The Top 20 War Movies of All Time

Who doesn’t love a good war movie? This is one of the most popular film genres that has spanned the length of time that the industry has been in existence. Films from the silent era through more modern times have touched on the topic of war. There are movies that are based on current conflicts ranging completely through what is known about more ancient battles from centuries ago. We’ve chosen the top twenty war movies of all time to share for your enjoyment.

“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

This is one of the most popular war movie made in the 1990s. Tom Hanks leads the cast as Captain Miller, an American soldier in search of one very special private. Matt Damon’s character is private Ryan. His brothers were all killed in battle and it was the policy of the United States military to send the sole surviving son back home to his kin in these cases. Miller and his men go behind enemy lines in search of Ryan following the Normandy landings. The film was a blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat.

“Apocalypse Now” (1979)

This film written by Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius was a sensation in the late 1970s. Coppola directed Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and the late great Marlon Brando in the story about Captain Willard who is sent to Cambodia on a dangerous mission. It takes place during the Vietnam war era. A renegade colonel had set himself up among the people of a local tribe as a god and was wreaking havoc. Willims was sent to assassinate him.

“Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

This film is based on a novel written by Gustav Hasford with the screenplay adaptation written by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick also directed Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio in this story about the effects of the Vietnam war on American soldiers. One Marine in particular is chosen as the pragmatist whose point of view directs the unfolding of the plot. The film was a major hit because it exposed how brutal boot camp training can be and how bloody and dehumanizing war is on the soldiers who are in the frey.

“Platoon” (1986)

Famous director Oliver Stone wrote and directed “Platoon,” starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. Sheen is a young recruit in the Vietnam conflict. He confronts the horrors of war full on and faces a series of moral crises. He gets a first hand look at how war can change men into two different people who are housed within one body. Berenger and Dafoe offered examplery supporting roles with Sheen skyrocketing in recognition for his contributions to the film.

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” is an old classic, released in the 1950s. David Lean directed the film that was based on a novel written by Pierre Boulle, with the screenplay written by Carl Foreman. The movie stars William Holden in the lead role, supported by Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins in teh tale of a British colonel who finds himself in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He is forced to co-operate with a Japanese camp commander by directing the men under his charge to assist in the construction of a railway bridge for Japan. What the men do not realize is that the Allies have plans to destroy the bridge.

“The Thin Red Line” (1998)

This dramatic war film was popular in the late 1990s and is still a favorite classic today. “The Thin Red Line” is based upon the James Jones novel with the screenplay written by Terrence Malick who also directed the film. Jim Caviezel led the cast which also included Sean Penn and Nick Nolte in the autobiographical movie that followed soldiers in the conflict at Guadalcanal in the era of the second World War. This was one of the longer films lasting 2 hours and 50 minutes, but viewers didn’t mind the extended length because of the superb action and interesting story line.

“Black Hawk Down” (2001)

“Black Hawk Down” was one of the most popular war films of the turn of the century. The film is based on the book written by Mark Bowden and adapted for screen by Ken Nolan. Famous director Ridley Scott worked with stars Josh Harnett, Ewan McGregor and Tom Sizemore in the drama. The plot of the movie centered around one hundred and sixty of the United States’ most elite soldiers in a dangerous assignment. They were dropped into a Somalian war area on a mission to capture two of a renegade warlord’s top lieutenants. They soon encounter heavily armed Somali troops in large numbers and find themselves engaged in a desperate battle for survival.

“Patton” (1970)

George C. Scott gives the performance of his career in his portrayal of the famous American general George S. Patton. The man was a controversial figure and Scott was able to capture the essence of the man to perfection. This film is written by Francis Ford Coppola with screenplay by Edmund H. North. Franklin J. Schaffner directed Scott along with Karl Malden and Stephen Young in the story that details some of the more famous moments in the general’s life. The movie was a big hit when it was released in 1970 and remains a classic war movie today.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006)

This film was one of the most interesting takes on the battle that took place between America and Japan during the second world war. Iris Yashimata wrote the story and screenplay for the film that told the story of this war from the perspective of the Japanese who were directly involved in it. Clint Eastwood directed actors Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya and Tsuyoshi Ihara in this classic film that was so well received by the American public. It is a timeless film that gives us additional perspective on the conflict and shows that Americans were not the only citizens to suffer agony and loss during the war.

” Inglourious Basterds” (2009)

Brad Pitt leads the cast along with Diane Kruger and Eli Roth in this touching adventure, war drama set in the World War two era. Quentin Tarantino is the writer and co-directs the film with Eli Roth, although Roth was uncredited for his role. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers who are Jewish in ethnicity, and their plans to assassinate Nazi leaders, along with a theatre owner who feels vengeful and is planning to do the same thing.

“The Longest Day” (1962)

This film is based on the book and screenplay written by Cornelius Ryan, about the events that took place on D-Day. en Annakin and Andrew Marton direct actors John Wayne, Robert Ryan and Richard Burton in this classic that tells the story of the infamous day from a dual perspective which includes both German and Allied forces points of view. The epic film is two hours and fifty eight minutes in duration.

