The Top 10 Best Reviewed War Films of All Time

This is an article about the best reviewed war films of all time.  Not my favorite war films, not culturally popular favorite war films, but specifically, those war films that - quite literally - simply received the best reviews from critics.  To make this determination, I spent a few hours on Rotten Tomatoes, a critic aggregate website that provides "Tomato Ratings" for films, based on how many critics from across the nation gave each film a positive review.  

To quality for inclusion on this list, films had to receive almost universal acclaim; films such as Saving Private Ryan, for instance, a very popular much beloved film, didn't merit inclusion, obtaining a mere 92% positive rating from all film critics.  

Gone With the Wind?  Also didn't make the list, scoring a mere 95% positive rating.  While some of those on this list are to be expected, and can also be found on my recent list of Academy Award Best Picture winning war films, others are more surprising.

01
of 10

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now Film Poster. Zoetrope Pictures

Apocalypse Now made the top film on two of my lists:  My top Vietnam films and my top 10 of all time war films lists.  As it turns out, I'm not alone in this feeling, critics across the country have also rated Apocalypse Now as their top war film, with only a single reviewer that didn't like the film.  From the crazed Brando, a Special Forces colonel hiding out in the jungle, to the smoldering intensity of Martin Sheen, and the surrealistic vision of Vietnam portrayed as a nightmarish vision, Apocalypse Now seems to trigger a visceral response in almost everyone who sees it. 

If you're one of the few people who haven't seen this film, what else would it take to convince you to see it beyond universal acclaim from almost every film critic in the nation?

Rotten Tomatoes Rating:  99%

My Rating:  5 Stars

02
of 10

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia Movie Poster.

Lawrence of Arabia, also an Academy Award winner for Best Picture, is epic filmmaking of the sort that they don't too often anymore.  The story of T.E. Lawrence, a British military officer who went native in joining the Saudi tribesmen in their fight against Turkey, it's a thrilling cinematic ride with top notch production values, acting, and direction.

All of that said, is it good enough to be the second best reviewed war film ever?  

Not a chance!  There's many that are far better, but apparently most film critics don't agree with me.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating:  99%

My Rating:  4 Stars

03
of 10

Das Boot (1981)

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Das Boot.

Das Boot is an unexpected inclusion on this list - sure this story of German submariners during the second World War is a good film - but as a film, it hasn't penetrated the cultural memory yet like other films on this list.  Still, the film is worth a watch if you get the chance:  It reverts the viewer's perspective, showing the war from the side of the Germans, and reveals war while serving on a submarine to be a claustrophobic, fear inducing, panic instigating journey.  But, that said, it's not good enough to be the third best war film of all time.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

My Rating: 4 Stars

04
of 10

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca. Warner Brothers

Casablanca is one of those films that everyone's heard about but few have actually seen.  If you're one of these people, despite the film being in black and white, and despite the film being a bit aged, it's still worth a view.  Personally, it's one of my favorite films of all time.  It's a sophisticated, brilliantly written, and a fantastic war love story set amidst the backdrop of World War II Nazi controlled northern Africa. 

My only disagreement with this film's tomato rating is that it's listed as the fourth best reviewed war film, when it should be in second place behind Apocalypse Now.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating:  97%

My Rating:  5 Stars

05
of 10

Argo (2012)

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Argo.

Argo's inclusion on this list is inexplicable.  Written and directed by Ben Affleck, this story of American diplomats stuck in Iran after the revolution and seizure of the U.S. embassy was a decent film, but nowhere near one of the best ever.  I'm assuming this is a case of a high proportion of moderately good reviews, rather than a high proportion of extremely positive good reviews.  In any case, I can think of about 50 better war movies that deserve to occupy the 5th best reviewed all time war film spot.

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

My Rating:  3 Stars

06
of 10

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Hurt Locker Poster. Photo © Voltage Pictures

Hurt Locker is a perfect example of how mainstream audiences simply refuse to pay much attention to, or acknowledge critical opinion.  Not only did Hurt Locker win the Best Picture Academy Award in 2008, but it's tied for third best reviewed war film of all time when you add up the aggregate of critical favorability reviews.  Yet still, audiences stayed away in droves.

Too bad for audiences, because this story of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq defusing bombs while under enemy attack is a thrilling and poignant ride.  A great film that deserved to find an audience.

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

My Rating:  4 Stars

07
of 10

Patton (1970)

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Patton.

I've never been a huge fan of the Patton biopic, so I'm surprised by its inclusion on this list.  The film is too long, and for being about Patton, we walk away understanding fairly little about what makes Patton tick, beyond perhaps just being a raging psychopath.  

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

My Rating:  2.5 Stars

08
of 10

Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

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The eighth best reviewed war film of all time is The Best Years of our Lives, a film that was years ahead of its time.  Barely before the troops had time to return home from the second World War, this film was released, focusing on the struggle of returning veterans to adjust to a world after war.  From problems finding employment, to struggling with relationships, to fighting PTSD, this film effectively became the first ever movie to focus on veterans and their concerns.  A smart, strong film, fully deserving of its critical acclaim.

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

My Rating:  4 Stars

09
of 10

Schindler's List (1993)

Schindler's List Movie Poster.

Spielberg's Schindler's List is the definitive film about the Holocaust.  Well deserving of its critical acclaim, this was the first film to show the Jewish camps in their full horror.  During theatrical screenings of the film, audiences broke down crying, with many leaving the theatre.  Sadly, even this cinematic "no holds barred" version is still likely much softer than the real life it's based on.  A film well deserving of its widespread critical acclaim, and deserving of it's role as the 9th top reviewed war film of all time.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

10
of 10

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

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Like Apocalypse Now, All Quiet on the Western Front made my all time top ten war films list.  This film, released in 1930, is imminently watchable, losing nothing in translation in the intermittent 80 years.  The story of a soldier excited for war who discovers the horror of war in the tranches of the first World War, it's perhaps the first Hollywood movie to take an anti-war stance.  Even all these years later, it's still haunting and powerful.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

My Rating:  5 Stars