Gallipoli (2005)

A GREAT DEAL of Australia’s modern identity can be traced back to the shores of Gallipoli. When we think of Australia, we think of mateship, larrikinism, egalitarianism, general ingenuity and irreverence in the face of authority. Those ideals were borne out of the legacy left by the ANZACs and the mythology of the ANZAC spirit.

Since the Anzacs’ valiant acts in faraway lands, filmmakers have been fascinated by the ANZAC spirit. The ANZAC legend and surrounding mythos have only grown over the last century, thanks in large part to several gripping depictions of the legend on-screen.

You may spend ANZAC day at your local pub playing two-up, or you may be primarily ambivalent to the holiday and simply enjoy a day off from work. Either way, if re-familiarising yourself with the ANZAC spirit is on your itinerary, there’s hardly a better way to do it than by watching it dramatised in a historically accurate film. These are the films where the ANZAC spirit is best portrayed, but we’re not limiting our scope to films about the Gallipoli landings. The ANZAC spirit has prevailed throughout Australia’s military history, and this list reflects that.

Gallipoli (1981)

ANZAC Spirit

Where to watch: YouTube

The birthplace of the ANZAC spirit has been dramatised a number of times, and it was always going to feature prominently on this list. Australian Director Peter Weir would later earn international recognition for helming The Truman Show and Dead Poet’s Society, but earlier in his career he frequently focused on Australian history. Weir’s take on the Gallipoli campaign is a poignant reminder of the Australian experience during World War I, and spotlights the futility and tragedy of war. The film follows the journey of two young Western Australians, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), who enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. As they confront the brutal realities of warfare and the human cost of conflict, Gallipoli captures the sacrifice at the centre of a pivotal moment in Australian history.

The Lighthorsemen

ANZAC Spirit

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Binge, Foxtel Go, SBS On Demand

The ANZACs didn’t only see combat at Gallipoli. Large portions of the Australian Imperial Force went on to defend Europe’s Western front and take part in the Middle Eastern Campaign. The Lighthorsemen chronicles the valorous exploits of the Australian Light Horse Brigade, including their legendary charge at the Battle of Beersheba in 1917. The film deftly balances the epic scale of battle sequences with intimate character studies, offering a profound exploration of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice amidst the harsh realities of war.

Breaker Morant

ANZAC Spirit

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime, SBS On Demand

Breaker Morant actually depicts events that predate the creation of the ANZAC legend, but it’s a testament to the fact that Australian identity had already begun to form in the years immediately following foundation. The film follows real-life events surrounding the court-martial of Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Set in 1901, the film delves into the moral complexities of war as it follows Morant and two of his fellow soldiers who are charged with war crimes. Though the trio acted under orders, they are being used as scapegoats by their British superiors who wish to distance themselves from their own morally unscrupulous acts. Breaker Morant shows the formation of Australian rebellion against British hegemony that later became infamous during World War I.


Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime

While the ANZAC spirit was forged in faraway territory, it materialised much closer to home later in the 20th century. Kokoda follows the AIF’s 39th battalion, Australia’s last line of defence against Japanese invaders in the treacherous jungles of Papua New Guinea, along the Kokoda track. The film captures the harrowing nature of the Kokoda campaign, detailing the physical and psychological toll it exacted on those who fought there.

Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan

ANZAC Spirit

Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime

Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan focuses on a legendary engagement during the Vietnam war. The film is a visceral depiction of the battle of Long Tan, where a small contingent of Australian and New Zealand soldiers found themselves vastly outnumbered by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Starring Travis Fimmel, Danger Close effectively captures the essence of the ANZAC spirit, alive and well, decades after the dissolution of ANZAC forces. It does so by demonstrating the ideals of mateship, courage and sacrifice, which were depended on to survive.

Attack Force Z

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Here’s a film that would be much more well known if came out once its stars had truly emerged in Hollywood. Attack Force Z stars Mel Gibson and Sam Neill, albeit a few years before they truly became megastars. Nevertheless, their performances are top class as Australian special forces operatives tasked with rescuing a high-ranking British officer stranded behind enemy lines in the rugged terrain of a New Guinean jungle.

Gallipoli (2005)

Where to watch: YouTube, also available to rent or buy on Apple TV+

The second film titled Gallipoli to appear on this list, the 2005 version – which is a docudrama – takes a more balanced approach to the campaign. Gallipoli is a Turkish film, telling the story of the campaign from all sides with narration from Australian, New Zealander, British and Turkish perspectives. Amidst all these intertwining points of view, the ANZAC spirit still shines through.

The Rats of Tobruk

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Rats of Tobruk were a contingent of Australian soldiers who managed to hold the North African port of Tobruk against an onslaught of German and Italian troops for 250 days during World War II. The Rats never lost Tobruk, after being besieged for eight months, they were relieved by British Forces – who promptly lost it about six months later. The film that chronicles those events was released before World War II had even concluded, with Cronulla Beach doubling for the shores of North Africa. The Rats of Tobruk is a timeless Australian classic, portraying the bonds formed in Tobruk that lasted long after the siege.

Beneath Hill 60

Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime

Beneath Hill 60 is one for the unsung heroes of World War I, delving into the little-known story of the Australian miners who tunnelled beneath enemy lines on the Western front. The film follows Oliver Woodward, an Australian mining engineer, as he leads a team tasked with planting explosives beneath a heavily fortified German position known as Hill 60. Woodward and his men must not only confront the enemy, but also the psychological toll of their sacrifice.

The Water Diviner

Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime

In The Water Diviner, directed by and starring Russell Crowe, an Australian farmer grieving the loss of his three sons presumed dead in Gallipoli is determined to find closure and journeys to Turkey to find it. There, he confronts the brutal reality of his sons’ fates and discovers unexpected connections, exploring themes of loss, redemption, and the unassailable human – and ANZAC – spirit.


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