If you are new to the LOWA Military Boots blog, it’s important to know that we live and breathe anything to do with the military. From military podcasts to reflective war films, we’re huge fans of anything that showcases the resilience of our servicemen and women and allows us to reflect on the past. There are so many films that we could recommend when it comes to the latter, but it’s the amazing war films based on true stories that stand out.
War films based on true stories have a special power to give us a glimpse into some of the most important moments in military history and capture the true spirit and bravery of the individuals who lived through them. Let’s explore eight of the very best war films based on true stories that leave us feeling contemplative, inspired and wowed by military history.
The first film on our list of amazing war films based on true stories is also the newest. Directed by Christopher Nolan and released in July 2023 to an overwhelmingly positive critical reception, Oppenheimer is a 3-hour triumph that delves into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist pivotal in the creation of nuclear weapons during World War Two. Though the film focuses less on the frontline events of World War Two and more on the role of everyone behind-the-scenes, Oppenheimer is an utterly gripping character study and a film that goes deep into the psyche of one of the most important but destructive minds in military history.
Christopher Nolan’s military fascination began long before Oppenheimer as he is also the director of the next film on our list of war films based on true stories. While the characters in this film are not explicitly based on real people, Dunkirk brings to life the extraordinary and true evacuation of British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk during World War Two. If you’re looking for a war film that really captures the essence and horrors of war, this one is it. Dunkirk has an innovative approach to time that weaves different narratives and perspectives together to create an intensity that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Often billed as the most realistic depiction of the Second World War, Saving Private Ryan is arguably one of the best-known war films based on true stories. Directed by the fantastic Steven Spielberg and starring the wonderful Tom Hanks, this war film opens with a spine-tingling and harrowing glimpse at the D-Day invasion and the pace rarely lets up in the scenes that follow. The theme of camaraderie runs through the whole film, resulting in a truly reflective and emotional depiction of one of the pivotal moments in global history.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Continuing with our World War Two theme, Hacksaw Ridge tells the incredible story of combat medic Desmond Doss. Andrew Garfield was deservedly nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his depiction of Doss, with his powerful performance highlighting individual brilliance in the most dire and challenging circumstances. Providing a study of courage and respect, make sure Hacksaw Ridge is right at the top of your watchlist!
Oliver Stone’s Platoon won Best Picture at the 59th Academy Awards and it’s not difficult to see why. Platoon portrays the Vietnam War in an authentic and raw manner, following a young soldier who struggles to get to grips with the moral complexities of the war. The key theme of the movie is the struggle between wrong and right, one that runs through so many key events in military history and rarely has a firm conclusion. Platoon is actually the first film in a trilogy, and although the following two films were less critically acclaimed, there’s plenty more to get stuck into if you enjoy this war film.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
One of the best things about war films based on true stories is that they allow us to take a closer look at battles and operations that may rarely leave the history books. This is the case for Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, an enthralling depiction of the Battle of Mogadishu. The film focuses on this US military operation in Somalia and explores how war has an impact on both military personnel and civilians caught in the crossfire. Black Hawk Down is certainly a very reflective film and one that reminds us of the need for courage and determination when faced with adversity.
The Great Escape (1963)
The Great Escape has real classic status amongst film buffs. Again set in World War Two, the film is based on the mind blowing true story of a mass escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp. Director John Sturges delves right into the intricate planning and execution of the escape by Allied prisoners of war, with a cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough. The overall message is one of celebration and triumph, as the film highlights the determination of those who risked their lives for freedom.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Last but not least, make sure you check out The Thin Red Line when hunting for war films based on true stories. The Thin Red Line is an artistic and intricate study of the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War Two and offers a truly philosophical approach to war. Sean Penn and George Clooney are just two of the many names that deliver poignant performances that highlight the real emotions and struggles of military personnel. Watching The Thin Red Line in the present day is a timely reminder of the sacrifices that have been made throughout military history, and firmly highlights how the emotional impact of such sacrifices extends well beyond the screen.