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The Top 10 Greatest War Films of All Time

I like writing these posts as they are usually the ones that get most people I know talking. However, they usually become quite a discussion point between friends and there’s nothing worse in getting into a debate about the ones that didn’t quite make my top 10. My usual reply is, “why not make one for yourself?”

When I started making this list, I realised that overall there haven’t been that many. Of course, there are several that really stand out but when you compare to the myriad of movies in other genres the list is much smaller. My choice is all about the War Movies that really made an impact on me – from film making, to effects or ones that really reflected moments of history. The winners, again in no particular order, are…

Apocalypse Now

This is actually in my all time top 5 movies so despite this list being in no particular order, this is definitely the number 1. Psychedelic, visually stunning, brutal and at times very confusing, this really sets the bar high with war movies. What I love best about this movie is that it is one of the few that really shows the chaos of war and that no-one really has any control. Uneasy to watch in places but always a feast for the eyes.


Even though I’m for some reason fascinated by the Vietnam war, Platoon is the only other war movie from that era in my top 10. Maybe because it was really one of the first war movies that my parents allowed me to watch when I was younger or perhaps it is the best. Maybe the latter. However, Oliver Stone’s gritty realism of the experiences of the GI ‘grunt’ are quite harrowing as well as showing the monotony of war with the struggle of man to recognise the boundaries of what’s right and wrong.

Saving Private Ryan

I was shocked by the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan and to this day each time I see it, it doesn’t get any easier. I honestly believe that anyone who wasn’t shocked by the opening scene has no soul at all. War at it’s most brutal and realistic and a poignant reminder about the realities of what my grandfathers’ had to experience at the age of 21.

Black Hawk Down

This movie has the same appeal as Apocalypse Now in that it’s a very visual movie. Ridley Scott was a photographer by trade before he moved in movies and Black Hawk Down really shows his prowess in capturing perfectly shot scenes. It doesn’t have the greatest action set pieces, nor Oscar winning acting and the script is a littleĀ irritatingĀ at times but by God it delivers. Perfectly shot and beautifully presented in albeit a very torturous true story.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Quite a different type of movie from the others in my list but still a classic and deserves to be on anyone’s list in this genre. There are two subject matters that get me really angry in movies; firstly the Holocaust and secondly WW1. I can’t help but feel great anger to how people were treated in those eras and the utter bleakness of mankind. Still, this movie has to be celebrated for both its accomplishment in film making but also the recognising the pointless loss of life not long after the Great War took place.

The Hurt Locker

In my honest opinion, I don’t feel it was that good a movie to merit the Best Picture Oscar. The Hurt Locker makes my list for showing a different take on modern war and really shows the real life relationships that soldiers form whilst on the battlefield. A great story that was so well filmed.

Casualties of War

Another one of those uneasy movies about War and showing the brutality of what human beings can do to one another away from the battlefield. Brilliantly acted by Michael J. Fox (playing a role so far removed from his type) and Sean Penn. Showing what happens when people cross the line of duty to man at it’s most primitive.

The Beast of War

Echoing the last statement from Casualties of War above, The Beast of War is another forgotten War great. Not many movies exist where US actors are playing Russians – even at a time when the Cold War was still raging – so this is a real gem. Looking back at it now, it’s even more controversial with the viewpoint of the Mujahideen being comrades with the lead actor. Watch it if you can!


Saving Private Ryan upset me for it’s realism but Brotherhood took un-easy movie watching to a whole new level. Tragic is one word to describe this movie and another would be extreme uncomfortable viewing. However, its a story that must be told to understand the horrific nature of what a Civil War can do to families of the same nation torn apart by different political ideals.

Das Boot

Completing my list is one of the greatest movies to show the German side of the war. Compelling, gripping and frightening at the same time it really showed the horrors of what being down on a Submarine must have been like. I can remember after the first time I saw it I had several recurring dreams where I was down in the Submarine with them…frightened to death that we’d be caught and drown in the cold Atlantic.

Other movies that deserve a nod include; Downfall, Born on the Fourth of July, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Longest Day, Letters from Iwo Jima, Empire of the Sun, Waltz with Bashir

  1. Other StewOther Stew05-07-2013

    Does the boy in the striped pajamas count? That’s a great film.

  2. StuStu05-08-2013

    Hmm, good question. It’s set in war time but is it actually count as a War film? An awesome film nonetheless :)