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Modern War Movies: Five Movies Since WWII That Shaped the Genre

By    |   Wednesday, 22 Apr 2015 05:46 AM

Rumors of war and threats of conflict loom larger than ever for 21st century movie audiences. Modern war movies offer a snapshot of the fear, cynicism and inhumanity warfare inspires. Just like combat itself, war movies can elevate ordinary people to heroic status or turn even a run-of-the-mill soldier or civilian into a monster.

Five movies since World War II have helped shape the entire genre of modern war movies and have had an impact on how the public sees warfare:

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“Dr. Strangelove” (1964)

A mentally deranged Air Force general threatens to unleash a nuclear apocalypse on the world when he orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union to stop it from polluting the precious bodily fluids of Americans. This sets the stage for a dark satire that examines the hysteria and paranoia surrounding the Cold War and debunked the notion of war simply being a case of good guys versus bad guys.

“MASH” (1970)

This dark comedy explores the Korean War through the lens of zany surgeons assigned to a MASH unit. War turns from heroic to hell as the surgeons cope with patching up wounded soldiers by playing a series of pranks on superior officers and enemy camp mates. MASH emerged as one of the first true anti-war war movies in the genre.

“Apocalypse Now” (1979)

Few war movies offer a better exploration of the fragile human psyche in war-torn conditions than “Apocalypse Now.” It follows an Army captain sent on a mission to kill a renegade and insane Army Special Forces officer. Along the way, he witnesses the insanity and brutality of the Vietnam War through his own eyes and sees how warfare can unhinge an otherwise normal person. “Apocalypse Now” is one of the first movies that dared to explore the role of mental illness in warfare.

“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

Set during the Invasion of Normandy, this World War II epic reinvented war movies with its realistic D-Day battle sequences. The film follows a squad of Army Rangers tasked with finding and rescuing the lone survivor among four brothers serving in the United States Armed Forces in Europe. “Saving Private Ryan” received widespread acclaim for its true-to-life portrayal of the horrors and heroism of warfare and won several Academy Awards.

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“Black Hawk Down” (2001)

Urban warfare comes to life in raw fashion in “Black Hawk Down.” The story follows a group of American soldiers sent into Mogadishu to capture a powerful militia leader. The mission unravels when a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down, and this forces the soldiers into a street battle with Somali militants. “Black Hawk Down” shows how war movies have evolved, like warfare, from straight-on battles to guerrilla warfare.

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Rumors of war and threats of conflict loom larger than ever for 21st century movie audiences. Modern war movies offer a snapshot of the fear, cynicism and inhumanity warfare inspires. Just like combat itself, war movies can elevate ordinary people to heroic status.
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