Best World War II Movies - Featured - StudioBinder

World War 2 movies have served as some of the best films ever to be made and for good reason. The politics and battles portrayed in WWII movies arguably shaped the world today more than any other event throughout modern history.

In this post, we’re going to give you a ranked list of the best World War II movies of all time along with a list of honorable mentions with films set during WWII that portrayed drama away from the battlefield.

WW2 Movies

Honorable Mentions for WWII Movies 

Some films that are set during World War 2 may not be considered WWII movies in the most traditional sense, but they often are such amazing films that it would be unfair to completely leave them off the list. 

These include films that focus on events peripheral to the strategic battles and conflicts between the warring nations. This includes events the Holocaust, civilian life during the war, and the aftermath of WWII. 

We’ve decided to create a miniature list for these films set during World War 2 so you don’t miss these great films, but also have an idea of where the combat-based WWII films stack up against each other.

Top World War 2 Movies

10. Black Book (2006)

Black Book Trailer

Black Book is a great example of a film that takes during World War II, had an important effect, but that didn’t take place on the battlefield. I think there are more opportunities for a great WWII espionage movie, but there have been some recent flops that suggest an uphill battle. 

IN CONCLUSION

Black Book

  • The movie was almost canceled in 2004 when many of the foreign companies that had promised to fund the movie had not yet paid up. Production was abruptly green-lit again in the autumn of 2005 when the 16-million-Euro budget was finally secured. This allowed the production team only a couple of months for principal photography.
  • Tomatometer: 75%
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Greatest World War 2 Movies

9. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the Fireflies Trailer

If you’re a fan of Japanese animation, World War II movies, and the struggle to rebuild a life, you will want to check out Grave of the Fireflies. The movie has a great soundtrack and while the American bombings are the catalyst for much of the drama, the film is very mature about showing the internal complications that arose in Japan after the war.

IN CONCLUSION

Grave of the Fireflies

  • Produced concurrently with My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Many of the animators had trouble remembering which film they were animating.
  • Tomatometer: 97%
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World War 2 Movies

8. The Pianist (2002)

The Pianist Trailer

Beyond the wonderful acting and cinematography, The Pianist is one of the best World War 2 films of all time because it tackled difficult and somewhat familiar subject matter through a unique approach.

IN CONCLUSION

The Pianist

  • Adrien Brody became the youngest person to date to win an Academy Award for Best Actor when he won for this film at the age of 29.
  • Tomatometer: 95%
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Best WW2 Movies

7. The Great Dictator (1940)

The Great Dictator Trailer

The Great Dictator was completed before the United States had even entered the war, and it serves as one of the greatest World War II movies ever with hilarious writing and directing along with a great ending.

IN CONCLUSION

The Great Dictator

Best World War 2 Movies

6.​ Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Hangmen Also Die! Trailer

When you combine the subject of World War 2 with a great filmmaker like Fritz Lang you will get something unique. This is one of the best WW2 films to be made and was completed before the end of the war.

IN CONCLUSION

Hangmen Also Die!

  • The idea for the film was inspired by the assassination of Gestapo official Reinhard Heydrich by Czech guerrillas and the subsequent reprisals taken by Nazi occupation forces.
  • Tomatometer: 85%
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World War II Movies

5. Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful Trailer

Life is Beautiful is a top WW2 movie that some find charming and others find offensive. I like the give the film the benefit of the doubt, though both sides bring up good questions. Is it right to deceive your child in an attempt to shield them from a truly terrible situation? In the end, is joy and love the only things that matter in this world?

IN CONCLUSION

Life is Beautiful

  • Roberto Benigni's Oscar for best actor marked only the second time that an actor had directed himself in an Academy Award winning performance.
  • Tomatometer: 80%
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Good WW2 Movies

4. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun Trailer

This films is wonderfully directed and expertly shot. What might have been a good WW2 film with another director becomes a great World War II movie under Spielberg, and launched Christian Bale’s career.

IN CONCLUSION

Empire of the Sun

  • David Lean originally wanted to direct.
  • Tomatometer: 75%
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World War Two Movies

3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds Trailer

Many younger film lovers might have Inglourious Basterds as their pick for the best World War Two movie. It’s easily one of Tarantino’s best pictures, and shows an unconventional approach within the genre.

