The Best and Worst War Movies About Special Forces

Special Forces teams are the best that militaries have to offer and they get the most attention in war movies for the simple reason that they get all the best missions!

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Guns of Navarone (1961)

Guns of Navarone.

The Best!

Gregory Peck stars in one of the first commando films, as he leads a Special Forces unit to destroy a German fortress in World War II.  This film received almost universal acclaim (achieving a 95% positive rating on  This is the film that set the template for all Special Forces commando movies that would follow.  (It is amusing to go back and watch this film with modern eyes, their Special Forces soldiers seem so "tame" by modern standards.)

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The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Dirty Dozen.

The Best!

The Dirty Dozen is a classic 1960s war movie from the Patriotic Era of war films.  Stars Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson leading a crack commando team of convicts behind enemy lines in the second World War.  It's not serious cinema, but it's great fun.

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The Green Berets (1968)

The Green Berets.

The Worst!

John Wayne's The Green Berets is an awful film.  The entire purpose of the film was to change anti-war opinions into pro-war opinions, and it likely did a lousy job at this.  This film made my list for the ten most propaganda filled Hollywood war films.  Plus, John Wayne is too overweight to be a Green Beret.

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Kelly's Heroes (1970)

Kelly's Heroes.

The Best!

This screwball comedy, featuring an ad-hoc unit of Army soldiers setting out to rob a bank behind enemy lines, is highly entertaining. Starring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Donald Sutherland.  Warning:  Giggles may erupt without warning.  Made my list for one of the best war comedies.

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Navy SEALs (1990)

Navy SEALs.

The Worst!

In the early 1990s, Hollywood released this clunker starring Michael Biehn (Terminator) and a young Charlie Sheen.  It was meant to be a recruiting tool in the same fashion as Top Gun.  The problem was that Charlie Sheen's performance is annoying to watch and the script was written as if aiming for a highly discerning audience of thirteen-year-olds. Instead of being the next Top Gun, the film opened, had it's 7-11 Slurpee tie-in, and then left cinemas a week later.  

No big loss.

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Sniper (1993)


The Best!

My apologies to all my readers for counting this 1990s war contribution as one of the "Best."  The film didn't do well with the critics, and I'm sure if I re-watched it, my opinion might change.  But I remember really liking the film, viewing it as a guilty pleasure, even while I acknowledged that it probably wasn't very good.  The film - as one might expect from a film with this title - stars Tom Berenger and Billy Zane as two snipers sent into Central America to snipe someone.  The film really honors the ethos of snipers, teaching viewers about the one shot, one kill thing, and the long waits for a single shot.

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G.I. Jane (1997)

G.I. Jane.

The Worst!

Demi Moore is the first woman to join the elite Navy SEALs in G.I. Jane (directed by Ridley Scott before he did Blackhawk Down).  The film takes SEAL training to some absurd extremes (you know, the scene where they start to rape her, I don't think that would happen), and messes up basic facts about Navy SEALs.  Why would they fictionalize that which they could have pulled from real life?  (Including the SEAL training base in Florida...everyone knows SEALs are trained in San Diego.)

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Blackhawk Down (2001)

Blackhawk Down. Columbia Pictures

The Best!

Ridley Scott's Blackhawk Down tells the true story of Army Rangers and Delta Force stuck into a day-long firefight with the entire city of Mogadishu, Somalia.  Like Lone Survivor, the film is one of the best action war movies ever filmed.  Strangely, this film, despite it mostly showing a horrible experience, in part, motivated me to join the infantry. 

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Tears of the Sun (2003)

Tears of the Sun.

The Worst! 

Bruce Willis gives his standard Bruce Willis performance leading a Special Forces team in war-torn Africa to (yawn!) save some refugees from an evil warlord.  I want to say it at least has a few decent action sequences, but it's nothing we haven't seen done better in other films.  Entirely forgettable, I had to go back and re-read other reviews to remember what this movie was about.

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Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Inglorious Basterds.

The Best!

Perhaps one of Brad Pitt's best roles.  Pitt stars as Aldo Raines, leading a team of commando Jewish-Americans bent on murdering, assassinating, killing, and destroying as many Nazis as possible.  It's killing and mayhem Quentin Tarantino style.  The film has a few low moments and could have been served by having Aldo and his crew on-screen longer, but overall, it's a creative, funny, and entertaining romp.

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Act of Valor (2012)

Act of Valor.

The Worst!

In 2012, the Pentagon got into the filmmaking business itself, releasing this faux fictional action thriller starring real-life Navy SEALs.  It should be no surprise that the story is lame, the acting awful, and the script meandering.  Not much more than a (poor attempt) at a recruiting video for fourteen-year-olds; one which just happened to be released to cinemas.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty. Columbia Pictures

The Best!

Zero Dark Thirty tells the real-life story of SEAL Team Six and their assassination of Osama Bin Laden.  We know how the story ends, but it's still a gripping, edge of your seat thriller.  Kathryn Bigelow does a bang-up job in making this movie tight, compelling, and difficult to turn away from.

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures

The Best!

Lone Survivor tells the (mostly) true story of a team of Navy SEALs behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, stuck on a mountain as they faced off against an overwhelmingly sized enemy force.  It's thrilling combat and action at its most ferocious.  One of my favorite war films of all time.  The SEALs in this film take a grueling beating, continuing to live long after one thinks they should have long ago keeled over out of exhaustion (and too many bullet wounds!)

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Dirty Wars (2013)

Dirty Wars Poster. Sundance Selects Film

The Worst!

This documentary from The Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill tells an important story:  How the President is using JSOC, an elite group of Special Forces soldiers that have no Congressional oversight, as a personal Army that takes action without any public accountability. Unfortunately, the documentary is structured in a silly way, with Scahill pretending that he's uncovering the clues in front of the camera, effectively acting as himself in the past in a lame attempt to add some sort of weak narrative to the film.  He should have stuck with the facts and left himself out of it.