The 2020 Golden Globes pick for Best Motion Picture – Drama: 1917, a dramatic thriller presented as a single continuous shot, and a tale of valor and sacrifice during World War I. The Sam Mendes film arrives in a moment of peak WWI interest, seen from 15-million seller video game Battlefield 1 and Peter Jackson’s incomparably vivid They Shall Not Grow Old documentary. With that, we’ve collected and ranked every World War I movie by Tomatometer.
Not only did the First World War plunge our planet in death, plague, and turmoil, it would become a sort of stress test for filmmaking, which was still in its early years. World War 1 (1914-1918) was humanity’s first shared cataclysm that the movies had been around for. There would be books and there would be songs written about the War – now it was time to see what movies were capable of expressing. This new medium, with its filmmakers just beginning to create feature-length stories, found its power in resurrecting recent history on-screen to transportive life. Movies became how we process trauma, looking back on the things we have experienced with honor, anger, regret, and romance.
So how fitting that at the first Academy Awards ever, World War I epic Wings (1927) would win Best Picture, partially on the strength of its inventive camerawork that swept audiences into the love triangle and aerial dogfights. WWI movies became prestige events, featuring big-budget casts and production values, seen in enduring classics like A Farewell to Arms, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Grand Illusion. But the regular production of WWI movies dried up in the 1940s. Hmmm, wonder what happened!
After World War II, audiences got a major WWI movie once a decade. Paths of Glory came out in 1957. Lawrence of Arabia was in the ’60s. Johnny Got His Gun for the cynical ’70s. It was Gallipoli in the ’80s. Then in the ’90s, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Medal of Honor made WWII the guerre du jour for a long time. All three projects were shepherded by Steven Spielberg, so naturally he would be the one to give World War I its biggest spectacle movie in decades: the 2011 Certified Fresh War Horse.
A quick note on our selection criteria: We picked only movies that were set squarely in the War, instead of just using the War as a backdrop, like Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, The African Queen, or The White Ribbon. And only movies whose subject is the War. Multi-decade stories that happened to include WWI were not considered, leaving off movies like The Great Dictator, Legends of the Fall, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
Revisit a turning point in human history with our guide to every World War I movie ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: It doesn't lack ambition, and it boasts undeniably thrilling source material, but The Red Baron is brought down by its overly sentimental script and a number of historical inaccuracies.
Synopsis: Though a national hero to the Germans for his efforts in World War I, Baron Manfred von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer)... [More]
Critics Consensus: Peter Weir's devastating anti-war film features a low-key but emotionally wrenching performance from Mel Gibson as a young soldier fighting in one of World War I's most deadly and horrifying battles.
Synopsis: Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson) are two young Australian sprinters who want to join the army to fulfill... [More]
Critics Consensus: Subsequent war epics may have borrowed heavily from the original Best Picture winner, but they've all lacked Clara Bow's luminous screen presence and William Wellman's deft direction.
Synopsis: With World War I afoot, David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) and Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) join the military with an... [More]
Critics Consensus: The epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia cements director David Lean's status in the filmmaking pantheon with nearly four hours of grand scope, brilliant performances, and beautiful cinematography.
Synopsis: Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is sent to Arabia to... [More]
Benedict Cumberbatch shoulders the weight of a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise with this weekend’s Doctor Strange — a critical winner whose box-office ascension seems all but certain to complete its leading man’s journey from arthouse dramas to full-fledged blockbusters. To celebrate Mr. Cumberbatch’s latest feat, we decided to dedicate this feature to a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights from a distinguished (and still growing) filmography. You know what that means: by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, it’s time for Total Recall!
