WWI Movies: From Bloodshed to Mateship

World War I Movies

Until recently, WWI was a distant memory, with movies rarely featuring the war. But this year, Peter Jackson brought back the bloodshed with an astonishing documentary called They Shall Not Grow Old.

It features black-and-white footage, transformed into color, that brings a hundred years of history to life in an unprecedented way.

Paths of Glory

A firebrand French colonel, played by a fiery Kirk Douglas, goes head to head with the army’s ruthless top brass when his men refuse to carry out a suicidal attack. This gripping, powerful antiwar film is the first true masterpiece of director Stanley Kubrick. It shows how war creates an environment where power, class, and command can poison any sense of justice and morality.

The black and white cinematography is brilliantly evocative. The use of music is also superb: a percussive all rhythmic sound, with no melody, builds tension during the night patrol scenes while in the emotional final scene a beautiful vocal melody adds an almost unbearable emotional weight.

This is a must see for anyone interested in world war i movies. It is one of the most important and influential films ever made, and it has influenced many future directors.

Lawrence of Arabia

Director David Lean’s epic film, based on T.E. Lawrence’s 1926 memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, remains one of the most acclaimed and influential movies in history. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and made Peter O’Toole a star.

After a British commander, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle), advises Faisal to retreat, Lawrence conceives an attack on the Turkish-held port of Al-‘Aqabah, whose capture would allow the British to offload supplies. He recruits fifty men led by Sherif Ali and the teenage orphans Daud and Farraj.

The men overcome the heavily defended port and return to Cairo to inform Dryden, Brighton, and General Allenby of their victory. They also announce their intention to form an Arab National Council. This raises questions about Lawrence’s divided loyalties between his native Britain and its army and his desert comrades.

Johnny Got His Gun

The harrowing story of Joe Bonham, a soldier who loses all his limbs and senses to an artillery shell during WWI, Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war masterpiece. Its significance and influence stems from the fact that it was written by blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo (who was also behind the upcoming movie adaptation).

Trumbo’s scathingly effective narrative portrays modern medicine as more of a curse than a blessing, as doctors manipulate damaged soldiers for their own pleasure or amusement. The book was one of the earliest to highlight the psychological damage caused by shell shock, and even became an important tool in bringing attention to the issue.

The 1971 film starred Timothy Bottoms and Marsha Hunt, and was directed by Trumbo himself. More recently, Metallica used footage from this film in their video for the song One.


The Allied attempt to capture the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles peninsula was an enormous military disaster. The stalemate that followed would resemble the trench warfare of the Western Front for months, a time during which many grew disillusioned by the senseless slaughter and the sheer endurance required to hold on.

Peter Weir’s 1981 Gallipoli, starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, follows two idealistic young Australian volunteers as they embark on what would turn out to be one of history’s greatest tragedies. The movie’s message of mateship has held up well over the years, and is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in a campaign that would come to be known as “the Dardanelles dustbin.”

A more recent Australian film, Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, takes a much different perspective on the tragedy of Gallipoli by following an ordinary family whose three sons died in battle at the site.


Despite the fact that it was made in 1929 and based on Erich Maria Remarque’s classic, All Quiet on the Western Front’s unashamedly anti-war sentiments haven’t blunted over the decades. The film is an essential look at the horror and monotony of trench warfare that has influenced generations of filmmakers.

This film by Mario Monicelli is a bleak and tragic tale of two good-for-nothing soldiers who shirk responsibility in their efforts to avoid the front lines. Despite being banned on its initial release, this film’s depiction of the futility and absurdity of the war has shaped the way that WWI is shown on screen.

Silent film star Clara Bow stars as a young girl wildly in love with her war pilot, a role that launched her career. It’s the first WWI movie to win an Academy Award and a milestone in cinematic history.

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