The Top 10 War Movies of the Decade

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The Top War Films of the Decade

This article is part of an ongoing series, highlighting the most important war movies of each decade - the films that made a significant contribution to the war films genre, the films that burrowed into the collective zeitgeist, and the war movies that impacted Hollywood - starting with the 1930s and continuing to the present decade.  

The 1930s

The 1940s

The 1950s

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

The 1990s

The 2000s

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The Hurt Locker (2008)

Hurt Locker Poster. Photo © Voltage Pictures

This Iraq war movie about an Explosive Ordinance and Disposal (EOD) expert in Iraq focuses on a soldier attempting to defeat the most vicious weapons used by the insurgents:  The IED. Filled with nail biting tension, great performances, and top notch production values, this Best Oscar winner hurtles you into the tension and never lets up.

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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

 This 2008 Errol Morris film detailed the torture and abuse occurring at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, exploring what occurred and why it occurred. This documentary also managed to interview a number of key personnel from the prison, including Lynndie England, a private who was made infamous through photos of her holding a leash attached to an Iraqi prisoner’s neck. (Her comments justifying her actions are quite shocking.) When the film concludes, there are a lot of questions left unanswered – one thing the viewer is sure of is that this scandal went a lot further up the command hierarchy than was recognized by the public at large.

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Restrepo (2010)


 This 2010 film follows Battle Company across a fifteen month deployment in the Korengal Valley, as they attempt to build, and then later defend, firebase Restrepo. An intense film made all the more vivid in the realization that this is real combat; though the style of combat portrayed as chaotic and confusing is not one familiar to most American film viewers. As a former infantry veteran, I can assure you this is the real deal. Perhaps one of the best films ever made at capturing the real life chaos of war: Soldiers that aren’t sure where to return fire to, an enemy that is rarely seen, and a civilian population caught in the middle. Directed by Tim Hetherington (a war journalist killed in Libya in 2011) and Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm and War), the film is made with deep conviction and a love of the subject material. Whenever I've been asked what Afghanistan was like, I simply tell them to watch this film.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty. Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty is, perhaps, the penultimate, tale of Afghanistan.  The story of the CIA officers who tracked Bin Laden and the Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that eventually assassinated him, the film is dark, gritty, and super intense.  Even though we know how it ends, it's still a film that grips hold of the viewer and doesn't let go.  (This film is on my list for top Special Forces movies.) 

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The Known Unknown (2013)

This documentary that interviews former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is more powerful for what it doesn't get than what it does.  What it doesn't get is a sober, contemplative, thoughtful interview from Rumsfeld.  Instead, Rumsfeld seems to think it's sort of a cute moment, and that he's being awfully clever in the word play he employs to excuse any responsibility for the Iraq War.  The Rumsfeld interviewed on camera seems unable, or unwilling, to accept that anything about the Iraq War didn't go according to plan.  For the thousands of U.S. soldiers that died under the pretense of "weapons of mass destruction," it's an infuriating posture.

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures

The incredible tale of survival of a single Navy SEAL who faces off against a much larger enemy force after his small four man team is discovered during a secretive mission, Lone Survivor is one of the great stories of combat and survival to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan.  (Even if some of it might not be true.)  It's also one of the great all time Last Stand war movies.

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American Sniper (2014)

 American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood adaptation of the Chris Kyle book about the American military's most successful sniper is part kinetic and intense action film about the Iraq war and part case study of how much one man can endure; in the film Kyle serves as an absorbent collection device for horror, trauma, and all the other awfulness that war can summon.  

His ability to experience the terribleness of war and just "squash it down deep inside" seems to be endless...until it's not.  (One can imagine that taking 150 lives - as the number of kills the military formally credits him with - or taking 250 lives, as is suggested to be the real number, would have that sort of an effect on a man.)  The film is not perfect, it provides no introspection to the Iraq war in itself, but it is at least introspective into the effects of "hard soldiering.".  Bradley Cooper does an amazing job as Kyle.

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Korengal (2014)

 Korengal is the documentary sequel to Restrepo, and it's every bit as powerful and amazing and thrilling as the original.  Basically, film director Sebastian Junger had a lot of leftover footage after making Restrepo and decided to make a second film.  While not much new is shared thematically, the treasure trove of remaining material makes you wonder why he didn't include some of this award winning footage in the first film!  Filled with intensive scenes of combat, philosophical infantrymen, and deliberations regarding fighting an impossible war, this is one of the best war documentaries I've ever seen.

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Kilo Two Bravo (2014)

This film is one of the best suicide mission war films ever filmed.  It tells the true story of a contingent of British soldiers in a remote base in Afghanistan who end up trapped in a mine field.  At first, just one soldier is hit.  But then, in trying to aid that soldier, another soldier is hit.  Then a third, then a fourth.  And so on it goes.  They can't move for fear of stepping on a mine, yet they're surrounded by their comrades all screaming in agony begging for medical attention.  And, of course, as often happens in real life, the radios didn't work, so they had no easy way to call back to headquarters for a medical evacuation helicopter.  There are no firefights with the enemy, only soldiers stuck in various positions unable to move for fear of setting off a mine - yet it's one of the most intense war films I've ever seen.  

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Last Days in Vietnam (2014)

Last Days in Vietnam.

 This PBS documentary tells a part of the story that's not often told about Vietnam:  The part at the end where we lost.  Telling the story of the last days in Saigon as American officials race the clock - and the impending invasion of North Vietnamese - to evacuate themselves, and their South Vietnamese allies, as social order begins to break down and plans begin to fall apart.  This film has the brains of a thoughtful documentary, but the pacing and intensity of a quality action film.