My favorite war movie just arrived on Netflix — and it’s better than ‘Saving Private Ryan'

George MacKay as Lance Corporal William "Will" Schofield in "1917" now streaming on Netflix
(Image credit: Universal Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo)

I vividly remember seeing “1917” for the first time. I had the privilege of watching this epic war movie at the BFI IMAX in London which boasts the largest cinema screen in Britain, and to say I was blown away would be an understatement. It was a remarkable movie-watching experience and has stayed with me even five years later. 

I subsequently caught the movie a second time in theaters (sadly this time on a regular-sized screen), and have also rewatched it a handful of times on 4K Blu-ray, and at this point, it’s pretty much my favorite war movie ever made. Yes, I even rank it above genre heavyweights like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Apocalypse Now” and “All Quiet on the Western Front”. 

“1917” arrives on Netflix U.S. this week (on Saturday, June 1) and I’m delighted that more people will get the chance to watch this masterpiece. Here’s why you need to drop everything and watch this exhilarating war movie as soon as possible…

‘1917’ is a stunning cinematic achievement

Directed by Sam Mendes (known primarily for helming Daniel Craig’s second-best Bond entry, “Skyfall”), “1917” is loosely inspired by the stories told to the filmmaker by his grandfather Alfred who served during World War I in the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade on the Belgian Front. 

The movie follows two British soldiers, Will Schofield (George McKay) and Tom Blade (Dean-Charles Chapman), tasked with trekking across enemy lines to deliver a vital message that will save the lives of more than a thousand men. But time is the real enemy here, as the pair only have hours to deliver this urgent warning before a doomed offensive attack begins.  

“1917” is presented in a single-shot format, which means (almost) the entire movie plays out in a continuous take without any cuts. Not only is this a stunning achievement from a technical standpoint, but it provides an unparalleled sense of urgency and momentum. 

These two soldiers are on a desperate mission, with the clock ticking every step of the way, and the lack of cuts makes you feel like you’re right there alongside them. I’ve always had a fondness for long takes, and while “1917” is far from the first movie presented in a single-shot format, it’s the most effective use of the style I’ve ever seen.

Plus, the legendary Roger Deakins is on cinematography duty so it won’t come as any surprise when I say that “1917” looks gorgeous. It packs some of the most stunning, and haunting, shots in any war movie. With a mid-movie sequence in the French town of Écoust-Saint-Mein a genuine visual marvel as flares light up the dramatic events on screen. 

‘1917’ is more than a technical showcase

Colin Firth as General Erinmore in "1917" now streaming on Netflix

(Image credit: Universal Pictures/Amblin Partners/DreamWorks/Alamy Stock Photo)

Upon its release “1917” was extremely well received, it earned critical acclaim (it holds an 88% score on Rotten Tomatoes) and was nominated for a slew of awards including 10 Oscars (winning three for Best Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Visual Effects). 

However, one recurring criticism was the notion that it was a marvelous cinematic achievement on a technical level but lacked the memorable characters or gripping narrative of its genre peers. This is an opinion that I most certainly don’t share.

While “1917”’s story is not as sprawling as some war movies — though this is very much by design — I find it extremely easy to get invested in the plight of Schofield and Blake. After all, the two young soldiers are on a mission to save some 1,600 men from being sent to the slaughter, including Blake’s brother, so you'll be instantly rooting for their success. 

There’s also a particularly heart-wrenching scene around a third of the way through that hits home the senseless violence and brutal realities of conflict. But there are green shoots of hope too with scenes that remind viewers that even during humanity's dark hours people were capable of selfless acts to help others. 

The movie also boasts a cast list stacked with the best British acting talent including Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Some of these men only appear for a single scene (or just a few seconds of screen time in one case), but they all leave an impression. 

For me, “1917” is the complete package. It offers a gripping story, compelling characters (portrayed by a star-studded cast) and some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever captured on film, with a dramatic climax that will have your adrenaline spiking. It’s a modern masterpiece that excels in every area. 

Stream ‘1917’ on Netflix right now 

If all my praise above didn’t make it clear, I strongly recommend that you stream “1917” on Netflix as soon as possible. 

This war movie is an incredible experience, and even if plays best on the big screen, it’s still amazing when enjoyed at home — just make sure you at least watch it on a good-sized television, this isn’t a movie made for watching on a mobile phone. 

If you're putting together a marathon of war movies on Netflix be sure to add the excellent 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, but be warned it’s emotionally scarring. Alternatively, if you need something more lighthearted, “Operation Mincemeat” is a wonderful drama that balances its serious subject matter with charming humor. 

“1917” is just one of the many must-watch movies and shows arriving on Netflix this month, check out our full roundup of what’s new to Netflix for a complete rundown of the top picks. 

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team. 

  • Singinpig
    It’s a worthy movie, but, IMHO, not as good as Ryan. A lot of running through trenches.
  • David Castle
    Whoa slow down there Ryan. I assume you put out this headline to get clicks cause yes, it's a good film well done but it doesn't match the totality of what Asking Private Ryan achieved
  • jfd
    "The Big Parade" directed by King Vidor is a much better film about WWI.