Great Prisoner of War Classic Movies

Posted on 28 Jul 00:00





Prisoners of war used to be detained in highly secured premises during World Wars but their resistance and commitment allowed them to escape which inspired filmmakers to produce a movie based on their stories. The following are a few great prisoners of war movies.

1) The Great Escape (1963)

It is a classic war movie inspired by true events of allied prisoners and based on a book of the same name. It is directed and produced by John Sturges. Upon release, it was a huge success commercially and became one of the highest-grossing movies of the year while applauded for its famous and renowned bike stunt. In the cast of the movie, it has Steve McQueen (Captain Virgil Hilts), James Garner (Flight Lieutenant Robert), Richard Attenborough (Sq. Leader Roger Bartlett), and Charles Bronson 
(Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski). The plot of the movie depicts a fictionalized version of a mass escape of prisoners from a highly secured German camp. Three tunnels are being built Tom, Dick, and Harry with the help of various allies with divided responsibilities. 76 men escape from the tunnel. The prisoners try different methods of escaping the camp, by plane, by train, via the roads. But 50 prisoners are killed, 23 are recaptured and only 3 are able to escape. Capt. Hilts is imprisoned again and immediately begins planning another escape.

2) Stalag 17 (1953)

Another epic war-drama classic for movie buffs with bits of comedy. It is produced and directed by Billy Wilder and it is an adaptation of a play by the Prisoners of Stalag 17B. Its release was welcomed warmly commercially as well as critically and won the best actor award at the Academy Awards. The cast of the movie includes William Holden (J.J. Sefton), Don Taylor (Lt. James Dunbar), Otto Preminger (Col. von Scherbach), Robert Strauss (Stanislas "Animal" Kuzawa), Harvey Lembeck (Harry Shapiro), Peter Graves (Price), and Sig Ruman (Sgt. Johann Sebastian Schulz). The plot of the movie is enhanced for entertainment purposes. The prison holds various prisoners of war from Poles, Czechs, Russian women, and other crew and staff of 640 men. Two men are caught escaping through a tunnel, and it is concluded that there is an informant among the prisoners, possibly, Sefton, because he barters with the Germans for luxuries and special favorites in the camp. Sefton plans to reveal the real spy, and is able to frame Price by asking him about Pearl Harbor,  and then he helps Dunbar to escape through a diversion. As a reward, he expects to receive a reward via Dunbar's wealthy family. They both escape by cutting the barbed wire fences. It is definitely a stellar classic prisoner war movie.

3) Empire of the Sun (1987)

It is a coming-of-age classic movie based on a prisoner of war, Jamie Graham, a British upper middle class schoolboy. It is loosely based on an autobiographical novel of the same name. Steven Spielberg directed and produced the movie because of his love for the war topics. At its release, critics appreciated the movie more than its commercial success but eventually, it gained huge numbers from different markets. It was also nominated in six categories at the Academy Awards. The cast of the movie includes Christian Bale (Jamie "Jim" Graham), John Malkovich (Basie), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Victor), and Nigel Havers (Dr. Rawlins). The movie is about the story of Jim Graham, who belonged to a wealthy British family residing in Shanghai. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the city becomes chaotic when the Japanese invade, and during which time Jim is accidentally separated from his family and is accompanied by Basie and Frank. Jim takes them to his neighborhood to loot the empty houses but is captured by the Japanese soldiers and helps them in guiding the route while moving the prisoners. Jim survives through a trading network and learns the Japanese language, and befriends a Japanese teenager who is a trainee pilot. At the camp, Jim meets with Dr. Rawlins whom he considers to be a father figure, and who saves Jim’s life in an airstrike. After evacuation, the remaining prisoners reach the stadium where Jim finds his father’s car and decides to stay there. When the war ends, Jim wanders back to Suzhou and meets up again with the same Japanese teen he befriended, but the Basie along with Americans think of him as a threat to Jim, they shoot the boy, and Jim is moved to an orphanage where he meets his parents.

