is dragged from being a renounced pianist to a homeless person with children starving and bodies decaying all around him. This truly humanizes the tragedy millions of Jews were subjected to by the Nazis. The woes of the refugees and the war prisoners with their Star of David remind us of the atrocities Fascism brings about.
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Horst Buchholz
IMDb Rating: 8.6/10
The film’s plot was partially inspired by the director Roberto Benigni’s father in the concentration camps. Hence the unflinching atrocities induce horror.
Although the film has comedic elements, which makes it an entertaining watch:it is set in 1939 Italy under Mussolini. Guido Orefice is an Italian-Jewish and is in love with a sweet girl, Dora. After a few failed attempts, the engaged woman starts to reciprocate Guido.
They get married and things are moving along fine until they are hauled off to concentration camps and are separated from one another.