The Art of War: Discovering the "Reel" History behind War Films
Some films glorify war, while others depict its brutality; but perhaps the most important films in cinematic history show us the human face of war itself, giving us a new lens through which we can view the battles that shaped history.
Numerous films have given us powerful portrayals of war. At the same time, the historical accuracy of these films has become a subject of tremendous controversy and debate. Films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket have been lauded for scenes that Vietnam veterans attest are strongly realistic. Meanwhile, different takes on the same war have been criticized for straying far from the truth. The plot of Apocalypse Now is fictional, based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. Yet director Francis Ford Coppola noted that the main characters are also based on the experiences of real soldiers. The line between fact and fiction is not always clear—but defining it offers a broader view of history and the various biases that shape its retelling.
The Resources at the left offer references for some of the most important films portraying war and its impact, ranging from the Civil War (Glory, Gettysburg) to the Iraq War (American Sniper, The Hurt Locker). Each entry offers both a plot synopsis and historical context for the film, as well as a comparison of the real events and their portrayals, illustrating where fiction departs from reality. Students can conduct supplemental research to discover not only where film fiction departs from the realities of war, but the surprising ways they intersect.
Niemi, Robert. 100 Great War Movies: The Real History Behind the Films. ABC-CLIO, 2018. http://publisher.abc-clio.com/9781440833861
"The Art of War: Discovering the 'Reel' History behind War Films." History Hub,
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