World War Two

Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan

Perhaps no historical event has captured the imagination of filmmakers quite as strongly as the Second World War. From the earliest days of the conflict, cinema was used to tell stories about the conflict, often for propaganda or morale boosting purposes to audiences at home. From animated adventures about carrier pigeons, to existential meditations on war and the human spirit, there are engaging, exciting and educational films for all ages. Of course, films can never truly recreate the unimaginable horror of what it must have been like for those involved, but they do help us to gain some understanding. Films can open up history in remarkable ways, finding the humanity amidst unfathomable carnage, promoting discussions around the events themselves, demonstrating why they must never be forgotten and illuminating the lessons we must all continue to learn from what took place. 

Into Film has created a specific list to highlight films that examine the holocaust, which can be found here

Ethel & Ernest

CertPG

Age group7+

Duration95 mins

Ethel & Ernest(2016)

Beautifully animated life story of The Snowman creator Raymond Briggs.

This autobiographical animation from Raymond Briggs is a charming and gentle look across his parents’ entire lives, and Britain in the 20th century. The period that really stands out however is Briggs’ formative years, growing up as an evacuee in wartime London and the countryside, a moving perspective of war experienced through the eyes of an ordinary child.

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Berlin '36

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration97 mins

Berlin '36(2009)

German drama showcasing the experience of two athletes in the lead-up to the Berlin-hosted 1936 Olympics, based on a true story.

In this drama, two athletes thrown into a fraught rivalry discover that they both have identities considered undesirable by Nazi state propaganda. While one suffers openly anti-Semitic discrimination, the other’s fiercely guarded secret is used by the authorities to manipulate them.

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Valiant

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration73 mins

Valiant(2005)

This is a classic British war movie with something of a difference - the characters are pigeons.

Taking inspiration from many iconic British war films of the 1960s and 70s, this charming animation tells the story of a plucky carrier pigeon who wants to do his bit to help in the war effort, training to carry vital information for the Allies across the English Channel. A gentle, very funny introduction to history for younger audiences.

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The Wind Rises

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration126 mins

The Wind Rises(2013)

A nostalgic ode to the Japanese aeroplane engineer Jiro Hirokoshi who famously designed many of Japan’s fighter planes used in WWI and WWII.

Iconic Japanese filmmaker Hiyao Miyasaki’s hugely personal story is typically full of magic, poetry and spellbinding imagery. A lifelong love of aviation inspires an engineer to develop some vital advancements in fighter aircrafts in this beautiful story that weaves a personal tale with a more tragic and sombre story about the nation’s history.

Read more
Fires Were Started

CertU

Age group7+

Duration65 mins

Fires Were Started(1943)

Groundbreaking film about the day-to-day work of a group of firemen during the London Blitz of World War Two, with all parts played by real firemen.

This fascinating fiction-documentary tells the story of fireman living and working in London at the height of the Blitz. The groundbreaking film helped convey the ordinary heroism that was taking place on the home front in an embattled 1943 Britain.

Read more
Bedknobs And Broomsticks

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration112 mins

Bedknobs And Broomsticks(1971)

Family friendly classic mixing knockabout comedy, action and animation for three young evacuees and a kindly witch in the midst of World War Two.

Another delightful, gentle introduction to the era for younger audiences, this a classic and very funny musical about a group of English orphans sent to live with an apprentice witch, who find themselves making an unexpected contribution to the war effort.

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Goodnight Mister Tom

CertPG

Age group7+

Duration101 mins

Goodnight Mister Tom(1998)

Charming film adaptation of the prize-winning novel about a child refugee's new life in the countryside during WWII.

Gentle drama for young audiences, based on a beloved novel about a shy World War Two evacuee forced to go and live with a disgruntled old man. Gradually over time, the two form a deep and immovable bond.

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The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration137 mins

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe(2005)

Classic family adventure tale of four World War Two refugees finding a gateway to a fantasy world in the back of their old wardrobe.

CS Lewis’ enchanting tale comes to life in this epic family adventure full of mysticism and magic. The story of course begins with a family of wartime evacuees sent to live in the countryside after their London suburb is attacked by the German Luftwaffe. The story was inspired by three real evacuees who were sent to live with Lewis himself.

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A Matter Of Life And Death

CertU

Age group11+

Duration100 mins

A Matter Of Life And Death(1946)

A gorgeous Technicolor fantasy - in a WWII setting - that puts the emphasis on celebrating life over fearing death.

One of the greatest British films of all time, and a defining story of its era, this visually gorgeous technological extravagance combines romance, comedy and drama in its powerful message of celebrating life over death, something particularly poignant for a country just emerging from the tragedy of six years at war.

