The Best War Movies Ever Made

We no longer live in times where war is remembered with cold chills. This does not in any way spell our disregard for the ominous events that war has often delivered to our doors but rather our willingness to confront the flaws of our past without pulling any punches, a necessary therapy in our healing process.

War movies trace their origin back in the earliest days of cinematography. Some of the Great War movies are built on pure fantasy with spectacular designs to wow the audience.

But, the best war films are indeed those with a touch of real human battle that depicts actual events ever witnessed in human history.

With that in mind, here is a roundup of the top war movies in the history of cinema:

Schindler List (1993)

Schindler List is Steven Spielberg’s 26-year old depiction of the Holocaust based on a novel by Keneally that examines Jewish persecution in the hands of Germany Nazi.

Keneally’s novel is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Germany industrialist, and Nazi, who rose from being a selfish businessman to a hero who managed to deliver 1200 Jews midway into the gas chambers.

Schindler sets out as an ultimate profiteer of the Hitler regime, buying a formerly Jewish business in the Jewish ghetto and enjoying the free Jewish labour in his enamelware business. He then decides enough of the Nazi atrocities and moves to save a group of Polish Jews amid their transportation to the concentration camps.

Spielberg’s adaption ends with a title card revealing that in 1993, more than 6000 descendants of those Jews saved by Schindler existed around the world.

The film’s story is more of Schindler’s moral journey from the once complacent and mercenary womaniser to a brave and compassionate rescuer. Schindler’s compassion and his full scope of the Nazi filth are epitomised by his breaking down when he sees a little girl fleeing the officer.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

The Vietnam War is one of the historical events that has attracted the attention many novelists and movie makers (Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Veteran, rescue Dawn, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Streep Hanks, the art of war movie among others).

You have probably come across a Vietnam discussion back in student corridors in college. Among other educational platforms, too has handled a couple of such papers for various college students.  Full Metal Jacket is Stanley Kubrick’s take on the subject.

In the opening passages of his novel, Kubrick tells the story about a group of marine grunts under training on Paris Island, when in the process, a confrontation ensues between Lee Ermey, the gunnery sergeant, and Vince D’Onofrio. Theirs is the performance that brings Full Metal Jacket to its peak.

The scenes of the film continuously reinforce the war/sex connection, which parallels the personal battles between D’Onofrio and Ermey. D’Onofrio, though unlikely to have stayed on in a real boot camp after failing all the basic training tasks, Kubrick’s story retains him until the final showdown between Ermey And him.

Kubrick is down to telling a story of an individual affected by war. He does not fail with his favourite closeup in the movie. One of the movie’s great moments is during Ermey’s speech about the great marine marksmen of the past. The powerful footage on Paris Island is another masterpiece.

Platoon (1986)

Platoon is one of the loudest disregards of Francois Truffaut’s perception of the anti-war movies, which according to him, were made with the energy and touch of adventure that reduced combat to nothing but fun. Platoon, written and directed by Oliver Stone, looks at combat from the ground level, an approach that would prompt Truffaut to alter his opinion had he lived to see the release of Platoon.

The thrill and the horrific encounters are similar to those featured in ghost movies some of which are featured at Oliver Stone uses his experience in Vietnam to craft a memory of the horrific events without any trace of fantasy, legendary, metaphor, nor target messaging. In the movie, Charlie Sheen, a middle-class college student tells us about the outright rejection he encounters when he arrives at the combat war zone. Sheen has volunteered for the war, considering it as his patriotic duty.

With his abandoning of the standard choreography that dominates most of the old war movies, Stone succeeds in making a movie that is riveting and without exhilaration. His battle lines are not easily noticeable as they are in traditional war movies which typically impose a sense of order upon combat.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter progresses from wedding to a funeral in three major movements. It gives an account of how the Vietnam War permeated several lives and changed their courses forever. The movie begins with men at work in a small town in Pennsylvania before exploding into the most emotionally shattering of all the movies about war.

When the Klaxon sounds to signal the end of a shift, men are seen breaking off from the hard work at steel mills and go out to grab a beer. They’re seen enjoying the last minutes of being themselves before the Vietnam War, singing I Love You Bay-bee along the jukebox while sipping their drinks.

The movie first gets us absorbed into the lives of the character, the labor and the pleasure, the wedding and the party in the American Legion Hall. Then Vietnam suddenly fills the screen bringing us to the second motion involving three friends, John Savage, Christopher Walker, and Robert De Niro. The peak of the most horrible sequence of events is attained when the three friends are taken prisoners and forced to play Russian Roulette to the thrill of their captors who gambled on who will and who will not blow out his brains.

Only De Niro finds the strength to keep going and lends some of it to his two friends. He survives the prion cam, helps others and is finally home from Vietnam when he’s taken by impenetrable silence. His vague desire for a girl is not enough to drive him to act decisively.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This is another classical war movie that features an extraordinary main character, T.E Lawrence. The impulse to make Lawrence of Arabia was no more than imagination. David Lean’s exceptional ability of vivid imagination places T.E Lawrence, a British eccentric and a hero in a vast desert on a suicidal trek. Lawrence has to turn back and finds a friend who has fallen behind.

In the shimmering heat of the desert, a speck appears on the horizon and slowly turns into a man. This shot delivers the best of the actual vastness of the desert along with its typical harshness if watched in front of the stark clarity of a 70 mm print in a movie theatre.

As strange as T.E was- a hero who ever stood at the centre of an epic, Lean had to cast Peter O’Toole, one of the strangest actors in film making. O’Toole’s peculiarity of speech and manner was instrumental in creating a character with a combination of both charisma and craziness that inspired the Arabs to come with Lawrence across the harsh desert.


While some of the old war movies were created with an excessive sensation that lends credence to some of the most heinous offences in human history, some of these movie wars are a representation of true accounts of ancient time war atrocities. These are movies that essentially bring to our attention the countless men and women whose lives went down with the painful gestation that preceded the birth of peace and tranquillity that we enjoy today. We may not remember with a trace fondness the immense death toll and the massive disorientation of humanity but keeping this painful history corked would be a blatant refusal to acknowledge and learn from the misdeeds that preceded our generation. It would not be long before the cork came off tumbling in a more than disastrous turn.

About the Author

Sandra Hayward is an author and specialist in the film industry. She has authored several accounts of the ancient film with numerous reviews around the film industry and the larger performing art. Her guidelines on the basic cinematography have proved instrumental for both learners and the budding artists in the field.


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