From "Casablanca" to "Grave of the Fireflies": 12 Must See WWII Films

Beginning in 1945 the heroic and tragic events of World War Two have served as inspiration for thousands of films and counting. Midway comes out this week and the best estimate numbers these films over 1,300, and this does not account for documentaries or even cold war propaganda films. It could take a lifetime to digest this vast catalog of film. For this reason, we have compiled a list of twelve must-see WWII films, as of 2019.

  • Das BootMust See WWII Films

A 1981 film from West Germany. Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, it is an adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim's 1973 German novel of the same name. Das Boot tells the story of the crew of a German U-boat patrolling the Atlantic enduring battles, tedium, and the hazards of being alone in the sea at war. 

  • CasablancaMust See WWII Films

This 1942 American classic, directed by Michael Curtiz, was both filmed and set ahead of the allied invasion of Normandy, Casablanca highlights what was known about the struggles facing European fleeing the growing war.

  • Grave of the FirefliesMust See WWII Films

Set in Kobe, Japan, this 1988 animated film from Japan tells the story of two siblings and their struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, is based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka.

  • The Great EscapeMust See WWII Films

From 1963 this American film directed by John Sturges is based on Paul Brickhill's 1950 nonfiction book which is a firsthand account of the mass escape by British prisoners from German POW camp.

  • The Bridge on the River KwaiMust See WWII Films

This mostly fictionalized story of British prisoners of war conscripted by their Japanese captors to construct a railway bridge to aid the Japanese war effort. From 1957 this British film was directed by David Lean.

  • The PianistMust See WWII Films

Directed by Roman Polanski this 2002 biographical drama is based on the autobiographical memoir by the Polish-Jewish composer, and Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. The Pianist was a co-production from France, Poland, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

  • Letters From Iwo JimaMust See WWII Films

This film is a 2006 Japanese language American film directed by Clint Eastwood. Based on the book Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, it portrays the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers.

  • Saving Private RyanMust See WWII Films

Steven Speilberg's 1998 gut-wrenching epic, while the story and characters are entirely fictitious screenwriter Robert Rodat drew inspiration from multiple historical events and persons. This film broke new ground for its graphically realistic depictions of wartime violence, and its impact on soldiers.

  • Schindler's ListMust See WWII Films

This 1993 film is counted as one of Steven Speilberg's masterworks. Based on the historical novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally which recounts the actions of Oskar Schindler, who saved more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.

  • Life Is BeautifulMust See WWII Films

Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning Italian comedy from 1997 recounts the rise of Italian Fascism through the eyes of a Jewish-Italian clown ending with the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp.

  • Monuments MenMust See WWII Films

George Clooney's 2014 film shed light on a little-known aspect of World War Two. loosely based on The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, this film follows a group charged with saving works of European art and items of cultural importance from the Nazis.

  • The Imitation GameMust See WWII Films

Directed by Morten Tyldum this 2014 film is based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. It recounts the contributions of Alan Turing, and the Bletchley Park cryptography team,  to cracking the Nazi's Enigma code, saving countless lives.

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About Kyle J. Steenblik

Kyle J. Steenblik is a resident of Davis County Utah, husband, and father of two children. A local film critic, author, and Podcaster (Utah Outcasts, The Nerd Dome Podcast), with a passion for comedy, fantasy, art, the natural world, science, and discovery, and road trips to various landmarks, and historical sites around the United States. Kyle has been a longtime activist in the hopes of leaving the world a better place for his children. Whether that is through standing up to inequality, injustice, or by adding a little laughter or a good story.
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