The Best and Worst War Movies about War Crimes

Unfortunately, sometimes in war, civilians or non-combat actors, end up getting killed.  Sometimes this is just a stressed soldier who goes temporarily insane, sometimes this is simply a psychopath that joined the enlisted ranks because it gave him free license to kill without legal consequences.  When this happens, it's called a war crime.  It's difficult to investigate and hard to convict.  And some of the movies about war crimes are very good.  Others are not so good.  (For the best and worst criminal investigation war movies, click here and for the best legal courtroom war thrillers, click here.)

01
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Winter Soldier (1972)

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The Best!

Winter Soldier is a documentary where former soldiers get on stage and explain the real-life war crimes that they participated with and/or witnessed during the Vietnam war.

On the one hand, I believe them - horrible stuff occurs in war all the time, and not much of it is reported.  I've heard horrible secrets about my own deployment in Afghanistan.  Mistakes happen, especially when you're in the infantry.  

On the other hand though, I don't believe them.  They do seem as if they're attempting to top one another, and these are all unsubstantiated stories.  "You threw an old lady out of a helicopter?  Well, guess what, I threw two old ladies out of a helicopter!"  That sort of thing.  It's important to remember that this was an era of virulent anti-war protesting, and some of these former soldiers seemed caught up in their adopted social movement.

I'm not sure how I feel about this film.  But if I have to come down on a side, purely for it's interest as a cultural artifact - good or bad - I think it's worth a viewing.

02
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Platoon (1985)

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Platoon.

The Best!

There's a handful of Vietnamese villagers.  They're crying and carrying on about not wanting their livestock killed and having their huts torn apart.  All reasonable requests.  Most GIs simply yell back at them, or point their rifle menacingly until they shut up.  But not Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), he's had it with the screaming old women, so to silence them he shoots them.  

He asks the soldiers under his command if any of them have a problem with what he's done.  No one does.  No one has a problem with that, because they all know that Sergeant Barnes is a crazy psychopath. No one except, Sergeant Elias that is.  Sergeant Elias threatens to report Sergeant Barnes.  You can't go around killing people, Sergeant!

To which, Sergeant Barnes replies by murdering Sergeant Elias.  Yikes!  War crimes on top of war crimes, on top of war crimes!

03
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Casualties of War (1989)

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The Best!

Based on the true story of "the incident on Hill 192" (a very austere label for such a horrific crime) this film takes the already intense environment of being an infantryman in Vietnam and adds fratricide and the murder of civilians.  Penn is riveting, but Fox seems a bit out of his depth.  Still, it's an intense, crazy story told in a mostly quality rendering.  (I'll leave it to you to Google "the incident of Hill 192," it's frightening stuff what deranged soldiers are capable of.)

04
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Taxi to the Dark Side (2002)

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The Best!

Documentary which tells the real-life story of a taxi driver.  A Taxi driver who picks up some Taliban for a fare.  A taxi driver who is then captured by Special Forces, a team that swoop out of the sky and stop the helicopter, arresting all, including the driver.  They forget to let driver go.  Driver is tortured for information he doesn't have, and screamed at for terror connections that he also doesn't have.  Eventually, he's found dead.  The paperwork on the taxi driver disappears.  No one seems to remember who was responsible.  Imagine that.  Disturbing incident, great film.  

05
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High Crimes (2002)

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The Worst!

Ashley Judd is an investigator looking into the massacre of an El Salvadorean village.  The murder is a throw away after thought to this film, which is more interested in pretending to be an interesting criminal procedural, which, in actuality, it's not an interesting criminal procedural.  This film is so imminently forgettable, that if you're reading this summary, you've already invested too much of your life on this waste of film footage.

06
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Basic (2002)

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The Worst!

The crime:  The murder of a Ranger commander over an illegal and covert narcotics smuggling ring run by a Ranger unit.

Aha!  But in this lame, awful, film, the ending reveals that the Ranger commander was never actually killed, and is, in fact, still alive.  So, there was no war crime committed after all.  These and other twists end up negating the entire point of the film.  Sort of like the ending where you realize it's just a dream and you wake up.   None of it actually happened!

If your head hurts already, be prepared for that feeling to grow exponentially should you actually make the bad decision to watch this film.  But there's no reason for you to do so, since I just ruined the ending for you!

07
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Standard Operating Procedure (2004)

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The Best!

Another disturbing documentary.  This one about the systematic abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abhu Ghraib prison.   The worst thing about the abuse is that it was for no purpose.  The low-level guards screwing with the Iraqis didn't even want information out of them.  They were simply "softening them up" for others who would interrogate them.  Yet one more unfortunate consequence of war.  

08
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The Kill Team (2014)

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The Kill Team.

The Best!

This documentary details the disturbing story of a fire team of soldiers that began setting up and then murdering innocent Afghans while deployed.  The documentary somehow convinced those convicted of murder to speak on camera with complete candidness, often saying shocking things, which its quite obvious, they truly believe.  A compelling, top notch documentary.  Don't miss this one!  

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Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst War Movies about War Crimes." ThoughtCo, Jun. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-war-crime-films-3437878. Rico, Johnny. (2017, June 29). The Best and Worst War Movies about War Crimes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-war-crime-films-3437878 Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst War Movies about War Crimes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-war-crime-films-3437878 (accessed November 21, 2017).