The number and quality of Korean War movies is definitely a film genre that is definitely lacking compared to World War II movies for example. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t great movies available to watch. It is just that all the modern great Korean War movies are coming out of South Korean film studios and the only good Korean War movies coming out of the US are all from the 1950′s. I have said this repeatedly that a Korean War based mini-series like “Band of Brothers” would be a huge hit, however until Hollywood picks up on the great content available from this war I recommend everyone check out these all-time best of the Korean War films I have selected below.
1. The Taebak Mountains (1994) – This movie was made following the publication of Cho Jeong-lae’s groundbreaking book “Taebaek Sanmaek” that in great detail describes the effects of the communist guerrilla war and the follow on Korean War had on the civilians who lived in the small South Korean village of Beolgyo. The battle of ideology led to many indiscriminate killings by both the ROK government as well as by the communists. The movie was directed by the legendary Korean director Im Kwon-taek and the star actor was in the film is the great Ahn Sung-kee. This movie is not only the best Korean War film, but also in my opinion the best Korean film ever made.
2. The Steel Helmet (1951) – This movie centers around a GI that survives a mass execution by the North Koreans of US soldiers when the bullet meant to kill him deflects off his helmet. The GI is freed from his bonds by a Korean orphan who then travels with the GI as he looks for safety. As he wanders the Korean countryside he meets other GI’s separated from their units. They form a motley crew of personalities that team together to defend a key observation post located at Buddhist Temple.
3. Taeguki (2003) – This movie which is known as the “Saving Private Ryan” of South Korea can be quite cheesy at points, but it is still an excellent film that shows the Korean War from the perspective of the ROK Army as seen through the eyes of two brothers who ultimately find themselves battling each other on opposing armies.
4. Pork Chop Hill (1959) – This Gregory Peck classic is probably the most well known Korean War film in the United States even though The Steel Helmet is a better film. The movie tells the story of a platoon of soldiers tasked to hold a remote hill at great cost of life before the Armistice Agreement is signed to end the Korean War.
5. 71 Into the Fir e (2010) – In this recently released Korean filmed movie, several hundred South Korean soldiers and 71 teenagers were drafted for service in Pohang section of the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War. Due to the shortage of men, the small city was left in the hands of the 71 teenagers to try and stop the advancing North Korean Army.
6. The DMZ (1965) – This Korean made movie was the first movie allowed to be filmed within the DMZ. The movie tells the tale of two Korean kids struggling to survive near the 38th parallel after their parents are killed. The movie was released on DVD with English subtitles in 2005 which has allowed this Korean War classic to be viewed by a much wider global audience.
7. The Bridges at Toko-ri (1954) – This is a another classic American made Korean War film starring William Holden & Grace Kelly. In the movie Holden is a pilot assigned to destroy the bridges located at a North Korean village named Toko-ri. The movie is a based off a book of the same name by James Michener who based the book off of a real life story he witnessed as a war correspondent aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War.
8. Retreat, Hell! (1952) – Another classic Korean War film which depicts the actions of US Marines from the Inchon Landing Operation all the way through the Chosin Reservoir campaign. It is incredible that the Chosin Reservoir campaign may have been the finest hour of the US Marines and the other soldiers that fought there and the best movie made about this was filmed all the way back in 1952.
9. Battle Hymn (1957) – This movie is based on the real life story of how members of the US military worked to evacuate Korean orphans from the peninsula during the Korean War to an orphanage set up on Cheju Island. However, the movie claims that Air Force Colonel Dean Hess is the one that evacuated the children, which isn’t true since it was actually Chaplain Robert Blaisdell that did so. The controversy between Hess and Blaisdell continues to this day, but despite this the movie does show the often overlooked aspect of the Korean War which was the amount of orphans it generated and the efforts of the US military to help them.
10. A Hill In Korea (1956) – This is the only film on my list that is not Korean or American made. The film is a British production that is the only British made Korean War movie I know of. The movie is about a small unit of British soldiers on the retreat from the advancing Chinese Army in 1951 who get cut off and have to fight for their lives on a hill in Korea.
I hope everyone enjoyed the list. Please feel free to add in the comments section a movie you think I overlooked or recommend I check out. A notable exception on this list for some may be the 1970 MASH movie, but I don’t really consider that a Korean War movie because it was really a statement about the Vietnam War. If you are wondering what I think is the all-time worst Korean War movie look no further than the Reverend Moon funded movie Inchon.
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