Top 10 Best War Movies of All Time

War has a knack for offering a visceral impact on the big screen.  War movies can provide massively scaled fights on a battlefield or merely look into the psyche of a human and the effect that war has on their inner thoughts.  Whatever the case, there’s been some great war films over the year, so let’s take a look at the best war movies ever made:

#10: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Mel Gibson proved once again that he was a master director upon the release of Hacksaw Ridge in 2016.  Telling the story of Desmond Doss, the film offers a view of pacifism in war that’s hardly ever part of the conversation in similar films.  The film itself doubles down on that discussion by essentially telling its story in two halves.  At home, we see Desmond and his fight for what he believes is morally right.  Then, when in battle, we see the brutality of war.

Andrew Garfield (and his Southern twang) does justice by the true hero’s story, keeping a sense of love and compassion throughout the film’s blood-soaked runtime.

*To read the site’s full review of Hacksaw Ridge, please click here.

#9: Patton (1970)

George C. Scott’s performance as General Patton is one of the most celebrated performances in the history of biopics in Hollywood.  He’s strong, stiff, and powerful, leading to a movie that is entirely worth the watch despite its 170-minute runtime.  The film displays the clever use of the German forces’ own tactics used against them in battle, showing how great of a strategist Patton was as a leader of thousands.

However, the most memorable moments in the film contain Scott and his amazing onscreen presence.  In discussion with other depictions of military leaders, it’s clear that George C. Scott’s is one of the all-time greats.

#8: Platoon (1986)

Oliver Stone’s personal touch doesn’t work on occasion, but Platoon is arguably his finest work, using his personal knowledge from his service in the Vietnam war.  Platoon doesn’t sugarcoat any of its elements, ditching the view of war that gets a lot respect from the typical American for something that is very raw and emotional.


Charlie Sheen is outstanding as Chris Taylor as he navigates between Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger).  Oliver Stone won his first Best Director Oscar for his work on the film, and it was certainly well-deserved.

#7: Braveheart (1995)

Braveheart may be the most different of all of the movies on this list.  Set in the 13th century, this film is one of the few that earns the “epic” moniker, telling a sweeping story that involves all-out war and politics.  Naturally, it’s not the most historically accurate movie ever conceived, but it replaces facts with great storytelling — creating scenes that are eminently quotable and memorable.

Mel Gibson is the best he’s ever been — both behind and in front of the camera — developing a film that is equal parts bloody and triumphant.

#6: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Although he’s better remembered as Obi Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness’ best performance is his turn as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai.  His character runs the gamut throughout his interactions with Colonel Saito and other soldiers, making the film as a whole deeply affecting in other ways than what most war movies offer.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a jewel of classic cinema, and worthy of being in the discussion for the best war movies ever made.

#5: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous nature is on full display in Full Metal Jacket.  Although it’s quite hilarious, Kubrick’s slowly creates the sense of confusion and hopelessness in a soldier as they prepare for war, putting together one of most eerie scenes in film history — headlined perfectly by Vincent D’Onofrio’s descent into madness.

Interestingly enough, many people forget about the second half of the film — when our characters actually go to war.  It certainly peers into the same themes as other films on this list of the best war movies, but many of them fail to provide the same amount of insight as Full Metal Jacket.

#4: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now is one of those films that is a happy accident in its execution.  Burdened with unbelievable production issues (so much so that a documentary on the making of the movie is universally acclaimed), Apocalypse Now is still one of the most singular movie experiences ever created.  Combining the terrors of war with hallucinatory elements is a fascinating blend, allowing for dynamite performances from Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando.

The film is so influential that it has had multiple spoofs and derivatives over the years — the ultimate sign of flattery.

#3: The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter tackles PTSD unlike any other movie, allowing for possible career best performances from Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.  Like Full Metal Jacket above, this film works in obvious sections — before and after deployment.  In a bizarre manner, the film is both focused and unfocused, covering how war affects everyone in a person’s life, not just that person in particular.  However, the main characters still feel unbelievably fleshed out (maybe a three-hour runtime helps in that regard).

The Deer Hunter falls squarely into the category of films that just wouldn’t get made today.

*To read the site’s full review of The Deer Hunter, please click here.

#2: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Out of the best war movies, Inglourious Basterds is one of the most distinctive.  Rather than focusing on the typical boots on the ground story, Inglourious Basterds is almost a spy film, following a select few with one goal in mind: to assassinate Hitler (and to collect Nazi scalps, but you get the idea).

