The best war movie ever? Results are in . . .
WASHINGTON — Stars and Stripes conducted a poll to see which war movie our readers thought was the best of all time. After 30 days, and more than 4,300 votes, we have a winner.
Participants in the online poll overwhelmingly picked Steven Spielberg’s World War II masterpiece, “Saving Private Ryan,” as the best war movie of all time.
Its primary draw, as one commenter noted, is “that twenty-minute stretch for the beginning will captivate anyone who watches,” referencing the film’s gripping depiction of Ranger Capt. John Miller’s men as they storm the beaches of Normandy
Released in 1998 to almost universal acclaim, the film follows Miller and his squad finding a soldier who would be the only surviving sibling of the war.
The film was nominated for 11 Awards and won five, including Steven Spielberg for directing. It lost best picture to “Shakespeare in Love.”
The poll, launched in mid-January as “American Sniper” stormed theaters across the United States, attracted more than 4,300 voters in 30 days.
Comedy did not do well among our readers.
Two movies with much popular and critical acclaim bombed, so to speak: “M*A*S*H,” Robert Altman’s groundbreaking 1972 satire, ostensibly set in Korea but of course a scathing attack on the war in Vietnam; and 1987’s “Good Morning, Vietnam,” a breakout film for the late Robin Williams, and for which he garnered an Oscar nomination for best actor.
One can understand a younger audience puzzling over some of what’s in M*A*S*H, or being put off by Altman’s chaotic dialogue and pacing, but Williams’ movie is broad comedy, and one would’ve thought the actor’s recent passing might have elevated sentiment, but no — the movies battled for the bottom spot, each garnering 1 percent of the vote.
Also in that fight was Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which portrays the eponymous battle from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers and is a companion piece to Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” which was not one of the 22 choices in the poll.
Speaking of films left off the poll, the commenters let us know it was unforgivable that we did not include such films as “Black Hawk Down,” “We Were Soldiers,” and “Fury.” The wording of some of these comments left us wondering whether one of us had inadvertently kicked a puppy.
Come on now, where is “They Were Expendable”? asked one reader.
I can’t believe “The Guns of Navarone” didn’t make the list, said another.
“Obviously somebody without a historical perspective,” said a third.
Other films that appealed to readers:
- In fourth place, with 330 votes, was “American Sniper,” an Oscar contender in six categories, including best actor and best picture. That it’s nominated, or that it’s popular with readers is not surprising; it’s an intense story, well told by director Clint Eastwood. In the Stars and Stripes poll, it did far better than the two other post-9/11 films, “The Hurt Locker” and “Lone Survivor.”
- In third place was “The Longest Day.” Made in 1962 with a stellar cast that included John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery and Richard Burton, it tells the story of the Normandy landings, and is perhaps best known for employing as consultants several Axis and Allied military men who were present at the time. It earned eight Oscar nominations, but won just two, for cinematography and special effects.
- “Patton” came in second in our poll, with 10 percent of the vote.
It has one of the more striking openings to a movie, with George C. Scott as Patton making a speech in front of an enormous American flag, and in which he utters the memorable line:
“Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
Made in 1970, “Patton” earned 10 Oscar nominations, and won seven including the awards for best picture and best actor. Scott refused the award — the first actor to do so — scoffing at the notion of competition in the arts.
Perhaps “Ryan” was so loved in part because it came at a time when there was the realization that the “greatest generation” was beginning to slip away. Perhaps Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast gave it a grittiness and realism that had been lacking in other war movies. Some felt it was over-wrought; indeed, Normandy veteran and one of the stars of “The Longest Day,” Richard Todd, called it “rubbish."
As Scott noted, art is not competition. The Oscars might be nothing more than the most glamorous marketing scheme known to man.
But Stars and Stripes readers, many of whom know war, have settled on “Saving Private Ryan” as the best of the best.
For your consideration: Their opinion merits as much regard as that of the members of the Academy.