While the historical importance of the Western Front in World War Two
is still debated (did it defeat the Nazis or save western Europe from Stalin instead?), filmmakers haven't hesitated in reproducing the battles in a hundreds of films and tv shows. None are 100% perfect, but this list concentrates on those that combine entertainment with realism and accuracy, although I do allow some fun in at the end.
The finest film or (non-documentary) television show ever made about the Western Front, Band of Brothers follows 'Easy' Company through many important incidents in WW2. Honest, realistic, based on the real US Company and free from flag waving nonsense. Monumentally essential.
Made in 1962 and based on a bestselling history, The Longest Day presents a majestic overview of the D-Day Landings, skipping almost seamlessly from character to character, event to event, allies to axis, and film to real footage. There are lags in the pacing and inaccuracies, but it's still superb.
The backlash has started, but this is still a hugely enjoyable and stunning film. Having survived a very vivid D-Day landing, a squad of soldiers must cross Normandy to bring back Private Ryan, the only surviving brother from his family. Bloody and brutal, the profundity is sadly squandered.
First shown before Saving Private Ryan (which it's frequently compared to), When Trumpets Fade is an equally brutal account of the battle for Hurtigen Forest, a semi-disaster where US troops were bogged down with heavy casualties. The attention to detail is poor but the tone uncompromising.
Whereas most of these picks are action based, Battleground is an excellent piece of psychological film-making set during the Battle of the Bulge, tracing the thoughts and actions of the trapped soldiers. Taut, tense and far more thoughtful than a simple tank battle.
'The Bridge' focuses entirely on a German perspective, tracing how a group of 16 year olds are given some hurried training and then thrown into battle against the advancing Allies by the collapsing Nazi regime. As harsh and honest as any film in this list, the fresh perspective should have earned this film a larger audience.
I've not been able to see this, but it's regarded as one of the best biographies ever filmed and a superb examination of the multi-layered nature of both its protagonist Patton, a leading WW2 General and the conflict itself. Ignore the cheesy cover and watch this film!
Given the importance of the air war, it only seems right to include a film with some stunning aerial photography and a range of realistic aircraft. Oh, it also features a lot of British people talking in silly accents. Debate rages as to whether the altered DVD version is better or worse than the VHS.
Castigated for its numerous inaccuracies, A Bridge Too Far is still a very popular film thanks to its subject matter: a force of paratroopers drop behind enemy lines, capture the important Arnheim bridge and then try to hold it until the army arrives to reinforce them
but can either succeed?
If films 1-9 reflect attempts at realism and accuracy, then this is another genre entirely: the Boys Own war story. Clint Eastwood plays Kelly, a US soldier who assembles a crack team of eccentrics to steal millions in Nazi Gold. It's funny, exciting and firmly in the ripping yarns mould.