World War II Movie Marathon in Chronological Order of the Real Events

 


Recently I was watching some old World War II movies. The first movie I watched was 1944's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo which is about the first bombs that the United States dropped on Tokyo during World War II. Then I watched 1976's Midway which was about a game-changing battle in the Pacific.

The interesting tidbit was that at the beginning of Midway, the Japanese generals were mad that the United States had just bombed Tokyo. I was like....."Hey I just watched that movie"....and thus my mind started thinking....which can be scary.

I thought it might be cool to do a timeline of World War II movies....so after a month of research here you go.....my World War II movie marathon in chronological order from when the actual event took place.

 

There are 25 movies in this World War II marathon. Total running time to watch all 25 movies is 3,485 minutes or 58.08 hours or 2.42 days of non-stop World War II action. Each block of information provides the name of the real event or battle, along with the actual date, and a brief description of the movie that retells the actual event. I understand that the movies are not always historically accurate but I really feel they do provide a basic background view of some of the most famous events of World War II.


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Movie #1 The Sound of Music
starring Christopher Plummer and Julia Andrews
takes place in the Spring of 1938.

Austria is annexed into the Third Reich:

March-April 1938

 

The real event: On March 12th 1938, Germany annexed Austria, sent troops into the Austria nation and replaced the current chancellor with their own chancellor. On April 10th an election was held where Austrian citizens voted to approve the union with Germany.....with some vote rigging, Hitler got the vote he wanted and Austria was now part of Germany.

The movie: When I told my wife about my latest movie page idea, she immediately said it has to start with The Sound of Music (1965). At first I thought she was joking but then she reminded me that the movie takes place during one of Adolf Hitler's first acts of aggression (Austria being annexed). By watching The Sound of Music you get to see life before World War II and then watch the von Trapps escape Nazism as they leave Austria for Switzerland. Quality of the movie? Won 5 Oscars® including Best Picture and is the 3rd biggest box office hit of all-time when looking at inflated box office grosses.


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Movie #2 Mrs. Miniver starring Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson....takes place in September 1939.

England Forced To Declare War on Germany: September 1939

 

The actual event: By September 1939, with the exception of England, Germany had control of most of Europe. After many failed treaties and agreements, England was forced to declare war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939.

The movie: Mrs. Miniver (1942) takes a look at a United Kingdom middle class family during the first months of World War II. Winston Churchill said the movie, "had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers." Mrs. Miniver was nominated for 11 Oscars®....winning 6 Oscars® including Best Picture, Best Actress for Greer Garson and Best Supporting Actress for Teresa Wright. Mrs. Miniver was one of the biggest box office hits in the 1940s with over $330 million adjusted for inflation.


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Movie #3 Battle of Britain stars Michael Caine in the air battle that occurred in the summer and autumn of 1940.

Battle of Britain: August 1st - Sept 17th 1940

 

The actual event: During the summer and autumn months of 1940, the German Air Force tried unsuccessfully to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF) of England.

The movie: Battle of Britain (1969) depicts the first-ever military campaign that was fought entirely by air forces. Battle of Britain provides an all-star cast led by Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane, and Trevor Howard. The highlight of the movie for me is Olivier as Hugh Dowding, the commander of RAF Fight Command.


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Movie #4 The Desert Rats stars a very young Richard Burton and takes place from April to November in 1941.

Seige of Tobruk: April 11th, 1941-November 27th, 1941

 

The actual event: In North Africa, the only thing stopping famous German General Erwin Rommel and his troops from taking control of the strategically important Suez Canal were the Allied troops in Tobruk.

The movie: The Desert Rats (1953) shows how the allied troops were able to hold Tobruk for an incredible 242 days and provide Hitler with one of his earliest defeats. The Desert Rats stars a very young Richard Burton and James Mason as Rommel. Mason had already starred as Rommel in an earlier World War II film called The Desert Fox.


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Movie #5 Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Casablanca: Early December 1941

 

The real event: Europe was at war. The United States was on the sidelines, but that was about to change with the bombing of Pearl Harbor only days away.


The movie: Casablanca (1943) One of the greatest movies of all-time. True, it is a love story, but you cannot forget the events that bring Bogart and Bergman back into each other's arms. The Germans are in control, Americans (Bogart) are neutral, and everybody else (Bergman) is trying to escape the grip of the Germans. Casablanca won 3 Oscars® including Best Picture.


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Movie #6 Tora! Tora! Tora!....in my opinion the best movie on the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor: December 7th, 1941

 

The real event: On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese Navy did a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and dealt a historic blow to the United States Navy.

