Skip to content

Movies and TV dramas of World War I

Many of these movies feature a mix of nationalities, but British characters and cultural references are found throughout.

1917. 2019. Two British soldiers receive seemingly impossible orders to cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could save 1,600 of their comrades, including one of the soldier’s brothers.

Aces High. 1976. Maj. Gresham (Malcolm McDowell) is a flying ace who oversees a group of English pilots. His latest recruit is Lt. Croft (Peter Firth) who idolizes Gresham at first, but the image of his hero is tarnished when he learns of Gresham’s alcoholism. Only after Croft himself endures the crucible of war does he come to fully appreciate his commanding officer.

African Queen.1951. Canadian river boat captain Charlie Ohnart (Humphrey Bogart) and English missionary Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) set out on the Ubanga/Bora River to blow up a German ship in German East Africa in 1914. Look for the poignant performance by Robert Morley as Rose’s brother, Reverend Samuel Sayer.

All Quiet on the Western Front. 1930 and 1979 versions of trench warfare made from Erich Maria Remarque’s book. The 1930 version stars Lew Ayres; the 1979 film stars Richard Thomas.

The Anzac Girls The six-part series tells true stories of the nurses serving with the . Australian Army Nursing Service at Gallipoli and the Western Front. Based on Peter Rees’ book The Other ANZACs as well as diaries, letters, photographs and historical documents.

The Anzacs: The War Down Under. 1965. An aristocrat (Andrew Clarke) and a rowdy (Paul Hogan)) fight with the Australian and New Zealand army.

Baron von Richthoven. 1971. John Phillip Law plays the German fighter pilot who respects tradition. His greatest Allied opponent, Canadian Roy Brown (Don Stroud), has little use for the supposed dignity and honor of war. He just wants to shoot down Germans, especially the baron and his new tri-plane.

A Bear Named Winnie. 2004. Before joining the war, Canadian soldier Harry Coleburn (Michael Fassbender) finds a home for his pet orphaned black bear Winnie at the London Zoo. There, she brings hope to war-town families. The story inspired A.A. Milne to write the Pooh books.

Behind the Lines. 1997. See Regeneration.

Beneath Hill 60, 2010. Untrained Australian soldiers go on a secret mission to dig a series of tunnels underneath a German bunker and detonate a bomb.

The Big Parade. 1925. Wealthy, young idler Jim Apperson (John Gilbert) enlists during the early days of the war, to the worry of his mother and pride of his father. Sent to the front lines in the French countryside, Jim bonds with his working-class bunkmates and falls in love with a French farm girl.

Birdsong. Television drama of lovers brought together and torn apart by the war.

Black and White in Color. 1977. In 1915, a remote trading post in West Africa, French traders and missionaries rec3ive word late about the outbreak of war between France and Germany. Believing it’s their patriotic duty to attach a neighboring Germany trading post, the French mount a military offensive against the peaceful Germans.

The Blue Max. 1966. Lt. Bruni Stachel (George Peppard), a brash Germany fighter pilot, is driven to shoot down 20 enemy planes, thus garnering him the Blue Mas=x, a coveted medal. His superior, Count von Klugermann (James Mason), realized Bruno will stop at nothing to receive the honor.

Crimson Romance. 1934. German friends become soldiers. Stars Ben Lyon and Erich von Stroheim. Also a television series set in a tented field hospital on the coast of France.

Dawn Patrol. 1930 and 1938 versions of a story of fighter pilots. The 1930 film stars Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  The 1938 remake stars Errol Flynn and David Niven.

Deadline Gallipoli. Australian tv series explores Gallipoli campaign through the eyes of four war correspondents.

Downton Abbey. TV series covers 1912–1926 set in a Yorkshire country estate.

The Eagle and the Hawk. 1933. Follows the careers of three American volunteer airmen with the British air forces. Englishman Jerry Young (Fredric March) is an expert fighter pilot. Jerry has been under serious stress as he cannot forget the deaths of his fellow soldiers, enemies and compatriots alike. Jerry is given time off to recuperate in London. Then he learns that two friends (Cary Grant, Jack Oakie) have been in a devastating plane wreck.

Fall of Eagles. A 13-part tv series spans 1848–1918, covering Germany’s Hohenzollerns and Russia’s Romanovs.

A Farewell to Arms. 1932 and 1957. Based on Hemingway’s book, the 1932 version stars Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes; the 1957 version stars Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.

