War: There are countries that have been built on it, and others destroyed by it. The world has had many armed conflicts throughout history and those conflicts are told both artistically and explicitly by the films we have selected for this list. Ranging from purely violent to introspectively profound, these films stay in the time frame of the wars of the 20th century which formed the modern geopolitical world as we know it. We’re trying to stay historically accurate (for the most part), which is why we didn’t include movies like Wonder Woman, Captain America, Troy, or for that matter the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy which all have amazing battle scenes, but didn’t quite fit the bill for our list today. If you are looking for a more fantastical list of films, check out our list of
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Featuring the most jarring opening scene on this list, Saving Private Ryan begins the story on the bloody beaches of Normandy, immediately informing the audience what they are in for. When Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is given a mission to relieve a certain Private Ryan (whose 3 brothers had been killed in combat) from duty, he must take his soldiers behind enemy lines and brave the bulk of German forces. Loosely based on a true story, this movie takes us on multiple separate storylines that bring us into the distress experienced by the young men who served for us.
2. Apocalypse Now (1979)
3. Schindler‘s List (1993)
Oskar Schindler is a vain and greedy German businessman who becomes an unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric German Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, it is a testament to the good in all of us.
4. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The screenwriters, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, were on the Hollywood blacklist and, even though living in exile in England, could only work on the film in secret. The two did not collaborate on the script; Wilson took over after Lean was dissatisfied with Foreman’s work. The official credit was given to Pierre Boulle (who did not speak English), and the resulting Oscar for Best Screenplay (Adaptation) was awarded to him. Only in 1984 did the Academy rectify the situation by retroactively awarding the Oscar to Foreman and Wilson, posthumously in both cases. Subsequent releases of the film finally gave them proper screen credit. David Lean himself also claimed that producer Sam Spiegel cheated him out of his rightful part in the credits since he had had a major hand in the script.
5. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly, and Ralph Fiennes, The Hurt Locker is an exhilarating action-packed thriller. Nominated for nine Academy Awards and winning six, including the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director, it isn’t a film that can be switched on with a switched off audience.
6. Army Of Shadows (1969)
France, 1942, under German occupation. Philippe Gerbier, a civil engineer, is a French Resistance commandant. Denounced by a French collaborator, he is interned in a concentration camp. He manages to escape, and rejoins his network in Marseille, where he has the traitor executed. This movie reveals rigorously and austerely what life was like in the French Resistance: the solitude and fear of its members; their relationships with one another; the constant threat of arrest by the Gestapo; the Resistance command structure and the way its orders were carried out. Head writer Joseph Kessel and co-writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville were both veterans of the “Shadow Army”
7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
What can be said about Lawrence Of Arabia? It is a masterpiece. And it’s easy to throw the word around without meaning, but true to the definition, this film is a historical epic. Winning seven out of ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Music Score, Lawrence Of Arabia takes viewers into a life lived with little known to be remembered and one man’s efforts to learn of the service rendered by Lawrence in World War I at his memorial. Audiences will experience the Middle East as they have never before. Be prepared to settle down and get comfortable, with a run time of over three and a half hours, this is a movie for the dedicated viewer.
8. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Being a soldier myself, I love Full Metal Jacket. The basic training scene alone could have given the movie a 5 star rating in my book. It was not only hilarious but also very true to life. Every time I watch it brings back fond memories of my days at basic training. Not to say that I was a Private Pyle but they treat everyone with that same tender loving care. As the film shows they treat everyone with the upmost respect and decency. LOL. No it really, really sucks and they talk to you like crap but Drill Sergeants say some of the funniest stuff sometimes and the movie is a good representation of that. It also shows how hard and stressful basic training is for the soldiers that go through it. It shows just how fragile some people’s minds can be in such stressful situations as well.
9. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Few films, to this day, have struck as powerful an anti-war message as Lewis Milestone’s extraordinary evocation of the tragic folly of war. Arguably, still the greatest WWI movie, his tender portrayal of innocent German youth is juxtaposed with the harrowing immediacy of trench warfare, shot with a telling verisimilitude many modern filmmakers, with all their tools, have failed to match.
Even more than the visceral evocation of trench life, with all its wanton squalor, the philosophical underpinnings of the film reach deep into the heart and head. At the opening, in the dreamy almost fairy-tale safety of their school life, they are resolved, thanks to the stirrings of their teacher, to sign up and fight the good fight. What becomes hastily clear amongst the mud and blood of fellow comrades and shadowy enemies alike is that there is no good fight to be fought, only a terrible one, where victory is a pointless as defeat.
10. Platoon (1986)
It was Francois Truffaut who said that it’s not possible to make an anti-war movie, because all war movies, with their energy and sense of adventure, end up making combat look like fun. If Truffaut had lived to see “Platoon,” the best film of 1986, he might have wanted to modify his opinion. Here is a movie that regards combat from ground level, from the infantryman’s point of view, and it does not make war look like fun. The movie was written and directed by Oliver Stone, who fought in Vietnam and who has tried to make a movie about the war that is not fantasy, not legend, not metaphor, not message, but simply a memory of what it seemed like at the time to him.