April 6, 2017 marks the 100-year anniversary of the United States entering "The War to End All Wars.” Over the years, many films have tackled the stories of World War One. In honor of the anniversary, Netflix DVD has assembled some of the most honest, fascinating, and epic retellings of the First World War. While most are meant for an older audience, there are a couple options for younger viewers included.
World War I Films through the Ages
Probably the most recognizable movies about the horrors of World War I was originally a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German WWI veteran. The film follows Paul Bäumer, a young German man, who, along with his schoolmates, is inspired to join WWI at its start and is deployed to the trenches of the Western Front. Any romantic notions of war are quickly dispelled as the soldiers begin to endure the mental strain, detachment, and physical exertion of war.
Starring Lew Ayres (Johnny Belinda) and Ben Alexander (Dragnet), the film won Academy Awards for Outstanding Production and Best Director. It is seen as an American cinematic classic and powerful story about the despair, fear, and camaraderie of war.
Stanley Kubrick’s second film (The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Spartacus), Paths of Glory is an anti-war film about Colonel Dax—played by Kirk Douglas—the commander of a battalion of French soldiers, who refuse to continue their suicide mission and must face the subsequent charges of cowardice. It is based on a Humphrey Cobb novel about true events by the same name. The movie is an earnest portrayal of the ethical and moral questions soldiers and governing bodies must ask themselves at times of war.
Often cited as one of the most influential films in cinematic history, Lawrence of Arabia depicts the story of British soldier and intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence during his time in the Arabian Peninsula during World War I.
While this film deals with the inherent viciousness of war and depicts violence, younger viewers will probably see the scenes—including attacks on Aqaba and Damascus—as relatively tame. It stars Peter O’Toole (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) as Lawrence, and also features Sir Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Star Wars) and Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago, Funny Girl).
Although long—close to four hours of running time—the film keeps you engaged and interested due to its beautifully shot scenes. It's a good one to watch over two evenings, which mirrors its original presentation, as it was shown in two parts with an intermission due to its length.
Modern Takes on The Great War
World War I saw the advent of aerial combat. Flyboys portrays these very first open-cockpit pilots and what they experienced both mid-air and off the “field” of battle. It adeptly tackles themes of racial prejudice, love, and revenge, while also examining the tight bonds formed among soldiers in wartime.
Based on a real squadron of American recruits who flew and fought in the French Air Service before the United States formally entered WWI, the film stars James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) and Martin Henderson (Grey’s Anatomy, The Ring). Unlike other movies in this list, this film somewhat romanticizes warfare through its use of slow motion sequences and grand music within its battle scenes.
While aerial combat did take place, WWI still consisted mostly of ground combat. This Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler's List) war drama follows a horse, Joey, as he is raised and cared for in Britain by a teen named Albert, and then sold to the British Army for use in WWI. Joey experiences the depravity of war throughout Europe as he moves from owner to owner, while Albert, too, enlists and is deployed. Will Albert, expertly played by Jeremy Irvine (Stonewall, Fallen), reunite with his beloved Joey? Add this sentimental war epic to your queue and find out!
This romantic French film reunites Amelie Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and ingénue Audrey Tautou, and focuses on a woman’s search for her fiancé, who may or may not have been killed during the Great War. It is a work of fiction based on a 1991 novel by Sebastien Japrisot.
The movie is unique in that it is simultaneously a stark and sometimes gruesome portrayal of WWI trench warfare, an engaging mystery, and a tender love story. The film also stars the incomparable Marion Cotillard (Inception) in a supporting role, and its exquisite cinematography earned it two Oscar nominations. Viewer be warned: you may end up watching this movie more than once. It’s that good.
This excellent documentary deals with the lesser known details of the Great War—from the frontline soldiers to the munitions makers to the writers that immortalized the war. It is a great way to learn the intricacies of a war that killed millions, left countries in the debt that would lead to WWII, and decimated an entire generation.