Before he started taking roles in blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, and Doctor Strange, if you thought about Benedict Cumberbatch, you were probably thinking of a movie like 2007’s Amazing Grace. Directed by Michael Apted, this historical drama recounts the anti-slavery efforts of British parliament member William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), whose long campaign to introduce legislation outlawing human trafficking made him a political pariah — and an inspiration to friends and contemporaries like William Pitt the Younger (Cumberbatch). “As square as this movie is,” argued David Denby for the New Yorker, “it has been made with eloquence and jaunty high spirits, and it tells a good story that is virtually unknown here.”
Peter Jackson set a new standard for epic fantasies when he adapted The Lord of the Rings into a blockbuster trilogy, leaving himself some big shoes to fill when he set about turning The Hobbit into a three-film saga of its own. It stands to reason that critics and audiences weren’t quite as enchanted the second time around, but this saga — in which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) on a quest to help reclaim a mountain from a dragon named Smaug (a mo-capped Cumberbatch) — held up reasonably well in its own right, particularly the second installment that focused on Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug himself. “For many,” warned the Arizona Republic’s Kerry Lengel, “Jackson’s Hobbit will look like an overly long amusement-park attraction. But for fantasy fans who have dreamed all their lives of spending time inside Tolkien’s dazzling alternative reality, it’s a ride well worth taking.”
He was born in London, which wouldn’t seem to make him the most natural fit to play the brother of an infamous Boston gangster — but if you’ve watched Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Billy Bulger in Black Mass, you know he can pull it off. In fact, although there’s really no shortage of movies about or inspired by the criminal exploits of Whitey Bulger, this relatively late arrival managed to hold its own, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a starry ensemble cast led by Johnny Depp and rounded out by a roster that included Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, and Dakota Johnson. “The acting here is much stronger and more soulful than I would have expected,” admitted Grantland’s Wesley Morris, “and not only from Depp.”
He wasn’t exactly a neophyte by 2011, but that’s the year his Hollywood star really started to rise, with appearances in front of American audiences courtesy of his roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. As reflected by its name, the entire human cast essentially played second fiddle to its equine lead — but this adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel still lined up some pretty spectacular stars. Exactly the sort of beautifully filmed period drama you’d expect given its behind-the-scenes pedigree and Christmas Day release date, War Horse follows the astonishing WWI adventures of a Bay Thoroughbred named Joey (during which he serves under Cumberbatch’s command), as well as the equally stirring tale of his young trainer (Jeremy Irvine). While some critics dismissed the results as glossy awards bait, it proved sufficiently moving for the majority; as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “War Horse is sugary, to be sure — but it is sugar cut with cannon fire and barbed wire and the horrors of war.”
Few novelists have ever been able to match the cerebral layers that John le Carré applied to his take on the spy thriller, and adapting his work for the screen has always been a daunting task, particularly given that he operated in a genre that’s tended to prize action over intelligence. But director Tomas Alfredson (working from an adaptation written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan) proved himself more than up to the task with this 2011 version of the author’s 1974 classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman as a retired spy brought back into active duty to investigate some troubling claims made by a defected MI6 operative (Tom Hardy) with the aid of a trustworthy colleague (Cumberbatch). Cool-tempered and whip-smart, this Tailor brought the book satisfyingly to life for critics like NPR’s Ella Taylor, who wrote, “Alfredson offers no concessions to hindsight, no lessons for today. Instead, he’s kept faith with le Carré’s bleak, romantically elegiac vision of a moment in 20th century history at once glorious and doomed.”
It’d take an awful lot of rich Corinthian leather for any actor to try and one-up Ricardo Montalban’s definitive performance as Khan Noonien Singh in the original Star Trek franchise. To his credit, Cumberbatch offered a decidedly different take on the role in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted series timeline, bringing the character back to life in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in his own inimitably villainous way. Although not a few reviews openly lamented the loss of the O.G. Trek‘s cerebral sci-fi at the expense of a heavier focus on action, most critics were hard-pressed to argue against Abrams’ good old-fashioned popcorn fun — or the talented cast. “What this movie does with a not-unfamiliar-to-some story is pretty clever,” admitted MSN Movies’ Glenn Kenny, “and the incarnation of a classic villain by British cheekbone virtuoso Benedict Cumberbatch is vivid and engaging.”