” Das Boot” (1981)

This film is based on the Lothar G. Buchheim novel with the screenplay written by Wolfgang Peterssen. The Advanture, Drama Thriller tells the story of the soldiers who were aboard a German U-boat during World War Two. The brilliant unfolding of the story takes viewers into the sheer terror experienced by the crew along with their bouts of boredom and claustrophobia when they weren’t actively engaged in battle. The filthy conditions that they were forced to endure gives this film a genuine sense of realism. The goals of the soldiers are to harass the British shipping merchants and destroy their craft whenever possible.It wa a miserable assignment that was fraught with nearly impossible missions and it details the men’s attempts to understand the rationale of the government that they are serving during their time in service.

“The Hurt Locker” (2008)

“The Hurt Locker” is a historically based drama thriller that takes place during the time of the Iraq War. The screenplay is written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Macky and Brian Geraghty star in the story of a sergeant who was assigned to an army bomb squad. He immediately lands at odds with his mates because he is a maverick in the way that he handles his job and they vehemently disagree with his methods. The film is intense because the soldiers are an elite group who tackle some of the most dangerous jobs in the military. They are charged with the disarming of bombs while under fire in the heat of combat. Sergeant James is new and he doesn’t make a good first impression as he behaves as though he has a death wish. The men attempt to bring him under control but the fact that he is their leader makes their job even more dangerous and more difficult.

“The Great Escape” (1963)

This classic war movie is classified in the drama, adventure and history genre. “The Great Escape” is one of the most popular films of the early 1960s. It is based on the Paul Brickhill book that was adapted by writer James Calvell for the screen. John Stuges brilliantly directs actors Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough in teh film that is based on a true story. It tells the story of a group of allied troops who are imprisoned in a German POW camp. They are talented escape artists, so the Germans place them in a camp that is reputed as being “escape proof.” They show the Germans that there isn’t a camp made that can contain them as they dig out through an escape tunnel and travel throughout occupied Europe.

“Glory” (1989)

This 1989 film is a biographical drama that is based upon historical events that occurred in the US Civil War. Robert Gould Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, leads a group of Confederate soldiers who are all black and volunteers for the cause of the South. Shaw deals with a great deal of prejudice from both the Union and Confederate officers for leading the group, some of which were former slaves. Denzel Washington and Cary Elwes both deliver phenomenal supporting performances in this adaptation of the book written by Lincoln Kirstein and directed by Edward Zwick.

“We Were Soldiers” (2002)

This is another war film that became immensely popular with American viewers. The film is based upon the writings of Joseph L. Galloway and Harold G. Moore about the Vietnam battle that took place in the La Drang valley in 1965. Randall Wallace directs Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe and Greg Kinnear in the movie that unfolds its plot through the perspective of the battalion commander Lt. Col Hal Moore, who is played by Gibson. He takes command of the unit and prepares them for their assignment. It also goes backwards in time to review the fate that had befallen the French troops who had attempted the same type of mission in this location. Their battle ended in defeat and this is something that Moore had to consider as he prepared to move ahead with their orders.

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970)

This is a classic film that gives a perspective on the errors that the United States Navy made just prior to the calamitous attack by Japan on the Pearl Harbor military base. The screenplay is written by Hideo Oguni and Larry Forrester. Dichard Sleischer with the assistance of Kinji Fukasaku directs Martin Balsam, Jason Robards and So Yamamura in the dramatic recollection of the details of the attack and the events leading up to it. American military leaders are arrogant in believing that the base was safe from military attack and even though there are some American intelligence interceptions that hint the attack is coming, they ignore it to their own destruction.

“Pearl Harbor” (2001)

This 2001 film is the perfect movie to follow the classic “Tora,Tora,Tora,”because it expands on the stories that are told with greater cinematic innovation along with dramatic visual and audio effects. It tells the personal story of a lovely nurse and two best friends who are actively involved in the events that happen on that fateful Sunday morning from 1941. Michael Bay directs Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett in the screenplay written by Randall Wallace.

“A Bridge Too Far” (1977)

“A Bridge Too Far,” is another classic war film that is loaded with drama and historical facts about teh Operation Market Garden affair of September 1944. Richard Attenborough directs the William Goldman screenplay that is based on the book written by Cornelius Ryan. Sean Connery, Ryan O’ Neal and Michael Caine lead the cast in the true story of the Allies who attempted to bring the second World War to a more speedy end. They were to drive through the countries of Belgium and Holland and arrive in Germany. Once they arrived, the US airborne divisions were to storm Nijmegen and Eindhove along with British airborne and Polish airborne assistance, then move to the town of Arnhem.It was a complex plan that included strategic placement and movement of reinforcements at key times during the operation. The film was intensely filled with strategic bridges being blown, paratroopers in distress who could not be relieved, faulty intelligence, stubborn German resistance and hubris within the Allied high command and these were the factors that made Arnhem “A Bridge Too Far.”

“The Dirty Dozen” (1967)

“The Dirty Dozen” is a classic war film that also lands neatly into the comedy, action and adventure genres. The screenplay was written by Lukas Heller and Nunnally Johnson about a rebellious group of army soldiers during World War II. Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson are the actors who starred as a group of convicts that were recruited from their prison cells. A Major that has a seriously bad attitude, but a good record for achieving his goals, interviews the group of military prisoners. They either have long term or death sentences, so he makes them an offer. They are promised a break on their sentences if they will volunteer for a dangerous mission to parachute behind enemy lines and give the German Generals a rough time. Twelve of them agree to take the job, hence, the title, “The Dirty Dozen.” This film became immensely popular with the American public and is considered to be one of the greatest comedic war films ever made.

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