War movies tend to be the ultimate Marmite movies for a lot of people. As a rule, folks generally either love them or hate them and won’t watch them. If war movies aren’t your thing, it doesn’t matter how good a war film is, you’re not going to get anything out of it. However, those who love them enjoy the subtle differences, and the themes that are explored within the movies.
There are a lot of war films that have been made over the years, with World War II and Vietnam being the most frequent wars examined. Throughout movie history, it’s difficult to choose a war movie that stands out above the others, and that’s why we’ve come up with a list of some of the finest war films ever made. This is our list of what we consider to be the best war movies of all time.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
David Lean’s adaptation of the French novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a World War II epic. The movie follows a British POW and his battle of wills with his Japanese captors as the war rages on around them. Alec Guinness received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson. The movie is visually stunning, wonderfully written, and fantastically captures many of the maddening aspects of war, as well as what people do to survive. Influential, iconic, and paved the way for what was to come.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
It could be seen as a glorification of war, but this film is certainly a lot of fun. Following a group of scoundrels freed from prison to carry out a mission bound to fail, the movie succeeds in being pure entertainment. With an all-star cast, and some pretty cool action set pieces, The Dirty Dozen wears its motivations squarely on its sleeve. This movie is less about examining the futility of war or taking a journey into the heart of the make psyche. It is pure outright entertainment, which makes it a more fun watch than a lot of war movies.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
There are a lot of movies we considered in place of Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award-winning movie, but The Hurt Locker warranted inclusion as a more modern depiction of war. Jeremy Renner plays a soldier tasked with defusing bombs in Iraq. The movie perfectly captures racial hostilities, mistrust, and abuse of power. This is a powerful and important film and one that needs to be watched.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Undeniably the finest war film ever made, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic is a masterpiece. Tracking Martin Sheen’s Willard as he’s sent on a mid-war mission to assassinate deranged defector Colonel Kurtz (played wonderfully by Marlon Brando), the movie delves into the psychological impacts of war. Coppola makes no bones about examining mankind’s heart of darkness and asking who the real enemy is. The ultimate anti-war commentary, and one of the finest movies of all time.
You need to be in the right frame of mind to watch a war movie because they’re generally pretty heavy going. Having said that, the movies we’ve listed above are some of the best war films ever made, and we feel like they can be enjoyed on a regular basis. Of course, there are some great flicks that missed out, like Platoon, Casualties of War, and Full Metal Jacket. But we feel this is a good mix of modern and older war movies that really capture why this genre works so well.