8 Films to Watch While Studying World War 1

These 8 classic films will help students better understand the war and those who fought in it. They can be used to provide context and perspective while watching Lesson 17 of Dave Raymond’s Modern World History series.

Checkout our entire list of WWI Teaching Resources here.

Sergeant York (1941) – PG

One of the most famous films on this list, Sergeant York has remained a popular and accurate representative of WWI. Gary Cooper plays Alvin York, one of the most decorated WWI soldiers, in this biographic film, and won an Oscar for his performance.

Early in the film, there are scenes depicting alcohol consumption and later some battle scenes, but all are pretty tame.

You can rent the film on Amazon.

La Grande Illusion (1937) – PG

This film depicts the French side of the war and is one of the most famous WWI films ever made.  It is incredibly well done, and shows a very different side of the war that Americans would not have seen.

The main action is set in a German prison camp, but there are a few battle scenes where airplanes are shot down.  One man is shot and shown dying, but it is not graphic.

You can rent the film on Amazon.

African Queen (1951) – PG

Though this is technically a WWI film, the story revolves around an unlikely romance between a prim spinster (Katherine Hepburn) and coarse mechanic (Humphrey Bogart).  The film balances the romance and war well, and creates an incredibly touching story.

There is little to no violence in this film and is suitable for middle and high school students to watch.  To read more, click here: commonsensemedia.org

You can rent the film on Amazon or watch it for free if you have Amazon prime.

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All Quiet On the Western Front (1930) – PG-13

Based on a novel of the same name, All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most moving war stories — despite the fact that the protagonists are Germans.

While the film was made under the Code (meaning limited amounts of violence, sex, and language are shown), there are a few somewhat violent scenes.  For more information, click this link: commonsensemedia.org

You can rent the film on Amazon.

Farewell to Arms (1957) – PG-13

Like the film above, Farewell to Arms is based on Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical novel published in 1929.  It describes a young American soldier (Rock Hudson) stationed in Italy who falls in love with a British nurse (Jennifer Jones) after being wounded.

Also made under the Code, there is little graphic violence or sex. However, one of the main plot points is centered around a man and woman who are having an affair.  There are some battlefield scenes, but they are not very intense.

You can rent the film on Amazon.

Paths of Glory (1957) – PG-13

One of the more intense films on this list, Paths of Glory is the story of an officer (Kirk Douglas) who refuses to lead his men in a suicidal attack on the Germans.

This is an anti-war film that contains some hard scenes, not just depicting the battle field, but the way some officers treated their men.  For more information, read here: commonsensemedia.org

You can rent the film on Amazon or watch it for free if you have Amazon Prime.

The Lost Patrol (1934) – PG-13

A film about a doomed patrol in the Mesopotamian desert that is led by a sergeant (Victor McLaglan) who doesn’t know what their mission is. Like Paths of Glory, this is another intense and moving war film.

There are some scenes that show men being killed or their dead bodies, but nothing graphic.  

You can rent the film on Amazon.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) – R

A brilliant WWI documentary, Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) takes original war footage, unseen for over a hundred years, and creates a masterpiece that looks like it was filmed in the present with modern technology.

Since it is original war footage, there is a lot of violence and graphic images, paired with the audio commentary of firsthand accounts of the war.  You can read more about it here: commonsensemedia.org

You can rent the film on Amazon.

Learn more about World War II in our Modern World History curriculum

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