IN CONCLUSION

Inglourious Basterds

  • Roughly only thirty percent of the film is spoken in English, the language which dominates the film is either French or German, with a little Italian. This is highly unusual for a Hollywood production.
  • Tomatometer: 89%
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Top WW2 Movies

2. Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca Trailer

Casablanca is considered to be a near perfect film, and should serve as an example to many filmmakers that a great way to create drama in your own films is to set great characters inside an already interesting conflict.

IN CONCLUSION

Casablanca

  • During production, Humphrey Bogart was called to the studio to stand in the middle of the Rick's Cafe set and nod. He had no idea what the nod meant in the story — that he was giving his O.K. for the band in the cafe to play the "Marseillaise."
  • Tomatometer: 98%
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Great WW2 Movies

1.​ Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List Trailer

Schindler’s List is one of the greatest World War 2 films of all time and as a film that showed the Holocaust. The script, character arcs, use of cinematic techniques combine to make one of the best films ever made.

IN CONCLUSION

Schindler’s List

  • At his insistence (citing that it would be "blood money"), all royalties and residuals from this movie that would normally have gone to Steven Spielberg instead are given to the Shoah Foundation, which records and preserves written and videotaped testimonies from survivors of genocide worldwide, including the Holocaust.
  • Tomatometer: 97%
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Good World War II Movies

World War 2 Combat Movies

Now, let’s look at a list of the best World War 2 movies that prominently feature real life, combat based events that took place during WWII.

Top WW2 Movies

20. Stalingrad (2013)

Stalingrad Trailer

Stalingrad may not be the best World War II movies to ever be made, but it definitely brings something unique to the table due to some interesting visual choices and a Russian perspective seldom seen on this scale. 

IN CONCLUSION

Stalingrad

  • The set built near St. Petersburg was meant to reproduce every detail of Stalingrad's heroic image. The construction of the set took six months, involved over 400 people and cost around 4 million dollars.
  • Tomatometer: 50%
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Best WW2 Movies of All Time

19. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates Trailer

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the most important events to take place during World War II, and Enemy at the Gates does a great job at showing this significance to western viewers. This particular story focuses on the information war and the rise in the usage of the Sniper.

This isn’t a perfect World War II movie, but it is definitely a good WW2 movie, and the battle scenes, performances, and pacing keep this film entertaining through to the very end of the film.

IN CONCLUSION

Enemy at the Gates

  • The character of Ludmilla is a possible reference to another famous Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who had over 300 kills, even more than that of Vassili Zaitsev, who had around 257 kills.
  • Tomatometer: 54%
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Good WW2 Films

18. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Dirty Dozen Trailer

Now, a lot of people love this film and would rate it higher, but as far as World War II films go this movie is pretty basic. The gruff style of the filmmaking, take no prisoners script, and performances make this one of the most beloved World War II movies. 

IN CONCLUSION

The Dirty Dozen

  • Lee Marvin (Marines), Telly Savalas (Army), Charles Bronson (Army), Ernest Borgnine (Navy), Clint Walker (Merchant Marine), Robert Ryan (Marines), and George Kennedy (Army) all served in World War II.
  • Tomatometer: 88%
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Best World War 2 Movies

17. Fury (2014)

Fury Trailer

Fury might be the most masculine and muscular of modern World War II films, but it also has a nice little section that touches on the cost of war and the blurred lines of ally, enemy, good, and bad. 

There are also a good number of really entertaining tank scenes, and this is one of the only films that kept the focus on the armored vehicles used in World War 2 rather than aerial combat or general infantry.

IN CONCLUSION

Fury

  • About shooting in Oxfordshire, England, Brad Pitt said, "No rations, no showers, and we were sleeping in the rain. It was miserable, but we loved it".
  • Tomatometer: 76%
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Best WWII Movies

16. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Trailer

This is one of the best WWII movies both from a filmmaking standpoint but also as a study of war, the spiritual cost and the relationship between a soldier’s personal beliefs weighed against the military objective.

This World War II film is based on a true story, and one thing I think is important to mention is not only how unique this story is with regard to the main character but also how this story could only have occurred in the United States at the time. 

Do you think the court ruling that allowed Doss to avoid fighting have been allowed in Germany, or Japan, or Russia, or even Great Britain?

