It is 100 years today since the start of the Battle Of The Somme, the bloodiest single day in British Military history when 120,000 soldiers were sent into battle during the First World War. The battle raged for four months as British, French and Commonwealth troops fought against Germans, and by the end more than a million soldiers on both sides had been killed.
Of course, movies aimed at children don’t – and shouldn’t – show the true horror of the First World War or any other conflict. Below are carefully selected suggestions of movies your children may like that have war as a subject or backdrop – some are dramas, some adventures or comedies, and there’s even a musical, too.
For all ages
Don’t expect historical accuracy in these cute children’s movies, but as an introduction to the wars – and some terrific entertainment – they can’t be beaten and are all suitable for younger viewers.
Bedknobs And Broomsticks (U)
Based on the books by Mary Norton, this adorable mix of live action, animation and songs is set during the Blitz, when the Rawlins children (Charlie, Carrie and Paul) are evacuated to Dorset. They end up living with apprentice witch Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), who hopes to use her magical powers to bring the war to an end. You can read our review here.
Five Children And It (U)
In 1914, Robert, Cyril, Jane, Anthea and baby The Lamb say goodbye to their father who is heading off to the war. Sent to live with their uncle by the sea, the children find a creature called It (voiced by Eddie Izzard), a pesky sand fairy who creates havoc in their lives. Click here for our review.
Nanny Mc Phee And The Big Bang (U)
The second Nanny McPhee movie is set in a village during the Second World War, where Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is trying to raise her three children and their two cousins while her husband is away at war. Help comes in the form of Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), while the supporting cast includes Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, and Ewan McGregor. Here’s our review.
A cute animated kids movie about a group of war pigeons carrying vital messages across the Channel during World War Two and the gutsy little pigeon named Valiant who wants to join them. Cute stuff, with voices by Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais and John Cleese. Click here for our review.
For the over-8s
Do note that these movies have more realistic depictions of the two World Wars, so may be upsetting for sensitive viewers.
War Horse (12A)
Michael Morpurgo’s novel has been adapted into a stunning stage play and this Steven Spielberg weepie. In 1912, young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) befriends horse Joey, and the movie follows both their adventures during the war as Joey is sent to France as a cavalry horse. Read our review here.
The Book Thief (12A)
The Second World War as seen through the eyes of young Liesel, who is sent to live with foster parents in Germany after her mother flees the country. Based on the Marcus Zusak book of the same name, the film stars Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson and you can click here for our review.
The Diary Of Anne Frank (U)
Young diarist Anne Frank was hidden during the German occupation of Amsterdam during World War II and her Diary Of A Young Girl was adapted in 1959 into a film starring Millie Perkins. It’s a heartbreaking tale, beautifully performed by the cast, which also included Shelley Winters (who won an Oscar for her role) as Petra Van Daan, who shared a hiding place with Anne’s family. Our review is here.
A Little Princess (U)
A lovely adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 novel, with the story now moved to the First World War as young Sara is sent from her childhood home in India to a boarding school in New York when her father goes to fight in the war. Eleanor Bron stars as the mean Miss Minchin, while Liesel Matthews is young Sara. Our review is here:
The Railway Children (U)
The classic story of three children sent from their London home to a cottage in Yorkshire with their mother after their father ‘goes away’, this is set before the First World War but touches on the events that were to follow as the children befriend a Russian dissident who is travelling on one of the trains. It’s a true weepie, and if your kids love the book and the film, there is also the theatre production staged at Kings Cross Station in London featuring a real steam train (click here for more information on the stage play, and here for our review).
These movies are the grittiest of all, and are really aimed at older children and adults. If you are unsure whether they are suitable for your children, read the ratings descriptions at the British Board Of Film Classification website here.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (12)
After his father receives a promotion, young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and his family go to live on what Bruno thinks is a farm, where he is forbidden from playing in the back garden. When he does explore, he discovers barbed wire fence surrounding a camp and befriends a boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) who asks for food and is wearing a striped uniform that Bruno thinks is pyjamas. A moving look at the Holocaust, this will upset younger viewers.
Empire Of The Sun (PG)
JG Ballard’s award-winning novel was adapted for the screen by Steven Spielberg in 1987. Christian Bale, in one of his earliest roles, stars as Jamie, a British schoolboy in Shanghai at the beginning of the Second World War. Separated from his family, he tries to survive when the Japanese occupy the city, and becomes a prisoner of war when they capture him. A superb drama with a cast that also includes John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers.
Private Peaceful (12A)
Another Michael Morpurgo adaptation, set during World War I. George Mackay stars as Tommo, who lies about his age to enlist while his brother Charlie follows to protect him. A story about the futility of war, you can read our review here.
Hope And Glory (15)
John Boorman’s enjoyable 1987 comedy drama is based on his own experiences growing up in London during World War Two. The movie tells the story of the Rowan family – 10-year-old Bill (Sebastian Rice Edwards), his parents, and sisters Sue and Dawn. There are some adult themes here (sister Dawn becomes pregnant by a Canadian soldier) and strong language so this is one for older viewers.
For older teenagers, there are many movies to recommend that, due to realistic depictions of war, aren’t suitable for younger viewers. If they’ve seen all the movies mentioned above and want to learn more, here’s the Movies4Kids’ pick of just a few of the great war movies. Those marked with a * are 15 certificate films. Do note, none of these movies are aimed at children.
WORLD WAR I
Gallipoli, A Farewell To Arms (1932), Lawrence Of Arabia, A Very Long Engagement*, All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), Grand Illusion, Paths Of Glory, Oh What A Lovely War, Regeneration*, The Blue Max, Wings (1927), The African Queen, Sergeant York, Testament Of Youth
WORLD WAR II
Schindler’s List*, Saving Private Ryan*, The Longest Day, The Great Escape, The Thin Red Line*, Flags Of Our Fathers*, Stalingrad (1994)*, The Pianist*, Memphis Belle, Enigma (2001)*, The Dam Busters, Hell In The Pacific, Sands Of Iwo Jima, The Dirty Dozen, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence*, The Bridge On The River Kwai, A Bridge Too Far*, The Imitation Game
Please note this is an updated version of a feature we published in 2014.