Good War Movies

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 5:21 am
By Shane Rivers

Good war movies can reach an audience in a number of ways. Some war movies focus on the action, leaving the crowd clutching their seats in white-knuckle anticipation. Others focus on POW or concentration camps, often exposing the audience to the most horrible aspects of wartime. Still other good war movies show how average citizens are affected, thus allowing the filmmaker to more realistically blur the line between fantasy and reality.

But no matter which approach they take, good war movies will almost always provoke a powerful response from their viewers. In the most extreme cases, they can stir public debate on the effectiveness of war and bring much-needed attention to issues such as POWs/MIAs.

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TIME Magazine List

So how many good war movies made it on the TIME Magazine list of the 100 greatest movies? Just one –Lawrence of Arabia.

I must admit to being a bit surprised by this. While Lawrence of Arabia certainly deserves its spot, where are films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan? I guess they got bumped to make way for some extra freakin’ Katharine Hepburn movies.

IMDB Top-Rated War Movies

Good War MoviesWhether you’re looking for the best war movies or just good war movies, the Internet Movie Database is your one-stop destination. If you become a member of the site, you’ll even be able to rank your favorite films. The list below reflects the top 50 selections for war films.

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)
  2. The Big Parade (1925)
  3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  4. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  5. Paths of Glory (1957)
  6. The Pianist (2002)
  7. Last Crusade (1970)
  8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  9. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  10. Das Boot (1981)
  11. In the Name of God (2007)
  12. Downfall (2004)
  13. The Great Dictator (1940)
  14. Life is Beautiful (1997)
  15. The Great Escape (1963)
  16. Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
  17. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  18. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  19. Max Manus (2008)
  20. The General (1927)
  21. Braveheart (1995)
  22. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
  23. Barefoot Gen (1983)
  24. Ran (1985)
  25. The Message (1976)
  26. The Burmese Harp (1956)
  27. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  28. The White Sun of the Desert (1970)
  29. Waltz with Bashir (2008)
  30. Open City (1945)
  31. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  32. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  33. Platoon (1986)
  34. Army of Shadows (1969)
  35. The Winter War (1989)
  36. Stalag 17 (1953)
  37. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  38. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  39. The African Queen (1951)
  40. Come and See (1985)
  41. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
  42. ‘Breaker’ Morant (1980)
  43. To Have and Have Not (1944)
  44. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
  45. The Caine Mutiny (1954)
  46. The Shop on Main Street (1965)
  47. Throne of Blood (1957)
  48. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)
  49. The Grand Illusion (1937)
  50. My Name Is Ivan (1962)

There are a number of these that I hesitate to call war movies. Schindler’s List, for example, is set during wartime, but I’ve always thought of it as more of a drama. The same could also be said of Hotel Rwanda and Braveheart.

I’ve got a major problem with The Big Parade being placed ahead of films like Apocalypse Now and Lawrence of Arabia. Sorry, but no war movie made in 1925 is going to be better than the two I just listed. The technological limitations and period acting style simply make that impossible.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing Saving Private Ryan moved up a few spots from #8. I’ve seen that film dozens of times, and it continues to remain solid. Plus, the battle scenes are the best ever filmed. If it had been made in 1927, I’m sure it would’ve been ranked higher.

Netflix Top 100

Over at Netflix, they keep a list of which movies are currently the most requested by their customers. Did any good war movies crack the top 100? Take a look.

13. Hotel Rwanda

64. Flags of Our Fathers

82. 300

While I wish more top war movies would have made the list, I guess you really can’t expect them to displace movies with Kate Hudson. Good war movies can be popular, but they pale when compared to romantic comedies and animated films from Pixar.

AFI Top 100 Movies

Every 10 years, the American Film Institute releases an updated list of the 100 greatest movies. The last list was put out in 2007, and the following war movies were selected for inclusion:

7. Lawrence of Arabia

30. Apocalypse Now

36. The Bridge on the River Kwai

53. The Deer Hunter

54. MASH

65. The African Queen

71. Saving Private Ryan

86. Platoon

That’s a pretty solid list. While I was never a big fan of The African Queen (Katherine Hepburn always got on my nerves), I’m happy to see movies like Platoon and MASH get their proper recognition. Of course, if it were up to me, I’d probably move Platoon up to the spot occupied by Apocalypse Now and raise Saving Private Ryan higher than #71.

