Select Page

Best War Movies of All Time

Best War Movies of All Time

Here are some of the best war movies ever made.

Number 10

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates takes place during the German invasion of Stalingrad. If the Nazis win the battle, the Eastern Front will fall. At this point, all that stands in the way is a Russian sniper (Jude Law) who must confront his enemy, a German sniper, (Ed Harris) in the city ruins.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud directed a film that shows the horror the Russians had to deal with while still capturing the spirit of the fighting men and women. What makes this movie so interesting is that the story turns into a game of cat and mouse. There’s enough suffering and mayhem to sustain your attention, and your woman might even want to watch the tumultuous love triangle.

Best line: “Vodka is a luxury we have. Caviar is a luxury we have. Time is not.”

Number 9

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

Imagine the 2001 blockbuster Pearl Harbor but without Ben Affleck coming back from the dead and the cheesy dialogue. What you get is Tora! Tora! Tora! , a fascinating look at the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the events that led up to it. Being a co-production between Japan and the United States, this film offers an unbiased look at both sides of the story.

The movie establishes how a series of mistakes were directly responsible for the success of the Japanese raid on the Hawaiian naval base. Unfortunately, the film lacks a strong central character for the audience to root for, but this is swiftly redeemed during the explosive 30-minute battle sequence in which the American ships are bombed. It’s as exciting as any action movie while being exceptionally historically accurate.

Best line: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Number 8

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

It’s the 1960s and young men are preparing for their tour of duty in Vietnam. Matthew Modine and Vincent D’Onofrio’s characters are among a
horde of recruits put through their paces at a Marine Corps boot camp, where they learn to stop thinking as individuals but rather as a unit. Then, Modine’s “Private Joker,” learns firsthand that dehumanizing is the only way to cope with the terror encountered in the country.

One of Stanley Kubrick’s last films, it endorses boot camp methods as adequate methods of survival — essentially portraying this theme differently than contemporary movies. The intense search for a sniper in the city ruins illustrates this admirably. Arguably a tough movie to sit through, the highlight is the award-winning performance of real-life former drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey, who turns ritual debasement into an art form.

Best line: “A rifle is only a tool. It’s a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines. And then you will be in a world of sh*t. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission! Do you maggots understand?”

Number 7

Das Boot (1981)

Watching a war movie often causes viewers to demonize the enemy. In Das Boot , filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen offers a distressing look at how a German U-boat crew, led by Captain Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jrgen Prochnow), deals with being marooned at the bottom of the sea. Never has crossing the Strait of Gibraltar been more enthralling.

A heart-pounding thriller, Das Boot is about how the high spirits of young sailors are quickly shattered when they realize that submarine duty isn’t as glamorous as they suspected. This is definitely the best submarine movie ever made, in which the screws of suspense are constantly tightened and viewers feel as claustrophobic as its characters.

Best line: “They won’t catch us this time! Not this time! They haven’t spotted us! No, they’re all snoring in their bunks! Or, you know what? They’re drinking at the bar, celebrating our sinking! Not yet, my friends. Not yet!”

Number 6

Three Kings (1999)

It’s 1991 and the Gulf War just ended. While nobody’s sure if they’re allowed to shoot enemy soldiers, a motley band of troops made up of Maj. Archie Gates (George Clooney), SFC Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and SSG Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), discover a secret map leading to some of Saddam’s stolen gold. Attempting to steal it for themselves, the boys discover that a great part of the Iraqi population was rising up against the dictator, but the American government stopped supporting them once the war ended.

In the great tradition of adventure war films, the American would-be thieves have to choose between getting rich and helping the vulnerable rebels flee their country. A departure for war movies, Three Kings is actually a comedy. Sure, there are incredible action sequences and visual effects (witness the bullet wound demonstration and bunker gunfight), but the endless jokes help us understand one aspect of the Gulf War — namely, how consumerism replaced ideology as a reason for waging war.

