Best Military Movies of All Time
As long as there have been motion pictures, there have been military movies. Whether fiction or fact, these are sure to capture your attention.
People love a hero. For generations, war movies have captured the imaginations of audiences and raked in earnings at the box office. Actors have earned legendary status from their performances in epic movies set in times of the Roman Conquest all the way to the modern military masterpieces.
It's hard to earn a spot as one of the best military movies of all time with so much competition out there. It takes more than just a great story, it also need to have superb acting and top notch cinematography.
With a cast lead by veteran war actor Lee Majors and rounded out by the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, George Kennedy, and Clint Walker how could this film not make any list the best military movies! Telling the story of a band of convicts turn commandos with a secret mission to disrupt German command prior to D-Day, the movie is tension filled but breaks a few times just enough to get a laugh.
Not only do the convicts have to deal with the possibility that their mission is a suicide mission, but also the constant distrust and open hostility of those who should be their peers. The Dirty Dozen is full of memorable characters and outstanding acting.
Posting top earnings at the box office in 1958 and landing a permanent spot on the top 100 British films of all time, it's no wonder that The Bridge on the River Kwai is among the best military movies ever filmed. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and a pre-Star Wars Alec Guinness as prisoners in a POW work camp in Burma, tasked with building a bridge for the Japanese war effort.
The plot of the movie deals more with the adversity the POWs face, not only against the Japanese, but also against their own commanding officer, played by Guinness, who seems to work against them at every turn. The tension and frustration of the prisoners is palpable throughout the film leaving a sense of hopelessness. This is a movie for the history books and one you don’t want to skip!
George C. Scott’s portrayal of General George Patton is so convincing that it's often difficult to remember who is the real war hero and who is the actor. Written by Francis Ford Coppola, this film was one of the first 50 ever released on home video. Scott’s acting and mannerisms are spot on renditions of the real General Patton, one of the best generals of all time. Everything from the way he carries himself with his riding crop to the slight bouncing on his toes harkens back to the real life legend.
The dramatic American flag opening and near six minute, profanity laden monolog delivered by Scott have quickly ushered this film into the ranks of the best military movies. Though often lacking in the action of most war films, Patton captures all of the epic scale and scope you could expect from one of history's most notorious generals.
Covering recent events in film is always risky, especially in the current political climate. Released a matter of months after the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty is a brilliantly crafted take on the the mission to hunt down and capture bin Laden in a way that is both meticulous and utterly suspenseful. Taking you all the way from planning to the final execution of the raid on the compound in Pakistan, this film is sure to pull you in and keep you glued to the screen.
A cast filled with talent, including current fan favorite Chris Pratt, does an excellent job portraying the frustration and challenge of finding the infamous terrorist leader and the complications of pulling off such a daring raid. Time will tell if this movie reaches classic status but until then it’s still one of the best military movies to date.
Though shot nearly a decade later, Gods and Generals is a prequel to the Civil War classic, Gettysburg. Stephen Lang and Jeff Daniels reprise their roles from Gettysburg as Stonewall Jackson and Joshua Chamberlain while Robert Duvall takes over the roll of Robert E. Lee to round out an all-star line up for this often gritty and emotional military movie
Detailing the struggle from the battle at Manassas Creek to the events just preceding Gettysburg, this film captures the violence and tragedy of war in a way that most modern films seem to overlook. From the peace of Christmas Day to the utter chaos at Chancellorsville, this film is one that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Edging out its sequel, Gods and Generals is a must watch and one of the best military movies of all time.
In a field often dominated by World War II films, Stanley Kubrick's vietnam war opus has stood out to generations of war movie aficionados. Split into two distinct parts but centered around Private Joker played by Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket is the story of a budding military journalist from his enlistment to his final acceptance of the violent world he finds himself in.
The first part of the film is dominated by R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Harman and Vincent D'Onofrio’s constantly bullied Private Pyle. The tragedy of the Pyle/Hartman relationship is at the same time both humorous and heartbreaking as you see Pyle slowly descend into a world of despair. The story after graduating Marine boot camp is focused on the conflict that Joker finds in Vietnam and his final acceptance of his own darkness. Though this film feels far different than most military movies, it is a crude and honest depiction.
One of the most recent films on this list, the story of medic Desmond Doss in the Pacific theater of World War II captured audiences at the box office and around the world. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, this film tells the story of the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. Like most of Gibson’s work, Hacksaw Ridge is filmed in a gritty, dark style that really contrasts with the hope cast by its lead character as he shows true courage in the most harrowing conditions.
Supported by actors Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, and Vince Vaughn, Garfield's work is stellar and shows true talent from such a young and novice actor. In a world of over the top run and gun action movies, it's great to get a taste of a different style of war movie.
A mere 18 years after the events of D-Day, The Longest Day released to wide acclaim. Helped along by stars Sean Connery, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, and the legendary John Wayne, this film tells the story of the events leading up to Operation Overlord and the storming of the beaches at Normandy.
Not only did several of the actors in the film see action in World War II but a number of consultants that actually participated in D-Day took part in making this movie the most accurate depiction of one of the world's bloodiest battles. With feats of heroism pulled from the memories of those that really fought and an overwhelming sense of tension as events move closer to D-Day, The Longest Day deserves a place among the best military movies ever filmed.
The 90s were a time when most war movies were focused more on flash than substance. Saving Private Ryan gave us both! Tom Hanks as Captain Miller is tasked with finding the last surviving Ryan brother (Matt Damon) in the days following D-Day. Supported by the likes of Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, Nathan Fillion, and a young Vin Diesel, this story of loss and triumph against the odds is sure to swell the chest of any war movie buff.
With a reputation for being raw, violent, and real, Saving Private Ryan was an instant classic in 1998 and has held that status to this day. Though this may not be the best military movie of all time, but it is a contender!
Cinema legend Steve McQueen’s story of the escape from a Polish concentration camp and grueling trek through Nazi occupied Germany may be the most gripping war story ever told! Sharing the screen with fellow stars James Garner and Charles Bronson, McQueen drives the story forward with a power and presence rarely seen in films today.
The sense of loss as the troop of escapees dwindles and the sense of overcoming adversity culminating in the infamous motorcycle scene have given The Great Escape classic status. This film, with its constant sense of tension, great action sequences, and superb cast, place it in sure running for the best military movie of all time!