Friday, November 9, 2018


This is my attempt at a statistical analysis of the greatest war movies.  Here is the methodology.  I found four 100 Greatest War Movies lists that I feel are knowledgeable on the subject.  Two of those lists (Military History magazine and Channel 4) rank the movies.  The others are Film Site and the book 101 War Movies You Must See Before You Die.   I also used three books that rate war movies:  Video Hound’s War Movies, Brassey’s Guide to War Films, and The Belle and Blade Guide to Classic War Videos.  (Since I did my research I received my copy of War Movies by Brock Garland.  I did not redo the data, but I have included its grade in the ratings list.)  The reason why the list is limited to only movies from the 20th Century is because not all of the sources include 21st Century movies. 

 I won’t bore with the details, but basically I used a combination of the average rating from the ratings books and a rating based on the ranking from the two ranked lists (on a scale of 1-5).   I grouped the movies based on how many lists they made so only movies that were in both Military History magazine and Channel 4 made the top 43. 

 I must emphasize that this list does not reflect my opinions.  In fact, I find some of the positions ridiculous.  I have seen and reviewed all of the movies on the list.  Some are not war movies, in my opinion.  Others are very overrated.  It is also apparent that foreign movies got short-changed.


SYNOPSIS: "The Manchurian Candidate" is a Cold War thriller. An American patrol is captured by the North Koreans and brainwashed. One of them (Laurence Harvey) is the step-son of a rabid anti-Communist Senator. He becomes an unwitting sleeper agent when he returns to America after the war.  His mother (Angela Lansbury) is part of a plot to use her "hero" son to assassinate the President so his step father can take over the Presidency. One of his brainwashed comrades (Frank Sinatra) is in a race against time to foil the plot.

BACK-STORY: “The Manchurian Candidate” is a political thriller released in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis which is appropriate because it taps into the Red Scare hysteria of that time. It is based on a novel by Richard Condon and is faithful to the book. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and showcases his style of unusual camera angles and symbolism (notice all the images of Lincoln). The movie was supposedly taken out of circulation because of its proximity to the Kennedy assassination. There is also the possibility that Oswald saw the film and was inspired by it.  It was remade in 2004 starring Denzel Washington in the Sinatra role.

TRIVIA - mentalfloss, imdb, wikipedia

1.  United Artists did not want to make the film because of the political controversy.  Frank Sinatra went to Pres. Kennedy who was a big fan of the novel.  Kennedy contacted the studio head and got him to change his mind.
2.  Angela Lansbury was only three years older than her “son” Laurence Harvey.
3.  The movie came out in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
4.  When Marco visits Raymond in his hotel room towards the end of the film, Sinatra is filmed out of focus.  Critics lauded this cinematography for showing Raymond’s distorted perspective.  Actually, the assistant cameraman screwed up the shot and director Frankenheimer was upset and wanted to reshoot it, but he could not get Sinatra to duplicate the performance.
5.  Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the Angela Lansbury role.
6.  Sinatra broke a finger in the fight scene with Henry Silva.  Later, when he was up for “Dirty Harry”, he could not grip the pistol properly and had to drop out.
7.  When Laurence Harvey jumped in the lake in Central Park, it was so cold that ice had to be broken.
8.  The myth that the movie was pulled after the assassination of Kennedy was not true.  It was shown, but rarely because there was not a lot of interest in the film.
9.  In the novel, the relationship between Raymond and his mother is more incestuous and she even seduces him.  The movie could only go as far as a kiss on the lips.  (Surprisingly, the 2004 remake does not even have the kiss.)
10.  Mrs. Iselin is #21 on AFI’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains.
11.  It was nominated for two Academy Awards:  Editing and Supporting Actress (Lansbury).  She lost to Patty Duke in “The Miracle Worker”.

Belle and Blade  =  3 
Brassey’s              =  4 
Video Hound       =  5
War Movies         =  4.4 
Military History  =  85 
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION: I am not sure if “The Manchurian Candidate” is really a war movie. It certainly fits more comfortably in the political thriller genre. As such, it has the usual unrealistic plot twists and unbelievably fortuitous occurrences (e.g., Joycelyn showing up in the queen of hearts costume). What would be faulted in a war movie is par for the course in a thriller. As a political thriller it is cracking entertainment full of suspense and great acting. As political satire, it is a devastating indictment of McCarthyism.


  1. I love The Manchurian Candidate, but like you, I don't view it as a war film. IMO, just because the movie is set during war time, or has some indirect connection to a war, doesn't mean it's a war film.

  2. This is going to be a good series of articles.


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