On May 16, 1929, the first Academy Award ever given for Best Picture went to Wings. It was not the first WWI film ever made, only the first to win an Oscar. The Great War – “the war to end all wars” – had been a star in several movies for a decade before then and would continue to be for decades to come. It is one of several we want to find when we go looking for World War I Movies on Netflix.
Why WWI Movies?
As a soldier, I survived World War I when most of my comrades did not.- Lester B. Pearson
I know you didn’t come here for a history lesson, but a little bit of understanding about WWI is important if we’re going to appreciate much about films set in the era and, if you dare, how quickly the entire world can change. When WWI began in 1914, much of the developed world (Europe) was ruled by Kings, Czars, and Kaisers. When WWI ended, only one remained – England’s King George V. Among the fallen were Czar Nicholas II of Russia (to revolution and execution), Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany (abdication and exile), Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary (abolition of nobility), and by 1922, Mehmed VI of the Ottoman Empire (dissolution of Sultanate and exile). In the aftermath, the United States began to take its seat at the table with other leaders in world affairs.
If you want to appreciate how long ago WWI was, it might help to know that 100 years ago to the very day of this writing, Europe was in the heat of battle with men on both sides of the conflict languishing in trenches. The USA would not enter the war until the next year, and many Americans were reluctant to get involved because the Civil War was still a recent memory.
One way to gain understanding and knowledge on WWI is in the movies made about it. Usually, we go to Netflix and search for the movies we want to see. Netflix does a fantastic job of bringing us titles across hundreds of genres. We can search the site for Stanley Kubrick’s films, and we see his 1987 Vietnam war drama, Full Metal Jacket, but his WWI drama, Paths to Glory, is not there. Going to the genre code listing for Classic War Films (48744) shows Netflix has a few of these from WWII but nothing from WWI. At the very least, All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms should be listed under Critically-acclaimed War Dramas based on Books (3341), but the category is empty.
The last WWI veteran died in early 2011 at 110 year of age. Maybe this is the reason for the dearth of WWI movies on Netflix — there is no one that was alive during its horrors to bear testimony of it or cause us to care. That’s really no excuse, in my opinion anyway, for not having at the very least more recent WWI dramas with actors people today are familiar with like Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall or Mel Gibson in Gallipoli. Yet, the lack of WWI movies may very well be due to Netflix thinking nobody cares anymore. Well, they would be wrong. The popularity of the 2014 mini-series Apocalypse: World War I is evidence of that, and maybe that’s another title Netflix should consider carrying since it’s a more recent documentary of the war.
WWI Movies for Netflix
If someone at Netflix reads this and wants an idea of what WWI films they should have for us, I’m happy to help with a top ten list of WWI movies. All of the movies named above are in it (except for “Apocalypse”). I think that Netflix should do whatever it takes to add at least half of them to its catalog, for as we all know very well, “Those who do not know or remember their history are destined to repeat it.” No, it may not be as serious as all that, but these movies do need to be made available to us, and Netflix is the perfect medium to do it.
So, here’s the list for Netflix to adopt (and for you to plan to watch). Each film description has a link to a video clip of the movie (usually on TCM’s site) and the IMDB page. At the end of each description is the IMDB rating (out of 10 stars) and the film’s parental guidance score. Also, they are listed in alphabetical order.
A Farewell to Arms
The 1932 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1930 novel stars Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in Italy during WWI. An ambulance driver and a nurse, the pair fall in love and are determined to let nothing keep them apart. A Farewell to Arms won Oscars for Best Cinematography (Charles Lang) and Best Sound, Recording (Franklin Hansen), and nominated for Best Picture.
- 6.6 stars; NR.
All Quiet on the Western Front
Often hailed as one of the greatest war movies of all time, this classic film is the entry for 1930 in AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list. It tells the story of young men motivated to sign up to fight for Germany in WWI by the patriotic speech of their college professor. Landing in the trenches, their romantic dreams of defending the Fatherland are soon broken into a million pieces. Though never shying away from portrayals of bloodshed and death, the film is rarely gory, a testament to Lewis Milestone’s skill as a director. This film will move you. It should definitely be on everyone’s must-see list, and Netflix should make it available so that it can be seen and appreciated.
