The Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 have been the subject of numerous films, as well as a certain highly acclaimed mini-series. Yet for all the fictional attempts made to depict the events of and surrounding the events of D-Day, there are a few that didn’t quite measure up.

This year we mark the 75th anniversary of what was the largest amphibious invasion in military history. Here’s a list of movies you can watch (and a few to avoid) that will help get you thinking about this historic event and pay a small measure of tribute to the daring exploits of all who served and died during this monumental undertaking.


D-Day the Sixth of June (1956)

Made just 12 years after the actual invasion, D-Day the Sixth of June was the first cinematic account of the D-Day invasion, but it is far from the best or even the grandest.

In fact, while it has D-Day in the title, it’s really more of a love story than a war film. It isn’t helped by the fact that the movie was filmed nowhere near Normandy Beach, but in Long Beach, California instead.

The landing sequences were filmed at Point Dume with only a few dozen extras and just two LCVP “Higgins Boats” being used in the actual D-Day sequences. The uniforms and equipment are also lacking, and the effects aren’t exactly special.

ACTION: There is more drama than action, so if you’re looking for the invasion heroes, they’re not really here.

GUNS and ACCURACY: The typical small arms of D-Day are seen in a few sequences, but a small modern re-enactment will offer more accurate equipment than this movie uses.

VERDICT: The Allies might win the day, but any viewers looking for a rousing D-Day story are the biggest losers!

Screaming Eagles (1956)

black and white movie still from screaming eagles
Screaming Eagles was a low budget movie about D-Day paratroopers from 1956 with a cast of up and coming actors.

When you think of paratroopers and D-Day chances are you’re thinking of Band of Brothers. This 1956 film has some similarities to it, as both highlight the role of the 101st Airborne Division on June 6, 1944 and both feature a cast of up-and-coming actors.

For a film made on a tight budget, it does a decent job of telling the story, but by today’s standards it misses the landing zone.

ACTION: This film offers a few good combat sequences but much of the action comes off as cheesy by today’s standards.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: The equipment and other details are good, but here is another film where modern re-enactments seem more accurate.

VERDICT: Worth jumping into, but only because it runs a tight 79 minutes! You can watch this and then check out Band of Brothers.

The Longest Day (1962)

People not into war movies will gripe that this one should be called “The Longest Movie” but it is among the absolute best retellings of D-Day to date.

Based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day features an all-star cast of the day, including John Wayne, Henry Fonda, George Segal, Robert Wagner, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, and Sean Connery.

What makes this film so compelling is that it is an epic that doesn’t try to focus on any particular segment in depth, but instead highlights the individual roles so many played in that single, 24-hour period.

The film also shows many facets of the invasion, from the paratrooper drops, to the landings on the beaches, to a stunning assault by French Commandos that runs more than a minute and a half and was filmed in a single take. This is the film that set the bar for all on-screen depictions of D-Day to follow.

black and white movie still from the longest day
The Longest Day is among the absolute best retellings of the events of D-Day to date, based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan

ACTION: There is a good mix of drama and combat in this film.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: The film hits all the right notes. If there is a complaint, it’s that many of the actors (a few who were actual WWII veterans) are a bit too old for the parts they’re playing, but nearly all the firearms are spot on.

VERDICT: At 178 minutes, it’s actually shorter than Avengers: End Game and so much better a film. The men in this film might not have super powers, but they’re real heroes. This is a must watch every June 6.

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

The Americanization of Emily is another love story that often gets lumped into the sub-genre of “D-Day” movies. The plot involves a U.S. admiral ensuring that “the first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor,” and as a dark comedy-drama, it does work.

This is actually a very good film that holds up more than 55 years later and one that people who don’t usually like “war movies” are likely to enjoy—but as a D-Day story, it comes up short. It wasn’t the first film about Omaha Beach and certainly isn’t the best.

black and white image of the americanization of emily
What appears to be a Browning Hi-Power pistol standing in for an M1911A1 in The Americanization of Emily.

ACTION: Not much.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: There are few notable scenes with firearms and the story isn’t exactly accurate anyway, so don’t go in expecting one or you’ll be disappointed.

VERDICT: If you just want to see Julie Andrews in a film with Nazis, stick to the Sound of Music,, but all in all this is a good film. It just is not really a “D-Day movie.”

Hell in Normandy (1968)

Hell in Normandy is a French-Italian co-production about Americans and Germans in WWII. If that doesn’t say enough to dissuade you, nothing else will!

The movie is set during World War II in the days just prior to the D-Day invasion. A special parachute unit is sent to destroy a German flame thrower installation on Omaha Beach.

