25 Best World War 2 Movies to Watch Before You Die – Top WW2 Movies
World War 2 was the epitome of how human can go against his own species performing heinous crime, mass execution and what not! Countless films were made and will be made to depict the war, giving us a glimpse of the horrors and great survival stories. In this section, we have handpicked some of the greatest WW2 films ever made. The section will cover films depicting :
- Epic Battle stories
- Surviving the horror of POWS/Concentration camps
- Dramas of epic rescuing stories thereby restoring Faith in Humanity.
- And everything else related to war in general.
Enough talk! Let’s begin our compendium of the best WW2 movies you must watch before you die!
Best World War 2 Movies of All Time – Greatest WW2 Movies Ever Made!
#25. EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987)
A coming of age and a survival drama based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the same name by J.G Ballard. Directed by Steven Speilberg, and starring John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers and Christian Bale. The film tells a story of a courageous young boy Jamie ‘Jim’ Graham captured by the Japanese and how he survived the war. Young Jamie living with his wealthy family in Shanghai is separated from his parents during a chaos, when the Japanese attacked on Pearl Harbor. He was soon captured by the Japanese and was taken as a prisoner. He was smart and skillful which helped him from getting killed. In the end after the war he is reunited with his parents.
#24. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
Inglourious Basterds is a fictional war film directed by Quentin Tarantino, and starring Christoph Walz, Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender. The movie is based on the assasination of Nazi’s leadership, by two different groups with different agendas. A female actress, Shosanna Dreyfus (Diane Kruger) plots methodically to avenge her family’s death by a Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Walz). On the other hand, a team of Jewish soldiers, led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who called themselves Basterds, are infamous for torturing Nazi soldiers by scalping their head and craving Nazi Swastikas on their heads. Both parties unknown to each other led their plans to assassinate their targets.
#23. BLACK BOOK (2006)
Black Book, inspired by true events, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Carice von Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman and Halina Reijn. The movie tells a story about a young Jewish woman, hiding from the Nazis in the Netherlands. After an ambush in Netherlands she flees and becomes a spy for a Dutch Resistance Group. She is given order to seduce an officer, and is successful in her mission. But tragedy befalls when she is torn apart between love and loyalty when she falls in love with her enemy.
#22. VALKYRIE (2008)
An American thriller movie set during the word war II directed by Bryan Singer and starring Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard and Terence Stamp. The film follows Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg who plots an elaborate plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was the main plotter, of Operation Valkyrie, a national plan to take control of the country after Hitler is dead. But his plans goes awry and results in his and his members execution.
#21. DAYS OF GLORY (2006)
Days of Glory, a French war film directed by Rachid Bouchareb and stars Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Sami Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Melanie Laurent and Bernard Blecan. The movie is based on the true events of North African courageous soldiers who fought bravely in World War II and who were easily forgotten. When North African troops fights with their French comrades during World War II, they are treated unfairly and get called upon as weak despite their courage. Finding this is the only way to get equality they bravely fight against their enemy.
#20. THE THIN RED LINE (1998)
The Thin Red Line, is an American epic fictional war film directed by Terrence Malick and starring Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas and Jim Caviezel. The movie is based on the novel of James Jones. The movie is based on the battle of Austen, where a group of soldiers of C Company, 1st battalion, 27th Infantry fights against the Japanese with sheer courage even after they lose their soldiers one by one. With only hope, they fight relentlessly and successful albeit all the odds.
#19. FURY (2014)
Fury, a war movie packed with action directed by David Ayer and starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal and Jason Issacs. The movie is set on the final days of World War II of the US tank crews. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a fresh and naive clerk typist is recruited in a tank crew, Fury, led by badass Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) and his veteran crew. Norman is not accepted by his crew and is often made fun of. He is hesitant to kill their enemies and angered the Sergeant. When they saw a column of Nazi soldiers marching towards them, they plan to attack them despite being out numbered. They attack the Nazis but are killed during the fight. Don orders Norman to flee before sacrificing himself. When Norman is rescued by fellow American soldiers, he looks back at the dead bodies lying around Fury.
