16 of the Greatest World War Two Films

World War II, a cataclysm that reshaped the contours of global politics and human consciousness, has been a perennial source of inspiration for filmmakers. The sheer breadth of its narrative scope, encompassing heroism and horror, good and evil, and the profound sacrifices made, renders it the perfect canvas for cinematic exploration. This blog journeys through film history, presenting some of the most compelling World War II movies ever made. 

From the visceral depiction of battlefields to the intimate dramas unfolding away from the front lines, these films serve as a conduit for reflection on a war that continues to define the modern world. 

If you are traveling in Poland and would like to visit the country’s key wartime sights, consider joining us for a Guided Multi-Day WW2 Tour of Poland

Liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto

Schindler’s List

Spielberg’s journey into the heart of the Holocaust with Schindler’s List reveals a poignant story of salvation amidst the darkest times of the 20th century. This film, anchored by Liam Neeson’s fantastic portrayal of Oskar Schindler, showcases a German industrialist’s evolution from opportunism to a beacon of hope for over a thousand Jews. Spielberg masterfully utilizes black-and-white cinematography to draw viewers into the era’s stark realities while the narrative captures Schindler’s transformation. The film highlights the profound impact of one man’s empathy and courage, even against the backdrop of humanity’s worst atrocities.

Our Krakow Ghetto Walking Tour visits Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory (the real-life location where it is estimated that Schindler saved 1,200 lives). On our tours, we can also take guests through Krakow’s beautiful Kazimierz neighbourhood where the movie was filmed, and to Krakow Ghetto and the site of Płaszów Concentration Camp where the story was set. 

Life is Beautiful 

In Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni crafts a tender narrative set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Through the eyes of Guido, a Jewish Italian father, the film explores themes of love, courage, and the power of imagination. 

Guido’s whimsical efforts to protect his son in a Nazi concentration camp by framing their grim reality as a game captures the best of the human spirit (even while we’re acutely aware of the nightmare unfolding around them). This heart-wrenching yet humorous approach provides a unique perspective on the atrocities of war, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience. 

Land of Mine 

Land of Mine delves into a harrowing chapter of post-World War II history, where young German POWs are tasked with the perilous job of demining Danish coastlines. This gripping narrative shares the untold stories of these young soldiers thrust into a deadly mission as a condition of peace. 

Director Martin Zandvliet masterfully portrays the psychological and physical toll on the POWs, challenging the audience’s perceptions of justice and humanity. The film’s stark realism and emotional depth highlight the complexities of reconciliation and the lasting scars of war.

Das Boot

Das Boot is an epic portrayal of wartime submarine life, offering an intense, claustrophobic glimpse into the daily challenges faced by a German U-boat crew during World War II. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, this cinematic masterpiece captures the brutal reality of naval warfare’s perilous reality. We come to understand why U-boats were nicknamed ‘iron coffins’.

Through meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to authentic storytelling, Peterson immerses viewers in submarine life’s psychological and physical confines. The film’s narrative strength lies in its ability to convey the harrowing suspense of the unseen enemy and the camaraderie that forms in the face of adversity.

Rome, Open City

With a gritty newsreel aesthetic born of necessity, Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini is a neorealist classic. Shot on the ravaged streets of Rome shortly after its liberation, Rossellini’s work was truly pioneering, blending the lines between documentary and fiction. The film’s unflinching portrayal of resistance against Nazi occupation serves as a reminder of the brave men and women who resisted Fascism from within Italy. By weaving together stories of ordinary people bound by the brutalities of war, Rossellini reminds us that history is not just shaped by generals and politicians.

Son of Saul

Diving into the wretched heart of the Holocaust, Son of Saul by László Nemes is a harrowing exploration of a Sonderkommando’s quest for a semblance of humanity in the face of sheer inhumanity. Through the tight focus on Saul Ausländer, played with haunting intensity by Géza Röhrig, the film immerses the viewer in the claustrophobic reality of a concentration camp. 

Nemes challenges the audience to witness the horror through Saul’s eyes, making personal his struggle to afford a proper burial for his son. This powerful narrative, punctuated by moments that hint at grace amidst despair, earned not only critical acclaim but also a rightful place in the canon of films that confront the Holocaust’s atrocities.

(Source/LicenseScene from Come and See)

Come and See

Come and See stands as a towering monument in war cinema, with Elem Klimov’s brave, unflinching direction making it probably the greatest anti-war film of all time. This film thrusts viewers into the visceral experience of war, seen through the eyes of young Flyora, a Belarusian boy caught in the whirlwind of WWII’s Eastern Front. Klimov and co-writer Ales Adamovich, drawing from personal encounters, craft a narrative that’s as much a journey into the psyche as it is a historical recount. The surrealistic elements blend with stark realism, creating a haunting tableau of human suffering and the loss of innocence.

Night and Fog 

Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog is a seminal work in Holocaust cinema and was the first glimpse that many Europeans got at the true horrors of the Nazi death camps. Merging the past with the present, Resnais juxtaposes haunting footage of concentration camps with the tranquility of their post-war locations, crafting a powerful visual record of the neverending impact of human cruelty. This documentary’s concise format belies its profound emotional depth, challenging viewers to confront the horrors of history and the capacity for evil within society.

