Why are WWI movies so rare?

Dr Zaius

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#1
Hollywood has never really had much interest in movies about WWI. There are lots of movies about WWII, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, Vietnam, but not WWI. Why do you think that is?
 

Sparky

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#2
two reasons jump to mind Doc.

1) moral ambiguitiy. The lack of a convincing baddie. A war we had zero reason to involve outselves with. Intellectualism? That is poison to Hollywood haha

2) why do you think we go apeshit over ASL and collectively moan about attempts to do WW1 ASL. It would be boring man. Dig that scenario about machine gunning down your opponent as defender, or seeing your well planned human wave attack get massacred. Again, poison to Hollywood without some badass Tiger replicas or sleek sexy fighters to CGI around.
 

Paul M. Weir

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#3
I don't think it's just Hollywood, there are fewer WW1 films from any country or any era.

I can only think of a few, the remake of "All Quiet On the Western Front" (surprisingly excellent for a remake), "Beneath Hill 60", "Flyboys", "The Blue Max", "Laurence Of Arabia", "The Lighthorsemen", "Gallipoli" and one on Belleau Wood.

Might want to follow the trail https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:World_War_I_films_by_type.

A disproportionate number are aviation or Middle East themed. That implies that trench warfare is perceived as a box office killer. While the US involvement Vietnam has even less moral rectitude than the Entente in WW1, at least Vietnam had a greater effect on moral discussion and was more immediate. The post WW1 generation mainly saw WW1 as a great waste, birthing the later WW2 and there was less moral contrast between the sides than in WW2. The late arrival of the US in WW1 likely also had an effect on US filmmaking.
 

Dr Zaius

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#6
Also, a lot of times war movies seem to be from veterans who were attempting to tell a piece of their own story. When Oliver Stone accepted the award for Platoon, he remarked that the film "said things that needed to be said." By the time the movie industry had matured, WWI was a memory and WWII was about to happen.

But beyond that, it seems many of the WWI films are aviation films. My guess is that Hollywood and the film industry see old-school air-to-air dogfights as being heroic, whereas they don't see a lot of heroism in the trenches. Instead, they see a senseless slaughter with no good guys or bad guys or interesting stories to be told. Now that may be unfair, as much of the Civil War was horrific and anything but glorious, and yet Hollywood has made an industry out of romancing the Civil War. Curious that that didn't happen with WWI.
 

Paul M. Weir

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#7
The ACW had very few survivors by the very first (silent) films, so few to claim a lack of realism. As well, prior to the '60s, everything was cleaned up, it wasn't until the likes of Peckinpah that the sanitisation of warfare started to die. Prior to that screen soldiers died of clean wounds or instant death, no screaming, holding his leg stump as the blood geysers out, no holding his entrails in with his hands. The revisionist Westerns also came out at that time like "The Wild Bunch", "Soldier Blue" and "Dirty Little Billy".

Come to think of it, there have been few films about the ACW or AWI in the last 50 odd years. Plenty of Westerns that skirt or reference the ACW, but few actually about it.

I suppose if you wanted, Tarantino might be a good pick for WW1 though he is more inclined to films about a few individuals or small unit actions, mass slaughter on both sides with big units not being quite his thing.
 

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#8
The narrative has changed as well. The lambs led to the slaughter by donkeys would not have played well to the survivors of WW1 as largely they hald their superiors with some admiration.
Since this"Oh What A Lovely war" version came out it has had such a strong hold on the public conciousness that making a film aboit WW1 with another narrative would be very difficult.
Ad to that the way "our superiors" are viewed nowadays it would be harder for the modern audience to accept.
Betweeen the wars, most audiences wanted to escape the realities in the cinema so there was no real push for such films. After WW2, the Great War receded into the background and mopst stories that people wanted to tell could be set in the closer, less morally ambiguous setting of WW2.
 

aiabx

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#9
The waste and pointlessness of the First World War makes a bad subject for a popular movie. Moviegoers seem to like their war movies full of heroism and sacrifice leading to the ultimate victory for the Good Guys, but what do you do when the ultimate victory is a botched mess and millions of people have died horrible deaths for nothing except chaos? WWI seems to be much better portrayed in books and (dare I say it) poetry and music, where the audience is more willing to accept pointless tragedy and existential despair.
 