The Fighting 69th. 1940. Irish-American Private Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney) is the misfit and unpatriotic soldier who military chaplain Father Duffy attempts to reform. On the battlefield, Plunkett proves cowardly, placing the lives of fellow soldiers at risk. Only Father Duffy is willing to give Plunkett another chance.  Subtexts of Catholicism, cowardice, men fitting in, and redemption are explored.

Flambards. Television series set 1909–1918, tells story of orphan Christina Parsons.

Flyboys. 2006. Before the US enters the war, some American youths (including James Franco and Tonny Bill) volunteer for the French military, becoming the first U.S. fighter pilots and form a squadron known as the Lafayette Escadrille.

Forbidden Ground. 2013. In 1916 France, three British soldiers stranded in no man’s land in the wake of a disastrous battle try to return to their own trenches before the Germans discover them

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 1921. In Argentina, Julio (Rudolph Valentino) is a smooth-talking favoraite grandson of rich landowner Madariaga. Julio is French, and his very large family also has a German side, but, after Madariaga’s death, Julio decides to desert them all for Paris. As the war begins, Julio joins up with the French, and is unpleasantly reunited with his German relatives on the battlefield.

Gallipoli (movie). 1981. Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson) are Australian sprinters who want to join the army. Turned down because they are too young, the pair hop a freight train to Perth, where they are allowed to join up. They board a troop ship headed to Cairo and, after training, are sent to the front, where they become messengers in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

Gallipoli (television). 2015. Brothers enlist and find hell on earth.

Grand Illusion. 1938. A group of French soldiers, including the patrician Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and the working-class Lieutenant Marchal (Jean Gabin) grapple with their own class differences after being captured and held in a Germany prison camp. When the men are transferred to a high-security fortress, they must concoct a plan to escape beneath the watchful eye of an aristocratic German officer (Erich von Stroheim), who has formed an unexpected bond with de Boeldieu.

Guns of August. 1964. A documentary based on Barbara Tuchman’s book.

Harlen Hellfighters of the Great War. 2017. Officially the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard, this 369th Infantry Regiment was made up of black soldiers, nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, the most decorated of the war. This French documentary describes how it was not only liberty and democracy that inspired the men to go to France to fight, but also racial equality.

Hearts of the World. 1918. A young American (Robert Harron) lives in a rural French community where he is wooing local beauty Lillian Gish. Their romance is interrupted with the war, and Douglas decides to join up with the French Army. The Germans bomb and infiltrate Marie’s village, and Douglas is injured.

Hell’s Angels. 1929. As war breaks out in Europe, Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon), two brothers studying at Oxford, enlist in the Royal Flying corps, while their college friend Karl is drafted in Germany. A lover triangle involving Monte, Roy, and Roy’s girlfriend, Helen (Jean Harlow) the brothers’ disparate personalities, and Monte’s cowardice in the face of war soon threaten to compromise a top-secret bombing mission over German territory.

Johnny Got His Gun. 1971. War has plunged Army soldier Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) into an unending nightmare. Hit by an artillery shell, Joe has suffered injuries that have all but erased his humanity: he’s lost his sight, speech, hearing, and sense of smell. But he still can think and remember. This book was hugely popular when I was in college, 1966 to 1970.

Journey’s End. Young officer Captain Denis Stanhope’s mental health rapidly disintegrates as British soldiers await their fate in an Aisne dugout at the end of the war. 

Joyeaux Noelle (Merry Christmas). 2005.Christmas approaches as the men in the Western Front trenches face a transformation, however fleeting, toward peace and goodwill. Four unlikely individuals from opposing sides bond during this respite.

King and Country. 1965. English army private Arthur Hamp (Tom Courtenay) is accused of deserting his company while on the battlefield. Defended at trial by the unsympathetic upper-crust lawyer Captain Hargreaves (Dirk Bogarde), Hamp could face a firing squad Hargreaves begins to empathize with Hamp, who dealt with horrible conditions in the trenches, depicted in vivid detail.

King of Hearts. 1967. This quirky, comedic war film focuses on Scottish soldier Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates), who is sent to a French town to disarm a bomb left behind by the retreating Germans. Plumpick discovers that the area is deserted except for the inmates of the local asylum. The mental patients playfully take over the town and pronounce Plumpick their king.

Lafayette Escadrille. 1958. Tab Hunter and Clint Eastwood star as American flyers.

Lawrence of Arabia. 1962. British Lieutenant T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is sent to Arabia to find Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) to serve as a liaison between Arabs and the British in their fight against the Turks. Lawrence’s knowledge of native Bedouin tribes is put on display against the doltishness of many of the other British officers. 

