History is full of incredible war stories that Hollywood has beautifully reimagined for the silver screen. However, directors will sometimes tweak facts here and there, turning their historical plots into fictionalized epics. As long as audiences remember that these films are no longer based entirely on fact, these releases can be highly entertaining. The following are seven of the best historical fiction films in the war and military genre.
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
The first war-themed historical fiction film on our list is the latest adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front (2022).
Based on the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, the film follows Paul Bäumer, who enlists in the Imperial German Army during World War I under the promise of becoming a hero. His hopes are quickly shattered when he sees the realities of war. He no longer strives to become a hero – instead, he simply tries to survive.
Both the book and film are fictional, but there are several elements within the storyline that feel very real. During the First World War, many young men were sent to the frontlines with no idea of the atrocities they’d be exposed to. The film does a fantastic job of showcasing the realities of trench warfare during the conflict, and its overall presentation earned it four Oscars at the 95th Academy Awards.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Starring Russell Crowe as the Royal Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) looks at life on the ocean during the Napoleonic Wars. Ordered to hunt down the French heavy frigate Acheron, Aubrey sets sail aboard the HMS Surprise (1796) toward the coast of South Africa, hoping to snub Napoleon’s reach.
While the war in this historical fiction film might be real, the rest isn’t. Its main character, the brilliant Jack “Lucky” Aubrey, is entirely fictional, based on author Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. As well, a real HMS Surprise did exist in the Royal Navy, but she originally served under the French. The vessel was captured by the British in 1796.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Third on our list of war-themed historical fiction films is Saving Private Ryan (1998), arguably one of the greatest the genre has ever seen.
The Second World War-era movie centers around eight soldiers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 29th Infantry Division as they carry out a mission to retrieve a fellow serviceman, Pvt. James Francis Ryan, following the death of his two brothers. The group navigate German-occupied territory to reach Ryan and, in the process, are forced to decide whether the life of one soldier is worth the potential sacrifice of their own.
Saving Private Ryan showcases the mental, physical and emotional struggle infantrymen faced during World War II. Even though it’s a fictional storyline, it certainly feels real.
In the 2004 film, Troy, Helen is taken from Sparta by her lover, Paris, and a deadly war ignites between the two armies. Several soldiers die in the subsequent battles, and an end is brought only through sabotage. A wooden horse is gifted to the Trojans by the Spartans. Once inside the city walls, the soldiers hiding within the seemingly innocent gift begin their rampage and plundering.
This historical fiction film is based on Homer’s epic, the Iliad, which portrays the mythological Trojan War. It’s fought, in part, by the mortal demigod Achilles, who was blessed by the gods. However, like many others, he eventually died as a result of Helen and Paris’ ill-fated love.
The mythology in Troy makes it hardly believable, but nonetheless entertaining.
The Forgotten Battle (2021)
The Forgotten Battle (2021) covers the lives of a British glider pilot, a Dutch soldier fighting for the Axis and a Dutch female resistance member. The glider pilot is forced to crash-land behind enemy lines, the Dutch soldier begins to question what side he’s fighting for and the resistance member must bring a map of German artillery positions to the Allies.
This historical fiction film portrays the World War II-era Battle of the Scheldt, which occurred in 1944. The engagement consisted of a series of military operations led by the First Canadian Army, and also involved British and Polish units. They fought against a reinforced German contingent for five weeks before successfully clearing the Scheldt.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Set in the Middle Ages, Kingdom of Heaven (2005) shows the journey of a French blacksmith named Balian, played by Orlando Bloom. Haunted by the deaths of his wife and unborn child, he travels to Jerusalem, where he becomes a defender of the people and their city. He fights against the forces of Saladin, as the film leads up to the Third Crusade.
Kingdom of Heaven is heavily fictionalized, taking a lot of artistic license when portraying Balian’s life. There once was a Balian of Ibelin and he was, in fact, a crusader noble of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, in 1187, he surrendered the region to Saladin and ultimately survived the siege.
Operation Finale (2018)
Infamous German officer Adolf Eichmann is hunted by a team of secret agents from Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, in the historical fiction war film, Operation Finale.
The movie depicts Eichmann’s disappearance following the close of the Second World War, and it’s soon discovered a German revival is in the works. An entire mission is conducted to try and capture the SS officer, with several elements not going according to plan.
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Much of Operation Finale is based on fact. Eichmann was a German officer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Following the war, he was captured and detained by the Allies, but escaped and fled to Argentina. Mossad agents hunted him down and placed him on trial.
However, while all of this is true, the film does play around with some elements, which make it not entirely factual.