When Oscar Goes to War – Academy Award-Winning Films for the Military History Crowd

George C. Scott as Patton in the 1970 Oscar-winning epic. What were the other war films that won the coveted Best Picture Academy Award?

George C. Scott as Patton in the 1970 Oscar-winning epic. What were the other war films that won the coveted Best Picture Academy Award?

“In honour of this week’s release of the 2017 Academy Award nominations, MilitaryHistoryNow.com is offering up a salute to Oscar-winning war films.”

DID YOU KNOW that the first Best Picture Oscar ever went to a war movie?

The 1927 drama Wings, starring Gary Copper and Clara Bow, was the story of two young American army pilots vying for the love of the same woman amid the tumult of the First World War. A textbook example of a ‘big studio epic’, Wings featured mind-blowing areal dogfight scenes using hundreds of stunt pilots and warplanes. And the authenticity didn’t end there — the film’s own director, William A. Wellman, was an actual veteran combat pilot himself. More than 3,500 extras were fielded for the film’s explosive climax – a recreation of the 1918 Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Audiences and critics alike were spellbound by Wings. Not surprisingly, it captured Oscar’s premier nod of approval, thus becoming the first in a select series of war movies to win such distinction.

In honour of the release of this year’s Academy Award nominees, MilitaryHistoryNow.com is offering up this salute to these Oscar-winning war films.


The Academy’s first Best Picture winner.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) explores the horrors of trench warfare through the eyes of a disillusioned German infantryman.

Gone With the Wind

In this legendary 1939 technicolor epic, indomitable southern belle Scarlett O’Hara watches her life shatter as the South falls during the American Civil War. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh star.

Mrs. Miniver

Featuring Greer Garson, the 1942 wartime romance won Oscar’s affections for its uplifting portrayal of life during the London Blitz.


Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, this beloved classic took home Best Picture in 1943. In the film, American expat café owner is swept up into a world of wartime intrigue when an old flame-turned-resistance fighter returns.

The Best Years of Our Life 

Servicemen adjusting to life after the war was the focus of this 1946 Oscar-winning drama. Starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March and Dana Andrews, the film ultimately took home a total of seven Academy Awards.

From Here to Eternity

The days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor is the setting of this 1953 romantic drama. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr steam up the screen.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Alec Guinness turns in the performance of his career as an obsessive British officer in a Japanese POW camp in this 1957 epic.

Lawrence of Arabia

This 1962 big-screen masterpiece follows misfit British army officer T.E. Lawrence, famously played by Peter O’Toole, as he helps mount a Bedouin rebellion against the Ottomans in the Middle East during World War One.


Oscar was notably impressed with George C. Scott’s now-iconic portrayal of Old Blood ‘n’ Guts in this complicated yet timeless 1970 war film.

The Deer Hunter

Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken star as two Pennsylvania steel workers who enlist to fight in Vietnam in this 1978 drama. Both are changed by the war, but in radically different ways.


Oliver Stone’s own experiences in Vietnam inspired this often-troubling 1986 drama. Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger are supported by a cast that includes up-and-comers Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon and Johnny Depp among others.

Schindler’s List

Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes star in the 1993 Steven Spielberg tour-de-force about a Third Reich industrialist who secretly saves hundreds of Jews from the Nazi death camps.


Mel Gibson directed and stared in this rousing yet spectacularly inaccurate 1995 portrayal of 13th century Scottish outlaw William Wallace.

The English Patient

A Canadian army nurse befriends a dying aviator in World War Two Italy in this 1996 drama based on the best-selling Michael Ondaatje novel. As the pair forge a relationship, the nameless flier reveals the details of his dramatic past.


A Roman general is betrayed by a scheming and ruthless emperor and sold into slavery in the 2000 film Gladiator. Russel Crowe stars in Ridley Scott’s bone-crushingly fun sword and sandal revival.

The Hurt Locker

A bomb disposal specialist is the protagonist in Kathryn Bigelow’s gritty realistic Iraqi war flick. The 2009 thriller blew the odds-on Oscar favourite Avatar out of the water.


Apocalypse Now was up for Best Picture, but didn't win.

Apocalypse Now was up for Best Picture in 1979. It didn’t win. Neither did these other nominated classics.

BONUS FEATURE: The War Movies That Oscar Forgot

WHAT DO M*A*S*H, Sergeant York and Saving Private Ryan have in common? They were all up for Best Picture Oscars, but didn’t win. Check out this list of other Academy Award ‘runner up’ war flicks.

1932 – Farewell to Arms. An American ambulance driver and a British nurse fall in love in this adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s famous World War One novel.

1937 – The Grand Illusion. French officers in a First World War POW camp are the focus of this anti-war drama.

1940 – Foreign Correspondent. Pre-war Europe is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller.

Charlie Chaplin spoofs Der Fuhrer.

Charlie Chaplin spoofs the Fuhrer.

1940 – The Great Dictator. Charlie Chaplin mocks Hitler in this relevant comedy.

