Films on Wars


Dirty Wars

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 26m. A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film explores America’s controversial covert operations around the globe. It documents journalist Jeremy Scahill’s extremely courageous mission to look clearly at what the “war on terror” has actually produced and what that means for the future of the world. A key point that this guy makes is that there are unofficial/undeclared ‘wars’ led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and they are doing ‘illegal’ things. JSOC’s primary mission is to identify and eliminate terror cells worldwide. JSOC killed Bin Laden in his home. This film brings to light US special operations that the everyday person may not know about – that’s good. It tells the truth about how a majority of our government leaders believe that killing of innocent civilians are just a byproduct of war that can’t be avoided. Much of this film shows emotion of people who have fallen victim to U.S. special forces attacks. Digging bullets out of murdered pregnant women to cover up their atrocities! The section on the killing of two Americans by drone without a trial gave me new insight into how Awlaki had been transformed from support to opposition, and I was shocked at a picture of his 16 year old son assassinated two weeks later. Journalists protect this nation from abuses of power and Scahill’s work is a prime example of this. For Jeremy Scahill to have the desire to expose the secret operations that are going on all over the world so the public will be informed is a good thing. He is not criticizing the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend the nation, rather the people giving them the orders, and especially the complete lack of oversight of JSOC by the military and the government. The narrative tries to illustrate that the war on terror just breeds more terrorism. How is this different from the many “enemies of the state” killed by Stalin, and Hitler, the South American dictators, and other dictators worldwide throughout history? Even for someone who has decent familiarity with some of the questionable things going on in U.S. foreign policy, there will certainly be many new facts here. My issue is the “look at me!” way in which it is covered. It says something about a film, and the people making it, if the subject matter is given less screen time than the creators. Jeremy Scahill’s book (same title) is an engrossing but long slog through all the terrible things the U.S. government is doing, through our extremely expensive military might, to “keep us safe.” As expected, the book was much, much more thorough with a lot more information. The film should be viewed as a complement to the book, not a substitute.

Bush’s War  (Iraq)

Documentary 2008 NR 2 episodes. This definitive documentary, produced to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, analyzes in detail controversial topics surrounding the war, including Sept. 11, al-Qaeda, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, weapons of mass destruction and Fallujah. 9/11 and Al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Iraq, WMD and the Insurgency, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and the Surge. For six years Frontline has been revealing those stories in meticulous detail, and the political dramas played out at the highest levels — George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Osama Bin Laden. Now, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the full saga will unfold in a special four-hour broadcast over two consecutive nights on PBS, titled Bush’s War. Drawing on one of the richest archives in broadcast journalism (Frontline’s 40+ films), veteran producer Michael Kirk (Cheney’s Law; Endgame; The Lost Year in Iraq; The Dark Side; The Torture Question; Rumsfeld’s War; The Man Who Knew; The War Behind Closed Doors; Gunning for Saddam, Target America) also delivers new reporting and fresh interviews. Bush’s War will be the definitive documentary analysis of one of the most challenging periods in the nation’s history. “Parts of this history have been told before — the invasion of Afghanistan, torture, flawed intelligence and the invasion of Iraq, failures in the American occupation, and the saber-rattling over Iran,” Kirk says, “But no one has laid out the entire narrative to reveal in one epic story, the scope and detail of how this war began and how it has been fought, both on the ground and deep inside the government.”

Hearts and Minds  (Vietnam)

Documentary 1974 R 112 minutes. An Academy Award-winning documentary that casts a sharp eye toward the U.S. government’s costly — in terms of lives, budget and honor — all-out effort during the Vietnam War. Director Peter Davis uses his own war footage, newsreels, presidential speeches and interviews with the likes of Robert Kennedy, Gen. William Westmoreland and Daniel Ellsberg to provide a compelling argument against war.