Dr Zaius

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#10
The narrative has changed as well. The lambs led to the slaughter by donkeys would not have played well to the survivors of WW1 as largely they hald their superiors with some admiration.
That's an interesting point I never considered. How times have changed.

The waste and pointlessness of the First World War makes a bad subject for a popular movie. Moviegoers seem to like their war movies full of heroism and sacrifice leading to the ultimate victory for the Good Guys, but what do you do when the ultimate victory is a botched mess and millions of people have died horrible deaths for nothing except chaos? WWI seems to be much better portrayed in books and (dare I say it) poetry and music, where the audience is more willing to accept pointless tragedy and existential despair.
All true. But on the other hand, all that craziness and waste could make for a powerful story in the hands of the right director. But you're right, it would take a talented visionary and a quality screenplay in order to make it work. Sadly, these kind of movies don't come along very often.
 

aiabx

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#11
All true. But on the other hand, all that craziness and waste could make for a powerful story in the hands of the right director. But you're right, it would take a talented visionary and a quality screenplay in order to make it work. Sadly, these kind of movies don't come along very often.
I think it might have worked with audiences in the 70's, when we had a run of really good movies taking a jaundiced view of the military post-Vietnam. I'm thinking MASH, Catch-22, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now... A good WWI movie would have fit in with the spirit of the times quite well.
 

witchbottles

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#12
I don't think it's just Hollywood, there are fewer WW1 films from any country or any era.

I can only think of a few, the remake of "All Quiet On the Western Front" (surprisingly excellent for a remake), "Beneath Hill 60", "Flyboys", "The Blue Max", "Laurence Of Arabia", "The Lighthorsemen", "Gallipoli" and one on Belleau Wood.

Might want to follow the trail https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:World_War_I_films_by_type.

A disproportionate number are aviation or Middle East themed. That implies that trench warfare is perceived as a box office killer. While the US involvement Vietnam has even less moral rectitude than the Entente in WW1, at least Vietnam had a greater effect on moral discussion and was more immediate. The post WW1 generation mainly saw WW1 as a great waste, birthing the later WW2 and there was less moral contrast between the sides than in WW2. The late arrival of the US in WW1 likely also had an effect on US filmmaking.
Looking at what Wikipedia lists, I've seen:

Beneath Hill 60
Cruiser Emden
The Flying Dutchman
Lawrence of Arabia
The Lighthorsemen
The Lost Battalion (both versions)
The Red Baron
Richthofen
Sergeant York
Tannenberg
Von Richthofen and Brown
ANZACS TV series all episodes
Gallipoli
All Quiet on the Western Front (both versions)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse
The Lost Prince
Passchendaele
Paths of Glory
The Blue Max
Flyboys
The Great War 2007 movie
Mata Hari 1985 version
Zeppelin

It looks from Wikipedia, there are at least as many I haven't seen yet as those I have.

Given the # of them, it is quite a bit more than I initially expected to find made. I also watched a movie on a regiment if British troops wiped out to a man in Gallipoli, and the search to find out what happened to them through the late 1920's. Circa 1981-1982 film. I also watched a film not listed by Wikipedia on the Somme offensive- from an Allied soldier viewpoint, circa 2014 movie.
 

Paul M. Weir

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#13
Looking at what Wikipedia lists, I've seen:

Beneath Hill 60
Cruiser Emden
The Flying Dutchman
Lawrence of Arabia
The Lighthorsemen
The Lost Battalion (both versions)
The Red Baron
Richthofen
Sergeant York
Tannenberg
Von Richthofen and Brown
ANZACS TV series all episodes
Gallipoli
All Quiet on the Western Front (both versions)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse
The Lost Prince
Passchendaele
Paths of Glory
The Blue Max
Flyboys
The Great War 2007 movie
Mata Hari 1985 version
Zeppelin

It looks from Wikipedia, there are at least as many I haven't seen yet as those I have.

