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Historical Military & Law Enforcement

10 Best World War I Movies Ever Made

by Garry James   |  July 24th, 2012 56

If one is a firearms enthusiast, it’s almost axiomatic that he or she is also a war movie buff. There’s something in our psyche that draws us to tales of valor, derring-do and sacrifice, not to mention being able to look at a lot of interesting hardware and big explosions.

Without question, more movies have been made about World War II than any other, but before World War II there was World War I, and some of the best — if not the best — war films ever made were inspired by that conflict. Most movies about the Great War incorporate strong anti-war messages, and to be fair, I can think of few other conflicts (except perhaps the Crimean War or the Thirty Years War) in which this attitude is more appropriate. You’ll see this thread running through almost every one of my picks — it’s just the way it is. With the exception of movies made as propaganda during WWI and WWII, a good hunk of the First World War films were turned out in the 1920s and ’30s, when the nations of the world were licking their wounds and realizing what a grim, useless affair the whole mess really had been. World War I also proved to be an excellent analogy for Vietnam, so a number of First World War movies were also produced during that period. Anyway, without further ado, here are my particular favorites (and some runners-up) in chronological order.

My thanks to National Firearms Museum Chief Curator Phil Schreier, for his help in putting this list together.

Garry James

About Garry James

Garry was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1944. At age 11 he was given a Civil War vintage Remington revolver, and this began his passion for firearms. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, he joined the U.S. Army, eventually becoming an Ordnance ammunition officer. After discharge, he joined the staff of "Guns & Ammo" magazine in 1971, where he eventually served as Editor for several years. As well as acting as Arms & Armour Expert for the auction firm of Sotheby Parke Bernet, Garry has been a technical advisor for films and television, including the popular series, “Story of the Gun,” "Tales of the Gun"(for which he was series advisor,) "Mail Call," ”Unsolved History,” “Lock n’ Load,” “American Rifleman Television,” and “Top Shot.” Garry is currently Senior Editor at “Guns & Ammo,” and a contributor to “Guns & Ammo Television” and other Intermedia Outdoors TV productions. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on the history and the technology of firearms, and has a first-hand knowledge of everything from medieval hand-cannons to the most modern full-autos.

  • old vet

    Agree totally on All Quiet on the Western front. One of the few films that is as good as its book. The personalities of each character is developed for better or worse. As in real life the finest are lost to war. Actually have a first English edition.

    • Garry James

      Interestingly enough, I read a supposed book review in which the reviewer talks about the "butterfly" ending. This proves he didn't read the book at all, but just watched the movie. So much for journalistic integrity–but I guess that's an oxymoron, anyway.

    • Alan_T

      Vet , I think All Quiet on the Western Front was the first inkling that I had that war wasn't fun , when I was a kid .

      I mean , even when John Wayne got killed at the end of Fighting Sea Bee's …. it wasn't grim . It didn't show some poor sonovabitch screaming with his guts blown out , crying for God or his mother . Wayne just lolled over on the Caterpillar .

      Anyway , vet ………. are you gonna keep me posted when " NEW " vet # 6 arrives ? I'm keeping a good thought for them .

      • old vet

        Sure will friend, things are developing quite well. All Quiet was a book I firs read in English class about a year before I went to NAM. It was amazing how so much of the book still rang true to how things were, such as the bonds men can form in a terrible situation.And how hard it is to loose a comrade, and your youth.

        • Alan_T

          Hey vet …….. if the kids are still looking for a name for the baby …. it's ok with me if they want to use Alan _T.

          I knew you'd feel funny asking, so I volunteered it . HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • https://www.facebook.com/catdaddy75 Rick Catdaddy Blankenship

    Paths of Glory (one of the best war movies of all time) Blue Max close second

    • Parnell

      Great movie!

    • Alan_T

      I have to agree with you Rick ….. The Blue Max should have at least gotten an honorable mention .

  • lajemac

    What about 'The Lost Battalion' with Rick Schroder in 2001?

    • Chris

      I, too, was going to mention the Lost Battalion. That was a great movie.

  • snappquad

    Gun enthusiasts, not gun nuts, you nut job!!! I agree on Paths of Glory.

  • Steve

    Another honorable mention is the movie "the Lost Battalion".

  • Wayne

    "Once an Eagle" with Sam Elliott was very good.

  • 2WarAbnVet

    One problem I've always had with "Sergeant York" is the depiction of his use of the '03 Springfield. York's bayonet is a treasured item in the 82nd Airborne Division Museum, and you can see it at Ft. Bragg if you're ever out that way. It is a M1917 bayonet for the Enfield, with which the 82nd was equipped during WWI.

    • TV watcher

      In an interview on Jim Scoutten's show, Alvin York's son declares that his daddy told him that he used a Springfield because he did not like the sights on the 1917. Pretty good source, if you ask me.

      • 2WarAbnVet

        I understand. However, since an M1917 bayonet won't fir on an M1903 rifle, either he's mistaken or the 82nd has been lying to us all these years.

        • http://www.facebook.com/michael.mcnamara.75685 Michael McNamara

          My thought is that since Sgt. York was the technical advisor for the film, the film is likely correct. Personally, I think it more likely somebody got it wrong decades ago in the Army. These things happpen.

    • Garry James

      I visited Yorks sons in Pall mall TN and they swore that "Daddy" said he preferred the Springfield and swapped out his 1917 for one.

    • Alan_T

      It's like the squable over the use of the Colt Government Model and the Lugar in Sgt . York .

      • Garry James

        I've personally read York's diary and he definitely mentions he had a "Colt's" pistol. The reason they used a Luger in the film is that there were no blanks available that would work in a 1911.