Tarantino blends history with his own storytelling calling cards, creating some of the more tense scenes of the 21st century.  Even better, Inglourious Basterds was the coming out party for Christoph Waltz who would go on to win an Oscar for his work in the film.

#1: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Both cinematic and visceral, Saving Private Ryan is a sharp contrast from some of Steven Spielberg’s more family friendly films, but it continues to work as the most affecting war drama ever made.  It doesn’t necessarily ring true in terms of story structure, but it’s a gut punch from start to finish.

Its realistic depiction of the horrors of war has come to define the genre since its release.  In fact, when you type in “best war movies” on Google, Saving Private Ryan is the first result.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Thanks for reading!  What do you think are the best war movies of all-time?  Comment down below!

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Nick Kush

A current young professional in the greater D.C. area, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 and hasn't look back since! Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society and the Washington DC Film Critics Association. You can follow Nick on Twitter @nkush42

62 Responses

  1. vicky says:

    Nice list man, I liked you put Saving Private Ryan on top. It’s one of the most real world war movie. Steven Spielberg is great…

  2. I think you’ve pretty much nailed it, Nick, for the all time best war movies. Perhaps the U-boat film, Das Boot, could be added as well. How could we say we are alive without the pleasure that film brings to us! Thanks for liking my site and the follow.

  3. kooriyuki says:

    I was watching Saving Private Ryan and came across this list and was wondering why you guys didn’t mention it, until I reached the bottom and there it was! #1! It’s indeed a classic.

  4. flash7film says:

    I’m so happy to see Full Metal Jacket on here, this movie is so underappreciated where I am (then again I’m only in high school and no one has heard of it before), but it honestly is such an interesting movie showing the struggles they went through, like in a timeline.
    And I agree, everyone seems to forget about the second half when for the most part, I like it better. The end really puts a perspective on the horrors of war for not only Americans, but the innocents during Vietnam.
    Love this article!

    • Nick Kush says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! Cinephiles certainly appreciate Full Metal Jacket, but there definitely is a disconnect between regular audiences and the film, hopefully that changes sometime soon!

  5. The only one on your list I didn’t care for was Inglorious Bastards.
    It fell flat with me. The rest were spot on.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I completely understand that! Quentin Tarantino’s films are sort of hit/miss for a large group of people. They’re either on board ot not!

  6. lazaruslair says:

    Good roundup but I agree with others that say Saving Private Ryan is somewhat overrated. Another that I’ve always enjoyed is Stalag 17.

    • Nick Kush says:

      That’s fair! There’s a bunch of universally praised films that I find a little overrated as well, so I can’t fault you one bit!

  7. Is MAS*H a war movie? What about 300? For my money, the greatest war scene in film history (outside Private Ryan) is the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Those are great ones too! Like I said in other comments, it honestly comes down to personal opinion when it comes to the top. I wouldn’t doubt you for putting those films in a top 10 list!

  8. Love this piece. And war movies in general, but as antiwar as they are billed I find it hard to find modern ones not glorifying war a little more than previous. I did a little review of Apocalypse Now here with nine other films

  9. D.T. Osborn says:

    Loved this list. I agree with them all, just would have placed Inglorious Bastards below Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. I saw several mentions of Das Boot, which I think is a very under-rated film. When I first saw it I was riveted!

  10. This post was great for it made me “think” Long and hard about so many movies. I would have included We Were Soldiers and Dawn Patrol, the latter being an old Errol Flynn movie but very much anti war in sentiment.Fancy that, Flynn in a movie with not one female! Old but worth viewing…

  11. Dan says:

    Great top 10, very eclectic. Some of these are personal favourites too – Saving Private Ryan features some exceptional sequences, Full Metal Jacket has an extraordinary first half with a great anti war message, and Apocalypse Now wonderfully displays the nightmare of war in a way that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.

    I recently saw Hacksaw Ridge and wasn’t particularly impressed. It’s a great story of heroism and selflessness but it didn’t work for me on the big screen as a piece of Hollywood drama. Not a bad film at all but not “top 10” for me.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m glad to have your approval (well, mostly lol). I understand why people aren’t the biggest fans of Hacksaw Ridge. Garfield’s accent can throw people off (and that first half might seem little hokey).

  12. diablo578 says:

    Definitely agree with this list! Love war movies so much. Saving Private Ryan deserves every kudo it gets and I’m so glad you included Hacksaw Ridge. That movie surprised me with how good it was.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Same here! I didn’t really no what to expect from it, and it blew me away! The second half is pretty darn perfect in my mind.

