Five Film Favorites: War/Anti-War


Giancarlo Giannini in Lina Wertmüller's "Seven Beauties."


As a setting for a compelling story, the extremes of war have been useful to the tellers of tales for centuries. After plenty of short films set during various wars had been made in the early years of filmmaking, the first American feature-length movie to receive widespread distribution was D.W. Griffith’s Civil War (and aftermath) silent melodrama “The Birth of a Nation” (1915). It was the original blockbuster.

Most of the best war movies, at least in my book, have a hint of anti-war sentiment in them. Some might call it sanity; war isn’t just hell, it’s crazy hell.

However, a traditional war movie is usually concerned with the quest to bravely fight through that crazy hell as part of a larger purpose. Frequently, it’s about losing oneself in the pursuit of that quest. The plots of such movies are about what goes into heroism, the circumstances surrounding a heroic act.

Whereas, an anti-war film is more likely to be about the toll of war, or perhaps the sheer folly of it. Although it’s sometimes hard to draw a clear line between war movies and anti-war movies, this time that’s exactly the point under consideration. And I’ll let my choices speak to that point.

Thus, for this installment of film favorites there are two different lists of five. Naturally, readers are encouraged to add their own lists for either category in the comments section.

Heroic War Films


Steve McQueen making "The Great Escape," directed by John Sturges.


“Attack” (1956): Directed by Robert Aldrich; Cast: Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin
“The Deer Hunter” (1978): Directed by Michael Cimino; Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
“The Great Escape” (1963): Directed by John Sturges; Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
“The Thin Red Line” (1998): Directed by Terrence Malick; Cast: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel
“The Train” (1964): Directed by John Frankenheimer; Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau

Anti-War Films

“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
“Forbidden Games” (1952): Directed by René Clément; Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly, Amédée
“King of Hearts” (1966): Directed by Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold, Pierre Brasseur
“Paths of Glory” (1957): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
“Seven Beauties” (1975): Directed by Lina Wertmüller; Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler

— F.T. Rea

This entry was posted in Film, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Five Film Favorites: War/Anti-War

  1. James Young says:

    Good lists, but I don’t know how you limit it to five each. For example, “Stalag 17” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” seem like good candidates. And there are a lot of candidates for other sub-categories: character/command studies (“Patton”; “The Gallant Hours”; “Gettysburg”); “grunt” movies (“Platoon”); aftermath movies (“Deer Hunter”; “The Best Years of Our Lives”; and — God help me — “First Blood”). You could almost do a category for every war.

  2. Hank Brown says:

    I’m with James on this one. Just too many damn wars! And what is a “war movie” anyway. “The African Queen”, “Shindler’s List” and “Empire of the Sun” come to mind as great films set during wars that probrably aren’t condisered war moives.

  3. F.T. Rea says:

    Hank, of course labels don’t always fit perfectly. Sure, any film with a war in it could be called a War Movie. Same as with the music business. The term “rock music” is so vague it can include a lot of sounds. But so what?

    Back to movies: “Shindler’s List” was one of the last cuts from the Heroic list. Same for “Das Boot.” And, “Grand Illusion” was the last title cut for the Anti list.

    Anyway, I enjoy making these lists and I hardly offer them as the last word — no experts at this desk. At best, these lists are conversation starters; sometimes one of them might encourage a reader to see a good movie. At worst, they are a waste of time.

  4. I agree with your thesis, but your execution of it seems flawed. We do have a few movies that while not pro-war, downplay the terribleness of it for entertainment value. “The Great Escape” (my favorite war film) fits in that category. However, “Attack!” is a brutal indictment of incompetence in command. The main character has his arm run over by a tank! It is firmly in the anti-war category. Terence Malick would be very upset that you put “Thin Red Line” in the first group. I think he meant the film to be about the negative effects of war on the physical environment and the environment of men’s minds.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s