4) The Deer Hunter (1977)

This an iconic classic movie made about war, The Deer Hunter is directed and co-written by Michael Cimino. It is based on an unfinished screenplay that was bought and amended. It was a commercially and critically successful movie amd was nominated for nine Academy Awards, ti won five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. The movie was highly praised for its direction, performances, direction, and cinematography. It stars Robert De Niro (SSG Michael), Christopher Walken (Cpl. Nikano), John Savage (Cpl. Steven Pushkov), John Cazale (Stan), and Meryl Streep (Linda). The plot explores the aftermath and emotional disturbance of three friends Mike, Steven, and Nick, who hunt for deer. They leave for the Vietnam War but captured by the local tribe and tortured using the game Russian Roulette. Steven endures a painful  punishment after breaking the rules by shooting the ceiling. Eventually, Mike and Nick shoot the captors and all three escape and are rescued by the Americans. Steven loses his both feet and his wife leaves him, and he now lives in a veterans facility.  Nick, after getting discharged from the hospital deserts Linda and returns to Vietnam.  Mike struggles to adjust to civilian life and decides to find Nick and goes back to Vietnam where he confronts Nick, who is a professional macabre gamer and a drug addict, who does not recognize Mike. In a game of roulette, Mike reminds Nick of their deer hunting and Nick pulls the trigger killing himself. It is quite an emotionally and devastating classic movie.

5) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

This prisoner of war movie won five Academy Awards and was featured as one of the best American movies made along with the accolade of being the 11th best British movie of the 20th century. It is directed by David Lean and is based on the novel. The cast includes William Holden (Major Shears), Alec Guinness (Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson), Jack Hawkins (Major Warden), Sessue Hayakawa (Colonel Saito). The movie's setting is the historical bridge of Burma Railway. The plot defined the construction of a bridge over River Kwai. British soldiers are captured by the Japanese and ordered by Saito to commence the construction of the bridge, but he is confronted by Nicholson who insists that according to the  Geneva Conventions exempts ranking officers from manual labour. Saito locks Nicholson in an iron box, and  keeps the other other officers standing in the heat all day before placing them in a punishment hut. Shears and two others try to escape, Shears is wounded and others killed. Saito then asks for Nicholson’s help in building the bridge, he agrees. Shears helps the British army to destroy the bridge by placing explosives under the bridge but Nicholson sees the wiring and informs Saito, who is killed by Joyce. During the skirmish, Shears is also mortally wounded. Nicholson exclaims, "What have I done?" Warden fires a mortar, wounding Nicholson. The dazed colonel stumbles towards the detonator and collapses on the plunger just in time to blow up the bridge and send the train hurtling into the river below. The wounded Nicholson detonated the bridge as the train passed by.

6) The Colditz Story (1955)

This is an epic British war movie directed and co-written by Guy Hamilton. The movie is based on the book. It is about British officer's plan of escape from Colditz Castle serving as a highly secured prison. The cast includes John Mills (Pat Reid), Eric Portman (Colonel Richmond), Christopher Rhodes (Mac McGill), and Bryan Forbes (Jimmy Winslow). Without mutal cooperation between the various prisoners, many escape plans have been devastated and many times soldiers from different countries collide in tunnels or sabotage the plan. Richmond plans to escape by impersonating a German officer.  Winslow is able to escape through wired fence. McGill is shot dead while scaling the fence. Richmond and Reid, in disguise, escape the castle with two other men, two men are recaptured. Several days later, Richmond receives a postcard with a cryptic message. He announces to the assembled and cheering prisoners that Reid and Winslow have successfully crossed into neutral Switzerland.   

7) La Grande Illusion (1937)

It is one of the greatest French movies ever, directed and co-written by Jean Renoir. In this masterpiece, the cast includes Jean Gabin (Lieutenant Maréchal), Marcel Dalio (Lieutenant Rosenthal), and Pierre Fresnay (Captain de Boeldieu). The story depicts an escape of French soldiers during World War I, while exploring class relationships among them. After unsuccessful escape through the tunnels, Marechal and Rosenthal planned a diversion and escape the territory taking asylum in a German home. They are not betrayed, and they both crossed the border into Switzerland.


Prisoner of war movies give audiences insight into the tragedy and triumphs of the human spirit. They enthrall us, and most of all, give us hope.

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