10 Films to Teach World War I in the Social Studies Classroom

Most students love movies. Add a film to your studies, and the topic comes to life. Here are ten movies dealing with the World War I era that are suitable for watching and discussing in the classroom.

1. Marie Curie: More than Meets the Eye: This film was made in 1997 and is 54 minutes long. It is suitable for grades 3 – 7. This movie is a biographical account of Marie Curie during World War I. Marie Curie is the scientist who discovered radioactivity. During World War I, she set out to provide x-ray machines to help doctors treat wounded soldiers. It was difficult for her to get respect because she was a female, but when the new technology proved helpful, doctors were willing to listen to her. This movie provides a positive portrayal of a female scientist, while showing depictions of life during World War I. It is an excellent film tie in for younger students who may not be able to handle more graphic depictions of war.

2. Paths of Glory: This film was made in 1957 and is 86 minutes long. It is suitable for grades 5 and up. This movie tells the story of a battle gone wrong. A French general orders his troops to fight in an impossible situation, and when many die unnecessarily and others retreat, he blames some of his soldiers for cowardice. This film, based on a true incident during World War I, is a great discussion opener on the topic of justice.

3. The African Queen: This film was made in 1951 and is 105 minutes long. It is suitable for grades 5 and up. Charlie is a boat operator in World War I era Africa. During his travels he rescues a missionary woman who convinces him to attack a German boat. This movie provides a good picture of World War I in Africa. Through the development of a romantic relationship, the movie explores the themes of being a good citizen and staying true to oneself.

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4. The Dawn Patrol: This film was made in 1938 and is 103 minutes long. It is suitable for grades 5 and up. The Dawn Patrol tells the story of a British airplane squadron during World War I. Airplanes were still a new machine, and the danger of fighting in one was high. There was a good chance that each aviator that headed out would not come back. This film provides a good history of aerial fighting coupled with realistic portrayals of early fighter pilots and their commanders. Themes include courage in war and trustworthiness.

5. Aces High: This movie was made in 1976 and is 114 minutes in length. It is suitable for grades 5 and up. This is another movie about the aerial battles during World War II. The themes and story are similar to those in The Dawn Patrol, but the movie has less of a historical feel and yet a more realistic feel due to modern filming techniques. If you have the time you might want to show both films and compare. Otherwise watch them both yourself and decide which is more suitable for your students.

6. All Quiet on the Western Front: This movie was made in 1930 and is 103 minutes long. It is suitable for grades 7 and up. All Quiet on the Western from was produced not too long after World War I was fought and is a decidedly anti-war film. It shows World War I through the eyes of some German soldiers who become disillusioned during battle after enlisting with high spirits to fight for their country. There is a definite courage in war theme, coupled with the futility of war and the need for peacemakers.

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7. Lawrence of Arabia: This movie was made in 1962 and is 221 minutes in length. It is suitable for grades 7 and up. Lawrence of Arabia was a spy in the Arab world during World War I. This film is a fictionalized story of his work during the war. He was part of the French and British plan to turn Arabs against Turkish rule to continue the Allied war effort. He successfully led Arabs who were hoping for freedom after the war to sabotage Turkish railways and other Turkish war establishments. Like many other war films this movie explores the themes of courage in war and trustworthiness.

8. Gallipoli: This film was made in 1981, is 110 minutes in length, and is suitable for grades 8 and up. This movie chronicles the lives of some Australian youth who, despite other hopes and dreams, do the patriotic thing and sign up to fight during World War I. They are sent to battle the Turks at Gallipoli. The movie does a good job of portraying who the soldiers are before the war and what happens while they are fighting. Typical World War I battles are displayed including trench warfare. A main theme of the movie is courage in war.

9. Ryan’s Daughter: This movie was made in 1970 and is 194 minutes in length. It contains some adult themes and is appropriate for grades 10 and up. This movie tells the story of an Irish woman, Rosy, who falls in love with a British officer during World War I. Many of the Irish, who have long been upset about British occupation, support the German side during the war. Rosy find herself caught up in the drama between the British and the unsupportive Irish. Through the depiction of a romantic relationship this film explores the themes of trustworthiness and respect while showing life during World War I and giving a British and Irish perspective.

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10. Company K: This 2004 movie is 102 minutes in length and is suitable for grades 10 and up. It is not suitable for younger students due to graphic depictions of war violence. This film tells the story of World War I through the eyes of a writer who fought for the United States during the war. This is an anti-war movie with the theme of the futility and violence of war being well portrayed.