#18. FLYING LEARHERNECKS (1951)
The movie, an action packed war movie directed by Nicholas Ray and starring John Ray and Robert Ray. The movie is based on the US marine Crops Aviators during World War II. The marines were called ‘Leatherneck‘ so the name of the movie. Major Dan Kirby a battle hard and very strict personal, arrives as a new commander of the Wildcats and leads his soldiers into the battle of Guadalcanal against the Japanese.
#17. WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968)
A British action filled war movie, based on the novel by Alistair MacLean, by the same name and directed by Brian G. Hutton. The movie stars Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt. The movie follows a US Army General, George Carnaby being captured by the Germans and held in a mountain top Castle in Southern Bavaria. The fortress can be accessible only by a helicopter or a cable car. An allied team of commandos are sent to rescue him before the Germans begin their interrogation. The team is led by Major John Smith (Richard Burton). Disguising as german troops they are to parachute in to the castle. They with the help of other two lady agents disguised as maids get into mission to rescue the general.
#16. THE LONGEST DAY (1962)
Academy Award Winner, The Longest Day is a docudrama produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, based on the book by the same name written by Cornelius Ryan. It stars actors, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and other notable actors. The Longest Day tells about the D-Day of World War II which portrays the events from both the Germans and the Allied points of view. Special emphasis is given to General Eisenhower, who gives permission to the invasion of Normandy the Allied and the US Army. The movie was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and won two, for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography.
#15. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006)
A Japanese-American war movie directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya. It is entirely in Japanese but has done fair justice to it’s companionship ‘Flags of our Fathers‘. The movie showcases the perspective of the Japanese who fought during the world war II. Set in 1944, General Tadamachi Kuribayasi arrives as a commander and inspect the digging of beach trenches. He was sure that the beach trenches will be taken over by the US and paid much attention to the mountains defense that will stand a chance against the enemy. When the American troops arrived they quickly take over the beach as predicted before but with high casualties. When they were surrounded by the enemies, their commander refuses to send help and orders them to commit suicide. After heavy losses the commander attempts a final attack and orders to destroys all he documents and letters. Towards the end of the movie, Japanese archeologists in 2005 found the letters buried and open it. The movie was critically acclaimed and brought an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.
#14. THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967)
Directed by Robert Aldrich, The Dirty Dozen is an epic American war film Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber and Donald Sutherland. The film is based on the real lives of a group called A group of twelve ‘worst’ soldiers were brought in to form a unit of a project, known as ‘Project Amnesty’. They were the dirt and were serving prison time and some waiting for execution. They were cut a deal, if they survive they will be pardoned and returned to their respective positions. Major John Reisen, is brought in to train the convicts for their mission, to infiltrate and assault on chateau where the high German officials will be holding a meeting, to eliminate their power on D-Day. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and took home the award for the Best Sound Effects.
#13. THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
Directed by John Sturges is an thriller packed war movie, based on the book, by the same name by Paul Brickhill. The movie stars Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough. The movie is based on the mass escape of POWS from a high security prison. In 1943, the Germans transferred their POWS to a more secure prison of war camp who were determined to escape. Colonel Von Luger, deemed the prison to be escape proof and warned the prisoners to be shot on point if caught escaping. Soon a large group of POWS hatch a plan to escape from the prison by digging tunnels under the prison. They named the tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry. The prisoners carried out the plan by working hard in their respective expertise. They plan to escape after the 4th of July. The prisoners managed to escape but are killed when their escape route is discovered. Some were brought back to the prison and killed enroute. The Mastermind of the escape plan is brought back to the prison. Only three of the prisoners made successfully out of the country.