Operation GAMBIT is tasked with destroying the flamethrower bunker, which also contains the controls to a device to flood the waters with oil during the American landing at Omaha Beach and then ignite it, destroying the landing craft.

hell in normandy movie poster
Hell in Normandy is pretty inaccurate in terms of firearms.

ACTION: Another film that has action sequences less compelling than a re-enactment today.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: It isn’t good, unless you like to nitpick a WWII film to death!

VERDICT: Even at just 90 minutes this one feels like the Longest Movie about D-Day and not in a good way.

Overlord (1975)

While a powerful story, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Overlord tells the story of a British soldier who has a premonition of death on the beaches during the D-Day invasion. It focuses on his training, a brief love affair, and the British landings at Sword Beach.

The movie poster pretty much sums up the ending, but it remains a powerful film of sacrifice.

The poster for Overlord kind of gives away the ending.

ACTION: There isn’t much, but you don’t watch this one for the action sequences.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: It is very good in terms of the right equipment, weapons, and even vehicles. All this makes this one worth checking out. It’s a movie for history buffs a bit more than it is for action fans.

VERDICT: Imagine if writer/director Stuart Cooper made Saving Private Ryan —the ending might have been a lot worse!

The Big Red One (1980)

This film, which was written and directed by World War II veteran Samuel Fuller, really bites off more than it can chew. It includes not only the D-Day landing—which is the high point of the film—but also tries to offer the whole history of the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) throughout World War II.

Had this been the subject of a mini-series such as Band of Brothers it could have been an amazing journey with the unit.

Instead it is lackluster at best with only a few standout moments. Lee Marvin was actually much better in the less serious The Dirty Dozen. But you do get to see a young Mark Hammill in a non-Star Wars role. Those are about the only names you’ll recognize in the cast, other than maybe Robert Carradine, best known as Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds (1984).

image still from the big red one
The Big Red One is a typical early 80s film that provides some good action sequences, but some are downright terrible.

ACTION: This is a typical early 80s film that provides some good action sequences, but some are downright terrible – the firefight in a mental institution is in a word… stupid!

GUNS AND ACCURACY: The film is surprisingly good in terms of the equipment and small arms. In addition to the correct U.S. firearms, in scenes with the Vichy French and British, the firearms are also quite accurate. The uniforms aren’t bad either—visually this film is good, which makes the story and pacing seem all the worse.

VERDICT: Film critic Roger Ebert called it one of the most expensive “B-pictures” ever made and that’s a spot on description. This First Infantry Division deserves to have its story told, as this one doesn’t do it justice.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Upon setting out to make this film, Steven Spielberg said he didn’t want it to be his father’s World War II film. In some ways it most certainly isn’t—it features a gritty realism and in terms of equipment, uniforms and small arms, even the smallest details were near perfect. Here is where Spielberg is spot on. Saving Private Ryan has a level of authenticity not previously seen in a WWII film.

Yet, from a storytelling point of view, this one couldn’t be more clichéd, and apart from the language and graphic violence, it has all the “beats” or plot points of a 1960s WWII film. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t break any new ground from a storytelling perspective.

SPR starts with an epic battle sequence that brings the D-Day landings to life like no other film, let’s get that straight. it’s a sequence that caused a number of veterans to break down upon viewing it because of its realism and if you saw it for the first time in the theater, you can understand why.

paul giamatti and tom hanks in saving private ryan
In this shot we see Paul Giamatti with an M1 Garand, Tom Hanks with a Thompson, and an Airborne soldier with an M1A1 Carbine.

Later, it features a couple of the supporting heroes each dying meaningful deaths with final words as the squad of soldiers searches for the titular Private amidst the chaos of the D-Day invasion. It ends with an intense battle in a French village with the classic objective of holding a bridge with an inferior force against the advancing German army.

The movie is also bookended by two intentionally tear-jerking modern day sequences featuring an elderly Ryan—which would have been original unless you saw Titanic just a year earlier.

m1 garand rifle in saving private ryan
A soldier reloads his M1 Garand. The bolt is supposed to shut automatically when a new clip is inserted, but when the guns got dirty, this mechanism often failed. As depicted in the movie, soldiers would often slap the charging handle to close the action.

ACTION: As noted, it starts with an amazing battle, has a few good action sequences along the way, and wraps up with a truly rousing firefight in a destroyed town. As far as war movie action goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: The uniforms, equipment and settings are fantastic. Saving Private Ryan sets the bar.

