To Make a Viewer Feel War

Maybe the ultimate purpose of a war movie is to let others hear the force of these stories. Another director, Sam Fuller, once offered a quote that doesn’t necessarily contradict Truffaut’s observation but better explains the impulse to make war movies: “A war film’s objective, no

To Make a Viewer Feel War

 

Maybe the ultimate purpose of a war movie is to let others hear the force of these stories. Another director, Sam Fuller, once offered a quote that doesn’t necessarily contradict Truffaut’s observation but better explains the impulse to make war movies: “A war film’s objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war.” The films selected for this list of the genre’s most essential entries often have little in common, but they do share that. Each offers a vision that asks viewers to consider and understand the experience of war, be it in the trenches of World War I, the wilderness skirmishes of Civil War militias, or the still-ongoing conflicts that have helped define 21st-century warfare.

Compiled as Sam Mendes’s stylistically audacious World War I film1917, hit theaters, this list opts for a somewhat narrow definition of a war movie, focusing on films that deal with the experiences of soldiers during wartime. That means no films about the experience of returning from war (Coming HomeThe Best Years of Our Lives, First Blood) or of civilian life during wartime (Mrs. MiniverForbidden GamesHope and Glory) or of wartime stories whose action rests far away from the battlefield (Casablanca). It also leaves films primarily about the Holocaust out of consideration, as they seem substantively different from other sorts of war films. Also excluded are films that blur genres, like the military science fiction of Starship Troopers and Aliens (even if the latter does have a lot to say about the Vietnam War). That eliminates many great movies, but it leaves room for many others, starting with a film made at the height of World War II in an attempt to help rally a nation with a story of an operation whose success required secrecy, extensive training, and beating overwhelming odds.


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