12 Great Movies Set During World War I

The war to end all wars has a rich cinematic legacy...

Some of the best movies of all time happen to be those that focus on military conflicts throughout human history. With a number of military dramas being Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards over the years, and even more being nominated for various other awards, it’s easy to see why Hollywood continues to make feature films with a war setting.

The most popular titles focus on famous battles and heroes who fought in World War II, but there are still plenty of other tremendous World War I movies like Paths of Glory, 1917, and the 2022 Netflix release, All Quiet on the Western Front. Sit back, because we’re about to break down several WWI movies that are worth a watch today. 

By Philip Sledge

All Quiet On The Western Front (2022)

Edward Berger’s 2022 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s landmark 1929 anti-war epic, All Quiet on the Western Front, follows Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) as he goes from being a young and naive teenager to a battle-worn and broken down German soldier on the frontlines of World War I. 

Much like the novel and various film adaptations released over the years, it doesn’t hold back in its depiction of bloodshed and misery in the trenches along “No Man’s Land,” as well as the price young men pay for the pride and glory of older and more foolish men. Still, the All Quiet on the Western Front cast is wonderful with its beautiful and tragic characters, and the movie features some eye-popping visuals.

1917 (2020)

The winner of multiple Academy Awards, Sam Mendes' harrowing and white-knuckle 2020 World War I thriller, 1917 (inspired by his grandfather’s experiences in the war), follows two young British soldiers in a race against time as they try to reach the frontlines and prevent a colonel from sending 1,600 men to their deaths.

With the use of multiple long takes, Richard Deakins’ cinematography, and outstanding performances by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, it’s easy to see why 1917 was immediately thrown into the conversation of most realistic war movies upon its release.

Paths Of Glory (1957)

Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film, Paths of Glory, centers on Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas in one of his best performances), a high-ranking member of the French army who becomes at odds with the top military brass after he refuses to send his men to their deaths during a foolish and ill-advised mission on the frontlines of the war.

When the soldiers under his command are court-martialed after being charged with cowardice, Colonel Dax tries his hardest to defend the men and prevent them from being executed for their supposed transgressions. Much like Doctor Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket in the decades that would follow, Kubrick doesn’t hold back with his depiction of war in this military classic.

(United Artists)
They Shall Not Grow Old (2019)

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is one of the highest-rated titles on this list (CinemaBlend gave it 5 out of 5 stars upon release), and even still, it doesn’t feel like we’re giving this movie enough credit. Similar to what Jackson would go on to do with The Beatles: Get Back, this 2018 documentary features the painstaking work of Jackson and his team, who went through and digitally restored hundreds of hours of video footage and combined it with audio interviews with World War I veterans.

The documentary was eventually released in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), and serves as a touching tribute to the British soldiers who fought and gave their lives in the mud and blood-filled trenches on the battlefield.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)
War Horse (2011)

Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film adaptation of the 1982 novel, War Horse, follows Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) as he searches the battlefields of Western Europe in search of his beloved horse that has been sold to the British calvary.

In standard Spielberg fashion, War Horse takes an enchanting, powerful, and wholesome story and combines with dazzling action-adventure set pieces to create an exciting and emotional experience. The cast, which also features Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch, doesn’t hurt either.

(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

There are anti-war films and then there are titles like Johnny Got His Gun. Written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, the 1971 drama centers on American soldier Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) in the fallout of an artillery attack during WWI. After losing his eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and limbs, the young soldier is trapped in a state of living death, where he relives memories from his life while also trying to find a way to communicate with the outside world.

Johnny Got His Gun was a hit with the late Roger Ebert (he gave it four stars) and would later go on to inspire Metallica’s Grammy Award-winning 1989 track “One.” The band would also use footage from the movie in the “One” music video.

(Cinemation Industries)
A Farewell To Arms (1932)

After American ambulance driver Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) is separated from the woman of his dreams, Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), during the middle of World War I, he thinks he’ll never see her again. But as the fates would have it, Henry is injured on the battlefield and sent to a hospital where his long-lost love now works.

Frank Borzage’s 1932 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms, is not only a wonderful World War I movie (one that is less punishing than others on this list) but also a tremendous book-to-film adaptation that does the source material justice.

(Paramount Pictures)
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

David Lean’s 1962 epic (both in scope and runtime), Lawrence of Arabia, centers on the life and exploits of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) a junior officer in the British Army who is sent on a mission to look into Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) to see what could come from his revolt against the Ottoman Empire

Over time, Lawrence becomes something of a cult icon in the desert as he carries out an unorthodox manner of military strategy against the Turks, which draws the attention of the Ottoman Empire, the British Army, and the world as he leads the Arab Revolt during World War I.

(Columbia Pictures)
Wonder Woman (2017)

Although it probably isn’t the first movie that comes to mind when discussing World War I, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is more than deserving of its spot on this list. After Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) hidden island of Themyscira becomes the center of a skirmish between US pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the German Army, Wonder Woman comes to the aid of the Allied Forces in their quest to end the war.

One of the most iconic moments of the movie, and perhaps the entire DCEU, takes place when Wonder Woman crosses into “No Man’s Land” to rescue an occupied village and help turn the tide in the war. To this day, it’s still one of the better depictions of the hellish stretch of land between the two sides.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Grand Illusion (1938)

Jean Renoir’s 1938 war drama, The Grand Illusion (original title Le Grande Illusion), centers on two French aviators — Captain de Boëldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) — as they are captured by the German Army during World War I and try to escape many times. Over time, the two form bonds with their fellow POWs and German captors, leading to several dangerous encounters and tough decisions.

More so than other movies on this list, The Grand Illusion spends a large amount of time focusing on class and prejudice in addition to war and the misconception that WWI was the “war to end all wars.”

(Janus Films)
Gallipoli (1981)

Directed by Peter Weir, the 1981 war drama Gallipoli follows two Australian teenagers — Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (a young Mel Gibson) — as they go from competitors in a foot-race to fast friends fighting side-by-side during World War I. The pair, though friendly, never let go of their competitive nature, and continue to push one another to the next day’s adventure.

Like a lot of military dramas, Gallipoli has its fair share of action, adventure, and heartfelt moments with its focus on the meaning of friendship in the depths of war.

(Paramount Pictures)
Sergeant York (1941)

The 1941 military drama, Sergeant York, which is based on a true story, follows Alvin C. York (Gary Cooper), a born-again Christian who becomes a remarkable soldier and sharpshooter despite being against war and killing.

Over the course of the movie, York is seen as an unlikely hero as he comes through for his fellow soldiers time and time again on the battlefield, but never letting the fame and reputation get the better of him.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Here are a dozen World War I movies that show what life must have been like in the trenches and on the battlefields of the global conflict.