IN CONCLUSION

Hacksaw Ridge

  • Mel Gibson said that the battle scenes were influenced by nightmares he had during his childhood, when his father Hutton Gibson, a World War II veteran who served in Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater, described the horrors he witnessed as bedtime stories.
  • Tomatometer: 85%
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Best World War 2 Movies of All Time

15. Valkyrie (2008)

Valkyrie Trailer

I believe this particular World War 2 movie is pretty great and should get much more credit than it does, but I also understand why people prefer other films. The movie has an awesome cast and Bryan Singer is a great director. He knows how to move the camera and create suspense even when we generally know how things ultimately will play out.

IN CONCLUSION

Valkyrie

  • This movie grossed $200 million worldwide, making it the fifth-highest grossing World War II movie of all time.
  • Tomatometer: 62%
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Great WW2 Movies

14. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima Trailer

As a companion piece to Flag of our Fathers, this is considered to be the better of the two films, and in many ways is the best World War II film to show a battle from the perspective of the Japanese.

IN CONCLUSION

Letters from Iwo Jima

  • Ken Watanabe read actual letters sent by Imperial Japanese Army General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his family from Iwo Jima while preparing for his role.
  • Tomatometer: 91%
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Good World War II Movies

13. The Guns of Navarone (1961)

The Great of Navarone Trailer

This is one of the most unique WWII films on this list. There are some seriously great plot devices and complicated relationships built into this script and it makes for an unforgettable movie watching experience.

The movie does a great job of stringing together a simple mission with twists and turns, double crosses, and hidden explosives.

IN CONCLUSION

The Guns of Navarone

  • Gregory Peck declined to attempt an English accent in order to play Captain Mallory.
  • Tomatometer: 95%
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Best World War Two Movies

12. The Great Escape (1962)

The Longest Day Trailer

The Great Escape is one of the best WW2 films of all time, but I’ll admit that it has a bit of a rah rah sensibility that may have worked in the 1960’s, but I highly doubt would have worked as well during the 1940’s. The ending of the film makes it work, and if they had gone about it any other way I wonder if it would have been deemed too far fetched.

IN CONCLUSION

The Great Escape

  • The tunnel sets were were constructed of wood and skins filled with plaster and dirt and open on one side with a dolly track running the length of the set in order to shoot scenes of prisoners scooting along through them.
  • Tomatometer: 94%
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Best World War Two Movies

11. The Longest Day (1962)

The Longest Day Trailer

This is one of the most expensive and largest World War II films ever made when accounting for inflation. This movie also made great use of interesting camera decisions, in some cases hovering above the battle in some sort of flying machine while a massive number of extras duke it out below complete with moving vehicles and effects.

This is one of the more singularly focused World War Two movies which for many fans of the genre is a good thing. Seldom will you see a movie focus on warfare and the troops as much as in The Longest Day.

IN CONCLUSION

The Longest Day

  • With a ten million dollar budget, this was the most expensive black-and-white movie ever made until Schindler's List (1993).
  • Tomatometer: 87%
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Best World War II Films of All Time

10. Downfall (2004)

Downfall Trailer

Downfall is another unique film in that it follows Hitler’s last weeks as the leader of Germany with the perfect level of intended accuracy and dispassionate portrayal of someone universally despised. Hitler is humanized in this film, and while some may object, I think it’s important to show Hitler in as straightforward a manner as possible.

IN CONCLUSION

Downfall

  • Many of Adolf Hitler's lines are historically accurate, based on accounts from Albert Speer and Traudl Junge. Most of them, however, are from earlier dates.
  • Tomatometer: 90%
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Good World War II Movies

9. Battle of Britain (1969)

Battle of Britain Trailer

Battle of Britain is a great World War II movie that focuses on the aerial combat over the English Channel that allowed the British to avoid invasion from the Nazi forces at the edge of France and elsewhere. While the film jumps around to several personal relationships, it always returns back to the action in the air and shows everything to the British the high command, radar rooms, and Nazi perspective.

