War Movies About Wars You Don't Know Anything About

List Rules
Vote up the best movies that shed light on lesser-known conflicts.

War movies are both popular and common, but they tend to deal with the same small batch of wars. World War I, World War II, the Civil War, Vietnam, and the Iran/Afghanistan conflicts have all been the basis for numerous films. Many of those films have been great, a few even earning recognition as all-time classics. These wars are frequent cinematic fare because people are familiar with them, so there's a natural interest level.

Of course, there have been many, many other wars over the centuries. Although historically important, the average person doesn't know as much about them as, say, WWII. The following movies are all about wars you've likely heard of, yet probably couldn't explain in much detail if asked. And that's okay - history is vast! How integral the war is to the stories can vary, as does the degree of historical accuracy. Nevertheless, each of them puts a lesser-known war into the spotlight for a few hours.

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  • The Somali Civil War began in 1991 when President Siad Barre was overthrown. That left the country without anyone to run it, opening the door for various warlords and nationalist groups to compete for control. This, in turn, created a massive humanitarian crisis that the United States took part in trying to address. The country provided food and supplies to the citizens, while simultaneously attempting to help establish a stable government. During this time, Somali forces shot down three Black Hawk helicopters, leaving the surviving soldiers trapped inside hostile territory where they were under constant attack.

    Those events are dramatically depicted in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, based on the meticulously detailed non-fiction book by Mark Bowden. Much of the film is an extended action sequence showing the soldiers struggling to stay alive. For the most part, it's true to the facts of the incident, although as a movie, it understandably needs to condense certain things. Scott also stages the action in nail-biting ways intended to excite viewers. In other words, Black Hawk Down provides a good general sense of the Battle of Somalia, but does so in a cinematic manner far different than what the brave men who were in that situation faced. 

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  • Michael Mann is best known for making intense modern-day crime-themed films like Manhunter, Collateral, and Heat. In 1992, he took a detour from that territory to direct The Last of the Mohicans, based on the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel you were probably forced to read in high school. The story is set during the French and Indian War, which began with a debate over whom the Ohio River valley belonged to, then expanded into who would control different frontier regions. The French Empire was on one side, the British Empire on the other. 

    Daniel Day-Lewis plays Hawkeye, a half-white/half-Native man. He attempts to rescue the daughters of a British colonel, one of whom, Cora (Madeleine Stowe), he falls in love with. This act puts him right in the middle of the raging conflict, which he, his father, and his brother have taken pains to stay out of. The movie is as much a love story as a historical drama, with the French and Indian War providing a backdrop that continually threatens the ability of Hawkeye and Cora to be together. However, Mann does take pains to depict the time period with authenticity.

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  • Russell Crowe stars in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a 2003 Peter Weir-directed drama. He's “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, a famous and respected captain in the British Navy. His ship is patrolling the coast of Brazil in search of a French war vessel that must be stopped in order to keep the Napoleonic Wars from spreading. The movie is notable not just for Crowe's stirring performance, but also for the intense sea battles Weir stages. Viewers get a good visualization of what that must have been like.

    The Napoleonic Wars stretched on for well over a decade, as the French Empire, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, took on a series of European states in an effort to gain increasing dominance. It ended with the famous Battle of Waterloo, during which Napoleon's army was soundly defeated, leading to his permanent exile. Master and Commander takes place in 1805, the time in which France took on the Third Coalition, comprised of the United Kingdom, the Russian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and others. Jack Aubrey is part of the Royal Navy, the UK's sea-faring force, and his efforts to find the French ship make him part of that coalition. The film is a mash-up of three Patrick O'Brian novels. Interestingly, The Far Side of the World, the one its story most closely resembles, takes place much later, during the War of 1812. 

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  • Clint Eastwood made a lot of Westerns and a lot of cop movies. For an actor with a macho persona, it's somewhat surprising that he didn't make more war movies. He did, however, star in 1986's Heartbreak Ridge. The story revolves around the Invasion of Grenada, a 1983 event during which president Ronald Reagan, concerned about the safety of Americans in that country after Marxists killed the Prime Minister and took control, sent more than 1,000 troops in. Within mere days, Grenada was occupied. 

    Eastwood plays Marine Sgt. Thomas Highway, an about-to-retire veteran assigned to prepare a unit of recruits for the invasion. Much of the movie is character-based, with the gruff Highway trying to whip the men into shape, especially wiseguy Cpl. Stitch Jones (Mario Van Peebles). Hints of humor are found in the way Eastwood plays his famous no-nonsense persona to the hilt in dealing with the others. Later in the picture, we see the men carrying out the formal invasion. Heartbreak Ridge is a bit of a quirky war movie, although that seems appropriate for such a short-lived military action. 

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  • Doctor Zhivago is the 1965 drama about Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) and his intense, years-long romance with Lara Guishar (Julie Christie). It transpires against the backdrop of the Russian Civil War, a conflict between the Bolshevik government and forces that were opposed to it and its leader, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin's side was dubbed the Red Army, whereas their opponents were referred to as the White Army, or the whites. The conflict caused turmoil in Russia for several years.

    Directed by David Lean, the film is considered a classic, thanks to its scope, as well as its marriage between the intensity of the war and the intimacy of the central romance. Running a hefty three hours and 17 minutes, Doctor Zhivago takes the time to create a tender, detailed relationship between Yuri and Lara, showing how their union grows and develops. Simultaneously, it gives clear indication of how the turbulence taking place inside Russia impacts them. Some critics accused the movie of portraying the Russian Civil War in a way that benefitted the characters more than actual history, but most agreed that the epic story, superb cinematography, and first-rate performances make it worthwhile. 

  • On the surface, Tears of the Sun looks like a generic Bruce Willis action picture, albeit one where he plays a soldier rather than a cop. And in a way, that's precisely what it is. The movie earned substantial criticism for taking a real event, the Nigerian Civil War, and using it as the backdrop for an insubstantial shoot-em-up. The war came about when the Republic of Biafra seceded from Nigeria. What followed carried an enormous cost, as roughly 1 million people died of malnutrition when Biafra's oil fields were destroyed, causing a loss of revenue. 

    Obviously, that was a tragic catastrophe. Tears of the Sun is more of a superficial war movie that perhaps offensively borrows the war to give itself an unearned sense of importance. Willis is Lt. A.K. Waters, an American officer leading an elite team into the Nigerian jungle in an effort to rescue a doctor, Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci). She doesn't want to be extracted, and only agrees if Waters will help a group of refugees she's been treating to escape. A common criticism was that the story took a significant event and depicted it via stale war movie clichés. 

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