Movies about war have a long and storied history, from the early days of cinema to modern day. From intense front-line fighting scenes to personal stories that show what it means for soldiers in battle, these are 10 films that will transport you back into another time
The “top 10 war movies” is a list that includes films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Apocalypse Now.
“War is the parent of us all,” said Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher.
It is without a doubt the source of many of humanity’s most enduring legends, myths, and stories. Greeks remembered and repeated the Iliad in ancient times, while Hindus did the same with the Bhagavad Gita. With the advent of books, young men began to study stories of valiant knights and warriors, as well as accounts of historical wars. War tales transferred to film in the early twentieth century and have been a popular cinematic motif ever since.
It’s no wonder that war stories have been popular for so long. Action, high stakes, conflict, suspense, ambiguity, and tension are all elements in a compelling novel about war. There is good and evil, heroism and villainy, moral victories and ethical blunders. The chaotic nature of conflict enables a narrative to delve deeply and intricately into human nature. People are put to the test in war, and it brings out the best and worst in them. It’s both elevating and degrading, passionate and mundane, important and empty. The most human of pursuits is war.
Hundreds of war films have been created over the past century, each capturing the aforementioned elements more or less effectively and with varying degrees of aesthetic brilliance.
A list of 50+ fantastic war movies, titles that are both worthy of seeing and pretty nice, may be simply compiled. However, most people aren’t likely to watch hundreds of such films. So, which war films are really the finest of the best? We’ve narrowed down the choices to the genuine cream of the crop, which you should see.
Of course, such lists are often the topic of heated controversy, but if you don’t like ours, blow it out your barracks bag, write out a T.S. form, and mail it to your mother.
What Characterizes a War Film as a War Film?
Let’s start with some definitions before moving on to the list.
For the purposes of this list, we utilized three criteria to identify a film as a “war movie”:
A narrative that is mostly about fighting in some aspect. A war movie’s storyline had to be integrally tied to a military man’s experience on the battlefield in order for it to be a war movie. While there are films with war as a backdrop (Casablanca, From Here to Eternity, Schindler’s List), and films about soldiers returning home from war (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home), these settings and themes were not considered for this list because they aren’t directly about the “fight” of war.
Real-life incidents are fictionalized. There are movies on this list that are fully fictitious representations of historical events (Starship Troopers) and straight-up documentaries of genuine events (Restrepo, They Shall Not Grow Old), but they are all fictionalized depictions of historical events.
A single film. Who doesn’t like the miniseries Band of Brothers? However, only feature-length films were considered for this list.
To be considered for inclusion as a “war movie,” a film required to be set in or near battle zones, have a fabricated past, and be a single film.
The Top 10 War Films of All Time
Private Ryan’s Rescue
Saving Private Ryan immerses the audience in the intensity and tragedies of the Allied invasion of Europe right from the start. Tom Hanks portrays an Army captain in charge of a small team entrusted with locating and returning a soldier who has lost all three of his brothers in the battle. While the fighting sequences in the film are exciting, the tale and the central issue it raises are much more so: why risk the lives of numerous men to rescue one?
The last moment will make you weep like a baby, and you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the courageous warriors who gave their lives for our liberties.
The Great Exodus
The Great Escape is based on true events and follows a group of American and British POWs as they attempt to get out of an impenetrable Nazi prison.
While this film may appear to contradict the criteria that entries on this list focus on the battlefield experience, prisoners of war considered their camps to be extensions of the frontlines; they were expected to do everything they could to escape, if not to make it home, then at the very least to harry the enemy, diverting and depleting his resources.
We’ve already gone into detail about why guys like The Great Escape. Yes, there’s action, like Steve McQueen riding his motorbike over a fence, but it’s the themes of battling oppression, brilliantly improvising when the chips are down, and establishing a deep commitment to friendship that make this picture so attractive and rewatchable.
As an American, you learn as a child that nothing could be more nasty or craven than a German U-boat. For screaming out loud, they torpedoed civilian cruise liners and commerce ships!
However, after seeing the German film Das Boot, you get a sense of empathy and respect for these ships and the complex and horrific experience of those who served on them.
The film follows a WWII U-boat crew on a mission that is essentially a suicide mission. You get a taste of what it’s like to be squeezed inside a little metal tube hundreds of feet deep as depth charges upset your nerves. It’s claustrophobic and nerve-wracking at the same time.
What makes Das Boot so interesting is the commander of the submarine’s model of leadership. His primary purpose is to ensure that his soldiers get home safely, while being cynical about the war and openly anti-Nazi. The captain maintains his cool, calm, and collected demeanor no matter how tense things get aboard the ship.
The film is available in two versions: one with English subtitles and one with English dubbed over it; watch the former.
Considering how much ink has been spilled about the Civil War, there have been surprisingly few films created about it. There have been several films set during the war (Gone With the Wind, Lincoln, Gangs of New York, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), but few concerning soldiers’ experiences on the battlefield.
