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Can You Make a Great War Movie With a PG-13 Rating? Christopher Nolan Will Try With ‘Dunkirk’

The director's WWII drama about the Dunkirk invasion is rated PG-13 for "intense war experience and some language."


Warner Bros.

What is the greatest war movie ever made?

Ask that question to any movie lover and you’re bound to get a number of different answers, from Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” to Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” Stone’s “Platoon,” Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter,” Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.” You may even get wild cards like “The Hurt Locker,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” or “Black Hawk Dawn.”

Regardless of the answer, chances are very likely the movie will be rated R. All these titles may differ in style and subject matter, but they all share an R-rating and a commitment to not shying away from the horrors of war.

READ MORE: Christopher Nolan Teases Tricky ‘Dunkirk’ Storytelling: ‘The Film is Told From Three Points of View’

Christopher Nolan is about to enter the war genre for the first time when Warner Bros. releases his much-anticipated “Dunkirk” in theaters this summer. The prospect of seeing a war film through Nolan’s eyes has excited many since the project was first announced, and trailers and storytelling teases have only increased anticipation. But speculation as to what Nolan has up his sleeve is about to kick in as Box Office Mojo confirms the movie is rated PG-13 for “intense war experience and some language.”

The PG-13 rating guarantees the film will not be as graphic as the best films in the genre, even if it does include sequences that capture an “intense war experience.” But can a war movie be great even if it doesn’t depict its physically horrific nature? That seems to be the question on everyone’s minds now that we know Nolan won’t be going full R.

Fans are chiming in on Twitter about their disappointment, with phrases like “not a good sign,” “that’s not a war movie,” and “massively disappointed” already being tossed around.

A lot of the negative reaction forming around the rating has to do with the high bar set by those R-rated classics. It’s hard to think of a war film matching the heights of “Saving Private Ryan” or “Apocalypse Now” without the use of violence and blood. And yet, Nolan has proven he’s more than capable of stirring up some intense chaos in a PG-13 space (just see “The Dark Knight,” for instance). What’s important is not necessarily showing us the graphic nature of war, but making us feel it.

That’s where Nolan’s strength as a director will have to come into play. He’s already discussed the film will include three storylines — the air (planes), the land (on the beach) and the sea (the evacuation by the navy) — that don’t all take place during the same time, which suggests he’s got a more ambitious ticking-clock structure up his sleeve that has yet to be revealed.

After making some of the most well-regarded blockbusters of the past decade, you have to trust that Nolan will be able to deliver a PG-13 war movie that still gets the nightmare of combat right.

“Dunkirk,” starring Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy Mark Rylance and newcomer Fionn Whitehead, opens nationwide July 21.

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