Top 10 World War II action films of all time



  • A few movies that havent been mentioned or are hard to come by.
    -Wake Island
    -1939 Westerplatte
    -Letters from Iwo Jima
    -Downfall (more focused on the insanity of the final days in Hitlers bunker)
    -Sink the Bismarck


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    @DesertFox_96:

    A few movies that havent been mentioned or are hard to come by.
    -Wake Island
    -1939 Westerplatte
    -Letters from Iwo Jima
    -Downfall (more focused on the insanity of the final days in Hitlers bunker)
    -Sink the Bismarck

    Downfall and Sink the Bismark were mentioned earlier in this thread and are commercially available on DVD.

    Wake Island (which I’ve seen) was – if I’m not mistaken – referred to after the war by survivors of the island’s Marine garrison as “one of the greatest fiction films of all time.”  And it wasn’t intended to be a compliment.  The story is mostly invented nonsense focusing on a couple of Marine hotheads who are perpetually getting into fights with each other, and whose only point of agreement is that they dislike some of their superiors.  The film also ends by giving the heroic (but inaccurate) impression that the Marines on Wake fought and died to the last man.  In reality, the Marines on Wake certainly did make a very valiant stand, and held up the Japanese invaders longer than a small garrison of their size would have been expected to do, but there were definitely survivors.


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    @LHoffman:

    An exception might be Midway, but then again I don’t know of any other film which depicts the Battle of Midway other than the Charlton Heston movie.

    I’ve just remembered a film that (sort of) fits the pattern for Midway, if you take into account the fact that the TV version of Midway includes the Battle of the Coral Sea.  There’s a 1959 film called “The Battle of the Coral Sea,” which I’ve seen, that actually has almost nothing to do with the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The first few segments of the film are a submarine caper (with a few comic overtones), while the middle part – the bulk of the film – reminds me more of The Bridge on the River Kwai than anything else.  It’s about Allied prisonners being tortured for information on an island by Japanese officers.  Gia Scala – who would go on to play a similar (but reversed) role in the Guns of Navaronne – provides the requisite romantic interest.  The film ends with what purports to be a depiction of the Battle of the Coral Sea, but it’s short and it has virtually no resemblance to the actual events of the battle and (as I recall) it’s cobbled together from all sorts of fictitious stock footage.


  • 2018 2017 '16 '15 Customizer

    @CWO:

    I’ve just remembered a film that (sort of) fits the pattern for Midway, if you take into account the fact that the TV version of Midway includes the Battle of the Coral Sea.  There’s a 1959 film called “The Battle of the Coral Sea,” which I’ve seen, that actually has almost nothing to do with the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The first few segments of the film are a submarine caper (with a few comic overtones), while the middle part – the bulk of the film – reminds me more of The Bridge on the River Kwai than anything else.  It’s about Allied prisonners being tortured for information on an island by Japanese officers.  Gia Scala – who would go on to play a similar (but reversed) role in the Guns of Navaronne – provides the requisite romantic interest.  The film ends with what purports to be a depiction of the Battle of the Coral Sea, but it’s short and it has virtually no resemblance to the actual events of the battle and (as I recall) it’s cobbled together from all sorts of fictitious stock footage.

    Hahaha… WTF?  :lol:


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    @LHoffman:

    Hahaha… WTF?  :lol:

    Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction when I watched it the first time.  Unless I’m mistaking it for another film, it includes an early scene in which an enterprising member of the crew of the submarine (which is in port at the time) charges his buddies five bucks apiece to look for a few seconds into the periscope viewfinder to get an eyeful of some pretty girls in bathing suits who are lounging nearby.  An officer notices what’s going on, looks through the periscope to find out why a bunch of sailors are lined up next to it – then, without looking away, reaches into his pocket, pulls out a five, hands it to the sailor who’s running the racket…and keeps right on staring into the eyepiece.



  • I really like “Memphis Belle”, any chance it can bump something off the list?


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    @Young:

    I really like “Memphis Belle”

    The 1944 documentary or the 1990 feature film?


  • 2018 2017 '16 '15 Customizer

    I would say that we should be looking exclusively at feature films for this list… no documentaries. FWIW



  • Yes… I meant the feature film.


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    On the first page of the thread, Stalingrad is currently listed both in the Top 10 and in the Honorable Mentions categories.

