Gut Rumbles

November 15, 2004

war movies

I've been watching war movies on Fox News. These aren't Hollywood productions, with expensive special-effects and dead extras. These shots are showing REAL troops in a REAL war. I'm pulling hard for those boys. They are goddam good at what they do and I am proud of every one of them.

Watching that stuff made me think about war movies, and here are MY Top Ten:

10) The Great Escape. If nothing else, for Steve McQueen jumping the barbed wire on the motorcycle at the end.

9) A Bridge Too Far. Incredible fuck-up by the military, mitigated into a live-with military defeat by the incredible bravery of the troops.

8) The Longest Day. Glamorized too much for my tastes, but still a good movie. I don't believe that the true nature of that battle can EVER be captured on film, but that one had John Wayne, so it couldn't be bad.

7) The Dirty Dozen. GOT-DAM!!! Was Lee Marvin a bad-ass, or what? Telly Savalas did a good job as a total prick in that movie. Jim Brown got killed. too. Oh, man. That was a great movie.

6) Midway. That's another one that didn't do justice to what actually happened, but it remains a damn fine movie. We won World War II in the Pacific Ocean that day, and a lot of people died achieving that goal.

5) Battleground. That's an old black-and-white movie about the Battle of the Bulge. You can spot a young James Arness in there, before he became Matt Dillon, if you watch closely.

4) Platoon. I don't want to get into a fight here, but I'll go ahead and tell you that I don't give a shit what you think. I liked the movie. If it didn't accurately portray the war in Vietnam, it accurately portrayed young men under severe stress. So, shut up. I liked the movie.

3) Das Boot. I saw that movie the first time with sub-titles. I've seen it a dozen times since with the dialogue dubbed. It doesn't matter. That's a teriffic movie, with a terrible ending, which fit the German U-Boat command.

2) The Sand Pebbles. Maybe that's a "conflict" movie rather than a "war movie," but it's still about fightin' and dyin' on a Navy ship under the US flag. Steve McQueen gave his life's-work performance in that film. Famous Last Words, as McQueen's character, Jake Holman, was dying, wide-eyed and wondering just how the fuck he ended up where he was: "I had it MADE!!!"

1) Saving Private Ryan. The first time I saw that movie, it bowled me over. Parts of it still do today, and I've watched it at least 20 times. I could do without the cemetary scene at the end, but that one stain of syrup doesn't change my mind. This one is, without a doubt, the best War Movie ever made.

That's just MY humble opinion. of course. Feel free to disagree.


Das Boot was good the first time with sub-titles, but I was distracted when I saw it dubed. I think it was better in the theater also. Saw Braveheart the other day. It's still good and I love that Hamish.

Posted by: Ivan Ivanovich on November 15, 2004 05:36 PM

You forgot one of the most realistic and intense war movies of all time, Black Hawk Down. God damn, now that was an amazing movie.

Posted by: King Steve on November 15, 2004 05:59 PM

Some of my favorites are:

Patton George C. Scott at his ass kicking best.

The Battle of the Bulge Excellent story told from both sides of the front.

Stalag 17 The Christmas party was hilarious and watching Peter Graves get busted was cool.

Dr. Strangelove Peter Sellars as everybody and Chill Wills riding the bomb.

But yours are good, too.

Posted by: Ralph Gizzip on November 15, 2004 06:00 PM

These aren't even necessarily my favorites or in any partcular order. Just ones that I liked along the way:

FULL METAL JACKET (R. Lee Ermey's kickass D.I.)
TO HELL AND BACK (What other Medal of Honor recipient ever got to play himself in the movies?)
SERGEANT YORK ("Coop" @ his aw-shucks best)
SANDS OF IWO JIMA (The Duke in one of those cliche-ridden roles we loved so much)
GETTYSBURG (Been to the site. STILL don't know hoe Pickett's men could cross that field.)
RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (good tale of the "forgotten" submariners)
HAMBURGER HILL (true story of the utter slaughter & futility of taking territory in Nam, only to give it up)

Posted by: Hap Arnold on November 15, 2004 06:35 PM

How about these:

Bridge on the River Kwai

Green Berets

From Here to Eternity

Apocalypse Now

Posted by: Christina on November 15, 2004 07:07 PM

"In Harms Way" John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Carrol O'Conner, in black and white.

Damn good flick.

Posted by: Raging Dave on November 15, 2004 07:14 PM

In Dr. Strangelove, it wasn't Chill Wills, it was Slim Pickens.

Posted by: Dr. Fager on November 15, 2004 08:13 PM

Dr. Strangelove is also James Earl Jones's first film.

Posted by: caltechgirl on November 15, 2004 08:42 PM

I was all set to list a few, but between yours and those of the commenters who preceded me, I think you covered them all.

Posted by: Jim - PRS on November 15, 2004 08:52 PM

Sorry, my bad.

Posted by: Ralph Gizzip on November 15, 2004 09:10 PM

Stalingrad, Cross of Iron, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Sahara

Posted by: Mike on November 15, 2004 09:14 PM

Zulu. Gallipoli. Glory. Tora Tora Tora.

A great 2001 article in National Review on best war movies with comments by NR writers.

Both High Noon and the Lord of the Ring trilogy are timely parables for today. The latter has some great battle scenes. The former is Cooper (the US) vs the appeasing townpeople (Europe).

Posted by: Aaron's Rantblog on November 15, 2004 09:51 PM

BAND OF BROTHERS is just as good, if not better than SPR. If you can rent the DVDs, it's well worth the time and effort to burn copies of them. I mean - to watch them.

Seriously. B.O.B. is based on actual events where SPR was fictional. The filmaking is just a notch higher I think. Especially considering that it was made for TV! These two films have spoiled me on war movies.

Blackhawk down was great too...

