The top 10 best war movies of all time have all the elements that make every cinema lover remain glued to their seats till the last frame fades away to the credits. This is cinema at one of its best – the searing drama of life in the balance, the thrilling action of war with its explosive firepower erupting at almost every turn, and the swagger of men in full battle gear caught in war yet surviving it albeit barely. The format for the movies: Movie title, date of release, name of director, and the actual war setting.
(1927, Abel Gance, Napoleonic Wars)Undoubtedly, Napoleon Bonaparte remains the most powerful military figure in the history of France and his rise and fall one of the most dramatic lives ever in the nation. Abel Gance used the power of silence in communicating meaningful eloquence well beyond any contemporary director with his special effects can convey to the audience with this film. The film chronicles Napoleon’s life from his childhood, through the chaos of the French Revolution, and then the victorious Italian Campaign.
9-The Birth of a Nation
( 1915, D.W. Griffith, U.S. Civil War)Even today, the U.S. Civil War is a favorite subject among filmmakers but D.W. Griffith is arguably the best and yet the worst of them all with his The Birth of a Nation masterpiece. He was the best because this was the first great war film – brutal battles filled with heroic men, galloping horses, and impressive explosions filled the screen, all elements that contemporary viewers still love today. He was also the worst, no thanks to his blatant racial insensitivity for the film’s demeaning depiction of African-Americans.
8-All Quiet on the Western Front
( 1930, Lewis Milestone, World War I)The war to end all wars was as brutal as the war that succeeded it and such brutality was captured by Lewis Milestone in excruciating yet beautiful detail. Think of the most memorable shot in the movie – Paul, the film’s protagonist, reaches with his hand for a butterfly fluttering outside the trench where he lay dying; only the butterfly lives. This is a story of men disillusioned by war, who entered the battlefield filled with romantic notions of gallantry but hardened by the horrors of battle.
7-The Steel Helmet
1951, Samuel Fuller, Korean conflict)Don’t dismiss war movies made with a $100,000 budget, 25 extras, and 10 shooting days – it may well be one of the top 10 best war movies of all time! This is exactly what Samuel Fuller’s The Steel helmet became, a war movie depicting the Korean conflict with plenty of black humor to entertain audiences yet filled with brutal scenes where Americans and Koreans are no better than each other. Fuller was investigated by the FBI and denounced as a communist, both of which are sufficient reasons to watch the movie!
6-Black Hawk Down
(2001, Ridley Scott,Somali rescue mission)The movie is an unrelenting display of brutal gunfights, of desperate fights for lives, and of barbaric attempts at ending lives in a country embroiled in civil war. After a few sequences introducing the film’s main character, everything else comes straight out of video games like Call of Duty where non-stop gunfights are the norm. Ridley Scott, however, was criticized for virtually stating that the 18 American lives lost were more valuable than the 300,000 Somali lives lost during the entire struggle but this is an American movie so let’s leave it at that.
5-The Battle of Algiers
(1966, GilloPontecorvo, French-Algerian War)The civilian population will always outnumber an occupying army regardless of the number of troops sent to the locale. And what happens when the former sets about driving the latter out of their beloved homeland in pursuit of freedom? You get an insurgency that simply cannot be extinguished by the superior firepower of the colonizers! That, in a nutshell, is the message of the film that, unfortunately, did not resonate with the Pentagon when it screened the movie in 2003.
4-Paths of Glory
(1957, Stanley Kubrick, World War I)Ah, Stanley Kubrick!He may be considered a madman by many but he is a mad genius and his war films starting with Paths of Glory and continuing with Full Metal Jacket are proof of it. The film depicts the failed suicide mission of French General Broulard’s men to conquer a German position and enlisted men are punished by firing squad for the general’s arrogant stupidity in ordering the strike. The enlisted men’s paths to glory were their inevitable march to their death by firing squad.
3-Saving Private Ryan
(1998, Steven Spielberg, World War II)Steven Spielberg makes no bones about the brutality of war from the first opening sequence of the D-Day Landing on Omaha until the last shot of an old man paying his respects for his savior. The opening sequence is one of the most realistic scenes in war movies – viewers see from the point of view of the soldiers lying in terror on the beach while all around them men lay dying and dead. The movie has certainly earned its place in the top 10 best war movies of all time.
(1981, Wolfgang Peterson, World War II)This is not your usual American movie of WWII. This is a movie about WWII from the perspective of the Germans particularly the all-too-human men in the U-boats. Viewers are given a seat inside one of the U-boats during the war so much so that the cinema itself feels like the war machine. Claustrophobic tensions highlighted the cramped conditions in submarines; hide-and-seek battles emphasized the perils of war; and the ambivalent nature of men – vicious in one situation and then valiant in another – were displayed in their vulnerability.
(1979, Francis Ford Coppola, Vietnam)What do you get when you have Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall as well as Martin Sheen in a movie? You get Apocalypse Now, one of the top 10 best war movies of all time! The film depicts the madness of Americans caught in a battle for freedom far away from everything familiar with their actions guided by misguided motives from bureaucrats. Why was the US in Vietnam? Watch this and perhaps you may just get an answer.