The movie: To get the best historical movie you have to go with Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) which is filmed looking at both sides of that conflict and shows a series of American blunders that allowed it to happen. Tora! Tora! Tora! was nominated for 5 Oscars®. Other outstanding Pearl Harbor movies include From Here To Eternity, In Harm's Way and the TV mini-series The Winds of War all provide an excellent viewpoint of that day.

P.S. Personally I would avoid Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, but I realize many people love that movie.


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Movie #7 Das Boat
About a German U-Boat - takes place after the United States joined the war.

Battle of the Atlantic: Late December 1941-Early 1942

 

The real event: German U-boats were creating havoc in the Atlantic Ocean, especially around the British shipping routes. With a mortality rate of 75% most of the German U-boat crews were living their last days.

The movie: Das Boat (1981) is not only one of the best war movies ever...it is one of the best movies ever. It is ranked as the 65th best movie according to IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and was nominated for 6 Oscars®. The tagline for the movie was "40,000 men were sent out on German U-boats... 30,000 never returned." Not good odds if you were assigned to a U-boat. Jurgen Prochnow plays the captain of the boat and is the only familiar face in the movie. Prochnow later became the bad guy in Beverly Hills Cop II.


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Movie #8 Destination Tokyo....stars Cary Grant as a submarine captain.

Reconnaissance for Doolittle Raid: Early 1942

 

The real event: After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States felt it needed to bomb Japan as quickly as possible. They created a mission that required a submarine to sneak into Tokyo Bay and gather information on possible bombing locations.

The movie: After the Navy saw Destination Tokyo (1943) and how accurate the operation of a submarine was.... they decided to use the movie as a training film. Destination Tokyo was Cary Grant's 7th biggest box office hit and the only serious World War II movie he made.


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Movie #9 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo....6 months after Pearl Harbor, the United States bombed Tokyo.

Doolittle Raid: February 1942 - April 18th, 1942

 

The real event: On April 18th, 1942, United States pilots and their bombers were sent on a secret mission that took the war to Japan's mainland. They used the information from movie #8 to plan the bombing run.

The movie: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo stars Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, Robert Walker and a very young Robert Mitchum. Tracy plays Colonel Jimmy Doolittle whose plan resulted in bombs landing in Tokyo so quickly after Pearl Harbor. Movie won Oscar® for best special effects.


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Movie #10 Midway....stars Charlton Heston and many more stars.

Battle of Midway: June 4th-7th 1942

 

The real event: The Battle of Midway is considered to be one of the turning points in World War II as Japan's hopes of destroying the rest of the United States navy failed.

The movie: Midway (1976) which has an all-star cast, is a historic retelling of the Battle of Midway. The movie stars Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, James Coburn and Glenn Ford. Midway was one of the biggest box office hits in the 1970s. There are scenes at the beginning of the movie that are from Doolittle's raid (see movie #9 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo).


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Movie #11 Life Is Beautiful....there are many quality Holocaust movies but I picked this one.

Jewish-Italian People Sent to Concentration Camps: Italy-1942/43

 

The real event: Jewish people from all over Europe were gathered up and sent to concentration camps.

The movie: There are literally hundreds of Holocaust movies, and each and every one of them tells an important story and should be remembered. Life is Beautiful (1997) is ranked as the 62nd best movie on IMDb (Internet Movie Database). Life is Beautiful stars Robert Benigni as a Jewish man who is trying to protect his son in a Nazi death camp. Benigni won an Oscar® for Best Actor (still one of the best Oscar® moments ever) and the movie won an Oscar® for best foreign film. It is hard to tell when this movie actually takes place but the best guess is from 1942 to when American troops arrived in Italy in 1943.


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Movie #12: Stalingrad

Battle of Stalingrad: August 23rd, 1942 - February 2nd, 1943


The real event: Germany, trying to secure the oil fields in the Caucasus, attacked the Russian city of Stalingrad. The battle for the city descended into one of the most brutal in the war. Individual streets were fought over using hand-to-hand combat. Eventually after huge casualties on both sides the German army was defeated and sent back in full retreat.

The movie: I have seen many World War II movies. In many of those movies, German soldiers were always threatened with...."you do not want me to send you to the Russian front." Until I saw Stalingrad (1993) I never really understood the threat. After watching Stalingrad you will understand the nature of the threat.


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Movie #13 Twelve O'Clock High stars Gregory Peck in one of his best movies.

