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Best War Movies of All Time 2014

Updated on February 21, 2014

My 2014 List of the Best Fiction and Non-Fiction War Movies

World War I, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, The Cold War, Afghanistan, Iraq - the list is long, but over the last one hundred years, the world has seen much conflict. This is our history, and learning from it might help us not repeat it. There are countless untold stories of soldiers' bravery and battles both won and lost. The movie industry has profited greatly on making war entertainment. Some are as true as they can be, others might be stories based on true events, and even more may be fictional from start to finish. A good war movie leaves us on the edge of our seat by accurately portraying the life of a soldier and events in our history. In this post we'll take a look at five of my favorites for best war movies of all time.

Schindler's List
Schindler's List

#1 Schindler's List

An Unlikely Hero:

One of the first movies that come to mind for my generation is Schindler's List. Based on the Second World War, it's a film about an unlikely hero by the name of Oskar Schindler, who took a big risk by saving more than 1,000 Jews from concentration camps. He lost all his money and faced incredible danger by doing so. He hired Jews to work in his factory and over the course of the war, he ends up saving them. He does this incognito while working with a Jewish accountant and a vicious Nazi commandant, but his story is shown to be one of immense determination.

Schindler was an "unlikely" hero is because he was not known for his big heart; drinking and womanizing were his specialties but as the horror of this war unfolds around him, he transforms and connects to the lives of other decent human beings who are being sacrificed because of their religious beliefs.

Spielberg's Depiction of Schindler:

Steven Spielberg does an amazing job in this rich and emotional film; the casting is excellent, the cinematography is superb, and the elements are all tied together beautifully. There are bits and pieces of this movie that do not quite follow all checked historical events but the story of Schindler is portrayed quite accurately in this film. If you are looking for a gut wrenching, eye opening, and heartbreaking tale of war and genocide, then this will serve you. War is ugly, but transformation of the human heart and soul is born out of such strife.

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now

#2 Apocalypse Now

An Accurate Portrayal of the Horrors of War:

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning." Released in 1979, Apocalypse Now is still one of my favorites. This movie has been found to be inaccurate in many different historical places, but it really shows the good, the bad, and the ugly of war. Benjamin Willard, played by Martin Sheen, is asked to go into the Cambodian jungle to find US Special Forces Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, and kill him. Soldiers are portrayed as drug addicts, family men and decent guys just making a living in the military. The crew runs into a tiger and an ambush as they make their way toward their target of assassination.

Kurtz' Ego is his Downfall:

Once they reach Kurtz' camp, they eerily find bodies littering the ground and severed heads to accompany them. Willard is captured and held prisoner but then released to move around the camp. Kurtz fancies himself a philosopher and lectures Willard on his theories of war, humanity, and civilization while praising the ruthlessness of the Viet Cong.

While Kurtz is busy, Willard sneaks into his chambers and kills him with a machete. Just before an airstrike is launched on the village, Kurt and another soldier escape in a boat. Mission accomplished.

This movie is full of the darkness in men's hearts as they succumb to the horrors of war and the determination of a team who is bound to fulfill their mission. Not for weak hearts, this movie will be sure to disgust you on some level. Parents need to be advised that there is severe psychological suspense and extreme violence; this would not be something I would let even my teenager watch. The performances are outstanding except the acting in the ending scene is kind of laughable in my opinion, but he is dying, what more could I expect?

Dr. Strangelove
Dr. Strangelove

#3 Dr. Strangelove

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Even older than Apocalypse, Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is a great addition to the war genre. Jack D. Ripper, starring Sterling Hayden, is the commander of an air force base which hosts the 843rd Bomb Wing of nuclear armed B-52's. He puts the base on alert and issues attack orders to the aircraft.

The crew is concerned that the orders are not real and once they receive confirmation that the country is not at war, Ripper locks them into his office. The president is furious that this has happened without his consent and does what he can to set things right.

Troops are sent to capture Ripper who believes that a full scale attack would eliminate the Soviet threat before they have a chance to attack. The Soviets admit they have a doomsday device in place that will destroy life on earth with 50 different detonations in various locations.

As troops get close to capturing capturing Ripper, his soldier's fire upon them because Ripper has told them that they Soviets would attack in United States military uniforms. The recall code has been sent to all aircraft that is intent on firing upon the Soviets, but onboard an aircraft that hasn't been downed by Soviet forces, the self-destruct device is rendered unable to receive the recall code, the H-bomb explodes and there is no turning back from the doomsday device detonation.

