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.
- 1925 -- U.S.
One of the most realistic of the early WWI films, star John Gilbert was superb in the leading role. Director King Vidor’s recreation of Belleau Wood is as powerful as any battle sequence ever filmed. It is gritty, realistic and has one of the most poignant endings of any war film, ever.
My thanks to National Firearms Museum Chief Curator Phil Schreier, for his help in putting this list together.