Glory, from 1989, is by far the greatest of those that do exist.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was one of the earliest African-American volunteer regiments in the Union Army. The squad works to overcome discrimination and show themselves to their own Union colleagues as well as the opposing Confederates, despite a Southern decree that any black man found fighting for the federal would be hung, and any white commander directing those men would also be hanged. The regiment, led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw, makes a heroic but futile effort to conquer Ft. Wagner, losing half of their men in the process but earning respect and praise for their valor.
Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, and Matthew Broderick appear in the film, which also has one of the finest final fight sequences in cinema history.
Apocalypse Now is a film about the end of the world.
There are several films about Vietnam. It’s logical. It’s a contentious conflict that loomed big in the minds of many of cinema’s greatest filmmakers as they grew up. Most of the most well-known Vietnam films were created in the 1970s and 1980s, when the filmmakers and the rest of their age were still trying to figure out what the war meant to them individually and to the nation.
Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is the unexpected standout among this bountiful crop.
Surprising, given that Apocalypse Now is a strange and hallucinogenic film. It isn’t based on any real-life wars. Coppola, on the other hand, adapted Joseph Conrad’s 1899 masterpiece Heart of Darkness and put it in Vietnam. It’s a massive manifesto against war’s futility and folly.
The film depicts US Army Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), who is tasked with assassinating a renegade American colonel called Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has established his own cult in the Vietnamese woods and believes he is a deity. He encounters a surfer-loving, Wagner-listening air cavalry lieutenant colonel (Robert Duvall) along the way, as well as a tripped-out American photojournalist-turned-Kurtz-disciple (Dennis Hopper). Sure, it’s a strange film, but it’s also engaging and pleasant.
The Red Line Is Thin (1998)
The Thin Red Line depicts a company of troops in a dramatized portrayal of the Battle of Mount Austen in Guadalcanal, based on the book by James Jones (who also penned From Here to Eternity).
While there are many WWII films on land battles in Europe, there are significantly less films depicting fighting in the Pacific. The Thin Red Line depicts the cruelty and challenges of island warfare in graphic detail. It’s massive in scope.
The main protagonists are attempting to find out what the war means to them in between action sequences. For some, it’s pointless and worthless; for others, it’s an opportunity to display courage and dignity. You don’t get a clear message about war after viewing the movie; all you get is that it’s a chaotic, extremely human business.
Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, and that’s just the beginning of the A-list cast. It’s the outstanding performance that brings this film to life.
General George S. Patton was a colorful character with a life that was already epic in scale. As a result, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic biography Patton did a fantastic job of translating it to the cinema.
“Epic” is not an exaggeration: everything in this image is massive. At the start of the movie, there’s a huge American flag. The battlegrounds Even the palaces commandeered by Patton for command positions. This was clearly a film meant to be viewed on a huge screen rather than on a smartphone.
George C. Scott gives a fantastic performance as the larger-than-life Patton. In one of the finest performances in film history, he steals the show.
If you’re going to put a World War I film on a top war movies list, it has to be All Quiet on the Western Front from the 1930s. And it’s a fantastic, fun, and deserving picture that set the bar for all subsequent war films.
However, if you only have time to see one WWI film, 2019’s 1917 is the best choice.
The film depicts two British troops who are tasked with executing a dangerous mission: sending a message to call off an aggressive onslaught that is bound to fail. 1917 does an excellent job of depicting the horror and environmental devastation of WWI trench warfare while also demonstrating that even the most horrible settings can contain stirring beauty.
The film’s biggest strength is Sam Mendes’ choice to shoot it in long takes, giving the impression that it was filmed in only two continuous shots. What should have come off as a cheap gimmick works well, immersing you in the action and making you feel as if you’re really there in the trenches being shelled and fired at.
The Longest Day of the Year
The Longest Day is a documentary-style account of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. It follows you from the days leading up to the invasion through almost every aspect of the actual operation. You’ll watch Eisenhower debating whether or not to approve the operation, British soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy in wooden gliders, and American troops assaulting the beaches. It’s a grand film that does an excellent job of conveying a genuinely monumental time in human history.
It also stars John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Wagner, among other silver-screen icons.
The River Kwai Bridge is a bridge that spans the river Kwai in Thailand.
During WWII, the Japanese instruct a group of British POWs to construct a bridge for the Siam-Burma Railway. Instead of undermining the bridge (as POWs are intended to do), the soldiers, led by Colonel Nicholson, construct the finest darn bridge they can – one that will survive forever. The bridge becomes a metaphor for war’s futility and lunacy, as well as egocentric pride, a need to save “face,” and obstinate, tight adherence to class, military orders, and laws.
This might very well be the finest war film ever filmed, with a unique and captivating tale (and, of course, one of cinema’s most iconic theme music).
The “best war movies 2021” is a list of 10 of the best war movies. They are ranked from 1-10, and they all have to do with the subject of war in some way.
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