Best war movies. War is a hell. She is brutal and bloody. It destroys lives, countries, cultures. It shapes our past, our present, our future. And that’s why it continues to fascinate filmmakers and spectators. War stories reveal the true nature of humanity in its darkest moments.
A war film can be deeply pacifist, it can be revolutionary, it can be critical of our leaders who lead us into conflict.
Below we present the 60 greatest war films ever made. You will find classics as well as some non-traditional films, in order to broaden your expectations about the nature and scope of a war film.
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60: CHE: PART TWO (2008)
Seven years after his triumph in Cuba, Che (Benicio del Toro) winds up in Bolivia, where he tries to ignite the same revolutionary fires as before. But, with the Bolivian army bolstered by CIA support, Che faces one defeat after another, finally meeting his end in the village of La Higuera.
59: THE TIN DRUM (1979)
In 1924, Oskar Matzerath was born in the free city of Danzig. At the age of three, he fell down the stairs and stopped growing. In 1939, the Second World War broke out.
58: ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
Best War Movies. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden drives a determined CIA agent to follow her intuition to find him.
57: PATTON (1970)
The career story of the controversial American general George S. Patton during the Second World War.
56: MAJOR DUNDEE (1965)
Best War Movies. Major Amos Charles Dundee decides to pursue Apache chief Sierra Chariba, who destroyed a detachment of his soldiers and a ranch.
55: THE PIANIST (2002)
A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War.
54: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
Best War Movies. In occupied France in 1940, Shosanna Dreyfus witnessed the execution of her family that fell into the hands of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris where she builds a new identity by becoming the operator of a movie theater.
Somewhere else in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine forms a group of American Jewish soldiers to carry out particularly bloody punitive actions against the Nazis. “The bastards”, the name under which their enemies will get to know them, join the
German actress and secret agent Bridget von Hammersmark in an attempt to eliminate the high dignitaries of the Third Reich. Their destinies will be played out at the entrance to the cinema where Shosanna is determined to carry out a very personal revenge…
53: MY NAME IS IVAN (1963)
Best War Movies. When Nazi invaders destroy his Russian village and kill his family, 12-year-old Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) is placed in a German prison camp. Ivan escapes from the camp and crosses back over to Russia, and comes under the care of Capt.
Kholin (Valentin Zubkov), who wants to send Ivan to military school. Ivan refuses, requesting that he be allowed to use his powers of stealth to return to Germany to spy on the Nazis and avenge the killing of his family.
52: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)
From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military.
51: FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
Best War Movies. Stanley Kubrick’s take on the Vietnam War follows smart-aleck Private Davis (Matthew Modine), quickly christened “Joker” by his foul-mouthed drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), and pudgy Private Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), nicknamed “Gomer Pyle,” as they endure the rigors of basic training. Though Pyle takes a frightening detour, Joker graduates to the Marine Corps and is sent to Vietnam as a journalist, covering and eventually participating in the bloody Battle of Hué.
50: LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM (2014)
During the final days of the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese forces closed in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbled. An unlikely group of heroes emerged as Americans and South Vietnamese took matters into their own hands.
49: HENRY V (1989)
Best War Movies. The film begins with Chorus, in this case a person in modern dress, introducing the subject of the play. He is walking through an empty film studio and ends his monologue by opening the doors to begin the main action. Chorus reappears several times during the film, his speeches helping to explain and progress the action.
48: THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
In early 1943, a contingent of British prisoners of war arrive at a Japanese prison camp in Thailand, led by Lt. Colonel Nicholson. US Navy Commander Shears tells of the horrific conditions. Nicholson forbids any escape attempts because they were ordered by headquarters to surrender, and escapes could be seen as defiance of orders. Also, the dense surrounding jungle renders escape virtually impossible.
47: APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
Best War Movies. During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard was sent on a mission to Cambodia to assassinate a rebel colonel who declared himself God among a local tribe.
