contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
What began as a single post about the top 10 war movies of all time, has ended as an eight-month series reflecting the best movies about each war. There are definitely standout films about each conflict, so we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t list the best of the best for you. Here are the top war movies from every major American war.
George Washington fears the Revolution will fall apart, as the colonies have faced constant defeat and loss leading up to his surprise attack on the British in Trenton, NJ. Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and the battle that ensued were pivotal to the success of the American Revolution. Although The Crossing was made for TV instead of the big screen, it is certainly one of the best military movies about the Revolution, and it has been praised for its authentic atmosphere and epic cinematography.
Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman star in Glory as members of the first African American regiment in the Civil War, and Matthew Broderick portrays Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, their commanding officer. While most characters in this film are fictional, the story depicted is not: an all-volunteer infantry is required to execute what was essentially a suicide mission at Fort Wagner. One of the best war movies of all time, Glory won five Academy Awards. It’s no wonder you’ll find it at the top of most critics’ lists of favorite Civil War movies.
All Quiet on the Western Front not only tops the best WWI movies list, but it’s possibly one of the best war movies, ever. This film – with special effects deemed ancient by today’s standards and black and white cinematography – stands the test of time. It is an adaptation of the anti-war novel written by Erich Maria Remarque which depicts life through the eyes of German soldiers who serve their country by taking up arms during the Great War. The film unfolds as the men’s once clear, patriotic views are muddied by their wartime experiences.
In Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Millar (Tom Hanks) leads his men behind enemy lines on a search for Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. The reality of war differs not just from conflict to conflict, but from day to day within any given conflict. This great war movie portrayed many of those realities with stunning accuracy and compassion. There is no arguing that this film includes some of the best war movie scenes in the history of filmmaking.
Perhaps the most iconic of all films on our Vietnam War movies list, Apocalypse Now captures so much more than the pain, fear, and bloodshed experienced by American and Vietnamese soldiers during the war. Martin Sheen plays a disenchanted, shellshocked Army Captain sent on a mission to assassinate an American Colonel who, by all accounts, has lost his mind after years spent fighting in Vietnam. The film carries audiences into a surreal world with an unsettling backdrop. Decades after the war, viewers probably find it difficult to believe that the horrifying, psychedelic, sleepy world portrayed in the film actually existed.
Among the recent war movies available on Netflix, this one is sure to be a favorite. Set in 1970’s England, British intelligence seeks to uncover the identity of a Soviet spy in their ranks. When the mission goes bad, a veteran agent is forced out of retirement to find the mole and prevent further communication of British secrets to the U.S.S.R. A top-notch cast, including Simon McBurney, Gary Oldman, and John Hurt, brings this story to life with upmost skill. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a must for anyone who wants to understand how and why the Western Bloc was so committed to seeing the Cold War through to the end.
With Jake Gyllenhaal in the leading role, Jarhead is among the most emotional modern military movies ever made. The film depicts the journey of a Marine sniper during the six months between his deployment to the Middle East and his unit’s participation in Operation Desert Storm. From presentations of psychological turmoil to the most banal moments playing desert football, Jarhead has been lauded for effectively depicting the war waged within each person during times of hostility.
Among the most popular war movies made to date, American Sniper details the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – one of the most lethal snipers in American history. As Kyle lives through his fourth and final tour of duty, his precision and accuracy with a rifle continue to make him both a war hero and prime target for the enemy.
There are many facets to war, and the best war movies tend to portray the experiences of those involved while evoking compassion and empathy for the same individuals. Browse our lists for more of the best war films ever made.
American Revolution – There aren’t too many new war movies made about the American Revolution, but there are still several great war films and documentaries available to stream online.
Civil War – Well-executed Civil War films made for the big screen weren’t always easy to come by; however, some of the top war movies of the 21st century have focused on the events surrounding the Civil War. There are also several made for TV movies and documentaries which have received critical acclaim and are worth a watch.
WWI – Many old war movies set during World War I were made prior to 1970 and are considered classics. You’ll find most of those on our list as well as a few more modern military movies set during this time.
WWII – As it was such an outrageous conflict, there has never been a shortage of quality WWII films to choose from. Our list includes some classics, some newer movies, and even a few foreign language films.
Vietnam War – While all war stirs emotions and generates uncertainty, the War in Vietnam was probably the most controversial war in U.S. history. With so many points of view to share and tragedy to overcome following the war, it’s no wonder many of the top war movies on our list were written and filmed very soon after U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam.
Cold War – The Cold War was, of course, unique in the type of warfare employed, and it made for fascinating stories which continue to capture audiences today. The top war movies from the Cold War era are all about espionage, deceit, and the constant tension experienced by all involved.
Persian Gulf War – While great war movies about the Gulf War were quickly overshadowed by films created about the War on Terror, there are still some excellent movies set during this conflict – many of which depict the experiences of soldiers during Operation Desert Storm.
War on Terror – Some of the best war movies of all time have been about military involvement in the Post 9/11 world and the Global War on Terror. This war effected the American military and the country as a whole for 20 years. It is for this reason there is no shortage of experiences from which screenwriters pulled to create epic, emotional, intense films that earn a spot on our top war movies list.
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