The 10 Greatest War Movies of All Time

by Bill Gibron

25 May 2011


5 - 1

#5: Platoon

Though many might argue with the claim, Oliver Stone’s ode to his time in Vietnam was the first film that actually combined the tenets of a traditional war film with the counterculture perspective that had quickly become the post-‘60s norm. While it’s good vs. evil narrative base is a bit too broad to keep things wholly classic, the individual performances and personal point of view from the ex-Vet writer/director maintain the movie’s Hell on Earth ideals. 

#4: Saving Private Ryan

For the opening sequence along, this movie deserves every accolade it has ever received. The blood drenched gore of the D-Day landing, envision by one of the Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers, stands as a devastating indictment of the sacrifice made by many in the so-called “greatest generation.” Once we get off the battlefield and head into the countryside, the narrative takes a turn toward the slightly more sentimental. Said emotion shift, however, is what makes the ending so endearing.

#3: The Thin Red Line

After being away from cinema for almost 20 years, elusive director Terrence Malick announced he was going to tackle James Jones’ novel about the Battle of Guadalcanal. Instantly, fans frothed over the idea, especially with almost every major Hollywood star (at the time) announcing they wanted to be/were part of it. While few have witnessed the original five hour cut, the released version immediately took its place among the revered war efforts of other great filmmakers (Kubrick, Renoir, etc.). With time, it’s only gotten better.

#2: Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Not all war movies are about actual conflict. Some can be rather “Cold” in their depiction of world events, as is this brilliant Stanley Kubrick satire. Centered around an accidental standoff between American and Russian nuclear forces, we witness the kind of absurd grandstanding and inane political posturing that place the planet in such a precarious situations in the first place. From the fantastic performances to the meaningful messages, this is one of the greatest anti-war films ever.

#1: Apocalypse Now

The shorthand version of the facts are this—multi-Oscar winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola took his cast and crew into the Philippine jungle and slowly lost his moviemaking mind. The truth is that, once all the hindrances and heartaches (and attacks) fell away, the auteur was left with this—an amazing masterwork of hallucinogenic war horror. While based—loosely—on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the real portrait was one of man turning on man for reasons beyond the battlefield. Not so much about Vietnam as the irrational reasons for same, it paints its portrait in surreal, sickening swatches.

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