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10 Best Prisoners of War Movies of All Time

December 27, 2016
7 min read

Prisoners of wars or POW are those people who get captured during wars or battles. They could be either combatants or non-combatants. History suggests that in the early days, there were no concept of keeping a captured combatant alive, until he was of certain importance. Civilians were often disposed without much qualm. As time passed, warfare became modern and the treatment of the captured enemy posed question to the people in charge. At times the captured tried to flee, only to be caught and killed. Sometimes the atrocities towards the POWs made news, but often their plight went unnoticed. So regulations were made and changed multiple times to decide the most humane response towards the captured enemy, barring few exceptions. Cinema has often tried to portray these stories, either via showcasing the endurance of the captured or the atrocities committed towards them. We, at the Cinemaholic, bring you the list of top prisoner of war movies ever. You can some of these prisoner of war (POW) movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

10. Captured (1959)

Directed by John Krish, it was made as an instructional docudrama, sponsored by the British army to educate the soldiers about the various interrogation and torture techniques inflicted upon them, upon capture. In order to make it as realistic possible, John was provided with the actual reports about the torture British POWs went through. It tells the story of a group of captured soldiers and their systematic mental disintegration at the hands of the Koreans. The British army were so appalled by the end product that they restricted its viewing and the film was kept hidden in the archives for 45 years before it was made open to the public eyes!

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9. The Colditz Story (1955)

The Colditz castle, due to its rocky terrain and higher altitude was considered to be inescapable by the Germans. Based on the memoirs of Pat Reid, a British army officer who was incarcerated there during the second world war, ‘The Colditz Story’ tells the story of a group of POWs from different countries who, after failing in their individual attempts to escape, come together to hatch a mass escape plan. Full of jingoism, with witty one liners, this movie is high on entertainment and less on actual facts. Academy award winner John Mills played the protagonist Pat Reid in this action adventure.

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8. La Grande Illusion (1937)

During first world war, two french officers are caught while encroaching the German air space and are brought to the attention of the presiding German officer. Due to the mutual admiration of being elitists, the German and the French officer strike a bond of camaraderie. While this forms the backbone of the movie, the captured French along with others devise an escape plan. Directed by Jean Renoir, this is considered to be one of the French cinemasterpieces.

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7. The Round Up (1966)

It tells the story of a group of Hungarian rebels, imprisoned by the Austrians in a place which is swarming with peasants and commoners. The Austrians, in attempt to identify the rebel leader, inflict various physical and psychological tortures on the hapless prisoners before one of the rebel is identified. Believing that he can save his life by turning other rebels in, he becomes an informant. Soon more people are killed and he gets ostracised by rest, eventually getting killed by rest of inmates for his betrayal. Directed by Miklos Jancso, this has become a cult cinema over time.

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6. A Man Escaped (1957)

Based on the memoirs of a member of the French resistance, ‘A Man Escaped’ talks about one man’s unyielding tryst to break out of the prison, he’s incarcerated in. Set during the second world war, the protagonist Fontaine is brought into the Montluc prison where over time he methodically fashions a way out by creating an escape point and using clothes as rope. While the story is set in a prison, the viewers doesn’t get to see much of it, as the story moves around the protagonist and his plans for the escape. It’s a gripping tale of planning and methodical execution.

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5. Rescue Dawn (2006)

It’s based on the real life incident of Dieter Dengler, a German-American pilot whose aircraft was shot down by the insurgents of Vietnam, during the Vietnam war. After he was captured, he was put in a prison camp where previously captured Americans were held. The movie highlights the mental disintegration of the captured soldiers, in a jungle that’s omnipresent, a trap on its own, in a manner that reminds you of another masterpiece ‘Apocalypse Now’.

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4. Stalag 17 (1953)

A prison camp where every details about the incarcerated POWs are spilled to the holding Nazi German authorities. Thinking that one of their own has betrayed them, the remaining prisoners start looking for the mole. While this forms the central plot, the miserable lives of the inhabitants unfurls as they make the most of it, living through stale foods, unhygienic conditions and talking lecherously about women. Combining an entertaining plot line and brilliant performances, this is a classic in every sense. Directed by a versatile Billy Wilder, ‘Stalag 17’ earned William Holden the Academy Award for best actor in leading role.

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3. Empire Of The Sun (1987)

Directed by the visionary Steven Spielberg, it is about the loss of innocence of a kid, during the times of war. A young Jamie (Played by a very young Christian Bale) gets separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion and forced to stay in a POW camp. Through sheer hardship, scams and sometimes with pure luck he manages to exist in the big bad world of the civilian POW camp. Eventually when he gets the chance to escape, he cannot remember what his parents look like ! The movie hits its zenith with the climatic scene of atomic bombing at Nagasaki, which stays with the viewer for a long time. Released to a mixed reaction, over the years this movie has achieved a cult status.

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2. The Great Escape (1963)

Based on a real life incident of a mass escape of British prisoners from a German camp, is classic tale of dare and adventure. Although the escape ends on a sad note, as almost all escapees except the character of Steve McQueen get caught and killed, it’s historically accurate to the events actually occurred. The way the escape has been plotted with the minute intricacies is a treat to watch. Probably the only movie in this list, to have the fun element added to it, ‘The Great Escape’ is one hell of a ride. Watch out for the scene, where the entire German army is chasing after Steve McQueen on a motorcycle who tries to jump a barbed wire fence.

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1. The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

A classic in every sense, this is a satire on the unrighteousness of human nature using the construction of a bridge as a medium. Brought to a Japanese POW camp, A British officer at the cost of his men helps in building a bridge which will necessarily help the enemy Japanese army move forward but for him it will serve as a proof of British ingenuity. The moment of despair arrives in the movie where he discovers his own army’s plan to sabotage the bridge by planting explosives. He moves to counter it, only to be thwarted by his men, as the bridge blows to pieces with ‘Madness.. Madness’ echoing all around.

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