War has been a popular topic for motion pictures since the invention of the medium in the late 1800s. But there is no single generic type of war film, as the category encompasses many types of filmed stories about conflict. The Napoleonic Wars have been the subject of costume dramas, frontier wars in westerns pit cowboys against Indians. Star Wars (1977) presents an imaginary intergalactic conflict in the realm of science fiction. Other films make use of war as metaphor: The War of the Roses (1989) is a screwball comedy about a feuding married couple, while Used Cars (1980) is a "war" between two rival car lots. Some onscreen wars are never won: Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner are forever locked in comic conflict in cartoons.
Movies called "war films" do not reflect one attitude or a single purpose. They may be antiwar ( All Quiet on the Western Front , 1930) or pro-war ( Bataan , 1943). How I Won the War (1967) is a satiric and mocking comedy about World War I, but The Big Parade (1925) tells a tragic story about the toll its events take on one man's personal life. The Green Berets (1968) is a gung-ho celebration of the US Special Forces and their role in Vietnam, but Platoon (1986) presents the soldier's life there as an almost insane universe.
The popularity of the war film and of war as a topic in movies is borne out by two factors: artistic recognition as reflected in Academy Awards ® for Best Picture, and box-office returns. War films that have won Best Picture Oscars ® include Wings (1927), the very first such winner; All Quiet on the Western Front ; Patton (1970), a biographical portrait of World War II general George S. Patton; The Deer Hunter (1978), a stark look at the lives of young steelworkers before, during, and after their combat in Vietnam; and Platoon , combat veteran Oliver Stone's (b. 1946) first-person account of the infantry in Vietnam. Other Oscar ® winners whose stories involve war include Gone with the Wind (1939), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Braveheart (1995), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Casablanca (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Schindler's List (1993). Because they are based in reality and frequently star big-name actors and contain scenes of exciting action, war movies, both pro- and anti-, have a strong record of success at the box office. Among the many top-grossing films, as evidenced by records reported in the The Motion Picture Herald , Motion Picture Daily , and Film Daily , are Hell's Angels (1930), Sergeant York (1941), Air Force (1943), So Proudly We Hail! (1943), Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Battleground (1949), Operation Pacific (1951), Battle Cry (1955), The Longest Day (1962), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), Midway (1976), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Three Kings (1999), and Pearl Harbor (2001).