    To follow up on LHoffman’s point, should the thread actually be called “Top 10 World War II action feature films of all time”?  Or perhaps the slightly shorter formulation “Top 10 World War II action features of all time”?


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    To me the current title of simply “films” is sufficient and probably would be for most people. Most of us are thinking movies and not documentaries or short films. That is my opinion, but it is all semantics.



  • @LHoffman:

    To me the current title of simply “films” is sufficient and probably would be for most people. Most of us are thinking movies and not documentaries or short films. That is my opinion, but it is all semantics.

    I agree with Hoff on that.


  • 2017 '16

    So you list movies from American eyes… German eyes… British eyes… Russian eyes… but nothing from Japanese eyes? If this is an A&A forum, you should represent at least 5 major powers! 😉
    There are some GREAT movies with tons of action and great battle scenes that are not on this list but should be.

    Letters from Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51lo2dpaZ_g

    Battleship Yamato (2005)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4QWqDTCk2A
    (apologize for the lack of subtitles in the trailer, but the DVD I have is subtitled in English… it’s a very good movie with top quality action sequences)

    Oh, and if you want to bump something off the list, Battle of the Bulge needs to be removed… how that is in the Top 10 astounds me… it’s a terrible movie with corny acting, over the top stereotypes, bad action sequences with wrong equipment, set on false pretenses… nowhere near in the same category as the others on the list… I’d put Micheal Bay’s Pearl Harbor over Battle of the Bulge.


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    @Wolfshanze:

    Oh, and if you want to bump something off the list, Battle of the Bulge needs to be removed… how that is in the Top 10 astounds me… it’s a terrible movie with corny acting, over the top stereotypes, bad action sequences with wrong equipment, set on false pretenses… nowhere near in the same category as the others on the list… I’d put Micheal Bay’s Pearl Harbor over Battle of the Bulge.

    Ehhh… that may be a little too far. Pearl Harbor gets the nod over Battle of the Bulge for authenticity of equipment and setting, but beyond that it is pretty abysmal. Battle of the Bulge is wildly inaccurate and generalized, but in terms of scope, action and classic star power it is hard to beat. I was very young when I started watching the movie, so I enjoy it very much in a nostalgic sense, but if I saw it for the first time today, I would probably think it was awful. Oh, the music is excellent too.

    I just think Pearl Harbor over BotB is too much… you made your point though.  😉


  • 2017 '16

    I think the only reason why people like Battle of the Bulge is because nobody saw it past the age of 15… memories are a wonderful thing, but I’m sorry… this movie is bad.  The acting was wooden and hokey… the script was terrible the “historical realism” just wasn’t there (and I’m talking beyond the equipment, but also most of the setup).  The combat sequences are probably where Michael Bay got all his ideas from how battles should look, but done cheaply and badly… Battle of the Bulge is a closer cousin of Hogan’s Heroes for realism than Saving Private Ryan, and it should not be in the same list with something like Saving Private Ryan. I was jesting with Pearl Harbor, I don’t think it belongs on this list, but putting those two together makes more sense than Battle of the Bulge being on this list.  Certainly something like Letters from Iwo Jima should rank higher than Battle of the Bulge… and OMG, the stereotypes in this movie and the “hokiness”…

    Check out this terrible scene:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JDkdc246QQ


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    @Wolfshanze:

    I think the only reason why people like Battle of the Bulge is because nobody saw it past the age of 15… memories are a wonderful thing, but I’m sorry… this movie is bad.  The acting was wooden and hokey… the script was terrible the “historical realism” just wasn’t there (and I’m talking beyond the equipment, but also most of the setup).  The combat sequences are probably where Michael Bay got all his ideas from how battles should look, but done cheaply and badly… Battle of the Bulge is a closer cousin of Hogan’s Heroes for realism than Saving Private Ryan, and it should not be in the same list with something like Saving Private Ryan. I was jesting with Pearl Harbor, I don’t think it belongs on this list, but putting those two together makes more sense than Battle of the Bulge being on this list.  Certainly something like Letters from Iwo Jima should rank higher than Battle of the Bulge… and OMG, the stereotypes in this movie and the “hokiness”…

    Check out this terrible scene:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JDkdc246QQ

    Hey dude that’s a great song!!!  Heh, but truly very hokey and, to be honest, last time I watched the movie I cringed at that part.

