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50 best WWII movies of all time

  • 50 best WWII movies of all time

    On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, forcing the world to go to war for a second time. The massive and lengthy war resulted in an estimated 75 million people deaths before it was called to an end on Sept. 2, 1945, with the surrender of the Japanese. In the years since, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of books written and movies made about World War II. These projects cover the war from every angle—that of Allied and Axis soldiers, civilians, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, Jewish people and other persecuted peoples; the list could go on.

    With the limited amount of free time most of us have today, it would be impossible to read all of these books or watch all of these movies. So Stacker has made it a little easier for you by rounding up the 50 best WWII movies of all time.

    To create this list, Stacker compiled data on the highest-rated WWII films from Metacritic and IMDb. To qualify, the film had to be listed as "war" on one or more of the major databases (IMDb, Metacritic, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.), have a registered Metascore (i.e. four or more reviews by critics), and at least 500 votes on IMDb. The films were then ranked by their Metascores as of Feb. 10, 2020, and ties were broken by IMDb user rating and, if necessary, further broken by votes.

    At Stacker, we recognize that genre is meant to help describe and communicate the tone of a film, not to serve as a limiting factor on what films can and cannot be. There are no hard and fast lines that define a WWII film outside of involving the war, and we agree that leaning into more open interpretations of what fits into certain genres is best practice for getting a pool of films that represent all possible expressions of a particular genre (e.g. "Casablanca" may not take place in the trenches, but being chased by Nazis in war-time Morocco qualifies in our book). So from hard-hitting films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler’s List" to more palatable offerings like "Their Finest," read on for some historical picks that should be added to your Netflix queue.

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  • #50. Darkest Hour (2017)

    - Director: Joe Wright
    - Metascore: 75
    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Runtime: 125 min

    Some aspects of WWII, like Britain’s decision to stand against Hitler, may seem like foregone conclusions. But the country’s entry into what was sure to be a long and expensive war was deliberated over by some of the U.K.’s greatest minds. "Darkest Hour," which stars Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, focuses on Great Britain’s deliberation in the spring of 1940 over whether they should enter the war or call a truce with Hitler and his army. The drama’s adherence to many of the historical facts makes this film stand out.

  • #49. Europa Europa (1990)

    - Director: Agnieszka Holland
    - Metascore: 75
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Runtime: 112 min

    The 1990 film, "Europa Europa" is based on the real-life tale of Solomon Perel, a German Jewish man who passes himself off as Aryan and ends up enrolled in Hitler’s Youth. Based on Perel’s autobiography, "I Was Hitler Youth Salomon," the film won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and received several other accolades for both Marco Hofschneider’s performance and its larger-than-life story.

  • #48. Land of Mine (2015)

    - Director: Martin Zandvliet
    - Metascore: 75
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 100 min

    A Danish-German film, "Land of Mine" tells the story of the German prisoners of war who were ordered to clear more than 2 million active landmines out of Denmark after their surrender. Under the Geneva Conventions, the removal of the landmines in this manner was actually a war crime, resulting in the death or injury of thousands of young men. The film has received praise for humanizing these servicemen, who are typically villainized by history.

  • #47. The Longest Day (1962)

    - Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Gerd Oswald, Bernhard Wicki, Darryl F. Zanuck
    - Metascore: 75
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 178 min

    Costing $10 million to produce, "The Longest Day" had the highest budget for a black-and-white movie at the time of its release in 1962. The three-hour epic was producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s dream project, and it attempts to tell the story of D Day from the point of view of everyone involved or impacted by the event. A number of very famous faces appear in the film, including John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, and Richard Burton, which surely contributed to the film’s $50 million box office pull.

  • #46. Army of Crime (2009)

    - Director: Robert Guédiguian
    - Metascore: 76
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Runtime: 139 min

    Adapted from a story by Serge Le Péron, "Army of Crime" tells the story of a resistance unit in Paris, helmed by an exiled Armenian poet. Praised by the New York Times’ Stephen Holden for its “semidocumentary authenticity,” the movie frequently references the infamous red posters circulated by the Nazi regime that featured the words “army of crime” under the photographs of various anti-fascists. With more than two dozen lead characters, the movie isn’t always easy to follow, but is an important watch as a “passionate act of remembrance.”

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  • #45. Their Finest (2016)

    - Director: Lone Scherfig
    - Metascore: 76
    - IMDb user rating: 6.8
    - Runtime: 117 min

    One of the few comedy films on our list, "Their Finest" is a WWII love story adapted from Lissa Evans’ novel, "Their Finest Hour and a Half." It follows Catrin Cole, a British scriptwriter in charge of creating a propaganda film that will boost the morale of her fellow citizens as The Blitz begins in earnest. The movie focuses heavily on the revolution of sexual politics and women’s roles brought on by wartime, a move that feels authentic as the film was written, directed, produced, composed, and more by a talented team of women.

  • #44. Hell Is for Heroes (1962)

    - Director: Don Siegel
    - Metascore: 76
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Runtime: 90 min

    In "Hell is for Heroes," a small, 12-man unit finds themselves responsible for defending a piece of the front—that would typically take an entire infantry company to hold—until backup can arrive some 48 hours later. The desperate mission is compounded by the fact that there is some heavy conflict between members of the small group (namely Harry Guardino and Steve McQueen’s characters). The 1962 film helped to redefine the combat film genre as one of the first to feature an antihero rather than a rule-abiding, good ol’ American boy.

  • #43. Lore (2012)

    - Director: Cate Shortland
    - Metascore: 76
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 109 min

    Many WWII movies are based on novels, including "Lore" which is based on Rachel Seiffert’s highly acclaimed "The Dark Room." The movie follows a Nazi family as they flee across Germany to safety, their once-strong faith in the regime unraveling every step of the way. Despite its heavy subject matter, "Lore" has a fairytale-like feel thanks to its poetic cinematography and rural setting.

  • #42. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)

    - Director: Marc Rothemund
    - Metascore: 76
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Runtime: 120 min

    In 1943 the Nazis executed Sophie Scholl, a university student and activist who distributed pamphlets on her campus protesting the war (the charge levied against her: high treason). This 2005 movie, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, tells her story. Drawing on the police records that detail their interrogations of Sophie, screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer was able to craft this realistic and moving account of the last six days of her life which is sure to motivate viewers to take a stand against injustice themselves.

  • #41. The Big Red One (1980)

    - Director: Samuel Fuller
    - Metascore: 77
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 113 min

    Based on writer and director Sam Fuller’s own combat memories, "The Big Red One" follows five tough veterans in the 1st Infantry Division as they fight their way from North Africa to Sicily to Omaha Beach. Fuller’s original version of the movie was 270 minutes, but the theatrical release was cut to a much trimmer (and more watchable) 113 minutes. In 2004, several years after Fuller’s death, a reconstruction of the film brought it up to 158 minutes, making this the perfect WWII film to fill a long, empty afternoon.

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