VERDICT: Saving Private Ryan is as close as you can get to the perfect WWII film, but instead of breaking any rules, Spielberg followed them to the letter. This is a film that can be watched countless times and still be as impactful as the first time. Pass the popcorn.

Band of Brothers (2001)

The HBO mini-series Band of Brothers]{{rel=nofollow} is simply as good as a World War II story can get. Instead of rushing through the story, as noted by the failure that is The Big Red One, this 10-part series took the time to focus on character development and highlighted key moments in the conflict and follows “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from jump training through D-Day and its participation in major actions in Europe, up until Japan’s capitulation and the war’s end.

As with Saving Private Ryan, this one upped the ante on what viewers should expect when it came to uniforms, equipment and small arms in a war movie, even though this is a mini-series—it’s more like a 10-hour movie.

band of brothers movie still
HBO’s Band of Brothers upped the ante on what viewers should expect when it came to uniforms, equipment and small arms.

Part of the success of this series is that it’s based on a book of the same name by noted World War II author Stephen Ambrose and thus didn’t try to create an original tale to fit in with the events of D-Day or with a given unit’s timeline.

This is a real story and it is supported by on-screen interviews with the surviving members of Easy Company, which begin most every episode.

The series is summed by the words of the real Dick Winters, who says when asked by his grandson if he was a hero, he responded, “No, I’m not a hero, but I have served in a company full of them.”

band of brothers movie still soldier aiming rifle
Capt. Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) fires his M1 Garand dry in Band of Brothers.

ACTION: Not every episode was filled with firefights, but even so, there is plenty of action, along with good storytelling and character building along the way.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: If Saving Private Ryan set the bar, this one took it even higher. The guns are spot on, the uniforms near perfect, and the other details truly as good as it can get. Even minor details that you can only see if you freeze frame specific scenes are historically perfect.

VERDICT: Set aside some time on June 6 to watch the first two episodes, but plan on watching the whole series, because you probably will!

My Way (2011)

While My Way is an odd title for a WWII film and says almost nothing about the story, it is based on the fantastic life of a Korean soldier who was conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army, captured by the Soviets and forced to join the Red Army and then finally forced into service with the German Wehrmacht.

While heavily fictionalized, with the addition of several characters, the story is one that highlights the will to survive in wartime.

ACTION: The South Korean film offers a unique view of combat between the Japanese and Soviet forces, between Soviet and Germans and a brief D-Day invasion sequence.

GUNS AND ACCURACY: The story may seem fantastical but this one includes a diverse mix of WWII era small arms, with only a few notable errors (incorrect M1 Carbines are seen). The filmmakers managed to get the details correct for many of the uniforms, no small feat considering that this one includes Japanese, Soviet, German and American soldiers. That’s impressive!

VERDICT: This is a top notch movie, but D-Day only plays a small part in a much broader story here. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out.

Bonus Viewing

Here are a few other films are worth watching to get the full D-Day experience:

Eye of the Needle (1981)

eye of the needle movie still
Eye of the Needle is the story of a German spy who discovers critical information about the planned Allied invasion.

More of a spy drama than a war film, this film stars Donald Sutherland as a German spy who discovers critical information about the planned Allied invasion.

He escapes British Intelligence by heading to a remote island, occupied only a disable RAF flyer, his wife, son and a local shepherd. Based on a novel by Ken Follett, noted writer of historical fiction, this one is a nail biter to the bitter end.

Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)

ike countdown to d-day movie still
This film focuses on how General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Tom Selleck) had to deal with the various “personalities” of his command wikipedia

This made-for-TV movie, which originally aired on A&E, was actually filmed entirely in New Zealand – yet manages to seem convincingly enough like the UK during WWII.

It highlights the build-up to D-Day, focusing on how General Dwight D. Eisenhower had to deal with the various “personalities” of his command including Gen. Bradley, Gen. Patton, Gen. Montgomery, and Gen. de Gaulle, as well as the inner workers of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The film ends where the aforementioned others pick up, the Normandy Invasion.

Churchill (2017)

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Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill in this film, which focusses on the British Prime Minister’s take on the impending Normandy landings.

It could be said that a generation ago it was the goal of all great British actors to play either Henry V or Richard III.

Today, it seems every prominent British actor wants to play Winston Churchill. In Churchill, Brian Cox steps into the striped black suit and bowler hat to offer a convincing portrayal of the wartime Prime Minister.

This film centers on Churchill’s take on the upcoming Normandy landings. While Cox is good in the role, it quickly apparent that Gary Oldman was far better job in the vastly superior Darkest Hour (2017).