COVID-19 Day 9: War Movies

We are now at war. We are literally in a World War with a virus. The damage to America’s economy and the changes to everyday lives in America hasn’t been seen since World War II.

So I guess it’s appropriate that since my cousin Melissa and her family are stuck at home with the Bay Area lockdown, her husband is using the time stream classic WW2 films. Her husband, Steve enjoyed “Midway” and asked for recommendations. Here’s some of my favorites.

“Patton” an amazing performance by George C. Scott, and legendary for its opening monologue. Here’s an example of how actors shape our perceptions of historical figures: In real life, George Patton voice sounded more like Ross Perot than George C. Scott. For war buffs, it’s notable for the use of ‘modern’ tanks as proxies for German panzers.


“A Bridge Too Far” an epic ensemble cast featuring stars like Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Michael Cane, Laurence Oliver, Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Ryan ONeal, and James Caan. And remember, this was before CGI. The thousands of paratroopers were real guys jumping out of WW2 vintage transport planes.


“The Great Escape” the classic caper film of allied POWs escaping a Nazi concentration camp. It along with “Stalag 17” established many P.O.W. film tropes and inspired Hogan’s Heroes.




“The Bridge over the River Kwai” another P.O.W. film classic set in a Japanese prison work-camp in Burma. Sir Alec Guiness most famous film before Star Wars.



“The Big Red One” Speaking of Star Wars, this film is Mark Hamill’s best acting role outside of Star Wars (and his voiceover work). It’s also Lee Marvin’s last great film. In many ways, this film adaption of a real soldier’s memoir is the spiritual predecessor of “Band of Brothers”.



“Schindler’s List” one of  Spielberg’s finest. Heartbreaking but perhaps its greatest message is one of hope and redemption.



“Saving Private Ryan” It blew me away when I first saw it in the theatre and is still the Gold Standard for war film realism. It continues to influence war films and video games today.




“Band of Brothers” series is perhaps even better than “Saving Private Ryan” because you have time to get to know the characters. Based on the real stories of Major Dick Winters and the soldiers of Easy Company. The follow up series, “The Pacific” was good but not as compelling because it follows different characters who stories aren’t directly connected to each other.

“Dunkirk” is a great film to watch before or even after  “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan” as context. Also Christopher Nolan.



“Enemy at the Gates” feels a bit like Saving Private Ryan on the Eastern Front. The Russians lost more soldiers than any country in WW2, due to the policies of their Communist leadership as much as to the effectiveness of the Wehrmacht.



“Tora Tora Tora”  Much better than Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor”, this film is lauded for its attempts at a balanced story told from both the Japanese and US perspectives. The Japanese sections of the film were shot by Japanese directors. Its battle scenes utilized real WW2 vehicles and locations in Oahu and Tokyo.


“Midway” appropriately feels like a sequel to “Tora Tora Tora”, owing released in 1976 it is one of the last great films staring Henry Fonda, as well as Charlton Heston and Glenn Ford. Also notable early performances by Tom Selleck, Pat Morita, and Erick Estrada.


“Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” Clint Eastwood attempted to create a single film told from both sides of the battle. But ended up with two amazing and gut wrenching films. It’s a testament to the mastery of his craft, that each film has its own unique tone and feel.


“The Sands of Iwo Jima” a John Wayne classic. Actually you could just list his films here and fill an entire WW2 watch list, including “The Flying Tigers”, “The Fighting SeeBees”, “Back to Bataan”, “The Longest Day”, “The Flying Leathernecks”, and “In Harms Way” to name a few.



For lighter fare, “Operation Petticoat”, “The Americanization of Emily” and “I Was a Male War Bride”






“No Man is an Island” a classic film but deals with surviving isolation and hardship, which is meaningful given our current crisis. Based on a real story of a WW2 soldier hiding in Japanese occupied Guam. It was filmed in the Philippines so the extras are speaking in Filipino. Staring Jeffery Hunter, best known as Star Trek’s Captain Pike.


 “Gallipoli” ok, it’s WWI not WWII but its ending haunts me to this day. One of Mel Gibson’s early films.




 “1941” A film that Steven Spielberg may want to forget. As great as he is, he is not a comedy director. A farcical take on the War Film genre, it features some fine performances by John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, and John Candy.

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