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The Best War Films of All Time

Movies & TV

By Hugo Hatche

- Feb 8, 2023

Is it feasible to make an anti-war film? This has been a perennial dilemma for moviegoers for decades, and there's no simple solution. While war films aim to show the awful side of war, they may also indulge in fantasies about heroic individuals fighting. They may also serve as propaganda. Thus making it seem as if the soldiers are fighting for a noble cause or against an evil force. However, even in the most heroic depictions of battle, moral gray areas abound.

See Also: Movies that will Make You Proud to be an American

However, many films about war deal with the fact that violence destroys men. Even when they are fighting for a cause they believe in. These war pictures will shake you to your core. They will remind you that mankind is just as messy and brutal as it is courageous and valorous

Apocalypse Now (1979)

From iconic director/writer Francis Ford Coppola comes a visionary account of the Vietnam War. It is conveyed via scenes loaded with metaphorical intrigue and seductive imagery. A rogue Special Forces Colonel has convinced himself and several locals that he is a god is the film's protagonist. A Vietnam officer is ordered to track him down and kill him. Starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, the film’s cinematography helped seal it in history as an innovative piece of filmmaking.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan is the most shocking of any film on this list. The film begins on the horrific beaches of Normandy. To relieve Private Ryan (whose three brothers had been killed in combat), Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) must lead his troops inside enemy lines and face the bulk of German forces. Based loosely on real events, the film asks the audience if any man is truly worthy of such sacrifice.

The Best War Films of All Time

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

While Lawrence of Arabia is many things—a war film, an epic, a biopic—its grandeur can be traced back in part to the way it looks absolutely enthralled by its protagonist's devotion to the assignment he's been given. T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is a British Lieutenant assigned to recruit Arab tribes to fight the Turks in this film. Though it may be lacking in fighting scenes compared to other war films, Lawrence of Arabia is nonetheless one of the most stunning and engrossing films of all time.

Ran (1985)

Ran is a film about how easily a person may be corrupted by a desire for power. The film is based on Shakespeare's King Lear. It tells the narrative of an elderly monarch who tries to leave his realm to his offspring but watches as they quarrel and argue amongst themselves instead. The film has an astonishing sense of scale. And, it knows how to make war, and the spoiled men who typically wage it, appear insignificant and stupid.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

The film on our list that makes any sort of remark on the brutality of the Iraq war is The Hurt Locker. It is directed by Point Break's Kathryn Bigelow. As soon as a replacement sergeant is posted to a bomb squad, tensions begin to rise as a result of the new sergeant's daring but effective tactics. As a result, we get an intense war scenario in which the people closest to this soldier begin to question his strategy. In an early performance, Jeremy Renner brilliantly portrays a problem that is all too widespread among soldiers: addiction to the military lifestyle.