A few years ago we were studying World War 2, and we watched a lot of World War 2 movies with my kids. I wrote down all of the movies I watched with my kids (the movies for all ages, because my oldest were in 1st grade). I wrote down all of the World War 2 movies I knew about and shared it with everyone. Apparently, I’m not the only one searching out good movies to watch with my family, and y’all have a lot of suggestions.
As of June 2017, I’ve gone in and added in the other suggested movies, and then added in a few more I remembered watching. I’m adding your suggestions at the bottom with the caveat of I haven’t personally watched them to give comment on what’s going on. I also only included the movies I could find on Amazon.
Just as we did when learning about the Depression we watched several movies, and I know of several more that are a great way to learn about the era. Many of these I haven’t watched for years, so my memory may be a little fuzzy.
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World War 2 Movies for All Ages
- Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front– based off the books and doll, this movie as it says in the title covers what it’s like here in America. It uses terms from the period and you get a glimpse of a child’s life at the time.
- Miracle of the White Stallions – This is a classic Disney movie, and has the pacing of the 60s, so it’s a bit slower, but well worth it. It covers how Patton (who I learned from this movie competed in the Olympics and did quite well) helped save the Lipinzzaner stallions. I have to admit I first watched this solely for the horses, and it’s still my main reason for watching it, but it does give you a bit of a glimpse into life behind Axis lines in Austria.
- The Sound of Music– Who wasn’t expecting this one to show up? We didn’t watch this one, much to Jeff’s relief, but it’s a great look at the opposition to annexation in Austria, and how quickly people turn on each other.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks Enchanted Musical Edition– I include this one not because it has anything to do with fact, but it shows a bit of the feeling of the era in Britain. How the children were sent far away from London to keep them safe, and how everyone was quite sure and paranoid of a German invasion of Britain. **as a warning, there is witchcraft and fantastical creatures in it, if that concerns you.** You can also use the beginning part of “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” for this as well.” Which when we watched it a few weeks ago, we did discuss.
Movies y’all said down in the comments that I was able to find and I think might fit into the everyone category
- Miracle at Midnight
- The Only Way
- Hidden in Silence
- Mrs. Miniver
- Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines
- Father Goose
- Since You Went Away
Because I’m curious how many movies I have now, I’m changing this over to a numbered list. That makes 11
World War 2 Movies for Elementary Age and UP
Movies here are often here because they’re a bit longer and require more attention, there are many many movies made during the 50s and 60s that fit here. Many of these you could watch with your preschooler, but they will be born.
- Casablanca– Life under occupied French Morrocco, some great lines, but will be rather dry for younger elementary however, the girls will all love the star-crossed lovers.
- Battle of Britain– This is one I haven’t watched yet, but was going to watch with the kids until Jeff brought up that they won’t have the attention span for it.
- Bridge On The River Kwai– I know this movie from reading George Takei’s auto-biography back in high school/college (somewhere in there). This one takes place in the Pacific Theater, so it’s not one the kids and I covered as much
- The Diary of Anne Frank– I believe this is the version I watched in 8th grade. I would not show this to anyone younger than 10 because it is a hard subject, but it should be shown to a child in junior high. They are the perfect age because they are within a few years of her.
- A League of Their Own– I watched this in the movie theaters, and was reminded of it the other day and knew I had to add it into this list. It could almost move into the everyone category, but I remember it having a few scenes, and possibly being a bit slow for younger kids.
This next section are the ones Jeff added in, that are for upper elementary/middle school, I haven’t seen these, but basing it off of the time period they were made (1960s), you’re fairly safe having your upper elementary/middle school kids watch these.
- The Battle of Midway– This also covers the Pacific Theater, and gives a great view of life.
- The Great Escape– This details the escape from an internment camp in Germany lines. It’s described as a great prison escape movie AND war movie, I have since seen large parts of this and my boys were quite amused by it.
- Von Ryan’s Express – Set behind Germany lines during late of World War 2, as an American tries to lead a group of British POWs to escape, and along the way they try to sabotage German armies.
- A Bridge Too Far– The story of Market Garden, which to listen to Jeff was one of the great failures on the part of the Allies. It’s fun to listen to him rage on about the idiocy of it.
- The Desert Fox– A tribue to Erwin Rommel, a German military strategist, and according to Jeff one of the better movies on the period.