Top War Movies from Moviefone

Moviefone is a great site which covers movie news, movie reviews and all kinds of other movie stuff. They’ve ranked a number of movie genres, and this list is all about the best war movies.

  1. Apocalypse Now
  2. Platoon
  3. Saving Private Ryan
  4. Schindler’s List
  5. Full Metal Jacket
  6. Das Boot
  7. Paths of Glory
  8. The Great Escape
  9. Lawrence of Arabia
  10. Braveheart
  11. The Deer Hunter
  12. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  13. Glory
  14. The Longest Day
  15. Three Kings
  16. Letters from Iwo Jima
  17. All Quiet on the Western Front
  18. Patton
  19. Downfall
  20. M*A*S*H*
  21. The African Queen
  22. The Thin Red Line
  23. Stalag 17
  24. Sergeant York
  25. The Pianist

Nice to see Sergeant York make the list, as it was always one of my favorites. Gary Cooper turned in a great performance in that film, and he certainly deserved his Best Actor win at the 1941 Oscars.

I’m also glad to see higher ranking for Platoon and Saving Private Ryan. Those two films are modern classics, and they’re the epitome of “good war movies.”

The Thin Red Line has no place on this list. A terrible picture, it goes on for far too long and just sucks the soul right out of the audience. If you haven’t already seen this flick, do yourself a favor and stay far, far away from it.

AskMen Top War Movies

Besides the social commentary of the good war movies, these films also serve as opportunities for male viewers to engage in a little chest-thumping while shouting “Get some!” at their television screens. The following Top 10 list is presented by, a site which specializes in all things uniquely male.

  1. Black Hawk Down
  2. Saving Private Ryan
  3. Platoon
  4. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  5. Apocalypse Now
  6. Three Kings
  7. Das Boot
  8. Full Metal Jacket
  9. Tora! Tora! Tora!
  10. Enemy at the Gates

As you can tell, this list focuses more on adrenaline than anything else. Black Hawk Down certainly delivers in that category, as the bulk of the film is just one long shootout. Considering some of the rankings, I’m surprised that The Bridge on the River Kwai made it as high as it did. And while I enjoyed the film, Enemy at the Gates looks a little overrated at #10.

Top Non-American War Movies

The folks over at Heckler Spray put together this list of good war movies made outside of the United States. If you’re looking for a list of war movies with lots of interesting selections, then this is the one for you.

  1. Zulu
  2. Come and See
  3. Life is Beautiful
  4. Downfall
  5. Stalingrad
  6. Lawrence of Arabia
  7. El Cid
  8. Das Boot
  9. Dr. Zhivago
  10. The Dambusters
  11. Ran
  12. The Counterfeiters
  13. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  14. Cromwell
  15. The Battle of Algiers
  16. Devils on the Doorstep
  17. Waterloo
  18. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War
  19. Hotel Rwanda
  20. The Eagle Has Landed

Of all the lists I‘ve presented here, this may be my favorite. It provides great variety, plus it offers American viewers the chance to see war from the perspective of someone besides U.S. soldiers in World War II or Vietnam. Do yourself a favor and grab a couple of these from Netflix or your local video store.

Best War Movies from Army Times

Who’s better qualified to rank the greatest war movies than the folks over at the Army Times? This list was created in response to the American Film Institute’s list, as the guys at Army Times felt too many war movies had been overlooked.

  1. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  2. Patton (1970)
  3. Black Hawk Down (2001)
  4. Glory (1989)
  5. The Caine Mutiny (1954)
  6. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
  7. Top Gun (1986)
  8. The Great Escape (1963)
  9. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
  10. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

This list looks a lot different than the other ones, doesn’t it? Good war movies like The Dirty Dozen and The Caine Mutiny appear for the first time. Patton comes it an a respectable #2, while Full Metal Jacket leaps ahead of everyone to claim the #1 spot (thanks in large part to R. Lee Ermey’s wonderful performance).