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The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential War Movies

Updated October 13, 2018 4.2k votes 394 voters 5.6k views25 items

List RulesVote 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 is a 1998 American epic drama war film directed by Steven Spielberg. Set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, the film is notable for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, and for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which depict the Omaha Beach assault of June 6, 1944. It follows United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller and a squad as they search for a paratrooper, Private First Class James Francis Ryan, who is the last-surviving brother of four servicemen....  more
    • Actors: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston
    • Released: 1998
    • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
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  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
    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
    • Actors: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, André Morell
    • Released: 1957
    • Directed by: David Lean
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  • Patton
    Video: YouTube
    Patton is a 1970 American epic biographical film about U.S. General George S. Patton during WWII. It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates and Karl Michael Vogler. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner from a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, who based their screenplay on the biography Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and Omar Bradley's memoir A Soldier's Story. The film was shot in 65mm Dimension 150 by cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp and has a music score by Jerry Goldsmith. Patton won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. ...  more
    • Actors: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Paul Frees, Lowell Thomas, Alan MacNaughtan
    • Released: 1970
    • Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
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  • Das Boot
    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
    • Actors: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Otto Sander, Sky du Mont
    • Released: 1981
    • Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
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