IN CONCLUSION

Battle of Britain

  • Twenty-seven Spitfires, in various degrees of repair, were found for this movie, twelve of which could be made airworthy. Only six Hurricanes where found, three of which were made flyable. The Messerschmitt 109s were all retired from the Spanish Air Force.
  • Tomatometer: 63%
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Best World War II Movies

8. The Big Red One (1980)

The Big Red One Trailer

This World War II movie has the unique benefit of the director having actually been a part of “The Big Red One”, which was the 1st Infantry Division, and they fought all over Europe including in North Africa, Normandy, and Western Germany. The group eventually liberate a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

IN CONCLUSION

The Big Red One

  • Director Samuel Fuller served in World War II. He was a member of "The Big Red One" and many of the moments in this movie are based upon his own experiences.
  • Tomatometer: 90%
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Best World War 2 Movies

7. Patton (1970)

Patton Trailer

Patton is one of the best World War II movies of all time because there are a ton of big battle scenes with lots of production design, but it also does a great job of showing the unique qualities that made Patton such an interesting character. Patton was complicated. He had a big ego, but loved his troops and he was more interested in winning rather than fear which meant he was able to, at times, back that ego up through action.  

IN CONCLUSION

Patton

  • The ivory-handled revolvers George C. Scott wears in the opening speech were actually George S. Patton's bona-fide revolvers.
  • Tomatometer: 96%
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Best World War Two Movies

6. Come and See (1985)

Come and See Trailer

Come and See is the most haunting of the World War II films out there, and it does a great job of making the visuals resemble the inner feelings of the troop and civilians that saw the terrible cost of war. It would be a truly terrifying thing to go to war, and this is shown through the events, the camera placement, movement and the performances.

IN CONCLUSION

Come and See

Top WW2 Films

5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai Trailer

The Bridge on the River Kwai won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Music. That’s quite a list, and this should tell you exactly why this is one of the top WW2 films ever to be made.

IN CONCLUSION

The Bridge on the River Kwai

  • On the first take of the final bridge sequence, the explosives on the bridge didn't detonate. The train crossed over safely, only to crash down a hill on the other side.
  • Tomatometer: 95%
  • Watch Now

Great WW2 Films

4. Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot Trailer

Das Boot is a wild and claustrophobic ride onboard a Nazi U-Boat, which was the German equivalent of a submarine. This World War 2 films was meant to be a mini-series but instead was made into a movie. 

IN CONCLUSION

Das Boot

  • The movie was shot silent (because of exaggerated camera noise in the submarine interiors) and all German and English dialogue had to be looped.
  • Tomatometer: 98%
  • Watch Now

Best WW2 Films 

3. The Thin Red Line (1998)

The Thin Red Line Trailer

If you’ve ever seen The Thin Red Line you’ll understand why it’s such a wonderful film to both watch and hear. This is one of the best WW2 films because sometimes a really good war films need to focus on things larger than the struggle between nations or the fight for survival, but also the question of purpose, existence, and nature.  

IN CONCLUSION

The Thin Red Line

  • In the script, the part of Corporal Fife (Adrien Brody) was one of the largest, although he barely speaks a line in the finished film, due to Terrence Malick's severe editing techniques.
  • Tomatometer: 80%
  • Watch Now

Greatest World War 2 Movies

2. Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk Trailer

Dunkirk is one of the greatest World War 2 movies of all time and it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. While there are a few small plot points that take historical liberties, the film is pretty accurate to the retreat from Dunkirk beach, and this film works as a thriller as much as a war film.

IN CONCLUSION

Dunkirk

  • This movie was shot on the actual beach at Dunkirk where the evacuation took place. When scouting for the movie, Christopher Nolan found a button from an English soldier's uniform in the sand.
  • Tomatometer: 93%
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The Best WW2 Movie Ever

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan Trailer

This is the best WW2 movie ever, and it combines Steven Spielberg’s directing with a killer script and wonderful performances. There are so many great concepts and lines laced throughout the film, as well as a group of soldiers that each have a unique voice and perspective. 

It also has some of the best battle scenes in a film which includes the Omaha Beach scene near the beginning of the film.

IN CONCLUSION

Saving Private Ryan

  • The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million to shoot and involved up to 1,000 extras, some of whom were members of the Irish Army Reserve. Of those extras, twenty to thirty of them were amputees, issued with prosthetic limbs to simulate soldiers having their limbs blown off.
  • Tomatometer: 93%

Up Next

The Best Crime Movies of All Time

Now that you have a bunch of World War 2 films that you need to watch, make sure to add another huge list of films to your plate by checking out the best crime films of all time so you’ll never leave your house. 

Up Next: The Best Crime Films of All Time →
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