46: WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008)
An Israeli director interviews his former comrades in arms of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to find memories of his military service during this conflict.
45: ’71 (2014)
In 1971, a young British soldier lost the deadly streets of Belfast was mistakenly abandoned by his unit during a riot
44: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
Best War Movies. In 1945, three veterans from different parts of the military (USAAF bombardier captain Fred Derry, U.S. Navy petty officer Homer Parrish, and U.S. Army sergeant Al Stephenson) meet on a return flight from service at the end of World War II. They travel together and arrive in their midwestern hometown of Boone City.
43: THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
An in-depth review of the impact of the war between the United States and Vietnam on the lives of the inhabitants of a small industrial city in Pennsylvania.
42: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961)
Best War Movies. During the Second World War, a commando was entrusted with a perilous mission: to destroy two huge German guns located on the island of Khéros.
41: RAN (1985)
In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other…and him.
40: TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942)
Best War Movies. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, a troupe of actors found themselves involved in the efforts of a Polish soldier to track down a German spy.
39: LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006)
The Battle of Iwo Joma between the United States and Imperial Japan during the Second World War, told from the point of view of the Japanese who fought there.
38: SPARTACUS (1960)
Best War Movies. The story of the greatest gladiators in history takes place under the sign of the violence and passions of women who love them.
37: HENRY V (1944)
In the heart of the Hundred Years’ War, the young King Henry V of England embarked on the conquest of France in 1415.
36: SON OF SAUL (2015)
Best War Movies. In October 1944, Saul Ausländer works as a Sonderkommando Jewish–Hungarian prisoner in Auschwitz. His job is to salvage valuables from the clothing of the dead, drag bodies from the gas chambers and scrub the chambers before the next group arrives to be gassed.
He works stoically, seemingly having been numbed by the daily horrors. Among the dead after a gassing, Saul sees a boy who is still barely alive suffocated by a Nazi physician who calls for an autopsy on the boy. Saul steps forth and insists on carrying the body himself to the prison doctor, Miklós Nyiszli, a fellow Hungarian prisoner and a forced assistant to Josef Mengele.
He asks Miklós to not cut up the boy, so he can give him a proper Jewish burial. Miklós declines, but says he can have five minutes alone with the boy tonight, before the cremation. Saul goes in search of a Rabbi to perform the funeral ritual. He goes to Rabbi Frankel in the crematorium, who dismisses Saul’s concern and suggests that Saul perform the burial himself.
35: A MAN ESCAPED (1956)
Best War Movies. Captured French Resistance fighter Lieutenant Fontaine awaits a certain death sentence for espionage in a stark Nazi prison in Lyon, France. Facing malnourishment and paralyzing fear, he must plot an extraordinary escape, complicated by the questions of whom to trust, and what lies beyond the small portion of the prison they are housed in.
34: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
In 1935, T. E. Lawrence dies in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, a reporter tries, with little success, to gain insights into the remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.
33: THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
Best War Movies. Allied prisoners of war plan the escape of several hundred people from a German camp during the Second World War.
32: SHOAH (1985)
Long painful meditation on the singularity of Nazi crimes and the pain of the surviving Man, the film takes the side of not using any archival images. Only testimonies from survivors, contemporaries or murderers are shown. Some sequences were replayed or prepared (such as the poignant story of a hairdresser, Abraham Bomba) but most were shot in direct camera, translated on the fly by one of the protagonists.
31: SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
Best War Movies. In Kraków during World War II, the Nazis force local Polish Jews into the overcrowded Kraków Ghetto. Oskar Schindler, a German member of the Nazi Party from Czechoslovakia, arrives in the city, hoping to make his fortune. He bribes Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and SS officials, acquiring a factory to produce enamelware.
