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12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany’s Military History!

12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany’s Military History!

Immersed within a nation that has been the crucible of strategy and combat, Germany’s tempestuous history has birthed narratives of war that have been immortalized in film. Thus, here we will explore the best German war movies…

Ancient myths and legends of formidable characters find their way onto the silver screen, narrated not just in ink or graphite but captured in raw celluloid. War films have perpetually occupied a significant position in cinema, proffering a stark mirror to the raw brutality of conflict and the poignant sacrifices etched in its theatre. As stories of bravery, loss, and endurance unfold, audiences are captivated, their emotions tethered to the moving images on screen.

German war films, distinctively, proffer a profound gaze into the nation’s tumultuous chronicles and its tangled participation in the seismic conflicts of the 20th century. Spanning the trenches of World War I to the chaotic theatre of World War II and beyond, German auteurs have crafted some of the most indelible and evocative war narratives to grace cinema.

In this treatise, we traverse the landscape of German war films that have left their enduring imprints on the annals of cinematic history. We delve into their themes, dissect their techniques, and scrutinize their seismic impact on audiences. These cinematic endeavors range from grand battle panoramas to intimate character studies, demonstrating cinema’s unparalleled prowess in encapsulating the multifaceted nuances of war and its profound imprint on the human condition.

Whether you are a history aficionado with a keen eye for detail, or simply a connoisseur of compelling cinema, these German war films are bound to etch themselves into your memory, leaving an indelible mark on your perception of the genre.

12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany's Military History!

These heroes may inspire us to be a better version of ourselves; thus, lessons from the past – taught via war movies such as those set in Australia, Iraq, and Russia – help transform today’s society in a positive way.  We also have put together our favorite films set in Germany if you would like to learn more about this intriguing nation…

Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.

You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.

Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best. 

While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.

12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany's Military History!
12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany's Military History!
12 Best German War Movies To Better Understand Germany's Military History!

Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory is a war movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1957. Kubrick was an American film director, producer, and screenwriter, known for his innovative and thought-provoking films. He directed several acclaimed movies, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining, among many other great films. Kubrick was a master of visual storytelling and explored themes related to human nature, technology, and society.

The plot of Paths of Glory revolves around a group of French soldiers during World War I who are ordered to carry out a suicidal mission. When they fail to take a heavily fortified enemy position, their commanding officers accuse them of cowardice and select three of them to be court-martialed and executed.

The film is based on the real-life events that occurred during the Battle of Verdun in 1916, where French soldiers were ordered to make a futile and deadly attack on a German stronghold. The soldiers’ refusal to carry out the attack led to the trial and execution of several of them, sparking controversy and public outrage.

Paths of Glory offers a nuanced and realistic portrayal of war and its consequences. Unlike many other war movies that glorify violence and heroism, it shows the ugly side of war, including the senseless sacrifice of soldiers’ lives for the sake of pride and ambition. The film’s anti-war message is as relevant today as it was when the movie was released, making it a timeless masterpiece of cinema

Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot is a German war movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen, a renowned director known for his works in both German and Hollywood cinema. Petersen began his career in the film industry as an assistant director in the late 1960s before making his breakthrough in cinema with the release of Das Boot.

The film tells the story of a German U-boat crew during World War II, who embark on a mission to patrol the Atlantic and attack Allied convoys. Set in 1941, the plot follows the crew’s daily life aboard the cramped and claustrophobic U-boat as they face the dangers of underwater warfare.

The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, a German author who served as a war correspondent during World War II. The events depicted in the film are based on his experiences and observations of the U-boat war.

The film accurately depicts the psychological and physical toll of submarine warfare and offers a unique perspective on the war from the German side. That’s why Das Boot is considered such a compelling war movie.

Das Boot is a masterpiece of German cinema that stands as one of the greatest war movies ever made. It is a gripping and emotional journey that will appeal to anyone who enjoys war movies, particularly those focusing on the human experience of conflict.

Europa Europa (1989)

Europa Europa is a war drama directed by Agnieszka Holland, a Polish film and television director known for her works like The Wire and House of Cards. Holland has been nominated for numerous awards and has won several, including the Berlinale Silver Bear and the César Award for Best Director.

The film is based on the true story of Solomon Perel, a Jewish boy who survived the Holocaust by posing as a German orphan. The movie follows Solomon’s incredible journey from a German Jewish family to a Nazi youth organization, where he pretends to be an Aryan, and eventually to the Soviet army.

The movie is set during World War II and portrays the plight of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The film’s storyline is centered on Solomon Perel, a young Jewish boy living in Germany who is separated from his family when the Nazis take over.

In an attempt to survive, he disguises himself as a German and joins the Hitler Youth organization. The movie follows Solomon’s dangerous journey, as he struggles to keep his true identity a secret while surrounded by people who would kill him if they knew the truth.