In the Year of the Pig   (Vietnam)

Documentary 1968 NR 103 minutes. Filmed at the height of the Vietnam War, director Emile de Antonio’s unabashedly subjective documentary blasts American involvement in the conflict, with startling and disturbing images adding emotional intensity to this scathing critique. Through news footage and interviews with military figures, journalists and politicians, the provocative filmmaker traces modern Southeast Asian history and makes an argument for Vietnamese self-determination.

Winter Soldier  (Vietnam)

Documentary 1972 NR 96 minutes.  Banned by network television when released, this daring 1972 documentary examines reports of atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. Using the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation as its basis, the film features interviews with Vietnam veterans who saw or participated in the crimes paired with footage of the war. The film serves as a permanent reminder of the tragic effects of war and the human capacity for cruelty. See Full Review

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

Documentary HBO 1987 PG-13 84 minutes. Filmmaker Bill Couturie’s poignant HBO documentary strikingly captures the gamut of emotion experienced by Vietnam veterans, as a host of celebrated actors — including Robert De Niro and Sean Penn — recite correspondence from American soldiers. Set to a 1960s soundtrack and accompanied by authentic news footage, still photos and home movies, these readings create an honest snapshot of a tumultuous time.

The Korean War

Documentary 1953 NR 4 discs. This remarkably thorough series chronicles America’s involvement in the Korean conflict, including the U.N.’s buildup to war, the weapons and personnel involved and the long and bloody road to the armistice signed in 1953. Originally filmed by the Army’s Signal Corps for its “The Big Picture” series intended for civilian broadcast, the program sheds a penetrating light into what is sometimes called America’s “Forgotten War.”

The World at War  (WW2)

Documentary 1974 NR 11 discs. Many regard this 26-hour British TV documentary from 1973 as television’s greatest and most comprehensive account of World War II — a stirring history that features interviews with Allied and Axis leaders, civilians, officers, politicians and more. Narrated by the great Laurence Olivier, this 30th-anniversary collection also features eight hours of bonus documentaries, including a making-of-the series retrospective. See Full Review

The War  (WW2)

Documentary Ken Burns 2007 TV-14 7 Episodes. A seven-part series brings World War II to life through the harrowing personal accounts of a handful of soldiers and others from “typical” American towns, recreating visceral scenes of the battles at Omaha Beach, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and more.  This is a brutal, graphic, gut-wrenching documentary — war is not pre-packaged and sanitized. The discussions with the soldiers who fought in the South Pacific and who were part of the Bataan Death March is some of the most riveting television I have ever seen. You can see that it haunts these men to this day. Watch this film – especially if you’re a non-historian. It’s great film making in the language of the common man – profound yet straightforward. I have a M.A. in history, and I find this riveting. It’s appropriate for all ages. In fact, it should be required viewing in public schools.

Apocalypse: World War ll

Documentary 2009 NR 3 discs. Actor Martin Sheen narrates this compelling six-part documentary that uses rarely seen archival and amateur film footage — once deemed “unfit for civilians to see” — to tell the story of World War II in a way that it’s never been told before. Segments cover the rise of the Nazi party, the fall of Dunkirk, the battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor and the Pacific arena, the liberation of France, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The First World War

Documentary British series 4 discs 2003 NR. Even though it heralded the birth of modern warfare and engendered mass destruction on an unprecedented scale, the world’s first great war rarely receives as much attention as the second. This definitive 10-part series narrated by Jonathan Lewis outlines and analyzes World War I military strategy to show why “the war to end all wars” simply didn’t, prompting an even bloodier conflict less than 20 years later.

