The 25 Greatest War Films of all Time

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War movies have existed for as long as movies themselves have existed. It’s not difficult to see why: from the very beginning, war movies have been able to wow audiences with fiery explosions, large scale battles, and stories of heroism.

That being said, war movies also accurately show us the horror, as well as the humanity (or sometimes the lack thereof) that comes with armed and violent conflict. For those who have never served in combat themselves, watching a realistic war movie is probably the closest they’ll ever get to experiencing what real combat is like.

Here are the top 25 greatest war movies of all time:

#1

The 1998 World War II film is perhaps the most famous war film of all time and is regarded by many as being the most realistic depiction of combat ever committed to the big screen. The film’s first thirty minutes follow the Normandy Landings, and specifically at Omaha Beach. The film then switches to following a squad of American soldiers as they penetrate deep behind enemy lines to search for an American paratrooper named Ryan, who’s three brothers have all been killed in combat.

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#2 We Were Soldiers

The Battle of La Drang in 1965 was the first major engagement between the American and North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War. The events leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and its immediate aftermath are shown in We Were Soldiers.

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#3 Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 Vietnam war film that is notable for the performance of R. Lee Ermey as the Drill Sgt. Hartman, who whips a group of army boot camp recruits into shape before they are deployed to Vietnam to see combat. The film was one of the final of famed director Stanley Kubrick, who also directed other famous films such as Spartacus and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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#4 Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down is a visceral war film released in 2001 that follows the real life stories of U.S. soldiers who fought at the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, 1993. When an hour long operation in the city quickly went wrong when two black hawk helicopters were shot down, a major gunfight took place that extended for over twenty four hours and required thousands of more U.S. troops to be sent in as a rescue force.

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#5 Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 war film that follows the true story of Desmond Doss, a field medic who served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II at the Battle of Okinawa, and refused to carry a firearm of any kind in combat. Doss ended up saving the lives of over seventy five wounded American soldiers while under heavy Japanese fire, and became the only conscientious objector who received the Medal of Honor during the Second World War. The film’s narrative begins with Doss’s early childhood life before following him through boot camp and later serving at Okinawa.

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#6 Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor, released in 2014, details Operation Red Wings that occurred in 2005 in Afghanistan. During the battle, four United States Navy SEAL’s found themselves under attack from hundreds of Taliban fighters in the Afghan mountains. The SEAL’s were originally performing a reconnaissance mission, but were spotted by a group of Afghan goat herders. The SEAL’s decided to let the herders go and attempted to escape, but were discovered and overwhelmed by a Taliban force that potentially numbered as highly as two hundred and fifty men. Only one SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, survived the ensuing firefight despite being mortally wounded, and was taken in by an Afghan village who kept him safe from the Taliban until he was rescued later.

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#7 The Patriot

The 2000 film The Patriot is one of the few Hollywood films to focus on the Revolutionary War. While many of the characters in the film are fictional, most of them are also based off of real life people who served in the war. The film follows the exploits of a former French and Indian fighter named Benjamin Martin, who finds himself drawn into the Revolutionary War when one of his sons is killed by the British.

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#8

The 1986 anti-war film Platoon is known for being one of the most brutal and realistic Vietnam War films ever made, and one of the first to show the true horrors of the Vietnam War. The film follows a young private in a Vietnam platoon, who finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between the platoon’s two sergeants, who hold a strong grudge for one another.

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#9 Fury

Fury is a 2014 war film that follows the crew of a Sherman tank during the final days of the European theatre of World War II and the final push of the American forces deep into Nazi Germany. Specifically, it zeroes in on a new recruit who joins an experienced crew as they duel German Tiger tanks and later are forced to hold a crossroads against overwhelming German forces.

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#10 Patton

The 1970 biographical film follows the story of famed United States General George S. Patton, famous for his twin ivory handled revolvers and his rather unconventional fighting methods, which earned him high amounts of respect from both his fellow generals and his German adversaries alike. Patton commanded the United States 7th Army in the Mediterranean and then the 3rd Army on the Western Front.

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#11 A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is notable for being one of the few war films that showcases an Allied defeat. The 1976 film depicts Operation Market Garden, in which British and American forces launched a paratrooper operation to invade Holland, with the aim being to gain strategic bridges and then launch an invasion of northern Germany to hopefully end the war by Christmas. The battle quickly went wrong and Allied forces were forced to withdraw, marking one of the few defeats the Germans managed to inflict on the Allies in the Western Front of the war.

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#12 Glory

Considered by many to be the greatest Civil War film ever made, Glory follows the first African-American regiment during the war, beginning with their training and culminating with their fateful assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, where many of them perished.

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#13 Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is considered by many to be the definitive Vietnam War movie. The 1979 film tells the story of a squads of soldiers lead by a captain who travel deep into the jungle of Southeast Asia to locate and assassinate a mad U.S. Colonel who has gone rogue.

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  1. How can this not be #1 or top 3? Is this film not the penultimate portrayal of the insanity of war? Let’s go surfing.

#14 The Thin Red Line

The 1998 epic war film The Thin Red Line follows the exploits of C Company during the fierce Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. Although the film is often overshadowed by Saving Private Ryan as they were released in the same year, The Thin Red Line is notable for its all-star cast and lush cinematography that was shot on location.

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#15 Letters From Iwo Jima

The 2006 film Letters From Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood, is notable for being one of the very few Hollywood productions that is told from perspective of the Japanese forces in World War II. The film was made as a companion piece to Flags of our Fathers, and follows General Kuribayashi as he leads the Japanese defense of Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific of World War II, and one of the very few battles where total American casualties exceeded the total casualties of the Japanese.