Schindler hires Itzhak Stern, a Jewish official with contacts among black marketeers and the Jewish business community; he handles administration and helps Schindler arrange financing. Stern ensures that as many Jewish workers as possible are deemed essential to the German war effort to prevent them from being taken by the SS to concentration camps or killed. Meanwhile, Schindler maintains friendly relations with the Nazis and enjoys wealth and status as “Herr Direktor”.
30: THE IMITATION GAME (2014)
London, 1940. England is at war with Nazi Germany, whose forces occupy much of Europe. Although they manage to intercept German army communications, the British are unable to decipher the codes used to encrypt their messages thanks to a machine called Enigma. Alan Turing, a prodigy mathematician, joins the ranks of a team of specialists responsible for unraveling the mystery of Enigma.
29: KELLY’S HEROES (1970)
Best War Movies. In 1944, near Nancy. From a German he took prisoner, Lieutenant Kelly learns of the existence of a German bank located behind enemy lines and containing $16 million in gold bars. Kelly informs a group of men of his plan: to seize the magot on their own behalf.
28: DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
General Jack Ripper, convinced that the Russians have decided to poison the drinking water in the United States, launched an offensive of B-52 bombers on the USSR, taking care to isolate the Burpelson air base from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Muffley, the President of the United States, summons the military staff to the Pentagon’s operating room and tries to restore the situation.
27: THE HURT LOCKER (2008)
Lieutenant James is at the head of the best demining unit in the U.S. Army. Their mission is to defuse bombs in civilian neighborhoods or war theaters, at the risk of their lives, while the local situation is still explosive.
26: THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966)
Best War Movies. October 1957. Colonel Mathieu’s paras surround the refuge of Ali-La-Pointe, responsible for urban guerrilla warfare. During his hours of forced imprisonment, Ali relives the route that led him from the state of offender and pimp to that of guerrilla chief of the F.L.N. November 1954, the terrorist organization began its activity in Algeria; these were the first bombings in the bars, train stations and cinemas of the European city.
25: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)
A group of German schoolchildren are convinced to enlist at the beginning of the Premiere by their chauvinist teacher. The story is told through the experiences of young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals.
24: DUNKIRK (2017)
Best War Movies. At the beginning of the Second World War, in May 1940, Allied troops found themselves surrounded by German troops in Dunkirk, France. Operation Dynamo is set up to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force (CEB) to England.
23: THREE KINGS (1999)
Four soldiers, Archi, a green beret, Troy Barlow, a young idealist, Elgin and Conrad Vig, disappointed and frustrated by the culmination of the Gulf War, this ‘high-tech’ war that looks like a video game, decide to take a little revenge. They conclude that they deserve a small compensation and hastily set up a secret expedition to recover part of the ingots stolen by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.
22: ZULU (1964)j
Best War Movies. In Natal, in January 1879. A British company is attacked by Zulu warriors who seize weapons. The rebels then plan to attack the mission where about a hundred soldiers are based. Reverend Otto Witt and his daughter Margaretta learn the news as they attend the wedding of black parishioners. In a hurry, they return to the station to warn their fellow citizens of the danger.
21: ARMY IN THE SHADOWS (1969)
In October 1942, Philippe Gerbier was interned in a French camp and then transferred to the Gestapo headquarters of the Majestic Hotel in Paris. He escapes by killing a sentinel. In Marseille, he is charged with Félix and Le Bison to execute Doinot, who betrayed them. Felix, arrested by the Gestapo of Lyon, is tortured.
20: AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)
Best War Movies. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq for one purpose: to protect his comrades. His surgical precision saves countless human lives on the battlefield and, while the stories of his exploits multiply, he gets the nickname “The Legend.” However, his growing reputation also attracts the attention of his enemies. He also fights on another front: he tries as best he can to assume the role of a good husband and father.
19: STALAG 17 (1953)
American aviators imprisoned in Stalag 17 realize that there is a cookie among them who informs the Germans. Their suspicions are about one of their comrades whom they are copiously red.