      • 2WarAbnVet

        Too true! The movie depicts a captured Luger instead of York's M1911;

        • Veteran

          They had to use a 9mm Luger because when the movie was made, they didn't yet have .45 blanks that worked properly and consistently in the 1911.

          Sgt. York was issued a 1903 but preferred the sights on the 1917 when he shot it, so asked for a 1917 when he went into combat because he could shoot more consistently and accurately with it.

  • Parnell

    I think you overlooked "What Price Glory" with James Cagney. The only WW1 movie I can think of that portrayed the Marine Brigade ( 5th & 6th Marine Regiments) victors at Belleau Wood.

    • Garry James

      That was a so-so movie. The original silent with Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe was far superior and was mentiond as an Honorable Mention in my original list but was trimmed because of space.

    • Dick Brown

      Here Here, The Fighting 69th, Is my pick, from former Marine from the Korean "police action"

  • Joe

    I think you missed one; The Lost Battalion.

  • Kayem

    The Blue Max should have appeared on the list, at least with an "Honorable Mention"

  • mjorin

    How about "The Losy Battalion" with Ricky Schroder?

    • Alan_T

      Well ………….. you know how it is with lice ….. no one wants to get too close !
      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

      • Wally

        I didnt get you at first Alan ha ha ha

  • Patrick

    Joyeux Noël (English: Merry Christmas) should be mentioned. It's a 2005 film about the World War I Christmas truce of December 1914. Based on a true story, its a great film.

    • Bill L

      I watch it every Christmas season. The German baritone's songs were fantastic.

  • Alan_T

    Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front was freshmen required reading when I was in high school back in 19 ( cough , cough , coooooooough …. ) and the film with Lew Ayers definitely did it justice .

    • 98ZJUSMC

      Yes. I also liked the Ernest Borgnine/Richard Thomas remake, as well. Both, well done.

  • S-W-S

    I enjoyed "The Lighthorsemen" (1987); though at times sappy beyond words, I can watch the charge on Beersheba over and over; one of the most thrilling scenes in Australian cinema.

    FWIW, I second (third?) that The Blue Max should've been included at the very least as an honourable mention.

    • Bill L

      "Lighthorsemen" was good. I agree about the charge scene. Arguably the best cavalry charge on film.

  • ross

    I can't remember how many times I tried to get through Lawrence of Arabia. Couldn't do it. Too slow. Boring, actually.

    • old vet

      Have to agree ross, it's what used to happen when a good tale became an "Epic". Same with that God awful Dr. Zhivago or whatever.

      • Alan_T

        Yeah …… they were both long – a** boring movies .
        My sister " HAD " to see Dr . Zhivago , so the whole family got drug to it and I actually fell asleep about half way through it . I'm not joking , that's the truth . By the end I was hoping they'ed all get lined up against a wall ! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

        Oh …. and vet if you think Dr . Zhivago was gawd awful on the screen ….. you should have waded through Boris Pasternak's novel !

        All Quiet on the Western Front was freshman english and Dr . Zhivago was freshman world lit.

    • Alan_T

      I agree whole heartedly Ross ……. watching that was like going on a forced march across the desert yourself !

      Yeah , I've got T . H . Lawrence's " Allah Akbar " for him right here in my pocket , It came special delivery . HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • mike

      Perhaps you are a weak minded fool with no appreciation of fine Cinema. You are probably one of those guys that jumps up at every TV commercial to eat a donut or slice of pie. LoA is one of the top 5 best movies ever made, but you're probably more of a "Dancing with the stars", or American Idol kind of guy. Chaz Bono appreciates cuckolds like you. Ask your wife which shirt you should wear on your next Walmart visit.

  • Anishinabi

    Great comments guys. You are sending me to Amazon for some more DVDs. I have only seen about half of these films.

    • mike

      Lawrence of Arabia is a must see !!

  • 98ZJUSMC

    Good list. The Blue Max needs to be there.

    • DB523

      Hello 98, haven't seen you posting since the Bigs. come back.

  • navyphoto22

    Capitane Conan is an awesome flick and should be on the list!

  • scott

    " The Fighting 69th" with James Cagney and Pat O' Brian

  • Antonio

    What about "Slaughterhouse-Five?" Weird, I know, but shows in powerful imagery how the mind handles severe tragedies, like that in Dresden.

  • http://www.facebook.com/999johnston Robert Johnston

    Here's a few films from other conflicts:

    "Breaker Morant" (Anglo-Boer War)
    "Zulu" (Anglo-Zulu Conflict)
    "They Died With Their Boots On" (Battle Of Little Bighorn)
    "Johnny Got His Gun" (WWI)
    "Run Silent, Run Deep" (U.S. Submarine Conflict During WWII)
    "Apocalphyse Now" (Vietnam War)
    "The Longest Day" (WWII D-Day Campaign)

    –RKJ

    • old vet

      All good flicks, except for Apocalypse, does anyone else notice that about the middle of the flick, it "drops acid" and becomes way too surreal, If you have an eternity watch the "Redux" version.

    • mike

      We all know the good movies, but we're talking WW1 here, stay on subject, or else we'll have guys commenting on American idol or dancing with the stars.

      • old vet

        Only the guys that dig LoA

  • Bill L

    Let me add to the chorus of votes for "The Lost Battalion" and "The Blue Max." Great films. But one that hasn't been mentioned at all is "Passchendaele," a 2008 Canadian film about the bloody Third Battle of Ypres. Unlike many foreign war films, this one has significant focus on individual combat and the weapons used by the infantryman. The final battle scene gives nothing away in realism to the opening of "Saving Private Ryan." "Passchendaele" really deserves a look by every military history enthusiast.

    • old vet

      Finally found it on cable, good movie for the most part, loved the action. Thanks.

  • Parnell

    How about “What Price Glory” with James Cagney and Dan Dailey?

  • sasdf founder

    hi

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