My Least Favorite World War II Movies

Alright, so my last post was all about my 10 favorite World War II movies of all time.  I took some flak from some people that thought my picks were wrong, but again, these are based solely on my own opinions.  I could rattle off an entire list of movies of this genre that I like (Stalag 17, Thin Red Line, Memphis Belle, City of Life and Death, Where Eagles Dare, etc.).  And since I did a best of list, I feel it’s time to do the inverse of that.  So now this post will highlight my least favorite WWII films and why I don’t care for them.

5. Red Tails

I had some high hopes for this film, and then I saw that George Lucas was involved.  I haven’t been a fan of Lucas’ since I was a little kid and the original ‘Star Wars’ films were out.  Lucas executive produced the film and directed some of the scenes, which a person can usually discern by the stilted, weak, and often groan-inducing dialogue. It’s as if he has the actors do one take hurriedly and then tells them, “Hey, don’t worry about it, I’ll just green screen it to clean it up.”  While I wanted to like ‘Red Tails,’ the story of the African-American Tuskegee pilots and the 332nd Fighter Group, I just found the dialogue cheesy, the story somewhat weak, and wishing the Tuskegee Airmen would be given a better film tribute for their heroic exploits.  The HBO film ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ is actually a better movie, although that one is also rife with mistakes, including the historically inaccurate “fact” that the Tuskegee fighter pilots never lost a bomber they were escorting.  It has since been proven that they did indeed lose at least 25 bombers on missions over the skies of Europe.  While the special effects were decent, the rest of the movie just left me cold.

4. U-571

Note: Bon Jovi gets it smack in the face at :38 seconds into the clip.

The British must hate what glory-hogs we Americans are, and I don’t blame them.  ‘U-571’ involves a commando mission undertaken by American submariners (led by Matthew McConaughey and….gulp….”rocker” Jon Bon Jovi) to capture a German Enigma cipher machine, which helped the Allies break Nazi codes.  The Polish were actually the first to break the codes, and the British did the majority of capturing these from various U-boats throughout the war.  While the film is your standard action/adventure, it should be noted that the real U-571 was lost with all hands off the coast of Ireland after being bombed by a British short flying boat.  The film isn’t horrible, it just can’t compare to the penultimate of submarine movies from WWII, ‘Das Boot.’  I will say that the tension and action scenes in ‘U-571’ are fairly well done, and Bon Jovi dies in a particularly gruesome way, so it’s not all that bad…but I’ll watch ‘Das Boot’ over this any day of the week.

3. Saints and Soldiers

The film begins with a depiction of the Malmedy Massacre, in which SS soldiers of Kampfgruppe Peiper shot American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge.  Inaccurately, paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Divison are shown as some of those prisoners. The 101st was not yet involved in the battle at that point.  Most of the Americans shot by the SS were members of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.  Also, the film depicts the Americans as instigating the massacre, as some prisoners break ranks and run. There have been conflicting stories on the massacre since it happened, but most American survivors claim the Germans moved trucks and tanks into the vicinity of where the POWs were herded with the intention of mowing them down with machine guns.  Other prisoners, playing dead in the snow for hours, claimed that  other German soldiers passed by, often laughing and occasionally firing a weapon into the bodies of the dead Americans. The tone of the film is often one of “forgive thy enemies,” which shouldn’t come as a real shock since the director and film company are all of the Mormon faith. I don’t mean to infer that I dislike this movie because it has Mormon-backing, but it can at several times throughout the movie come across as too preachy. Also, the plot centers around the Malmedy survivors rescuing a British pilot that has some ultra-important intelligence he MUST get back to the Allies.  What was so important he had to tell them?  That the Germans were going to attack through the Ardennes Forest?  Too little, too late.  The Allied Command had its collective head so far up its collective ass at that point that they probably wouldn’t have believed the intel anyways. And with everything as chaotic as it was at that point in the Ardennes, would the intel even have served a purpose?  The Bulge was reduced in about a month, and the news of the Malmedy Massacre spread like wildfire, as did the paranoia about German spies in American uniforms, both of which only served to stiffen Allied resolve.  The movie seems a bit hokey at times and doesn’t come off as very believable.  I’ve admittedly only seen this once, but I believe that will be enough for me.

2. Battle of the Bulge

Speaking of the Bulge, I had almost forgotten about this stinker of a film.  Despite the stellar cast involved, including Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, and Robert Shaw, the movie is racked with inaccuracies including the wrong types of tanks standing in for German Tigers, a lack of snow and fog which played such a huge role in the real battle, and the fact that the terrain in the film looks nothing like that of the Ardennes (the film was mostly shot in Spain).  Modeled after SS Colonel Joachim Peiper, Shaw’s Colonel Hessler comes equipped with a black Panzer grenadier uniform, a stoic Teutonic accent, and a ton of blonde highlights. Almost every actor here looks too old to have even been involved in the movie battle (the film was released in 1965), and the director tried to capture too many of the smaller battles of the Ardennes in a 3-hour movie.  And while in reality the battle was somewhat of a setback, it wasn’t going to change the outcome of the war one little bit. And I just realized that Telly Savalas did a hell of a lot of movies about the war, and the others were far better than this!

