Best Modern War Movies

Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 9:41 am

The best modern war movies are few and far between, mainly because we haven’t seen anything of the magnitude of World War II in recent times. While that’s a bummer for the movie industry, I doubt anyone of draft age is going to be complaining. In compiling this list of the best modern war movies, I used the following criteria:

The events depicted must take place post-Vietnam.
The film can be about the actual war, the consequences of the war, or use a specific war as a backdrop.
Smaller military engagements and fictional battles can also be included.

If you haven’t seen the following films, I’d highly recommend them to fans of war movies. Some may be difficult to find, but you can always remedy that by joining an online movie rental site like Netflix.

Black Hawk Down – Based on a book about the Battle of Mogadishu, Black Hawk Down tells about a combined mission between Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers and the Special Operations Aviation Regiment to capture a Somali warlord. Things go haywire when two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down, and the planned one-hour mission stretches into 15 hours with over 1000 casualties. Tons of gunplay and an all-star cast which includes Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy and Ewen Bremner.

Jarhead – Based on the Gulf War memoirs of Marine Anthony Swofford, this Sam Mendes film tells of Swofford’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) time during Operation Desert Shield as a sniper. Battling boredom and friendly fire, he and his spotter desperately try to get a kill before the fighting is over. An interesting look at the psychological toll which war takes on soldiers.

Stop-Loss – Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) returns home from the Iraq War and expects to be discharged, but he’s assigned to return to Iraq as part of the military’s stop-loss policy (in which enlisted men can be kept past the term of their enlistment). He promptly goes AWOL and tries to work out the horrors of war which he experienced. Also starring Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish, Timothy Olyphant and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame – Considered a classic of modern Serbian cinema, the film tells the story of how the Bosnian War came to be and what life was like in the former Yugoslavia. This was the first Serbian film to show the Serb side involved in ethnic cleansing and war atrocities.

Savior – Produced by Oliver Stone and starring Dennis Quaid, Savior tells the story of an American mercenary serving during the Bosnian War. After watching friends die over the years, he’s become hardened to the horrors of war, but a pregnant young woman shocks him back to his senses. As atrocities occur all around them, the mercenary tries to get the woman and her newborn child to a United Nations safe zone. Hardly an uplifting film, but when has war ever been uplifting?

Three Kings – A group of American soldiers (George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze) attempt to steal Kuwaiti gold bullion from the bunkers of Saddam Hussein. Part comedy, drama, and war movie, the soldiers must eventually end up helping a group of Shia rebels who were encouraged to rebel against Hussein by the U.S. only to later be abandoned and face execution.

Behind Enemy Lines – Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is a hotshot pilot shot down over Serb-held territory during the Bosnian War. Gene Hackman is his gruff commanding officer who doesn’t believe in leaving any of his men behind. As Burnett tries to outrun the pursuing Serb soldiers (and an especially tenacious sniper), he encounters many of the horrible events brought about by the fighting. This one is hardly high art, but it’s a good way to get the casual viewer interested in the events of the Bosnian War. Afterwards, try to get them to watch a movie like No Man’s Land or Pretty Village, Pretty Flame.

Hotel Rwanda – Considered by many to be the “African Schindler’s List,” Hotel Rwanda follows hotelier Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) as he tries to save his family and thousands of refugees from military forces bent on ethnic cleansing. Nick Nolte has perhaps the most powerful scene in the film, as he plays a U.N. peacekeeper shamefully explaining to Paul why his forces can’t take direct action.

Salvador – Oliver Stone directs James Woods in this story of a journalist desperate for a big story. He makes his way down to El Salvador and covers the Salvadoran Civil War, dodging death squads and unfriendly military leaders at every turn. James Belushi gives a fine performance as his burned-out pal who goes native.

No Man’s Land – A dark Bosnian comedy/drama about two soldiers from opposite sides who find themselves trapped together in a trench in no man’s land. Another soldier, meanwhile, wakes to discover that enemy troops have buried a land mine beneath his body. Received the 2001 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Heartbreak Ridge – Culminating in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Heartbreak Ridge tells the story of Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood), a veteran Marine who’s nearing the mandatory age for retirement. Charged with whipping a group of misfits into shape, he must deal with the likes of Stitch Jones (Mario Van Peebles), the self-proclaimed “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n Rolla.”

Crimson Tide – Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman star in this submarine drama which takes place in 1995. During a period of unrest in Russia, the Captain of a nuclear submarine (Hackman) receives a partial message which he believes is an order to fire their warheads. His second-in-command (Washington) is not so sure, however, and suggests that they hold off to receive confirmation. Thus begins a battle of wills between the two men and the rest of the crew. Look for Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini before they were stars.