That’s 10 more movies, bringing us up to 21 movies.
World War 2 Movies for High School
Movies in this category either have violence or sex, or are just very heavy in content. I will freely admit I haven’t seen many of these because I don’t do well with violence, if I have not seen it I will note it.
- Saving Private Ryan– This would be the movie that convinced me I can’t really handle violence. It gives a very realistic portrayal of war, there is a lot of violence, blood, and language.
- Schindler’s List– Because of seeing Saving Private Ryan, I just wasn’t willing to go see Schindler’s List, I am sure when we cycle back to modern history I will be showing this movie or parts of it to my kids. What little of this I’ve seen is heartbreaking.
- Band of Brothers– I have not seen this one yet. It’s an HBO series, so it’s going to be more violent and probably contain language. Jeff said the boys are on the verge of being able to handle this. When I asked Jeff he said if you watch one, watch this one.
- Pearl Harbor– I didn’t go see this one because the previews emphasized the love story involved, and I wasn’t interested in that. So, my caveats are it’s produced in the last 10 years, so it will have more realism and since there’s a love interest probably sex scenes.
- Enemy At The Gates– This is set in Stalingrad after Germany’s invasion of Russia, when the Russians weren’t doing so well. It follows a sniper who had tremendous successes in killing German officers and the hope it gave them. Definitely violence and there is one sex scene (that I remember, though not much skin is shown, it’s winter in Russia, but much is implied).
- Hacksaw Ridge– I’m going to tell you right now, I have been warned I cannot handle this movie. My husband saw it and loved it, and said when our boys are in high school he’s showing it to them.
- The Zookeeper’s Wife– If you have a very mature junior higher, they might be able to handle it. The previews looked less emotionally suspenseful and we started to watch it with our kids (at age 12 and 10), part of the way into it we decided to stop watching it with them. I think in a few years, 13 for my youngest we will reassess.
Okay, I had significantly fewer movies than I thought, I’m only up to around 30 movies. I guess it seems so much more when I originally wrote this and put it in one crazy long list.
What movies would you suggest watching to learn about this subject?
For more US history ideas check out my pinterest board:
More movieschooling ideas
- Great Depression era movies
- American Revolution movies
- Shakespeare at the movies
- Books made into a movie by grade level (I have over 200 movies so far on that list, and I add it to each year)
I originally published this April 1, 2013, but I’m updating and republishing
Kirsten @ Homeschool Discoveries says
Thanks for sharing your resources about 20th century US History! We’ll be “there” next year so I am excited to come back and revisit these resources next year when we get to these time periods. My boys ask me regularly “when are we going to get to World War 2?” I know we’ll spend a lot of time on that once we get there!
Lula B says
Great list! I’m pinning for when we get there (if we ever leave the Middle Ages!)
maryanne @ mama smiles says
I have only seen “The Sound of Music” from your for all ages section – I’ll have to watch the others with the kids!
Maybe White Christmas for all ages even though most of the movie is set in post-war era. I was raised on lots and lots of Russian movies about WWII, and some of them were real tear-jerkers. Not for children, but I do recommend Come and See (that’s an English name for the movie) for adults as a good sample of Russian film making about WWII.
Great selections. Our guys will be high school age by the time we get to this era (if indeed we ever get there!) so most of these will be great for them. Thanks for the list!
Amanda E says
For jr and sr high I definitely recommend Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (streaming or DVD on Netflix). It is about some of the young people involved in the White Rose resistance group in Germany during WW I. It is a really great film.
Amanda E says
oops–I meant WWII not WW I.
You can also watch it on hoopla (library video libraries)
Samantha Shank says
If your high schooler only watches one of them, make sure its Band of Brothers. Love love love love love that. Never heard of Miracle of the White Stallions but will check into it. The only other WWII movie for younger kids is Valiant, its Disney, rated G and animated.
No sex in Pearl Harbor. But the attack is horrible 🙁 interesting info about the Doolittle Raid.
Awesome! Good to know.
Lindsay @ Bytes of Memory says
Great job with your list of movies! I just knew sound of music was going to be on this list.. this is my mom and sister’s favorite movie.. me.. *ahem* not so much (I was the younger sister.. I feel like that should explain a lot)! Whew Saving Private Ryan was intense.. One of my great Uncles drove a boat up to shore and back out to get more troups (for some crazy amount of time straight – sleeping only when the troops were loading) on D-Day and I can’t imagine what he must have been feeling!