    Since this list is predominantly about WWII “Action” films, I think Battle of the Bulge belongs or at least should be considered. The scope of the action is quite large. Just the fact that they were able to use so many real tanks is rather astounding, nevermind if they aren’t the right kind or the tactics shown are inaccurate. If this list were defined some other way, I would consider leaving BotB off. There are few WWII films which can claim to be so big, so consistently about the fighting and so real (with their props). While Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima are both excellent films (far better than BotB), they really are not action films but dramas. They devote a comparatively small amount of screen time to spraying bullets. That isn’t bad, it just doesn’t qualify them well for this list.


  • 2017 '16

    Letters from Iwo Jima has a lot of combat scenes… not sure which film you watched. Downfall its not. You seem to be leaning back towards nominating Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor if all you want is action scenes and nothing else bordering on reality.

    So now what… do we have to break down the action % on film to determine if it qualifies for the list? Your argument that there’s not enough action in Letters from Iwo Jima would likewise apply to Saving Private Ryan, which devotes nearly the same % of film time to “boring old drama” as opposed to Michael Bay-style action.

    I’m sorry… this list is pretty good, but if you’re going “top 10 ever”, I can’t see Battle of the Bulge on the same list as Saving Private Ryan or Bridge Too Far… that’s a travesty. You’re really trying to thread the needle on % of action if your last and only justification of a pure fluff film like Battle of the Bulge qualifies while other films with action but “a tad too much drama” don’t qualify. Patton has way too much story to be considered if you’re going down that road. I assure you there is more action in Letters from Iwo Jima than in Das Boot which is at the top of the list.

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    Das Boot 98%
    Saving Private Ryan 97%
    Patton 95%
    Letters from Iwo Jima 91%
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Battle of the Bulge 67%

    P.S.
    There is more film time devoted to randomly breaking out into song in Battle of the Bulge than any other movie (or proposed movie) on this list… that should tell you something! :roll:


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    @Wolfshanze:

    Letters from Iwo Jima has a lot of combat scenes… not sure which film you watched. Downfall its not. You seem to be leaning back towards nominating Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor if all you want is action scenes and nothing else bordering on reality.

    Pearl Harbor has action, but it is a chunk of ridiculousness sandwiched in between longer segments of romantic drama. Been a very long time since I have seen the movie, but I am quite certain that is accurate. My point is that BotB is at least grounded and realistically ambitious.

    @Wolfshanze:

    So now what… do we have to break down the action % on film to determine if it qualifies for the list? Your argument that there’s not enough action in Letters from Iwo Jima would likewise apply to Saving Private Ryan, which devotes nearly the same % of film time to “boring old drama” as opposed to Michael Bay-style action.

    What would you categorize Letters from Iwo Jima as? An action film, a romance, a drama? Yes it is a war film, but would you call it an action film? I wouldn’t, even though it has some amount of action in it. Same can be said of Patton… has some action but it really isn’t something I would call an action movie. I made that point back on page 4. Das Boot is kinda a close call too, but it does have a consistent amount of action; just action that is different from firing machine guns-action.

    Saving Private Ryan is a well balanced drama-action film. From my recollection there are at least (5) separate action/combat sequences throughout the movie, two of which are on a pretty large scale and bookend the film. For me that qualifies as an action movie.

    @Wolfshanze:

    I’m sorry… this list is pretty good, but if you’re going “top 10 ever”, I can’t see Battle of the Bulge on the same list as Saving Private Ryan or Bridge Too Far… that’s a travesty. You’re really trying to thread the needle on % of action if your last and only justification of a pure fluff film like Battle of the Bulge qualifies while other films with action but “a tad too much drama” don’t qualify. Patton has way too much story to be considered if you’re going down that road. I assure you there is more action in Letters from Iwo Jima than in Das Boot which is at the top of the list.

    You are approaching this from the wrong perspective. This list is defined by action; therefore that should be the most important consideration. Overall quality is a close second because that factors into how good and best it really is. Kelley’s Heroes is another “pure fluff film” but it should be on this list for sure. It is a classic film, with lots of great actors, a concise plot and consistent (and better than decent) action.

