Blog, Movies

The Ultimate Collection: Ranking the Best War Movies of All Time

best war movies

Ranking the Best War Movies of All Time

War movies have captivated audiences for generations, offering a glimpse into the brutal realities, heroic sacrifices, and profound impact of armed conflicts throughout history. From the trenches of World War I to the battlefields of Vietnam, these films have the power to evoke strong emotions and shed light on the human experience during times of war 1 2 3. In this article, we will embark on a journey through the annals of cinema to uncover the best war movies ever made. We will explore a diverse range of films, each offering a unique perspective on the complexities of war and the individuals caught in its midst 1 2 3.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Directed by Steven Spielberg, “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) is a gripping war drama that follows a mission to find and bring back Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have already been killed in the war 1 2 4. The soldiers assigned to this task, led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), question the wisdom of risking their lives for what seems to be a publicity stunt 4.

The film’s opening sequence, a 30-minute cinematic tour de force depicting the chaotic and bloody landing at Omaha Beach, is considered one of the finest half-hours ever committed to film 6. This powerful introduction sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which explores complex ideas about war through strong images, violence, profanity, and camaraderie 6.

“Saving Private Ryan” boasts an impressive cast, including:

  • Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller
  • Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath
  • Edward Burns as Private Reiben
  • Vin Diesel as Private Caparzo
  • Jeremy Davies as Corporal Upham
  • Barry Pepper as Private Jackson
  • Giovanni Ribisi as Medic Wade 3

The film’s critical acclaim is evident in its numerous accolades, including five Academy Awards for Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing 7. With a runtime of 170 minutes (2 hours 49 minutes) 4, “Saving Private Ryan” is a devastating movie that leaves a searing and indelible imprint on the mind and soul 6, solidifying its place as one of the greatest war movies ever made and redefining how war is portrayed in cinema 7.

Band of Brothers (2001)

“Band of Brothers” is a 10-episode miniseries that follows Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, from their training in 1942 to the end of World War II 1. Based on the book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen E. Ambrose, the series was executive produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg 2. Released on HBO on September 9, 2001, it received 20 Emmy Awards nominations with 7 wins, including for outstanding miniseries 3.

The series is told mostly in chronological order, with each episode being a self-contained exploration of various themes 4. Real comments from some of the surviving, aging veterans of Easy Company are featured at the beginning of each episode 5. The production involved nine directors and nine writers, resulting in an overall vision that permeates each episode 6. The special effects, visual effects, and theme music are highly praised 7.

Some notable aspects of “Band of Brothers” include:

  • Shot mostly on 1,100 acres of land around the former Hatfield Aerodrome near London 8
  • Considered one of the best miniseries and war movies ever created, providing a pulse-pounding accurate depiction of war 9
  • Based on interviews with survivors of Easy Company and soldiers’ letters and journals, ensuring historical accuracy 10
  • Well-written episodes with a cast of talented actors delivering exceptional performances 11
  • A tough watch due to its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, but worth viewing for its historical significance and storytelling 12

The Pacific (2010)

“The Pacific” is a 10-part miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which aired on HBO 4. As a companion piece to the 2001 miniseries “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific” focuses on the marines who fought in the Pacific War during World War II 5. The series is based on the narratives of E.B. Sledge’s “With the Old Breed,” Robert Leckie’s “Helmet for My Pillow,” and the actions of John Basilone 5.

The miniseries follows the intertwined journeys of three U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater:

  1. Pfc. Robert Leckie
  2. Pfc. Eugene B. Sledge
  3. Sgt. John Basilone 4

Throughout the series, crucial battles are covered, including:

  • Guadalcanal
  • Melbourne
  • Pavavu
  • Banika
  • Peleliu
  • Iwo Jima
  • Okinawa 4

The Marines’ experiences are based on real-life accounts, providing an honest and horrifying exploration of World War II 4. Critics have praised “The Pacific” for its epic sprawl, extravagance, and intense battle sequences, as well as its attention to detail and brand of intimacy that allows viewers to bond with the characters and care about their fates 4 6. Reviewers have also highlighted the realism, performances, music, production values, and attention to historic detail in the series 6.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) is a war drama that explores the duality of man and the loss of individuality during the Vietnam War 7 9 10 11. The film is divided into two distinct acts:

  1. The first act follows the training of Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) and Pvt. Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) at the U.S. Marine Corps training facility in Parris Island 911.
    • The opening scene serves as a metaphor for the characters losing their individuality 10.
    • R. Lee Ermey delivers an excellent performance as the drill instructor, known for his creative obscenity and a memorable poem about loving rifles 7 10.
  2. The second act takes place during the Tet Offensive of ’68 in Vietnam 911.
    • Joker joins Stars & Stripes and encounters a deadly enemy while maintaining his objectivity despite the horrors of war 11.
    • The film explores themes of anti-war sentiment, insanity, and brainwashing 9.
    • Notable scenes include a chilling sequence where the gunnery sergeant proudly notes that sniper-assassins Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald learned to shoot in the Marines 9.

