Top 10 WWII Eastern Front Films

WWII Russian Officer


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Nazi Germany was beaten on the Eastern Front in World War Two but, perhaps inevitably, films involving the Western Front are far more popular in the West. There are several obvious reasons why, but the quality isn't one of them: many strong, powerful pieces of cinema have been made about the battles, and these are ten of the best.

From "Stalingrad" to "Enemy at the Gates," the following 10 films give an in-depth look at the beauty and tragedy found in the Second World War, combining found footage with interviews, fictionalized narratives, and beautiful cinematography to encapsulate and immortalize the men and women who fought to defend freedoms of people the world over.

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Beautifully shot and poorly dubbed, this 1993 film follows a group of German soldiers through the famous Battle of Stalingrad in an episodic format that includes tank battles, factory-storming, and starvation.

There is precious little about the "big picture" because the focus is firmly on the individual men, their bond, and how they suffer in a war they hadn't chosen.

If you want details about the battle itself, try "Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever," but if you're simply searching for a great film, try the subtitled version of this film.

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"Come and See"

Brutal is an over-used term, but perfect for one of the most deeply affecting war movies ever made.

Filmed in a frequently lyrical, disorientating style, "Come and See" views the Eastern Front through the eyes of a child partisan, showing the Nazi atrocities in all their horror.

If you felt "Schindler's List" was shocking, it's Hollywood syrup compared to this. One warning though: quality has been shaky in the DVD releases, so it's best to get a newer version or go with the classic VHS release — if you can still find it!

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"Cross of Iron"

Sam Peckinpah's take on World War II is as dense, violent and confrontational as you'd expect, focusing on German troops in the Eastern Front's final phase: the bloody push by the Russians all the way back to Berlin.

The interplay between weary soldiers and vainglorious commanders forms the center of this piece, and the constant fear of collapse throughout drives the narrative.

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"The Winter War"

Loved and loathed in equal measure, "The Winter War" follows a group of Finns fighting against Russia in the oft-forgotten Russo-Finnish war of 1939 to 1940.

Some people adore the battle scenes, some think they'’re jerky and repetitive, and while others love the dialogue and no-nonsense plotting, others claim the plot and characterization have gone missing.

Ultimately, though, this is the kind of film you need to evaluate yourself, though as with others on this list, the DVD quality is sub-par for releases before 2010. If you can't find a newly remastered version, the original VHS is of much higher quality.

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Kanal is the story of resistance fighters who retreated into Warsaw's sewers — known as the Kanaly — to fight during the failed uprising of 1944.

A story of failure in the sense that the Russian army stopped and waited for the Nazis to finish killing the rebels, as you'd expect the tone is bleak but proud, doomed but heroic, and fortunately for the memory of those involved, suitably powerful.

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"Mein Krieg"

"Mein Krieg" ("My War") is an extraordinary assemblage of interviews with veterans and the footage they filmed –privately, on handheld cameras, during their time on the Eastern Front.

Material from six German soldiers has been used and, as each fought in different units, there's a good range of material. However, the strength is their commentary, recollections gifting us a deep insight into the changing views and emotions of these average Wehrmacht soldiers.

If you're interested in really getting to know what it was like on the front lines of the Eastern Front, this film has all you'd ever need to understand these brave soldiers' plights. 

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"My Name Is Ivan"

In this highly symbolic and psychological film, Ivan is a Russian adolescent drawn into the Second World War, a conflict from which no age, sex or social group was immune.

Bleak, honest and often deeply saddening, the stark and lethal reality of the war is blended beautifully with childlike wonder –thanks to Ivan's dreamlike view of the world.

In newer versions, the title changed to "Ivan's Childhood."

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"Ballad of a Soldier"

"Ballad of a Soldier" follows a Russian trooper who, by virtue of some accidental bravery, receives a pass home to visit his mother and, while traveling back through the drained country, meets a young woman with whom he falls in love.

Instead of gory brutality, this film is about romance and hope, as well as reflections on how people were affected by the war, and many consider it an utter classic.

Warning, though: If you're looking for gratification via extreme wartime violence, this is not a film for you.

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"Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever?"

Less well known than the 1993 "Stalingrad," this 1958 version traces the changes wrought upon one German lieutenant by the terrible battle.

However, in covering many facts and events the story gets a bit lost, making this as generally more educational and less emotional than the first pick on this list.

Nevertheless, with actual footage of the battle blended seamlessly into the main film, it's still strong stuff and a solid compliment to the color equivalent.

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"Enemy at the Gates"

The third film from this list set in Stalingrad, "Enemy at the Gates" was lambasted upon release for historical inaccuracy and a mushy love story.

Nevertheless, it's a hugely atmospheric piece with stunning battle scenes and the central plot –focused on a sniper battle between a Russian hero and a German officer –is loosely based on real life.

View it as an enjoyable thriller with beautiful people and you may well enjoy it!