First Bombing of Germany: January 27th, 1943

 

The real event: The 306th Bomb Group of the United States was the first bombing group to strike Germany (1/27/43) during World War II.

The movie: Twelve O'Clock High (1949) tells the story of that bomb group. Gregory Peck stars as the new commander who takes over a struggling bombing squad and turns fortunes around. Another highlight of their bravery was all the missions they flew in daylight.

This movie was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor (Peck). It won Oscars® for Best Supporting Actor (Dean Jagger) and Best Sound.

This movie was one of my father's all-time favorite movies and a movie that I watch every year or two.


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Movie #14: The Thin Red Line

Battle of Guadalcanal: February 1943

 

The real event: The Battle of Guadalcanal was the first major offensive by Allied forces against Japan.

The movie: The Thin Red Line (1998) is one of a few movies about that battle. The Thin Red Line stars John Travolta, George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, John Cusack and Woody Harrelson. The Thin Red Line was nominated for 7 Oscars® included one for Best Picture. Another movie worth mentioning is 1943's Guadalcanal Diary starring Anthony Quinn. That version of Guadalcanal was actually released the same year that the battle occurred.


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Movie #15 The Great Escape.....the movie that turned Steve McQueen into a superstar.

The Great Escape: March 25th-29th, 1944

 

The real event: On March 25th 1944, 76 P.O.W.s escaped from the German prison camp Stalag Luft III, causing the German army to provide much needed troops for a massive manhunt for the escaped prisoners.

The movie: The Great Escape (1963) retells the story of the plan, the escape and the aftermath. Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn and Charles Bronson are just some of the stars of the movie....which is one of my favorite films of all-time.


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Movie #16 Memphis Belle is the retelling of the 25th and final flight of the Memphis Belle.

25th Flight of the Memphis Belle: May 19th, 1943

 

The real event: The Memphis Belle was the nickname of a B-17 bomber that was the first United States Air Force heavy bombing plane to fly 25 successful missions with the crew intact.

The movie: Memphis Belle (1990) stars Matthew Modine, Sean Astin and D.B.Sweeney. The movies takes place during the historic 25th flight. Not to give away the movie....but after the flight was finished the crew and plane were sent back to the United States to sell war bonds. An excellent documentary was also produced....it is called Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944).


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Movie #17 Anzio

The Battle of Anzio: January 22nd, 1944-June 5th, 1944

 

The real event: One of the war's worst battles as Allied forces battle the German army that is bunkered down on the Anzio beachhead. It took the Allied forces four months and a loss of 30,000 soldiers to finally break free and march to Rome.

The movie: Dino DeLaurentiis brought Anzio (1968) to the screen. Anzio stars Robert Mitchum (his 3rd appearance so far on this list), Robert Ryan, Peter Faulk and Arthur Kennedy.

P.S. For some reason I found the fact that the Battle of Anzio ended the day before D-Day started very interesting.


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Movie #18 The Longest Day

Normandy Landings D-Day: June 6th, 1944

 

The real event: The Normandy landings, also known as Operation Neptune, was the largest amphibious invasion in world history.

The movie: Nearly 20 years later, Hollywood turned this epic battle into an epic movie with the release of The Longest Day (1963). The Longest Day's cast included John Wayne, Robert Mitchum (4th time he is listed on this page), Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery and Peter Lawford. The movie was a smash at the box office and was nominated for 5 Oscars® including one for Best Picture.

Obviously, when watching this movie and you reach the scenes on the beach, please feel free to watch the first hour of Saving Private Ryan to watch probably the most accurate portrayal of the brutal beach landing.


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Movie #19 Valkyrie...Tom Cruise tries and fails to assassinate Hitler...but it least he tried.

Operation Valkyrie: July 20th, 1944

 

The real event: Operation Valkyrie was an attempt by certain German generals to take control of Germany after Adolf Hitler was assassinated. However, Hitler survived the attempt on his life and instead had many Germany officers executed.

The movie: Valkyrie (2008) stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg one of the officers involved in the assassination attempt. One of the few Cruise movies not to be a hit at the box office. I'm not a huge Tom Cruise fan, and I have to say that I enjoyed watching this movie.


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Movie #20 A Bridge Too Far

Operation Market Garden: September 17th - 24th, 1944

 

The real event: Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne operation every to be attempted. Fought in Netherlands and Germany it is largely forgotten because the operation was a failure as Allied forces were unable to secure the most important bridge, the bridge at Arnhem.

