BEST OLD WAR MOVIES: CLASSICS OF CINEMA
Few genres are capable of taking the emotions of both the spectators and their protagonists to such an extreme as war films! Allowing to balance in a single feature film the undeniable dramatic and crudeness of an armed conflict with its terrifying “spectacularity” -note the quotation marks🙄-, the “war” cinema has offered us gigantic works that, without the need to be vindicated, since they do it by themselves, are worth remembering!
The ranking of the best old war movies in history
All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930
Adapting Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, Lewis Milestone signed in 1930 one of the most bloody anti-war speeches that the seventh art has given us, and that continues to be equally valid and overwhelming ninety years after its premiere.
A true prodigy that squeezed every last drop of the means of the time to introduce us into the trenches of the First World War and force us to witness the horrors and senselessness of the conflict and its consequences firsthand.
Paths of Glory, 1957
Despite having released the previous year the extraordinary ‘Perfect Heist’, ‘Paths of Glory’ was the feature film that made Stanley Kubrick enter directly into the cinematic Olympus. Considered by many as the director’s best work, the film, starring an extraordinary Kirk Douglas, combines in just an hour and a half Kubrick’s technical and narrative mastery in an anti-war discourse that is not afraid to portray the senselessness of the high command of the First World War while bombarding us with shattering and indelible sequences.
The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957
Before astonishing half the world with his ‘Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean reaped a whopping seven Oscars with ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai which has endured in the collective memory thanks, in part, to its mythical soundtrack.
But if there is something that makes it a jewel in war movies of all time, beyond its superb staging, it’s the way it focuses the story on its characters, written to perfection and played by a cast of real luxury, which stands out as a priceless William Holden and Alec Guinness.
The Guns of Navarone, 1961
‘The Guns of Navarone’ may be the most enjoyable for its balance of lightness, ability to entertain, and old-school spectacularity. Closer to classic adventure films than to the pure and simple war genre, the almost three hours that J. Lee Thompson’s film leaves us with set-pieces to remember with outstanding special effects and, above all, a cast that exudes charisma and transmits it to each of the frames that make up the story.
Lawrence of Arabia, 1962
Each of the scenes that shape David Lean’s masterpiece is a small diamond in the rough used to build one of the great cathedrals of the history of the seventh art.
Photographed by Freddie Young in glorious 65mm that turns the film’s gigantic production design into an exercise as beautiful as it’s hypnotic, starring an unrepeatable Peter O’Toole, and exceptionally narrated by Lean, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ shouldn’t be confined to any genre other than cinema in capital letters.
The Battle of Algiers (La battaglia di Algeri, 1966)
With ‘The Battle of Algiers’, the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo signed one of those feature films that transcend the term to earn the adjective “cinematic experience”.
Set during the struggle between the Algerian National Liberation Front and the French colonialist army, the film finds its greatest virtue in a style that embraces documentary language and, when combined with the fantastic soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone, immerses the audience in a relentless struggle with overwhelming force.
The Dirty Dozen, 1967
‘Twelve from the Gallows’ wasn’t Robert Aldrich’s first approach to war movies set in World War II -there are ‘Attack!’ or ‘Ten Seconds from Hell’ to show us his impeccable hand for it-, but it was his greatest contribution to the genre. A real delight, epic, with a rounded script and, above all, with a cast that cuts the hiccups just by reading their names.
Once again we surf the fine line that separates genres to include Franklin J. Schaffner’s wonderful ‘Patton’ in our compilation.
Halfway between a biopic and the usual war film, the winner of seven Oscars focuses on the figure of the controversial American general George S. Patton, whose victory over Erwin Rommel changed the course of World War II, and who was played by George C. Scott in the most powerful acting exercise of his career.
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Johnny Got His Gun, 1971
Written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, who adapted his novel for the big screen, we could classify ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ as the great anti-war film in history and as one of the most disheartening, depressing, and harsh exercises we will find in this list; which continues to stir consciences with the same perfection as it did almost five decades ago.
It may not be exemplary in terms of staging and form, but the moral debates it raises and the way it captures the ordeal of a war victim are worthy of all praise.
A Bridge Too Far, 1977
The three-hour-long ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and its dramatization of the famous operation Market Garden, executed during World War II, are fabulous in every one of their formal and narrative aspects; but if this Richard Attenborough gem triumphed in its time and continues to be so captivating it’s due to a stellar international cast that leaves any of those mentioned in this list in its infancy.
The Deer Hunter, 1978
Four years after debuting at the hand of Clint Eastwood with ‘A $500,000 haul’, double Oscar winner Michael Cimino marked a new turning point in cinema set in the Vietnam War with ‘The Hunter’. Three almost perfect hours that, besides not exhausting at any time, keep you glued to the screen with a lump in your throat at the display of beauty and horror with which the director narrates the introspective journey of his protagonists.
The Submarine (Das Boot)’ (‘Das Boot’, 1981)
There are many “submarine” films, but none like Wolfgang Petersen’s masterful ‘Das Boot’. An atypical underwater approach to World War II from the German point of view directed to the thousand wonders that, drawing gold from the bottled scenario in which it’s set, provides 150 minutes in which the public shares the same claustrophobia, the same tension, and the same uneasiness as its desolate protagonists, sent to almost certain death.
Momentarily moving away from “modern” warfare, we go back to feudal Japan by the hand of Akira Kurosawa in the magnificent ‘Ran’; a production in which the Japanese master freely adapted William Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ with a beauty as captivating as unusual, captured thanks to an outstanding art direction and cinematography. Dazzling in every aspect.
Despite being aimed directly at the television market, this BBC production has managed to find a place in this selection thanks to its suggestive power and its terrifying exploration of the effects that a nuclear bomb would have on a population like that of Sheffield.
In the key of a mockumentary, ‘Threads’ portrays the hypothetical situation with a crudeness in which there is no room for the slightest hint of sugar or hope, and leaves passages that are material for the worst nightmares imaginable.
Oliver Stone’s first approach to the Vietnam War, whose trilogy set in the conflict would complete ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ and ‘Heaven and Earth’, rose on its own merits with the Oscars for best film and best direction.
Because ‘Platoon’, in addition to displaying the cynicism, rawness, and narrative expertise always present in the director’s work, gains points by diluting the experiences of Stone himself, who served in the war between 1967 and 1968; offering a first-hand view of the horror.
Full Metal Jacket, 1987
Maybe, among all the masterpieces that populate this list, ‘The Metal Jacket’ is our favorite film. With an overwhelming first half that portrays the harshness -and cruelty- of the training of the U.S. Marine Corps, and a second section in which the usual causality in film narrative gives way to a practically episodic structure, Stanley Kubrick signed a new anti-war plea, perfect in form and substance, set late in the infamous Vietnam War.
Schindler’s List, 1993
The lines that delimit the genre are often blurred and, in this case, we’re going to take the opportunity to claim this magnificent drama set in World War II.
Schindler’s List may not conform to the canons we have assimilated about war cinema, and it may be closer to historical drama, but very few feature films have captured the tragedy of the Holocaust with such sensitivity and mastery as Steven Spielberg’s monochrome classic.