The Top 10 Films About WWII's Eastern Front

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Although Nazi Germany was ultimately beaten on the Eastern Front during World War II, films about 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 that took place along the Eastern Front, including "Stalingrad" and "Enemy at the Gates."

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Beautifully shot, this 1993 German film follows a group of German soldiers as they travel through Russia on their way to the Battle of Stalingrad. There is precious little about the "big picture" because the focus is firmly on the individual men, their bonds, and how they suffer in a war they hadn't chosen to fight.

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Come and See

Brutal is an overused 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.

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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 film, and the constant fear of collapse 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 viewers adore the battle scenes, dialogue, and no-nonsense plotting, while others find the film boring and repetitive. If you enjoy the theatrical version, there's an extended version of the film which aired in five episodes on Finnish TV.

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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 (the Russian army stopped and waited for the Nazis to finish killing the rebels), "Kanal" is a bleak film. Its tone is 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. The commentary offers insight into the views and emotions of these average Wehrmacht soldiers.

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Ivan's Childhood

In this highly symbolic and psychological film, the work of Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, Ivan is a Russian adolescent drawn into the Second World War, a conflict from which no age, sex, or social group was immune. The stark and lethal reality of the war is blended beautifully with childlike wonder thanks to Ivan's dreamlike view of the world.

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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 gore and brutality, this film is about romance and hope, featuring reflections on how people were affected by the war, and many consider it a classic.

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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 a generally more educational and less emotional film 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 complement to the 1993 film.

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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 its mushy love story. Nevertheless, it's a very atmospheric piece with stunning battle scenes. The central plot—the story of a sniper battle between a Russian hero and a German officer—is loosely based on real life.

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Wilde, Robert. "The Top 10 Films About WWII's Eastern Front." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). The Top 10 Films About WWII's Eastern Front. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Top 10 Films About WWII's Eastern Front." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).