The film boasts a talented cast, including Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, and Ed O’Ross 7 8 9 11. “Full Metal Jacket” uses mostly natural light, giving it a realistic feel 10, and features the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” blistering over the end credits 9. With a runtime of 116 minutes, this R-rated film was released on June 17, 1987, and grossed $42.9 million at the U.S. box office 7 8 9 11. “Full Metal Jacket” is ranked as the fourth-best war movie 1.

Schindler’s List (1993)

“Schindler’s List” (1993) is a biographical drama directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the novel by Thomas Keneally 13. The film depicts the life of Oskar Schindler, a man who initially employs Jews in his factory for cheap labor during World War II but eventually risks his life and spends his fortune to save them from the Holocaust 12. The movie runs for 3 hours and 15 minutes and has grossed $96.6M in the United States 13.

The film features an ensemble cast, including:

  • Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler
  • Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern
  • Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth 13

Shot in black and white on many of the actual locations of the events in the story 12, “Schindler’s List” depicts the Holocaust in a vivid and terrible way, showing the stupidity of evil through the character of Amon Goeth, a Nazi prison camp commandant 12. The film demonstrates the power of the filmmaker to distill complex events into fiercely indelible images 15, such as:

  • The sight of Jewish prayer candles burning down to leave only wisps of smoke, symbolizing the Holocaust 15
  • The girl in the red coat, symbolizing the horrors of the Holocaust 14
  • Mothers running after trucks of children, a particularly memorable scene 16

The movie is praised for its ability to be beautiful and horrifying at the same time, and for its educational moral message 14. It is a phenomenally powerful and effective portrayal of historical atrocities 16, with an emotionally impactful final farewell scene 16. The film’s message is not that Schindler did more than a whole nation to spare its Jews, but that one man did something, while in the face of the Holocaust others were paralyzed 12. Schindler’s transformation from a jerk to a pragmatist, and eventually a savior, is highlighted as smooth and natural 14, with the ending noted as powerful, as Schindler regrets not saving more people 14.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “Apocalypse Now” was released in theaters on August 15, 1979, and grossed over $100 million globally after multiple rereleases 17. The film, based on Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness,” is set during the Vietnam War and follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a mission to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) 18. The journey reveals the brutal nature of war and its psychological impact on soldiers 18.

“Apocalypse Now” is known for its iconic sequences, such as:

  • The helicopter attack led by Kilgore (Robert Duvall), played to the soundtrack of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” 18 20
  • The haunting ending, with Brando’s voice reciting T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and the destruction of the Kurtz compound 18

The film faced various production challenges, including hurricanes, heart attacks, and script problems, leading to a $31 million budget 17. Despite mixed opinions on the final confrontation with Kurtz, the film is considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest of all time, exploring the darkness of war and the human condition 17 18 20. It received 8 Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Cinematography and Best Sound 17.

“Apocalypse Now Redux,” a version with 49 minutes of new material and rearranged scenes, provides additional context to the story 19. The film’s strengths lie in its exploration of the psychological effects of war, the descent into madness, stunning cinematography, and iconic performances 19 20 21. Critics praise the epic nature of the movie, the horrors of war, and the growing insanity 20, with the helicopter assault scene being hailed as one of the best battle scenes ever filmed 21. “Apocalypse Now” is ranked as the second-best war movie 1.

The Thin Red Line (1998)

“The Thin Red Line” (1998), directed by Terrence Malick and based on James Jones’ novel, is a unique and thought-provoking addition to the war film genre 22. The film explores the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, focusing on the contrast between the idyllic life of soldiers and the harsh realities of war 23. It delves into the human condition, nature, war, and philosophical questions surrounding them 23.

The film boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including:

  • George Clooney
  • Woody Harrelson
  • Elias Koteas
  • John Cusack
  • Adrien Brody
  • Nick Nolte 23

“The Thin Red Line” follows Private Witt, played by Jim Caviezel, who is discovered living peacefully with locals on a South Pacific island after deserting his unit 24. The story explores the fates and attitudes towards life-or-death situations of Witt and his unit as they land on the island and mount an assault on entrenched Japanese positions 24.

The film is praised for its stunning cinematography, capturing the geography of the battle and the emotions of the soldiers 23. With a runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes 24, “The Thin Red Line” was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director 22. Produced by John Roberdeau and Robert Michael Geisler 24, the film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 24. It received an R rating and has a sound mix of Surround and Dolby Digital, with an aspect ratio of Scope (2.35:1) 24. “The Thin Red Line” grossed $36.4M at the U.S. box office after its release in theaters on Dec 25, 1998, and became available for streaming on Mar 1, 2013 24.

Platoon (1986)

Directed and written by Oliver Stone, “Platoon” (1986) is a gripping war drama that depicts the fear, disorientation, and moral dilemmas faced by soldiers during the Vietnam War 25. The film boasts an impressive cast, including Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, and Richard Edson 25. Released on December 30, 1986, with an R rating and a runtime of 120 minutes, “Platoon” was considered the best film of 1986 by Roger Ebert 25.

