10 Best World War II Movies Based on Real Events

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A Brief History

Earlier today, we covered a notable incident during World War II that later inspired a major motion picture.  Here we present another of our popular companion lists for this entry…

Digging Deeper

10. Das Boot (1981)

Perhaps the best submarine movie ever made, the perspective of a U-Boat crew is captured with realism not found in prior war movies prior.  The miserable conditions on the boat and the prospect of drowning are ever-present.  In German with English subtitles gives the best feel for what the crew is saying, but the film is also available in dubbed English for those who do not like subtitles.

9. Sink The Bismarck (1960)

Notable for showing the shore based planning and hand wringing associated with trying to find the mighty ship, the popularity of the movie spawned a Johnny Horton hit song by the same name.

8. Memphis Belle (1990)

The film depicts the last mission of the first US B-17 to complete 25 bombing missions over Europe.  The bombing offensive was actually the most costly battle fought by Americans in World War II, and Memphis Belle captures the blood pounding terror and the valor to overcome it.

7. The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

Not all victims of wars are soldiers and sailors.  Some are teenaged girls hiding in an attic.  The film won 3 Academy Awards and even spawned a play (see the above trailer).

6. Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

These companion movies show the terrible Iwo Jima battle from first the American and then the Japanese perspective.  If not the most vicious battle of the war,Iwo Jima was at least the most vicious battle fought by Americans.

5. The Great Escape (1963)

Although somewhat fictionalized, the underlying story really happened and is truly remarkable.  The film also featured Steve McQueen’s breakout role.

4. The Longest Day (1962)

This epic movie filled with the biggest movie stars and featuring a theme song by Paul Anka shows the lead up to D-Day on both sides of the Channel, not just battle scenes.  Actors starring in the film include John Wayne, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum and even Gert Frobe and Sean Connery the stars of Goldfinger!

3. Patton (1970)

George C. Scott portrayed general George Patton, a.k.a. casting made in heaven!  Scott captures the flamboyance and passion of Patton in one of the best character portrayals in wartime movie history.  The opening speech by Scott as Patton is stirring and memorable.

2. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

It is good, good, good!  The film gives the Japanese perspective as well as showing the confusion and muddled preparations by the American military.  It is the Pearl Harbor movie!

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

You could feel the terror and confusion of “Bloody Omaha” beach during the D-Day landing.  The film is also notable for another fantastic Tom Hanks performance, while the ending leaves the audience in tears!  This movie humanizes the soldiers like few movies can.

The above films are award-winning and culturally significant, with many allusions made to them in other aspects of modern popular culture.  They are essential viewing for everyone!

Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite World War II movie?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

James, David and Steven Spielberg.  Saving Private Ryan: The Men, the Mission, the Movie : A Film by Steven Spielberg (Newmarket Pictorial Moviebooks).  Newmarket Press, 1999.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.