#12. PATTON (1970)
Academy Award winner movie, is an epic biography about US General George S. Patton. The war movie was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and stars George G. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates and Karl Michael Vogler. After the embarrassing lose at the Battle of Kassirine Pass in 1943 by American soldiers. General George S Patton is appointed to the American Corps II in North African. Patton was very strict from the beginning, he claimed the defeat of the Americans is due to lack of air support. He prepares a plan for invasion of the Allied in Sicily but is rejected. He and his troops are sent to another mission where he is merciless of the soldiers threatening to shoot who showed weakness. Though he wins the battle, but his own men distance from him due to his harshness. The film received high critical acclaims and won 7 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor with other Academy Awards. George G. Scott received Best Actor but he refused to accept the Award. He was the first actor to turn down an Academy Award.
#11. 12 O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)
Another Academy Award winner, 12 O’Clock High, is directed by Harry King adapted from the novel by the same name by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. The movie tells about the air crews in US during the early days of American involvement in World War II and stars Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merill, Millard Mitchell and Dean Jagger. When Commander, Keith Davenport grew too close to his men, his friend General Frank Savage informs the commanding general that he finds Davenport no more fit to take any command. After a high casualties lose, Davenport is relieved and Savage is made the new Commander. In order to discipline the soldiers, Savage started treating harshly to the soldiers and the soldiers started to hate him. He ordered his crew in daylight air bombings missions against Nazi and try to take over France. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, Best Actor in a leading Role for Gregory Peck and Best Picture.
#10. THE COUNTERFEITERS (2007)
The Counterfeiters, is a German-Austrian movie directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky amd starring Karl Markovics, August Diehl and Devid Striesow. The movie is based on the memoir written by Adolf Burger. Salomon Sarowitsch a rich, wealthy man living the high life is captured and thrown in the concentration camps. He is a skilled forger of currency and passports. To survive he shows his skills to the Germans who shifts him to a more comfortable prison with other counterfeiters. He becomes a part of the Operation Bernhard, a secret plan of the Nazis of forging currencies. Salomon survives the war and lives a comfortable life but he is guilty of his deeds. The film won the Best Foreign Language Film and David Striesow won Best Performance in Supporting Role.
#9. DOWNFALL (2004)
Academy award nominee, Downfall is a German-Italian-Austrian epic war drama movie directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and produced by Bernd Eichinger, starring Bronu Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Kohler and Ulrich Metthes. The movie is based on the accounts of final events of Adolf Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany. Hitler and his associates hid themselves in Fuhrerbunker as the Allied forces fight their last fight against the Nazis. Everyone decides to stay with Hitler, except Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge who plans to escape. The movie received critical acclaim and was nominated for Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
#8. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997)
Academy Award winner, Life is Beautiful is an Italian comedy-drama directed by Roberto Benigni and stars himself and Nicoletta Braschi. The movie is inspired by true events. A Jewish book shop owner is captured with his wife and children by the Germans and sent to concentration camps. The father and son gets separated from his mother. The father plays a fun game with his son to keep his son’s spirit and shuts him from the horror of the war. He promised his son a reward if he wins the game. This goes on till the war ends, but the father is executed by The Germans. The Allied rescues the boy and he is reunited with his mother. As he grows up he realizes his father’s sacrifice to save him. The movie won several Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Benigni winning Best Actor for his role.
