The best war movies of all time are here, ranked.
War movies have always been a captivating genre in film, featuring tales of heroism, tragedy, and the complex realities of conflict. From the tense, modern-day rescue mission in Ridley Scott‘s Black Hawk Down to the hallucinatory journey into the heart of darkness in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now, war films have taken audiences on unforgettable journeys. In this article, we’ll be counting down the 10 best war movies ever made, delving into the themes, characters, and cinematic techniques that have made these films enduring classics.
10. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who becomes a hero during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Directed by Mel Gibson, it is widely considered one of the best war movies ever made, with its intense and unflinching portrayal of combat that immerses viewers in the harrowing reality of warfare.
Andrew Garfield’s powerful performance as Doss, who refused to carry a weapon but still served as a medic, highlights his unwavering commitment to his beliefs and courage in the face of danger. The film’s portrayal of Doss’s religious faith is also noteworthy, providing a unique perspective on the role of spirituality in times of war.
Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful and truly memorable depiction of one man’s bravery and conviction in the face of unimaginable adversity.
9. Black Hawk Down (2001)
It’d be challenging to find anyone who would dispute that Black Hawn Down, directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the best war movies of all time. Based on the true story of the Battle of Mogadishu, the film follows a group of American soldiers on a mission to capture a Somali warlord. The movie’s intense and immersive portrayal of urban combat is masterfully executed, with gripping action sequences that keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Additionally, the ensemble cast, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, and Eric Bana, deliver outstanding performances that bring the characters to life and highlight the complex dynamics of war.
Black Hawk Down is a gripping and visceral film that captures the brutality and chaos of modern warfare in a way that few other movies have achieved.
8. Dunkirk (2017)
Although Dunkirk was released only a few years ago, it has already gained widespread recognition as one of the best war movies ever made. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film tells the story of the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Dunkirk during World War II. Nolan’s masterful direction and use of multiple temporalities create a unique and engrossing experience for viewers, as they witness the evacuation from the perspectives of soldiers on the beach, pilots in the air, and civilians on the sea. Additionally, the film’s breathtaking cinematography and intense, realistic action sequences transport the audience to the heart of the conflict.
With outstanding performances by the cast, including Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, Dunkirk is a gripping and powerful portrayal of the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought in the war.
7. Glory (1989)
Glory, directed by Edward Zwick is an exceptional war movie that tells the true story of the first all-African American volunteer company during the American Civil War. The film’s outstanding cast, including Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick, deliver remarkable performances that bring the characters to life and highlight the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers. Moreover, the movie’s depiction of the prejudices and hardships faced by the soldiers, both on and off the battlefield, is poignant and thought-provoking.
Boasting a stirring musical score, gripping battle scenes, and heartfelt storytelling, it’s not hard to see why Glory has cemented its status as one of the best war movies ever made. It is a powerful and unforgettable tribute to the courageous men who fought for their freedom and their country.
6. Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone’s Platoon is a landmark film and hands down one of the best war movies in the history of cinema. The film is a semi-autobiographical account of Stone’s own experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War, and its raw and unflinching portrayal of conflict is both powerful and deeply affecting.
The Oscar-winning film’s ensemble cast, which includes Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger, deliver outstanding performances. Pair that with harrowing battle scenes, evocative cinematography, and poignant storytelling, and it’s easy to see why Platoon is a masterpiece of cinema that continues to resonate with audiences decades after its release.
5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Not only is The Bridge on the River Kwai a timeless classic, but it’s also one of the best war movies in the history of cinema. Set during World War II, the film tells the story of a group of British prisoners of war who are forced to build a railway bridge for their Japanese captors.
The film’s outstanding cast, including Alec Guinness and William Holden, deliver stellar performances. Moreover, the movie’s iconic score and stunning cinematography, which captures the beauty and brutality of the jungle setting, add to its enduring appeal.
With its thrilling finale and complex themes of duty, honor, and sacrifice, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a masterpiece in cinema that continues to captivate audiences today.
4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Released in 1978, The Deer Hunter has undoubtedly earned its place on our list of the best war movies ever made. Directed by Michael Cimino, the film explores the Vietnam War’s physical and psychological impact on a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania town.
What sets The Deer Hunter apart from other war movies is its portrayal of the soldiers’ personal struggles and how the war affects them emotionally. The film is not just about the horrors of war but also about the trauma that soldiers carry with them long after the conflict is over.
The movie’s famous Russian roulette scenes are particularly poignant, demonstrating the dehumanizing effects of war on both the captors and the captives. Additionally, the film’s stunning cinematography and powerful performances by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep make it an extremely memorable cinematic experience.
3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket is a harrowing portrayal of the Vietnam War, focusing on the experiences of a group of young Marines as they undergo training and then are deployed to fight.
What sets Full Metal Jacket apart from some of the other best war movies on our list is its unflinching and unsentimental depiction of the brutalities of war. Kubrick’s attention to detail, particularly in the film’s realistic portrayal of military training, adds to the movie’s realism.
The picture’s two-part structure, with the first half focusing on the Marines’ training and the second half on their deployment, is also notable. This structure allows for a deeper exploration of the psychological toll of war on the soldiers.
Full Metal Jacket is a powerful and thought-provoking film that provides a disturbing insight into the realities of war. Its cinematic mastery and unrelenting honesty make it a truly unforgettable experience.
2. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a surreal and haunting exploration of the Vietnam War’s psychological impact. What makes it one of the best war movies of all time is its dreamlike quality and its exploration of the darkness within human nature. The film’s central character, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), is on a mission to find and assassinate a rogue colonel who has gone insane and created his own army in the jungles of Vietnam.
The movie’s stunning cinematography, stellar performances, and iconic soundtrack, featuring songs by The Doors and The Rolling Stones, create a riveting cinematic experience. Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece of cinema that explores the horrors of war and the depths of human depravity.
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is widely considered the greatest war film of all time, and for good reason. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1998, the film is a powerful and authentic representation of the atrocities of war. The movie’s opening sequence, which depicts the D-Day invasion of Normandy, is particularly harrowing and widely regarded as one of the most realistic depictions of war ever put on screen.
The film’s superb acting, led by Tom Hanks in the role of Captain John Miller, and its nuanced exploration of the themes of sacrifice, duty, and brotherhood, make it an enduring masterpiece of American cinema. Needless to say, Saving Private Ryan has undoubtedly earned its place at the top of our list of the best war movies ever made.
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.