Reel Picks: The Top 10 War Movies

by Chris

May 28, 2021

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Welcome to Reel Picks!

Looking for some recommendations for great films, I’ve got them. All out of ideas of what to watch? I’ve got some great ones for you! Wondering if a film is worth the watch and want an opinion about it? I got your opinion right here with the Top 10 War Films.

War movies have been hit or miss throughout their lifetime. While some have been serious misfires, there are those that stand out and rank as not only the top films in the war genre, but some of the top films overall. I’ll be looking at films with war in some shape of form being central to its storyline. Some may not necessarily be about the fighting, but not all war movies have to be (you’ll see). In keeping with a truly awesome top ten list, I’m slapping this one with a SPOILER ALERT. I always try my best not to spoil much but it does happen sometimes…so be warned! And though I know I’ll probably get a few comments about how inaccurate these movies are, realize that I know this and am aware that some movies are fairly inaccurate and some hit the figurative inaccurate grand slam. I’m not going for accuracy. If I were, this list would be much different. While many of these films are accurate to a point, some are very much not. That doesn’t make them any less of a great “war” film, just less of an “accurate” war film.┬áSo, with that being said, read on for my Reel Picks!

**Disclaimer – Some of the links are affiliate links which means I might get paid a small amount. But no worries, it won’t cost you anything extra.

Top 10 War Films

Honorable Mention – Band of Brothers / The Pacific

While not technically a film, it was just too good not to include. This dual miniseries explores the events of World War II from start to finish, both in the European theatre and the Pacific theatre of war. While Band of Brothers focuses on the majority of the men of Easy Company fairly equally, The Pacific keys in on a select few of the soldiers from the 1st Marines that begins with their landing at Guadalcanal. Personally, I’m more preferential to Band of Brothers as I feel much more of a connection with the men portrayed. That’s not to say anything bad about The Pacific. Both have their share of epic battle scenes, intimate character driven storylines, and completely and utterly emotional moments amid the backdrop of the last Great War. If you can stand the length of both miniseries, (Both miniseries consist of ten one hour-ish episodes) it is completely worth it and will leave you wanting to learn more about the real heroes portrayed.

10. Platoon

The Vietnam War was a savage, brutal, and horrific war. And Director Oliver Stone did a fantastic job of portraying the emotions, blood shed, and sheer graphic nature of a war against both the North Vietnamese, and as tempers raged, against ourselves. Told mainly through the eyes of Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) as he arrives in South Vietnam, all the way through when he leaves, you completely see what this war has cost these men, both physically, emotionally, and mentally. Oliver Stone has always done a great job at creating a vivid story through his unique and bold visuals. This is a very dramatized story of war and while I don’t for a second doubt that some, or all, of these atrocities actually happened, I’m sure that a lot of it was told to be an overall representation of a war where at times it was near impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

9. The Last Samurai

This is one of those movies that seemed to receive more criticism than acclaim. As mentioned above, I am not ranking movies based on accuracy. If I were, this would not be on my list. All Hollywood-izing and creative license aside, this film stands as one of the few mainstream American movies to tell the story of the end of the age of the Samurai. I can’t say that I’m a fan of Tom Cruise the person, but I have and will always keep my view of the man separate from my view of the film. He is not someone personally I like, but I can’t deny that his films by and large have been superb and entertaining. This one is no different. He does an excellent job portraying a soldier tortured by the demons of wars past and the acts of violence that he committed. Hiding his pain behind loads and loads of alcohol, his company of armed but poorly trained Japanese soldiers is defeated by a smaller group of Samurai and he is taken hostage. What follows is a story of one man’s redemption and his turn to not only respect but ultimately fight with what were his enemies. The Last Samurai is a truly fantastic film that unfortunately suffered from being over shadowed by having Tom Cruise’s name on it. He is a great central character and plays it well. It’s a shame that once most people saw his picture and name attached to it that they already had their minds made up. Check this one out, for the entertainment but not for a history lesson, you won’t be disappointed.

8. Braveheart

I’m going to get this out of the way first about Braveheart. If you’re looking for a realistic film about the fight of the Scottish to free themselves from English rule, look elsewhere. This is probably the least accurate movie on this list. Braveheart has been notorious since its release for its inaccurate portrayal of both sides. That being said, this is also one of the films I’ve seen the most. Timelines and inaccuracies aside (the absolutely heinous act of Prima Nocta never actually was instituted by the English thank God, at least not that I’ve found from my research), I don’t for a second doubt that the atrocities experienced by the Scottish existed at the time. Back then, most rulers were cruel, and many were notorious for their cruelty. And Edward the Longshanks was no exception. I absolutely love this film for the story of determination and bravery that it exhibits. As well as its message that above all else, the one thing that can never be taken away from you is your God given freedom. The great Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace as a man who never wanted to fight, but was pushed into it after his wife was brutally murdered at the hands of the English. All he ever wanted was his freedom and his own country. And the central theme of this story is to fight for what you love. Even if it means death. There is no history lesson here. But it does have those stand up and cheer moments and really makes you root for the underdogs that want nothing more than their home back.

7. Kingdom of Heaven

A war film about the crusades, directed by Ridley Scott, is a match made in heaven. Scott is known for his epic scope and powerful visuals. He took a film that started out looking like a small, intimate story about a widowed blacksmith who has lost all hope and has no reason to live and transformed him into a knight who leads the charge against the Saladins to defend the Holy Land in Israel. I won’t spoil the ending. The story from beginning to end takes you on a journey of one man’s redemption amid one of the most well known campaigns in history. It is to note that there are two versions of this film. This is very important because while the theatrical cut is fine on its own, if at all possible please please please watch the Director’s Cut. I’m talking night and day difference between the two films. Unfortunately when the film was released in theaters, it was chopped and butchered by the studio to make a “sellable” runtime. Thankfully, Ridley Scott decided to release his own version of the film. Oh my goodness, those 40 or so minutes added in make all the difference in the world. If you decide to click my link, it will take you to the Director’s Cut, which in my opinion is the only version of this film. Go see it, you won’t regret it!

