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Top 5 Grossing World War II Movies

Updated on June 29, 2013

This Means War

Audiences are attracted to movies about World War II for a variety of reasons. There’s an innate drama in telling stories about war, and World War II is no exception. Also, the fact that Steven Spielberg has made more than one film on the topic definitely hasn’t hurt the genre. Not only is this a list of the highest grossing World War II movies, but it contains some of the most prestigious films the last quarter-century. The films on this list have garnered 14 Oscar wins and 21 additional nominations.

This list is from 1980 through June 2013.

1. Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan opened in theaters on July 24, 1998, quickly earning $30 million.  No doubt, the combination of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg helped the film generate more than $216 million.  It also didn’t hurt that the Academy recognized the film with five Oscars including Cinematography, Editing, Sound Effects Editing, Sound, and Directing.  It was also nominated for Best Actor, Makeup, Original Dramatic Score, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, and Picture of the Year.  However, the film lost the Best Picture race to Shakespeare in Love.

2. Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor, another film featuring Tom Sizemore from Saving Private Ryan, hit the ground running Memorial Day weekend 2001 by taking in just shy of $60 million.  The Tiger Beat dream combination of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett kept it afloat, leading it to earn over $198 million.  Pearl Harbor won the 2002 Oscar for Sound Editing and was nominated for Visual Effects, Best Song (“There You’ll Be”), and Sound.

4. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s fictionalized take on World War II, Inglourious Basterds, opened in theaters August 21, 2009 and easily picked up its first $38 million. Christoph Waltz won the Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of Colonel Hans Landa. The film was honored with an additional 7 nominations for Best Director (Quentin Tarantino), Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson), Best Editing (Sally Menke), Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Mark Ulano), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Statesman), Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino), and Best Picture (Lawrence Bender). Such praises boosted the Basterds to top $120 million during its theatrical run.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger

While many may think of Captain America: The First Avenger as a superhero movie, this origin story primarily takes place during World War II, thus crossing genres. The film was released on July 22, 2011 to a staggering $65 million welcome. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely adapted the screenplay based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Joe Johnston directed the movie, which grossed more than $176 million dollars during its box office run. Chris Evans, as the title character, received a lot of attention to include an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Hero, and two Teen Choice Awards for Choice Summer Movie Star: Male and Choice Movie: Fight with Hugo Weaving.

4. Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List is the most decorated film out of these five, with seven Academy Awards in Art Direction, Cinematography, Director, Editing, Original Score, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.  Additionally, it was nominated for:  Best Leading Actor (Liam Neeson), Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.  In spite of opening in a mere 25 theaters on December 15, 1993, Schindler’s List managed to earn $656,636 in its first weekend.  With a wider release in 1,389 theaters, it increased its revenue to over $96 million.  As a point of reference, every other film on this list was presented in at least 2,000 theaters.

5. Valkyrie

Valkyrie was released on Christmas Day 2008.  It quickly garnered over $21 million in its opening weekend.   The story of Valkyrie is based on an actual assassination attempt on Adolf Hilter.  The intriguing storyline and Tom Cruise’s star power may have had something to do with the film grossing $83 million overall.


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    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 5 years ago

      rahul0324--I definitely love Inglorious Basterds. It's a great movie. I'm actually scared to see Schindler's List--it seems too sad. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment :0)

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 5 years ago

      wewillmake--Thanks for stopping by! Glad you found the topic interesting.

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 5 years ago

      jainismus--Thanks for the comment and for the support!

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Hi there! An awesome list... Have almost seen all... some based on true events and some not...

      I liked the Inglorious Bastards most... Schindler's List then and then Valkyrie

      A great hub


    • wewillmake profile image

      wewillmake 5 years ago from kerala-INDIA

      good hub, i like to see the war movies.. nice article...

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Great Hub, thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 7 years ago

      Thanks, Dave! I've actually never seen Pearl Harbor and I agree that Valkyrie was not good, but they both made money at the box office and that's how they ended up on this list. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Dave Harris profile image

      Dave Harris 7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Nice little hub Megavitamin, got to say Pearl Harbor and Valkyrie were awful though!, thanks for sharing!

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 7 years ago

      Cagsil-I have to be in a particular mood to handle war movies. Thanks for checking in!

    • alphonsians93 profile image

      alphonsians93 7 years ago from Cebu Philippines

      superb! you have all the best movies i loved!!1 Superb work of art!!! This is a very interesting topic!!! lots of learning and good insights!!!! Thankx for the insights

    • Cagsil profile image

      Cagsil 8 years ago from USA or America

      I'm not much into War Movies, but I did like the Hub and your writing. Thank you so much. :)

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 8 years ago

      Denno66-I'm glad you enjoyed this hub! Thanks for leaving a comment :0)

    • profile image

      Denno66 8 years ago

      People are attracted to WW2 films because they know that the 'good guys' win in the end(The last 'Good' war in which we participated). I'm not surprised about the list, but am pleased by your presentation of it.

    • Megavitamin profile image

      Megavitamin 8 years ago

      This isn't a list of my personal favorites. These are the highest money-making WWII movies (good, bad, or stupid). I don't like all the movies on this list, but they made a lot of money so I had to add them. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 8 years ago from California

      I love those WWII movies. You seem to have left out the classics. Keep up the good work. Later!