The movie follows the experiences of several key characters:

  • Barnes (Tom Berenger): A veteran sergeant with a scarred face, believed to be invincible by his men 25
  • Elias (Willem Dafoe): Another experienced fighter who tries to escape reality through drugs 25
  • Bunny (Kevin Dillon): A scared kid who has become dangerous to protect himself 25

“Platoon” avoids the typical choreography and order found in war movies, instead opting for chaotic combat scenes that involve 360 degrees of action, making it unclear who the soldiers are shooting at 25. This approach effectively conveys the chaos and fear experienced by soldiers in real combat situations 25. The film focuses on the individual experiences and hardships faced by soldiers, rather than making vast, sweeping statements about the war 25.

The Vietnam War is considered the central moral and political issue of the last quarter-century for Americans 25, and “Platoon” provides a realistic portrayal of the conflict, with many commending the performances of the lead actors 26. Set during the war, the film follows Chris Taylor, a young soldier, as he navigates the physical and psychological challenges of war 27. The two main sergeants, Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Barnes (Tom Berenger), represent different approaches to the conflict 27. “Platoon” is praised for its realistic characters, well-paced action, and intense war scenes 28. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning four, including Best Picture, Best Director (Oliver Stone), and Best Sound 29, solidifying its status as one of the best films about the Vietnam War 29.

1917 (2019)

“1917” is a gripping war drama directed by Sam Mendes, set during the height of World War I 30. The film follows two young British soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), who are tasked with delivering a crucial message across enemy lines to prevent a doomed offensive attack that could cost thousands of lives 30 31.

The film boasts an impressive cast, including:

  • Colin Firth as General Erinmore
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel MacKenzie
  • Mark Strong as Captain Smith
  • Richard Madden as Lieutenant Joseph Blake
  • Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie 30

“1917” is notable for its technical achievement of appearing to be shot in a single continuous take, a concept that is both impressive and immersive 31 32. The film’s cinematography, helmed by Roger Deakins, and the score composed by Thomas Newman, have received critical acclaim 30. However, some critics argue that the film’s obsession with the single-shot approach leaves little room for a strong story, interesting characters, or a reason for existing beyond its technical prowess 31.

Despite the mixed reviews regarding its historical inaccuracies and lack of depth in character development and thematic exploration 32 33, “1917” has received numerous accolades, including nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography at various award ceremonies, such as the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Awards in 2020 30 32. With a runtime of 119 minutes and an R rating for violence, disturbing images, and language 31, “1917” offers a visually stunning and intense portrayal of the horrors and sacrifices of war, inspired by the real-life experiences of director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes, who served in World War I 32.


The films discussed in this article offer a diverse and compelling exploration of the complex realities of war. From the brutal battlefields of World War I and II to the jungles of Vietnam, these movies showcase the physical, emotional, and psychological toll of armed conflicts on individuals and society as a whole. Through powerful performances, stunning cinematography, and thought-provoking narratives, these films have left an indelible mark on the war movie genre and continue to resonate with audiences decades after their release.

As we reflect on the best war movies of all time, it becomes clear that these films serve not only as entertainment but also as a means of educating and enlightening viewers about the human experience during times of conflict. They remind us of the sacrifices made by those who have served, the horrors endured by civilians caught in the crossfire, and the lasting impact of war on generations to come. These movies, in their own unique ways, provide a window into the complexities of war and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


What are some top contenders for the title of the best war movie of all time?

The most acclaimed war movies include “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988), “Forbidden Games” (1952), “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003), “Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006), “The Sun” (2005), “The Great Escape” (1963), and “Ballad of a Soldier” (1959). These films have been highly regarded for their storytelling, direction, and impact on the genre.

Which war movies are known for their historical accuracy?

Some of the most historically accurate war movies are “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016), “We Were Soldiers” (2002), “Platoon” (1986), “Lone Survivor” (2013), “Das Boot” (1981), “Black Hawk Down” (2001), and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). These films have been recognized for their efforts to faithfully depict the events and atmosphere of the wars they represent.

Which films are known for their realistic portrayal of war?

The war movies that are celebrated for their realistic portrayal of combat and its effects include “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), with its harrowing opening sequence, “Das Boot” (1981), “Casablanca” (1942), “Thin Red Line” (1998), “1917” (2019), “All Quiet on the Western Front” (both 1930 and 2022 versions), “The Deer Hunter” (1978), and “Apocalypse Now” (1979). These films have been praised for their timeless depiction of the complexities and traumas of war.

Can you give examples of notable war movies?

Noteworthy examples of war movies are “The Birth of a Nation” (David Griffith, 1915, American Civil War) and “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Lewis Milestone, 1930, First World War). These films have been successful in their times and have made significant contributions to the war movie genre.


[1] – [2] – [3] – [4] – [5] – [6] – [7] – [8] – [9] – [10] – [11] – [12] – [13] – [14] – [15] – [16] – [17] – [18] – [19] – [20] – [21] – [22] – [23] – [24] – [25] – [26] – [27] – [28] – [29] – [30] – [31] – [32] – [33] – [34] – [35] – [36] – [37] –