Top 13 BEST World War II Movies to Watch in School!

for history teachers world war 2
Top 13 WWII Movies for History Class!

From movies that won multiple Academy Awards like "The Longest Day" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai", to more recent classics like "Midway", here are 13 of the BEST WWII movies for students to watch history class!

 

 

(I've listed the movies in order of their release date, beginning with the oldest)

 

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Released in 1957; 2 hours and 41 minutes long

Rated PG (best for students in 5th grade and up)

 

A 1957 British-American epic war movie directed by David Lean, it's based on the novel of the same name by Pierre Boulle. The movie stars Alec Guinness, William Holden, and Jack Hawkins.

 

The Bridge on the River Kwai tells the story of British prisoners of war who are forced to build a railway bridge over the River Kwai by their Japanese captors during the Second World War. The film portrays the experiences of prisoners of war and the impact of the war on interpersonal relationships, as well as providing a broader historical context of the Second World War.

 

Why it's a good choice: The Bridge on the River Kwai is a great movie to show students in a history or social studies class because it provides a detailed and nuanced look at the experiences of prisoners of war during the Second World War, as well as the impact of the war on the relationship between the Allied and Axis powers. The movie showcases the resilience of the prisoners and the brutal nature of the Japanese captors, while also highlighting the complexities of the human condition and the struggle for power and control. In addition, the movie has stunning cinematography and a beautiful musical score that can engage students and keep them interested. 

 

 

Casablanca

Released in 1961; 1 hour and 42 minutes long

Rated PG (best for students in 6th grade and up)

 

One of the great films depicting WWII is Casablanca, an American romantic drama directed by Michael Curtiz. The movie is set in 1942 in North Africa in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during the and tells the story of an American expatriate named Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, who runs a nightclub and casino. When his former lover, Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, enters the picture with her resistance leader husband, Rick is forced to choose between his own desires and his loyalty to the anti-fascist cause. One of the greatest war films, it won a Best Picture Oscar.

 

Why it's a good choice: Casablanca is a classic movie with timeless themes political resistance, sacrifice, and love. While it is not strictly a war movie, the film offers a unique perspective on the impact of the Second World War on people's lives and relationships. It can be used to help students understand the geopolitical context of the war and the challenges of living in a world where values and loyalties are being tested. Additionally, Casablanca has strong characters, engaging dialogue, and memorable scenes, making it an enjoyable and thought-provoking movie for students. 

 

 

Judgement at Nuremberg

Released in 1961; 3 hours and 6 minutes long

Rated PG-13 (best for students in 7th grade and up)

 

Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 American courtroom drama film directed by Stanley Kramer. The movie is set in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of the Second World War and tells the story of a trial that takes place in which four German judges are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. One of the great war movies, it explores complex questions of morality and justice as captured leaders of Nazi Germany stand trial for their war crimes, specifically against the Jewish people in German concentration camps.

 

Why it's a good choice: Judgment at Nuremberg is an excellent movie to show students as it offers a unique and thought-provoking perspective on the aftermath of the Second World War. The film depicts the challenges faced by the international community as it tries to hold individuals accountable for the atrocities committed during the war. It also explores the ways in which individuals can be complicit in evil actions, in particular by carrying out the orders of Adolf Hitler. The film features an exceptional cast, including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Maximilian Schell, who all deliver powerful performances

 

 

The Longest Day

Released in 1962; 2 hours and 58 minutes long

Rated PG-13 (best for students in 7th grade and up)

 

The Longest Day is a 1962 American epic war film based on Cornelius Ryan's book "The Longest Day," which recounts the events of D-Day. The movie features an ensemble cast that includes John Wayne, Richard Burton, and Robert Mitchum, and depicts the events of June 6, 1944, when Allied forces invaded German-occupied France.

 

Why it's a good choice: The Longest Day is a classic war movie and in my opinion one of the best movies to provide students with a comprehensive overview of the events of D-Day. It's a great way to help students understand the scale and complexity of this important operation, and the challenges faced by the soldiers who participated in it.

 

 

The Great Escape

Released in 1963; 2 hours and 52 minutes long

Not Rated (best for students in 5th grade and up)

 

The Great Escape is a 1963 American war film based on the true story of a group of Allied prisoners of war who escaped from a German POW camp during World War II. The movie features an all-star cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough, and depicts the efforts of the prisoners to dig a tunnel and escape from the camp.

 

Why it's a good choice: The Great Escape is an exciting and engaging movie that provides students with an uncommon perspective on the Second World War. The movie highlights the bravery and resourcefulness of the prisoners of war who participated in the escape, and the challenges they faced in their efforts to evade capture. 

 

 

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Released in 1970; 2 hours and 24 minutes long

Rated G (best for students in 4th grade and up)

 

An American-Japanese war movie that tells the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor from the perspective of both the Japanese and American military leaders. It features an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing implications of this historic event on both the United States and Japan. The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, Tora! Tora! Tora! features the actors Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, and Jason Robards.

 

Why it's a good choice: Tora! Tora! Tora! is a great movie to show students in a history or social studies class because it provides a detailed and nuanced look at the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie also shows the decision-making processes of both the American and Japanese military leaders, and how these decisions ultimately led to the attack. In addition, the movie has great special effects and an excellent score that can engage students and keep them interested. 

