July 11, 2023

7 World War II Classics that you must see…

Since the end of the Second World War almost 80 years ago, numerous movies and series have been made about the war. It has always been difficult to capture on film in a realistic way the events that happened during this intense period of fighting, prosecution, fear, and heroism. These seven movies and series are considered to be classics based on the stories of veterans and other survivors, featuring many iconic locations across Europe. Be sure to move these seven classics to the top of your watchlist!

Band of Brothers (2001)

Band of Brothers is one of the most popular World War II television series of all time. It was a co-production by the famous director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks. The series follows the Easy Company of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division beginning with their training in 1942 until the end of the Second World War. The Easy Company had an important role during D-Day and took part in the Battle of Carentan, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

The series has ten 60-minutes episodes, each giving a realistic overview of the final phase of the Second World War. The series was nominated for 19 Emmy Awards and won six. It also received a Golden Globe for ‘best Mini-series or Television film’.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

One of the most famous Second World War films in recent history, Saving Private Ryan has become an instant classic since its release in 1998. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it was the first film to portrayed the D-Day events in a realistic way. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is on a mission to find private Ryan (Matt Damon) because of the death of Ryans’ two brothers, which meant he was allowed to return to the U.S. Yet, Captain Miller faces the problem that Ryan, who was part of the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers, was dropped somewhere in France. The movie recounts his heroic journey to find Ryan before it is too late.

The movie was well received. It became the inspiration for the Band of Brothers tv-series. The movie won five Academy Awards, two BAFTA awards, two Golden Globes, and many more international awards. 

The Pacific (2010)

The Pacific can be viewed as a sequel to Band of Brothers, but the story takes place in the Pacific theater of the war in Asia. The story is based on the memoires of Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, two American marines who took part in the war against the Japanese Empire. During the course of the film, the 1st Marine Division fights in several battles, such as Guadalcanal, Okinawa and Cape Gloucester.

The Pacific is very different from Band of Brothers and focuses more on individual stories of the people who fought in the war. Like Band of Brothers, the film was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The series won seven Primetime Emmy Awards and was also nominated for a Golden Globe.

Downfall (2004)

World War II movies are often told from the perspective of the Allied Forces, but in Downfall viewers experience the end of the Second World War from the German perspective during the final Battle of Berlin. Downfall takes place in Hitler’s bunker, where he resided during the final days of Nazi Germany as the Soviet Red Army encircled Berlin. Traudl Junge, the main character, becomes the last private secretary for Adolf Hitler and also moves to the bunker.

During the film it becomes clear how loyal people, even children, remained to Hitler and his ideology during the final days. The movie was nominated for an Oscar in ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category.

Dunkirk (2017)

Released in 2017, Dunkirk has already become a classic World War II film. This film, directed by Christopher Nolan, tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation (part of Operation Dynamo) during the Second World War. The British-American-French-Dutch co-production raised the most money out of any other film in the World War II genre.

The story is told from three points of view: the Dunkirk beach with the infantry, the evacuation by the Navy across the English Channel, and in the air from the perspective of several RAF pilots. Most actors were not well known, except for the singer Harry Styles. The film won several awards including a BAFTA and three Academy Awards.

The Longest Day (1962)

The longest day is based on the book ‘’The longest Day, June 6, 1944: D-day’’ written by Cornelius Ryan in 1959. The movie is an overview on the first 24 hours after the D-Day landings in Normandy and the story is told from the American, British, French, and German perspectives.

The three hour black and white movie depicts the Germans preparing for a possible Allied invasion, the landing of the American and British paratroopers in France, the arrival of the French troops in Ouistreham, and many other events that took place during D-Day. The movie won three Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. Before the release of Schindler’s List, it was the most expensive black and white film ever made. 

A Bridge Too Far (1976)

In 1974, Cornelius Ryan published another book about Operation Market Garden, which he became most famous for. Richard Attenborough adapted the book into a film in 1977. The film tells the story of the failure of Operation Market Garden, a military operation led by the British Army to take nine bridges that could have opened a way into Germany for the Allied forces. The story builds to a climax to that battle for the last bridge in Arnhem, which the Allies failed to capture. Although the critics were divided on the movie, it is seen today as a classic in the World War II genre. 

Interested in visiting some of the iconic locations seen in these films? Check out Europe Remembers for more information about museums, destinations and trips, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Europe Remembers is a campaign of the LRE Foundation to commemorate and celebrate 80 years of freedom in 2023-2025.