From ‘Patton’ to ‘Fury,’ tank films that roll
Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf star in “Fury,” a World War II action drama, opening Oct. 17, about a U.S. armored division sent on a mission behind enemy lines in Europe during the waning days of the conflict.
From the earliest days of World War II to 2009 best picture Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker,” movies revolving around armored vehicles — and their crews — have been enormously popular. These films often take place on a grand scale, and tanks are an integral part of the action, but more often they are intimate character studies; the machinery is a microcosm of personalities, ethnicities, cultures — men who must band together to fight an enemy against unsurmountable odds. Here are some of the more memorable films:
The crew: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman star in the film directed by David Ayer.
Battle lines: Set in the final months of World War II in Europe, the film centers on a U.S. Army sergeant (Pitt) in the 2nd Armored Division and his crew, sent on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.
Fast facts: The tank, named Fury, is an M4A3E8 Sherman. The film also features the first appearance in a contemporary film of a German Tiger 131 borrowed from the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.
“Kelly’s Heroes” (1970)
The crew: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland star in this comedy directed by Brian G. Hutton.
Battle lines: It’s Shermans versus Tigers in this caper inspired by a true story of soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines.
Fast facts: The German Tigers were actually modified Soviet T-34 tanks, and the film was produced primarily in Yugoslavia because the Army still had Sherman tanks.
The crew: Humphrey Bogart, Lloyd Bridges, J. Carrol Naish and Dan Duryea star in the film directed by Zoltan Korda.
Battle lines: Bogey plays the U.S. commander of an American tank crew serving with the British 8th army in the Libyan desert in 1942. The crew must retreat into the Sahara desert after Tobruk falls to the Nazis. The film earned three Oscar nominations, for sound recording, cinematography and supporting actor for Naish.
Fast facts: Bogey’s M3 Lee tank is nicknamed Lulubelle in the movie.
“Battle of the Bulge” (1965)
The crew: Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews and Telly Savalas star in the film directed by Ken Annakin.
Battle lines: The epic depicts the final major German offensive, which took place from December 1944 to January 1945 in the Ardennes forest of Belgium and Luxembourg. Germans drive their tanks to the port city of Antwerp and split the Allied armies in two. It was American forces’ largest land battle with more than 80,000 casualties.
Fast facts: The U.S. M47 Patton, the second tank named after Gen. George S. Patton, was used as the Germans’ King Tiger tanks.
The crew: George C. Scott and Karl Malden star in the film directed by Franklin Schaffner.
Battle lines: Winner of seven Academy Awards, including best film and actor for Scott, the historical epic follows the controversial general from his victory against Rommel at El Guettar, Tunisia, marking the first time U.S. troops beat German tanks in battle, to his removal from command.
Fast facts: Patton became the first member of the U.S. Tank Corps in 1917 during World War I and organized the first American tank school in France, training the first 500 American tankers. Patton also helped to invent the co-axial tank mount for cannons and machine guns.
“A Bridge Too Far” (1977)
The crew: Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford and Sean Connery are among the stars of this film directed by Richard Attenborough, based on the book by Cornelius Ryan.
Battle lines: The film recounts the story of the failed 1944 Operation Market Garden; the Allies hoped to end the war quickly by dropping about 35,000 men behind lines in the Netherlands to secure bridges over the Rhine leading to Ruhr, Germany.
Fun facts: The Panther tanks used by Germany’s 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions in the film were actually disguised Leopard I tanks that didn’t enter service until 1965. Only four actual Sherman tanks appear in the film. The rest were plastic molds set on top of a VW Beetle chassis.
“Five Graves to Cairo” (1943)
The crew: Franchot Tone, Erich von Stroheim as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Anne Baxter star in the film directed and co-written by Billy Wilder.
Battle lines: Tone plays the lone survivor of a British tank crew in North Africa that had encountered Rommel’s elite Afrika Korps. Delirious and dehydrated after crossing the desert, he arrives at a small isolated hotel the Germans want to use as Rommel’s headquarters.
Fast facts: The pre-World War II U.S. M2 Light Tanks, which saw battle in the Pacific theater, were used for the German tanks featured in the film.
Credits: Photos from top: Columbia Pictures; Columbia Pictures; MGM; Columbia Pictures; Warner Bros.; Silver Screen Collections / Getty Images; United Artists / Getty Images; American Cinematheque | Produced by Tracy Brown