Legends of the Fall. 1995. In early 1900s Montana, Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) lives in the wilderness with his sons, Tristan (Brad Pitt), Alfred (Aidan Quinn), and Samuel (Henry Thomas). Samuel is killed in World War I. Tristan and Alfred survive their tours of duty, but soon after they return home, both men fall in love with Samuel’s fiancée, Susannah (Julia Ormond), and their intense rivalry nearly destroys the family.

Lighthorsemen. 1987. Stars Peter Phelps in a film of desert warfare in 1917 Palestine.

Lost Battalion.1919 silent version and2001. Films detail true story of an American battalion of 500 men trapped behind enemy lines in the Argonne Forest in 1918. The 2001 movie stars Rick Schroder.

Lost Patrol. 1929, 1934, and 1943 (named Sahara). Soldiers stranded in Mesopotamia get picked off by invisible Arab marksmen backed by the Ottoman Turks. The 1934 version I viewed stars Victor McLaglen and Boris Karloff. I loved this.

Mata Hari. 1931. Stars Greta Garbo as the Dutch-born Margaretha Gertrud Zelle who went to Paris and changed her name to Mata Hari (eye of dawn) and her persona to that of a Javanese princess. She was later executed by a French firing squad, but this romantic film is about love and obsession, not history.

Mrs. Dalloway. 1997. Adapted from Virginia Woolf’s book, the story follows a woman through her day. Includes a searing scene of a returning soldier’s breakdown.

My Boy Jack. 2007. The true story of the relationship between Rudyard Kipling and his son John (“Jack”). At the outbreak of the war, Jack is keen to join up, but his poor eyesight means he gets rejected and Kipling pulls strings with his powerful friends to get him a commission in the Irish Guards. After training for six months, Jack goes into battle, going missing on his first full day in action.

Nurse Edith Cavell. 1939. Stars Anna Neagle as the English nurse who helped prisoners of war escape to Holland and was executed by a German firing squad in 1915. Point of trivia: Edith Piaf was named after Edith Cavell.

Oh, What a Lovely War. 1969. World War I gets the musical treatment in a series of song-and-dance vignettes. The working-class Smith family initially views the war with sunny optimism until their boys Jack, Freddie, Harry, and George witness the reality of trench warfare.

Our World War. 2014. Television drama. Based on eyewitness accounts of the soldiers who served, the series was inspired by the series Our War showing how the war affected people on the battlefield.   

Parade’s End. 2012. A five-part television drama set between the dying days of the Edwardian era and the end of World War I, the miniseries follows the conflicted relationship between a conservative English aristocrat (Benedict Cumberbatch), his headstrong wife, and a fearless young suffragette.  

Passchendaele. 2008. Sergeant Michael Dunne of the Canadian “Fighting Tenth” battalion is wounded in action and returned home to Calgary. Diagnosed as a neurasthenic (a nervous breakdown under stress), he is honorably discharged and put to work recruiting troops for the front.

Passing Bells.  2014. TV miniseries about two teenage boys, one German, one British, who defy their parents to sign up to fight.

Paths of Glory. 1957. Kirk Douglas is a skeptical French colonel, former lawyer colonel in a network of trenches with his soldiers who questions orders to take “Ant Hill.” None of the American actors even attempts a French accent, giving strength to the actors’ lines. This film was banned in France because of its terrifyingly unflattering portrayal.

Peaky Blinders. 2013. TV series set just after the Great War, Britain is portrayed as a mixture of despair and hedonism. Returning soldiers, new revolutions, and criminal gangs are fighting for survival in a nation rocked by economic upheaval. One of the most powerful gangs of the time is the Peaky Blinders, run by returning war hero Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his family. Trying to rid Britain of its crime is Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), who arrives from Belfast.

Private Peaceful. 2012. Set in the fields of Devon and battlefields of Flanders, two brothers fall in love with the same girl while contending with the pressures of their feudal family life, the war, and the price of courage and cowardice.

The Red Baron. 2008 or 2010? Dashing flying ace Manfred von Richthofen proves a propaganda success above the Western Front, famed as “The Red Baron.” However, over time, the brutal realities of war and command bring him down to earth.

Regeneration. 1997. (Also called Behind the Lines) Adapted from Pat Barker’s book Regeneration, andbased on the true stories of soldiers at a British psychiatric hospital, including poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. The agonizing portrayals of shell-shocked soldiers make this feel stunningly realistic and frightening. Jonathan Pryce plays psychiatrist Dr. Rivers.

Sergeant York. 1944. Alvin York is a poor Tennessean, an excellent marksman, and eventually the most decorated American soldier of World War I. Gary Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor. The musical score is terrible and the “Tennessee” accents are worse: lots of “I reckon.” There’s a strong class undertext as York has to prove himself to more educated men. Some of the battle sequences were well done.

