The 8 Best World War II Documentaries of 2023

Get a firsthand look at the Second World War.

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Thanks to the valiant efforts of television producers the world over (and a few cable channels), you don't have to learn about World War II through books and online searches. Instead, you can sit back and enjoy one of these World War II documentaries, complete with genuine historical footage—an immersive experience of this fascinating period of human history.

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The World at War

DVD cover for "The World at War"


The World at War is quite simply the best documentary ever made. Approximately 32 hours long, packed with interviews from the men and women involved, conveyed entirely through real footage, and boasting a script free of chauvinism, this clinical survey of the entire Second World War is mandatory viewing for anyone claiming an interest in the topic. Students may wish to focus their viewing on key episodes, but others will want to see the whole series.

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DVD cover for "Battlefield: Great European Battles of WWII"

Battlefield is a PBS series that breaks down key battles of the Second World War and, although some prior knowledge is required to add context, the documentaries are very educational. Film footage is used as support throughout. Some episodes are available to buy individually.

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World War II: The Lost Color Archives

DVD cover for "WWII: The Lost Color Archives"

The attraction of this DVD is simple: it's WWII in color. As brilliant as The World at War is, many people want something more vivid and immediate than black and white footage; The Lost Color Archives fills that gap with ease. There is footage from both Europe and the Pacific, but little from Africa and Western Front fanatics might be disappointed. That said, this is two DVDs' worth of film and the scenes from Nazi-occupied regions are deeply affecting.

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Triumph of the Will

DVD cover for "Triumph of the Will"


The single greatest propaganda film ever made, Leni Riefenstahl's account of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally is a masterpiece that contributed to the seductive and powerful image of Nazism. As such, it should be required watching for students of film, politics, and world war alike, offering deep insight into Nazi culture and control, as well as answering a key question about art: it is not apolitical. Through this film, you can begin to understand how fascism came to grip Germany.

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The War

Black and white DVD cover for "The War"


While this film has received great praise, its focus on just the American experience is a problem when it comes to the European theatre, where what’s needed is a greater global understanding of the decisive Eastern Front struggle. As such, The War is excellent on the American involvement, but not, as filmmaker Ken Burns is the first to admit, a complete history.

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World War II: Behind Closed Doors

DVD cover of "World War II: Behind Closed Doors"


This excellent BBC documentary looks at the politics behind the war, in particular how the rulers of Britain, Russia, and the United States—Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin—interacted with each other. It was not a smooth relationship, and there was plenty of misjudgment, but perhaps less from the always cynical Stalin.

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WWII in Color

DVD cover for "World War II In Color"


Color footage of the Second World War is a rapidly growing market. This DVD stands out over the many others because it focuses on U.S. involvement. It's the perfect followup for viewers who enjoyed World War II: The Lost Color Archives.

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Why We Fight: The Complete Series

DVD cover for "Why We Fight"


Many are quick to dismiss this as the mid-war propaganda it clearly is, but they're missing the point. The Why We Fight series was made in 1943 and shown to the U.S. public as an explanation of why their support was so vital to the war. It isn't an accurate picture of what was happening, but it's a good example of the documentaries that were being made and shown at the time. This set contains all seven films.

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Your Citation
Wilde, Robert. "The 8 Best World War II Documentaries of 2023." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 6). The 8 Best World War II Documentaries of 2023. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The 8 Best World War II Documentaries of 2023." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).