The Best and Worst War Movies about Afghanistan

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Osama (2003)


The Best!

This 2003 film is a powerful independently produced story about a young pre-pubescent girl living under the Taliban rule.  Forced to work in a household without a father, and a mother who cannot work due to the Taliban rules, she has to dress and pretend to be a boy in order to survive.  A powerful film of survival and of an amazing protagonist's dedication to do whatever it takes to thrive. 

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Road to Guantanamo (2006)

Road to Guantanamo.

The Best!

This documentary tells the true story of a group of friends (British Muslims) that were in Pakistan for a wedding and end up, through a chain of events, in Afghanistan at the proverbial "wrong place at the wrong time," and find themselves in U.S. custody, transferred to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, despite not having any evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities.  A powerful film about the corruption of the U.S., and Guantanamo Bay, an institution, which America can not seem to get rid of, despite universal loathing.

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The Kite Runner (2007)

The Kite Runner.

The Worst!

Based on the best-selling book, The Kite Runner tells the story of an American Afghan and his childhood best friend and a horrible sexual assault that occurred when they were children. Now a grown man, he must return to his childhood home to deal with the past.

Unfortunately, the film version suffers from an ailment that many adaptations suffer from - the filmmakers were simply unable to fit a massive book into an hour and a half running time.  What was poetic and moving in the book ends up, in the film, being chopped up and condensed into a fast forward narrative that doesn't engage the audience well.

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Lions for Lambs (2007)

Lions for Lambs.

The Worst!

Lions for Lambs is a small film with a lot of talent.  It's also a horrible, horrible, horrible movie.  It's pretentious and preachy across three intertwined vignettes:  Tom Cruise is a Senator escalating action in Afghanistan and Meryl Streep is the reporter covering him, Robert Redford is a University professor telling a student the story of two of his former students, and the third story is that of his two former students, now Rangers in Afghanistan killed on a deadly mission.

The shocking point of the film - the one that we're supposed to be outraged about - is that politicians make the war appear as if it is going better than it actually is and that soldiers die during this deception.  Worst of all, the Robert Redford character (the liberal Professor) and Meryl Streep (the journalist), both explain this very simply to other characters as a means by which to actually explain these concepts to the audience.

It's thoughtful cinema for dumb people.

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Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Charlie Wilson's War.

The Best!

Charlie Wilson's War tells the story of how U.S. aid began pouring into Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the mujahadeen fight the Soviets.  Of course, almost everyone knows what happened next:  These same anti-Soviet fighters, one of them named Osama Bin Laden, started to direct their ire at the same governments that helped them.  An important film for anyone wanting to know the history of how Afghanistan got to be the way it is.

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Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)


The Best!

Early in the war in Afghanistan, a taxi driver was hired to drive some other Afghans across country when the taxi was stopped by U.S. forces interested in the passengers.  The taxi driver was scooped up with the passengers and interrogated by U.S. forces.  This taxi driver was later found dead, killed through torture, and the crime was covered up.

This documentary uses this particular case as a starting point to examine the U.S. use of torture in the War on Terror during the Bush administration and ends up at Abu Garib prison in Iraq.  A fascinating portrait of a country that lost its way, and of a crime that never should have been committed.

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The Tillman Story (2010)

Tillman Story.

The Best!

The Tillman Story is a documentary about Pat Tillman, the football player that gave up a pro NFL contract to join the U.S. Army and become an Army Ranger.  But when Pat is killed in Afghanistan, the government uses his death to propagandize the war, covering up the fact that he was killed by friendly fire.

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Restrepo (2010)

Still from Restrepo. National Geographic Entertainment

The Best!

Restrepo is a documentary about life as an infantryman in Afghanistan in the Korengal Valley, a wild lawless frontier of marginal strategic value to U.S. forces.  It's a story about the Americans determined to take the valley, and the Taliban determined to stop them. Under constant enemy attack, the soldiers in the film build Firebase Restrepo, taking turns in shifts, alternately returning fire and building the outpost from sandbags.  Soldiers die and struggle - and for what purpose?  At the film's end, the film's subtitles tell us that the Korengal Valley - after so much blood and sweat was spent to secure it - was eventually abandoned by U.S. forces.  In this way, the entire film serves as a metaphor for the entirety of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  (This film was listed in my top ten all time war documentaries list.)

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Armadillo (2010)


The Best!

Armadillo is a documentary like Restrepo, but it focuses on Danish soldiers instead of American soldiers.  Just consider it the Danish Restrepo.  If you've already seen Restrepo, then rent Armadillo.  If you haven't yet seen Restrepo, watch Restrepo first. 

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures

The Best!

The incredible tale of survival of a single Navy SEAL who faces off against a much larger enemy force after his small four man team is discovered during a secretive mission, Lone Survivor is one of the great stories of combat and survival to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan.  (Even if some of it might not be true.)

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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty.

The Best!

Zero Dark Thirty is, perhaps, the penultimate, tale of Afghanistan.  The story of the CIA officers who tracked Bin Laden and the Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that eventually assassinated him, the film is dark, gritty, and super intense.  Even though we know how it ends, it's still a film that grips hold of the viewer and doesn't let go.  (This film is on my list for top Special Forces movies.)

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Dirty Wars (2013)

Dirty Wars.

The Worst!

Dirty Wars, while a far from perfectly made film, is nonetheless an important film, because of what it tells us about the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a contingent of SEALs, Rangers, and other special operation forces that the President uses as his own private militia, one that exists outside the Pentagon chain of command.  Created during the initial war in Afghanistan, JSOC is now operating all around the world, conducting clandestine secret missions that the public knows nothing about.

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Korengal (2014)


The Best!

Korengal is the sequel to Restrepo (see number 8 on this list), and it's every bit as powerful and amazing and thrilling as the original.  Basically, film director Sebastian Junger had a lot of leftover footage after making Restrepo and decided to make a second film.  While not much new is shared thematically, the treasure trove of remaining material makes you wonder why he didn't include some of this award winning footage in the first film!  Filled with intensive scenes of combat, philosophical infantryman, and deliberations regarding fighting an impossible war, this is one of the best war documentaries I've ever seen.

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Kilo Two Bravo (2015)

This film is one of the best suicide mission war films ever filmed.  It tells the true story of a contingent of British soldiers in a remote base in Afghanistan who end up trapped in a mine field.  At first, just one soldier is hit.  But then, in trying to aid that soldier, another soldier is hit.  Then a third, then a fourth.  And so on it goes.  They can't move for fear of stepping on a mine, yet they're surrounded by their comrades all screaming in agony begging for medical attention.  And, of course, as often happens in real life, the radios didn't work, so they had no easy way to call back to headquarters for a medical evacuation helicopter.  There are no firefights with the enemy, only soldiers stuck in various positions unable to move for fear of setting off a mine - yet it's one of the most intense war films I've ever seen.