The movie: A Bridge Too Far (1977) stars James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Gene Hackman and Robert Redford. A Bridge Too Far is one of my favorite movies and I highly recommend watching this movie. I think that Anthony Hopkins has the best part in the movie.


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Movie #21 Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge: December 1944 - February 25th, 1945

 

The real event: The Battle of the Bulge was Germany's last ditch attempt to win the war. As the Allied forces got closer and closer to Germany, the Germans decided on a major offense attack that was designed to split the Allied forces in half. Lack of fuel resources caused the German attack to fail.

The movie: Battle of the Bulge (1965) stars Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan and Charles Bronson as American officers who are caught in the middle of the battle. Soon after it's release, former President Dwight Eisenhower denounced the film due to it's glaring historical inaccuracies. Who would have thought Hollywood would make some mistakes?


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Movie #22 Letters from Iwo Jima

The Battle of Iwo Jima: February 19th, 1945 to March 1945


The real event: Iwo Jima is only 750 miles away from Tokyo. Obviously both Japanese forces and Allied forces wanted to control the island. Japan wanted the island to protect their mainland while the Allied forces wanted the island so they could bomb the mainland. The end result was some of the most brutal fighting in the history of warfare.

The movie: Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) is from legendary director Clint Eastwood and tells the story from the Japanese side of things. Letters From Iwo Jima was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar®. Eastwood also directed Flags of our Fathers which also takes place on Iwo Jima but tells the story from the Allied side. Another classic Iwo Jima movie is John Wayne's The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).


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Movie #23 The Bridge at Remagen

Battle of the Bridge at Remagen: March 7th, 1945

 

The real event: With the United States 9th Armored Division closing in on Germany, the Germans decided to blow up the last bridge (Ludendorff Bridge) on the Rhine river, even though it would trap many German soldiers on the wrong side of the Rhine river.

The movie: The Bridge ant Remagen (1969) stars George Segal and Ben Gazzara as American soldiers trying to keep the bridge up while Robert Vaughn plays a German officer trying blow the bridge up.


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Movie #24 Downfall

 

Hitler's Last 10 Days: April 20th, 1945 - April 30th, 1945

 

The real event: As Russian and Allied forces closed in on Hitler and Berlin, Hitler moved to his bunker. On April 30th, Hitler killed himself and by May 8th all fighting had stopped and the war in Europe was over after 6 very long years.

The movie: Downfall (2004) is a German movie that tells of the Nazi dictator's final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of World War II. Downfall is ranked as the 103rd best movie according to IMDb (Internet Movie Database). Downfall was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Foreign Film in 2004. This is the only movie in this list that I have not seen....but it is now on my list of movies to watch.


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Movie #25 Enola Gay: The Men, The Mission, the Atomic Bomb

Enola Gay Flight Mission: August 6th, 1945

 

The real event: Even though the war in Europe had been over for three months, the war in the Pacific was still taking great tolls. The Battle of Okinawa lasted 82 days from early April to mid June 1945 and saw the battle result in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Japan lost over 100,000 soldiers and the Allies suffered more than 65,000 casualties of all kinds. The United States in an effort to avoid further conflicts like Okinawa decided to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. By August 15th,1945, Japan had surrendered and World War II was over

The movie: Enola Gay: The Men, The Mission, the Atomic Bomb (1980) looks at the decision to drop the atom bomb, the secrecy surrounding the mission, and the men who flew it. Billy Crystal (in a rare dramatic role) and Patrick Duffy star in this TV movie.


Other notes:

 

1. My late father was a huge fan of World War II movies(he was 9 when the war ended). His favorite movies and movies he regularly mentioned had a great deal of influence in the movies that I picked in this page.

2. Of the 25 movies listed.....3 won Best Picture Oscars®, 5 more were nominated for Best Picture and 2 were nominated for Best Foreign Picture with Life is Beautiful winning.

3. Robert Mitchum has four movies on the list.....he is followed by Robert Ryan and Henry Fonda with three movies each.

4. Movie #26 would have to be 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives....which is about the return of the World War II veterans to the United States after the war was finally over. While Movie #27 would have to be 1961's Judgment at Nuremberg...which is about the Holocaust and Post World War II trials at Nuremberg in 1947.....I am including these two movies just in case you have another 6 hours for a movie sprint versus a marathon.

5. Some great World War II movies did not make the list because the movie covered too many events in the war.....movies like Patton, The Big Red One, and Empire of the Sun come immediately to mind.

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Comments Greatly Appreciated.