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Is ‘The Pacific’ better than ‘Band of Brothers’?

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Band of Brothers

I’m not a World War II history buff, but I might be on the way to being one. As a fan of pop history, I’ve watched both Band of Brothers and The Pacific multiple times. Recently, I watched them both again, nearly back to back, so I wanted to compare and contrast them. 

To me, it’s tough to say one is better than the other. I enjoy both, but admittedly I enjoy them for different reasons. Both Band of Brothers and The Pacific are masterclass mini-series and represent some of the best TV ever made. Both were produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, were hosted by HBO, and are both a serious historical look at World War II. 

That’s what they have in common, but they tell different stories. I can appreciate a creative team not wanting to make the same series and only change the setting. This is where the big divide between the shows starts and why opinions are often split amongst fans. 

Band of Brothers versus The Pacific – The source material 

Band of Brothers poster
(HBO Enterprises)

The shows depict actual events and use the accounts of veterans who were there to form the basis of the narrative. For Band of Brothers, they went beyond that. The historian Stephen Ambrose sat down and interviewed the men of Easy Company, the company portrayed in the series, getting first-hand accounts of the men who went there and did that. The actors even met or spoke with the men they would be playing. 

The Pacific was filmed in 2010 and was based largely on two memoirs from lower enlisted infantrymen. Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. The showrunners also used Red Blood, Black Sand by Chuck Tatum to help tell the story of John Basilone. 

The Pacific poster
The Pacific poster (HBO Enterprises)

The story follows Leckie, Sledge, and Basilone. Leckie and Sledge both died in 2001, and Basilone died in WWII, so the series didn’t get the benefit of interviewing these men. Stephen Ambrose, the historian who helped create Band of Brothers, passed away in 2002 as well. This obviously leads to a different way to tell a story. 

Band of Brothers follows Easy Company throughout the war. The series takes place over roughly one year, not counting the predeployment training. The Pacific takes place over three years and follows three separate Marines in different regiments of the 1st Marine Division. 

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Their tone and content 

The Pacific battle scene
Battle scene from The Pacific. (HBO Enterprises)

Band of Brothers and The Pacific are very different in their tones.

Band of Brothers is a bit cleaner in its approach. It’s a story of heroic men and their brotherhood. It’s the force that unites them that becomes the mainstay of the series and the series’ tone is noble.

The Pacific takes a brutal tone, with gore and violence being heavily featured. It doesn’t pull punches, and you see the human cost of war. We see the Marines and how the war was shaping their minds and the trauma it brought them. At the beginning of the show, Eugene Sledge would fit in perfectly with the cast of Band of Brothers. He’s noble and idealistic, but by the end, he’s a killer. 

Band of Brothers focuses on the war as a whole. The Pacific focuses more on the characters and how the war affects them. The men portrayed in Band of Brothers were still alive when the show was made and we have their accounts. While this provides some accurate information, it’s also a bit restrictive. With The Pacific, we have the memories of men who’d recently returned from war, and since they had passed, we only got their raw accounts. 

While Band of Brothers focuses on the brotherhood of men at war, The Pacific focuses on the individual. The men in Band of Brothers are generally good men and good soldiers doing the right thing. In The Pacific, it’s not always clear. Lecky, for example, isn’t always a good “Marine” when on leave. 

Their cinematography 

The Pacific
The Pacific (HBO Entreprises)

This is where it’s an absolute tie. Both shows are shot brilliantly and beautifully. The sound is fantastic, and the action is clear and wonderful. Band of Brothers had a smaller budget than The Pacific by about 75 million, which shows: There are some beautiful sweeping scenes of The Pacific and some rather large and violent battles. 

Band of Brothers shows us a frigid Europe, and The Pacific shows us a hot and brutal jungle. Both series do a great job of placing you into the environment and making you feel the cold nipping at the soldiers or the sweat barreling down their foreheads. 

The uniforms and weaponry are authentic to the era, as are the tactics. There was clearly work put in to ensure both shows were accurate to the era. 

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My lasting thoughts 

Band of Brothers fighting scene
Band of Brothers (HBO Entreprises)

It’s tough to say if one is objectively better than the other. They are both period-piece mini-series focused on WWII. However, they are very different stories. I’m glad we have both of them, to be honest. I rewatch each one at least once every few years. 

Band of Brothers inspires me. Who doesn’t choke up when the real Major Winters says: “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?” and Grandpa replies, “‘No… but I served in a company of heroes.'”

On the other hand, The Pacific takes the romanticism out of war, it shows its real brutality, and why we should try and abstain from it. It’s a cautionary tale in large parts.

Art should make you feel something, and both The Pacific and Band of Brothers make me feel. 

I can’t pick which is better. Can you?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2022. It has been edited for republication.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.