Entertainment Weekly has come up with a list of memorable antiwar films, listed below.
Would you add other films to this list? Do you believe that any don’t belong on the list? Have antiwar films helped form your present views? What is the greatest and/or most memorable antiwar film of all time, in your opinion?
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)
The Hollywood adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel is one of the earliest anti-war films, and still stands among the most haunting. As naive young German troops fight and die in World War I, their devotion to their homeland comes to seem cruelly meaningless.
LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937)
French auteur Jean Renoir looks at WWI from the other side of the trenches and arrives at much the same conclusion. Three captured officers (Pierre Fresnay, Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio) bond in a German POW camp and learn that nationalism and class divisions are less important than the things all humanity has in common. Such a damning statement that the Nazis seized its negatives when they invaded France three years later.
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
Call it the Stop-Loss of its day: Midwestern war heroes (Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Frederic March) struggle to ease back into their small-town lives after World War II. A rare look at the long-term challenges faced by ”the Greatest Generation” once they defeated the Axis.
PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
Director Stanley Kubrick’s first big box-office success was also his first foray into the anti-war territory he would return to again and again. Kirk Douglas stars as a compassionate French colonel defending troops who have been accused of cowardice by their brutal superiors during WWI.
DR. STRANGELOVE: OR, HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
Kubrick’s approach is considerably lighter in this mordant Cold War satire. As the U.S. and U.S.S.R. hurtle toward nuclear apocalypse for no particular reason, Peter Sellers pulls off a hat trick, playing the psychotic rocket scientist of the title, the ineffectual American president, and the lone sane military man. A masterpiece of weapons-grade gallows humor.
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966)
Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo delivers a still-searing portrait of Algeria’s mid-20th-century war of independence against its French colonial government. As both sides trade escalating acts of terrorism and brutality, the Western occupation is revealed as an exercise in gory futility.
Yossarian lives! Mike Nichols directs an all-star ensemble (Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, Bob Newhart…Art Garfunkel?!) in an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s tragicomic WWII novel. The characters may have been Allied bombers stationed in the Mediterranean, but the theme of senseless violence amid a bureaucratic tangle could hardly have been more relevant to the ever-deepening Vietnam disaster.
Before Hawkeye and Trapper John were primetime-TV staples, they featured in Robert Altman’s dark Korean War comedy. Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Tom Skerritt star as wisecracking Army doctors in a chaotic base camp south of the DMZ in the 1950s — another thinly veiled stand-in for the situation in Vietnam.
COMING HOME (1978)
Three years after the U.S. withdrew from Southeast Asia, American audiences finally got a great film that explicitly addressed Vietnam. Jane Fonda and Jon Voight both took home Oscars for their roles in a love triangle involving a paraplegic veteran and his nurse…
THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
…and that same year, the Academy voted this intense Vietnam movie Best Picture. Robert De Niro, and Christopher Walken star as Pennsylvania steelworkers turned soldiers; we watch the war’s inhuman violence tear them apart as they proceed from a pre-war hunting trip through the battlefield and back home. You’ll never forget those Russian roulette scenes.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
In a loose re-telling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) journeys up a Cambodian river to find and kill the unhinged Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). It’s since become one of the most iconic Vietnam War films — quotes don’t get more quotable than Robert Duvall bellowing, ”I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”
DAS BOOT (1981)
Back to World War II: Director Wolfgang Petersen takes us inside a claustrophobic German submarine, revealing the grueling realities of undersea battle for a young crew whose members are beginning to question Nazi ideology.
The first and most affecting of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam films. Charlie Sheen, standing in for Stone’s own wartime experiences, drops out of college and ships off to the Army. Caught up in the violent rivalry between two superior officers — a brutal authoritarian played by Tom Berenger and a warmer sergeant played by Willem Dafoe — Sheen’s ideals are shattered.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
Another insanity-of-war polemic from Kubrick, this one focusing on a troop of Vietnam-bound Marines. First we see Vincent D’Onofrio as a young recruit driven insane by the brutal dehumanization of basic training. The film’s second segment follows the rest of the troops through a similarly hellish march into the city of Hue.
THREE KINGS (1999)
In director David O. Russell’s quirky examination of the (first) Gulf War’s aftermath, soldiers played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze happen upon a treasure trove of Saddam Hussein’s gold bullion in 1991 — and then things really get started. As they traverse the desert, gradually coming to realize the war’s effect on Iraq’s civilians, wry humor gives way to touching drama.
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated epic takes place more than 30 years ago, but it’s still the only feature film that’s truly done justice to the profound ethical complexity of today’s ”War on Terror.” Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, and others are undercover Israeli spies, assigned to secretly track and assassinate the Palestinian terrorists who planned the vicious murder of Jewish athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Their mission seems entirely righteous at first — but as they travel through Europe, picking off the men on their hit list, anything resembling moral clarity soon vanishes.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS/LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006)
Clint Eastwood directed not one but two dramas about the punishing Allied campaign to take Iwo Jima at the end of WWII. In Flags, the U.S. government forces the soldiers who hoisted the stars and stripes above the island in the iconic photograph into uncomfortable propaganda roles when they return home. And in the Japanese-language Letters, we see the same bloody battle from the other perspective, as Ken Watanabe’s Gen. Kuribayashi struggles to maintain dignity amid rising casualties.
I was surprised that they didn’t include “The War At Home“, a film which takes place after a soldier returns home from Vietnam, as he struggles to deal with the horrors he experienced; the film stars Emilio Estevez, Kathy Bates, and Martin Sheen.
Another antiwar film which I would highly recommend is “Jacob’s Ladder“. It stars Tim Robbins and Danny Aielo, and is kind of hard to explain. IMDB describes it as, “A traumatized Vietnam war veteran finds out that his post-war life isn’t what he believes it to be when he’s attacked by horned creatures in the subway and his dead son comes to visit him.” It seems like a horror film in many ways, but has a very interesting plot twist at the end, which still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Here is the trailer for “Jacob’s Ladder”:
Which antiwar films have you seen and would recommend to others?