War film

From Academic Kids

Films of the war film genre deal primarily with actual warfare, usually featuring sea, air, or land battles and their combatants, or on daily military or civilian life in the midst of battle or the threat of battle. Their stories may be fiction, historical re-enactment, docudrama or documentary in nature.

Films made in the years following World War I tended to emphasise the horror or futility of modern warfare, as in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and La Grande Illusion (1937); or concentrated on the drama of the new form of aerial combat in films like Wings (1927), Hell's Angels (1930), and The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938 versions).

However, it was during The Second World War that war films came into their own. Many of the dramatic war films in the early 1940s in the United States were designed to create consensus at the expense of "the enemy". In fact, one of the conventions of the genre that developed during the period was that of a cross-section of the United States which comes together as a crack unit for the good of the country.

British films tended to follow a similar pattern, depicting ordinary people joining forces for the good of the war effort. In Which We Serve, Millions Like Us, The Way Ahead and The Way to the Stars are among the most celebrated British films of the war years. The British industry continued to produce war dramas throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these were based on true stories, like The Dam Busters, Dunkirk, The Colditz Story and Sink the Bismarck!.

Hollywood films in the same era were inclined more towards spectacular heroics or self-sacrifice in films like Sands of Iwo Jima, Halls of Montezuma or D-Day the Sixth of June. American war films, like films in any genre, tend to have a number of cliches associated with them: for instance, in many 1940s and 1950s war film, a small group of men will tend to be fairly diverse ethnically, but most of the characters will not be developed much beyond their ethnicity; the officer immediately ranking the main character will tend to be both unreasonable and unyielding; almost anyone sharing personal information--especially plans for after returning home--will die shortly thereafter; and anyone acting in a cowardly or unpatriotic manner will either convert to heroism or die (or both, in quick succession).

However, other films are quasi-documentary in nature, and reflect what the screenwriters feel were the thoughts, words, and actions of the participants in a battle. The American Civil War film Gettysburg was based on actual events during the battle, including the defense of Little Round Top by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.

The late 1950s and 1960s brought some more thoughtful big-scale war films like David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), as well as a fashion for all-star epics based on real battles. This trend was started by Darryl F. Zanuck's production The Longest Day in 1962, based on the first day of the 1944 D-Day landings. Other examples included Battle of the Bulge (1965), Battle of Britain (1969), Waterloo (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Midway (1976) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).

War films produced during and just after the Vietnam War era tended to reflect the disillusionment of the American public towards the war. Most films made after the Vietnam War delved more deeply into the horrors of war than movies made before it. (This is not to say that there were no such films before the Vietnam War; Paths of Glory is a notable critique of war from 1957, the very beginning of the Vietnam War.) The last film of what can be called the pre-Vietnam style is The Green Berets. Examples of post-Vietnam style films include Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which deal with Vietnam itself, and Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, which do not.

Many war films have been produced with the cooperation of a nation's military forces. The United States Navy has been very cooperative since World War II in providing ships and technical guidance with Top Gun being a famous example. Sometimes the military demands some editorial control in exchange for their cooperation, which can bias the final result. Another downside, if filmed during a war: the German Ministry of Propaganda, in making the epic war film Kolberg in January 1945, used several divisions of soldiers as extras. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels believed the impact of the film would offset the tactical disadvantages of the missing soldiers.

If they do not cooperate, then another country's military may assist. Many 1950s and 1960s war movies, and the Oscar-winning film Patton were shot in Spain, which had large supplies of both Allied and Axis equipment. The Napoleonic epic Waterloo was shot in Ukraine, using Soviet soldiers (and incidentally, helped scholars learn why Napoleon preferred the tactics of attacking in column). Saving Private Ryan was shot with the cooperation of the Irish army.

See also: propaganda, genre film theory

Notable War Films

Trojan War

Greco-Persian Wars


Wars of Scottish Independence

French and Indian War

American Revolutionary War

Napoleonic Wars

Crimean War

Texas War of Independence

American Civil War

Indian Wars

Spanish-American War

Anglo-Zulu War

Anglo-Boer War

World War I

Spanish Civil War

World War II

Indochina War

Korean War

Algerian War of Independence

Vietnam War

Cold War

Falklands War

  • Resurrected (1989)

Gulf War


  • The flight of the wild geese (Africa, not definated)
  • Black Hawk Down (2001)

Bosnian War

See also

de:Kriegsfilm es:Cine blico fr:film de guerre ja:戦争映画 nl:Oorlogsfilm


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