The 20 Best War Films of All Time

A great film may teach us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The 20 Best War Films of All Time
The 20 Best War Films of All Time

War is hell. It is brutal and bloody. It destroys lives, countries, cultures. It shapes our previous, our current, our future. And that’s the reason it continues to be the fascination of filmmakers and movie-goers alike. Tales about War reveal the true nature of humanity in its darkest instances.

And just because these are dramas typically coping with the navy—telling tales of courageous troopers and nice victories—these aren’t at all times flag-waving patriotic movies. A War film may be deeply pacifist, it may be revolutionary, it may be essential of our leaders who deliver us into battle.

Under we run down the 20 greatest War movies ever made. It consists of a few of the classics together with a number of non-traditional decisions to widen your expectations of what a War film may be and do.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s look at modern-day warfare is a fascinating glimpse into a revamped war genre. With The Hurt Locker, Bigelow became the first and only woman so far to win the Academy Award for Best Director.

Dunkirk

This film is a masterful look at the attack on Dunkirk from three different vantage points. Also, as a bonus, it features Harry Styles in his first major acting role, and your boy will make you proud.

Black Hawn Down

Ridley Scott’s entry into war movies is based on a book of the same name. The ensemble cast led by Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor follows the story of the U.S. military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu.

The Thin Red Line

Starring Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, George Clooney, and a laundry list of other giant names, the Terrence Malick film is a contemporary look into World War II and often regarded as the greatest modern war epic.

The Deer Hunter

Directed by Michael Cimino, the film tackles the Vietnam War (seriously, people love to film the Vietnam War), a working-class Pennsylvania town and the physical and psychological effects it has on the boys who never come home or never come home whole again.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Nothing like starting a list of war movies with a film that is technically only adjacently about war. Set against the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo del Toro’s strange look into the era is a fantastical triumph and a welcome respite from the obvious war genre.

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is a legend. The director’s revisionist look at World War II brings his pulpy style to “killin’ Nazis.” And like any Tarantino flick, it spares no opportunity for a bit of gore and bloodshed. Lt. Aldo Raine? A legend for-fucking-ever.

Gallipoli

Gallipoli is an Australian’s look into World War I, starring Mel Gibson. The film was lauded by critics, completely swept Australian film awards, and remains one of the greatest war epics of all time. Go Australia!

Full Metal Jacket

The 1987 war film by Stanley Kubrick stars Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio ,and Adam Baldwin. Full Metal Jacket takes you right into the trenches of war and is seen as one of the best films set during the Vietnam War.

Letters from Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood’s 2006 Japenese-language film is one of the most celebrated war movies in recent history. That happens when you combine the powers of Spielberg producing, Eastwood directing, and Yamashita’s screenplay. It tackles the complexities of good and evil on both sides of World War II to absolute perfection.

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is actually a bit of an anti-war film. Directed by Stanley Kurbrick, it holds up as one of the most important entires into the genre and continues to be a guidepost for how to create a beautiful film about war.

Schindler’s List

There is perhaps no more grueling and heartbreaking cinematic portrayal of the Holocaust than Schindler’s List, a portrayal of World War II where a German businessman works to save more than a thousand Jewish people by employing them in his factories.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the Ricer Kwai helped set a precedent for the war film genre in 1957. It also was nominated for an insane amount of Oscars, winning seven.

Platoon

Platoon stars Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen in one of the most raw and devastating portrayals of war in film history. Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay based on his own experience in Vietnam, and the effects are both moving and disturbing at the same time.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

French director Alain Resnais may be most often associated with the free-wheeling films of the French New Wave movement, but perhaps his greatest gift to world cinema is Hiroshima mon amour. The movie explores a tragic and intimate love affair between a French actress and Japanese architect. Both of their lives were irrevocably changed by World War II and the devastation of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945. Even if you’re not a film buff, this one is worth a watch–it’s every bit as vital as any of the war films on this list.

1917

I mean, just look at the trailer. This 2019 Best Picture nominee is more of a film about pacifism than it is about the glories of either side of WWI. Shot to look like one continuous take, after watching it, you’ll feel like you spent nearly 2 hours without breathing.

Patton

This biographical film about General George S. Patton is a favorite among war movie buffs… deservedly so. It went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director.

Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic is essentially an epic anti-war film starring the greats: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen. Skewering the pointlessness of the Vietnam War, the film has only gained acclaim as perhaps the best war epic of all time.

Ran

Ran is a war movie like no other. The 1985 epic takes a bit from Shakespeare’s King Lear, turning three loyal sons on their father, Hidetora Ichimonji, who abdicates his throne.

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan dives into the complex ethics of war. When a mother loses three of her four sons in combat, a special mission is developed to go out to save the surviving Private Ryan (Matt Damon) in Normandy before he becomes the final fatality that breaks a family apart. But in doing so, the mission risks the lives of the seven men sent to save him.

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