By Megan Bianco
Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk has been a big hit in theaters for the past week or so, as is no surprise with the director’s track record. It’s one of many WWII movies released this year, including Their Finest, The Zookeeper’s Wife and HHhH.
With so many WWII movies, it’s notable that the first of the world wars has never received as much attention on screen as the second. For decades, many have wondered why there are dozens upon dozens of WWII films, but hardly any about World War I. An obvious theory is that the Nazis were literally real-life villains, so it’s easy to write a fictional screenplay about them. But WWI was a mess from all sides and thus it’s frustrating to find a narrative outside of an anti-war message.
That could be changing this year though, with Wonder Woman taking place in WWI and emerging as a bona fide success. A few months earlier, the critically acclaimed The Lost City of Z was set right before and during the first war, and later this autumn, Goodbye Christopher Robin will also feature the First World War.
But of course, Hollywood has been around as an industry for a little over 100 years, and the war genre is nothing new. In the 1920s and 30s, the studios produced classics like The Big Parade (1925), Wings (1927), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and A Farewell to Arms (1932). Western Front is arguably the most familiar WWI story of all time, and Wings is considered one of the best epics of the silent era. John Monk Saunders’ The Dawn Patrol was adapted twice, in 1930 by Howard Hawks and in 1938 by Edmund Goulding, as vehicles for Richard Barthlemess and Errol Flynn.
Gary Cooper won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for playing the title character of real life WWI hero Sergeant York (1941), and legendary directing duo Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s fantastical masterpiece The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) delves into both world wars. Stanley Kubrick’s first classic film, Paths of Glory (1957), was a big hit for superstar Kirk Douglas and has become one of the essential anti-war pictures. World War I is the setting of two of English filmmaker David Lean’s period pieces, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), set during WWI and the Russian Revolution. Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981) grew to become one of the most acclaimed Australian movies of all time with Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two youths who sneak into the military.
A Very Long Engagement (2004) was one of the most successful French films of the early 2000s, and featured great performances from Audrey Tautou and Gaspard Ulliel in this WWI love story. Another period love story was one of the more overlooked films of 2014, Testament of Youth, with Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington as lovers in the middle of WWI England. So, while we’ll most likely always have WWII movies on a yearly basis, it looks like Hollywood might be interested in adding to its small group of WWI titles in the future.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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