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Dunkirk: the incredible real-life events that inspired your favourite war movie scenes


Esteemed director Christopher Nolan returns this summer with his latest film Dunkirk.

A World War II drama it brings to life one of the most pivotal moments of the entire conflict, focusing on the Allied evacuation from the French beach in May and June 1940. It's on course to become the biggest wartime blockbuster since Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan back in 1998.

Dunkirk tells the incredible true story of Operation Dynamo from three different perspectives: the air the land and the sea, the all-star cast including Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles. The array of viewpoints is sure to leave us with plenty of iconic scenes that will no doubt stay with us long after the movie has ended.

There is something truly awe-inspiring about wartime scenes that are based on incredible real-life events. Here is our countdown of some of the best.

9. Rescue Dawn – Escape from the prison camp

Rescue Dawn stars Christian Bale as pilot Dieter Dengler and tells the true story of how he was shot down by villagers during the American military campaign in the Vietnam War.

Once captured he was subjected to torture and humiliation by the prison guards. Dengler remained resourceful and optimistic throughout, all the while carefully crafting a plan to escape. When he finally does, it becomes clear that it is the deadly jungle that is the real prison that is preventing him from escaping and returning home.

8. Full Metal Jacket – the new recruits

There isn’t a better example of poetic vulgarity than this. Drill instructor Sergeant Hartman utter dismantles the latest recruits that are sent to the U.S Marine corps during the Vietnam War in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

Although a fictional story it's based on authentic, first-hand experience of Vietnam war training. The actor R. Lee Ermey who played Hartman actually served as a drill instructor in the Marine Corps and in a case of life imitating art Ermey was allowed to improvise much of his dialogue.

Warning: the following clip contains NSFW language!

7. Joyeux Noel – Christmas truce

This is a film about the landmark World War I Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, British and German soldiers.

It almost seems inconceivable that such a scene could take place but it did indeed happen. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, both sides ventured into No Man's Land to exchange food and souvenirs with some meetings even ending up in mutual carol singing.

6. Black Hawk Down – convoy scene

Ridley Scott’s Somalian war epic chronicles the events of a 1993 raid by the U.S military that was aimed at capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Adid and the ensuing firefight known as The Battle of Mogadishu.

The initial Operation on the 3rd of October 1993 was intended to last an hour but became an overnight stand off with rescue efforts extending into the daylight hours of the 4th of October.

5. The Great Escape – escaping the camp

The Great Escape has become a holiday favourite that is associated with Steve McQueen’s sense of cool as well as his legendary motorcycling skills.

The movie is actually based on the 1944 allied forces mass escape from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag III. While many of the events are exaggerated for dramatic effect it is worth noting that McQueen himself served in the US Marines after World War II and is credited with saving fellow Marines lives during an Artic exercise.

4. Atonement – the Dunkirk scene

Not only is Joe Wright’s 5 minute 30-second tracking shot a technical marvel, it also perfectly captures the devastating chaos that the soldiers at Dunkirk had to endure while waiting to be evacuated during World War II.

Unbelievably at the end of the heroic mission, 330,000 soldiers were successfully evacuated.

3. The Pianist – Ballade in G Minor

Director Roman Polanski’s inspiration for The Pianist stemmed from the fact that he himself had been a prisoner of a Nazi ghetto in Poland during World War II.

In the film pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) forms an unlikely friendship with a Nazi soldier over a shared bond of music while hiding out in abandoned houses in Warsaw during the war.

Their unthinkable friendship is cemented when Szpilman plays Chopin's Ballade in G Minor for the German officer. The heartfelt scene might actually be a contender for the best use of music in any film when you consider that it is indeed a factual account.

2. Hacksaw Ridge – the Battle of Okinawa

Few embodied goodness, decency and bravery quite like pacifist Desmond Doss, played in Mel Gibson's Oscar nominated movie by a terrific Andrew Garfield.

Real-life figure Doss gained infamy and worldwide recognition for charging into battle without carrying a gun, saving numbers of his fellow troops in the process. His heroic nature is showcased best in the enthralling scene in which Doss saves at least 50 men by lowering them down a cliff using a rope, while at the same time under heavy gunfire from Japanese soldiers.

1. Saving Private Ryan – Omaha Beach

Director Steven Spielberg might have produced the most definitive battle scene in film history while also making audiences feel closer to the conflict than they ever did before.

The scene is based on the infamous D-Day landings that occured as part of the Normandy invasion. The bloody and brutal beach conflict is perfectly captured in one of the most horrific scenes you ever will see.

Dunkirk is released on 15th July. What are your favourite war movie scenes? Let us know @Cineworld.

Andy Furlong is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.