Churchill’s First World War

Documentary 2013 TV-14 1hr 29m.  Relying on his intimate letters to his wife, this docudrama examines Winston Churchill’s extraordinary experiences during the Great War.   Churchill began the war as the First Lord of the Admiralty and as such was in charge of Britain’s powerful Navy. He was involved with the development of the tank, and was instrumental in the development of the airplane for military use. And then came his downfall.  In an effort to take Turkey out of the war, he was one of the political and military engineers of the disastrous Gallipoli landings in the Dardanelles; and as First Lord of the Admiralty he took much of the blame (until exonerated later in the war). As a result he resigned in disgrace from his cabinet position and volunteered as an officer to fight in the trenches, commanding a battalion. The film portrays his close loving relationship with his wife Clementine, who stuck with him and supported him politically and personally through the bad times and good; and his close political relationship with David Lloyd George. When George became Prime Minister, he eventually appointed Churchill to be Minister of Munitions during the last year of the war where he further developed the tank and airplane as weapons, and later as Secretary of State for War, after WW I ended. The film is a fine history lesson, showing how Churchill’s experiences during WW I prepared him for leading Great Britain during WW II.

The Civil War

Documentary Ken Burns 1990 TV-PG 9 Episodes. This documentary masterpiece from Ken Burns depicts the strategies and action of famous Civil War battles, and relates the stories of generals, field soldiers, politicians, heroes and a beleaguered president.

The War of 1812

Documentary The History Channel Presents 2004 NR 2 discs. This absorbing series compiles an impressive roster of documentaries that illuminate the history-making 1812 battle between the United States and Great Britain, a war that at first appeared to be a lost cause. But with Andrew Jackson as America’s leader, the country emerged victorious. Programs include “First Invasion: The War of 1812”; “The Battle of New Orleans”; and “The Ironclads.” Also contains a detailed biography of Jackson.

The American Revolution

Documentary 2004 NR 3 discs. This PBS production showcases the events that led up to the American War for Independence, in comprehensive and sequential order. No stone is left unturned, as everything from the Boston Tea Party to the approval of the U.S. Constitution is explored. The documentary combines narration, reenactments of events, interviews with academics and historians, actors’ dramatic readings of letters and diaries written at the time and much more.


War Photographer

Documentary 2001 UR 96 minutes. In this engrossing, Academy Award-nominated documentary, director Christian Frei follows photojournalist James Nachtwey into the world’s combat zones as he fights to capture the struggles of those who face harrowing violence in places such as Kosovo, Indonesia and the West Bank. Nachtwey skirts through murky politics to tell the stories of the suffering in hopes that he can bring attention to their plight, one picture at a time.

Vietnam’s Unseen War:
Pictures from the Other Side

Documentary National Geographic 2002 TV-PG 54m. You haven’t seen everything there is to see about the Vietnam War if you haven’t viewed this sobering documentary from the highly regarded National Geographic team of filmmakers. Complementing the recently released book Another Vietnam, this film captures the war as seen through the eyes (and lenses) of Vietnamese photographers.


Documentary 1998 NR. The photographs of Walter Genewein are presented and discussed in this engaging documentary. Genewein was the chief accountant for the Nazi party during World War II and documented many of the atrocities that occurred in slave labor camps. The harrowing pictures are made even more disturbing by the ghostly narration from Holocaust survivor Dr. Arnold Mostowicz, who recollects his experiences at the hands of Hitler disciples such as Genewein.

The Mexican Suitcase

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 29m. This film tells the story of the recovery of 4,500 negatives taken by photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War. The film follows the journey of these negatives to Mexico and their recovery 70 years later. This was the first time photographers got close in to record battles as they were happening, as well as the first time civilians were bombed, as in Guernica.
(For a drama presenting a similar but fictional account of different valuable historical artifact thought lost but finally rediscovered, see also the film The Red Violin.)

The First World War From Above

Documentary  2010 TV-PG 59m.  Aerial footage from 1919 captures the battlefields of World War I, revealing the destruction and devastation inflicted across Europe, where over 16,000,000 died.

The Civil War

Documentary Ken Burns 1990 TV-PG 9 Episodes. This documentary masterpiece from Ken Burns depicts the strategies and action of famous Civil War battles, and relates the stories of generals, field soldiers, politicians, heroes and a beleaguered president. Features the famous war photography of Mathew Brady.

See also:

Films on Military

Films on Anti-War

Films on Soldiers


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