The invasion of Nazi-occupied Northern France by Allied forces in World War II, known today as D-Day, has long been considered a turning point for the Allies in the war. With troops from twelve allied nations storming the beaches of Normandy from air, land, and sea, the attack on June 6, 1944, was one of the largest amphibious military operations of all time. It is no wonder the events of D-Day has been the subject of so many cinematic masterpieces.
So whether you are a history buff or just love a man in uniform, be sure to check out these films in honor of the 74th anniversary of D-Day.
Saving Private Ryan
With an opening scene that has been hailed as one of the most intense of all time, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was not only nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards but won Spielberg himself an Oscar as Best Director.
Released in 1998, the film’s power-packed cast includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Vin Diesel. The film centers on the mission to return American Private James Ryan (Damon) home after three of his brothers have been killed in action. Yet, Captain John Miller (Hanks), who is put in charge of returning Ryan home, soon realizes Ryan has parachuted somewhere in Normandy during D-Day and is unable to be located. With its stellar acting and acclaimed historical accuracy, this film serves as a heart-wrenching and brilliant reminder of the losses that families and friends face during war.
Fun Fact: Spielberg directed Saving Private Ryan as a tribute to his father who served in Burma during World War II as a radio operator in a B-25 squad.
The Longest Day
Based on Cornelius Ryan’s book of the same name, The Longest Day is a black and white three-hour long epic filmed in the style of a documentary/drama crossover. Beginning in the days prior to D-Day, it depicts both the Allied and Axis forces planning and preparing for the events to come. Starring an ensemble cast that includes John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Eddie Albert as Colonel Thompson and Richard Beymer as Private Arthur ‘Dutch’ Schultz, this film depicts the decision-making of the military leaders and the early hours of the actual invasion of Normandy. With its in-depth focus on both the Allied and Axis powers as well as the reactions of the French resistance as news of the attack spreads, this film’s in-depth presentation of the events leading up to D-Day and the invasion itself is worth the time commitment.
Fun Fact: Producers of The Longest Day employed military experts from both the Allied and Axis sides-many of whom had been actual participants on D-Day.
Eye of the Needle
Based on Ken Follett’s novel Storm Island, this 1981 British spy drama follows the cold and calculating Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) as he obtains and attempts to share information regarding the Allies’ plans for the Invasion of Normandy. However, after Faber escapes from a British Intelligence Agency in London, he tries to return to Germany and is stranded on an island. Accompanied only by Lucy (Kate Nelligan), her disabled husband David (Christopher Cazenove), their son and shepherd. Soon a romance begins to blossom between the spy and Lucy while her husband grows increasingly suspicious of the mysterious German gentleman. Directed by Richard Marquand, this character-focused work set on a gorgeous island, Eye of the Needle provides a wholly fresh take on a World War II film.
Fun Fact: George Lucas has stated that Marquand’s ability to finish the production of Eye of the Needle on time and on-budget was the main reason he selected Marquand to direct Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi.
The Americanization of Emily
On the lighter side of the war film genre, this 1964 work centers on an American naval officer (James Garner) who falls in love with Emily (Julie Andrews), an Englishwoman who has lost her father, brother, and husband in the war. Directed by Arthur Hiller and set in London in the days leading up to D-Day, this film also features key scenes of the invasion. Based on a novel by William Bradford Huie, who was a Seabee officer on D-Day, The Americanization of Emily features an enchanting mixture of history and romance perfect for date night.
Fun Fact: The Americanization of Emily is Julie Andrew’s only film in black and white.
Band of Brothers
While Band of Brothers is not a film but a television drama miniseries, no list of screen portrayals of D-Day would be complete without it. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (of Saving Private Ryan) and airing in 2001 on HBO, the series won both the Emmy and Golden Globe award for best miniseries. The series depicts the history of the E or “Easy” Company of the American 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and focuses on D-Day for the first few episodes. Starring Damien Lewis, Ron Livingston and Donnie Wahlberg, Band of Brothers is often hailed as a benchmark for televisions portrayals of war.
Fun Fact: Jeep partnered with HBO for the promotional campaign Band of Brothers as the classic military Jeep is featured throughout the series–more than 1000 times in fact.
Bonus Movie: Dunkirk
Not about D-Day but if you are eager for more World War II cinematic violence-check out Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk. Depicting the Battle of Dunkirk which took place as part of the Battle of France from March 26 to June 4 in 1940 that is often called the “Miracle of Dunkirk.” By the military operation from the perspectives of land, sea and air, the film presents a complex and holistic view of the battle. Starring Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography.
Fun Fact: Nolan said he cast Harry Styles due to his “old-fashioned face.”