High-octane, brutal, and frequently intense in nature, war films transport viewers from the comfort of their seats and throw them straight into the midst of the fighting to adrenaline-fuelled effect. And while there are plenty of excellent examples of the genre set in modern day (Hurt Locker, Restrepo, and Beasts of No Nation for instance), many more of these films tend to take us on a journey through history.
Alongside cinematic classics such as Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, and Apocalypse Now (and many, many more) which highlight the historical significance of war that engulfed the 20th century, other films go even further back in time - some as far back as the Middle Ages.
Lasting for around 1000 years from the fall of the fall of the western Roman Empire to the start of the Renaissance, the medieval era is best known for the bubonic plague, the Great Schism, knights, and war – a lot of war. Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous films that bring many of these wars and their historical figures and legends to life on the big screen.
Swapping guns for swords and tanks for cavalry, medieval war films are arguably some of the best ones out there...
10. Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The oldest film to appear on this list, Alexander Nevsky was helmed by Soviet cinematic pioneer and theorist Sergei Eistenstein, whose work on Montage (that’s creating meaning through editing) revolutionised cinema as we know it.
Eisenstein’s first sound film, this historical epic tells the triumphant victory of the titular 13th century prince of Novgorod over an invading force of crusading German Teutonic Knights. Culminating in a grand depiction of the Battle on the Ice (which took place on April 1242) in which Nevsky all but slaughtered the invaders after trapping them on the icy Lake Peipus, this large-scale sequence holds up remarkably well for its age.
Grand in scope and underscored by an operatic musical soundscape composed by Prokofiev, Nevsky highlights Russia’s adoration for a historical figure who was sainted over 300 years after his death.
It's important to note that this film was made when the Soviet Union and Germany’s relationship was under strain. This is evident in the film’s use of swastika imagery attributed to the Knights. It’s said that Stalin requested the film to be screened in every Soviet cinema when the peace between the two nations was broken.