Hollywood has long embraced various monumental conflicts. What follows is the A list of war movies. There is a lot to choose from, but the author has narrowed the field to a select few. Argue if you care, but here are the best.
The initial category has two entries that capture the moment of long, long ago when knives and spears were brandished.
"300" is a unique presentation sans notable actors. The battle of Thermopylae pitted 300 Spartans protecting the home front against a horde of 300,000 Persians, more or less. Swirling around the combat is a myriad of political intrigue. Specific history it is not, but this film is a highly entertaining rendition of lore and myth. If it ain't true, it ought to be.
"Troy" is based on the Homeric classic, “The Iliad.” This particular war was supposedly fought in present-day Turkey over a woman named Helen who, in the day, was labeled "the face that launched a thousand ships." This soap opera has all the ingredients, including Brad Pitt as Achilles. Worth a look.
Time forwarding to America. The Civil War supplied three flicks that stood out.
"The Red Badge of Courage" cast real hero Audie Murphy (WWII most decorated soldier) as a confused combatant who struggles with his duty. A nice little film that deserved more accolades than received.
"Shenandoah" portrays the conflicted struggle of a family caught between North and South. A mature Jimmy Stewart makes it work well.
"Glory" gives great historical insight (aided by a sprinkle of fiction) into the black soldiers who laid it on the line for the Union. Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington are superb.
Two World Wars
I selected only one World War I movie. "Paths of Glory" is the grandfather of anti-war films. Kirk Douglas is terrific.
The studios hit their stride covering World War II, influenced by the duration and world involvement that encompassed this mammoth fight for freedom. Hence, there is much to choose from.
"The Longest Day" was also the longest movie; three hours of movie stars on parade. In spite of the endless list of notables, the story line is insightful and provocative. The D-Day landing portrayal at Normandy was well received. The cost of production was $10 million, a whopper of a budget. It paid off handsomely at the box office and won two Oscars from five nominations.
"Midway" is a no-brainer selection. A solid cast, including Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston, act out the tense sea battle with the Japanese that changed the fortune of war in the allies favor.
William Holden made two POW movies that deserve high praise. "Stalag 17" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai" are magnificent. Pay attention to the performance by Alec Guinness in the latter.
Two heavy action movies make the list. "The Guns of Navarone" and "The Dirty Dozen" feature special forces action. A little-remembered but excellent film, "Attack" makes the list. Jack Palance is at his best and Eddie Albert delivers a shoulda-been Oscar performance as a cowardly officer.
"Sands of Iwo Jima" is one of John Wayne's best. The actual footage makes it memorable.
Then there is the best in class: "Patton." George C. Scott give the performance of a lifetime, a totally convincing portrayal of the controversial general. Terrific casting, especially Karl Malden; and a powerful music score.
Vietnam & beyond
Vietnam spawned several classics. "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" gave the viewer the dark side. The counter-culture was well served by the recognition these two gave to the controversial involvement in southeast Asia.
If you care for realism, however, "They Were Soldiers" hit it out of the park. This Mel Gibson vehicle got scant support from Hollywood elite, for obvious political reasons. Nonetheless, it is a superior film.
Recent conflicts produced the backdrop for two gritty renderings. "Black Hawk Down" chronicles the military code of "no man left behind." The 1993 street fight in Mogadishu is riveting. "Lone Survivor" recounts a Navy Seal
recon team's fight for survival in hostile Afghanistan.
Celebrating war is a tricky business. Perhaps the future battles will be more antiseptic; drones and robots replacing human participation.
No glory, no odes, no martyrs.
Patton would hate it.
Scott Dyke is a Wyatt Earp historian, Western writer, lecturer and researcher. He is a member of the Western Writers of America. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.