16 Underrated War Movies That Deserve Another Shot

List Rules
Vote up the war movies worthy of a bit more attention.

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. 

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  • 1
    4,477 VOTES

    The Big Red One opened on July 18, 1980. Although a prime summer release date would seem perfect for getting maximum attention, Airplane! and the surprise hit The Blue Lagoon had opened in the two weeks prior, and the highly anticipated Cheech & Chong's Next Movie opened on the same day. This had the impact of muting the box-office impact of Samuel Fuller's star-studded war epic. Those other movies commanded the lion's share of the box office. 

    Lee Marvin plays a sergeant leading the US First Infantry Division through various locations during WWII. Along the way, they witness the hardships of war firsthand, and eventually, they assist in liberating one of the concentration camps. Mark Hamill - in one of his first big post-Star Wars roles - and Robert Carradine portray two of the unit's members. The Big Red One is based on Fuller's own experiences as a member of the First Infantry Division, so it has a personal perspective many other war films don't. You can feel him infusing every scene with his memories and emotions. That makes it an exceptionally notable entry in the war genre.

    • Actors: Mark Hamill, Lee Marvin, Robert Carradine, Samuel Fuller, Stéphane Audran
    • Released: 1980
    • Directed by: Samuel Fuller

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  • 2
    3,694 VOTES

    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

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  • In 2006, Clint Eastwood tackled a very ambitious project, making two movies about the battle at Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers was told from the American point of view, and it was a box-office hit. Letters from Iwo Jima was told from the Japanese side and, despite getting better reviews, was largely ignored by general audiences. A lack of star power and the fact that it was in Japanese may have played a part in that.

    Ken Watanabe gives a commanding performance as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who is sent to Iwo Jima to lead the troops in battle. Much of the movie focuses on his revolutionary strategies. For example, it is his idea to build bunkers in the hillside rather than on the beach. That's fascinating stuff, but the film also has a philosophical side. Under Kuribayashi's guidance, the soldiers come to battle expecting to die. It's this commitment that makes their army so formidable. Letters from Iwo Jima stirringly deals with the psychological impact of being willing to sacrifice one's life for a bigger ideal. 

    • Actors: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryô Kase, Shido Nakamura
    • Released: 2006
    • Directed by: Clint Eastwood

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  • 4
    2,070 VOTES

    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
  • 5
    2,635 VOTES

    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: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cory Hardrict
    • Released: 2019
    • Directed by: Rod Lurie
  • Daniel Day-Lewis plays Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann's 1992 adaptation of the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel. He's a white adopted Mohican attempting to rescue the daughters of a British colonel during the French and Indian War. Hawkeye falls in love with one of them in the process.

    That's really the gist of the film right there. On one hand, you have some incredibly exciting action sequences, with Hawkeye using his skills to fight tooth-and-nail. On the other, you have a very potent romance between him and Cora Munro, played by Madeleine Stowe. The Last of the Mohicans was a mid-sized hit in '92, although the intervening years have seen the general impression of it become hazy. People remember it as more of a romance than a war movie. In fact, it's quite good on both counts, and therefore highly recommendable for viewers who may be interested in a story about the French and Indian War. 

    • Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Jodhi May
    • Released: 1992
    • Directed by: Michael Mann

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