The Consensus 100 Greatest War Movies

Jan 2018
Sturgeon Lake Mn.
Everybody knows the picture “Zulu” lacks historical accuracy, so what? It’s a splendid movie and IMO worthy of being ranked the best war movie. A pedantic listing of inaccuracies isn’t making points with people who love movies.

Tell you what: if the inaccuracy bugs you pretend the picture is fiction.
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
Everybody knows the picture “Zulu” lacks historical accuracy, so what? It’s a splendid movie and IMO worthy of being ranked the best war movie. .
Well I said that in my first post I also made the point that it is a piece of entertainment not a documentary so really has no responsibility to be historically accurate at all.
I think very highly of the movie (number1? not sure but I guess you could say that for any choice).

A pedantic listing of inaccuracies isn’t making points with people who love movies.

Tell you what: if the inaccuracy bugs you pretend the picture is fiction .
So we can not discuss the histography of a movie? (a bit bizarre on a history discussion forum!)

We keep it just to cinematography? acting, plot lines etc? why would this be so?

Could we discuss that Private Hook the 'anti-hero' is a product of the 1960's and the social revolution occurring at the time and nothing like the actual private Hook? but that's bringing History into it ? similarly the anti-war sentiments expressed by several characters such as Surgeon Reynolds reflect attitudes of the Mid 20th century rather than the actions of the historical Reynolds.

Sorry if you don't like discussing history why come to a History discussion forum?
Likes: Zip
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
In my opinion, war movie fans (not regular fans) can and should take historical accuracy into account. "Zulu" is a great movie, but I feel its inaccuracies prevent it from being the best war movie. To me, the best war movie would be outstanding in all categories - acting, plot, cinematography, and accuracy. I do not take the position that historical inaccuracy is a breaking point, but neither do I take the position that if a war movie is entertaining it doesn't matter if it's accurate. It sure mattered to Hook's family. This character development certainly made the movie more entertaining, but cannot be condoned.
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
I don't think a war movie has to be accurate since essentially it just entertainment but I do like it to be and you really have to question why its 'changing' history. Films like the interpretation of history say a great deal about their times.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
In a perfect world, if you are making a movie about the Battle of Rorke's Drift and there has not been a movie on the subject before, you must assume that if the movie is successful, it might create the public's image of the battle. In that case, you owe it to the masses to balance entertainment with accuracy. It would have been very simple to change the name of the Hook character. After all, the character in the movie is a stereotype. Witt is not as easy as he goes down in the public's mind as "the missionary". I really do not have any major problem with the other inaccuracies. For instance, the ending is inaccurate, but not egregiously so, as with "We Were Soldiers". You walk out of the theater knowing the basics. My problem is with the character assassination.


Forum Staff
Feb 2009
Eastern PA
I am a big fan, but I was not surprised because critics do not like it. I would certainly put it in the top 100.
That's a for sure.

The scene in the first act, when the newly arrived conscripts attack the German positions and then are shot down by the Russians when they retreated was particularly poignant.
Jan 2017
1. Zulu (1964)

SYNOPSIS: "Zulu" is a British movie about the Battle of Rorke's Drift. The battle took place during the Anglo-Zulu War and was an Alamo-like last stand by a small British unit. The unit withstands numerous assaults by the much larger enemy force.

BACK-STORY: "Zulu" was released in 1964 and was so successful that it not only resurrected the Battle of Rorke's Drift, but molded the modern image of it. Myth became reality in a way similar to John Wayne's "Alamo". The film was a labor of love for Stanley Baker. The movie was directed by the blacklisted Cy Endfield. After the House Unamerican Activities Committee branded him a communist, he moved to England to continue his career. The movie was filmed on location in South Africa. 700 blacks were used as extras. Many of them were descendants of the Zulu who participated in the battle. So many had never seen a movie that Endfield screened an old Gene Autrey film for them. Because of apartheid, they could not be paid so Endfield let them keep the cattle.


1. In 1958, historical writer John Prebble wrote an article about the Battle of Rorke's Drift entitled "Slaughter in the Sun". An advertising executive Douglas Rankin read the article and commissioned Prebble to write a screenplay. Cy Endfield was living in England and interested in moving up from B movies and commercials. He approached Stanley Baker, who he had made four movies with. Baker had started his own production company to get independence from the studio system. Baker was thrilled with the heroic depiction of Welsh soldiers in the battle. The focus on the Welsh was exaggerated in the movie. Of the 122 defenders, only 32 were Welsh.

2. The soldier extras were portrayed by members of the South African National Defense Force.

3. The Zulu king Certshwayo (credited as Cetewayo in the film) was played by Prince Mangosuthu Butelezi, his great grandson.

4. Most of the Zulu actors had never seen a movie, so a screen was set up and they were shown a Gene Autry western. This was appropriate because "Zulu" was akin to a western. The warriors laughed when they saw Autry singing while riding on his horse. According to legend the Zulu actors were paid in cattle, but actually they were paid a wage. The cattle may have been thrown in.