Cumberbatch’s first significant big-screen appearance came courtesy of Starter for 10, a dramedy about a college freshman (James McAvoy) who joins his campus quiz team and becomes embroiled in the squad’s interpersonal dynamics — including dealing with their snobby captain (Cumberbatch), who looks down on the new arrival despite not offering much in the way of value to the team. With a cast rounded out by Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, and Alice Eve, Starter offered an early glimpse at a number of rising stars, as well as a fair bit of entertainment; as Claudia Puig wrote for USA Today, “The writing is nimble, the performances engaging and the story of a working-class boy who yearns to distinguish himself by acquiring knowledge is witty and intelligent.”
Ten years ago, the idea of a guy from London playing Marvel’s favorite Greenwich Village sorcerer seemed about as likely as the studio ever managing to make a big-screen Doctor Strange feature in the first place, but times have definitely changed. Cumberbatch donned the good Doctor’s Cloak of Levitation for what ended up becoming Marvel’s 14th consecutive No. 1 release, bringing his dramatic chops to bear on an effects-fueled adventure that repaid the audience’s patience for yet another origin story with mind-bending visuals and a storyline that brought the magical multiverse to the MCU. Hewing faithfully to the studio’s blockbuster formula while still finding refreshing ways to scribble outside the lines, the results earned overwhelmingly positive reviews — and were even intoxicating enough to win over critics who’d long since grown numb to the superhero genre’s appeal, like the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who described the spectacle as “so visually transfixing, so beautiful and nimble that you may even briefly forget the brand.”
Alan Turing was a brilliant man whose work laid the foundation for theoretical computer science — and helped shorten World War II, saving countless lives in the process. He was also prosecuted for homosexual behavior at a time when the U.K. criminal code classified it as gross indecency, sentenced to chemical castration, and died of cyanide poisoning just shy of his 42nd birthday. A fascinating, influential, and painful life, in other words, all brought brilliantly to life in the Oscar-winning The Imitation Game, starring Cumberbatch as Turing in a role that brought him fresh accolades during a busy year that also included The Penguins of Madagascar and the final Hobbit film. “Cumberbatch is moviedom’s man of the moment,” observed Joe Williams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “and with this painfully human performance, the actor who has specialized in difficult geniuses finally cracks the code of compassion.”
Before they shared the screen as Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor met under very different circumstances in 12 Years a Slave — Ejiofor as kidnapped free man-turned-slave Solomon Northup, and Cumberbatch as William Ford, the first plantation owner to purchase him. Northup’s journey to Ford was decidedly unpleasant, but it was unfortunately a mere prelude to more than a decade of brutal misery suffered at the hands of others after Ford felt forced to sell him — immortalized on the screen in a grueling yet searingly compelling Best Picture winner. “12 Years a Slave isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be,” wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “It’s one man’s tragedy, but it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically.”
Steven Spielberg’s first family movie since 1991’s Hook is in theaters this week: The BFG, adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children’s book. The cross-pollination of two talented storytelling titans inspires this week’s gallery: 24 Certified Fresh children’s book movie adaptations!
There wasn’t a whole lot going on in the world of home video this week, so we’ve got a shorter list today. If you scour the release lists, you’ll find some TV shows, some direct-to-DVD stuff, and a couple of reissues (like Cleopatra), but it won’t be long before you start running up against the yoga videos and Guys Gone Wild. So, with that out of the way, let’s just move on. This week brings us one of last year’s Best Picture nominees, a critically acclaimed documentary, a lukewarm drama from Cameron Crowe, and a Certified Fresh UK import. Then, to close out the set, we’ve got a Miyazaki Blu-ray import and an HD reissue of a bona fide classic. See below for the full list!
