The Battle of Iwo Jima gave us the most iconic image of World War II and represents the moment when Allied victory over Japan became inevitable. The February 1945 invasion was brutal and hard-fought, but the victory gave the United States a staging ground for the coming invasion of Japan.
Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press took the iconic photo that's come to represent the entire War in the Pacific. Once we all accept the fact that the image is actually a reenactment of the flag-raising that occurred several hours earlier, we can marvel at its positive emotional impact on a country that had been rocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hollywood has mostly let that photo represent the battle, but there are a handful of excellent productions that feature the Battle of Iwo Jima.
1. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
John Wayne earned his first Oscar nomination for playing Marine Sgt. John Stryker, a hard-ass hated by his men during training. Once he leads them into battle on Tarawa, his men begin to understand that Stryker was determined to teach them the skills they needed to survive and win the war.
Eventually, the unit lands on Iwo Jima and suffers heavy casualties in the battle. Wayne gives us one of his greatest scenes before the survivors witness the raising of the American flag.
"Sands of Iwo Jima" is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, Hulu and Epix. It's also available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
2. The Pacific (2010)
HBO and producer Steven Spielberg's 10-episode series "The Pacific" deserves to be just as beloved as "Band of Brothers." Episode 8, titled "Iwo Jima," may be the best of the entire series. Marine Sgt. John Basilone, awarded the Medal of Honor for his role at Guadalcanal, has grown tired of touring the United States as a hero salesman of war bonds.
Basilone goes back to training Marines and ends up leading his men into battle at Iwo Jima. Jon Seda's performance as Basilone is exceptional and gives the Marine the tribute he deserves.
"The Pacific" is available to stream on HBO Max. It's also available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
3. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Clint Eastwood wrote and directed this movie that focuses on the men who raised the flag in the iconic photograph taken after the battle. He based his screenplay on James Bradley's book. Bradley had long believed that his father was one of the men depicted in the photo, but evidence emerged in 2016 that this was not the case.
Many of Eastwood's movies are about the aftermath of heroic moments and the impact that fame can have on an individual. "Flags of Our Fathers" falls squarely into that category. The men who survived the battle and were depicted in the photo have complicated post-war lives, and the director wants us to think about what they endured.
"Flags of Our Fathers" is available to stream on HBO Max. It's also available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
4. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Only Clint Eastwood could get away with this. When he decided to make "Flags of Our Fathers," the director also wanted to tell the story of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective and made this movie back-to-back with its predecessor.
Surprisingly, this Japanese-language-with-subtitles movie was a bigger box office hit when it was released a few months after "Flags of Our Fathers." It also received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Japanese troops were in bad shape by this point in the war, and Eastwood drives home just how much they were struggling when U.S. forces landed on the island. That makes their resistance even more impressive, and the director wants the audience to recognize their valor in defeat.
"Letters from Iwo Jima" is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
5. To the Shores of Iwo Jima (1945)
This Oscar-nominated short documentary was mostly made during the battle and was filmed in Technicolor, a breathtaking new perspective on the war for American audiences.
However, it was war, and it's tough to get all the footage you need in the middle of a firefight. The movie includes some shots recreating the battle in Thousand Oaks, California, but you'd be hard-pressed to pick them out of the finished film.
"To the Shores of Iwo Jima" is embedded above. If you want to watch on your TV, it's also streaming on Amazon Prime and Hoopla.
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