There are not many movies depicting the Korean War so naming the best is maybe not of much of a challenging. Unlike WII or Vietnam which have captured the imaginations of some of our best filmmakers, Korean War movies, especially contemporary ones, are few and far between. The following is a chronological list of movies about the Korean War; which ones are the best will be up to the viewer.
Retreat, Hell (1952)
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, this movie was filmed while the Korean War was actually still going on. It tells the story of a Marine battalion faced to cross treacherous frozen territory to escape the enemy. Contemporay TV fans may be interested to know the movie stars Russ Tamblyn, father of Joan of Arcadia’s Amber Tamblyn.
Though this Robert Altman film (based on the book by Richard Hooker) was noted for addressing the reality of the Vietnam War, it is set during the Korean War. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, Eliot Gould and Robert Duvall are among the stars. Sally Kellerman was Oscar- nominated as a best supporting actress. The film was also up for best picture and director. Screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr won for his adaption of the book. The series, of course, spun-off from the film.
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
Lewis Milestone directed this film which stars Gregory Peck as a lieutenant in this war film set in Korea. Peck and others are opposed by Communist Chinese fighting for North Korea. Robert Blake and George Peppard also star (as does Norman Fell, aka Mr. Roper of Three’s Company).
The Bridge At Toko Ri (1955)
Directed by Mark Robson (Peyton Place), this movie has some A-listers on the cast: William Holden, Grace Kelly. Mickey Rooney also appears. The film stars Holden as a Korean War pilot assigned to destroy the title bridge while he battles his own doubts and nerves. The visual effects were Oscar-nominated. Robson was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award.
Men In War (1957)
The Korean War themes of taking hills in adverse conditions continue in this movie directed by Anthony Man (who was Director’s Guild nominated for the film). Based on a Van Van Praag novel, the movie stars Robert Ryan (The Dirty Dozen) who must guide his platoon through battle.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Frank Sinatra and Oscar-nominated Angela Lansbury star in this John Frankenheimer thriller about men brainwashed during their time as POW’s in Korea and one man’s quest to find out what really happened. Remade against the backdrop of the Gulf War in the early 2000s.
The Brotherhood Of War (English title) (2004)
Korean-language movie directed by South Korean Je-gu Kang. Told with flashbacks to the 50s, this is the story of two Korean brothers who were forced into the violence of war, with each of them, and their relationship, effected.
Steel Helmet (1951)
A Korean orphan and American troops led by a sargaent played by Gene Evans, band together to survive in a Buddhist temple. Writer Samuel Fuller won a low-budget WGA award for the screenplay.
Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Bisset and Richard Roundtree (what combination) are among the cast in this movie which Harvard “honored” with a Razzie Award. The movie tells of the important invasion of Inchon in the Korean War, but apparently not very well. Seems like a bit of an Ishatar.
The Korean War cost millions of lives, including over 50,000 Americans, yet, it has not been significantly depicted or analyzed in contemporary film, or even much in films of the time. Known as “The Forgotten War,” The Korean War seems to largely be forgotten also by the cinema.