    Point: this list is not about the best WWII films. Or the most accurate. Or the most critically acclaimed. Or the most gritty and realistic. It was defined as the best Action, with no real additional qualifications. Bridge on the River Kwai (IMO) should not be on the list or even in honorable mentions. It is a great film to be sure, but it has precious little action in it. It may have been considered an action film in its day, but even compared to 70s war films like BotB, Midway, Patton and Tora Tora Tora, Bridge on the River Kwai has virtually no action until the very end.

    Do I believe that Battle of the Bulge would make the Top 10 “Best” WWII films of all time… no, there are better ones. However, I think it deserves credit in certain areas.

    @Wolfshanze:

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    Das Boot 98%
    Saving Private Ryan 97%
    Patton 95%
    Letters from Iwo Jima 91%
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Battle of the Bulge 67%

    Again… ratings don’t matter most here. By your own admission (and mine) at least 3 of the 4 movies you listed are not/could not be classified as “action” films. If that is true, we have a very short list of predominantly action-only WWII films. BotB should be included.

    @Wolfshanze:

    P.S.
    There is more film time devoted to randomly breaking out into song in Battle of the Bulge than any other movie (or proposed movie) on this list… that should tell you something! :roll:

    False.

    In Das Boot the entire crew breaks out into “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” at least once, maybe twice.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pddW-HeHAwo

    Memphis Belle has a beautiful rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” (from Harry Connick Jr. no less).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSFtAL3caSE

    I don’t know if you want to call it singing, but Bridge on the River Kwai has those damn limeys whistling that inane Colonel Bogey marching song F-O-R-E-V-E-R
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83bmsluWHZc

    Ultimately… this isn’t even my topic. I am defending the inclusion of BotB because it fits the criteria set forth, not because it is a worthy historical piece. It has a lot of decent war action in it. Much more than most other films.



  • Haven’t seen Battle of the Bulge myself, but I’m building the list in a collaborative way with everyone who wishes to invest in it… It’s my opinion however, that Pearl Harbor was an awful film in the same vein as Fly Boys, and Red Tails. Also, the “Action” tag on this list was to officially rule out great films like Schindler’s List, Down Fall, and The Piano which would have dominated a WW2 list without the variable of “Action” being added.


  • 2017 '16

    Trust me… I’m not nominating Pearl Harbor for this list… I was using it as a comparison of quality of action with Battle of the Bulge… and the Battle of the Bulge action scens are pure fluff… its along the line of C.H.I.P’s and Dukes of Hazzard where explosions of any kind = that looks cool, so put it in, I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense.

    At the end of the day, I don’t really care… I was just pointing out that of all the films on the top-10 list, Battle of the Bulge lacks big time in quality and reality compared to any other movie on that list.

    Also, something like Letters from Iwo Jima DOES, by definition and comparison to other movies on this list as an action movie… if you’re going to put Das Boot and Patton on this list, Letters from Iwo Jima easily has just as much action-vs-drama as those films, so it would at least qualify for consideration, vs something like Downfall or Schindlers List.

    Ok, ok… so maybe there’s more singing going on in these films then one might like… but you gotta admit, that random break out into song in Battle of the Bulge is the hokiest singing of the lot!

    All good… gotta go get my kids from school!


  • 2018 2017 '16 '15 Customizer

    @Wolfshanze:

    Also, something like Letters from Iwo Jima DOES, by definition and comparison to other movies on this list as an action movie… if you’re going to put Das Boot and Patton on this list, Letters from Iwo Jima easily has just as much action-vs-drama as those films, so it would at least qualify for consideration, vs something like Downfall or Schindlers List.

    If Patton is present, I do think Letters could be considered. Again, IMO Patton isn’t really an action film in the way we have been defining them here, therefore Letters wouldn’t be either. But the one is here already and I really am trying not to take this that seriously so… what the heck.

    @Wolfshanze:

    Ok, ok… so maybe there’s more singing going on in these films then one might like… but you gotta admit, that random break out into song in Battle of the Bulge is the hokiest singing of the lot!

    All good… gotta go get my kids from school!

    Ah HA! I got you.

    But no… those pale in comparison to the over-the-top cheese of the Panzerlied. Even the song was made up. Tragically so. Such a manly and proud German fighting song should not come off so ridiculous. The young tank commanders in the scene are the worst. Their expressions range from stoutly engaged and serious to apathetic and unsure of the lyrics. The mismatch of the clearly post-dubbed vocals and image of Hans Christian Blech are bad too.