Read more
The Dam Busters

CertU

Age group11+

Duration120 mins

The Dam Busters(1955)

British World War Two drama about bomber crews sent to drop the bouncing bombs invented to destroy German dams and cripple industrial production.

One of the true classics of British cinema, this is the story of a group of daredevil British soldiers who devised an ingenious technique to drop bombs onto German dams. Among many other accolades, the film became a big influence on the ending for the original Star Wars.

Read more
The Great Escape

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration165 mins

The Great Escape(1963)

An all-star cast hatches a plan for a mass breakout from a German prisoner of war camp, based on a true story.

Another iconic prisoner of war story (and Bank Holiday staple), about a group of allies planning an audacious escape from a German camp. Based on a true story, the film blends comedy with adventure in an irresistible fashion.

Read more
Battle Of Britain

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration151 mins

Battle Of Britain(1969)

Stirring war drama about the 1940 German attempt to destroy the Royal Air Force in preparation for an invasion of Britain.

Featuring an all-star cast, this historical re-enactment of the crucial battle for the skies over Britain in the early days of World War Two has long been a staple film of the genre. Amidst all of the patriotism, the film also pays tribute to some of the lesser-acknowledged nations who contributed decisively events.

Read more
Empire of the Sun

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration153 mins

Empire of the Sun(1987)

This powerful drama sees a child separated from his parents during the 1931 Japanese invasion of China and put in an internment camp for foreigners.

Spielberg’s stirring adaptation of the JG Ballard novel. Starring a young Christian Bale, it tells the story of Jim, a young British boy who finds himself in an “internment camp”, after being separated from his parents when the Japanese invaded China.

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Berlin '36

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration97 mins

Berlin '36(2009)

German drama showcasing the experience of two athletes in the lead-up to the Berlin-hosted 1936 Olympics, based on a true story.

In this drama, two athletes thrown into a fraught rivalry discover that they both have identities considered undesirable by Nazi state propaganda. While one suffers openly anti-Semitic discrimination, the other’s fiercely guarded secret is used by the authorities to manipulate them.

Read more
The Book Thief

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration126 mins

The Book Thief(2013)

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, an extraordinary and courageous young girl sent to live with a foster family in World War Two Germany.

Markus Zuzak’s novel is powerfully adapted for the screen, showing the horrors of war and Nazi Germany from a child’s point of view, but also providing a life-affirming message about the importance of literature to the human spirit and the power of the escapism it provides.

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The Wind Rises

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration126 mins

The Wind Rises(2013)

A nostalgic ode to the Japanese aeroplane engineer Jiro Hirokoshi who famously designed many of Japan’s fighter planes used in WWI and WWII.

Iconic Japanese filmmaker Hiyao Miyasaki’s hugely personal story is typically full of magic, poetry and spellbinding imagery. A lifelong love of aviation inspires an engineer to develop some vital advancements in fighter aircrafts in this beautiful story that weaves a personal tale with a more tragic and sombre story about the nation’s history.

Read more
Fires Were Started

CertU

Age group7+

Duration65 mins

Fires Were Started(1943)

Groundbreaking film about the day-to-day work of a group of firemen during the London Blitz of World War Two, with all parts played by real firemen.

This fascinating fiction-documentary tells the story of fireman living and working in London at the height of the Blitz. The groundbreaking film helped convey the ordinary heroism that was taking place on the home front in an embattled 1943 Britain.

Read more
Casablanca

CertU

Age group11+

Duration98 mins

Casablanca(1942)

Against the backdrop of a Nazi-occupied North Africa an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

One of the most famous, and oft-quoted films ever made, Casablanca is a true classic of American cinema. A captivating combination of adventure, romance, and intrigue it is also a deeply moving story of love and companionship, made and set at a time when none of those involved knew what awaited them in the future.

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Went The Day Well?

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration88 mins

Went The Day Well?(1942)

British World War II propaganda film about a small English village whose citizens must defend it after it's infiltrated by disguised German soldiers.

Adapted from a story by Graham Greene, this is another British wartime classic. The residents of a country village welcome a platoon of soldiers who are due to be stationed with them, only to discover they are Germans sent as an advanced post for a planned invasion. The film captures a remarkable facet of English rural life and served as an effective propaganda tool.

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A Canterbury Tale

CertU

Age group11+

Duration119 mins

A Canterbury Tale(1944)

A Land Girl, an American GI and a British soldier find themselves together in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury.

Powell and Pressburger classic about a “land girl”, an American GI, and a British soldier who find themselves in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury, adapting Chaucer’s theme for a story of wartime experiences on the home front.