#7. STALAG 17 (1953)
Stalag 17, an American war movie, based on a Broadway play on POWS in Stalag 17 in Austria. Directed by Billy Wilder and stars William Holden, Don Taylor, Robert Strauss, Neville Brand, Harvey Lembeck, Peter Graves, Sig Ruman and Otto Preminger. Both Strauss and Lembeck appeared in the original Broadway play. Stalag 17, a war prisoner camp in Danube River holds different war prisoners, poles, russian, americans, gunmens, bomber crews and radiomen. The story is mainly about a POW (William Holden) who was accused of being a spy to the Germans after two prisoners were shot dead when caught escaping. Holden was the suspect as he is seen exchanging conversations with the guards and he had made a name of himself as a businessman exchanging goods for luxury. To protect himself from the enraged prisoners he sets out to find the double crosser. The movie was nominated for 3 Academy Awards for Best Direction, Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Supporting Actor. William Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
#6. THE BEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
One of the most critically acclaimed and hugely successful black and white movie, The Best Days Of Our Lives is an American epic drama directed by William Wyler, based on a novella ‘Glory for Me‘ and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Harold Russell. The movie follows the struggle of three US service men getting back to their previous lives after the World War II. They meet on an airplane bound to their home. They somehow become interconnected and tries to get their normal lives back. The movie won 7 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
#5. DUNKIRK (2017)
Most recent World War II movie, Dunkirk is war and rescue movie directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance. The movie is based on the mass evacuation in Dunkirk of World War II. When Nazi invade France in 1940, many Allied troops are captured on the beaches of Dunkirk. A elaborate plan from the perspective of sea, land and air was deployed to rescue the soldiers. In the process of evacuation by sea every military and civilian vessels were gathered and used. At the end the mission was highly successful to rescue the soldiers of the British empire, France and Dutch. The movie was able to garner positive critical acclaim and is even said Nolan’s best film ever made. The movie was also commercially successful, collecting four times more the original budget.
#4. CASABLANCA (1942)
Academy Award winner, Casablanca is an American epic romantic drama based on stage play, ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s‘ and directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henried. The film portrays an American expatriate Rick Blaine who runs an upscale club and bar in Casablanca. He also run business of selling guns keeping himself neutral in the War. He gets hold of ‘letters of transit‘ which allows to move freely in the war zone and is priceless to the refugees. Rick sees his ex lover with her husband, upset he helps them flee to United States with the help of the papers. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 3 for Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
#3. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1993)
Academy Award winner, Saving Private Ryan is an epic American film directed by Steven Spielberg and casting a notable A-list actors, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg and Jeremy Davies. The film is set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II, a dead soldier is found buried in surf, named Ryan S. When reports shows that the three out of the four Ryan brothers are dead, an order is given out to rescue the last surviving of Ryan brothers and sent him home immediately. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) forms a crew of six members and set out to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). Ryan is found defending a bridge in the town of Ramelle. After receiving the news of his dead brothers he is upset, but refused to return home and stays back to fight with his only surviving brothers. The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won Five; Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing and Best Director.
#2. THE PIANIST (2002)
By far, one of my favorite film The Pianist, a biographical drama film based on the memoirs by Polish-Jewish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman and directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody. The film portrays the struggle of a very famous pianist, Szpilman who survives the horror of World War II and separated from his family in Warsaw. He is saved by a fellow Jewish policeman and nearly escapes death. He moves from one place to another with the help of his good Polish friends. But when helps stopped coming he takes shelter in a hospital attic barely able to move around due to starvation. His love for playing the piano impressed a Nazi officer who provide him food and hids him in the attic. As the war comes to an end, The Nazi Officer comes to bid him goodbye and offers him his jacket as Szpilman has no warm clothes. The film ends with a proud Szpilman playing the piano in the radio studio again. The movie is beautifully directed with Adrien Brody’s character hauntingly impressive. Brody underwent massive physical transformation losing body weight and was so depressed by the heart rendering events it took him almost a year to come out of his character. It did pay him off well as he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film also won other awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
#1. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
An epic historical drama film based on the novel ‘Schindler’s Ark‘ by Thomas Keneally and was directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Liam Neeson, Amon Goth and Ben Kingsley. The film is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, an ambitious german businessman who started a factory during the war. He was smart to employ the Polish-Jewish refugees paying half the wages compared to German workers. As the war continued Schindler had a change of heart after witnessing the horror of jewish people getting killed. He decides to help the Jewish workers by bribing a German officer and created the famous ‘Schindler’s List’ and rescuing 850 of his workers. The movie was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won a whopping 7 Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
So, the end of the list. Hope you like the it, and feel blessed and safe from the horror of World War II. All we can do is pray for the souls lost and reminiscing the great and the brave by watching these great movies.
Let us know in the comment section which movie touched you deeply and in the same way inspired you to be a better person. Happy Watching!