6. We Were Soldiers

Another Mel Gibson war movie yes. But, from what I’ve heard and read, much more accurate. Actually considered one of the more accurate war films ever made. This film tells the story of the Ia Drang Valley battle, the first engagement by US forces in Vietnam. Gibson plays Colonel Hal Moore, the officer given the task of leading the first soldiers into war. He is a very religious, ethical man and during a time of great racial tension makes a point to say to his men that when you’re at war and it’s life or death, the color of the person next to you won’t make a difference. You really do end up caring for the soldiers in this moving and all that they go through as they are literally surrounded by thousand of Vietnamese soldiers that are closing in on them. This film showcases the triumph of the human spirit and will to endure. Oh, and watch for the scenes featuring Sam Elliot which had me cracking up laughing in between all the intense action.

5. Black Hawk Down

Another wonderfully crafted film by the great Ridley Scott. Moving out of the Crusades and into the more lesser known civil war in Somalia, this film specifically tells of the raid on Mogadishu to capture Somalia’s self proclaimed President, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. While most films show a wider perspective, this one decides to narrow in on one specific battle/raid. And personally, I think it is all the better for it. There is so much more than can be told about a war that so little actually know much about. But doing that would just make for a movie that’s too drawn out and just doesn’t seem like it has a specific purpose. The Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers have one task at hand, to apprehend Aidid in an attempt to begin to restore order to Somalia. Almost from start to finish, this is essentially one big firefight. It takes place over a relatively short amount of time as the soldiers are dropped off to when they make their way back. The sense of not knowing who is an enemy or from where the next shots will be fired. The soldiers are dropped in the middle of the city where any building or alley can be occupied by militia (and most are). I was completely engrossed the whole time and I know you will be too, check this one out!

4. Good Morning Vietnam

Yes, a war movie starring the late great Robin Williams has managed to crack the top 5 on this list. This 1987 film is a prime example of not needing to have large battle sequences and bullets firing everywhere to make a great film. There are many greats out there about the Vietnam War (see the previous two on this list), but this is one that primary shows the war from behind the desk. Well, more appropriately behind the microphone. From what I’ve read and seen, this is actually one of the more accurate portrayals of the Vietnam War, although a bunch of artistic license was still taken. Loosely based on the experiences of Airman Adrian Cronauer as a radio DJ in Saigon, Williams hilariously and wonderfully portrays Cronauer as someone who goes against what is expected and actively tries to help bring up the moral of the men on the frontlines. He may not ever fire a weapon, but his words and music are what he uses, as is his unwillingness to censor the truth no matter how many times he is reprimanded. This is a great film about an awful war and what went on more behind the scenes rather than on the front line. Give it a look if you haven’t already.

3. 1917

This film was a late addition to this list and boy, did it make an impression. Shot in a style to make it look like it was consistently one long take, the visuals in this film are spectacular. There aren’t many films I’ve seen about World War I, much less films that are done from the point of view of British soldiers. 90% of this movie is a one or two man show. And although these actors are relatively unknown, they do a wonderful job as two soldiers given an impossible task of getting a message to the front lines to stave off what will be an ambushed offensive attack by the British on the German Army. From the trenches to the bombed, barb wire ridden plains, to underground barracks and decimated cities, I can’t believe how much I was engrossed in the story of these two soldiers. This was certainly an unexpected surprise of a film and I for one am glad I got to see it.

2. Saving Private Ryan

The characters, the story, the sheer reality of the battles, everything is perfect here. Known for its extremely accurate portrayal of the assault on Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, this is a visual delight (or a visual nightmare, depending on how you look at it) from start to finish. No matter who you are, I guarantee you’ll identify with one of the soldiers in Tom Hanks’ group chosen to find the titular Private Ryan. They can be unforgiving, they can be compassionate, and everything in between. Widely known as one of the most accurate portrayals of World War II, this is a completely immersive look into the European theater of war at its beginning. Yes, at times it is hard to watch (the D-Day battle will test you, be warned), but through it all, you come to care for these soldiers and realize the brave feats they undertook to find one soldier in the middle of an entire war simply to get him home to his family.

1. Hacksaw Ridge

A last minute switch made this film number one in my book. It was a super hard choice, but this one managed to eek out the top spot. I must admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of this film when it first came out. I don’t know what it was, but something just didn’t hook me first time around. I decided one day to pick it back up and give it another try and it made me want to visit my past self and slap him on the back of the head and ask what were you thinking? This is an incredible true story of Seventh Day Adventist Medic Desmond Doss. No one in his platoon wanted anything to do with him because unlike everyone else, he refused to carry a weapon into combat. He was ridiculed, he was beaten, and was nearly sent to military prison for refusing to follow orders and carry a rifle. Through it all, he managed to save 75 of his fellow brothers as they were pinned down and trapped by Japanese soldiers at a cliff known as Hacksaw Ridge. One by one, over the course of the entire night and into the next morning, with nothing but a rope to singlehandedly lower them off the cliff down to the soldiers waiting to help. All the while praying over and over again, please Lord just let me get one more. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. A true show of courage in every sense of the word. If you haven’t seen this one yet, it is so worth taking a look at.

So there you have it! Being only a Top 10 list I know I left some out so feel free to comment below with your favorites! Stay tuned for the next Reel Picks Top 10 and in the meantime, don’t forget to check out the other films that I have reviewed!

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