Many classic war movies are among the most celebrated films in the history of cinema. But there are a few historical periods that seem to be wildly overrepresented in the pantheon of great war flicks: the two World Wars, the Cold War, the US wars in Vietnam and Iraq.
The twentieth century, though, was chock full of small wars that, for one reason or another, are less frequently made into movies.
Why are they neglected? Maybe it’s because the history isn’t widely known. Or maybe it's because in some cases the history is familar, but it's still too close for comfort.
Maybe it's something else. The Second World War, for all its pain and suffering, is often shown as the great justified world war in which the forces of good teamed up against the evil of genocidal Nazi expansionism. A lot of these smaller wars, though, are more murky, prickly, and difficult to celebrate. It's harder to explain wars of colonial conquest or retreat in a way that makes them digestible as tales of good versus evil where the right people win.
Some of the movies that have been made about these controversial smaller wars are essential viewing. Some stink, too, but are still very much worth a look. Let's dive in...
10. The Battle Of Algiers
Before the Second World War, the French Empire stretched across a huge swath of the world, including Indochina - Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia - parts of the Middle East, and a massive stretch of North Africa that they knew as the Maghreb, which included Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. After Victory in Europe against the Nazis, the French Empire fell, colony after colony, in a series of brutal defeats.
The Algerian Revolution was one of the most bloody and bitter phases of the end of the French Empire. This 1966 movie written by resistance leader Saadi Yacef tells the story from the perspective of the Algerian nationalists, and remains divisive in France today.
It's a harsh, dark piece of film, which documents a specific phase of the war in which the Algerian resistance bombed civilian targets in the capital city Algiers, and in which the French military tried to put an end to the war through the use of gruesome, cruel torture.
Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, filming only a few years after the war ended in favour of the Algerians, recreated the war with striking realism. He shot on location in the streets where the fighting had taken place, using non-professional actors in many of the key roles. The result is a film of incredible power and emotional impact.
It's also very controversial - many people in Algeria today consider it a piece of dated government propaganda, and the right in France hate it so much that even in the twenty-first century some cinemas that considered screening it were threatened with firebombing.