Top 10 World War II Films

The end of World War II occurred with the unofficial surrender of Japan 75 years ago on August 14, 1945.  To celebrate this anniversary we are listing the best movies set during World War II.  More than any other conflict in history, this war inspired the creation of countless films, many based on books we listed in our previous Top 10 lists.  The overwhelming numbers made it very difficult to narrow down our list, which could have easily included 30+ entries (including Academy Award-winning Life Is Beautiful-1997, The English Patient-1996, and Schindler’s List-1993.  These choices are simply our preferences and we would be interested to read your comments on your favorite films.

10. Red Tails (2012)

This was not the best written script, but it does show great dogfights and honors the Tuskegee Airmen.

9. Dunkirk (2017)

Three storylines of different duration are blended in this visually stunning tale of the evacuation of British soldiers from France in 1940.

8. The Imitation Game (2014)

The secret work of Alan Turing in decoding German messages was essential to the outcome of the war.

7. Pearl Harbor (2001)

This very long movie was uneven, but had impressive visuals of the December 7, 1941 surprise attack and subsequent Doolittle Raid.

6. Flags of Our Fathers ()

This gripping story of the attack on Iwo Jima was directed by Clint Eastwood in conjunction with Letters from Iwo Jima.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

This film is worth including simply for its excellent depiction of the D-Day landings.

4. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Set during the Siege of Stalingrad, it tells the story of an interesting cat and mouse game between opposing snipers.

3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

A long, slow, and brilliant film about POWs constructing a bridge for their Japanese captors.

2. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Not all heroes carried guns, as this real-life medic on Okinawa proved.

1. Unbroken (2014)

This biopic recounts the unbelievable struggles of Olympian and soldier Louie Zamperini.

Honorable Mentions

Band of Brothers (2001)

This HBO mini-series was based on the true stories of the men of Easy Company, 101st Airborne.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Entirely fictional and extremely entertaining, this is a modern reimagining of a 1940s comic book hero.

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

The internment of Japanese-Americans was a dark spot in American history (and is remembered at two National Park Service sites).

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/chch/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center at Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

There are only a handful of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system that we feel do not deserve that level of recognition, and Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is one of them.  Despite its lofty sounding name, almost none of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government.  The majority of the acreage is private and inaccessible, and the rest is managed by a variety of non-profit organizations making this site more suitable to have simply remained a portion of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.  There are several National Heritage Corridors and affiliated sites much more deserving of inclusion on the NPS list of 419 units than this one.

Highlights

Hupp’s Hill Museum, driving tour, Belle Grove historic plantation

Must-Do Activity

If you need the stamp for your NPS passport, stop at the Visitor Contact Station located in a strip mall in Middletown, Virginia.  There you can pick up a free guide to help you follow the driving tour focused on the October 19, 1864 battle fought at Cedar Creek.  There is also a free app available on the park website.  Managed by a non-profit that organizes an annual reenactment of the battle, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park has a museum (fee).  You can also pay to take a tour of the manor house at Belle Grove.

Best Trail

When we visited in 2016, there was some talk of establishing a walking path with interpretive signs, and it now seems the Morning Attack Trails total 1.7 miles in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Available for guided tours (fee) between April and December, the manor house at Belle Grove plantation dates back to 1797.  Union General Philip Sheridan used the house as his headquarters in 1864 and most of his 31,600 camped on the property.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cebe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Admission charged for guided tours of Belle Grove manor house and entrance to Hupp’s Hill Museum.

Road Conditions

Some of the roads on the driving tour are unpaved and not recommended for buses or RVs.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Belle Grove was owned by Isaac Hite, Jr. and his wife Nelly, who was the sister of which U.S. President?

Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – When was the Cyclorama painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top 10 Civil War Novels

This summer, we are covering the many National Park Service (NPS) sites dedicated to remembering the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history with the greatest outcome (freedom for the country’s enslaved people).  We previously listed our Top 10 films about the war and you may recognize some of the same titles in our Top 10 Civil War novels (click here to see all our Top 10 lists).

10. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997)

Just try not to picture Jude Law and Nicole Kidman while reading this novel, unless you haven’t seen the movie yet.

9. Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce (1891)

Before he went on to become a famous San Francisco newspaperman, Bierce served in the Union army.

8. Shiloh by Shelby Foote (1952)

A novelization of the bloody Tennessee battle by a leading historian featured prominently in Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War.

7. Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor (1955)

Andersonville was an infamous prison camp and is now a National Park Service site.

6. Confederates by Thomas Keneally (1979)

The Battle of Antietam is the setting for the climax of this novel by the author of Schindler’s List.

5. The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara (1998)

Picks up where his father’s (and our #1) novel leaves off after Gettysburg.

4. The March by E.L. Doctorow (2005)

Join Sherman’s march from Georgia to North Carolina alongside a fascinating cast of characters.

3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

The origin of two legendary characters of the silver screen: Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

2. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1894)

A classic that you might have been forced to read in grade school, but is worth a reread.

…and finally our #1 novel about the American Civil War:

1. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975)

This book about Gettysburg also made it to #1 on our Top 10 Novels set in a National Park list.

Honorable Mentions

Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

This story of slavery is not about the Civil War, but it may have helped start it.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1891)

Some of Whitman’s best poems were inspired by his time as a nurse during the war.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

The Civil War provides the backdrop for Louisa May Alcott’s masterpiece.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.