Best line: “You know you’re on the path to truth when you smell sh*t, isn’t that what they say?”

Number 5

Apocalypse Now (1979)

It’s the middle of the Vietnam War and Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a top-secret mission in Cambodia to assassinate a fellow American soldier (Marlon Brando) who has gone mad and is acting like God among a local tribe. Willard hitches a ride with a patrol boat and encounters not only battles, but also war-torn individuals.

A bona fide masterpiece of American cinema, Francis Ford Coppola turned Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness into a film that delves into the true consequences of war on individuals. This is not a movie about heroes; it’s about the kind of insanity where comfort is found in the small pleasures of life, like surfing or firebombing villages from helicopters. The latter is underscored by Wagner’s signature music playing in the background. It’s not a film for the fainthearted.

Best line: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Number 4

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

This is the true story of how the Japanese used prisoners of war to build a bridge crucial to the war effort. William Holden stars as Major Shears, a selfish and cynical American who manages to escape from the prison camp. But idealistic Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) sets out to prove that the British can build the best possible bridge, which gives his men a reason to live. Later, Holden leads an international commando back into the jungle to destroy the bridge.

Director David Lean had a way of making The Bridge on the River Kwai more than an action movie, as it takes the time to explore themes of obsession, honor and heroism. Guys looking for an action film with gunfights and explosions (the bridge blowing up is pretty impressive for its time) will be satisfied with this classic, especially since it also makes viewers think .

Best line: “Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!”

Number 3

Platoon (1986)

This is the story of Private Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen), an idealist who volunteers to fight in Vietnam but soon realizes that war is indeed hell. What’s even more disheartening is that his platoon is divided into those who support the hippie Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), and those rooting for Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a brutal killing machine. They must not only fight the enemy, but themselves.

The early ’80s were replete with movies about Vietnam. Mostly, they were about war heroes having trouble adjusting to life back home or returning to rescue forgotten POWs, against all odds. In Platoon , Oliver Stone was inspired by his own experiences as a foot soldier and it ended up as one of the most realistic war movies in American history. The battles are chaotic and gruesome, which really gives the viewer an idea of how scary it was to be in Vietnam in those days.

Best line: “Somebody once wrote: “Hell is the impossibility of reason.” That’s what this place feels like. Hell.”

Number 2

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

It begins on D-Day, the greatest invasion of the greatest war in history. U.S. Rangers are spearheading the attack on Omaha Beach, and after hours of bitter fighting and thousands of casualties, the Allies finally have a foothold on Europe. But the Ryan family has seen three of their sons die for their country. This is when General George C. Marshall sends a patrol deep into enemy territory to inform Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the sole surviving son, that he’s got a ticket home. Is it justifiable to risk the lives of eight men to save the life of one? That is one of the questions this film asks viewers.

Although the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List had brought World War II back in the spotlight in the early ’90s, war movies were given a fresh breath in 1998 when Steven Spielberg teamed up with Tom Hanks. What they made was the fundamental war movie, one of the most violent and unflinching looks at what combat was really like. The Omaha Beach landing is definitely one of the most realistic battles ever committed to film and if the visuals don’t make you feel like you’re actually there, the sound effects sure as hell will.

Best line: “I just know that every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel.”

Number 1

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Black Hawk Down is based on a little military operation that most people have forgotten about. In 1993, U.N. forces were sent to Somalia to aid the country torn by civil war. Elite American soldiers, including those portrayed by Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor and Tom Sizemore, go into the city to capture some warlords, but the mission drags on into the night when two helicopters are shot down and people must be rescued. The nighttime showdown is absolutely breathtaking.

Not only is this a magnificent war film, expertly directed by Ridley Scott, it is also a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which means that a lot of resources were used in order to make this the ultimate guy movie. To make matters even more nerve-wracking, the film is inspired by actual events. In the tradition of Saving Private Ryan , it’s a violent sensorial attack that makes you appreciate just how valiant these boys really were.

Best line: “Nobody asks to be a hero, it just sometimes turns out that way.”