  13. As already said there are too many good ones to pick a top 10 but here’s mine in no order: The Pianist (one of the most powerful I’ve seen). Flags of our Fathers and its companion Letters from Iwo Jima. Cold Mountain. Zulu. The Hill. Ice Cold in Alex. Apocalypse Now. Platoon. Full Metal jacket.

  14. Great article!

    I would easily place Patton, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan alongside some of my favorite war films such as Das Boot, Dunkirk, Lawrence of Arabia, Paths of Glory, Grave of the Fireflies, and The Thin Red Line.

    Have you ever seen the Soviet war drama Come and See (1985)?

    I have yet to see it myself but fully intend to because it’s considered one of the greatest war films ever made for it’s brutally accurate depiction of war. They even used live ammunition during production!!

    Have you also ever seen The Human Condition trilogy?

    • Nick Kush says:

      Thanks so much! Both Come and See and the Human Condition trilogy are high on my list of must-watch movies. I’ll get to them eventually! (I hope)

    • diablo578 says:

      Ah man I totally forgot about The Thin Red Line. Definitely one of my favorites. Maybe a little too poetic at times but it’s still a great war movie.

  15. Henry says:

    Have you see “Final Countdown”? I would not put it in the top 10, but it is a fascinating movie.

  16. Some great choices here but to be honest, I don’t love Private Ryan. The opening sequence is riveting and it’s certainly the most realistic war movie I’ve ever seen but I found it tedious. No forward momentum. No real plot and the ending relied too much on the viewers built-in sentiments instead of creating a genuine dramatic moment. (Don’t hate me. Lol) I’d probably put Apocalypse first and add Kubrick”s Paths of Glory. Love your site, Nick.

  17. When I saw the subject line of your post, the first thought to pop into my head was “Saving Private Ryan”!

  18. Yes, so many terrific war movies. It’s interesting to ponder. Like others noted, Blackhawk Down, Stalingrad, Jarhead, and Zulu are worthy considerations for this list. I’d also throw in Kelly’s Heroes for a lighter touch, The Great Escape, Das Boot, and Where Eagles Dare. Then, several of these are ‘great’ to me because of who I was when I first saw them, i.e., the nostalgic value, and not necessarily for their cinematic brilliance.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Exactly! In the end it comes down to a personal list and which movies hit you at the perfect moment in your life. That’s what puts most movies over the edge for me!

  19. Braveheart? Meh.
    I’d suggest Sands of Iwo Jima and definitely Go Tell the Spartans.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Oh well, can’t please them all ???

      You can’t go wrong with either of those movies! Easily swapable with any movie on the list

  20. katemcfly says:

    I’d have to add Dunkirk, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker. Although I usually enjoy movies relating to modern warfare, Dunkirk was aesthetically beautiful, and the soundtrack kept the pace of the film for me so perfectly.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m one of those weird people that wasn’t a huge fan of Dunkirk ??? There’s no doubt that it was a brilliant technical achievement, but its construction (focusing on the facelessness of war) made it really difficult for me to connect. I watched it and moved on with my life, never really thinking of it since.

      That being said, I totally understand why people love it (and I’m glad you found enjoyment in it!)

  21. raistlin0903 says:

    Great list: Both Hacksaw Ridge and the Deer Hunter were absolutely amazing. Movies that stuck around in my head longe after I watched them for sure. Especially because of the amazing performances and the incredible stories both movies told ?

    • Nick Kush says:

      Absolutely! I think Hacksaw Ridge has he ability to move up this list in the coming years, it was jaw-droppingly good!!

  22. dronstadblog says:

    I would add Jarhead 1 somewhere and Stalingrad.

  23. vuava says:

    The Longest Day? A Bridge too far?

  24. Mike says:

    Maybe I need to give it another try, watched once a few years back and really didn’t understand all the praise it’s gotten over the years. In a word, it was meh

  25. Mike says:

    I’d take out Apocalypse Now and add Zulu and it’s a complete list

    • Nick Kush says:

      Take out Apocalypse Now???? I feel like I’m Mugatu from Zoolander – I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! ????

  26. Thoughts on Fury(2014)?

  27. Nick Kush says:

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  1. January 19, 2020

    […] war movie but it certainly ticks all the right boxes and doesn’t have anything like Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan to compete with. I can’t say that war films have gotten too much love […]

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