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The best movies and TV shows about D-Day

The events of D-Day have been recreated on screen many times

Tom Hanks is sent on a mission during D-Day in the 1998 Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. (Alamy)
Tom Hanks is sent on a mission during D-Day in the 1998 Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. (Alamy)

On 6 June 1944, Operation Overlord — the code name for the overall operation to secure a foothold in northern France — began. Now known as D-Day, the momentous event proved to be a pivotal moment for the Allies in the Second World War, with thousands of troops being brought to shore across the Normandy coast.

By the end of the day, 130,000 US, British and Canadian troops had made it ashore across the five beaches giving them a firm foothold for the first time in Nazi-occupied France. There were months more of heavy fighting before the final German surrender in May 1945 but the road to eventual victory had been cleared.

The momentous day — and the events surrounding it — has been recreated on screen many times, and these are the ones we recommend catching up with if you want to learn more about D-Day.

John Wayne in the Longest Day (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)
John Wayne in the Longest Day (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)

Made just 18 years after the event while fresh in the memory, The Longest Day is one of the most epic war movies ever made, boasting three directors, and a huge ensemble cast including John Wayne, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda and Robert Wagner.

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Many veterans — Allied and Axis — were employed to make the film as accurate as possible, and the film tells the story of D-Day from all sides, featuring many of the locations that saw heavy warfare on the day.

The Longest Day is streaming on BBC iPlayer.

Normandy Landing Scene Film: Saving Private Ryan (USA 1998)   Director: Steven Spielberg 21 July 1998   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of DREAMWORKSPARAMOUNT PICTURES and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To DREAMWORKSPARAMOUNT PICTURES is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Saving Private Ryan recreated the D-Day landings like no other movie. (Alamy)

Watch on Channel 4

Emboldened by his Oscar-winning success with Schindler's List in 1993, Steven Spielberg returned to the horrors of war for 1998's Saving Private Ryan. The D-Day movie ensured its place in cinematic history with its visceral opening sequence which recreated the pure terror and chaos of the Omaha beach landings, showing American troops pouring out of their landing vessels onto the heavily fortified beach, while machine gun fire mowed down the troops, many never even making it to shore.

The opening scene took four weeks to film, and employed more than 1,000 extras, including amputees fitted with prosthetics to portray the many horrendously maimed soldiers. Although later criticised for historical inaccuracies, the film reignited interest in D-Day around the world, won countless awards, and would lead to the creation of one of the greatest TV series ever made.

Saving Private Ryan is streaming on Channel 4.

LIBRARY.  USA. Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Neal McDonough, and Rick Warden in ©HBO mini series: Band of Brothers  (2001). Plot: The story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, and their mission in World War II Europe, from Operation Overlord, through V-J Day.  Ref: LMK106-J6705-040820 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Neal McDonough, and Rick Warden in Band of Brothers. (Alamy)

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The success of Saving Private Ryan allowed Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to expand the story of D-Day further by developing Band of Brothers with screenwriter Erik Jendresen into an ten-episode epic for HBO.

Telling the story of Easy Company, a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, the series shows the paratroopers journey from trainees to hard-fought soldiers on the Western Front of WWII, and was inspired by the testimony of the real life troops involved. Consider Saving Private Ryan as the amuse bouche for Band of Brothers which boasts a glittering array of stars who would go on to have massive careers.

Band of Brothers is streaming on NOW with a Sky Entertainment Membership.

The true story: D-Day: The Unheard Tapes | 2024

D-Day: The Unheard Tapes,03-06-2024,2,Harry Parley (ETHAN McHALE),Private, 29th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, Omaha Beach,Wall to Wall Media Ltd,Justin Downing
Ethan McHale as Harry Parley, a US infantry soldier who came ashore on Omaha Beach during D-Day. (BBC)

The BBC marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day with a number of original productions including D-Day: The Unheard Tapes, an incredibly powerful docuseries that recreates the events of D-Day using the real testimony of the people involved.

Utilising the same technique as the recent Apple TV+ documentary The Enfield Poltergeist, The Unheard Tapes uses remastered interviews with D-Day veterans on all sides of the story that were recorded in the wake of the invasion.

Actors, cast to be the same age as the participants on D-Day, lip synch the audio footage, and also recreate the events. The voices of the German soldiers involved bring balance to the three-part series, highlighting the true cost of war for all involved.

D-Day: The Unheard Tapes is streaming on BBC iPlayer.

Michael Caine in The Great Escaper. (Pathe)
Michael Caine in The Great Escaper. (Pathe)

While most D-Day movies focus on the events of the invasion, 2023's The Great Escaper honoured the troops by telling the true story of Royal Navy veteran Bernard Jordan (Michael Caine) who broke out of his nursing home in 2014 to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations.

Featuring one of Glenda Jackson's final screen performances (and possibly Caine's too), the film offers something less traumatic, and ultimately more heartwarming, to watch that pays a nuanced tribute to the few who gave their lives for the many.

The Great Escaper is available to rent or buy on digital, and on DVD and Blu-ray.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, Julie Andrews, James Garner, 1964
Julie Andrews and James Garner in 1964's The Americanization of Emily. (Alamy)

Although not considered a classic, 1964's The Americanization of Emily offers a more light-hearted look at the events of D-Day and is renowned for being an early example of an 'anti-war movie'. The film follows the story of vain Navy Commander Charlie Madison (James Garner) who becomes an unwitting hero of D-Day when he accidentally becomes the first American casualty on Omaha Beach.

Mary Poppins star Julie Andrews stars as the Emily of the title, who falls in love with Charlie while posted as his driver, and both actors later claimed the movie as their favourite they'd appeared in.

The Americanization of Emily is available to rent or buy on digital.

1967's The Dirty Dozen had a stellar cast including Charles Bronson. (Alamy)
1967's The Dirty Dozen had a stellar cast including Charles Bronson. (Alamy)

After Hollywood had honoured D-Day with The Longest Day, the floodgates for more gung-ho WWII movies were well and truly opened. One of the best that loosely covers the events of D-Day is the Bank Holiday weekend favourite The Dirty Dozen starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas and many more.

It follows the exploits of team of convicts recruited to go on a suicidal mission behind enemy lines, who parachute into occupied France during the D-Day invasion. If you're looking for something a little more diverting on D-Day, the Dirty Dozen will do the trick.

The Dirty Dozen is available to rent or buy on digital.