Amy Pak says
Band of Brothers was an excellent series, but definitely LOTS of language. There is also one brief sex scene that comes out of no where (it’s in one of the later episodes), after Market Garden, I think… Just a heads-up! I highly recommend “The Fighting Sullivans”… it’s a true story and the inspiration for “Saving Private Ryan.”
Here are a few other selections:
– Miracle at Midnight
– The Only Way
– Hidden in Silence
– Mrs. Miniver
– The Scarlet and the Black
– The Longest Day
– Tora! Tora! Tora!
– Silent Night
– Walt Disney Treasures – On the Front Lines
– The League of Grateful Sons, Vision Forum Ministries (Available through Vision Forum: https://www.visionforum.com)
– The Great Dictator (although a Charlie Chaplin film and G rated, this is a more mature satire, created in 1939 and premiering in 1940 in the thick of Germany’s rise to power.)
– World War II: Homefront Series (Not Rated, A collection of patriotic short films of the era, many hosted by Hollywood celebrities)
– The Hiding Place
– The Fighting Sullivans
Ooohhh, those are some good ones I didn’t know about. I showed the kids some of the short films of the era on youtube and they thought it was really interesting.
Amy Pak says
I don’t know if you were planning on incorporating any audio, but that’s another media that makes studying the topic interesting! We publish history curriculum and just did a Time Traveler on WWII two years ago. If you are interested in radio theater, this one was really good:
– Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom (Radio Theatre), Paul McCusker and Focus on the Family
I hadn’t, but I’ll agree every audio drama I’ve listened to by Focus on the Family has been great.
The sex scene in BoB is at the beginning of episode 9, when they find Kaufering IV (the concentration camp). there’s another scene when they are showering but the scene is brief. Other than that no sexual content.
Sophie Scholl is on YouTube.. and so is The Hiding Place and Escape From Sobibor. Escape from Sobibor is about how 300/600 prisoners escaped from a concentration camp. There is one nudity scene, but it is in a grotesque way rather than sexual.
I am TOTALLY loving how everyone is adding the movies they know of from the time period, this is becoming such an awesome resource.
Watched the movie Miracle of the White Stallions. It was a bit long, but my family and I loved it! Thanks for sharing!
Yea! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Hidden in Silence and Bonhoeffer’s movie are great! There is a slight sex scene in Pearl Harbor, but you easily FF that…
I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Life is Beautiful yet. Plugged In has recommended it for a movie night! It is the only movie that has successfully and appropriately mixed the Holocaust with…humor. Rated PG-13, all violence is offscreen and no sex and one humorous mention of “jacka**”
42 Ways to Kill Hitler is a great NatGeo documentary about the FORTY TWO assassination attempts on Hitler…and the guy survived every single one of them.
Defiance is a movie about the Jewish partisans, how they saved 700-something Jews while surviving in the forest. Rated R for violence and language, but so good!!
The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler is my favorite movie of all time. It is a Hallmark movie about a young woman who rescued 2,500 (that is not a typo) children from the Warsaw Ghetto. (I watched this on Youtube)
Not for the faint of heart, but another great one is the docudrama The Relief of Belsen. Lots of violence, lots of concentration camp footage, and lots of profanity. However, the liberation of Belsen was known as the biggest medical relief in history. A lot of it was re-enacted, but the footage is horrifically grotesque. But, still a great medical story. (also on youtube)
I think me and your husband would get along quite well – I could talk about WWII movies ALL DAY LONG. The time period never ceases to amaze me. The courage and valor of people who rescued Jews and served our country is definitely worth remembering!
I cannot wait for Christmas 2014..Unbroken is coming out! The subject, Louie Zamperini, was an Olympian, survived 47 days on an inflated raft with no food or water, became a Japanese POW for 2 years, and afterwards found Christ in a Billy Graham tent and dedicated his life to Christ!
I love the suggestions listed here, thank you! I had also thought of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”
I haven’t heard of that one before, thanks for the new recommendation.
“the boy in striped pyjamas” is really amazing, would recommend it for around age 13-14. also, read the book! would also like to recommend “the book thief” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dRuGwS1gWU).
and for age 15-16 or higher “simon and the oaks”, it’s such fine acting and includes very beautiful scenes (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80_L_LsOexE). x
Swing Kids is a good one. There are some adult themes, but it is a great movie to show what happened to kids in Germany during the war.