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#16 Das Boot

Das Boot is a 1981 film that tells the story of a crew of a German U-boat in World War II. The film is widely regarded as being one of the very best foreign language films ever made and also for being a very realistic depiction of the cramped and miserable conditions of operating a U-Boat.

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  1. I saw the original German version with subtitles. Other movies had great actors but this movie felt like you were in the submarine with them. Four **** for it’s dramatic effect on the audience.

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#17 Gettysburg

One of the longest movies ever made at over four hours, Gettysburg is a very detailed depiction of the three days of battle at Gettysburg, the most bloody battle ever fought on American soil, and where more American soldiers died than during the entire Vietnam War. The film specifically focuses on the actions of Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet on the Confederate side, and Colonels James Buford and Joshua Chamberlain on the Union side.

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#18 Zulu

The 1964 film Zulu tells the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1979, where just over one hundred British soldiers (many of them wounded and sick), managed to miraculously hold off wave after wave of more than four thousand Zulu warriors. Rorke’s Drift was the second major battle of the Zulu War in the late 1870s. After massacring over one thousand British soldiers at Isandlwana, the Zulu army then swept north towards Rorke’s Drift, who held out for more than twenty four hours of continuous hand-to-hand fighting.

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#19 Zero Dark Thirty

The 2012 thriller war film Zero Dark Thirty details the extensive search for Osama Bin Laden, which began following 9/11 and then continued up to 2011. The movie follows the more than decades long search and culminates with a vivid depiction of the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout that resulted in his death.

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#20 Defiance

Defiance is a 2008 film that tells the real life story of the Jewish Bielski brothers, who fought as partisans against German forces in the eastern European forests during World War II. The brothers ended up gathering over twelve hundred fellow Jews to their cause, and they lived throughout the war in the woods, where they built a school, a hospital, and a nursery despite being under constant German attack.

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#21 The Blue Max

The Blue Max is a 1966 film that tells the story of a German fighter pilot in World War I who becomes obsessed with making 25 kills so he obtain the coveted Blue Max medal, and ends up using rather dubious and immoral methods in his pursuit to do so at all costs.

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#22 Downfall

Downfall is a 2004 film that follows the last days of Adolf Hitler and the Battle for Berlin in 1945. Soviet forces were swarming into eastern Germany and overwhelmed the greatly outnumbered German defenders, who nonetheless fought tooth and nail in a desperate attempt to hold their capital city.

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#23 Lawrence of Arabia

Directed by famed director David Lean, the 1962 epic film Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most famous films of all time and easily the most famous film about World War I. The film follows T.E. Lawrence as he rallies the Arab forces to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The film is notable for its sweeping soundtrack and panoramic vistas of the Arabian desert.

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#24 All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front, based off of the novel, was one of the very first war movies ever released. Originally released in 1930, it tells the story of a German soldier serving on the western front in World War I.

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#25 Dunkirk

The 2017 war film Dunkirk depicts the Allied evacuation from the port town from the perspectives of land, sea, and air. The film is unique because the stories are told out of chronological order. The land sequences cover the course of one week, the sea sequences one day, and the air sequences one hour. The three sequences are then interspersed together throughout the film.

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  1. No such list would be complete without these two classics:

    “The Great Escape”

    and

    “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

  2. Man I feel like you missed a few that surprised me. Hamburger Hill, heartbreak ridge, uncommon valor to name just a few. The one I feel you missed and it just hurts…. Tropic Thunder 😂….

    • Col. Shears (Alec Guinness) in The Bridge on the River Kwai. [The film’s story was loosely based on a true World War II incident, and the real-life character of Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. One of a number of Allied POW’s, Toosey was in charge of his men from late 1942 through May 1943 when they were ordered to build two Kwai River bridges in Burma (one of steel, one of wood), to help move Japanese supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon.
      In reality, the actual bridge took 8 months to build (rather than two months), and they were actually used for two years, and were only destroyed two years after their construction – in late June 1945. The memoirs of the ‘real’ Colonel Nicholson were compiled into a 1991 book by Peter Davies entitled The Man Behind the Bridge.]

  3. Sink The Bismark
    Battle of Britan
    The 300 Spartans
    Bat 21
    Battle of Midway
    Battle of the Bulge
    Battleground
    The Bridge At Remagen
    A Bridge Too Far
    The Devil’s Brigade
    The Dirty Dozen
    Enemy At The Gates
    Dunkirk
    The Fighting Seabees
    The Great Raid
    The Green Berets
    Guadalcanal Diary
    Halls Of Montezuma
    Hell Is For Heroes
    The Longest Day

  4. All greats, but you forgot tears of the sun, a new one I just watched not full on war but more about soldiers being home dealing with PTSD. Sgt Will Gardner

  5. A good list. I agree with most of your choices but to exclude Band of Brothers because it is a miniseries I cannot agree with. I have watched that movie so many times I can almost quote the dialog. Same thing with Patton. In harm’s Way, Midway and Tora, Tora, Tora were also very good and worthy of being on the list.

    Phil in TX

  6. “The Longest Day” (of course), and
    “Darby’s Rangers”
    (James Garner as Major William Darby starting the first Ranger batallion)

  7. Stalingrad, Cross of Iron, To Hell and Back are 3 Great WWII Movies. We Were Soldiers about Ia Drang Battle in 1965 in my favorite Vietnam War Movie. The Green Berets is a classic as well about early Vietnam War Special Forces.

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