5. James Booth (who played Hook) never went to South Africa. His scenes were all in the hospital which was at a studio in England.

6. Jack Hawkins was paid the most in the cast. He was upset with his characters portrayal and with the fact that a lot of his work was cut.

7. Richard Burton did the narration for free. He had been considered for Chard, but his career was in a trough.

8. Michael Caine was passed over for Hook, but he got the role in spite of a terrible screen test. Endfield chose him because he did not have time to find anyone else.

9. The cast and crew were surprised by the success and quality of the film. Most of them were not aware how good the movie was until they saw it at the premiere.

10. The dancers in the dance scene were professional dancers for Johannesburg nightclubs.

11. Hooks elderly daughters walked out of the premiere because of the extremely inaccurate portrayal of him.

12. Because of apartheid, the Zulu actors could not attend the premiere. The movie was banned for black audiences due to the fear of the sight of white soldiers slaughtering Zulus might incite violence.

13. It influenced Peter Jackson's Battle of Helm's Deep in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers".

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey's = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #22
Channel 4 = #8
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #49

OPINION: "Zulu" has many strong elements. The set is authentic and the scenery is amazing. The movie was filmed in a national park which, although hillier than the real locale, certainly added to the visuals. The music by John Barry is used sparingly, but effectively. Some scenes have little or no background music. A good example is the opening attack which is allowed to build without music. The cinematography is outstanding. It's old school without the modern pizazz, but you are in the thick of the fighting. The acting is excellent. Jack Hawkins chews the scenery a bit, but everyone else controls himself like a proper British soldier would. Baker, Caine, Booth, and Green are standouts. The most remarkable performances are by the Zulu extras. They are naturals. That Gene Autry movie must have really done the trick.

The movie gets the small things right. The soldier behavior is true to British 19th Century soldiers. Their dialogue is not forced or cringe-worthy. The camaraderie is evident. There are several friendships that are highlighted. The soldiers' bond is apparent. There is not a lot of humor, but then there is not a lot to laugh about. There is also very little whining. Hook is the only soldier who appears to be avoiding combat. A bit unrealistic. The movie does not play up the chasm between the upper class officers and the lower class enlisted which is often a theme in movies about the British army of that time period.

The character development is well done. The movie does a good job of fleshing out all of the VC winners and several more roles. Each man is distinct (although name tags would have been nice). The evolution of Chard from engineer building a bridge to combat leader is instructive. There is a quiet moment when he goes from trembling hand while reloading his revolver to steadiness. Of course, the most fascinating arc is that of Hook. It's a bit cliché, but it works. He could have been a tedious character, but Booth does a good job making him a likeable rogue. His swigging on the broken liquor bottle before fleeing the burning hospital is another nice touch.

As a movie about a battle, "Zulu" is one of the best. This is partly because it has few frills. It concentrates almost totally on the battle and the men who fought it. The tactics are realistic although some of them have a textbook feel to them. In reality, it is doubtful the British used the variety the movie depicts. That's acceptable for entertainment purposes. The action is intense and edge of your seat. The deaths are swift and not melodramatic. There are no death speeches.

The movie is not without flaws. I have already expounded on the historical inaccuracies. One problem is the lack of background about what brought on the war. The audience is treated to a fair treatment of the Zulu. They are not demonized as the Indians were in most Westerns and they are shown as brave warriors, but it is not made clear that they were in the right. We are manipulated to root for the Europeans instead of the natives fighting for their lands and liberty. A related flaw is the lack of a Zulu perspective. This is perplexing given that the movie opens in their village with an interesting take on their culture.

In conclusion, the ranking of "Zulu" at #1 is a bit of a surprise. It is not a great war movie (as some claim), but it is certainly very good and accomplishes its mission effectively. I am little uncomfortable with this. As a war movie lover, I really enjoyed the movie. But as a military history buff, I can see how the movie used a different medium to do in the 1960s what the British government used the newspapers to do in the 1870s. Think about it - 11 Victoria Cross winners! Assuming a Victoria Cross is equivalent to the Medal of Honor, it should take extreme bravery to be awarded one. Not taking away from the defenders, but it would appear the British government was looking for a civilian morale booster to soften the Isandlwana disaster. The movie does a similar job in glamorizing the imperial days of England. Unlike its most obvious equivalent (Wayne's "The Alamo"), the film does not recreate the myths, but instead actually creates the myths.
1 is undoubtedly Platoon. 'Nothing even close to it. What a film.


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
That's a for sure.

The scene in the first act, when the newly arrived conscripts attack the German positions and then are shot down by the Russians when they retreated was particularly poignant.
While I enjoyed the movie and found it very good I wished there were more incidents about the Battle of Stalingrad like the scene you describe.
Likes: Edratman

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