We all learned a bit about the Second World War in school, or perhaps more than a bit. But for a great many of us, what we know of that period of history comes less from teachers and textbooks than it does from movies. World War II as a cinematic genre has existed since the early years of World War II itself, and at this point it has produced so many films that not even the most avid historically-minded cinephile could watch them all. Many such pictures, of course, take enormous liberties with their source material. But if you concentrate on just the most accurate parts of the most acclaimed movies about World War II, you can piece together a reasonably truthful portrayal of its events.
Such is the premise, at any rate, of the video above, “Timeline of WW2 in Films.” Created by Youtuber Salokin, it arranges clips from dozens of films released over the past half-century — Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Battle of Britain, Dunkirk — in historical order.
Opening with footage from Roman Polanski’s The Pianist referring to the invasion of Poland in September 1939, it goes on to cover that year by drawing from the depiction of Soviet-Japanese border conflicts like the Battles of Khalkhin Go and Nomonhan in Kang Je-gyu’s My Way, then from the depiction of the titular fights on the Karelian Isthmus in Pekka Parikka’s The Winter War.
As Korean and Finnish productions, respectively, My Way and The Winter War offer perspectives on World War II different from the American one taken by Hollywood movies — Hollywood having once been the only motion-picture industry with the resources to re-create the war in a convincing manner. But the development of global film production in recent decades has also given rise to widely seen World War II movies from countries like Australia, Germany, Denmark, and Russia, to name a few countries whose films appear in this video. Not all of them agree perfectly with history as taught in the United States, but then, American World War II movie enthusiasts have unresolvable conflicts of their own: do you prefer Saving Private Ryan, for instance, or The Thin Red Line?
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.