Many cinemagoers may feel that war films are a recent phenomenon, but the truth is they have existed since the very beginning of filmmaking, almost a century ago. Long before the Second World War actually took place nearly 80 years ago, filmmakers were making movies on fictitious battles or real ones as well as on incidents that happened, giving them a fictional spin. These films featured an ensemble cast or an unknown one. In 101 War Movies You Must See Before You Die, it becomes clear that the war-movie phenomenon is not just old but ancient. It also helps outline some of the films that helped in establishing this Oscar-favourite genre and how the genre evolved from a time when there was no technology to the technical revolution.
What makes this collection of war films a must-read is the way it has been compiled and edited by Steven Jay Schneider. Renowned film critics and historians have played an important role in putting this compilation together. In addition, academicians have also been consulted before the book finalised the 101 titles. It doesn’t just deal with films where actual battle sequences were filmed but also those that took place on the side-lines of war. That’s why movies like Schindler’s List and Good Morning, Vietnam, which would otherwise have been missed, have made the cut.
The book is easy to carry around and the information it provides is also easy to read. Unlike heavier books that are text-based and can be tedious at times, everything happens fast on this battlefield. Thankfully, it is not limited to the United States but British, Russian, and even German films are part of this collection. Among them are names like Lawrence of Arabia, Ballad of a Soldier, and Stalingrad. There is even space for anti-war movies like All Quiet on the Western Front. To be fair, it transcends more than one genre, for the benefit of the readers.
From films like The Great Escape or The Bridge on the River Kwai, Paths of Glory or Stalag 17, The Deer Hunter or Saving Private Ryan, this guide covers all films that deserve your attention. They were not just films that won awards or went on to become classics but were the best amongst the rest for a reason. Some like The Longest Day became bigger because of a star cast featuring the Hollywood elite; others like Platoon are remembered for trusting fresh talent that went onto dominate cinema. M*A*S*H went onto rule TV for nearly a decade; such was the impact of the movie.
If you didn’t know that Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood starrer Where Eagles Dare came out at the same time as Alistair MacLean’s novel, that many of the cast members of The Longest Day had seen the action as servicemen during the war, don’t feel left out.
There is a lot more to learn from these pages, which detail heroic struggles, menacing maniacs and at times will make the reader question the motive of war. In some exceptional cases, the readers will learn what went on behind the scene of certain films, the original cast the producers had in mind and some outstanding performances that made average films look extraordinary.
Every filmgoer has a favorite set of films where there is space for war films as well. However, after going through this book you will certainly have an updated list with more films on your must-watch bucket list than before.
Another interesting factor is how the book is designed. Every war film mentioned is accompanied by a full-page poster or picture and it also offers the film’s synopsis, the credits, and a lot of insight that isn’t available online. If you are interested in cinematic history and filmmaking and also in finding out what really happened behind the scenes of the some iconic wars films (as well as non-iconic), begin your lesson by investing your time and energy this book. You will not regret it.
– Omair Alavi is a broadcast journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]