The 10 Best TV / Movies About Life During Wartime

by Bill Gibron

24 September 2013


In some ways, it’s a natural subject for cinema. It has scope. It packs inherent drama. It has all the swagger, the allure, and the blood-spattered spectacle that makes the visual medium so viable. Yet the war film or TV series—an indirect derivation of the thriller, action effort, and (sometimes) critical commentary—is often foiled by the very elements it has to cater to. Offer up too much realism and the audience looks away in dismay. Play up the arrogance or the attraction and your motives are questioned. Human conflict is a tricky concept to completely nail down. In fact, the war at home is often is as intriguing both during and within the aftermath, than the depraved acts that brought us to the point of battle. In fact, some of the best material in this regard occurs not on the front lines, but in the front rooms of those left behind.
So coming up with a list of the Greatest Movies and TV Offerings About War is tough, especially in light of the divergent approaches taken. Want nothing more than flag waving and enemy annihilation? Go for the ‘50s combat conceit, a time when John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Burt Lancaster would steer the stars and stripes course. Or maybe your prefer the ‘70s, with its stark cynicism and attempt to grapple with the bigger issues involved. From something as sobering as Schindler’s List to the over the top casting that carries The Longest Day, one’s decision has to balance the message with the media. In that regard—and in recognition of today’s release of the latest collection of episodes from the stellar British series Foyle’s War (a detective series set during WWII) on Blu-ray - SE&L offers up its list of the 10 Best looks at how human conflict affects us, either before, during, or after it commences. 

#10: The Pacific

After the rousing success of the superior Band of Brothers, HBO and Executive Producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks decided to visit the other half of World War II, moving from the European to the title theater. Dealing specifically with the 1st Marine Division and their involvement in Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, we got the same insider’s view of life during the drudgery and danger of battle. It’s scope and spectacle are without equal.

#9: The Best Years of Our Lives

Few films have dealt with the reclamation back into society post-service than this Oscar winner from William Wyler. Dealing with three GIs who’ve returned to uncertain futures as civilians, the movie dealt openly and honestly with fear, what today we would call post-traumatic stress, the loss of limbs, and perhaps, more importantly, the loss of humanity. In each case, our leads saw and experienced things that changed them forever. How they cope (or fail to) becomes the movie’s main theme.

#8: The Thin Red Line

After being away from cinema for almost 20 years, elusive director Terrence Malick announced he was going to tackle James Jones’ novel about the Battle of Guadalcanal. Instantly, fans frothed over the idea, especially with almost every major Hollywood star (at the time) announcing they wanted to be/were part of it. While few have witnessed the original five hour cut, the released version immediately took its place among the revered war efforts of other great filmmakers (Kubrick, Renoir, etc.). With time, it’s only gotten better.

#7: The Battle of Algiers

Not all wars are fought on vast international battlefields. Some occur within remote regions struggling to survive decades of oppression and persecution. Focusing on the freedom fighters looking to liberate themselves from French Colonization, director Gillo Pontecorvo took the battle to the streets of the Algerian capital, illustrating the often futile approach to eventual liberation. Looking like a documentary and feeling like a shot in the gut, it expertly illustrates the lengths people will go for/against power. 

#6: Platoon

Though many might argue with the claim, Oliver Stone’s ode to his time in Vietnam was the first film that actually combined the tenets of a traditional war film with the counterculture perspective that had quickly become the post-‘60s norm. While it’s good vs. evil narrative base is a bit too broad to keep things wholly classic, the individual performances and personal point of view from the ex-Vet writer/director maintain the movie’s Hell on Earth ideals. 

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