Best WWI movies of all time

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Universal Pictures

Best WWI movies of all time

Writers, directors, composers, editors, and all kinds of artists are inspired by what’s happening in the world around them. It then follows that monumental historical events like World War I would have an equally monumental impact on media and culture. Even before the United States entered the war, Hollywood was inspired by the conflict in Europe—and as the American relationship with WWI evolved, the subject matter shifted from advocating for neutrality to celebrating nationalism.

Of course, filmmakers didn’t stop producing movies about the Great War when it ended. Some of the most influential films about WWI were made decades after Armistice Day.

To study the impact the First World War had on the big screen, Stacker consulted the top-rated war films on IMDb and ranked the top 25 about WWI. To qualify, the film had to have at least 2,500 votes and had to cover the Great War in one way or another. Any ties were broken by IMDb user votes. The list runs the gamut from silent films with groundbreaking aerial battle scenes to emotional dramas about the human cost of war.

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Keep reading to discover the best 25 WWI movies of all time.

Fluidity Films

#25. Journey’s End (2017)

– Director: Saul Dibb
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 107 minutes

Set in a dugout on the Western Front in April 1918, “Journey’s End” hones in on a group of British officers led by the stiff, unstable Captain Stanhope. The emotionally charged drama is based on R.C. Sherriff’s play of the same name that premiered in 1928 with Laurence Olivier in the leading role. The film received praise from critics for its acting, particularly from its lead, Sam Claflin.

Accord Productions

#24. Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

– Director: Richard Attenborough
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 144 minutes

“Oh! What a Lovely War” is also based on a theatrical production—this time, a musical. It follows the Smiths, a middle-class British family who are initially optimistic about the war, but they lose hope over time as their three sons witness the horrors of trench warfare. The film received a Golden Globe for Best Cinematography, as well as five honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The film also ranked #16 at the British box office in 1969, attracting moviegoers for its all-star cast and realistic portrayals of war.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#23. For Me and My Gal (1942)

– Director: Busby Berkeley
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 104 minutes

In “For Me and My Gal,” two Vaudeville performers played by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly fall in love, but their relationship is tested when Kelly’s character gets drafted. He injures his hand to avoid going to war, but his sweetheart disapproves—leaving him with no choice but to do something—anything—to regain her trust. This movie musical showcased the acting talents of Kelly, which earned him the Best Actor trophy from the National Board of Review Awards.


#22. Dishonored (1931)

– Director: Josef von Sternberg
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 91 minutes

Marlene Dietrich and Victor McLaglen star in “Dishonored,” a romantic drama about a sex worker turned Austrian spy whose life gets even more complicated when she finds herself attracted to a Russian spy she’s supposed to be trailing. This is the third of seven movies Dietrich collaborated with director Josef von Sternberg on between 1930 and 1935. The New Yorker lauded the film for its direction, remarking that Sternberg told the story with “shimmery, showy chiaroscuro.”


#21. War Horse (2011)

– Director: Steven Spielberg
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 146 minutes

Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” received six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. The film follows the emotional journey of a young man named Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. After Albert’s father sells Joey to the cavalry, Albert enlists in the British Army in hopes of finding him. By following both the pair’s parallel paths through the Great War, Spielberg showcases the loss, grief, and pain of the conflict.

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The Caddo Company

#20. Hell’s Angels (1930)

– Directors: Howard Hughes, Edmund Goulding, James Whale
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 127 minutes

The 1930 production of “Hell’s Angels” was said to cost $4 million due to the elaborate WWI battle scenes staged with a fleet of real aircraft owned by producer and director Howard Hughes. Critics praised the over-the-top spectacle of the fight scenes but noted the love triangle storyline about two brothers in the Royal Air Force lusting after an attractive blonde falls flat.

BBC Films

#19. Testament of Youth (2014)

– Director: James Kent
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 129 minutes

A coming-of-age story, “Testament of Youth” is based on the memoir of Vera Brittain, who was a young woman preparing to enter Oxford in 1914. Alicia Vikander plays Brittain, while Kit Harington plays her dashing love interest, Roland Leighton. Between 2014 and 2016, the film received three nominations from different institutions, and Vikander received the Best Breakthrough Performance Award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#18. King of Hearts (1966)

– Director: Philippe de Broca
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 102 minutes

In the French film “King of Hearts,” chaos ensues when patients of a psychiatric hospital in a small French town mistake a British private for a king. Quirky and almost surrealist, this film presents the idea that war itself is a kind of madness. When the film received a restoration screening in 2018, the Los Angeles Times noted that “King of Hearts” held up over the years, remaining a poignant take on war and madness.

