10 Best Korean War Movies

When it comes to the 10 best Korean War movies, one film stands out: “MASH.” The reasons are discussed below, but in many ways, “MASH” isn’t typical of any other war movies, particularly Korean War movies. The others on the list have very different statements to make about that war, and its effect on soldiers and civilians alike.

  1. “MASH.” Robert Altman’s 1970 classic set the bar for any anti-war movies to come, and inspired a very different but equally significant TV series. It also became a symbol of conflicted American attitudes toward the Vietnam War. While the film was nominated for five Oscars, winning one, it was also briefly banned from US military bases because of its anti-war message. 

  2. “The Manchurian Candidate.” Another classic, 1962’s version of “Candidate” fit the paranoid attitudes of the Cold War. Veterans Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Harvey return from Korea as changed men, but Harvey’s been changed more than anybody knows. By the time Sinatra finds out how, Communist agents have their finger on a very important trigger. The film remains a gripping thriller all these years later, and Angela Lansbury’s villainous turn is the icing on the cake. 

  3. “The Steel Helmet.” Maverick director Sam Fuller made waves with this low-budget masterpiece, released in 1951, when the war was less than a year old. The first film about the Korean War, it was actually based on Fuller’s World War II experiences, and took a hard look at race and violence. This approach was new to audiences familiar with gung-ho John Wayne war movies, and earned Fuller the ire of the U.S. government. 

  4. “Big Fish.” This Oscar-nominated 2003 film was about a lot of things, most of them made up by the film’s protagonist, Edward Bloom. His description of his Korean War experiences seems equally unbelievable to his incredulous son Will. But while some of his tales are extremely tall, the war was all too real for Edward.

  5. “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” In 1954, a year after combat had ceased, Paramount released this adaptation of James Michener’s best-selling novel. Bomber pilots learn the hard way that war is hell, something Michener had learned as a war correspondent. The film won an Oscar for Special Effects. 

  6. “Sayonara.” Another Korean War movie based on a James Michener novel, 1957’s “Sayonara” focused on racism and prejudice, unusual for films of the time. American soldiers Marlon Brando and Red Buttons face ostracism and harassment when they fall in love with Asian women. The film won four Academy Awards and was nominated for six others. 

  7.  “MacArthur.” Legendary General Douglas MacArthur was a natural for the Hollywood treatment, and this 1977 film cast acclaimed actor Gregory Peck as the general. World War II hero MacArthur famously clashed with President Truman during the Korean conflict, resulting in the loss of his command, which is the focus of this picture. 

  8. “Pork Chop Hill.” Peck played a lieutenant in this 1959 film, about a true and controversial battle in the closing days of the war. American and Chinese soldiers alike lost their lives contending for the hill of the title, a spot with no strategic value. When Peck learns the real reason for this engagement, he is not reassured. 

  9.  “Taegukgi.” In 2004, acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Kang Je-gyu offered audiences a chance to see the conflict from a Korean perspective. Two brothers discover grim truths about war and each other when they find themselves on opposing sides. The film won numerous international awards, and an English translation is available on video. 

  10. “Battle Circus.” This curiosity from 1953, released while the war was still going on, has a starring role by Humphrey Bogart, but that’s not the only reason to watch it. It is about a mobile surgical hospital–in fact, the working title of the film was “MASH”! It also takes a darkly humorous look at the war, preceding its near-namesake film by 17 years.

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