1. Pearl Harbor

“Pearl Harbor” is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”

That is renowned film critic Roger Ebert on the famously bad Michael Bay movie ‘Pearl Harbor,’ which was released in 2001.  I’d agree with Ebert that it was closer to a three-hour movie, but felt more like a four-hour one.  Good friends and pilots Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett vie for the attentions of nurse Kate Beckinsale, and I’ve seen divorced couples that have more passion together than either of these two yokels do with her.  Bay does manage to squeeze Cuba Gooding, Jr., in to play hero Dorie Miller, and the rest of the cast is filled out by a young Jennifer Garner, a dependable Tom Sizemore, and a bunch of lesser-knowns that seem to have appeared in ‘Black Hawk Down’ or any other war film made around the same time.  Throw in Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Doolittle and you have a film trying to achieve too much out of its purview.  And that’s what Bay does when he moves Affleck and Hartnett (who I thought were fighter pilots but are apparently also bomber pilots!) off of the Hornet to revenge bomb Tokyo.  A supposed “epic” that was intended to relive the old days of Hollywood’s classic-era, ‘Pearl Harbor’ failed to have anything important to say.  Along with Bay’s other works (including the love-it-or-hate-it ‘Transformers’ trilogy), the entire film seems a schizophrenic mess that wants to be too many things to too many people.  When it comes to movies about the Japanese attack, it is highly advised, and a much smarter choice, to go with ‘Tora, Tora, Tora,’ than this disaster movie.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Miracle at St. Anna

Dead Snow (ok, not a WWII film per se, but a pretty mindless zombie film about living dead Nazis. Somewhat fun, but mostly dumb).

Victory (apologies to my European friends, but I can’t get excited about what is essentially a soccer flick).


Hitler-The Last 10 Days (You made the man who played Obi-Wan Kenobi and Lt. Col. Nicholson play Hitler?!  That seems blasphemous in so many ways)!


17 comments on “My Least Favorite World War II Movies

  1. David Navarre says:

    Dead Snow looks like a real hoot!

  2. Hahaha! Those are great too but you missed one: Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. Despised that film; bitterly disappointed as I sat in the theater, praying it would get better. Never did.

  3. bedoughty says:

    Inglorious Bastards – – gets funnier every time I watch, but it historically it’s pretty awful
    Don’t hate Pearl Harbor as much as y’all – like the bombing scenes – like Cuba Gooding – but, use Tora Tora Tora for the classroom
    an old one – The Dirty Dozen – caught it the other night, great fun acting, not much content

    • navyphoto22 says:

      Bedoughty, I was talking with a friend about ‘The Dirty Dozen’ the other day and he loves the film too, but thinks it was very brutal. He didn’t like that they went in and killed the women alongside of the German officers at the chateau. I had honestly really never given it much thought before. I guess in hindsight, it does seem pretty unnecessary. But what would a group of German women have been doing in a chateau in Normandy anyways? It’s a bit unrealistic, but I just really like the solid cast in that film. And if ‘Pearl Harbor’ hadn’t thrown in the horrid love story, it may have been a little better. Probably not much better, but slightly!

      • David Navarre says:

        They would have been French women who were “horizontal collaborators”, not German women. I can’t remember if they had the one that Maggot kills speak at all, but German tours of duty in occupied France were not “accompanied”, so not even Rommel had his wife in France.

      • navyphoto22 says:

        That’s true David, and I was thinking it but wasn’t sure how to phrase it as well as you did. So we’ll go with “horizontal collaborators!” Good a term as any! But the one Maggot kills was German. She came into the room looking for some guy named “Wolfgang.” At least I think she was speaking German…

      • David Navarre says:

        Of course, she ‘might’ only have been speaking German because Wolfgang hadn’t bothered to learn French…. Of course, since bombs dropped on the Fatherland had a terrible habit of killing non-combatants, blowing up these women couldn’t have been any worse.

  4. navyphoto22 says:

    Excellent points. War is Hell!

  5. rob says:

    How about The Misfit Brigade with Oliver Reed?

  6. Steve Rubin says:

    Good list. My only quibble is Battle of the Bulge. Growing up in the 60s, I got used to filmmakers who weren’t so interested in historical accuracy. So I accepted those M-60 American tanks as Tigers — as blasphemous as that sounds. Regarding the lack of snow, I interviewed producer Milton Sperling for the 1981 edition of my book Combat Films, and he said they had enormous trouble in Spain getting snow, and acknowledged that it hurt the historical accuracy of the tank battle. But I still like the movie and the scale it was produced on. And speaking of George Lucas, it’s pretty obvious that he based the ice battle on Hoth on Battle of the Bulge — some of the shots are the same. Please add Windtalkers onto your list of crummy war pictures. It’s one of the few war pictures that I found myself looking at my watch. Yawn Yawn — same for Hart’s War.

    • David Navarre says:

      Steve, I also accept the flaws in Battle of the Bulge. There’s so much I like that I let the inaccuracies slide.

      Windtalkers was hideous. Almost forgot about that!

      • navyphoto22 says:

        Anything with Nic Cage is usually hideous! He used to be a decent actor (or maybe he just always has been-although I like Raising Arizona), but now he just overacts. Windtalkers should have been a better movie, but I was disappointed in it.

  7. Tom says:

    “So I accepted those M-60 American tanks as Tigers — as blasphemous as that sounds. ”
    I think the tanks were M47 Pattons, weren’t they? If not, they were M24 Bulldogs. Patton followed this tradition, because there was no easy way to create numbers of German tanks. Kelly’s Heroes did a great job with their build-up on T-34 chassis to make their Tigers pretty close to the real thing.

    But regardless I like you list.

  8. navyphoto22 says:

    You’re right Tom, I believe the tanks in ‘Battle of the Bulge’ were Pattons. I’m no expert on armor, but I do believe that is correct. Thanks for enjoying the list.

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