Bertrand Russell made a beautiful observation about war. He said, “War doesn’t determine who is right but who is left”. In this new era where we’re almost always at the cusp of a world war, movies have perfectly encapsulated the destruction and turmoil that follows.
We’ve compiled a list of the best war movies that beautifully reflect wars and tell stories that deserve to be heard.
1. Border (1997)
Border is about how a band of 120 soldiers of the Punjab regiment of the Indian Army headed by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri successfully defended their post all night against a whole tank regiment of the Pakistani Army, until assistance came from the Indian Air Force the next morning.
If you’re an Indian, chances are that you’ve seen this brilliant movie. It might not be qualitatively great but what makes Border great is the sheer heart that went into making that movie. Every character is fleshed out well and the music is legendary. We can’t wait for the sequel to this gem of Indian cinema.
2. Heart of Darkness
A trading company manager travels up an African river to find a missing outpost head and discovers the depth of evil in humanity’s soul.
If you watch the movie without knowing the title or expecting it to be anything like Joseph Conrad’s tale, you may find it good. However, if you are looking for a good movie version of the famous classic story, don’t look for it in Roeg’s film.
3. Apocalypse Now
During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.
Apocalypse Now is widely considered as one of the best movies ever made. The plot was loosely based on the book ‘Heart of Darkness,’ a story by Joseph Conrad about Kurtz, a trading company agent in the African jungle who has acquired mysterious powers over the natives. Although, as a result of cuts forced on Coppola, the film was accused of incoherence when first released, it was by the most serious attempt to get to grips with the experience of Vietnam and a victorious reinvention of the war film genre.
An aimless, jobless, irresponsible grown man joins the army and matures into a battlefield hero.
Lakshya still remains the movie that inspired an entire generation of Indian film-goers to work hard and pursue their dreams. The movie is largely focused on a youngster who learns the importance of having a goal in life. He then goes on to become a battlefield hero by his sheer grit and determination.
5. Saving Private Ryan
Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Often referred to as a modern day classic, Saving Private Ryan is one of Tom Hank’s best movies. Steven Spielberg makes a unique motion picture in regards to the D-Day invasion of World War II just in the gritty reality of the detail. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do… ASAP.
A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.
Back in the day when Charlie Sheen wasn’t famous for his misogyny, he did a wonderful movie by the name of Platoon. This certainly rates as one of the best Vietnam films of all time. The realistic atmosphere of the film, entrenching the viewer into a world which seems surreal yet believable, makes it a brilliant watch.
7. Black Hawk Down
123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
War is hell and this is a film of stark and haunting imagery of victims of famine, of mutilated soldiers and civilians . Both editing and cinematography are superb with many great scenes like the small stream of American soldiers walking up the street while on the other side of the houses a massive torrent of armed militiamen are walking in the same direction. Ridley Scott does a brilliant job in the movie.
8. The Great Escape
Allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp during World War II.
t’s a great movie about hope and freedom and man’s responsibility to his fellow man. Steve McQueen is the boss of war movies and The Great Escape is a prime example of the same. The motorcycle scene is one that will always be etched in pop-culture history.
9. Schindler’s List
In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.
Liam Neeson has played some iconic characters but it doesn’t get better than this one. The film’s primary aim is not to show us Schindler’s kindness but the horrors of war. There are some of the most true and graphic scenes here ever captured on celluloid. People being shot for no particular reason, hiding in fear, stripped and gased, abused.
10. Inglourious Basterds
In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner’s vengeful plans for the same.
Tarantino has a unique brand of filmmaking. When he reimagined the events of history by putting a rag-tag group of soldiers inside Germany, nobody would have predicted that the results will be this good. Inglorious Basterds makes no apologies, asks for no forgiveness. It’s a no holds barred assault on the senses.
11. Letters from Iwo Jima
The story of the battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and Imperial Japan during World War II, as told from the perspective of the Japanese who fought it.
Clint Eastwood is a brilliant filmmaker and Letters from Iwo Jima are proof of that. Ken Wantanbe is the film’s highlight as a military man torn between his sense of duty and his inner feelings. Some men initially want to fight and are proud to serve in the military and what’s shocking is that some of their wives and mothers believe the same. That paints a landscape of war as something amidst all of the stereotypes that have been made of it. Since that is where the truth usually lies, amidst all the gray matter.
12. Paths of Glory
After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them.
Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is a testament to the director’s versatility in terms of filmmaking. The arrogance and total disregard for the welfare of the soldier as beautifully portrayed by Menjou and McReady, in opposition to the care and concern of the Colonel so humanly portrayed by Douglas adds to the reality of what the world was like in the days of the “Great War.”
13. Das Boot
The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror.
Based on the second World War, Das Boot revolves around the lives of German soldiers living inside a U-boat. mankind gladly participates on the misfortune of others, without being closely involved with it. This notion may be the reason why this movie works really well with the audience.
14. Haqeeqat (1964)
A platoon of Indian soldiers encounters harsh realities while fighting in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
The Indo-China war of 62 isn’t talked about a lot, maybe because we lost the war. This 1964 classic brought to us the harsh realities of the war in which a lot of Indian army soldiers lost their lives. It is painful to recall and feel that defeat even after passing of half a century since then. Haqeeqat was made just a couple of years after that forgettable war which, unfortunately, cannot be forgotten. It is highly realistic. And so highly painful as well.
15. Guns of Navarone
A British team is sent to cross occupied Greek territory and destroy the massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel.
Alistair McLean is the king of swashbuckling war movies. His book was made into a fantastic movie in the form of Guns of Navarone. The plot is a thing of beauty, moving with all the synchronicity and clever precision of a diabolical cuckoo clock. This is definitely one of the best movies in cinema history.
16. Kingdom of Heaven
Balian of Ibelin travels to Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people.
Ridley Scott makes his presence felt in this amazing movie. Although it is not a perfect film, it is nonetheless skillfully crafted and well worth the time of any film-goer in our current, troubled age. Legolas fights the crusade and we couldn’t help but go gaga over him.
Outnumbered British soldiers battle with Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift.
A magnificent recreation of one of the most incredible battles in history, Zulu depicts how less than 100 British soldiers held off an army of 4000 Zulu warriors. Zulu captures the core of an uphill battle where the soldiers had to work with limited resources to overcome a huge threat.
When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I of England.
Before Mel Gibson turned into an anti-semitic butthole, he was a wonderful actor. Braveheart is by far one of the most epic stories ever told. Mel Gibson deserved all the credit he recieved and more. His portrayal of William Wallace, one of Scotlands most mightiest warriors, was spot on. The only part that lacked was the romantic affair of Princess Isabella and Wallace. It historically never happened. This movie also has other historical errors but WHO CARES!
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.
All Quiet on the Western Front with its eternal message of peace and life will be one eternal film, it will be shown and appreciated for many generations to come. This 1930 classic will forever be known as one of the first war movies ever.
20. Where Eagles Dare
Allied agents stage a daring raid on a castle where the Nazis are holding an American General prisoner… but that’s not all that’s really going on.
From opening scene to final scene Alistair MacLean’s screenplay is a masterpiece of the action genre with a detailed and involving plot that unfolds in a very interesting manner. There are plenty of hairpin turns along the way that build up the suspense to a truly explosive TNT packed climax.
Two Australian sprinters face the brutal realities of war when they are sent to fight in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during World War I.
Gallipoli is about a campaign that is rarely spoken about in the history books. It highlights the lesser heard stories about a campaign in Turkey. Peter Weir is a master storyteller. The actors are all superb and your heart may hurt at the climax.
The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and hijinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.
The irony of the film is that for the time it was considered gruesomely bloody. Yet there are no battlefield scenes; all the blood is in the surgical unit. None of the characters in the film tries to be funny. There are no jokes. The humor just grows from the situation which is the grim reality of a mobile surgical unit whose doctors and nurses try their best to repair the horribly mutilated bodies from an insane war.
23. Empire of the Sun
A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.
As a history lesson Empire of the Sun, gives us an insight to the happenings in China in WWII, and the ambitions of the Japanese Empire, which are never touched on in other WWII movies. It is also the most visually appealing movie in the list.
24. Enemy at the Gates
A Russian and a German sniper play a game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad.
The Battle of Stalingrad is grossly under-represented in movies. Enemy at the Gates is a brilliant take at what went on during the battle itself. The filmmakers treat the subject matter with great care towards authenticity and entertainment value. It’s very tricky to get these two things in proper sync, but they more than manage here. They also don’t rely on any hokey photographic effects to tell the story, simply letting you see everything as clearly as possible, letting your imagination do the rest.
25. Bridge On The River Kwai
The film deals with the situation of British prisoners of war during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway.
After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their captors – while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
Which one is your favourite? Do let us know in the comment section below.