Posted by: Mad Ogre on November 15, 2004 09:52 PM

Dammit, but "The Big Red One" definitely belongs somewhere in the Top Ten.

Posted by: Mark Shaw on November 15, 2004 11:07 PM

I liked 12 O'clock High the best- it's one of my favorites of all time.
I also liked Bruce Willis in Tears of the Sun.
The Longest Day was good- the Duke in his finest role (82nd Abn). I particulary liked it when he came across the troopers from the 101 and told them "You're 82nd now."
Zulu, for the character of Color Sgt Bourne if nothing else.
Pvt Ryan was good for the first 15 minutes of the invasion, but I kept having the feeling that Spielberg was typically over the top after that.
And finally the Sand Pebbles for the best performance by a BAR.

Posted by: Lee on November 15, 2004 11:27 PM

Of all the escapes and attempted escapes shown in "The Great Escape", the fence jump by McQueen is the only one which was NOT based on the real world Stalag Luft III.

An amazing group of Allied airmen. Second only to the prisoners at Colditz Castle.

Posted by: homebru on November 16, 2004 12:30 AM

Raging Dave, I'm with you on that one. In Harm's Way is an incredible film, and Kirk Douglas flying that final suicide mission as an act of redemption just took my breath away.

But my absolute fave? The Flying Tigers. Damn, those old planes make my heart thump.

Posted by: Mamamontezz on November 16, 2004 12:46 AM

I had the honor of meeting one of the "bit characters" from The Longest Day. Remember that British vicar paratrooper who was diving in a swamp to retrieve his mass kit? The guy who really did that was neither British nor an Anglican. He was a Roman Catholic priest named Francis Xavier Samson.

I crossed paths with Father Samson as an Army ROTC cadet at Notre Dame in the 80's. By then, he was a retired Lieutenant General and Commandant of the Chaplain Corps. After jumping into Normandy and another WWII jump, he was captured by the Germans. He escaped, was captured again, and picked up a third combat jump into Korea. At Notre Dame, we cadets nicknamed him "the Paratrooper Padre".

His sermons always were the same: pray for peace, but prepare for all the hell that is war. And he always delivered the sermons from positions of the highest authority. In this case, not heavenly authority, but that of a brave man who knew what he was talking about.

When I knew him 20 years ago I had a choice about how to address him in person. I could call him "Monsignor Samson" or "General Samson". Back then, I just called him "sir".


Posted by: Go 4 TLI (formerly HH in Hollywood) on November 16, 2004 02:11 AM

Well, I agree on some of your picks, but have my own ideas on the best 10 war flicks.

Posted by: El Capitan on November 16, 2004 07:11 AM

I'd also recommend ZULU and ENEMY AT THE GATES if you haven't seen them.

Posted by: Steve Johnsono on November 16, 2004 10:08 AM

All of those are great movies.

I'm surprised no one mentioned "We Were Soldiers".

Posted by: Geoffrey on November 16, 2004 10:47 AM

Tora Tora Tora is the best war movie ever, no question! The Longest Day is the next best with Saving Private Ryan most likely a tie for second.

Posted by: m2 on November 16, 2004 11:20 AM

'Hell is for Heroes' with Steve McQueen and James Cobrun.

SPR, and Band Brotehrs too.

'Zulu' is a sound recommendation, also 'Breaker Morant.'

Posted by: Dan on November 16, 2004 12:01 PM

It wasn't about the US but the best war movie I've seen in 30 years is "Enemy at the Gates." It's about the battle of Stalingrad and Jude Law was brilliant as Vasily Zaitsev, a real person. Ed Harris as the Nazi sniper was great (even though he's a big Lefty) and Bob Hoskins as Khruschev was also brilliant. This is a DAMN good flick. It shows as well as anything the bankrupt nature of communist totalitarianism.

Posted by: rivlax on November 16, 2004 01:43 PM

I'm with Mark... The Big Red One should be in there somewhere!

Posted by: Bob on November 16, 2004 01:51 PM

Not much to argue with here, though I thought Midway was just an attempt to use up footage that'd been shot for Tora^3. I've only seen two short bits of Saving Pvt Ryan, about two minutes worth of the Normandy landings as the german trench lines are being rolled up, and the last bit starting with the scrabbling in the second story while a GI freezes on the stairs below...the movie bothers me and don't know that I could sit through the whole thing. Only movie I've ever walked out on was Maximum Overdrive, didn't last 10 minutes. And the closest I ever got to fighting was having a scared saudi teenage guard stick a rifle in my face one evening...amazing how big the bore looks from the wrong end, even money who was skeered'r.

Posted by: JSAllison on November 16, 2004 02:02 PM

Don't forget the other BOB: Battle of Britain!

Band of Brothers, We Were Soldiers, and Blackhawk Down set such an incredibly high bar for war movies that I don't compare 21st Cent. movies with earlier ones.

That being said, three other movies I must watch every time are Sergeant York, To Hell and Back, and Brannaugh's Henry V.

Posted by: cowboy blob on November 16, 2004 04:50 PM


Kudos for adding 'Breaker Morant' to the list (one of my all time favorites in any category). I wouldn't put it in my Top Ten, but 'Windtalkers' is pretty intense, and captures the condition of men under incredible stress (which I think is Rob's overarching theme - except for maybe 'Dirty Dozen'). The first ten minutes are as scary as SPR, and the occasional shots of Navajo country are beautiful. 'Spartacus' and 'Gladiator' have some great war scenes, though I don't know that most would consider them in the 'war movies' category'.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) on November 17, 2004 12:39 AM

We Were Soldiers. Zulu is one of my favs. I first saw it in Eat Africa at the 4th ASA Field Station.

Posted by: John Phipps on October 15, 2005 03:19 PM
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