Top 10 Anti-War Movies of All Time

Some war movies are blatantly pro-war.  You can practically hear the national anthem against the sound of spent shell casings falling to the ground as they're fired from a .50 caliber machine gun.  Others simply try to be historical artifacts, re-telling some aspect of our global or national history, without offering an opinion - this is just how it was.  Yet other war films, are vehemently anti-war, even though these individual films themselves, can sometimes be misinterpreted as pro-war.  The way in which they spread their anti-war message differ quite considerably - some use blatant satire, others show graphic violence in the extreme.  After scouring the archives of hundreds of existing war films, I've developed what I believe to be the top ten most anti-war movies ever made.
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Full Metal Jacket (1987)


This Stanley Kubrick film is widely considered a cinematic classic, and is one of the most popular Vietnam war films.  (Strangely, this ardently anti-war film is a favorite among veterans!)  It also has one of the most popular, and famous, Basic Training scenes in cinematic history.  Though often mistaken as a pro-war film, the movie is actually virulently anti-war, focusing on the dehumanization process that troops undergo in order to participate in the act of killing.  (The first half of the film focuses on an insane Basic Training camp where the Marines must learn to become killers; and one of them learns to do so prematurely in the barracks.)  The second half of the film follows a combat photojournalist who's anxious to be in combat so that he can get his confirmed kill, and when he finally does - well, that's the film's poignant ending.  It's a film thick with messaging about the nature of man, and of war.

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Dr. Strangelove (1964)


This film, also by Stanley Kubrick, focuses on the insanity of the Cold War nuclear policy of "mutually assured destruction," and creates a story whereby an accident sets this mutually assured destruction into motion.  The film is laugh out loud funny, but throughout the laughter, the film is practically screaming to the society that's watching it, "Are you crazy?!  Are you really this crazy that you're going to live in a world in which nuclear war can destroy us all?!"  The answer, of course, is yes, yes we will.

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Platoon (1986)


Oliver Stone's perennial Vietnam film demonstrates U.S. troops participating in war crimes, doing drugs, and killing one another.  (This film is based on Stone's own experiences in Vietnam as an infantryman.) The film's primary message is that innocence cannot survive in warfare, as the film's idealistic protagonist learns he must compromise his values in order to survive the war.  And as it becomes necessary to compromise one's values, this therefore means that war is inevitably an immoral enterprise.  

Click here for the Best and Worst Vietnam War Movies.

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Born on the 4th of July (1989)

Born on the 4th of July.
Oliver Stone again, this time having the viewer follow Ron Kovic's character's transformation from naive patriot who wants to fight for his country in Vietnam, to virulent anti-war activist.  The film works hard to tear down the idea of blind patriotism, and replace it with a reality where death is ever-present, war is chaotic, and where innocents are stuck in the crossfire.
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Threads (1984)


This 1984 BBC film tells the story of several British families before, during, and after an all out nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The film sets out to scare people and does a fantastic job.  The film wants viewers to be afraid of going to sleep at night, their minds so overcome with the omnipresent fear of nuclear exchange.  And, even twenty some years later, it worked.  I recently watched it and I couldn't sleep afterwards.  The film is one of the most disturbing that I've ever seen and serves as a warning about the dangers of living in a world of nuclear destruction.  So what exactly is it that occurs in the film?  Only, the destruction and slow death of every character, and the eventual decimation of the planet such that the global population is reduced back to that of what it was during the Dark Ages.

Click here for the Top 7 Nuclear War Movies.

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The Day After (1983)

The Day After is America's own nuclear horror story.  Like Threads, it tells the story of several families whose lives become interconnected when a nuclear exchange decimates small town America.  Families die and fall apart, government fails, chaos reigns, and civilization breaks down and collapses.  It's just your typical light-hearted romantic comedy.
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All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front.
Like Platoon, this early World War I film follows a young idealistic boy who enlists in the military for reasons of honor and patriotism and idealism, only to find that these were all lies told to get young men to enlist.  Instead, what he finds is suffering, death, and untold misery.  Moreover, the deaths are entirely senseless - with wave after wave of soldiers simply climbing the trenches, advancing, and being mowed down, one after the other.  The film re-positions the notions of bravery on the battlefield with the reality of suicidal insanity.  At the film's end, the protagonist reaches out to touch a butterfly which has landed in the trenches - a sole thing of beauty in an otherwise muddy, blood and grime covered environment - and as soon as he does so, he is shot dead by a sniper's bullet.  The anti-war message couldn't be any louder:  Patriotism may very well get you killed.
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Again, as like All Quiet on the Western Front, in Gallipoli, we're once again dealing with the trench warfare of the first World War.  Prior to enlisting, the two young protagonists imagine themselves exhibiting courageous acts in combat.  But the reality is the trenches, the horrible trenches, and then leaving the trenches, and then being shot down and then being killed.

Click here for the Top Last Stand War Movies.

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Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory.
The World War I trenches again.  This time though a commanding officer refuses to order his men to climb the trenches to what amounts to certain death and for doing so, he and his men are charged with treason and put on trial for their lives.  It's an odd juxtaposition - the ultimate catch-22 - as a soldier you can race out of the trench and be mowed down by enemy machine guns, or you can refuse the order live, and be threatened with death for refusing to die in the trenches.  This is a film, which perfectly captures the insanity of the infantryman's dilemma.
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Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now.

Apocalypse Now is my favorite all time war film.  The story involves a CIA agent sent down a Vietnam river to find and assassinate a rogue Green Beret colonel who has transformed himself into a king among villagers deep with the jungle.  When Martin Sheen's character eventually meets Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) what he finds is a man so damaged by the warfare and murder that he's committed as a Green Beret, that he's gone effectively crazy.  His famous line is, "The Horror!  The Horror!"  The journey to Colonel Kurtz is also one rich with allegory and metaphor - from the psychopathic surfing Colonel that rides waves while his soldiers destroy a village, to a French plantation family living with servants oblivious to the war all about them - the film is a transcendental consideration on the nature of war, and its judgments about war are brutal.