(Source/License – Festung Hohenwerfen, in Werfen, Austria)

Where Eagles Dare

Our list has featured several shocking depictions of WW2 thus far, so it’s time for a somewhat lighter choice. Where Eagles Dare delivers an electrifying blend of espionage and action, set against the snowy backdrop of WWII’s European theater. 

Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood shine as members of an elite Allied team on a daring rescue mission packed with twists and breathtaking stunts. Its cinematic excellence, gripping plot, and dynamic score cement the film’s status as a classic war thriller, celebrated for its masterful storytelling and suspenseful execution.

It also provides historians with an insight into how society confronted WW2 in the post-war years. Many young men’s WW2 knowledge was shaped by Action Men toys, Boys’ Own war comics, and rollicking action films like Where Eagles Dare


Mike Jackson’s Denial is a compelling biographical drama that brings to the screen the landmark legal battle between Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving, the disgraced historian and infamous Holocaust denier. Rachel Weisz’s portrayal of Lipstadt shines, capturing her resolve and courage in the face of Irving’s libel lawsuit in the UK, where she must prove the Holocaust’s historical truth. 

Supported by a stellar cast including Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall, the film intertwines legal intrigue with the emotional weight of historical memory. A scene featuring a visit to Auschwitz underscores the stakes, making Denial not just a courtroom drama but a timely meditation on the importance of truth in the face of lies and facts distorted – it feels even more relevant today than it did upon its release!


From an all-action adventure movie, we move to a deep psychological study of Adolf Hitler during his last days. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall offers a riveting glimpse into the final days of the Third Reich. And, of course, the film is built around Bruno Ganz’s unforgettable portrayal of Adolf Hitler, which was regarded as a classic portrayal almost from the moment of the film’s first screening. 

The film delves deep into the psyche of the Nazi leadership, confined within the claustrophobic walls of the Führerbunker. Downfall navigates complex emotions of despair, loyalty, and delusion, presenting a nuanced picture of some of history’s greatest villains. Its critical acclaim and controversy stem from its humanized portrayal of Hitler, sparking discussions on the portrayal of evil and the nature of historical memory.

If you would like to explore the story of Hitler’s war years, join us for a Guided Tour of the Wolf’s Lair, where Hitler spent a large part of the war. 

The Great Escape

The Great Escape continues to captivate audiences with its daring narrative of resilience and ingenuity. John Sturges’s direction brings to life the legendary escape of Allied POWs from a German camp, blending tension with moments of levity. 

The ensemble cast, led by Steve McQueen, embodies the courage and moral strength of wartime resistance. Its iconic scenes, particularly McQueen’s motorcycle chase, have etched The Great Escape into the annals of cinematic history.

2024 marks the 80th anniversary of the real-life escapes at Stalag Luft III. Poland at War Tours has decided to mark the occasion with a special Guided Great Escape Tour in Poland.

Saving Private Ryan 

Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan redefines the war genre with a gripping narrative that marries the raw intensity of combat with the profound bonds of brotherhood among soldiers. The film’s opening sequence, depicting the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, is a masterclass in filmmaking, immersing viewers in the chaos and horror of war with unparalleled realism. Tom Hanks leads a stellar cast, bringing humanity and depth to the story of a squad’s perilous mission to save a single soldier.

Chaplin’s Great Dictator

The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator delivers a bold, satirical critique of fascism and its architects, blending humor with a profound moral message. Chaplin’s dual role as a tyrannical dictator and a persecuted Jewish barber showcases his genius in using comedy to illuminate the darkness of political oppression. 

Released when the U.S. was still neutral in WWII, the film’s courageous stand against despotism and its call for humanity and kindness over greed and hatred made it a historic achievement in cinematic satire.

Parts of Chaplin’s final monologue in the movie feel as relevant as ever:

“In this world, there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. […] Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.”

Władysław Szpilman

The Pianist

The Pianist tells the harrowing story of survival against the backdrop of the Holocaust, with Adrien Brody’s transformative performance as Władysław Szpilman wowing critics from the movie’s premiere. 

Roman Polanski’s direction imbues the narrative with a haunting realism, capturing the devastating impact of war on the individual. Brody’s portrayal of Szpilman’s will to go on, coupled with the film’s stark depiction of the atrocities faced by Jews in Warsaw, provides a complex portrait of one individual’s struggle in the middle of Earth-shaking events.

Incendiary Bombs Being Dropped on Kobe

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies is a profoundly moving tale of love and loss set against the backdrop of Japan during WWII. Directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Studio Ghibli, this animated masterpiece follows siblings Seita and Setsuko as they navigate the devastating landscape of war-torn Japan. 

With its breathtaking animation and beautiful, subtle storytelling, the film provides a unique perspective on the impacts of war, highlighting the innocence lost and the personal tragedies that unfold beyond the battlefields.

As we conclude our exploration of these cinematic masterpieces, it’s clear that their relevance extends far beyond historical documentation or narrative achievement. They challenge us to confront the complexities of morality, the price of freedom, and the enduring impact of war on humanity, whether it’s soldier or civilian. 

By engaging with these films, we honor the memory of those who lived through the war and embrace our responsibility to learn from the past. In doing so, we ensure that the lessons of World War II remain a guiding light – we need that light now more than ever.

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