Moviegoers of a certain age may always remember Steven Spielberg for the indelible fingerprint he left on the 1980s, both as producer (Gremlins, the Back to the Future trilogy) and director (E.T., the Indiana Jones movies), and many say last year’s War Horse recalls some of the best elements of that era. Based on the 1982 children’s novel of the same name, which also inspired a stage production, War Horse follows the travails of a spirited horse named Joey during World War I as he is raised by a farmboy, sold off to a soldier, and marched into the middle of battle. Joey endures various hardships but endures through it all, inspiring those around him to greater things. Characterized by polished filmmaking, old-fashioned storytelling, and a certain trademark sentimentality, War Horse won many fans when it opened during the holiday season, earning a Certified Fresh 77% and six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Definitely worth a look for anyone hankering for a dash of Spielbergian magic.
After the 2000s yielded the first Rotten scores of Cameron Crowe’s (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) career, the writer-director released two films in 2011 to generally positive reviews: the rock doc Pearl Jam Twenty and the family drama We Bought a Zoo, which hits store shelves this week. We Bought a Zoo is based on the memoirs of Benjamin Mee, who, after the death of his wife, purchased a struggling zoo and moved his family onto the property in hopes of reopening the facility to the public. With Crowe behind the camera and working decidedly within his wheelhouse of character-driven drama, as well as a cast that included Matt Damon (as Mee), Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and more, some thought Zoo might find itself in Oscar contention. Unfortunately, while critics found the performances noteworthy and the film overall pleasant, most also felt it was too predictable and overly sentimental, with sweet spots that weren’t entirely earned. It’s not the best we’ve seen from Cameron Crowe, but it might suffice for anyone looking for a safe, harmless little yarn.
If you’ve been with us for a few years now, you know that, without fail, many of the highest rated movies on RT every year are documentaries. That said, one of the true gems of 2011 that few moviegoers got to see was about a puppeteer and the wildly popular character he brought to life. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is about as accurate as a title can be: director Constance Marks profiles one Kevin Clash, the man who grew up crafting his own puppets, dreamt of meeting Jim Henson, eventually landed a gig on Sesame Street, and reinvented a furry red muppet to become one of the most widely beloved of them all. Not surprisingly, critics found the film sweet and charming, not least because Clash himself is such an endearing character, and its upbeat narrative left most feeling a little inspired. At a Certified Fresh 92%, Being Elmo is a fascinating feel-good story about a man who followed his dreams without compromise and almost inadvertently created a cultural icon.
Another small, critically acclaimed film that flashed in and out of theaters quickly (it only earned $22k in US box office receipts) came to us from the UK, where audiences are more familiar with its first-time director (actor Paddy Considine, who also wrote the script) and star (Peter Mullan). Tyrannosaur follows the story of Joseph (Mullan), an unemployed alcoholic with crippling anger issues who decides to turn his life around after he accidentally kills his dog. As he develops a relationship with a local charity shop employee (Olivia Colman), he finds that her husband has violent tendencies of his own, and confrontation appears inevitable. Based on the same kind of environment Considine observed around him growing up in public housing, Tyrannosaur is brutal and unflinching, but critics found the performances outstanding and the story of redemption rewarding. It’s Certified Fresh at 82%, for those of you looking for a bit of hard-hitting drama.
Roman Polanski completed one last film on US soil before his legal troubles compelled him to flee to Europe, and that film was 1974’s Chinatown, now regarded as one of the best noir mysteries — and, indeed, one of the best films period — ever to be made. In one of his most memorable roles, Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, an LA private eye who is hired for a seemingly routine “matrimonial” surveillance job, only to be pulled into a vast conspiracy involving political corruption, incest, and murder, all set against the historically inspired 1930s backdrop of a local water rights conflict. Working from an Oscar-winning script by Robert Towne, Polanski’s film benefitted from exceptional performances by Nicholson and co-star Faye Dunaway, earning a whopping eleven Academy Award nominations (alas, Towne’s trophy was the only one it took home), and it’s currently Certified Fresh at 100%. This week, Paramount releases its first Blu-ray of Chinatown, with special features collected from the previously released Centennial Collection and Special Collector’s Edition DVDs. If you own either of those, there won’t be much new to see here, but if you’d like to own the film in HD, now’s your chance.
