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Classic War Directors: 3 Filmmakers Who Stand Out

By    |   Friday, 01 May 2015 10:05 AM

War makes compelling movies, splashing excitement and adventure on the big screen, but with a hefty dose of real-life devastation, loss, and triumph. Directors of classic war movies have successfully tackled the difficult subject with sensitivity and style.

Here are three filmmakers who stand out among classic war directors:

Steven Spielberg

Director of several war movies, including “War Horse,” “Empire of the Sun,” and “1941,” Spielberg’s most famous contribution to the genre was “Saving Private Ryan.” Universally lauded for its authenticity, “Saving Private Ryan” won five Academy Awards, thus confirming Spielberg’s status as a classic war director.

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Roger Ebert lauded his work, writing, "‘Saving Private Ryan’ says things about war that are as complex and difficult as any essayist could possibly express, and does it with broad, strong images, with violence, with profanity, with action, with camaraderie." 

The Telegraph conducted a poll to determine the greatest war movies of all time, and “Saving Private Ryan” was at the top. “Steven Spielberg's multi Oscar-winning epic about the D-Day landings secured more than a fifth of the votes to beat ‘The Great Escape’ to the title,” the publication said. 

Clint Eastwood

Eastwood directed “Flags of Our Fathers,” a World War Two epic from the American perspective, and then switched sides to explore the Japanese viewpoint in “Letters From Iwo Jima.” Earlier in his career, the classic war director filmed and starred in “Firefox” and “Heartbreak Ridge.” He also starred in “Kelly’s Heroes,” a timeless staple of American war cinema.

More recently, “American Sniper” was a hit with audiences and critics, earning five Academy Award nominations. In fact, it’s the most successful war movie of all time, according to box office totals. “The Clint Eastwood film, ‘American Sniper,’ is now the highest grossing war movie of all time at the domestic box office, surpassing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” The Inquisitor reported. 

Stanley Kubrick

Audiences might forget that among Kubrick’s many accolades and achievements, some of his most profound work centered around war. He directed three classic war films, “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

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The Guardian ranked “Paths of Glory” as the seventh best war film of all time. The publication wrote, “This is one of the darkest anti-war films ever made, in great part because its vision – that of the young director Stanley Kubrick (he was only 29, making his third full-length picture) – is as bleak as the story.” 

“Full Metal Jacket” is considered by many to be the definitive take on the Vietnam War. Recently AMC ranked it above “Apocalypse Now” as the greatest Vietnam War movie ever made. 

Meanwhile, “Dr. Strangelove” sharply satirized the political landscape during the Cold War while proving to possess a prophetic vision of the future. As The New Yorker explained, “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True.” 

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War makes compelling movies, splashing excitement and adventure on the big screen, but with a hefty dose of real-life devastation, loss, and triumph. Directors of classic war movies have successfully tackled the difficult subject with sensitivity and style.
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