The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential War Movies

Voting Rules
Vote up the war movies that define the genre and should be required viewing for beginners in an Intro to War Films class.

When it comes to impactful stories embroiled with action and emotion, you need look no further than war movies. Whether they are detailing events of an entire conflict or just the actions of a few, war movies make up some of cinema's greatest achievements. War has been part of culture for the entirety of human history and how to grapple with the violence and bloodshed is on the forefront of the minds of many. From World War II to Vietnam to lesser known conflicts, these essential war films explore the topic in a nuanced, insightful manner. Even if you're not a fan of combat movies, there are war movies everyone should watch to get a deeper understanding of world history and the psyche of veterans. 

Many must-see war movies explore the complexities of war by focusing in on a small group of soldiers. Some of the most famous and popular films of all time are set during major wars that shocked the world. Saving Private Ryan focuses on the effort to save a single soldier to spare a mother more grief. Apocalypse Now is a Francis Ford Coppola-directed film portraying the brutalities of Vietnam. If you're unfamiliar with war films, these are movies for beginners that will help you familiarize yourself with the genre. 

Check out some of these films for an extensive intro to war movies. Then, vote your favorites to the top of the list. 


  • Saving Private Ryan
    Video: YouTube
    Saving Private Ryan, a war film directed by Steven Spielberg, is a harrowing depiction of World War II. Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), a hardened yet compassionate soldier, leads a group of eight men from the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the United States Army through enemy lines. Their mission? Find and safely return paratrooper Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Set against the backdrop of the brutal Normandy invasion, this gripping tale won five Academy Awards, including Best Director for Spielberg. It explores themes of sacrifice and duty, leaving its mark as an unforgettable cinematic experience.
    • Released: 1998
    • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
    1,581 votes

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  • Platoon
    Video: YouTube
    2
    1,236 VOTES
    In the gritty war drama Platoon, we follow Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), an American soldier thrust into the horrors of the Vietnam War. As he navigates this brutal landscape, Chris finds himself torn between two sergeants: the morally corrupt Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the righteous Elias (Willem Dafoe). Directed by Oliver Stone, this film offers an unflinching portrayal of warfare's dehumanizing effects. The movie was lauded for its realism and earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It stands as a chilling testament to the savagery of conflict and the toll it takes on those who endure it.
    • Released: 1986
    • Directed by: Oliver Stone
    1,236 votes

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  • Das Boot
    Video: YouTube
    3
    1,121 VOTES
    Das Boot is a 1982 German epic film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, and in several different home video versions of various running times. Das Boot is an adaptation of the 1973 German novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Set during WWII, the film tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew.
    • Released: 1982
    • Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
    1,121 votes
  • Full Metal Jacket
    Video: YouTube
    4
    1,274 VOTES
    Full Metal Jacket, a war film directed by Stanley Kubrick, etches a stark portrait of the Vietnam War. The movie is split into two distinct parts. In the first, Private 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine) endures the grueling rigors of basic training under the harsh command of Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). The second half thrusts Joker into the chaotic urban warfare of Hue City. Notable for its realistic depiction of military life and war's dehumanizing effects, Full Metal Jacket is a cinematic exploration of man's inhumanity to man.
    • Released: 1987
    • Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
    1,274 votes

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  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
    Video: YouTube
    Set against the backdrop of World War II, The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film. It narrates the tale of British POWs, commanded by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who are forced by their Japanese captors to construct a strategic railway bridge. Under extreme conditions, they must grapple with questions of duty and honor. The film's climax unfolds around an American commando mission led by Major Shears (William Holden) to destroy the bridge. Noteworthy for its memorable performances and gripping narrative, the film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
    • Released: 1957
    • Directed by: David Lean
    1,097 votes

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  • Glory
    Video: YouTube
    6
    1,017 VOTES
    Glory is a historical war drama that delves into the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army's first African-American regiment in the American Civil War. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), who leads this group of soldiers in their fight against prejudice and for freedom. Private Trip (Denzel Washington) and Sergeant Major John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) play pivotal roles in this struggle. The movie, known for its stark portrayal of war and racial tensions, won three Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor for Denzel Washington.
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Edward Zwick
    1,017 votes

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