 

 

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Patton

Released in 1970; 2 hours and 50 minutes long

Rated PG (best for students in 5th grade and up)

 

A 1970 American epic biographical war movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The movie tells the story of General George S. Patton, a controversial and complex figure who played a crucial role in the Allied victory in World War 2. The movie stars George C. Scott in the title role.

 

Why it's a good choice: Patton is a great movie to show students in a history or social studies class because it provides a detailed look at the life and leadership style of one of the most important figures of the Second World War. The movie showcases Patton's tactical genius, as well as his eccentricities and personality quirks, and helps students understand the complexities of leadership during wartime. In addition, the movie has a superb performance by George C. Scott, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and great battle scenes that can engage students and keep them interested. 

 

 

Das Boot

Released in 1981; 2 hours and 29 minutes long

Rated R (best for students in 9th grade and up)

 

Das Boot is a 1981 German war movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The movie is based on a novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim and follows the crew of a German U-boat during their perilous missions in the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War. The movie stars Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann.

 

Why it's a good choice: Das Boot is a critically acclaimed movie that provides a different perspective on the Second World War from the point of view of German soldiers. The movie is a tense and suspenseful portrayal of the dangerous missions and difficult conditions faced by submarine crews during the war, as well as the psychological toll of prolonged exposure to the perils of war. Das Boot also has great attention to detail and historical accuracy, providing an immersive experience that can help students understand the challenges and experiences of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The movie is suitable for high school students and may be appropriate for some middle school students with guidance and preparation.

 

 

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Schindler's List

Released in 1993; 3 hours and 15 minutes long

Rated R (best for students in 10th grade and up)

 

Schindler's List is a 1993 American historical drama film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. It is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The movie won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

 

Why it's a good choice: Schindler's List is a powerful and moving movie that tells an important story from the Second World War. It's a great way to help students understand the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war, and the courage of those who risked their lives to help others. The movie is suitable for high school students, and the subject matter may be appropriate for some middle school students with guidance and preparation.

 

 

Saving Private Ryan

Released in 1998; 2 hours and 49 minutes long

Rated R (best for students in 10th grade and up)

 

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. The movie is set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II and follows a group of soldiers on a mission to find a paratrooper, Private James Francis Ryan, whose three brothers were killed in action. The movie is known for its realistic portrayal of the horrors of war, and its opening sequence depicting the D-Day landings is considered one of the greatest war scenes ever filmed.

 

Why it's a good choice: Saving Private Ryan is a great war movie that provides students with a glimpse into the realities of the Second World War. The movie is an excellent way to introduce students to the events of the war and the sacrifices that soldiers made during this period. Due to the graphic violence depicted (especially in the film's opening scene) I'd only recommend showing this movie to high school students.

 

U-571

Released in 200; 1 hour and 56 minutes long

Rated PG-13 (best for students in 8th grade and up)

 

U-571 is a 2000 American submarine movie directed by Jonathan Mostow. The movie tells a fictional story based on the events of the Second World War and follows a US Navy crew who board a German U-boat to steal the Enigma cipher machine, a device used by the German forces to encode their messages during the war. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, and Harvey Keitel.

 

Why it's a good choice: While U-571 is a fictional story, it is a thrilling and action-packed movie that can help students understand the complex tactics and strategies used by both the Allied and Axis powers during the Second World War. The movie provides a realistic and tense portrayal of the challenges faced by submarine crews during the war, as well as the risks and sacrifices involved in carrying out dangerous missions. In addition, the movie has excellent performances and great special effects that can engage students and keep them interested. 

 

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Released in 2008; 1 hour and 34 minutes long

Rated PG-13 (best for students in 6th grade and up)

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a 2008 British-American historical drama film directed by Mark Herman. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Boyne and tells the story of a young boy, Bruno. The young Bruno befriends a Jewish boy named Shmuel who is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.

 

Why it's a good choice: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a powerful and moving movie that provides students with a unique perspective on the events of the Second World War. The movie tells the story of the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a young child, and helps students understand the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps from an emotional and personal perspective. The movie is suitable for middle school and high school students.

 

 

Midway

Released in 2019; 2 hours and 18 minutes long

Rated PG-13 (best for students in 6th grade and up)

 

Midway is a 2019 American war movie directed by Roland Emmerich. The movie is based on the events of the Battle of Midway, which was a critical naval battle fought between the United States and Japan in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War. The movie stars Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, and Luke Evans.

 

Why it's a good choice: Midway is a great movie to show students as it provides a thrilling and informative account of one of the most important battles of the Second World War. The movie combines stunning visual effects with historical accuracy to provide a realistic portrayal of the battle, as well as the strategic importance of the conflict in the Pacific. Midway is also notable for its focus on the contributions of individual soldiers, including pilots and sailors, as well as the key role of intelligence and codebreaking in the outcome of the battle. 

 

 

Related Article: 10 Best WWII Books for 5th Graders!

 

There you have it, my top 13 BEST movies about World War 2 that'll help your students understand the events and impact of this pivotal period in human history

 

From the gritty realism of Saving Private Ryan to the powerful and moving drama of Schindler's List, these movies provide students with a glimpse into the sacrifices made by soldiers, the courage of ordinary people, and the horrors of war. Whether you're teaching high school or middle school students, there are many excellent movies to choose from, and by using eyewitness accounts, true stories, and superb drama, you can bring the events of the Second World War to life for your students!

 

 

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