Dr. Strangelove, who is a wheelchair bound nuclear war expert and former Nazi, recommends to the President that he get people gathered into mine shafts to avoid the radiation and survive to repopulate the Earth in around 100 years. The movie ends with a shot of nuclear detonations across the world.

I thought that the movie was very well staged without a moment wasted and every scene containing great dialogue and the black humor one can expect from a war movie. Peter Sellers plays his three different roles very well. While very entertaining, some might find this movie to be inappropriately written, but it is all about personal choice, is it not?

Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan

#4 Saving Private Ryan

The Last Surviving of Four Brothers:

With actor Tom Hanks, you can't go wrong with this film. Set in 1944, American soldiers prepare to land on Omaha Beach. Captain Miller, played by Hanks, takes a very small troop behind enemy lines to save a private who had three brothers killed in action. By invoking the Sole Survivor Policy which protects members of a family from combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service, the War Department in Washington sends Miller after Private Ryan.

As Miller gets closer, he is informed that Ryan is defending a bridge in the town of Ramelle. When Miller neutralizes a German machine gun position and lets the German soldier go, a member of his team disagrees and almost deserts. However, he decides to stay when Miller confesses his job before the war as an English teacher and opens up about himself.

When Millers team reaches the bridge, they inform Ryan of his brothers' deaths. Ryan does not feel that it is fair for him to go home and he decides to stay and man the bridge with his "brothers" of war. Miller is mortally wounded and dies while Ryan is present. The end of the movie shows Ryan and his wife visiting the grave of Miller and the others he served with.

Fiction That's Worth Watching:

This film is really just loosely based on real events and has been reviewed as being a typical "Hollywood Blockbuster"; I agree with this, but it does show some very human reactions to war and left me utterly devastated. There is really no sugar coating of violence and it is pretty gruesome for sure, especially the opening 30 minutes of the film. A question asked by one character "Where's the sense in risking the eight of us to save one guy?" raises more questions like, why fight at all? What does any one man owe another? The thing I liked most about this movie is that it shows how horrible all humans can be to one another but it does not demonize the Germans. I feel that it is one of the best made war films thus far.


#5 Platoon

With elements of good and evil, right and wrong, Platoon will leave you thinking. It will also leave you aching for every soldier who has fought in any war. Chris Taylor drops out of college to volunteer for combat duty in Vietnam. As he realizes what war is really about, he ends up losing some of his initial enthusiasm that is exacerbated by the exhausting conditions of being in Cambodia. He finds himself immersed into a clique who socializes and parties with drugs but makes friends and enemies alike.

Deception and Conflict:

As his fellow soldiers are maimed and killed, and as he sees others brutalize Vietnamese citizens, Taylor realizes that this is not how life is supposed to be; he ends up stopping a group of soldiers who are ready to rape a young girl by reminding them that she is a human being. Taylor realizes that something has gone wrong when another soldier by the name of Barnes gives a fishy story of a soldier being killed by enemy fire when he has, in fact, murdered the soldier himself.

The tension picks up between the two as the movie continues; as a fight ensues, both men are knocked unconscious by an explosion. Barnes is injured and asks for a medic but Taylor shoots him when Barnes dares him to pull the trigger. Because Taylor is injured, he is able to leave active duty and he heads home. A shot of a war torn earth where many Vietnamese bodies litter the ground as Taylor flies out of the area makes his heart heavy.

The character of Taylor is one who, like many soldiers, does not understand the details and destruction of war until he is in the thick of it himself. He explains in the movie that we were really fighting ourselves and that the enemy was inside of ourselves. He also elaborates on the importance of war survivors teaching others what they know and finding decent meaning in their own lives. If you want a movie that will depict the true ugliness of war instead of a comic book telling to make men feel manly, then this will deliver. This is also not a sugarcoated movie that highlights the "glory" of war, but the truth behind it and the men and women who willingly fight.

Top 25 Best Rated War Movies of ALL Time 2014

The movies below are not listed in any particular order. Vote them up or down based on your preference.


Old movies, newer movies but all with the same theme - war. Some of these films depict unlikely heroes and even more likely villains. Some of these films have more of a foothold in historical facts and others show a little more "Hollywood". The fact remains that war is not something to find glee and entertainment in, but rather, learning lessons from the past that we might not repeat them.

I look at war films as educational either in a historical sense, or a human sense. These films have been some of the highest rated war shows over the last several decades, and many of them are worth having in your media collection. However you like your war films, any of these will leave you shaken with the realities of war, the life of soldiers, and the art that is movie making to bring you such stories. With directors like Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone to name a couple, you will not be disappointed with the cinematic effects of these films.

If you liked this movie list, then be sure to check out my list of the Best Zombie Movies of All Time.


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