War films are a film genre concerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. At times war films focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles. Their stories may be fiction, based on history, docudrama, biographical, or even alternate history fiction.
The term anti-war film is sometimes used to describe films which bring to the viewer the pain and horror of war, often from a political or ideological perspective.
One of the most influential silent films from the beginning of the twentieth century is Birth of a Nation (1915), the first half of which established many conventions for War films and Motion Pictures in general. This film has been described as a great movie for a terrible cause. Protests and violence erupted in the wake of its opening and it became one of the first films to raise the issue of cinema's potentially detrimental effect on mass culture. Notably the film depicts the American Civil War in a manner reminiscent of the First World War, which was happening overseas at the time of its release.
In 1914-1918, both the Central Powers and the Allies produced war documentaries. The films were also used as propaganda in neutral countries like the United States. Among the most notable motion pictures was a film shot at the Eastern Front by cameraman Albert K. Dawson: The Battle and Fall of Przemysl (1915). Dawson was attached to the German, Austrian and Bulgarian armies as an official war photographer. His documentaries were released by The American Correspondent Film Company.
1920s and 1930s
An early notable war film is Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder Arms made in 1918. The film set a style for war films to come and it can be considered the first comedy about war in film history. Films made in the years following World War I tended to emphasise the horror or futility of warfare, most notably The Big Parade (1925) and What Price Glory? (1926). With the sound era, films like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) (and its much darker German counterpart Westfront 1918) , Howard Hawks' Road to Glory (1936) and Grand Illusion (1937), focused on the futility of war for non-American soldiers whilst Hollywood produced American soldiers featuring in World War I comedies such as Buster Keaton's Doughboys (1930) and Wheeler & Woolsey's Half Shot at Sunrise (1930), or exciting tales of the U.S. Marine Corps putting down rebellions in Central America, China, and the Pacific Islands in films like Frank Capra's Flight (1930), The Leathernecks Have Landed (1936) and Tell it to the Marines (1926 film). Other films focused on the drama inherent in the new technology and fading chivalry of aerial combat in films such as Wings (1927), Hell's Angels (1930) and The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938 versions).
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