In the Valley of Elah – Based on actual events, In the Valley of Elah follows a father (Tommy Lee Jones) as he searches for the truth about what happened to his son, an Iraq War veteran who was murdered stateside. Also starring Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron.

The Beast – During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a Russian tank becomes separated from its unit and stranded in a dead end valley. George Dzundza plays the ruthless tank commander, and Jason Patric is the more sympathetic tank driver. As the tank heads though the valley, they are pursued by an Afghan leader (Steven Bauer) seeking revenge for the death of his kinsman.

Shake Hands with the Devil – This Canadian film is based on the book by Romeo Dallaire entitled Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. The film follows Dallaire’s life through the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and shows how his pleas of aid to the United Nations were ultimately ignored.

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So that’s my list of the best modern war movies. If you enjoyed it, I might also suggest a couple of our previous articles: 25 Military Movies to See Before You Die and 75 War Movies to See Before You Die. Some of the films listed above are repeated on these lists, but you’ll also find a ton of movies dealing with the Vietnam War, World War II, World War I, and any other military conflict that you might imagine.

Also recommended:

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 5th, 2009 at 9:41 am and is filed under Good Movies, Movie Megalists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

52 Responses to “Best Modern War Movies”

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December 1, 2009


uhh i realy enjoyed black hawk down that was very modern anything rea;;y modern to that movie?

December 2, 2009


The Beast, has another “Full”-title
The Beast of War

December 2, 2009


I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info, Petur.

February 19, 2010


very nice list thanks, best list i could find 🙂

February 28, 2010


i think the hurt locker should be added to the list

March 1, 2010


No argument here. I wrote this list before I’d actually seen The Hurt Locker.

March 12, 2010


nice list, saving private ryan shud also be included….

March 17, 2010


actually saving private ryan isnt a modern warfare movie. were talkin about middle east and bosna/yugoslavia war movies, those are considered modern

March 17, 2010


By “modern war movie” I was referring to war films made in the modern era.

April 7, 2010


Black Hawk Down is a very good war movie.
I also really enjoyed Blood Diamond, in my opinion, one of the best movies ever made. I recomend that one.
I was also wondering about these movies: Atonement, Miracle At St Anna, The Kingdom, Universal Soldier, Valkyrie, and Saving Private Ryan.
If you have seen any of these movies, please tell me wich ones are good or bad, or if there are any other good war movies that you think are worth seeing, please say so.
It would be greatly appreciated.
Sandra xxx

April 8, 2010


I agree with you on Blood Diamond. It was a very nice surprise.

As for the others you’re asking about, I’d recommend Saving Private Ryan if you want in-your-face war action, Atonement if you’re looking for a chick flick, and Valkyrie if you want more of a historical drama. None of the others are bad, either, and Universal Soldier does feature the one-two punch of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.

April 9, 2010


black hawk down was good, behind enemy lines was alright.. not great, and im about to see jarhead.
Valkyrie like shane said… its like historical not very good.

April 10, 2010


Okay Thanks guys. I’m watching Saving Private Ryan right now. 😉

April 15, 2010


tears of the sun has to added on the list to its a brutal slaying movie an (must see) if you ask me

April 15, 2010


Yes “The Hurt Locker” is a very good movie. Trust me, you’re always thinking what will happen next. Never boring.

April 18, 2010


Katyn is very good, in my oppinion, but it’s actually in Polish, so yeah. Good movie though. It’s about the Russians, when they murdered the Polish, shot them in the back of the head, said the Germans did it, and no one could speak of it for 50 years. They killed about 20 thousand Polish people, and they still won’t admit to it. True story. ):

April 24, 2010


Body of Lies (one of the best), The Kingdom

April 27, 2010


I second tears of the sun – often missed on lists…

green zone is very current but also good, definitely not to be missed!

May 1, 2010


i recommend Apocalypse Now… a classic war movie…

May 22, 2010


How could you leave off “Tears of the Sun”? One of the few movies that depicts Special Forces, and very telling of the modern world.

July 2, 2010

Tom C

“The Kingdom” is really good, but quite controversial. should definitely be on the list. “Body of Lies” is also really good but not sure whether the qualifies.

August 4, 2010


how about the rock?…

August 8, 2010


Like your list. Blach Hawk Down is my all time favourite. Welcome to Sarajevo might have been included (did a review on my site). Battle for Haditha is quite good as well. I did not like Jarhead. But one of the very best – yes, yes it is a HBO series- is Generation Kill. Once you get into it. Three Kings is very special.

