Why Are World War II Films So Universally Popular?

Dunkirk is the latest in a long string of successfully WWII films.

July 29, 2017 5:00 am

Dunkirk is the latest World War II-themed movie to be released in theaters, and as a testament to the subject matter’s enduring popularity, it made  $69.5 million in just six days. It was among a half-dozen WWII titles that have arrived at the box office in the past year alone, and there are more on the way.

So what is it about World War II movies that makes them so appealing to movie-going audiences?

The BBC asked this question at a recent screening of Stephen Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image.��One person said because she’s younger, she watches movies based in this era to try to understand what was going on in the world. Another said that war represented the “ultimate example of good versus evil.”

BBC also noted that films like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan are so popular because they present Americans with a flattering image of themselves.

“WWII films are so popular because they take us back to a war where America was acting nobly, and you haven’t had that in recent wars,” David D’Arcy, a film critic, said to BBC.

Not only was America acting nobly, but the stakes were extremely high. Plus, it is easy for audiences to understand battle lines and a clear victory. It yields a “satisfying narrative.”

Alison Willmore, film critic from Buzzfeed News, says that the WWII films have the clearest sense of purpose compared to recent wars, which have seemed endless and lack a clear objective.

In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan used real ships and planes and more than a 1,000 experts. BBC says filmmakers are motivated to make films because they get to work with a grand canvas, but there is also a lot of relatively untapped material to pull from.

Watch the full piece from the BBC to learn more.

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