  • 2017 '16

    @LHoffman:

    Ultimately… this isn’t even my topic. I am defending the inclusion of BotB because it fits the criteria set forth, not because it is a worthy historical piece. It has a lot of decent war action in it. Much more than most other films.

    Ultimately… this isn’t my topic either… I was downing the inclusion of BotB, not because it doesn’t meet the criteria of “action”, but because it does NOT meet the criteria of “Top 10”… it’s a terrible movie… ugh.



  • The Battle of the Bulge vs. Letters from Iwo Jima argument will require more input from other voters, and even though I love Patton, I agree about the lack of action… Therefore I’ve decided to replace it with Memphis Belle which I also love. On the subject of Das Boot… I feel that the suspense in that film can also be interpreted as “action”.


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    @LHoffman:

    Since this list is predominantly about WWII “Action” films, I think Battle of the Bulge belongs or at least should be considered. The scope of the action is quite large.

    There’s a difference between a big movie and a great movie.  Battle of the Bulge may be big but it’s not great.  (As anecdotal evidence supporting Wolfshanze’s theory, I saw it when I was well past the age of 15 and I thought it was pretty awful.  And I’m not just talking about the cringe-worthy part about the wrong tanks standing in for iconic WWII models.  It’s one of the rare military movies that I own on DVD – and I own a lot – that I’ve never watched more than once.  The one good thing I’ll say about it is that I at least managed to watch the whole thing, which is more than I can say about The Thin Red Line.)


  • 2018 2017 '16 '15 Customizer

    @CWO:

    @LHoffman:

    Since this list is predominantly about WWII “Action” films, I think Battle of the Bulge belongs or at least should be considered. The scope of the action is quite large.

    There’s a difference between a big movie and a great movie.  Battle of the Bulge may be big but it’s not great.  (As anecdotal evidence supporting Wolfshanze’s theory, I saw it when I was well past the age of 15 and I thought it was pretty awful.  And I’m not just talking about the cringe-worthy part about the wrong tanks standing in for iconic WWII models.  It’s one of the rare military movies that I own on DVD – and I own a lot – that I’ve never watched more than once.  The one good thing I’ll say about it is that I at least managed to watch the whole thing, which is more than I can say about The Thin Red Line.)

    Fair enough. Though I never implied that big=great… simply that its scale and prevalence of battle/action scenes deserves consideration. That is what we are supposedly grading here. If films like Patton, Das Boat, Flags/Letters cannot be considered due to lack of action or skewing towards drama rather than action, it seems like we have few truly great action films that are also great overall. Basically, a shortage of great films in the action category means we need to consider some non-great ones to stand in.

    Besides the lack of historical accuracy, BotB is very similar to The Longest Day, which is typically regarded as a classic (great) film, but hopelessly unrealistic and antiseptic. To boot, it has generally poor acting and even a level of camp-ness at times. Now to me, this is okay because it is one of the great WWII action films for a number of other very positive reasons such as casting/star power, consistent action, faithfulness to events (intent), scope (it is still a pretty big production) and film legacy.

    Similar sacrifices need to be made in evaluating The Battle of Britain. Again, perhaps not in the Top 10 of the Greatest WWII films ever, but as an action film, perhaps. There is a big, star-laden cast, the locations are excellent, the acting is pretty good, generally accurate, the props used are superb (perhaps THE best in any WWII film ever - real He-111s, Me-109s, Spitfires and Hurricanes re-enacting dogfights)…      However, like BotB, it only has a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I think a great deal of that is due to terrible pacing and the lack of any real climax. Been a long time since I watched the movie, but it always seems like a bit of a slog to get through. Additionally, like BotB, the film often simplifies events and synthesizes multiple real people into a single on-screen character, however the general intent and strategic elements of the rel life battle are conveyed.

    My point here is that none of these films are totally perfect and you can find fault in many different places. What we are trying to do here is identify the top WWII movies with the best action. I do not see how, even with its faults, Battle of the Bulge should be excluded from the list. The film is an action fest that doesn’t shy away from showing big battle scenes done primarily with practical effects and real life pieces of equipment. There are few films that can claim to do that at all, let alone successfully (not that BotB totally does). If we are actually judging films on the amount, consistency and quality of action (in addition to other elements), Battle of the Bulge is one of maybe five or six other WWII films that can claim to be so. Almost all of the rest are already on this Top 10 list.


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