When you think of war movies, a few extremely popular and acclaimed titles likely come instantly to mind. Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and The Bridge on the River Kwai are among the most oft-cited examples of great war cinema. But what if you've seen these and the other usual suspects a bunch of times and want something new? Checking out one of the following underrated war movies should satisfy your craving.
The weird thing about war films is that there are so many of them, and they cover so many different wars. It's no wonder some of them fall through the cracks. A few of these examples are older movies that became somewhat forgotten in the decades since they were first released. Others were simply overshadowed by more high-profile pictures set during the same war. Whatever the reason, they're good films that have entertainment value while also saying something noteworthy about their historical subjects.
Which underrated war movies deserve another shot? Vote up your favorites.
- 110 VOTESPhoto: United Artists
Whereas many war movies focus on combat, 1964's The Train takes a different approach. Paul Scofield plays a German officer who concocts a plan to take all the valuable French art his army has stolen and sneak it out of the country via train. There is a hitch, though, and its name is Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster). He's a railway inspector who gets wind of the scheme and leads a resistance group in trying to foil it. Their plan entails rerouting the locomotive.
The Train is entertaining because it's a cat-and-mouse game that relies on characters using their brains as much as guns and ammunition. Watching how Labiche masterminds his counterattack is satisfying because his methods are so clever. Director John Frankenheimer gives the movie a fast pace, ensuring that you're hooked for every second of its 133-minute run time. It's a war picture that engages you both intellectually and viscerally.
- Actors: Burt Lancaster, Jeanne Moreau, Paul Scofield, Suzanne Flon, Victor Beaumont
- Released: 1964
- Directed by: John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn
- 29 VOTESPhoto: Screen Media Films
Based on a harrowing true story, The Outpost takes place at Combat Outpost Keating. It's located in a village in Afghanistan that's surrounded by mountains, meaning that the soldiers stationed there are fish in a barrel for the Taliban, who have 360 degrees of high ground. Orlando Bloom plays First Lt. Benjamin Keating, and his job is to get his men to secure the cooperation of village elders in pushing back against the Taliban. That plan comes to a screeching halt when Keating finds itself under attack.
The second hour of The Outpost is one long battle sequence, as a small number of US troops attempt to hold off hundreds of Taliban members until help arrives. Former film critic turned director Rod Lurie stages the combat using long, sustained shots so that we feel as though we're under assault along with the characters. Several sequences - most notably one where a soldier jumps out of an armored vehicle to rescue a wounded colleague, all while under heavy fire - will have you holding your breath.
The Outpost had the misfortune of being released during the height of the COVID pandemic when the majority of movie theaters were still closed. That limited its ability to garner an audience. It deserves to be discovered because it really is one of the best war pictures of our time.
- Actors: Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones
- Released: 2020
- Directed by: Rod Lurie
- 37 VOTESPhoto: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Battleground is set during the infamous Battle of the Bulge. Van Johnson stars as a leader in the US Army's 101st Airborne Division. He and his troops get cornered by the enemy in Bastogne, Belgium, and have to find a way to push back against the advancing Nazis. Ricardo Montalban co-stars as one of the members, who sees snow for the first time and temporarily forgets he's in the middle of a war.
Director William Wellman achieves a nice balance of exciting combat scenes and more personal moments that develop the personalities of the characters. In fact, time is spent showing their attitudes toward a war that sometimes seems unwinnable. They fantasize about escaping from the front line. That angle goes a long way toward getting into the mindset of soldiers sent into terrifying life-or-death situations and coming to the realization that their mission is overwhelming. Battleground is truly one of the definitive WWI pictures.
- Actors: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Marshall Thompson
- Released: 1949
- Directed by: William A. Wellman
- 47 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Hamburger Hill is a fictionalized story set against the backdrop of one of the Vietnam War's bloodiest battles - a 10-day-long attempt by American troops to take "Hill 937," where the Vietnamese had a series of bunkers and trenches established. Dylan McDermott plays Lt. Frantz, the leader of the infantry squad. Early scenes in the film show him and his men prepping for battle. Then they're carried into the war zone and a nightmarish experience begins.
Writer James Carabatsos spent five years researching this battle and interviewing soldiers who survived it. For that reason, Hamburger Hill has an authenticity that makes it stand out from other films about the Vietnam War. The battle scenes are suitably intense, not to mention violent, and they certainly convey how hard-fought it was. There's also an excellent supporting performance from Courtney B. Vance as the unit's medic. He brings a human element that makes the inevitable tragedies hit harder.
- Actors: Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle, Michael Dolan, Don James
- Released: 1987
- Directed by: John Irvin