Moviegoers throughout the years have been educated on America's history through classic war movies, stirring debate sometimes on the accuracy of the history or whether it was revisionist. Sometimes the movies delve deeper into aspects of war than the events themselves, examining, for example, the psychological effect battles have on soldiers. Here's a look at three war movies that helped define the genre.
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1. "The Birth of a Nation" (1915)
Director D.W. Griffith's Civil War epic is noteworthy for reasons good and bad. In naming it one of the top 10 war movies of all time, Time magazine says "The Birth of a Nation" is the "first great feature film"
and was the biggest box office hit before "Gone With the Wind." However, Time also pointed out how the film has been mired in controversy for "its demeaning depiction of American blacks, a racist screed of appalling ignorance and influence. The publication said the film was originally titled "The Clansman," and "helped spur the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and led to a horrid spike in lynchings."
Because of its objectionable content, Time added an "asterisk" next to Griffith's "tainted masterpiece."
"Griffith's achievement can be no more easily forgotten than his racial insensitivity can be forgiven," the magazine noted.
2. "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930)
While the 1927 war film "Wings" became the first film – as well as first war film – to win a Best Picture Academy Award
, the World War I tale that took the top statuette three years later is held in much higher regard. U.K.'s The Telegraph named "All Quiet on the Western Front" one of the best war films of all time
, pointing out the impact the Great War on young German soldiers.
"With minimal dialogue the film focuses on acting and cinematography to portray the horrors of war," the Telegraph said. The Telegraph pointed out the impact of the film's showings in Germany, saying that allegedly "the Nazis interrupted screenings by shouting martial slogans and releasing rats into the theatres."
"All Quiet on the Western Front" was also ranked No. 7 on the American Film Institute's top 10 list of greatest epic films ever made
, while AMC slotted it in at No. 17 on its list of "The 20 Greatest War Movies."
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3. "Platoon" (1986)
While "The Deer Hunter" (1978) and "Coming Home" (1978) addressed the psychological effects the Vietnam War had on soldiers back home, director Oliver Stone was set entirely in the war environment with chilling effects. In its No. 4 ranking on its list of "The 20 Greatest War Movies," AMC said "Platoon" was "one of the first movies to show the tense psychology of guerrilla warfare
, where there are no clear battle lines nor enemy."
The film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and earned Stone the first of his two Best Director Oscars, according to the Internet Movie Database
(the second came for his 1989 antiwar film "Born on the Fourth of July").
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