Of all the armed conflicts that have shaken humanity, World War II has probably been the most extensively covered by the seventh art. However, before the whole world heard that second call to arms, the First Great War had been splashing the screens worldwide for a long time with epic tales of courage, honor, and tragedy.
Trying to spot differences between both conflicts, it’s easy to pinpoint the sense of stillness that defined WWI battles. Trench warfare was all about resistance and attrition, and some scripts (Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front) have wonderfully captured the exhausting, maddening stillness that often meant thousands of deaths in exchange for a few meters of territory.
In fact, arguably the most popular WWI heroes belong to the skies, where a new revolutionary form of battle was starting to take shape.
Daring producers, like Howard Hughes, exploited the drama and the showiness of the airborne conflict in titles such as Wings, Aces High, and The Blue Max.
Land-based heroes would also get their ticket to immortality, courtesy of film stars such as Gary Cooper (Sergeant York), Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), and Mel Gibson (Galipolli).
In just a few months (November 2018), the end of the war will reach its 100th anniversary. And still today, modern filmmakers keep bringing us back to it; sometimes to replicate its brutality with today’s standards, sometimes to tell a new story of hope and glory in the midst of madness.
These are some of the most popular WWI film scripts:
(1932) Farewell To Arms
(1938) Dawn Patrol
(1941) Sergeant York
(1951) The African Queen
(1957) Paths of Glory
(1962) Lawrence of Arabia
(1971) Johnny Got his Gun
(2004) A Very Long Engagement
(2011) War Horse