R&R Films

#17. Gallipoli (1981)

– Director: Peter Weir
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 110 minutes

“Gallipoli” follows two young Australian sprinters (Mel Gibson and Mark Lee) who eagerly enlist in the army. They’re quickly sent off to one of the war’s bloodiest battles, Gallipoli, where their speed is no match for the brutal realities of war. This Australian film captures a side of the war often overlooked by Americans: the participation of Australian soldiers in WWI. “Galliopli” won eight Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film.

Warner Bros.

#16. The Dawn Patrol (1938)

– Director: Edmund Goulding
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 103 minutes

The horrible human toll of war is on full display in “The Dawn Patrol,” an English drama following British flying aces. When Captain Courtney (Errol Flynn) takes control of the division from emotionally battered Major Brand (Basil Rathbone), he quickly learns just how devastating it can be to lose men in the line of duty. This film was a remake of the 1930 production of the same name, meaning the 1938 version was released after the Hays Code—a set of provisions against profanity, nudity, and realistic violence, among other perceived obscenities—took into effect. Released at the heels of World War II, the film strummed up a notoriety for its cultural relevance at the time.

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Alliance Atlantis Communications

#15. Sunshine (1999)

– Director: István Szabó
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 181 minutes

In “Sunshine,” Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó illuminates the evils of war by telling the story of the Hungarian Jewish Sonnenschein family over three generations. Ralph Fiennes plays three different men through three different time periods, ranging from the upwardly mobile patriarch, Ignatz, who eventually enlists in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, to his grandson, Adam, a gifted fencer who is later sent to a labor camp during the Holocaust. The film was lauded for its ability to make the viewer think, making it a piece of cinema that sticks with its audience long after the final act.

Mandarin Films

#14. Frantz (2016)

– Director: François Ozon
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 113 minutes

The close connection between love and loss lies at the heart of “Frantz.” In Germany, Anna is grieving the death of her fiancé, Frantz, amid the war when a mysterious Frenchman, Adrien, appears to pay his respects. Anna must learn to navigate her complicated feelings for her late fiancé and Adrien, while also grappling with the notion that she might not have known Frantz as well as she thought. The film tackles themes of xenophobia—a particularly relevant topic amid the 2016 presidential election—making it a film designed for the viewer to contemplate exactly how far society has evolved in the last hundred years.

Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation

#13. Wings (1927)

– Directors: William A. Wellman, Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 144 minutes

With a $2 million budget and thrilling aerial battle scenes, “Wings” was the talk of the town when it released in 1927—in fact, the silent film won the very first Academy Award for Best Picture. The war epic follows two fighter pilots (Richard Arlen and Charles “Buddy” Rogers) who are both in love with the same woman (Clara Bow).

Warner Bros.

#12. A Very Long Engagement (2004)

– Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 133 minutes

Based on the novel of the same name by Sébastien Japrisot, “A Very Long Engagement” tells the story of a young woman’s desperate search for her fiancé, even though the authorities tell her he has been killed. Viewers might recognize actress Audrey Tautou from “Amélie,” another film where she collaborated with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The film received a couple dozen awards from various organizations, praised for its emotional storytelling.

Warner Bros.

#11. Sergeant York (1941)

– Director: Howard Hawks
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 134 minutes

On Oct. 8, 1918, the keen marksman and United States Corporal Alvin C. York killed 20 German soldiers and captured 132 more as part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. His battle heroics gained recognition back home, eventually earning him the Medal of Honor. The film “Sergeant York” is based on this incredible true story, with Gary Cooper playing York. The film received nine Academy Award nominations and took home the Oscar for Best Film Editing and Best Actor.

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Nord-Ouest Films

#10. Joyeux Noel (2005)

– Director: Christian Carion
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 70
– Runtime: 116 minutes

On Christmas Eve in 1914, the German, British, and French soldiers on the Western Front laid down their weapons for a temporary holiday truce. This wartime miracle became the subject of “Joyeux Noel,” with Daniel Bruhl playing a German martinet officer, Guillaume Canet playing a French soldier weary of war, and Gary Lewis playing a Red Cross stretcher-bearer. Unlike many other war films that focus on battle and bloodshed, “Joyeux Noel” depicts moments of peace and clarity, leaving viewers with a more nuanced take on WWI.

United Artists

#9. The African Queen (1951)

– Director: John Huston
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 105 minutes

“The African Queen” stars two titans of the film industry: Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The adventurous tale takes place on a riverboat in German-held East Africa just at the start of World War I. Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a prim missionary forced to flee on the only transportation she can find—the titular riverboat captained by Bogart’s grumpy Charlie Allnut. Critics praised the film for its engrossing nature—and the standout cast performances certainly helped as well.

World Entertainment

#8. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

– Director: Dalton Trumbo
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 111 minutes

In “Johnny Got His Gun,” patriotic American soldier Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) loses his arms, legs, most of his face, and his ability to speak, hear, or see in a horrific artillery attack during the Great War. Stuck inside his mind, Joe relives his experiences through flashbacks until he finds a way to communicate with a nurse. This film paints war in an unfavorable light, earning the praise of Roger Ebert—who famously hates antiwar films—for its depiction of war through a more human and genuine lens than many other antiwar movies.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#7. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

– Director: David Lean
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 197 minutes

Though this film covers about 30 years of Russian history, it opens against the backdrop of World War I, just before the Russian Revolution. Omar Sharif plays the titular character, a Russian doctor who falls in love with his nurse, Lara (Julie Christie), though they’re both married to other people. “Doctor Zhivago” went on to win five Academy Awards and is known today as one of the greatest love stories of all time.

The Archers

#6. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

– Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 163 minutes

Although critics now regard “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” as one of the finest British films of all time, it was initially banned from release by Winston Churchill, who didn’t approve of the film’s portrayal of a sympathetic German character during World War II. When the film was eventually released, nearly an hour of material was cut—the full-length version wouldn’t be released until 1983. In the full version, the viewer watches blustering old General Clive Wynne-Candy’s military career progress through flashbacks to the Boer War, World War I, and eventually, the lead-up to WWII.

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Rialto Pictures

#5. The Grand Illusion (1937)

– Director: Jean Renoir
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 113 minutes

Another lauded antiwar film, “The Grand Illusion” follows French soldiers in their attempt to escape from an impregnable German prisoner of war camp during World War I. Filmmaker Jean Renoir highlights the common ground we all share—regardless of our nationality—through the heartfelt scenes between a French flying ace and German captain, or French fugitives and a kindly German widow. The film received praise all over the world and even made it to Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list. Its narrative structure pulled its audience in, haunting viewers with its raw authenticity and dramatic depictions of war.

Universal Pictures

#4. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

– Director: Lewis Milestone
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 152 minutes

Based on the novel of the same name, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is an unvarnished tale of the horrors of war through the eyes of a young German soldier. Grisly deaths, gruesome hospital scenes, and cacophonous battles gave audiences some insight into what World War I truly was like. The film went on to win two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Director. The film was made prior to the implementation of the Hays Code, leaving no room for censorship of such a violent event in history.

Dreamworks Pictures

#3. 1917 (2019)

– Director: Sam Mendes
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 78
– Runtime: 119 minutes

The film “1917” is perhaps best known for its smooth filmmaking style that makes the movie appear as one fluid, continuous shot. Viewers follow two British lance corporals on their bloody, muddy trek from the trenches on the Hindenburg Line to deliver a letter to a nearby British commander. Thanks to the cinematography, you feel as if you’re traversing the perilous landscape with the characters.

Horizon Pictures (II)

#2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

– Director: David Lean
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 100
– Runtime: 218 minutes

The epic adventure film “Lawrence of Arabia” is based on the true story of Thomas Edward Lawrence, a British officer who led the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I. Though there is some debate among historians about whether Lawrence was really as heroic as he claimed, the film remains an all-time classic that won seven Oscars.

Bryna Productions

#1. Paths of Glory (1957)

– Director: Stanley Kubrick
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 90
– Runtime: 88 minutes

In “Paths of Glory,” after sending soldiers on an impossible suicide mission, the tyrannical French General Mireau is looking for someone to take the blame—and sets his sights on the men in his company he deemed cowardly. He orders three men to be chosen at random and shot, while the idealistic Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) works tirelessly to save their lives. It’s a haunting, moving tale of the futility of war, taken on by masterful direction. Like “The Grand Illusion,” this film also made Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list. The movie’s narrative structure even served as a core inspiration for David Simon’s crime drama series, “The Wire.”

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