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A Matter Of Life And Death

CertU

Age group11+

Duration100 mins

A Matter Of Life And Death(1946)

A gorgeous Technicolor fantasy - in a WWII setting - that puts the emphasis on celebrating life over fearing death.

One of the greatest British films of all time, and a defining story of its era, this visually gorgeous technological extravagance combines romance, comedy and drama in its powerful message of celebrating life over death, something particularly poignant for a country just emerging from the tragedy of six years at war.

Read more
The Best Years Of Our Lives

CertU

Age group11+

Duration162 mins

The Best Years Of Our Lives(1946)

Optimistic, life-affirming drama about three veterans who return to the same small town at the end of WW2 and the trials they face reintegrating.

Filmed just after the war ended, this iconic film tells the story of three World War Two veterans returning to their small-town home in America, only to discover that they, their families, and the world around them has irreparably changed. An honest, deeply moving look into the effects of war on individuals and societies.

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The Dam Busters

CertU

Age group11+

Duration120 mins

The Dam Busters(1955)

British World War Two drama about bomber crews sent to drop the bouncing bombs invented to destroy German dams and cripple industrial production.

One of the true classics of British cinema, this is the story of a group of daredevil British soldiers who devised an ingenious technique to drop bombs onto German dams. Among many other accolades, the film became a big influence on the ending for the original Star Wars.

Read more
The Bridge on the River Kwai

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration155 mins

The Bridge on the River Kwai(1957)

A classic war film and a study of obsession and pride, this is the tale of British and US prisoners-of-war forced to build a bridge by their captors.

Yet another classic, David Lean’s wartime epic starts in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Burma, as a group of British soldiers are tasked with constructing a bridge that would be used to transport Japanese munitions. The film is famous for the manner in which it blends epic storytelling with a focus on the perspectives of disparate individuals involved in the conflict.

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The Great Escape

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration165 mins

The Great Escape(1963)

An all-star cast hatches a plan for a mass breakout from a German prisoner of war camp, based on a true story.

Another iconic prisoner of war story (and Bank Holiday staple), about a group of allies planning an audacious escape from a German camp. Based on a true story, the film blends comedy with adventure in an irresistible fashion.

Read more
Battle Of Britain

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration151 mins

Battle Of Britain(1969)

Stirring war drama about the 1940 German attempt to destroy the Royal Air Force in preparation for an invasion of Britain.

Featuring an all-star cast, this historical re-enactment of the crucial battle for the skies over Britain in the early days of World War Two has long been a staple film of the genre. Amidst all of the patriotism, the film also pays tribute to some of the lesser-acknowledged nations who contributed decisively events.

Read more
Empire of the Sun

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration153 mins

Empire of the Sun(1987)

This powerful drama sees a child separated from his parents during the 1931 Japanese invasion of China and put in an internment camp for foreigners.

Spielberg’s stirring adaptation of the JG Ballard novel. Starring a young Christian Bale, it tells the story of Jim, a young British boy who finds himself in an “internment camp”, after being separated from his parents when the Japanese invaded China.

Read more
Hope And Glory

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration108 mins

Hope And Glory(1987)

Stirring drama about The Blitz, as seen through the eyes of a young boy growing up in London.

Hope and Glory looks at the events of the time through the eyes of a young boy growing up in London - whose imagination is fired up by the thrilling yet dangerous nightly bombardment. It is an honest and often hilarious look at how the war affected those on the home front.

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Saving Private Ryan

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration170 mins

Saving Private Ryan(1998)

Epic World War Two drama, centring on a mission to find and bring home an American soldier, after his three brothers have all been killed in combat.

Spielberg’s tale of a group of soldiers sent on a mission to find the last surviving member of a group of four brothers on the fields of battle in France changed cinematic depictions of war forever. The opening sequence recreating the Normandy beach invasions is unforgettable and was praised by veterans for its unflinching accuracy.

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The Thin Red Line

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration166 mins

The Thin Red Line(1998)

This haunting World War II drama about the psychological and spiritual toll of war centres on a US platoon struggling against Japanese forces.

Reclusive director Terrence Malick returned to cinemas after an absence of twenty years with this epic, regarded as a true masterpiece. With a truly extraordinary cast, this story of the build-up to the Battle of Guadalcanal is a profound, philosophical meditation on the human toll of war, that combines horror with moments of dazzling beauty.

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Flags of our Fathers

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration126 mins

Flags of our Fathers(2006)

Examination of how the famed World War Two photo of US troops raising their nation's flag on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima became a propaganda tool.