It was one of my favorites in college, but like you said there’s some definite adult themes, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve caught on to more of them than I did in college.
John S. says
Instead of Pearl Harbor, I would suggest Tora! Tora! Tora! (showing both Japanese and American perspectives) Instead of Enemy at the Gates (great book, bad movie) there is a German film called “Stalingrad” which is better, more realistic and more difficult.
Other good movies would include “To Hell and Back” – Audie Murphy; “The Longest Day” D-Day (again multiple perspectives); “Stalag 17” (POW experiance); “Letters from Iwo Jima” Japanese point of view; “Das Boot” German U Boat War; ” 12 O’Clock High” air war over Europe.
Of course it can go on and on.
I hadn’t heard of those before. Thanks for the great additions. It’s always good to find movies with different perspectives.
WW2 seems to be a time period people are endlessly fascinated with, and the number of movies people have suggested I didn’t know about is ever growing.
We love WWII movies! There are so many good ones, although they’re not necessarily about the actual history but are just set in the time period. I don’t think I saw “Patton” on anyone’s suggestions. We also like “In Harm’s Way”; although that one has some adult themes, so it would only be for high schoolers and above. It starts the night before the Pearl Harbor invasion. I second the suggestion of “12 O’Clock High”; it’s one of my personal favorites. You can’t go wrong with Gregory Peck! 🙂
There really are an amazing assortment of WW2 movies. You certainly can’t go wrong with Gregory Peck.
Lis Richardson says
Two films our DC have watched numerous times:
The Dam Busters (1955). About Barnes Wallace and making practical his idea of a bouncing bomb (to attack Germany’s dams in the hopes of crippling their heavy industry).
Also, Reach for the Sky (1956). A biographical film about aviator Douglas Bader. He loses both his legs in a crash but goes on to fly again.
Toni Maturo says
We have a copy of the 1944 movie: “Since You Went Away” with a teenage Shirley Temple, and Claudette Colbert as her mother. Wonderful tear-jerker, (happy ending, though) about an American mother and her two nearly grown daughters waiting for the War to be over and their father to return home!
Also, There is a movie a few years old called, “From Time to Time”, by Julian Fellowes –‘Downton Abbey’). It is about a boy, (Alex Etel, ‘Waterhorse’) who goes to live with his grandmother in England while his mother searches for his father who has gone missing. There is a time travel/ghost thing going on about ancestors, but we enjoyed it and watched it over and over, not just as a science fiction flick, but as an historical/fiction story. Maggie Smith plays a perfect “proper English” grandmother!
These are two of our most favorite. My daughter and I just finished watching the 1st Season of “Home Fires”, on Masterpiece Theater which about the Women’s Institute in England who banded together to feed their towns during the War. We can’t wait until next year for Season 2. This, I would recommend for the early college age, though as content is a bit ‘modern’.
I haven’t heard of either of those movies, they sound interesting.
Cindy Badon says
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of A Friendship in Vienna, it’s FABULOUS for elementary grade students. It’s about two young girls – one Jewish and one from a German family following Hitler – and how their world and friendship changes.
Sadly, the production company filed bankruptcy afterwards and the film was limited release on vhs only after playing on the Disney Channel for awhile back in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
Beautifully acted by Ed Asner, Jenny Lewis, Jane Alexander, and Steven Macht, among others, it is exquisitely detailed and based on Doris Orgel’s book A Devil in Vienna.
I think you can find it on YouTube now!
I’ll have to look that one up, it sounds perfect (and probably a little sad).
The Boy in the striped Pyjamas?
Great list though!
I know this is an old thread, but I find it interesting and had to contribute with ‘The Bridge’.
1945, Germany is being overrun, and nobody is left to fight but teenagers. In Denmark every kid see ‘The Bridge’ in secondary school.
I’m always happy to find out about new movies for this era, and it certainly sounds interesting to me. What age range would you say it’s for?
Here’s two I haven’t seen mentioned in the thread…
If you have any soccer players or fans in the house, Victory (PG, 1981) is a good family WWII movie. As allied POWs prepare for a soccer game against the German National Team to be played in Nazi-occupied Paris, the French Resistance and British officers are making plans for the team’s escape. Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pele star.
