The best World War II movies of all time – Entertainment Weekly News

One of the most significant events of the 20th century, World War II affected millions and forever changed the course of history. Given the ample amount of stories — stretching from the war-torn streets of Poland and bloody beaches of Normandy to the indifferent streets back home in the US — there's no shortage of provocative, horrifying, and entertaining movies about WWII.
Since its start in 1939, we've seen many different filmmakers' takes on the war, be it through terror-filled dramas, high-stakes romances, or even satirical comedies. Whether the war is front and center or simply a backdrop for human conflict, these films are sure to shock and inspire. Here, in no particular order, is our list of the best World War II movies of all time.
This much-revered, Steven Spielberg-directed war film brings viewers to the ground level of the Normandy invasion, complete with intense bloodshed and an incredible attention to detail. Starring Tom Hanks, Vin Diesel, and Matt Damon alongside a dazzling ensemble cast, the film follows one unit’s heroic mission to bring a private home after his three brothers perished in action on D-Day. It’s still a shock that the film lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love (though Spielberg did win for Best Directing), but the test of time has looked more favorably on Saving Private Ryan
Available on: Netflix, Paramount+, AMC+
This classic film features nonstop thrills on land, sea, and air, all within a gripping tale of freedom. The Great Escape tells the story of three Allied POWs planning their escape from a German camp . The cast — including Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, and James Garner — is triumphant, and director John Sturges does an excellent job highlighting the resilience of humanity. While the film didn’t win many awards, it was one of the highest-grossing films of 1963, and will always be remembered as one of the greatest prisoners of war movies ever. 
Available on: Amazon Prime Video (for rent)
Studio Ghibli, the hallowed film company behind animated classics like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle, is known for its mystical creatures and fantastical worlds. But in 1988, writer-director Isao Takahata cast aside the feel-good formula and created this heart-wrenching tale of two siblings trying to survive in Japan as World War II draws to a close. In a world where animated movies can sometimes be regarded as vapid pieces of children’s entertainment, Grave of the Fireflies remains one of the most visually stunning and emotionally moving genre films of all time, no matter your age. Make sure to bring tissues for this one. 
Available on: Apple TV (for rent)
Christopher Nolan traded spaceships for fighter jets in this fast-paced, action-heavy narrative about the British Army’s attempt at evacuating the compromised beaches of Dunkirk. Portraying the historic battle from land, sea, and air, this intense film grips viewers from the first gunshots until the inspiring end. Throw in a heart-pounding soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and a debut role for not-so-underground musician Harry Styles, and it’s no wonder that Dunkirk was a financial and critical success.
Available on: Netflix, HBO Max
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is one of the most intimate and affecting onscreen depictions of the Holocaust. Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who operates under the radar to save his Jewish workers from Nazi persecution.
In a year where he also released Jurassic Park, Spielberg returns with a movie that remains hopeful in one of the darkest corners of human history, paying tribute to the millions who lost their lives and to those who survived. It’s a hard movie to watch, but it’s one that everyone should experience at least once. 
Available on: Peacock Premium
Clint Eastwood shot Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima simultaneously, giving perspectives on the battle of Iwo Jima from both the American and Japanese sides. The latter stands out as the superior of the two films, as it did critically at the time, garnering four Oscar nominations. It’s a sorrowful, intimate story reminding us that regardless of which side they were fighting on, at the war’s center, the soldiers were just human beings.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video (for rent) 
The Pianist is a harrowing look at the destruction of Warsaw and the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish musician. Unfortunately, the film is shrouded in the continuing controversy of its director, Roman Polanski. But that doesn’t diminish the remarkable achievements of the rest of the cast and the crew, especially Adrien Brody, who, at the tender age of 29, is still the youngest actor to win the Best Actor award for playing the role with heart, power, and deep sadness.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video (for rent)
It’s definitely a bold choice for a director to portray Adolf Hitler as a playful imaginary friend to a 10-year-old Nazi boy, but Taika Waititi managed to pull it off. Jojo Rabbit follows Jojo, played by the adorable Roman Griffin Davis as a devoted Hitler Youth who finds out his less-than-ardent mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their walls.
The Thor: Love and Thunder helmer passionately directs a story that’s both hopeful and deeply tragic, putting children at the forefront of a world undergoing dramatic change. With vibrant colors, complex characters, and an upbeat soundtrack, Jojo Rabbit is an endlessly entertaining satire that you’ll enjoy with every rewatch.
Available on: Hulu
Released a year after the end of the war, The Best Years of Our Lives is an epic film about three soldiers who return home and soon realize their families are irrevocably changed. William Wyler’s nearly three-hour masterpiece was both timely and timeless, with a smart script and a full range of emotional depth. The movie took home seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and an Honorary Oscar for actor Harold Russell for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.” 
Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Pluto TV
Bloody shoutouts, quippy dialogue, historical revisionism — it’s trademark Quentin Tarantino at his best. Inglourious Basterds follows a group of Jewish US Soldiers led by a fearless lieutenant as they plot to assassinate Nazi leaders while a French theater owner pursues her own revenge.
The two-and-a-half hour runtime races by as we’re treated to audacious, history-defying scenes and nail-biting confrontations. The cast includes the likes of Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, and Melanie Laurent, but stealing the show is Christoph Waltz in his Oscar-winning performance as Colonel Hans Landa, who Tarantino called the “best character I’ve written and maybe the best I ever will write.”
Available on: Hulu Live
Even though Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the pinnacle of D-Day portrayed on the silver screen, 1962’sThe Longest Day is still a crowning achievement. Based on the nonfiction book by Cornelius Ryan, the film tells the events of the invasion from American, French, British, and German perspectives.
It features an ensemble cast with some of the biggest names in Hollywood history, including John Wayne, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, and Richard Burton (and almost starred former president Dwight D. Eisenhower as himself). While the film falters in the distraction of some of the well-known Hollywood players, the close-up style works well in depicting the historic events, the grand scale of the invasion, and an insightful picture of everyone involved on the fateful day.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video (for rent)
Wolfgang Peterson’s war epic (translated to The Boat) depicts the claustrophobic world of a German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic. The film was shot in chronological order over the course of a year to capture a pale, bearded crew hardened by months at sea that feel like a lifetime. The result brings stunning realism to the terror and conditions of naval warfare, with intense action sequences and a great eye for detail.  Even at two-and-a-half hours, Das Boot is a relentless, emotional ride that grows grimmer by the minute.
Available on: Tubi
The Imitation Game proves that mathematics can be just as tense and interesting as warfare. Based on the book by Andrew Hodges, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the ingenious Alan Turing, a British cryptographer who attempts to crack German intelligence codes while coming to terms with his sexuality.
The well-written script shines a light on a lesser-known pocket of WWII history, and its stirring acting makes this period drama all the more memorable. Cumberbatch received his first Oscar nod working alongside a cast of British acting elite including Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, and Charles Dance. 
Available on: Netflix
Few films have captured the horrific experiences of war as vividly and poetically as director Elim Kilmov’s 1985 picture. Come and See follows Flyora, a young Belarusian boy who joins the Soviet resistance against German forces after finding an old rifle. Atrocities await the child soldier at every turn, as he endures unimaginable suffering through a lens that’s somehow both surreal and all too real. Drawn from the personal experiences of Kilmov and co-writer Ales Adamovich, Come and See is a truly terrifying spectacle — and it’s one of the most poignant anti-war films ever made. 
Available on: The Criterion Channel
Long before he was dueling Darth Vader in Star Wars, Sir Alec Guinness starred in this tour de force WWII film as Colonel Nicholson, a British POW who, with his unit, is tasked with building a railway bridge across the river Kwai in occupied Burma while Allied forces plan to destroy it.
The film is grand on every level, delving into the gray areas of war with a bombastic final act that rivals action scenes today. Director David Lean is perhaps the king of 20th century historical epics (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago), but The Bridge on the River Kwai was his first foray into the genre, one that would lay the groundwork for his legacy.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video (for rent)
Like The Best Years of Our Lives, Mudbound looks at two soldiers, one white and one Black, as they both adjust to life after the war. Jason Mitchell is exceptional as Ronsel Jackson, bringing emotional honesty to a war hero who, because of the color of his skin, is treated like anything but. The film also features an all-star cast including Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, and Garrett Hedlund.
Available on: Netflix
Downfall recounts the final days of Adolf Hitler and his entourage in their fatalistic bunker as the Soviets close in on Berlin. Bruno Ganz — who was originally hesitant to take on the role — brings complex depth to the Führer, so much so that the film received backlash for humanizing one of history’s worst dictators. Still, it was released to critical and financial success, earning a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Director Oliver Hirschbeigel relied on eyewitness accounts and historical records to ensure accuracy while tackling the unthinkable:  exploring the many dimensions of a man whose evil knows no bounds. 
Available on: Kanopy, Amazon Prime Video (for rent)
When Life is Beautiful won Best Foreign Language Film in 1999, writer-director Roberto Benigni famously climbed over stars and seats to accept the award in one of the all-time great Oscars clips.  His exhuberance parellels that of the film’s protagonist (also played by Benigni), being a Jewish-Italian father who invents an elaborate game to protect his young son from the horrors of the Holocaust. Benigni excels as an actor and filmmaker, bringing Charlie Chaplin-esque humor to the confines of a concentration camp. It’s a film driven by hope that leaves viewers with a smile (and tears) on their faces, reminding us that even in the worst moments, life can still be beautiful.
Available on: Paramount+
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