1941 – Sergeant York. Gary Cooper plays the decorated World War One Doughboy hero of the same name. Rousing patriotic fare.

1942 – 49th Parallel. The stranded crew of a German U-boat try to make their way across wartime Canada for the safety of the neutral United States.

1942 – Wake Island. A garrison of Marines is surrounded and overrun by the Japanese in this Pacific War drama.

1943 – For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Spanish Civil War is the backdrop for a capable Hemingway adaption.

1943 – In Which We Serve. Noel Coward and David Lean team up for this British War Office-authorized film about the exploits of HMS Kelly during the Battle of Crete.

1944 – Henry V. Lawrence Olivier stars as the young English monarch who leads a small army to victory in France during the Hundred Years War.

1949 – Battleground. The 101st Airborne fights its way across Europe thanks to the help of Van Johnson and Ricardo Montalban.

1949 – Twelve O’Clock High. Gregory Peck plays the newly appointed commander of a slipshod American bomber wing stationed in England during World War Two.

1951 – Decision Before Dawn. U.S. intelligence recruits German POWs as the Third Reich collapses.

Humphrey Bogart plays the unstable skipper of USS Caine.

Humphrey Bogart plays the unstable skipper of USS Caine.

1954 – The Caine Mutiny. Humphrey Bogart plays the insane captain of a World War Two minesweeper who is usurped by his own crew. Psychological thriller meets courtroom drama.

1955 — Mr. Roberts. Henry Fonda stars in this war comedy about a U.S. Navy supply ship skipper who longs for some action in the Pacific.

1959 – The Diary of Anne Frank. A film adaptation of the tragic first-person account of the Holocaust from a teenaged girl who did her best to live through it.

1960 – The Alamo. Texans fight off a hoard of Mexicans in a century-old Catholic monastery.

David Niven and Gregory Peck in the Guns of Navarone.

David Niven and Gregory Peck in The Guns of Navarone.

1961 – The Guns of Navarone. British commandos infiltrate an Nazi-occupied Greek island to destroy two enormous cannons hidden in a mountain.

1962 – The Longest Day. A star-studded multi-national portrayal of the 1944 Normandy Invasion.

1964 – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Stanley Kubrick’s satirical send-up of Cold War nuclear brinksmanship.

1966 – The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. The crew of a Soviet submarine blunders ashore near Cape Cod. Hilarity ensues.

Donald Sutherland is the original Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H.

Donald Sutherland (right) is the original Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H.

1970 — M*A*S*H. Army doctors in a Korean War field hospital patch up the wounded while thumbing their noses at all things military in this Robert Altman comedy that inspired the long-running TV series.

1979 – Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola riffs on Heart of Darkness in this surreal Vietnam War film.

1984 – The Killing Fields. An American journalist and his translator report the fall of Cambodia and the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

1984 – A Soldiers Story. A black officer is sent to investigate a racial killing on a Louisiana army post during World War Two.

1989 – Born on the Fourth of July. A patriotic Marine ends up in a wheel chair after being wounded in Vietnam.

1998 – Life is Beautiful. An Italian Jew uses humour to shield his six-year-old son from the horrors of the Holocaust in this heart-warming comedy.

1998 – Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg redefines the war movie genre in this ultra-realistic combat masterpiece.

1998 – The Thin Red Line. American GIs battle their inner demons, along with the Japanese, on Guadalcanal in this slow-moving but visually stunning panoramic.

Russel Crowe in command of HMS Surprise in 2003's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Russell Crowe commands HMS Surprise in 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

2003 – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. A single-minded Royal Navy skipper chases a French privateer half-way around the globe in this beautiful Patrick O’Brian adaptation. Too bad they didn’t make any sequels.

2006 – Letters from Iwo Jima. The climactic battle of the Pacific War is seen through the eyes of a Japanese soldier.

2009 – Inglourious Basterds. Fame in wartime is the theme of this bizarre and entirely ridiculous Quentin Tarantino World War Two flick.

A 1914 cavalry charge in Steven Spielberg's 2011 film War Horse.

A 1914 cavalry charge in Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film War Horse.

2011 – War Horse. An equine-centric big screen adaptation of the popular stage production of the same name – think Black Beauty goes to the Western Front.

2012 – Zero Dark Thirty. A thorough retelling of the decade-long hunt to find and kill Osama bin Laden.

2014 – American Sniper. Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle is the subject of this fraught drama by Clint Eastwood.

2014 – The Imitation Game. Pioneer computer whiz Alan Turing cracks the Nazi Enigma code and wins the war for the Allies only to later be persecuted for being gay.

(Originally published Feb 25, 2016)

2 comments for “When Oscar Goes to War – Academy Award-Winning Films for the Military History Crowd

  1. 25 February, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Well Done, But I think you need an “Honorable Mention” Category as well, as there are quite a few you left out.

    • 25 February, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Only had time to focus on Best Picture award winners and nominees. Sadly, couldn’t go after other categories.

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