War Movie

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The war film as a film genre comprises those feature films , i.e. cinema or television films , in which the armed conflicts provide the background for the characters and whose storylines run entirely or largely in a war scenario. In contrast to adventure films , historical films or ancient films with battle scenes, the genre war film is understood to be the cinematic reflection of mechanized modern wars since the First World War. The first verifiable war film is Combat naval en Grèce ( Sea Battle in Greece ) by Georges Méliès from 1897, the plot of which is set in the Turkish-Greek War .


In the current discussion in media studies, only feature films and not documentaries are considered to be war films in the strict sense of the word . A consensus on how much war there has to be in a film to make it a war film can only be found rudimentary. Since the occurrence of conflicts and their resolution through various types of violence is basically necessary in all genres in order to create a dramatic structure , war has always been an option because of the physical and psychological threats that take place in it Background the hero's struggle to illustrate his fate . That is why there are often elements of war

While some authors want to count these films as war films, the majority opinion is to only designate those films as war films that have the armed conflicts of the 20th century as a theme or background. However, this also includes films from that - partly in wider form - past wars centuries broach ( Alexander , 2004 or Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World , 2003) and then, rather than historical films are called. An exception in the US are the films about the Civil War , which is already counted among the modern wars and films against this background are therefore considered war films.

Anti-war film

In contrast, the term anti-war film - used differently by director Francis Ford Coppola - no longer denotes a genre of its own in the more recent discussion of film studies , but is only used as a predicate for those war films that show the horrors of war with a conscious intention to encourage peace. Such a predicate, however, is highly subjective; there are hardly any films that are undisputedly considered anti-war films.

Examples of anti-war films are:

Features of the war film

Put simply, the war film thematizes on the narrative level confrontations using modern weapons and war technology . A characteristic of modern warfare is the complete anonymization of the individual soldier due to the long range and the often great destruction potential of modern weapons . In a counter-movement to this, the war films of the 1980s increasingly show the male corporeality and an archaic warrior ( Rambo , 1982), while more recent war films in particular stage the vulnerability of the human body to injury and the possibility of its destruction. An example of this is Saving Private Ryan (1998).

This means that the statements of war films range between the extreme poles of war propaganda ( Sands of Iwo Jima / You were our comrade , R .: Allan Dwan , 1949; Von Richthofen and Braun / Manfred von Richthofen - Der Rote Baron , R .: Roger Corman , 1970) and unreflective glorification of violence ( Rambo: First Blood Part II / Rambo II - The Order , 1985) to criticism of the principle of war and pacifism in anti-war films ( Die go through Hell / The Deer Hunter , R .: Michael Cimino , USA 1978; Vietnam War; Coming Home - R .: Hal Ashby , 1978, Vietnam War).

This integration of the individual in the collective “military machine” is illustrated in many films when the main character learns as a recruit to fit into everyday military life ( Full Metal Jacket , 1987 or in Jarhead - Willkommen im Dreck , 2005). Nevertheless, the main character has to prove himself as an individual here too . In most war films, this happens because the main character becomes as perfect a soldier as possible , in other words: by mastering the war, the hero regains his individuality .

On the basis of visual, auditory and narrative characteristics, the basic structure of war films can be described as follows:

  • The war film is a mixture of fictional (film plot) and non-fictional elements (historically existing theater of war, type and effect of the weapons). Even if the story is fictional, the viewer is aware that what is shown could have taken place in this way or in a similar way. At the same time, the viewer usually knows which groups are facing each other and what the historical outcome of this conflict was. On the one hand, this increases the audience's demands on the reality content of the film in contrast to z. B. the action film , on the other hand, the war film has a certain "memorial function" due to its proximity to what actually happened - it keeps the horrors of past wars in memory.
  • The different locations and weapons of the war have a major influence on the dramaturgy of the war film: Pacific island war, war in Europe with city bombing and trench warfare, Vietnam war with jungle war, desert war with sun, thirst, disorientation, long distances and massive tank battles, civil war with house-to-house fighting or war in Japan with atomic bombing differ just as much as the dramaturgy of the armed forces: aerial warfare ( Battle of Britain , 1969 ), trench warfare ( Nothing new in the West, 1930 ), submarine warfare ( Das Boot, 1981 ), guerrilla warfare ( La Milagrosa / Guerrilla War - Caught in Hell, 2008 ), civil war ( Viva la muerte - Long live death, 1971 ), depiction of prison camps ( As far as your feet carry , 2001) , or an attempt at historical reconstruction with all branches of service ( The longest day , 1961)
  • The protagonist of the war film is either, as indicated above, an individual who has to prove himself in the situation of war and army and must go through a development, or a number of different individuals who have to develop into a unit across internal differences in order to be successful Mastering threats.

