Sunday Discussion: The Return of the World War II Movie
by Alex Billington
November 9, 2008
In just a few hours I'm heading down to catch the AFI Fest Closing Night screening of Defiance. Although this screening is well in advance of the film's actual theatrical release, to me it marks the beginning of Hollywood's interest in yet again exploring World War II. Like westerns, a handful of films set during World War II pop up almost every year, but the upcoming selection of WWII films is coming from a diverse selection of Hollywood's finest filmmakers and features some of the best on-screen talent. As excited as I am to dive right into it all, I'm not sure the rest of America is. Others might believe that we haven't yet seen the return of the World War II movie, but with this line-up, it's pretty hard to disagree.
We've already seen a handful of WWII movies this year, including Spike Lee's Miracle at St. Anna, Vicente Amorim's Good, Ole Christian Madsen's Flame & Citron and Mark Herman's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but those are hardly the beginning. In addition to Edward Zwick's Defiance hitting theaters in December, we've also got Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, which has slowly been gaining buzz and is officially one of the first very high profile WWII films. Even Baz Luhrmann's Australia is a WWII film, set during the time when the Japanese bombed Australia. From there, we move into an ambitious line-up of in-production or soon-to-be-produced films, which will all hopefully end up getting made before too long.
The next big WWII movie with the most buzz is, of course, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, currently shooting in Germany and due out sometime late next year. In addition to that, George Lucas' Red Tails is heading into production soon, while the next two are only in the development stage, but with hope they'll soon be given the greenlight: Jerry Bruckheimer's Killing Rommel and Roger Avary's Return to Castle Wolfenstein. And we can't forget Marvel's The First Avenger: Captain America as well as X-Men Origins: Magneto, if that film ever gets made. As you can probably tell, a lot of these are very high profile WWII films, which we haven't seen many of coming out of Hollywood of as of late.
This isn't the first time I've talked about WWII movies being on the rise. I actually predicted way back in early 2007 that this would be a big year based on two films: Valkyrie and Inglourious Basterds. Confirmation of my prediction that the WWII movie is returning hinges on the box office success of nearly all of the aforementioned films. Right now I'm not sure Defiance or Valkyrie will be that big, but I could be wrong. Inglourious Basterds, on the other hand, is the one film that I think could be big enough to reignite America's interest all over again. The last time that happened was back in 1998 with Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but looking at the list above, it seems like Hollywood is already predicting the same.
The reason why I'm so invested in this topic is because I love war movies. It might have all originally stemmed from first seeing Saving Private Ryan, but I have since always been fascinated by every last one. To me, knowing that Bryan Singer, the man behind the X-Men series, is bringing us a thriller set in WWII starring Tom Cruise, or that Quentin Tarantino is finally telling his epicly violent WWII story with Brad Pitt, or that the man behind The Last Samurai (a guilty pleasure of mine) is showing us what it would be like if James Bond were a WWII soldier, is all incredibly exciting to me. And if the success of all of these movies means we'll get to see even more great directors taking on even more war stories, I'm all for it.