Another one that I recall as a kid was Night Crossing (PG, 1982) – good family film. Two men want to escape from East Germany but they will only go if they can take their families with them. And they plan an escape in a hot air balloon. John Hurt and Jane Alexander star.
Night Crossing sounds vaguely familiar to me. I wonder if I saw it as a kid.
This really did happen. Families build a hot air balloon and escaped, or tried to escape East Germany. Didn’t know there was a movie.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
The Book thief
The Secret Garden (at the beginning)
I’ll add those in.
I thought Secret Garden (the beginning) was set in World War 1?
W B says
I know this is after the fact, but “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is the best-done WWII movie I have ever seen! It is very clean–no sex, no nudity, no (or very little) swearing, but it absolutely draws out the emotional horror of the war. I’d recommend for upper elementary and up just because it deals with the content straightforward rather than being just a story set during the war.
I’ll add that one in.
Richard Down says
I also recommemend the Cruel Sea, a seminal film on the Atlantic Convoys War (wonderful performance by Jack Hawkins) and for teens Das Boot about the same battle from the view of a German Uboat crew which gets very gripping and tense
John Boormans autobiographical Hope and Glory shows rather quirky English family life and can be seen by all ages
The other great Pow movie would be Colditz where the story is as much about incarceration as escape. There are so many more but as a Brit I though I would concentrate on some of ours than the ones you probably already know about
I’ll try looking those up! It’s amazing to me how many World War 2 movies there are, and how I can never keep this list 100% up to date.
Beth Rickerts says
“The Devil’s Arithmetic” is a novel and a movie about the Holocaust.
Also, about the Holocaust, “Paperclips”.
For me deffinately the winner is Life is beautiful and also remember Empire of the sun showing the war seen from kid’s perspective! And great Sophie’s choice with Meryl Streep.
Lisa Leyendekker says
I would also recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” about a german officer’s young son befriending a young Jewish boy who is interred in a concentration camp. Warning: there is some implied violence and the ending is emotional. I’d also recommend “In This Corner of the World” which details the Japanese civilian perspective of WWII and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. it is also Animated. “Grave of the Fireflies” is another Japanese civilian perspective on the war and is quite sad. Would recommend it for older kids. finally Memiors of a iesha takes place around the time of WWII and focuses on the geisha culture, but there is set in Japan during WWII. “Ip Man” is inspired by a true story of a Chinese Win Chun master (who taught Bruce Lee) and survived japanese occupation during WWII. it’s also a pretty great martial arts film.
PT 109, the mostly true story of JFK captaining a PT boat in the South Pacific in WW I I. My now grown son rented it so many times from the neighborhood video store when he was 7 or 8 that the owner recommended he check out the Sea Cadets. He joined and stayed in through high school but ended up at West Point with later deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He now is a major in the Army Reserves. We just watched it with his 6 and 8 year old boys at a sleepover at our house and they loved it. Great movie for all ages.
The Wooden Horse – True story of an ingenious escape from a POW camp using a wooden vaulting horse! 1950 film.
Natalie PlanetSmartys says
It’s fun to see how you updated this post. We still don’t watch WWII movies as it hits too close to home for our Russian-German-Jewish family 🙂
You find the best movies for learning.
Alexander Sheng says
I don’t believe World Wars 1 & 2 are appropriate subjects for children but it may depend on what is discussed like for example anything Nazi related isn’t going to fly with younger audiences being too dark.
If you notice, none of the movies I’m recommending for the whole family really have much to do with Nazi related material.
Molly: An American Girl story is the story of an 8 year old girl in the US dealing with the changes in her family when her Dad goes to the war
The Miracle of the White Stallions is the story of American soldiers trying to save horses, no battles, nothing negative really mentioned. Gorgeous horses
Sound of Music you probably know
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is about British children adapting to living in a new home outside of London.
Of the movies others have suggested, I’ve only seen Father Goose, and it’s a comedy set in the Pacific Theater, with no combat, just a silly comedy.
The Hiding Place is a great book which they made into a movie.
I would like to add The Monuments Men. A different perspective on the goals of Nazi Germany trying to erase history.
Sarah Smyth says
Goodnight Mister Tom is a movie based on the book, it’s set in London during WW2 about the children being sent to the countryside.