For all you Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli fanatics out there in the US, here’s a little heads-up: the Blu-ray disc for the film officially goes on sale in the States tomorrow, but it appears to be the same one already available in a few other countries, selling as an import. That is, the cover design mirrors those of the Japanese, German, and Hong Kong versions, there is little information readily available on what extras it will contain, and its price point is a hefty-even-for-Blu-ray $60. We can’t imagine this will do well with anyone but the most diehard fans, but for the uninitiated: Howl’s Moving Castle is anime legend Hayao Miyazaki’s (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) heartfelt adaptation of British author Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name, in which a plucky 18-year-old named Sophie befriends Howl, an eccentric young wizard who lives in a (you guessed it!) moving castle. When a witch’s curse transforms Sophie into an old woman, she hides out in Howl’s castle and attempts to reverse its effects. If you haven’t already gotten your hands on one of the international Blu-rays of the film, it’ll be available this week.
Belgian comic book hero Tintin has a lot in common with Indiana Jones, so it’s no surprise that Steven Spielberg has brought the young reporter/adventurer to the big screen. And critics say The Adventures of Tintin is an action-packed, technically resplendent escapade that’s light on plot and character development but heavy on fun. This motion-captured adaptation of Herge’s red-headed hero finds Tintin (Jamie Bell), his faithful dog Snowy, and the slovenly Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) on a globe-trotting mission to find ancient treasure, all the while tailed by the evil Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig). The pundits say the Certified FreshAdventures of Tintin is a beautifully crafted, gleefully escapist affair that should please the whole family.
After being adapted in its native Swedish, Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gets a Hollywood reboot courtesy of David Fincher, and critics say it’s thrilling and stylishly sleek, with a star-making performance from Rooney Mara. Daniel Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvis, a disgraced journalist who’s asked by a wealthy industrialist to investigate an unsolved murder. With the help of the brilliant but troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Mara), Mikael soon finds that this cold case is full of dangerous secrets. The pundits say the Certified FreshGirl With the Dragon Tattoo is riveting — it’s briskly paced and darkly atmospheric, and Mara nails Lisbeth, one of recent fiction’s most memorable characters.
Cameron Crowe makes movies about nice people, and critics say his latest, We Bought a Zoo, radiates good-natured charm. Based on a true story, it’s the tale of Benjamin (Matt Damon), a widower who moves his two children to a dilapidated zoological park. There, Benjamin works to restore the zoo to its former glory, and finds the cure for his soul sickness in the process. The pundits say that while We Bought a Zoo is clichéd and sappy, it’s also a lot of fun, with a warmhearted spirit that’s tough to resist. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Scarlett Johansson’s best-reviewed movies.
Spielberg’s busy this holiday season; critics say his other new movie, War Horse, is an old-fashioned movie, with all the good and bad that comes with such a characterization; in other words, it’s heartfelt and rousing, but also sometimes sentimental and schmaltzy. Jeremy Irvine stars as Albert, who trains and bonds with a horse named Joey; when World War I breaks out, Joey is taken off to battle, and as he moves across the war zone, he touches lives on both sides of the conflict. The pundits say War Horse is sometimes corny and melodramatic, but it’s also sweet, stirring, and beautifully photographed.
It looks like the folks behind The Darkest Hour have taken a cue from Ebenezer Scrooge — they’ve been miserly with critics’ screenings of The Darkest Hour. The movie follows a group of youngsters stranded in Moscow who must fight off an alien invasion. Kids, take time out from last minute shopping and guess the Tomatometer! (Also, check out star Emile Hirsch’s Five Favorite Films here).