Europa Europa is a gripping war movie that offers a unique perspective on the Holocaust. The movie is both intense and moving, and it portrays the horrors of the Holocaust in a powerful and unforgettable way. If you are interested in the experience of the Jewish people during this troubling time, you should watch Europa Europa.

Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler’s List is a film directed by Steven Spielberg, one of the most successful and influential directors in cinema history. He began his career as a director in the 1970s with movies like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which established him as a master of the blockbuster genre. In the 1980s, Spielberg’s films became more serious and socially conscious, with movies like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun exploring issues of race, class, and war.

Schindler’s List tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saves the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Set in Krakow, Poland, during World War II, the movie follows Schindler’s transformation from a selfish opportunist to a hero who risks his own life to protect his Jewish workers from the Nazis. The film is based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, inspired by the true story of Schindler and the people he saved.

Schindler’s List stands out as a war movie because it is not a typical action-packed battle film. Instead, it is a deeply emotional and thought-provoking drama that explores the moral complexities of war and genocide.

It is a testament to the power of human goodness in the face of evil, and a reminder of the horrors of the past that we must never forget. If you enjoy war movies that are both gripping and meaningful, then Schindler’s List is a must-see film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

The English Patient (1996)

The English Patient is an epic romantic war drama directed by Anthony Minghella, an English film director, playwright, and screenwriter. He is best known for his work in films such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. Minghella won the Academy Award for Best Director for The English Patient in 1997.

The plot of the film revolves around a severely burned man, identified only as the English Patient (Ralph Fiennes), who is being cared for by a French-Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), in an abandoned Italian villa towards the end of World War II.

As the story progresses, we learn about the Patient’s past as a cartographer and his affair with the married Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) in Egypt before the war. Meanwhile, other characters’ stories intertwine, including Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh sapper, who is assigned to clear the villa of explosives, and Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a thief turned spy.

The movie is based on the North African Campaign during World War II, where the British forces, including the Patient, fought against the Germans. The film also touches upon the political tensions between the British and the Italian partisans and the cultural clashes between the Sikh soldiers and their British superiors.

While it is not an action-packed war movie, the film explores the themes of love, betrayal, and redemption against the backdrop of war. The English Patient is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates a well-crafted and emotionally resonant film.

Downfall (2004)

Downfall is a German war movie directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, known for his works that explore historical events and social issues. He gained international recognition for his 2001 movie The Experiment and then directed Downfall in 2004. The film was critically acclaimed and received numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

The plot of Downfall revolves around the final days of Adolf Hitler’s life during the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945. The movie is based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, who worked in the bunker where he spent his last days.

The story portrays the desperation and chaos of the Nazi regime as they face defeat at the hands of the Allies. The film follows the perspectives of several characters, including Hitler, his inner circle, and civilians caught in the middle of the war.

The film features several real-life people involved in the fall of Nazi Germany, including Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler. The performances of the actors who portray these characters are highly realistic and add to the movie’s authenticity.

Downfall offers a unique perspective on World War II and portrays the desperation and horror of the final days of the Nazi regime. The film’s attention to detail and historical accuracy make it a compelling and educational experience. Additionally, the performances by the cast are exceptional, with Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler being particularly noteworthy.

The Ninth Day (2004)

The Ninth Day is a war drama film directed by Volker Schlöndorff, a renowned German filmmaker who has significantly contributed to world cinema. Schlöndorff began his career in the 1960s and has since directed numerous critically acclaimed films, including The Tin Drum, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1979.

The Ninth Day is set during World War II and follows the story of a Catholic priest named Henri Kremer, who is released from the Dachau concentration camp for nine days to negotiate with the Gestapo to release some of his fellow priests. The film is based on real events in Luxembourg in 1942, during the Nazi occupation.

The film is based on the true story of Luxembourg’s Bishop of Trier, Monsignor Konrad von Preysing, who played a significant role in saving many Jews from the Nazis during World War II. The Ninth Day also includes characters based on real-life people, including Henri Kremer and SS Officer Gebhardt.

The Ninth Day is a gripping war drama that offers a unique perspective on the atrocities of the Holocaust. The film is tense and suspenseful, with outstanding performances from the cast, particularly Ulrich Matthes, who plays the conflicted priest, and August Diehl, who plays the ruthless SS officer.

If you enjoy war movies, particularly those set during World War II, then The Ninth Day is a must-see. It’s a powerful and moving film that explores the complexities of faith, morality, and human survival in the face of unspeakable horror.

The Counterfeiters (2007)

The Counterfeiters is a compelling drama film directed by Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky. In 2008, The Counterfeiters won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, cementing Ruzowitzky’s place as one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation.

The Counterfeiters tells the true story of a group of Jewish prisoners in Nazi Germany who are forced to work in a counterfeiting operation aimed at undermining the British and American economies during World War II.

The main character is Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a skilled forger and former criminal recruited by the Nazis to lead the operation. Sorowitsch is conflicted between helping the Nazis and using his skills to save the lives of his fellow prisoners.

