Best War Films of all times
written by Souranath Banerjee
Best War Films can be generally categorized into two basic types. Firstly the ones that glamorize and romanticize the concept of war for the sheer entertainment of the audience, as most of us want to enjoy the thrill of the battle-zone but shy away from the horrors and perils of it – more like a harmless video game!
And then the second kind that actually portray war as realistically as possible; the action, the bloodshed, the destruction, the cries of the wounded and the death of the young and innocents.
“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
The films listed below mostly belong to the second category; they are the Best War Films of all times that have the audacity to paint the ugly face of war and tell stories of not only courage and strength but also of the brutality and helplessness of both the armed and the civilians.
Let the battle begin.
20. The Beast of War (1988)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcJuxYXpI5w
A much underrated war film based on the Afgan-Soviet conflict, but it superbly portrays the brutality of a battle zone, the psychology and instincts of the armed and civilians.
Directed by Kevin Reynolds, a war drama mostly based on a Tank crew led by an eccentric commander who needs to be stopped for good.
Far more realistic than the 2014 star-studded Tank-movie – Fury.
19. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51lo2dpaZ_g
Nominated for 4 Oscars, won one; brilliantly directed by Clint Eastwood, this film is a heroic take of the 40 days war between America and Japan to capture the island of Iwo Jima (a potential strategic point).
A brilliant war drama from the Japanese soldiers perspective, outstanding performances, a thrilling yet emotional storyline and very realistic depiction of the battle.
18. Red Cliff (2008)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd0bqLQrtdE
Emperor Han under the influence of his Prime Minister Cao Cao fought epic battles to unite all of China under his sole command.
Directed by John Woo, this film is the first part of the monumental battle of Red Cliff which altered the Chinese history forever.
Red Cliff II (2009) is probably even a better cinematic experience. Another must watch war-film.
17. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca3M2feqJk8
Based on the Algerian revolution in the 1950s, as the people of Algeria seeking independence rebel against the French government and fight a ruthless war that ends after a series of tortures and bombings.
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, commissioned by Algerian government, banned in France until recently, nominated for 3 Oscars in two separate non-consecutive years!
16. Kanal (1957)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LnLszHOLNs
Set in the last days of the Warsaw uprising in 1944, a group of Polish resistance fighters reluctantly use the sewer system to escape the indomitable German wrath.
Directed by Andrzej Wajda, this is a unique war drama that explores the human instinct of the soldiers to survive above everything else. A tragic yet highly realistic depiction of the ugly face of war.
15. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIbFvqFYRT4
Finally a film on the bomb squad – the so-called technicians of the military who risk their lives many times a day to ensure safety for their troops.
14. The Cross of Iron (1977)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AonZdAfEQgA
Cross of Iron is one of the top military decorations awarded for extraordinary courage but what if somebody undeserving wants to claim it for his personal ambition?
Directed by Sam Peckinpah, a brutal portrayal of WWII as the film follows the fate of a German unit that faces extreme danger due to the treachery of their own commander. James Coburn‘s performance is exceptional!
13. Stalingrad (1993)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlMw8CjyV80
As the name suggests, this one is an epic portrayal of the battle of Stalingard; from the time when the German Army tries to invade the city till their struggle to maintain dominance in the cold Russian winter.
Directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, the sheer scale of the film is highly commendable, and then the brilliant performances, the realistic story-line, the music and the depiction of the ugly face of human devastation in a war – probably the best War film ever made.
12. The Cruel Sea (1953)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joUDAD3GB3g
Though pretty successful when released, and yet so underrated, one of the lesser popular war films but believe me, it surely deserves a spot in this list.
Directed by Charles Frend, this one is a terrific war drama of a British convoy ship in action over the North Atlantic during the WW II.
A powerful script, intense situations and superb acting, specially by Jack Hawkins.
11. Platoon (1986)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KztP7SKe0uk
War often gets too brutal for the young recruits and the Vietnam War was no different.
The film is directed by Oliver Stone (a Vietnam veteran himself) and he won the Oscar for this film!
It is said to be the most complete war film ever made, though it’s banned in Vietnam because of its depiction of the Vietnamese people. A must watch in the list!
10. Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O-sMh_DO6I
World War II, the battle in Stalingrad will decide the fate of the war! And one Russian snipper Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), seems to be making all the difference!
But then the Germans send a master snipper to compete, and then the deathly game begins!
Based on true characters, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz – a brilliant war drama full of action, suspense and romance. Definitely the best snipper movie ever made!
9. Paths of Glory (1957)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmDA60X-f_A
The ruthlessness of the battle (WWI) and the dirty war-politics played by the higher army officials – portrayed to perfection.
One of Kirk Douglas‘s most memorable performances till date.
8. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkrhkUeDCdQ
Master director Francis Ford Coppola shot nearly 200 hours of footage – a film that took 16 months of shooting and 3 years of editing!
The sound of the helicopter wings panning from left to right as they are dissolve into a match cut with the ceiling fan – simply epic!
7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiObc2XmVqw
Directed by Lewis Milestone, this was the first talkie war film to win the Oscar! (won both the best picture and the best director awards).
Banned in Germany soon after its release as they claimed that the Germans were shown as cowards!
Though visuals of extreme violence was consciously avoided but still the film’s depiction of WWI is damn honest and brutal.
6. Das Boot (1981)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMj0_wCn6jM
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen this is the epic tale of the crew of a German U-boat (submarine) during the last phase of WW II.
Highly claustrophobic as most of the film is shot inside the submarine and yet so dramatic and powerful. Some of the tensed moments in the film are deliberately slow with a nerve wrenching effect on the audience. Jürgen Prochnow is brilliant!
5. Come and See (1985)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-Ro0SZf438
In this film the horrors of war (WW II) is depicted in an ultra-realistic manner, often considered too graphic and brutal.
Directed by Elem Klimov, the film revolves around a young boy who finds an old rifle and instinctively decides to join the Soviet Army.
Original uniforms and live ammunitions were used for authenticity.
4. The Thin Red Line (1998)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCmlOhsIwBk
‘Every man fights their own war’ and so does each of them!
Directed by Terrence Malick the film was nominated for Oscars in 7 categories!
3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlC7XBayj0s
Based on the story when the British prisoners in a Japanese camp were ordered to built a bridge. The film took 7 Oscars that year, won in all the major categories!
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EsVtn2GvBo
Steven Spielberg directed this film and according to many film-lovers it contains some of the most authentic war scenes ever filmed (specially the Omaha Beach battle sequence).
Undoubtedly the most popular war film ever made. Also Voted #1 greatest war film in UK’s Channel 4 poll in 2005.
1. Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=setzqMoEEUU
This is the story of 12 year old Ivan, a young war hero, a spy and most importantly a soldier!
Directed by the renowned Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
The film is one of the most poetic and beautifully shot war films I have ever seen. Though it doesn’t show much of actual combat but still it manages to deliver the chills of war to its full effect.
and (The ‘+1′ film is not necessarily the best but certainly the most innovative one. A must watch)
+1. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2-1hz1juBI
A biographical take on an American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who fought the Battle of Okinawa without a gun!
Directed by Mel Gibson, this one is an astonishing tale of a man whose religious views didn’t allow him to carry a weapon, or kill anybody. But it didn’t stop him from saving hundreds of lives and winning the Medal of Honor for his incredible courage – without firing one single shot!