Clint Eastwood tells the story behind one of the most famous war images of all time. Immediately iconic, the photograph concealed a harsh reality for many of the individuals involved, exacerbated by the unwanted fame that the picture brought them. A fascinating examination of what it means to be a hero.

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Letters from Iwo Jima

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration134 mins

Letters from Iwo Jima(2006)

This companion to Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the WWII battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima from the point of view of the Japanese.

Eastwood’s companion piece to Flags of our Fathers is bold and brave – telling the story from the point of view of the other side. Savage, beautiful, and profound, it is characterised by the director’s trademark lack of emoting or manipulation, content to present the facts as he sees them and let them speak for themselves, whilst putting a human face to “the enemy".

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Atonement

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration118 mins

Atonement(2007)

Epic tale of love, betrayal and guilt which begins in a country house in 1935 and spans several decades.

The costume drama also receives a vivid modern updating in Joe Wright’s lively, seductive adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Booker-prize nominee. Famed for its breathtaking depiction of World War Two Dunkirk in particular, this star-driven film is also romantic, epic and emotionally raw, opening up the text in many insightful ways.

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The Imitation Game

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration109 mins

The Imitation Game(2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as pioneering mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing, who was highly influential, but persecuted for being gay.

This biopic of codebreaker Alan Turing tells the story of one of the pivotal events in the entire war, the decoding of the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma code. It paints a compelling portrait of a group of heroes who remained at home but whose work was utterly invaluable and crucial in the Allie’s success.

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Enemy at the Gates

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration125 mins

Enemy at the Gates(2001)

Tense drama focusing on a cat-and-mouse game between two snipers during the decisive siege of Stalingrad in World War Two.

One of the most ambitious European films ever made, a Russain and a German sniper engage in a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad. The film’s central figure is a fictionalised version of Vasily Zaytsev, a crucial Soviet figure during the war who became a national hero.

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Das Boot

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration200 mins

Das Boot(1981)

Life onboard a World War Two German U-boat is the setting with all its boredom, filth, and sheer terror.

The boredom, filth, and sheer terror of life aboard a wartime submarine are captured in astounding fashion in this acclaimed action drama, regarded as one of the most gripping and authentic wartime films ever made.

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Downfall

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration149 mins

Downfall(2004)

The last days of WWII inside Hitler's bunker as the Fuhrer loses grip on reality and the Soviets approach, as told by his secretary.

This gripping drama tells the story of the final ten days of Hitler’s rule over Nazi Germany in 1945. A brave and unflinching film that dares to look at evil and examine where it comes from, portraying the dictator as tyrannical, heartless and terrifying, but also human.

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Grave Of The Fireflies

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration89 mins

Grave Of The Fireflies(1988)

Possibly the greatest war film ever made, this anime is the deeply moving tale of a boy and his sister fighting to survive in World War II Japan.

Studio Ghibli have always been justly famous for their willingness to take on complex, emotionally charged subjects in their animated storytelling. This achingly sad anti-war film is a fine case in point, and one of their true masterpieces.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration119 mins

Captain America: The First Avenger(2011)

One of Marvel's most popular heroes gets the blockbuster treatment in this superhero action movie set in the midst of World War II.

Marvel’s All-American hero begins his story as a slightly weaselly rejected military soldier during World War Two, who is transformed into a Super Soldier in order to help defeat the enemy. As well as being tremendous fun, this is also an intelligent examination of the use of propaganda throughout the war effort, and an affectionate slice of Americana.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration139 mins

Hacksaw Ridge(2016)

The extraordinary true story of World War Two medic Desmond T. Doss who served during the Battle of Okinawa and refused to fire a single shot.

This searingly violent film tells the true story of an American army medic who refused to fire (or even carry) a gun into conflict. Mistakenly labelled a coward by his peers, he went on to receive the American Medal of Honour without ever firing a shot. Themes of faith, courage, patriotism and standing up for your beliefs all come to the fore in this intense drama.

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The King's Speech

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration113 mins

The King's Speech(2010)

Colin Firth gives an award-winning performance as the stammering King George VI in British director Tom Hooper's film about the wartime monarch.

This Oscar winning comedy-drama is a riveting, surprisingly moving examination of life in Britain in the build-up to the war, and the important role that public figures played in communicating to the country the reality of what they were about to be faced with.

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Their Finest

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration117 mins

Their Finest(2016)

During World War Two, a young woman discovers she has an inspiring way with words when she is taken on as a scriptwriter for propaganda films.

This charming film frames its story around an affectionate look at the role of cinema itself during World War Two, not least the morale boosting propaganda films commissioned to screen to cinema audiences. Along the way, the ministers begin to realise the films might benefit from what they dubbed “a woman’s touch”.

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