The Top 10 War Movies of All Time

The war film genre surrounds itself around warfare such as naval, air, or land battles. Combat scenes are a focal point of many war dramas and the genre as a whole is often relative to contemporary life. Although some movies are labeled as war films due to their combat landscape, there are films within the genre that are not necessarily about fighting physical battles but rather psychological ones. 

The following top war films are listed within specific criteria. The parameters set are as follows:

  • Documentaries were removed.
  • Films that merely used war as a backdrop or setting were not included.
  • Classics as Casablanca and Dr. Strangelove were cut.
  • Mini-series, such as Band of Brothers, were not considered.
10
of 10

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan. Photo © Dreamworks

This Steven Spielberg film from 1998 tells the story of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) who's sent across war-torn Europe with a squad of soldiers.

Their mission is to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon), a soldier who doesn't yet know that his brothers have been killed, and that he is his family's last surviving son. Opening with a harrowing recreation of the D-Day landing at Normandy, the film is filled with exciting action sequences, an ultra-authentic set design, and solid performances.

Most impressive is that Saving Private Ryan is the rare film that manages to be both simultaneous moving and thought-provoking, while also being entertaining and exciting. Saving Private Ryan was also voted the favorite film of military veterans.

Schindler's List. Photo © Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film chronicles the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Polish manufacturer who begins the film as an opportunistic capitalist.

Eventually, Schindler ends up saving some 1,100 Jews by providing them refuge within his factories. This black-and-white film is powerful and considered one of the best in cinema, not just because of its tale of human redemption, but because of its unflinching portrayal of Nazi cruelty and the concentration camps. More »

All Quiet on the Western Front. Photo © Universal Studios

Released in 1930, the film follows a class of young German school children who are enticed into enlisting for World War I by a jingoistic high-school teacher that teases them with visions of heroism and appreciation.

What they find in the trenches of the war, to their surprise, is death and horror. Perhaps no film since has better summarized the difference between the ideals of war, as imagined by young patriots, and the awful realities that await them.

This film’s production date is appreciated as it demonstrated wariness for a war that wouldn’t be popularly in vogue within the American cinema for another 50 years. This was a visionary film that was ahead of its time. More »

07
of 10

Glory

Glory. Photo © Tri-Star Pictures

The 1989 film Glory stars Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.

This film tells the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which is better known as the first infantry unit to be made up entirely of African-Americans. It follows the black soldiers through basic training and into combat as they enter the final days of the Civil War.

Paid less than their white counterparts, and fielding sub-standard equipment, these black soldiers nonetheless come to epitomize both heroism and courage. Although it took a fair number of liberties with actual history, it still remains a moving and powerful film. More importantly, the film offers the audience a glimpse of a little-known part of American history by telling the often over-looked contribution of African-American soldiers in the Civil War.

06
of 10

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia. Photo © Columbia Pictures

David Lean's 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, is about British Army officer T.E. Lawrence during World War I. This historical and dramatic film is based on the life of T. E. Lawrence and produced by Sam Spiegel.

The film was done by Horizon Pictures as well as Columbia Pictures for one year. The film includes epic sets, landscapes, sweeping cinematography, a rousing instrumental score, and career defining performances, most notably by Peter O'Toole.

05
of 10

Hurt Locker

Hurt Locker Poster. Photo © Voltage Pictures

This 2008 film by Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for Best Picture for its suspenseful and nerve-wracking portrayal of Army Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner), an Explosives Ordinance and Disposal (EOD) expert in Iraq.

The film was unique in that it was the first to focus on the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which, for most ground soldiers, has become the dominant enemy in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Part action film and part character study of a soldier addicted to the intensity of combat, this is an immensely thrilling film. The scenes where James has to defuse bombs are so tightly coiled with tension, that they're difficult to physically watch as a viewer.

Even more powerful ​is the scene where James stares with dumbfounded apathy at an empty cereal aisle in the local grocery store after returning from combat, finding regular life to be a tone too quiet.

04
of 10

Platoon

Platoon. Photo © Orion Pictures

In this classic Oliver Stone filmAcademy Award winner Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a new infantry recruit who is fresh to the jungles of Vietnam.

Taylor quickly finds himself embedded in a platoon that is engaging in war crimes. The film follows Taylor as he's forced to choose between two contrasting platoon sergeants: Sergeant Elias (William Dafoe), the moral good sergeant, and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), the violent psychopath. This war tale of moral choice takes viewers on a ride of ultimate choice.

03
of 10

Lone Survivor

Lone-Survivor.jpg
Lone Survivor.

This film is one of the all time great action films, telling the story of four SEAL members out-numbered by hundreds of enemy fighters.

Lone Survivor is a film made in 2013 and based on an American biographical and non-fiction book of the same name. In the story, Marcus Luttrell and his squad go out to capture a Taliban leader. This film is a visceral and intense tale that unfolds from there.

02
of 10

American Sniper

American Sniper is considered the most financially successful box office war film of all time. The film was made in 2014 and stars Bradley Cooper as U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

This war film is part returning veteran facing PTSD and part-action story about a sniper in Iraq. There aren't many war movies about snipers, but this one succeeds in its drama, intensity, emotions, and more.

01
of 10

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse-Now-poster.jpeg
Photo © Zoetrope Studios

Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam classic is infamous for its troubled production. The following troubles included:

  • The film's star Martin Sheen having a heart attack
  • The destruction of several sets in the Philippines
  • Marlon Brando showing up on set severely overweight for his role as the rogue Green Beret Colonel Kurtz

Despite all of this, the eventual film followed Sheen's Captain Willard as he traveled deep into the jungles of Vietnam on a secret mission to assassinate the crazed Colonel Kurtz. This film ended up being a classic of modern cinema. Though not a realistic war film, it is one of the most gripping, thought-provoking war film ever made.