Yesterday I explained that, inspired by the realization that there simply aren’t many movies about the American Revolutionary War — let alone good movies, I spent some time over the weekend going through the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and the Rotten Tomatoes (RT) index of critics to see which modern wars have produced the best movies. (see part 1 for the full methodology, such as it is)
Movies about recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (score: 6.6/10), civil war and genocide in the former Yugoslavia (7.1), and the American Civil War (7.2) accounted for the 6th, 5th, and 4th wars most memorably captured on celluloid. (Do they still use celluloid in the movies?) Today we finish the countdown!
3. Vietnam (7.2/10)
Total Number: 21
‘Nam movies actually tied those about the Civil War with a combined fan/critic rating of 7.2, but I’m breaking the tie for the former. While the Civil War has only produced two films surpassing the 8.0 threshold (Buster Keaton’s The General and the epic Gone with the Wind; if it were up to the critics alone, Lincoln and The Birth of a Nation would join them), Vietnam has inspired two indisputable classics by legendary directors and two others with 8+ ratings.
But it has also generated plenty of titles on the other end of the quality spectrum: while good Vietnam movies are pretty terrific, bad Vietnam movies are equally atrocious. In fact, if you look solely at critics’ ratings and take the mean instead of the average, Vietnam would drop several rungs beneath the Civil War. And neither is anyone near the two world wars, which predictably jostle for #1…
2. World War II (7.4)
Total Number: 115
1. World War I (7.5)
Total Number: 18
In what’s bound to be a controversial decision, the nod goes to the First World War. But first the Second, which deserves consideration simply due to the unbelievable volume of movies inspired: over thirty more than the other five wars put together (and again, that’s only counting titles receiving at least 5000 IMDB ratings). But also the greatest diversity, with the genre of “war movie” being stretched pretty far to accommodate Hollywood melodramas like Casablanca, a bevy of Holocaust films (is The Diary of Anne Frank a war movie?), and the satire of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (and its lesser remake by Mel Brooks). Nearly a quarter of the movies on here clear the 8.0 barrier, and there are surprisingly few outright clunkers — though its sheer length and awfulness makes me think that Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor should count as two bad WWII flicks.
But in my calculation, WWI remains (cinematically, at least) the Great War. I would put its five best up against any other quintet in the genre, and I think that Gallipoli is criminally underrated by both IMDB (7.6) and Rotten Tomatoes (7.5). (You’ve got to look past the cheesy synthesizer effects, people!) But what wins the day is that it seems to be fairly difficult to make an irredeemably bad movie about WWI: only the two I listed above failed to get to 6.0 combined rating, and the critics (who are generally much less enthusiastic about WWI movies than movie fans — their median is 7.0 vs. 7.7 for IMDB) drop only three more to that level: Legends of the Fall; Passchendaele; and Flyboys.
Here’s an earlier post of mine reflecting on four of the greatest WWI movies.
I’ve had my turn; now it’s yours: Which war has inspired the best movies? What’s your favorite movie for each war?