The film is based on Operation Bernhard, a real-life Nazi counterfeiting operation in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II. The operation was aimed at destabilizing the economies of Britain and the United States by flooding them with counterfeit money. The film is inspired by the memoirs of Adolf Burger, one of the prisoners who took part in the operation, and who served as a consultant on the film.

The Counterfeiters offers a unique perspective on World War II and the Holocaust, and it’s a compelling story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The film’s survival, sacrifice, and morality themes make it a thought-provoking and emotionally engaging experience. The Counterfeiters is a masterful piece of filmmaking that deserves its place among the best war movies of all time.

Valkyrie (2008)

Valkyrie is a war movie directed by Bryan Singer. Bryan Singer is an accomplished filmmaker known for his work on the X-Men franchise and The Usual Suspects. He is known for his ability to create suspenseful and dramatic films that captivate audiences. Singer brings that same energy to Valkyrie, a film based on one of the most daring plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler during World War II.

The movie follows the story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a high-ranking German officer who becomes disillusioned with Hitler’s leadership and decides to take matters into his own hands. Along with a group of co-conspirators, Stauffenberg hatches a plan to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime. The plan, known as Operation Valkyrie, involves using the army’s emergency reserve to seize control of Berlin and establish a new government.

Valkyrie is based on a true story and one of the most audacious plots against Hitler’s regime. The movie offers a gripping portrayal of the events leading up to the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th, 1944. The film brings to light the bravery of those who risked their lives in a bid to stop Hitler’s tyranny.

This film is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys war movies. The film offers a unique perspective on World War II, focusing on the efforts of the German resistance to overthrow the Nazi regime. Valkyrie’s storyline is compelling and thought-provoking, exploring the themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and patriotism.

Lore (2012)

Lore is a historical drama film directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland. Shortland is a renowned director and screenwriter, known for her work in Australian film and television. The movie is set in the aftermath of World War II, in Germany.

The film tells the story of five siblings who are left to fend for themselves when the Allies arrest their Nazi parents. The film follows the journey of the oldest sibling, Lore, as she leads her younger siblings on a dangerous trek across war-torn Germany to their grandmother’s house in Hamburg.

The historical event that Lore is based on is the mass exodus of millions of Germans from the eastern territories of Germany at the end of World War II. The exodus resulted from the Soviet Union’s takeover of these territories and the forced expulsion of Germans living there.

The real-life people that took part in the exodus were mostly women, children, and the elderly, as most men were either dead, captured, or still fighting. The journey was treacherous, and many died from hunger, disease, or exposure to the elements. The film captures the emotional and physical toll of the trip and the psychological trauma of growing up in a Nazi family.

Lore offers a unique perspective on World War II and its aftermath, as it portrays the experiences of ordinary German civilians caught up in the war’s aftermath. It is a thought-provoking and poignant film that will leave a lasting impression on its viewers.

Land of Mine (2015)

Land of Mine is a Danish-German war film directed by Martin Zandvliet. Zandvliet is a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer who has been active in the industry since the late 1990s. He has directed several feature films, including Applause (2009), A Funny Man (2011), and The Outsider (2018).

The movie takes place in Denmark just after World War II, where a group of young German POWs are sent to remove landmines from the Danish coast. The film is based on a historical event after the war when the Danish government forced more than 2,000 German POWs to remove landmines from the Danish coastline. The film follows a group of teenage soldiers who are forced to perform this dangerous task, and their relationships with each other and their Danish supervisor.

Land of Mine is a compelling and emotionally charged movie that is worth watching if you are a fan of war movies. The film portrays the horrors of war, its aftermath, and the human cost of conflict. The movie also highlights the complexity of the relationship between the Danes and the Germans after the war, and the difficult choices that had to be made by both sides.

Land of Mine is an outstanding film that deserves to be seen by anyone interested in war movies. It is a powerful and moving story that will stay with you long after you have watched it.

The Captain (2017)

The Captain is a historical war drama film directed by Robert Schwentke. Schwentke is a German film director and screenwriter who has directed several critically acclaimed movies, including The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009), Red (2010), and Flightplan (2005).

The plot of The Captain revolves around a young German soldier named Willi Herold, who finds a discarded Nazi captain’s uniform during the last days of World War II. Herold dons the uniform and poses as a captain, and he soon gathers a group of soldiers around him.

The group starts committing heinous war crimes, including the execution of German deserters and the massacre of innocent civilians. As their offenses escalate, Herold struggles to maintain his facade as a captain and keep his followers in check.

The film is based on the true story of a young German soldier who found a Nazi captain’s uniform and pretended to be an officer during the waning days of World War II. The real-life soldier, who went by the name of The Executioner of Emsland, was responsible for the deaths of numerous people and was eventually captured and executed.

If you enjoy movies that explore the darker aspects of humanity, The Captain is definitely worth a watch. The film’s examination of the corrupting influence of power and the atrocities committed during war is both harrowing and thought-provoking. Its emphasis on the psychological toll of war also sets it apart from other war films.