18: GRAND ILLUSION (1937)
Best War Movies. First World War. Two French soldiers are taken prisoner by Commander von Rauffenstein, a refined and respectful German. Led to a prison camp, they help their roommates dig a secret tunnel. But on the eve of their escape, the detainees are transferred. They were finally taken to a high-security fortress led by von Rauffenstein. He treats prisoners with courtesy, even making friends with Boeldieu.
17: RESTREPO (2010)
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherintiogton joined the men of the 2nd Section of Afghanistan to testify to the work, fear and friendship between these soldiers.
16: CASABLANCA (1942)
Best War Movies. In Casablanca, during the Second World War, the most popular night club in the city is run by Rick Blaine, an American in exile.
The establishment also serves as a refuge for those who would like to obtain the necessary documents to leave the country.
When Rick sees the political dissident Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa disembarkation one evening, what is not his surprise to find in these circumstances the great love of his life.
15: COMING HOME (1978)
In the United States, during the Vietnam War, Sally’s feelings are shared between her husband, who went to the front and a former college classmate who lost the use of his legs in battle.
14: EYE IN THE SKY (2015)
Best War Movies. From the London Joint Headquarters, Colonel Katherine Powell is piloting a special operation to capture members of an ultra-dangerous terrorist group in Nairobi. Kenyan special forces must intervene on site and American drone pilots in Las Vegas will be tasked with guiding them from the air. In Hawaii, the image analysis unit will support the entire operation.
13: WAR HORSE (2011)
Albert and his horse, Joey, live on a farm in the English countryside. During the declaration of the First World War, Albert and Joey were forced to separate. Joey is sold by Albert’s father to the British cavalry. Joey then begins a journey, full of danger, joy and sorrow. He transforms all those he meets. Albert, unable to forget his friend, searches him on the battlefields in France to take him home.
12: MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983)
Best War Movies. Java 1942: an American prison camp is led by Captain Yonoi, a Japanese leader with an iron grip. The fear and contempt of the captain’s prisoners and subordinates for the latter is opposed by the astonishing resistance of an English soldier, Jake Celliers. Faced with his provocative attitude, Yonoi is becoming more and more severe in order to bend the rebel.
11: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
In 1941, former boxer Robert Prewitt was assigned to a barracks based in Honolulu where he was asked by Captain Holmes to return to the ring to defend the honor of the garrison. But Prewitt refuses, haunted, to have blinded a man in his final fight. He then suffers incessant humiliations intended to force him to accept the challenge. At the same time, Sergeant Warden falls in love with Karen Holmes, the daughter of his superior.
10: LINCOLN (2012)
Best War Movies. The film tells the last months of the life of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, assassinated in 1865, and especially his fight to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which ended slavery throughout the country, before the end of the Civil War.
In January 1865, Abraham Lincoln expected the civil war to end soon with the defeat of the Confederate States. He fears that the courts would abandon his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 after the war and that the proposal for the 13th Amendment would be rejected after the return of the slave states. According to him, it is imperative to adopt the amendment before peace to eliminate any possibility of re-slavement of liberated slaves.
Radical Republicans fear that the amendment will be rejected by some. The support of Republicans in the border states is not yet assured. The amendment also requires the support of several Democratic members of Congress to be adopted. While dozens of Democrats are considered lame ducks after losing their re-election campaign in the fall of 1864, some close to Lincoln advised him to wait for a new predominantly Republican Congress. Lincoln remains firm and wishes to have the amendment adopted before the end of the war and the reintegration of southern states.
Lincoln’s hopes are based on the support of Francis Preston Blair, founder of the Republican Party and whose influence could allow him to convince the conservatives of the west and border states. With a very likely victory for the Union in the civil war and with two sons serving the Union army, Blair wants to end hostilities.
In exchange for his support, Blair therefore asks Lincoln to engage the Confederate government in peace negotiations. However, Lincoln knows that the amendment has significant support from radical Republicans, for whom negotiated peace is unacceptable. Unable to continue without Blair’s support, Lincoln reluctantly accepts Blair’s request.