Testament of Youth. 2014. A young English woman, Vera Brittain, postpones her studies at Oxford to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in London and abroad.  

They Shall Not Grow Old. 2018. Peter Jackson’s documentary colorizes black-and-white footage of the war interspersed with interviews from veterans. Jackson’s great-grandfather fought in the Great War.

The Trench. 1999. Sergeant Daniel Craig leads a group of doomed soldiers waiting to go over the top on the first morning of the Battle of the Somme. The scene where Craig’s war-hardened character offers to share a jar of his wife’s homemade strawberry jam with a clueless young soldier is quite moving.

Today We Live. 1933. Ann (Joan Crawford), a young British aristocrat, bids farewell to her brother, Ronnie (Franchot Tone) and neighbor Claude (Robert Young) who are about to join England’s navy. Ann agrees to marry Claude when he returns but Richard, an American (Gary Cooper), buys her estates and they quickly fall in love.

Upstairs, Downstairs. 1971. TV series portrays the lives and fortunes of the Bellamy family and their below-stairs servant staff playing out against the social, political, and historical backdrop of Edwardian London from 1903 to 1930. You can decide how much Downton Abbey mirrored, improved on, or simply ripped of this hugely popular older series.

A Very Long Engagement. 2004. Audrey Tautou searches throughout France for her shell-shocked fiancé. Dreamlike and heartbreaking.

La Vie et Rien d’Autre. Life and Nothing But. 1989. Major Dellaplane (Philippe Noiret), a military man in post-WWI devastation, sifts through the bodies of men killed in the Verdun countryside to help relatives identify them.

Von Richthofen and Brown. 1970. Stars John Phillip Law as German flying ace Baron von Richthofen and Don Stroud as Roy Brown, a Canadian pilot.

The War Below. 2021. William Hackett (Sam Hazeldine) is a miner desperate to join the army, and, after being turn down at the recruitment office, gets the chance to serve his country in an unexpected way, tunneling under no-man’s land at the Battle of Messines in 1917.

War Horse. 2011.  Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse Joey live on a farm in the British countryside. Albert’s father sells the horse to the British cavalry at the outbreak of the war, and Joey begins an odyssey full of danger, joy and sorrow. Albert searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.

War Requiem. 1989. Wilfred Owens’ poetry is set to Benjamin Britten’s music.

The Water Diviner. 2014. Four years after Gallipoli, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey to find his three sons who never returned home. When he arrives in Istanbul, Connor meets others who have also suffered losses: hotelier Avshe and her son, Orhan, who befriend Connor, and Major Hasan, a Turkish officer who fought against Connor’s sons and now may be their father’s only hope in finding closure.

Waterloo Bridge. 1931 and 1940. The 1940 version stars Robert Taylor and Vivian Leigh as lovers who meet on Waterloo Bridge during an air raid. (Leigh had just finished portraying Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.) Leigh works a prostitute who cannot admit to Taylor what she does for a living.

West Front. 1930. German film. As the Great War draws to a close, a German lieutenant (Claus Clausen) leads his troops on a dispiriting tour of duty through France. In between horrifying intervals of bloodshed in the trenches, one soldier, Karl (Gustav Diesl), is granted a brief reprieve and allowed to return home to his wife (Hanna Hoessrich), only to find that wartime conditions have left her both morally and financially bankrupt. Returning to the front, the disillusioned Karl willfully volunteers for a harrowing mission.

What Price Glory. 1928 and 1952. The remake stars James Cagney and Dan Dailey as American doughboys in France. Cagney’s character Captain Flagg says, “It’s a lousy war, kid, but it’s the only one we’ve got.”

When We Go to War. 2015. Television drama portrays the impact of the war on New Zealand families, from life at home to the fronts of Gallipoli and Egypt. Beginning at a time of optimism, even as the world prepares for war, few foresee the horrors to come.

The White Cliffs of Dover. 1944. The story spans both world wars and stars Irene Dunn and Alan Marshall.

Wings. 1927. Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow, and Richard Arlen star in a wartime love triangle. The 2001 film Pearl Harbor may have ripped off its story from Wings. Gary Cooper has a small role. The first film to win the “Best Picture” Oscar and an Oscar for Best Engineering.

Wooden Crosses. 1932. A young and patriotic student joins the French army to defend his county, but he and his comrades soon experience the terrifying, endless trench war in Champagne.

Zeppelin. 1971. Stars Michael York as Geoffrey Richter-Douglas, a man with divided loyalties.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *