Beginner’s Guide to… War films


Jonny Taylor is a young quarterback who seems to have it all – loving parents, a sweetheart, and a position as quarterback on his college football team. But suddenly his country finds itself at war, and Jonny, spurred on by patriotic fervour, signs up for the army, throwing away his comfortable home life to fight for freedom. On a foreign battlefield many of young Jonny’s illusions are shattered amidst the gunfire and explosions. Friends are made and lost as Jonny faces the horrors of war and, ultimately, learns the true meaning of sacrifice.

As long as there have been humans there have been wars, and almost as long as there has been cinema, there have been war films. It was the World Wars however which really kick-started the genre. During both wars, relatively bloodless propaganda flicks were churned out showing heroic soldiers valiantly battling a devious enemy. Then as the wars ended, darker, more cynical and violent films were produced as ex-soldiers returned home with more realistic tales of warfare. Still though, at this point war films rarely criticised the nations from which they came.

Vietnam represented a turning point, as Hollywood films began to reflect the ambiguous feelings many Americans had for their country’s latest conflict. Films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon showed American troops committing unspeakable atrocities. As time went on, even if not all war films questioned the validity of specific wars, they were increasingly critical of the concept of conflict. ‘War is hell’ became the theme, and brutal violence became a feature of the genre, culminating in the shockingly bloody Saving Private Ryan in 1998.

That film’s success inspired a new wave of war movies which is still going strong today – since 1998 there have been a number of commercially successful war films, from gung-ho propaganda pieces (Black Hawk Down) to action thrillers (The Hurt Locker) to satirical critiques (Three Kings). In France, Days of Glory so moved President Chirac that it led to a change in government policy on war pensions. It seems in Hollywood, and across the world, the war will go on and on.

Must see movies:

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

The Dam Busters (1955)

The Longest Day (1962)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Idi i Smotri (Come and See) (1985)

Platoon (1986)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Three Kings (1999)

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