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 my 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 military leaders, it’s clear that George C. Scott 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 (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 my 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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