October 16, 2010

Lulu Schmider

great blog! thanks!

October 26, 2010


Hmm.. I Think Green Zone should be added in the list.. It’s such a great film in my opinion.. haha..
anyway, does anybody has an ‘Iraqi War/ Middle east modern War Movie’?? or maybe a truestory films about WAR?
Bcause I’m looking for those kinds of films.. Hehe
And I was also wondering about these films:
Band of Brothers
The Longest Days
Saints and Soldiers
IKE:Countdown to D-Day (These aren’t modern movie I think)
But, if u’ve seen these films, could you please recommend whether it’s good or not..
Thanks a lot!!!!

*Sorry for the lack of English.. :p

October 26, 2010


stars chow yun fat or somebody like that and is a chinese film in english portraying the little-known experiences of Hong kong soldiers in vietnam.
I remember thinking how unsubtle the title was and expected little better from the film.
BUT there is nothing overblown here: war isn’t subtle and never before or since am i able to truthfully say this about a film-
I was genuinely disturbed and it took an hour or two’s struggle to get the brutal nastiness out of my head.

October 27, 2010



I would certainly recommend Band of Brothers and The Longest Day. Band of Brothers has the same look as Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg was an executive producer), and The Longest Day has a cast ranging from John Wayne to Henry Fonda.

November 25, 2010


i like Black Hawk Down movie,,,,,,,,,

November 25, 2010


plz add john rambo 2008 ..

November 29, 2010


what about the hurtlocker

December 8, 2010


I saw Battle of Haditha when I was in Haditha. I found it offensive and even the villagers in the city said it was so far from accurate

December 11, 2010


I think Balck Hawk Down was one of the BEST movies ever made! I’ve seen it 9 times in the past to weeks. ;p

January 2, 2011


watch “The War Tapes”

January 4, 2011


i suggest Shooting Dogs its not really war but shows
how brutal people can be

January 13, 2011


Very helpful blog” I really liked inglorious bastards with brad pitt but it somewhat of a comedy.

January 18, 2011


i like blackhawk down… maby you also should add:
1. the kingdom
2. tears of the sun
3. green zone
4. the rock
5. the hurt locker

they are all good movies

January 24, 2011


nice blog…..but anyone can suggest me action-war movie like black hawk down….

February 7, 2011

top movies of the decade

black hawk down is still my favorite
bdw i dont see saving private ryan here..

February 8, 2011


No, because “modern war movies” refers to wars fought in recent years. Since WWII took place over 60 years ago, it wasn’t considered a “modern war” for the purposes of this list.

March 7, 2011


havent heard of Tears of the Sun??

March 10, 2011


Yes, I’ve heard of it, but I didn’t feel it deserved a place on the list. I’m glad you liked it, though, and I would certainly suggest that any Bruce Willis fan check it out.

August 13, 2011

Daniel Anderson

Does anyone remember the title to this movie? It was about a damaged AMERICAN P-40 Warhawk evading this German Panzer tank throughout the desert.

December 20, 2011


first of all, everyone’s taste is different, but if you like modern – more or less- realistic war action with not overheroic bluckbustershit, like black hawk down, hurt locker,.. (which i think was great) you’ll certainly like GENERATION KILL! Also, there’s a danish production called ‘Armadillo’ i know you americans don’t like subtitles but it’s quite good 🙂 cheers

August 29, 2012


Another good movie that I saw awhile ago was American Soldiers

October 19, 2012


If its a “military” movie that we are talking about but I’d give battle los Angeles and battleship a shot. Battleship storyline…honestly is pretty bad but to see some navy action…loved it, especially near the end. Battle Los Angeles is pretty good as well in my opinion and portrayed the military pov pretty decent for a Sci fi movie. There is also red dawn coming up where its less military but the main character is a us marine and fights north korean invasion, it’s a remake of previous red dawn with Russia invading America so it’d be pretty cool seeing a modern day, high budget Hollywood blockbuster version of it. Machine gun preacher, true story of KONY and not military but more towards biography of Sam Childers made in Hollywood perspective. Snipers was also a decent film as well, couldn’t vouch for the sequels. Not very modern but “taegukg”i a Korean war movie about two brothers in Korean war or WWII? It’s been a while so memory is a bit foggy. Restrepo a documentary movie, I thought was good. Act of valor should be up on the list of these movies pure purpose being that all the actors weren’t really actors but actual seals(how awesome is that?!) but just like anybody else keeps repeating…there has been no movie like black hawk down, saw it as a kid, watched it over 10 times and it still doesn’t get old.


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