From the sands of Normandy to the beaches of Iwo the breadth and depth of World War II films worth watching can simply be staggering. Add streaming sites into the mix, and it can be overwhelming, if not time consuming, to decide on what to watch for the night.
So, how about letting HistoryNet make the choices easy for you?
We’ll be up front about this: The Pacific Theater gets little to no love on this list — truth be told, the best depictions of that part of the war show up in a series format on the small screen. So, stay tuned for that on a later date.
And while film buffs and military history aficionados may have their own firm picks and opinions, here are, in no particular order, our top five best WWII films:
‘Land of Mine’
Inspired by true events, the emotionally complex historical war drama “Land of Mine” (2015) is an absolute must-see – just know it’s not a fun date night film.
Set in the aftermath of the Second World War after the five-year Nazi occupation of Denmark comes to an end, Danish director Martin Zandvliet reminds viewers that war is hell — but so, too, is the postwar.
The film follows a group of young German POWs sent to the coast of Denmark to remove explosives, buried there by the occupiers.
Forced to clear the beaches by hand, the boys — and they are all boys — tremble from fear, homesickness and hunger. The bucolic landscapes belie what is underneath the sand: a killing field.
“These are boys, not war criminals. Innocence is one more cost of fighting, but who is innocent?” wrote the Globe and Mail in 2015.
You might find yourself paradoxically rooting for the Germans in their quest for survival.
Based on the memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge, the unflinching gaze of the camera in “Downfall” (2004) focuses on Hitler and his inner circle as the Soviets — and the walls of the Fuhrer’s bunker — close in.
As the disconnect grows between the leaders of the Third Reich and the realities on the ground, Hitler pivots between cutting a frightening figure to demonstrating his drift from reality.
The film brilliantly captures the claustrophobic last days of the German Third Reich, not to mention the humorous, if not gleeful, parodies of the Nein, nein, nein, “Hitler Rant” that has entered pop culture infamy.
Who among us doesn’t want to live in the alternate universe in which Hitler was killed at the hands of the Allies? Bravado meets gore meets World War II in this 2009 Quentin Tarantino classic. And yes, it’s fast becoming a classic.
From Christoph Waltz playing an archetype Nazi, to the delightfully uncouth Americans mispronouncing buongiorno, the entire film runs roughshod over anything that approaches politically correctness.
That said, it’s a fun watch. What’s a little huntin’ Nazi business among friends?
Premiering this year on Netflix, “The Bombardment” is a look at the little-known Operation Carthage, a British air raid on Gestapo headquarters near the city center of Copenhagen, Denmark on March 21, 1945.
The raid itself was considered a success, yet precision bombing in 1945 could still be catastrophically tragic. Weeks before the German surrender, a misguided faith in precision attacks played out with horrific consequences as two RAF bombers accidentally mistook a children’s primary school for the German headquarters.
Pivoting between the RAF pilots, the Danish resistance and the precocious Danish children who steal the scenes, the real triumph of “The Bombardment” is that it plays the events that unfold around Operation Carthage straight.
“There is no neat little coda to the film justifying or condemning anything the audience has just seen, no afterword telling the viewer what they should think,” historian Alan Allport tweeted. “The film does the rare thing of taking the intelligence of its audience seriously.”
‘Battle of Britain’
Who doesn’t love the sound of a Spitfire in the morning?
Despite receiving only one star from Roger Ebert, the pioneering classic “Battle of Britain” (1969) is nevertheless an oldie but a goodie.
Sure, the editing is inept. And yes, the aerial video tends to repeat itself once, twice, even three times, but the fact that producers Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz were able to assemble 100 aircraft — famed Spitfires and Hurricanes in particular — should be a mark in their favor.
The armada they assembled was so large, in fact, that it was dubbed at the time the “35th largest air force in the world.”
Sometimes you watch a movie for a stirring plot; sometimes you watch it for the planes. The sheer grandeur of the latter in “Battle of Britain” elevates it to our list.