Great films have been made about the Civil War, World War I, Vietnam and Korea, yet World War II remains the campaign filmmakers and audiences return to again and again.
Clint Eastwood delivers Hollywood's latest World War II chronicle with "Flags of Our Fathers," opening Oct. 20 and featuring an ensemble cast that includes Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford in the story of the Iwo Jima invasion and the historic raising of the U.S. flag there.
Appropriately, Eastwood produced "Flags of Our Fathers" with Steven Spielberg, the modern master of the World War II saga, with films and television shows that include "Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List," "Empire of the Sun" and "Band of Brothers."
With so many World War II films and such variety to choose film, a best-of list is almost impossible. But here are 12 of the finest, covering combat, prison camps, the Holocaust, espionage and sabotage, life on the homefront, homecomings and even the dreary boredom of war for some of its combatants:
"Saving Private Ryan" (1998) — Spielberg crafts a masterpiece of combat and camaraderie, with Tom Hanks dutifully leading his men behind enemy lines on what they consider a dubious rescue mission. The incredible opening D-Day invasion sequence remains the standard by which all combat action will be measured.
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957) — Alec Guinness is dazzling in David Lean's prison tale as a British officer torn between duty to country and his sense of a good day's work as he supervises fellow POWs in construction of a bridge for the Japanese, while saboteurs led by William Holden plot to blow it up.
"Patton" (1970) — In his best kingly firebrand mode, George C. Scott was born to play Gen. George Patton in Franklin J. Schaffner's brilliant portrait of a man who was scourge to the Germans in battle and both hero and villain to his own side. Karl Malden is a compassionate contrast as Patton's ally, Gen. Omar Bradley.
"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) — Just a year after the war's end, William Wyler delivered a superb narrative of soldiers (Fredric March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell, a veteran who lost his hands in the war) painfully readjusting to civilian life. Unlike many early war dramas, the film holds up remarkably well today.
"Das Boot" (1981) — Wolfgang Petersen launched the greatest of submarine flicks, following a German U-boat crew, led by Jurgen Prochnow, on a clandestine mission. The film is available in the 2 1/2-hour U.S. theatrical cut and a 3 1/2-hour director's cut. Hardcore fans should check out the five-hour miniseries version that aired on German TV.
"The Longest Day" (1962) — One of the best casts ever assembled, including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Richard Burton, re-creates the D-Day invasion in meticulous detail in Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki's glorious epic examining the action from the Allied and German perspectives.
"The Caine Mutiny" (1954) — After defining himself as the fast-talking hero in the 1940s, Humphrey Bogart played one of cinema's colossal paranoiacs in Edward Dmytryk's combat-to-courtroom drama. Bogart is masterful as a flawed naval captain whose officers mutiny, their court-martial a forum for their former leader's emotional breakdown.
"The Big Red One" (1980) — Samuel Fuller's autobiographical tale of his infantry days could almost be the blueprint for TV's "Band of Brothers," following a group of soldiers through multiple campaigns. The stellar cast includes Lee Marvin, Robert Carradine and Mark Hamill.
"Schindler's List" (1993) — Spielberg offered up Hollywood's grandest testament to victims of the Holocaust. Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, who made a fortune on the backs of Jewish laborers in Poland then spent it all saving them from Nazi death camps. Ralph Fiennes is chilling as the Nazi commandant of Schindler's labor camp.
"Hope and Glory" (1987) — John Boorman draws on the happy and horrific memories of his childhood during the London blitz and later at his grandparents' home in the countryside. With great heart and humor, Boorman presents an oddly idyllic glimpse of life during wartime for those left back home.
"Stalag 17" (1953) — Billy Wilder injects trademark sardonic wit in this story set in a German POW camp, where a profiteer (William Holden) draws resentment of his fellow Allied internees, who suspect he's the undercover Nazi spy derailing the prisoners' escape attempts.
"Mister Roberts" (1955) — They also serve who only float and wait in John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy's marvelous comic drama about a naval cargo ship, its bored crew and insufferable captain (James Cagney), a lay-about ensign (Jack Lemmon) and the selfless lieutenant (Henry Fonda) who holds it all together.