For use with Lesson 22: The Wrath of Man – WW2 in Dave Raymond’s Modernity Series.
World War 2 is one of the most extensive and complex eras of history to study. The Western Front contains enough material to study for years without ever addressing what happened on the Eastern Front. As a student it can be overwhelming and hard to understand, so here are 15 great films that cover the many different sides of the war.
Mrs. Miniver (1942) – PG (10+)
This is one of the most incredible films ever made. It brilliantly shows what the English Homefront was like when the war first broke out and how incredibly resilient the British were. Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Teresa Wright, this film will make you laugh, cry, and inspire feelings of satisfaction and thankfulness.
One scene depicts bombs falling around a bomb shelter, and one character is killed during a bomb raid, but nothing is too overwhelming. You will appreciate it more as an adult, but middle and high school students will enjoy it as well.
Casablanca (1942) – PG
Regardless of the fact that it is a WW2 film, everyone should watch Casablanca at some point in their lives. It is deemed one of the best films to come out of Hollywood and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. A thriller, romance, espionage, and war film all in one, you won’t regret watching it.
There is some violence (shooting guns), some drinking, and lots of exciting scenes.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) PG (11+)
One of the most moving war films ever made, this is the story of three American soldiers who have come home from the Front. It explores how their lives intersect as they try to readjust to regular life. Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Dana Andrews, and Frederic March play amazingly sympathetic characters that will spark your student’s interest in how soldiers tried to rehabilitate.
There is some alcohol consumption, a soldier suffers from a PTSD-inspired nightmare, and one soldier has lost both his hands. Like Mrs. Miniver, The older you are, the more you will appreciate this film, but overall it is a very clean film.
They Were Expendable (1945) PG (10+)
Starring John Wayne, Donna Reed, and Robert Montgomery, this film is shows how American troops tried to prevent the Japanese army from taking over Pacific islands at the end of the war. It is incredibly moving and a film everyone in your family will enjoy.
Some scenes take place in a hospital and there is some fighting but none of the scenes are graphic in any way.
The Longest Day (1962) PG-13
There are hundreds of films with star-studded casts, but this is one of the most well made. Richard Burton, John Wayne, Sean Connery, Peter Lawford, and Henry Fonda (to name a few) play the soldiers and officers who stormed the beaches at Normandy. This is a great choice if your student is interested in D-Day.
Since the film shows the different parts of D-Day there is some violence. Nothing too graphic but it might overwhelm younger students. You can read more here.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) PG-13
One of the more intense films on this list, Judgment at Nuremberg recounts the trials of the Nazi officers after the war ended. This is another star-studded cast, with cameos from Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, and Montgomery Clift. It is incredibly moving and provides insight into a part of the war that most people forget.
Technically there isn’t any violence, but it is an intense film due to its subject matter and might overwhelm younger students.
Midway (1976) PG (11+)
This adaptation of one of the most famous battles in the Pacific is just as thrilling as the 2019 version some of you may have seen. Starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, and Robert Mitchum, this is a great option to watch with your students if they are interested in this American retaliation after Pearl Harbor.
Lots of shooting, sinking ships, and burning planes, but nothing overly graphic.
Why We Fight (1942) PG (11+)
Unlike the other films, this is a documentary put together by Frank Capra, director of It’s A Wonderful Life. It spans from 1942 to 1945 and is made up of seven smaller documentaries detailing different battles (such as the battle of Britain, the battle of Russia, and the battle of China). It was designed to show factually what was happening on the Front and why we were fighting in the first place.
Since this film is a documentary, all the scenes are war footage which may be overwhelming for younger students. None of the scenes show anything graphic but there are shots of explosions, guns firing, and cities that have been destroyed by bombs.
Run Silent Run Deep (1956) PG (11+)
Submarine warfare was a form of fighting that differentiated the Western and Eastern Fronts. Starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, this film addresses the complications and complexities of officers’ relationships with their crew. It provides an interesting insight into an aspect of the war that is often ignored.
Like Judgement at Nuremberg, this film doesn’t have much violence (some ships are sunk and three men are killed), but the intensity of the film comes from the plot.
The Fighting Seabees (1944) PG
Today, the Seabees are known across the world; this film depicts the beginning of this Naval Battalion. Starring John Wayne, it is one of his many war films (director John Ford wouldn’t let him join up during the war since he thought Wayne was too valuable an actor). It is a sweet, though somewhat fictionalized, account of an impressive part of our military.
Since this film was made so early in the 40s, there is a limit to on screen violence. This is safe option to watch with younger students. There is a scene depicting men being shot but it is very tame.
The Great Love (1942) PG
The only film on this list not made by the U.S., The Great Love is a controversial choice since the protagonists are German and the antagonists are the Allies. However, it received more awards and acclaim in Germany than any other film made at that time. It is a moving story and a reminder that the men and women of Germany also endured a lot throughout the war.
There isn’t much violence in this film; the scenes depicting the war are easy to watch.
Destination Tokyo (1943) PG
One of Cary Grant’s few war films, but not the last starring him and a submarine, this film is the opposite of Run Silent Run Deep in its depiction of officers and crew. It mixes comedy, adventure, and the seriousness of war very well.
Most submarine films don’t have much violence in them; this one is no different. One soldier has to have an appendicitis operation but the scene isn’t graphic.
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) PG (11+)
Another John Wayne war film, this covers the attack of Iwo Jima by the American Marines. This time, Wayne plays an unlikable commander who, though tough and brusque, finally wins the respect of his soldiers, but at a cost. This is a great film to watch if your student is interested in this battle but doesn’t want (or need) to see the violence.
Given the film’s subject matter, there are multiple scenes depicting battles. However, none of the scenes are graphic.
Hail, the Conquering Hero (1944) G
This film could be compared to The Best Years of Our Lives since both depict soldiers returning home, but the comparison stops there. Hail, the Conquering Hero is a hilarious comedy about what happens when a timid private is mistaken for a private who has won various medals for acts of bravery.
Since You Went Away (1944) PG
Mrs. Miniver tells the story of the British home front; Since You Went Away describes the American side. While this film is not very well known, it is a funny and sweet representation the women who waited for their husbands, fathers, and sons to come home. It stars Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple, and Joseph Cotten.
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