These plots lead some of the audience to idealize war and soldiery - as “ character forge ” or “true camaraderie among men” in a military community.

  • The war film is staged as a visual-auditory spectacle. In the cinematic implementation of the fighting, the war film uses stunts , pyrotechnic and auditory effects that are similar to those of the action film . This or the flood of visual and auditory impressions can make critical reflection of the film difficult. This accusation is often made in the film Apocalypse Now (D: Francis Ford Coppola , USA 1979).

Examples of successful war films

The following influential films can be named as examples:

Science and Research

War films are the subject of investigation and research in various scientific disciplines, e.g. B. film studies and history .


  • Werner Barg, Thomas Plöger, Peter Wilckens: Cinema of Cruelty: the films of: Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino. Ed .: Bundesverband Jugend und Film eV (BJF). Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-89017-147-8 .
  • Thomas Bohrmann, Mathias Grandl: "Every war is different, every war is the same": War in the film. In: Thomas Bohrmann, Werner Veith, Stephan Zöller (Eds.): Handbuch Theologie und Popular Film. Volume 1. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 978-3-506-72963-7 , pp. 79-94.
  • Peter Bürger: Cinema of Fear. Terror, war and statecraft from Hollywood. 1st edition. Butterfly Verlag, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-89657-471-X . 2nd Edition. (complete and advanced). Butterfly Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-89657-472-5 .
  • Peter Bürger: Image machine for war. The cinema and the militarization of world society. Heise, Hannover 2007, ISBN 978-3-936931-45-7 .
  • Nikolaus Buschmann, Dieter Langewiesche (ed.): The war in the founding myths of European nations and the USA. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-593-37368-8 .
  • Bernhard Chiari (ed.): War and the military in the film of the 20th century. Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-486-56716-0 .
  • Benedikt Descourvières: War cuts: “Ways to Fame”, “Full metal jacket” and “Independence day” in German lessons. Gardez! -Verlag, Sankt Augustin 2002, ISBN 3-89796-078-8 .
  • Women, Film (Issue 61): War & Cinema: no mail days are sad days . Stroemfeld, Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-87877-861-9 .
  • Heller, Heinz-B .; Röwekamp, ​​Burkhard; Steinle, Matthias (ed.): All Quiet on the Genre Front? On the practice and theory of war films . Marburg: Schüren 2007 (fade in. Writings on film 12). DOI: https://doi.org/10.25969/mediarep/14359
  • Carsten Hennig: Rebirth of a Nation - The cinema in the American war discourse. In: Newsletter Working Group Military History (NLAKM) 23 October 2004.
  • Knut Hickethier (Ed.): The film in history: Documentation of the GFF conference. Edition Sigma, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-89404-917-0 .
  • Gebhard Hölzl , Matthias Peipp: Go to hell, Charlie !: The Vietnam War in American films. Heyne, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-453-04630-7 .
  • Stephan Jaeger, Christer Petersen (ed.): Signs of war in literature, film and the media. Volume II: Ideologization and De-ideologization. Ludwig, Kiel 2006, ISBN 3-937719-00-8 .
  • Ernst Karpf (Red.): Cinema and war: the fascination of a deadly genre. Edited by the Evangelical Academy Arnoldshain and the joint venture of Evangelical Journalism eV; Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-921766-41-9 ( Arnoldshainer Film Talk. Volume 6).
  • Andre Kagelmann, Reinhold Keiner: “Death begins to reap casually, humans and animals.” Considerations on Ernst Johannsen's novel Vier von der Infanterie and GW Pabst's film WESTFRONT 1918. In: Ernst Johannsen: Vier von der Infanterie. Her last days on the Western Front in 1918. Ed. same. Media Net-Edition, Kassel 2014, ISBN 978-3-939988-23-6 , pp. 80-113.
  • Thomas Klein, Marcus Stiglegger , Bodo Traber: Film genres: War film. Reclam, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-15-018411-8 .
  • Siegfried Kracauer : From Caligari to Hitler. A psychological history of German film. Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-518-28079-1 .
