The Most Under Appreciated and Overlooked War Movies

Sometimes, for one reason or another, a gem of a film - with great direction and acting and strong production values - will nonetheless, simply not find an audience and will disappear into the creaking archives of war movies, mostly forgotten to popular culture.  This is a shame, because some of these forgotten movies were very good and deserved to have a wider audience.  Here's some of the films I consider to be under appreciated and overlooked.

of 10

Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot.

Das Boot is told from the point of view of the Germans, specifically a German submarine commander.  The camera races down claustrophobic submarine tunnels in the near dark, as a young crew - not much older than teenagers - struggle to follow orders as they battle U.S. forces. This is also one of the most critically acclaimed war films of all time, with a Rotten Tomato score that's far higher than most others.  While the film was a big hit in Germany, unfortunately not many American audiences saw it.

of 10

Gallopoli (1981)


Back before Mel Gibson was a household name, and certainly before Mel Gibson's career later flamed out, Gibson starred as a young Australian signing up for the infantry to participate in World War I to fight the Turkish.  The film spends most of its running time showing us Gibson and his best friend before the war and in Basic Training, only leaving the war until the film's end.  Most poignantly, like All Quiet on the Western Front, the film shows us two characters who want to fight in the war for reasons of patriotism and glory, only realizing much too late that there's no honor in dying needlessly in a trench.  It's a powerful ending that hits you in the gut.  Unfortunately, this film was never noticed by American audiences. 

Click here for the Best "Last Stand" War Movies.

of 10

Wind the Wind Blows (1986)

When the Wind Blows.

Almost no one has heard of this film, but it's one of the most potent, dramatic, and powerful war films I've ever seen.  (And I've seen a lot of war films!)

It's also - I should point out - a cartoon.

More specifically, it's a cartoon about an elderly British couple during a thermo-nuclear attack on Britain, during the onset of World War III.  The cartoon mostly just documents their pitiful attempts to survive, as they attempt to follow the absurd instructions issued by the UK government (based on actual survival instructions that really exist!)  It's a film about the Cold War, but most of all, it's an intensely anti-war film.  Watching it is horrifying, and it's a horror made all the more intense because it is a cartoon.

of 10

Hamburger Hill (1987)

Hamburger Hill.

Hamburger Hill is a criminally overlooked Vietnam movie focuses on the 101st Airborne's attempt to take a single hill - and the carnage that ensues from this attempt.  A film ultimately about the futility of the war, it nonetheless has great direction, is exciting, and is fully engrossing.  Never made much of a dent with audiences at the cinema, and never joined the pantheon of socially popular Vietnam films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.  A great film nonetheless.

of 10

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun.

Spielberg's war films are famous - Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers - yet, his first World War II film, Empire of the Sun, was mostly skipped by audiences, and has yet to be recognized by the collective cultural zeitgeist. The film follows a young Christian Bale, the son of British expatriates in China, during the Japanese occupation of the country at the onset of the second World War.  Bale is separated from his parents and captured as a prisoner of war.  The film struggles a bit because we never know quite what the film is about.  Is tries to say something about childhood and dreams, but ultimately, as a viewer, we're never quite sure what it's message is.  Despite this, the film has incredible production values and is a compelling story well worth watching.  Unfortunately, too many have missed this film.

of 10

Tigerland (2000)


Private Roland Bozz is very much against the war in Vietnam.  Furthermore, it's the waning days of the Vietnam war and everyone in the USA knows that the war is pretty much lost.  Consequently, it's a bit disconcerting when Bozz is drafted and sent to "Tigerland," where he'll train as an infantryman before being told by his superiors, that he will absolutely be sent to Vietnam.

Who wants to join the rear end of a losing war?

Tigerland has everything a great movie about Basic Training should have:  Characters unsure whether they made the right decision, the obligatory sadistic drill sergeant, and the rebellious recruit trying to buck the system in a fight that he cannot win. 

of 10

The Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others.

This 2006 film came and went from cinemas before you could blink, but that's a shame because it's fantastic.  The film tells the story of a Stasi officer and surveillance expert who is eavesdropping on enemies of the German state, a liberal playwright and his wife.  While the film starts with the Stasi officer having nothing but contempt for this couple, their love and zeal for life slowly intrigue him, as he quietly listens to their conversations, arguments, and lovemaking.  Eventually, this Stasi officer has to make a decision which will imprison the couple and destroy their love, or risk his own life by defying orders.  A film that's all the more poignant given what we now know about recent NSA eavesdropping revelations.

of 10

Cold Mountain (2006)


This Civil War drama has lots of Hollywood stars, was a big box office hit, and is actually a pretty darn near great film.  Yet hardly anyone has heard about it, and it's rarely mentioned as a war film of note, or one that's entered the cultural zeitgeist.  Consequently, that makes it one of the great under appreciated war movies.

of 10

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Rescue Dawn.

Werner Herzog is a German independent filmmaker not known for his proclivity to make Hollywood action films.  But here he is making a big budget Hollywood film starring Christian Bale in the real life story of downed Vietnam aviator Dieter Dengler, who was captured as a prisoner of war and who refused to improve his conditions by reading propaganda against America.  Dengler's imprisonment, and eventual escape, are filmed with such realistic intensity, that the film takes on a level of excitement not normally found in Hollywood films.  Herzog also refuses to participate in normal Hollywood conventions (you know the sort, where the protagonist knocks out the prison guard with one punch), and in doing so, creates a fully immersive and realistic cinematic experience.  Rescue Dawn is one of my all-time favorite war movies.

of 10

Restrepo (2010)


Directed by author Sebastian Junger, this documentary was barely seen by American audiences, yet remains the most realistic realization of war in Afghanistan that I've ever seen.  As a soldier that was there, I can attest - this is what it's like.  The film follows a platoon of soldiers that struggle for control of a single mountain, on which, they build Firebase Restrepo amid fighting with an unseen enemy.  Neighbored by an Afghan village of questionable allegiance (angry over the deaths of innocent civilians killed in an air strike), the soldiers go on guard duty, patrol the area, and struggle to survive just one more day.  A fantastic film, and was my vote for the best war documentary of all time.