Director Andrzej Wajda poured every bit of his experience as a resistance fighter against the Nazis into three cinematic masterpieces in the 1950s. He made three films during this time: “A Generation” (1955), “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958), and “Kanal” (1957.) Of the three, “Kanal” is widely regarded as the best one with a singular focus on war.
“Kanal” is an account of the Polish resistance to Nazism while also dissecting the qualities of communism, both oppressive and freeing. Viewers follow the mind-boggling efforts of the Warsaw Uprising when freedom fighters undertake efforts to win Poland back from the Nazis. Wajda takes the story literally into the sewers of Poland, creating an unforgettable albeit claustrophobic cinematic gem.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The title of the movie wouldn't imply that this is one of the most iconic Vietnam War movies of all time, and yet it is. Telling the tale of working-class Americans before they start their service in the Asian country, things really start to pick up when the action starts in Vietnam. Robert De Niro gives us a classic performance in the main role.
Another fascinating thing about the movie is that the last hour of it just shows the soldier's lives after the war. Other great performances come from the likes of Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, and John Cazale, among others. Michael Cimino's epic movie ended up winning a whopping five awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
“Black Hawk Down” is an account of a violent, ill-fated raid on Mogadishu in 1993. The encounter left 19 American soldiers dead. The movie found many takers especially after 9/11, with its politics a matter of contention still. Director Ridley Scott masterfully tells a chaotic story with a cast filled to the brim with every rising male actor during the late ‘90s – from Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor to Orlando Bloom.
Scott manages to capture the intensity of every scene, even though realism has never been his preferred style for the silver screen. The film received criticism back then for glorifying war. Today the narrative has changed and seems more about the misguided belief that America can or should save another country.
The Steel Helmet (1951)
“The Steel Helmet” is one of the only war movies set against the backdrop of the Korean War. We have movies galore about WWII and the Vietnam War. By contrast, the Korean War fought during the 1950s finds little mention in Hollywood and has been seemingly relegated to obscure annals of history.
“The Steel Helmet” changed all of that, offering crucial insights into a war few in the world knew about at the time. What made it so radical, apart from the subject matter? The film was made in the middle of the Korean War and makes no bones about its message. It is a harrowing account of a battle fought in a Buddhist temple.
The Great Escape (1963)
It’s not an overstatement to call John Sturges’s “The Great Escape” one of the finest works of cinema the world has seen. Other WWII films that came after have all had to live up to the exceptional standards set by the film. The story follows a group of Allied prisoners in a German POW camp determined to break out. The cast featurs the likes of James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn and Steve McQueen.
Each one contributes to the cause, with special skills that Sturges goes to great lengths to showcase. For a while it seems like we’re watching an almost comedic heist film until violence ensues, jolting us into remembering where we are – in the thick of bleak, devastating conflict during WWII.