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8 must-see World War II classics

Conservative Review

One of the most tired internet clichés is a list of war movies published over Memorial Day weekend. It feels like it has been done over and over again … because it has. What you usually get in such a top 10 list are eight World War II movies and two irrelevant Sylvester Stallone massacres. That’s why we’re going to do something different.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, we'll highlight war movies and miniseries you should watch from different time periods. Here are some can’t-miss World War II classics.

There are more movies about World War II than any other war in history. For that reason, only movies that center on American involvement were chosen. Eight movies were chosen.

“The Longest Day”

The 1962 war epic is one of the most celebrated movies of all time. It had legions of American, British, French, and German movie stars, all of whom spoke in their native tongues. Released in black and white, the movie singularly focuses on the events of D-Day, starting in the early morning through the end of the day. The viewer follows beach landings, ranger battalions, and paratroopers as they try to accomplish their D-Day objectives. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two. 

“Guns of Navarone”

The “Guns of Navarone” follows a group of Allied special forces who are assembled to take out a gun emplacement during the battle of Keros. The battle was an effort to rescue British soldiers who were stranded on the island. There are two guns on nearby Navarone that need to be destroyed in order for the rescue of the stranded soldiers to be successful. It is considered by many to be their favorite war movie of all time. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won one. In addition, it won two Golden Globes.

“The Great Escape”

The 1963 film is based on the real-life escape by Commonwealth POWs from a German POW camp. The role of the Americans depicted in the film does not match the historical record. Steve McQueen plays an Army Air Forces captain who continually tries to escape. McQueen’s character proves pivotal to finding a means of escape. The movie was the inspiration for “Chicken Run,” a 1990s stop-motion animated feature centered on the escape of chickens from a coop.


“Patton” is another WWII epic film that follows the exploits of U.S. General George S. Patton from his campaign in North Africa until just before his death in December 1945. The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated for three more. Scott refused to accept his award for Best Actor.

“The Dirty Dozen”

“The Dirty Dozen” is a story of a ragtag bunch of court-martialed criminals given a second chance for redemption. They are dropped behind enemy lines to take out strategic locations. Another movie with a stellar cast, it was nominated for and won many awards, including four Academy Awards. The movie is considered the 65th best movie of all time by the American Film Institute.

“Saving Private Ryan”

One of Steven Spielberg’s best movies, “Saving Private Ryan” opens with the invasion of Normandy. It is one of the most realistic looks at the horrors of that invasion, as the viewer is surrounded by bullets flying when listening in surround sound. It then pivots to a story focused on Tom Hanks’ character, who must find Private Ryan to escort him home, as his brothers have already died in battle and the Army has a rule that helps preserve the lineage of families. It was a return to the epic war drama genre, which had been dormant for some time. Released in 1998, it won five Academy Awards, two BAFTAs, two Golden Globes, and a number of other smaller awards.

“Band of Brothers” (HBO Miniseries)

Spielberg followed up the success of “Saving Private Ryan” with an HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.” The series follows the exploits of “Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division from training through combat missions. It met with critical success.

“The Devil’s Brigade”

“The Devil’s Brigade” is a film adaptation of the First Special Service Force’s exploits during WWII. The FSSF was a commando outfit made up of Canadian and American forces. The film follows the story of their cohesion into a single fighting unit at Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena, Montana, through their exploits in the Italian mountain campaign. In full disclosure, it is added here because my grandfather served in the unit, so it is naturally one of my favorite movies of all time. Including it here is my way of honoring those he served with who lost their lives.

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