Given the # of them, it is quite a bit more than I initially expected to find made. I also watched a movie on a regiment if British troops wiped out to a man in Gallipoli, and the search to find out what happened to them through the late 1920's. Circa 1981-1982 film. I also watched a film not listed by Wikipedia on the Somme offensive- from an Allied soldier viewpoint, circa 2014 movie.
That includes a few I did not know or hear of. That's 25 (counting a TV series as 1), so double that, no quadruple that to get 100 and compare that to WW2 movies that we might have come across during our lifetime. When I was a child in the the late '50s/early '60s there were at least 2 B&W WW2 TV series imported from the US. It wasn't until much later that I realised that RTE (Irish state TV) and the British TV stations only imported the cream of US TV and for every US show we saw there were likely to be another mediocre and two dreadful additional series we didn't hear about at the time.

I suspect there were some, possibly many, WW1 films done pre-WW2 that have been long forgotten plus a few post-WW2 done foreign language ones. In contrast, the number of WW2 themed films! While there has been a resurgence of decently produced WW2 films in the last decade or so from the west after a bit of a desert from the '70s to the '90s I keep coming across a lot of Soviet and Yugoslav produced films from that era that are at least half decent if not good. In recent years Putin's mob have been churning out quite a few.

It's interesting that of the 25 you listed, 6 or 7 if you include Zeppelin (an implausible spy plot with airships) are air combat and 4 are ME based, nearly half. WW1 European ground combat is not all that popular.

One other that comes to mind is "The African Queen".
 

Blackcloud6

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#14
Hollywood can't write a decent script nowadays anyhow. The only thing they probably could come up with is some (gay or transgender) clown in a bright red superhero suit flying into a barbed-wired trench after being beamed down from the USS Diversity to gun down the Hun surrounded by loud fuel-air explosions. And of course, commanded by a woman.
 

Brian W

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#16
WW1 was overshadowed by WW2 right when lots of books would normally have been written about the war, during that second generation of revisionism that occurs with other wars.

Also, historians such as Hew Strachan, perhaps the primier English language WW1 historian right now, have argued vigorously that the first world war was seen, at least by the British, as a great victory over totalitarianism and militarism, and that only well after the fact did the narrative of a "pointless" war become the controlling narrative.
 

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#17
Also, historians such as Hew Strachan, perhaps the primier English language WW1 historian right now, have argued vigorously that the first world war was seen, at least by the British, as a great victory over totalitarianism and militarism, and that only well after the fact did the narrative of a "pointless" war become the controlling narrative.
I'm wondering how much WWI blindness was caused by the prevailing post-WWII-Cold-War narrative that the key to peace was to stand with your allies and stand up in the face of belligerent bullies, where this so conspicuously failed in 1914.
(A cynical person might also question the British attitude to militarism, when the Royal Navy was so deeply admired pre-WWI.)
 

Paul M. Weir

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#18
Us Irish have many things to say about British militarism and imperialism, little or none of it good The 1st Irish Republic (1916) was allied to Germany in WW1.

In terms of morality and international behaviour I would give the following ranking, lowest to highest
Imperial Russia ~ Turkey
Austria-Hungary ~ Italy
Germany ~ France ~ Britain
Japan *
USA

* Japan was only starting in it's colonial expansion and its forces behaviour then had not descended into the madness and brutality of the 30s+.
 

Brian W

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#19
(A cynical person might also question the British attitude to militarism, when the Royal Navy was so deeply admired pre-WWI.)
The Royal Navy had actually been reduced in size the preceeding ten years before the war due to modernization and reduction of standing fleets outside of home waters (especially the Med fleet, which was a result of closer French-English cooperation). The choice to conscript for the army in 1916 was a big deal in Great Britain, as it was in the USA during the ACW.
 

aiabx

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#20
The Royal Navy had actually been reduced in size the preceeding ten years before the war due to modernization and reduction of standing fleets outside of home waters (especially the Med fleet, which was a result of closer French-English cooperation). The choice to conscript for the army in 1916 was a big deal in Great Britain, as it was in the USA during the ACW.
Jackie Fisher was famous for clearing out the dead wood of the old Royal Navy and replacing it with new modern dreadnoughts, cruisers and torpedo boat destroyers. The fact that they ended up with fewer actual ships shouldn't hide the fact that it was the world's most modern and powerful navy in 1914. Nor should it obscure the fact that the British were *obsessively* proud of their navy. They may have sneered at German militarism, but I think it escaped their mind that navies are also a branch of the military. It didn't stop them from dressing their kids as sailors, advertising every possible product with images of ships and sailors, and expecting every male member of the royal family to serve on a ship.