- 8.1 stars; NR.
Follow the experiences of two young Australian men who head off to WWI thinking it will be like the wars their fathers knew only to learn that modern warfare is, truly, hell on earth. The 1981 film starring Mel Gibson, Gallipoli recounts the stories of soldiers facing Turkish armed forces, realizing they are little more than cannon fodder in the grand scheme of things.
- 7.5 stars; rated PG.
Lawrence of Arabia
Often hailed as a masterpiece of the cinema, this portrayal of the English officer who united the Arabs to stave off the Turks in WWI stars Alec Guinness, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn, and numerous other stars. Winner of the 1963 Academy Award for Best Picture and six other categories, Lawrence of Arabia recounts a piece of period history we do not hear of much in our textbooks. This is the only WWI movie available on Netflix, and only through their DVD subscription service.
- 8.4 stars; rated PG.
Legends of the Fall
Sending sons off to war is never easy. In this 1994 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt, love between brothers and for the same woman, one brother’s wife, is set against the backdrop of political tension at the outbreak of WWI and its devastating impact on one family as two sons head off to war in Europe.
- 7.5/10 stars; rated R.
Paths of Glory
Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 exploration of French soldiers in WWI centers on a brigade being ordered into an all but certain to fail attack on a German stronghold not because it will advance the war but so that a general can get a promotion. When this suicidal mission is met with soldiers refusing to enter the battlefield, the general decides to court martial 100 of them for cowardice; this is reduced to three men, one representing each company. An emotionally draining film, perhaps the most so of any WWI movie, the film stars Kirk Douglas.
Telling the story of one of my mother’s favorite heroes, Sergeant Alvin York of Tennessee, this 1941 film bears witness of the young Christian pacifist coming to terms with killing or being killed in defense of one’s own and a nation’s freedom. Starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan.
- 7.8 stars; NR.
The Big Parade
“An astounding and in many ways unprecedented film,” King Vidor’s WWI drama offers “a masterful picture of the psychologial devastation of battle.” This 1925 silent film was the first war film to ever show battle from the perspective of the average soldier. Film was still a fairly new genre of entertainment. Since war had not been explored from this vantage point before on such a big screen with tender and dramatic moments, The Big Parade and it left people crying in the audience. Watch the Turner Classic Movies channel listings for this can’t-miss gem.
- 8.3 stars; NR.
This 1999 war drama takes you into the trenches of WWI and into the minds of the soldiers living and dying in them in the lead up to the Battle of Somme. With mixed reviews by critics and viewers alike, The Trench nonetheless stands as another worthy effort that truly paints a graphic picture of war as hell.
- 6.1 stars; NR.
Produced by the Weimar Republic (Germany) in 1930 and a contemporary of All Quiet on the Western Front, Westfront 1918 makes up what it may lack in drama with a more realistic and documentary-style presentation of WWI from the view of the Central Powers. Showing a bit more of the gore one would expect in a film faithfully chronically such awful battles without going so far as to put people off is a difficult balance but one that Westfront 1918 strikes fairly well.
- 7.5 stars; rated PG.
No matter its genre or setting, Netflix should carry the first-ever winner of an Oscar for Best Picture. That film happens to be the 1927 silent WWI drama, Wings. The traditional war story of the day with valiant heroes and glory for all, it features amazing aerial sequences for the day and the “It” girl of the era, Clara Bow.
- 7.8 stars; rated PG-13.
Now, go out and watch all those clips then choose the movie you’ll track down this weekend. By next Memorial Day, you might understand what the red poppies the Veterans of Foreign Wars distribute are all about, and hopefully by then we’ll all be able to watch at least a couple World War 1 Movies On Netflix to mark the occasion.