Historical Entertainment

The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential War Movies  

Ranker Film
1.5k votes 209 voters 2.7k views 25 items

List 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. 

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 film directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. The screenplay by Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford was based on Hasford's novel The Short-Timers. The film stars Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, and Ed O'Ross, and its storyline follows a platoon of U.S. Marines through their training and the experiences of two of the platoon's Marines in the Tet Offensive during Vietnam. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin, Matthew Modine, Dorian Harewood, + more

Released: 1987

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

More Full Metal Jacket

#28 of 363 on The Best Movies Based on Books #4 of 377 on The Best War Movies Ever #73 of 334 on 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #28 of 581 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked

Is this a must-see?
see more on Full Metal Jacket
Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a 1957 WWII epic film directed by David Lean, based on the novel Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai by Pierre Boulle. The film is a work of fiction but borrows the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942–43 for its historical setting. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The movie was filmed in Ceylon. The bridge in the film was located near Kitulgala. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, André Morell, + more

Released: 1957

Directed by: David Lean

More The Bridge on the River Kwai

#2 of 377 on The Best War Movies Ever #1 of 223 on The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time #19 of 93 on The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies #41 of 610 on The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

Is this a must-see?
see more on The Bridge on the River Kwai
Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Das Boot is a 1981 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. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Otto Sander, Sky du Mont, + more

Released: 1981

Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen

More Das Boot

#14 of 377 on The Best War Movies Ever #8 of 223 on The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time #86 of 207 on The Best Adventure Movies #1 of 44 on The Best Submarine Movies Of All Time

Is this a must-see?
see more on Das Boot
Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Platoon is a 1986 American war film written and directed by Oliver Stone and starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen. It is the first film of a trilogy of Vietnam War films by Stone. Stone wrote the story based upon his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam to counter the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne's The Green Berets. It was the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1986. It also won Best Director for Oliver Stone, as well as Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed Platoon at #83 in their "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies" ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, + more

Released: 1986

Directed by: Oliver Stone

More Platoon

#5 of 377 on The Best War Movies Ever #29 of 581 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked #78 of 308 on The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time #28 of 93 on The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies

Is this a must-see?
see more on Platoon