9: TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)
Best War Movies. In 1949, former United States Army Air Forces officer Harvey Stovall spots a familiar Toby Jug in the window of a London antique shop and learns that it came from Archbury, an airfield where Stovall served during World War II. Convinced that it is the same jug which used to stand on the mantel of the airfield’s officers’ club, he buys it and journeys to the derelict airfield, where he reflects on his wartime experiences.
In a flashback, the setting shifts to 1942, when the 918th Bomb Group at Archbury has gained a reputation as the “hard luck group”. After a particularly disastrous mission, group commander Colonel Keith Davenport appears exhausted and demoralized. His defeatist attitude spreads to other senior leaders of the group, including his Air Exec, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Gately.
Ordered to fly another mission the next day, at a dangerously low altitude, Davenport protests to his friend, Brigadier General Frank Savage, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations at VIII Bomber Command. Later, Savage reluctantly shares with Major General Pritchard, the commanding general of VIII Bomber Command, his belief that Davenport has become emotionally too close to his men and may no longer be fit to command.
That night, Pritchard and Savage visit the group headquarters to investigate the cause of the mission’s heavy losses. Pritchard realizes that Savage is right: Davenport has become over-protective and is unwilling to discipline his men, even for costly mistakes. Davenport is relieved of command and Savage is asked to take over.
8: BRAVEHEART (1995)
In the 13th century, young William Wallace returned to Scotland after several years of exile. He secretly marries his beloved Murron, to avoid bending to the right of cooking imposed by the King of England, Edward I. However, their cunning is discovered and Murron is executed. This tragic event precipitates Wallace into a fierce fight against the British oppressor, in which all Scottish clans participate.
7: GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988)
Best War Movies. Japan, summer 1945. American bombers water Kobé with several thousand tons of incendiary bombs. A young teenager and his little sister lose their parents. They take refuge in their close but cruel family. Their desperate quest for a better world will lead them to cross the ruins of Japan bloodied by the end of this war as well as to face the indifference and cruelty of adults…
6: COME AND SEE (1985)
In 1943, in Belarus, a young villager, Fliora, unearthed the rifle of a dead soldier and joined the partisans against the German invader. With the energy and idealism of a child, he plunges into the horror of a world that surpasses the adults themselves. Between wandering and fighting, Fliora becomes the witness of all the horrors of war.
5: A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (2004)
Best War Movies. In 1919, Mathilde was 19 years old. Two years earlier, his fiancé Manech left on the front of the sum. Like millions of others, he died in the field of honor. It is written in black and white on the official opinion. However, Mathilde refuses to admit this evidence. If Manech had died, she would know it. She clings to her intuition as to the last tenuous thread that would still connect her to her lover. Mathilde refuses to let go and embarks on a real counter-investigation.
4: BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001)
In 1992, Mohamed Farrah Aidid reigned terror on Somali territory. To help the starving population, George Bush, then President of the United States, is setting up a humanitarian expedition. A few months later, Bill Clinton is in power, and continues the work of his predecessor.
3: PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
French infantrymen croak in the trenches in the face of a German position deemed impregnable. Any assault would be suicidal. Yet, hoping to get one more star in his uniform, General Mireau orders an attack. Determined to protect his men, Colonel Dax opposes it before bending under blackmail.
2: DAS BOOT (1981)
During the Second World War, 40,000 German submarines sent by Hitler embarked on a routine mission in the North Atlantic. Carelessness reigns on board. What they don’t know is that only 10,000 men will return home alive.
1: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
While the Allied forces disembark in Omaha Beach, Miller must lead his squad behind the enemy lines for a particularly dangerous mission: to find and bring back safe and sound the simple soldier James Ryan, whose three brothers died in battle in the space of three days. As the squad progresses in enemy territory, Miller’s men ask themselves questions and wonder if we should really risk the lives of eight men to save one.