Best War Movies of All Time
Love a great conflict? The best war movies offer it up in bunches.
War movies are a great way to create a quick and heightened sense of drama. It inherently brings the conflict that is needed to make a powerful story, and we generally know who the good guys are right off the bat — giving us a more satisfying rooting interest.
It's one of the most attempted genres, and it includes all four branches of the military. Many of these stories are based on real events, while others are completely fictionalized accounts. Some are soldiers' first stories, previously published in military books. We almost always see the best and worst of humanity depicted in these tales.
In what can sometimes seem like an overcrowded field, what are the best war movies of all time? One thing we can always expect is plenty of action and existential angst. War films over the decades have typically had their preferred conflicts to create films about — World War II and Vietnam — but many of them are from lesser covered skirmishes. There were some close calls and tough choices, but these are the best war movies of all time.
Platoon is a no doubter on any list of the best war movies of all time. Oliver Stone's classic about the Vietnam War won four Oscars and launched several actors' careers. It centers on a young soldier (Charlie Sheen) who faces a moral crisis when he is dropped into the horrors of the Vietnam War.
He quickly discovers that his presence is quite nonessential, and is considered insignificant to the other soldiers, because he has not fought for as long as the rest of them and felt the real effects of combat. After an illegal killing occurs during a village raid, the platoon is split in two and their humanity is tested — a true must see.
The Deer Hunter is not only one of the best war movies ever, it's considered a masterpiece of modern American cinema. It's an in-depth examination of the ways in which the Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.
Michael, Steven, and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who enlist into the Army to fight in Vietnam — they are never the same.
They get captured by the Vietcong and there are some iconic scenes, including one where the three are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. It stars some massive names: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. Not a surprise that it took home five Oscars.
This is based on James Jones' 1962 autobiographical novel about his experiences during the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II — one of the best book-to-movie adaptations ever.
It chronicles one of the bloodiest battles of the war — fought in the often forgot about Pacific Theater. The men of C Company arrive near Hill 210, a key Japanese position. Their task is to capture the hill at any cost. What happens next is a story about redemption and the meaninglessness of war, no matter the side.
Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the man created one of the best war movies of all time. Braveheart is about the Scottish Revolution and its leader, Scottish rebel Sir. William Wallace. The cruel English ruler Edward Longshanks wishes to inherit the crown of Scotland for himself. When he was a young boy, William Wallace's father and brother, along with many others, lost their lives trying to free Scotland.
After his wife was murdered, Wallace goes on a quest to free the Scots once and for all. The movie won five Oscars and features one of the best battle scenes ever put to film. FREEDOM!... If you've seen it, you'll get it.
It's about killing Nazis — an easy choice for best war movies of all time. In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish US soldiers coincides with a theater owner's vengeful plans to do the same — they murdered her family as a child.
It's Tarantino, so you know it will be full of smart, witty dialogue followed by intermittent scenes of incredibly brutal violence. Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Dianne Kruger, Inglourious Basterds is not to be missed.
Patton is a classic of the genre, and one of the best war movies of the 20th Century. Patton tells the story of General George S. Patton, a famous tank commander during World War II. The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for George C. Scott.
The film begins with Patton's career in North Africa and progresses through the invasion of Europe and the fall of the Third Reich. In addition, it delves into Patton's personal life. It deals with his hot temper and penchant for insubordination, causing him to lose his shot at being the lead Commander during the Normandy Invasion — which would go to a future US President.
Eventually, he is relived of his command in Germany. Still, Patton is considered one of the greatest generals in US military history.
Following the Normandy Invasion, a group of US soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan includes one of the most brutally realistic war scenes in film history, the "storming of the beach."
The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of the Ryan families' grief when he learns that a fourth brother, Private James Ryan is still alive. He decides to send out eight soldiers to find him and bring him back home to his devastated mother.
The film won five Oscars and is considered one of the best war movies of all time.
Black Hawk Down is about a simple mission that went horribly wrong during the Clinton era — one of the few best war movies about a modern conflict. One hundred sixty elite US soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord, and soon find themselves in a desperate battle with a large faction of heavily-armed Somalis.
The film focuses on the heroic efforts of various Rangers to get to the downed black hawks, and hopefully get all their men out alive. It's one of the most intense movies on this list, and once the soldiers enter Somali airspace, the action never lets up.
It is the height of the war in Vietnam, and US Army Captain Willard is sent by Colonel Lucas and a General to carry out a mission that seems impossible: find Colonel Kurtz. The Army believes that Kurtz has gone insane, and Willard is tasked with the job of taking him out.
Kurtz is believed to be in Cambodia, and getting to him turns out to be much harder than originally anticipated. The Colonel has become somewhat of a God to the local tribe and bloody battles ensue. Considered one of the greatest films of all time, Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a shoo-in for best war movies.
In German occupied Poland during World War II, Schindler increasingly becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis. He turns his factory into a refuge for Jews, saving many in the process.
Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, who managed to save about 1,100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, Schindler's List is one of the best war movies all time. This Steven Spielberg epic won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
About the Creator
Joseph Farley is a North Jersey based writer who loves short fiction and stand-up comedy
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