  • Martin Löffelholz (Ed.): War as a media event, Volume 2: Crisis communication in the 21st century. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-531-13997-5 .
  • Harald Müller : Democracy, the media and the Iraq war. On the war discourse in Europe and America. Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research , Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISSN  0945-9332 (PRIF standpoints No. 6/2003 ; online brief description; PDF; 150 kB ).
  • Eckhard Pabst: “Let's go and get this thing done!” - War as the continuation of cultural differences by other means in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. In: Christer Petersen (ed.): Signs of war in literature, film and the media. Volume I: North America and Europe. Ludwig, Kiel 2004, ISBN 3-933598-81-8 , pp. 170-194.
  • Gerhard Paul: Images of War - War of Images. The visualization of modern war. Schöningh, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-506-71739-1 (Schöningh, formerly: ISBN 3-7705-4053-0 (Fink)).
  • Christer Petersen: The Unknown Enemy - Vietnam in the Cinematic Discourse. In: Christer Petersen (ed.): Signs of war in literature, film and the media. Volume I: North America and Europe. Ludwig, Kiel 2004, ISBN 3-933598-81-8 , pp. 194-231.
  • Stefan Reinecke : Hollywood goes Vietnam. The Vietnam War in American Films. Hitzeroth, Marburg 1993, ISBN 3-89398-115-2 .
  • Rikke Schubart, Fabian Virchow, Debra White-Stanley, Tanja Thomas (eds.): War Isn´t Hell, It's Entertainment. Essays on Visual Media and the Representation of Conflict. Jefferson, NC / London (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers) 2009, ISBN 978-0-7864-3558-6 .
  • Michael Strübel (Ed.): Film and War. The staging of politics between apologetics and apocalypse. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2002, ISBN 3-8100-3288-3 .
  • Paul Virilio : War and Cinema. Logistics of perception. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-596-26645-9 .
  • Paul Virilio: War and Television. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-596-13778-0 .
  • Nicole Weigel-Klinck: The processing of the Vietnam trauma in the US American feature film since 1968. Coppi-Verlag, Alfeld / Leine 1996, ISBN 3-930258-35-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: War film  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Definition of genre war film: Film genres: war film, ed. Stiglegger / Klein / Traber, reclam, 2006, p. 10. and further: "War in war film is always about modernity and the specific development of nation states ." Ibid., P. 10.
  2. See Knut Hickethier: Film and television analysis. 3rd, revised edition. Stuttgart - Weimar 2001., p. 192f.
  3. See the description by Gerhard Hroß: The function of violence in film. In: Hausmanninger, Thomas / Bohrmann, Thomas (eds.), Medial violence. Interdisciplinary and ethical perspectives, Munich 2002, pp. 136–145.
  4. about Hanns-Otto Horst: War Films. An overview. In: Büttner, Christian / Gottberg, Joachim von / Kladzinski, Magdalena (Hrsg.): War in screen media . For the political orientation of young people between staging and reality. Munich 2005, p. 165.
  5. Cf. Marcus Stiglegger: Article war film. In: Thomas Koebner : Reclams Sachlexikon des Films. Stuttgart 2002, p. 322.
  6. "All war films are anti-war films". Rebecca Winters Keegan: 10 Questions for Francis Ford Coppola. In: Time . August 14, 2006, accessed on May 15, 2008 (English): "All war movies are antiwar movies [...]"
  7. Cf. on the following Georg Seeßlen : From steel thunderstorms to the jungle fighting machine. Changes in the war and the war film. In: Evangelical Academy Arnoldshain (Doron Kiesel); Joint work of Evangelical Journalism e. V .: Cinema and War. On the fascination of a deadly genre (Arnoldshainer Film Talks 6), Frankfurt am Main 1989, pp. 20ff.
  8. See Bohrmann, Thomas, Grandl, Mathias: Every war is different. Every war is the same: war in the film. In: Thomas Bohrmann u. a .: Handbook Theology and Popular Film Volume 1. Schöningh, Paderborn 2007, p. 82f.
  9. Film genres: War film, ed. Stiglegger / Klein / Traber, reclam, 2006, pp. 11–15.