The 16 best World War I movies of all time
Published: 6 March 2023
By Phil de Semlyen
via the TimeOut web site
From ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to ‘Gallipoli’: Great War films ranked by historical accuracy
World War I has inspired not just some of the greatest war films, but a few of the greatest films ever made. Maybe because they’ve wrestled with complex themes of sacrifice, trauma, justice, social hierarchy, nationhood and the nature of comradeship, and eschewed simpler heroics, films like Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front and La Grande Illusion have only grown in stature over the years.
And the war’s enduring place in the public consciousness has seen a new wave of Great War films, with 1917, They Shall Not Grow Old and Journey’s End, and Germany producing its biggest contribution to the canon with Netflix’s new take on All Quiet on the Western Front.
To rank these films is a tricky task, so we enlisted the help of military historian, author and podcaster Paul Reed to cast an expert eye over them. A long-time interviewer of Great War veterans himself and the host of The Old Front Line podcast, he brings a unique perspective on their historical strengths – and weaknesses.
Best World War I movies
1. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Not just a violent crucible but also a petri dish for technological, medical and social leaps, the First World War is still indirectly fuelling innovation a century later. Peter Jackson’s sui generis documentary joins 1917 in reinventing the grammar of war films, painstakingly colourising reams of archive footage and adding the sounds of the war – including the actual voices of veterans – to create a truly haunting immediacy. Hearing some of the soldiers recalling their sadness when the Armistice finally came is a useful reminder that the experience of war was far from homogeneous.
The expert view: ‘It’s an incredible film in the way it brings the archives to life and it’s so powerful for featuring the recordings of the veterans. It shocked me to the core to hear the voices of men who’d been dead for 30 years that I’d once interviewed. Anyone with even a passing interest in the war should see it.’
2. Journey’s End (2018)
Frequently revived as a stage play, RC Sherriff’s claustrophobic and nail-gnawingly tense snapshot of a British dugout on the eve of the German Spring Offensive of 1918 isn’t immediately cinematic. But ‘The Duchess’ director Saul Dibbs’s adaptation – unlike the 1930 James Whale version – uses nimble camerawork and imaginative framing to expand the canvas and deliver a powerful human drama of doomed men in the subterranean world of the trenches. Strung out over a thin khaki line, the British Army is about to be battered – and this small but richly drawn platoon is at the sharpest end of it.
The expert view: ‘It depicts what, to me, is that essential moment on the eve of battle: a great storm is coming, and the men all sense it. It also shows how the officers in an infantry company lived and worked and fought and existed with each other, written by a veteran, which gives it that extra level of credibility. Adding Sheriff’s postscript showing how the losses affected those left at home – which is always missing in the play – is a nice touch.’
Read the entire article on the TimeOut web site.
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