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Top 10 Favourite Classic World War II Films

When the United States went to war, so did Hollywood. As many male stars sacrificed their careers to enlist in the armed forces and serve their country, studios began churning out pictures that focused on World War II. Even after 1945, and to this day, World War II continues to be a source of inspiration to many filmmakers. Here are my top 10 favourite classic World War II films.

10. Bataan (1943)
Pacific Theatre | Philippines Campaign

Directed by Tay Garnett, Bataan follows the defense of the Bataan Peninsula against the invading Japanese by American and Filipino forces led by General Douglas MacArthur. With an ensemble cast that includes Robert Taylor, George Murphy, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Walker and Lloyd Nolan, the film centers on a combat unit of thirteen men whose mission it is to destroy a bridge along the peninsula and prevent the Japanese from rebuilding it.

Pacific Theatre | Philippines Campaign

Directed by David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai follows a group of Allied POWs interned at a Japanese prison camp in Burma. While there, they are forced to build a railway bridge over the River Kwai, which will be a vital supply route for the Japanese during the war. The film stars William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa, and received the Oscar for Best Picture at the 30th Academy Awards.

8. Casablanca (1942)
European/North African Theatre | Resistance

Directed by Michael Curtiz, Casablanca is set in Vichy-controlled Morocco and follows an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech Resistance leader, escape to neutral Portugal to continue his fight against the Germans. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including Best Picture.

7. Stalag 17 (1953)
European Theatre | POW camp

Directed by Billy Wilder, Stalag 17 follows a group of American airmen held in a German POW camp in 1944. When two prisoners are killed while trying to escape, the other men begin to suspect they have an informer among them. Starring William Holden, Don Taylor and Otto Preminger, the film was nominated for three Oscars, winning Best Actor for Holden.

6. The Great Escape (1963)
European Theatre | POW camp

Directed by John Sturges, The Great Escape is based on the massive break-out by British Commonwealth prisoners-of-war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in March 1944. The men devised an audacious plan to escape through three tunnels, and 76 prisoners eventually got out. However, only three managed to escape successfully. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and James Garner.

5. The Americanization of Emily (1964)
European Theatre | D-Day

Directed by Arthur Hiller, The Americanization of Emily is set in London in the weeks leading up to D-Day in 1944. It focuses on the romance between a cynical United States Navy officer and an assertive English driver who has lost her husband in the war. The films stars James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, and was nominated for two Oscars.

European Theatre | Nuremberg Trials

Directed by Stanley Kramer, Judgment at Nuremberg is a fictionalized account of the Judges' Trial of 1947, one of the 12 U.S. military tribunals during the Nuremberg Trials. It centers on the trial of four German judges and prosecutors who stand accused of crimes against humanity for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. With an ensemble cast that includes Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift, the film received ten Oscar nominations, winning Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Schell.

3. The Longest Day (1962)
European Theatre | D-Day

Directed by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki, The Longest Day depicts the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. It features a large international ensemble cast, including John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum and Richard Todd, who was actually one of first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. The film won two Academy Awards from a total of five nominations.

Pacific Theatre

Directed by John Huston, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison tells the story of a U.S. Marine Corporal and a novice nun who are stranded on a Japanese-occupied island in the South Pacific. They find comfort in one another as they hope for a rescue. The film stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, and was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Kerr.

1. Battleground (1949)
European Theatre | Battle of the Bulge

Directed by William A. Wellman, Battleground follows a company in 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division as they cope with the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, in the winter of 1944-1945. Starring Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalbán and George Murphy, the film won two Oscars from a total of six nominations.


  1. I'd probably find a place for "They Were Expendable" somewhere in there.

    1. I actually haven't seen that film yet, but I'll add it to my to-watch list.

  2. I still haven’t seen half of these. Love Battleground! That cinematography <3


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