We all grew up watching two types of films with our fathers – Westerns and War films. They’re the stuff guys just can’t seem to get enough of. Today, in honor of Veterans Day, we’re going to concentrate our efforts on the latter. War films are an essential part of the formative experience for young boys. Their depiction of friendship, heroism and adventure appeal to our hardwired sense of manhood.
The reality of war, of course, is completely different. That is why war films have evolved much more so than films of the Western genre. So whether you’re a hawk or a dove, we can all agree that the best war films are worthy or our appreciation and sincere admiration. Here’s our list of the 10 Best War Films Of All Time. Feel free to chime in and list your favorites below.
10 – Letters From Iowa Jima (2006) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 91%
Letters From Iowa Jima is a 2006 war film directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood. The film, starring Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya, portrays the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers who fought an invasion force of 100,000 Americans (two thirds U.S. Marines). Of the 22,000 entrenched Japanese forces, only 1,083 survived the battle while 6,821 Americans were killed and 20,000 were wounded.
Letters From Iowa Jima is a companion piece to Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, which depicts the same battle from the perspective of the American troops. Letters From Iwo Jima is almost entirely in Japanese. Eastwood made cinematic history by becoming the first director to make two feature films about the same battle, from the two opposing perspectives. The film follows a group of soldiers as they get ready to face an inevitable American invasion. The island’s garrison digs in for a desperate last stand as the Japanese fleet and air force have almost entirely been destroyed. The clever use of letters home, based on ones written by the actual soldiers, shed light on the soldier’s inner lives. They worry about family and patriotism. When the well-equipped Americans finally arrive, a band of sickly, malnourished Japanese soldiers do their best to fight them off, more out of a sense of despair than a sense of duty or honor.
The film has been named Best Film of 2006 by both the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. It was nominated for four Academy Award nominations and won for Best Sound Editing.
9 – Patton (1970) [Rated PG] – RT Rating: 95%
Patton is a 1970 biographical war film about U.S. General George S. Patton. Set during World War II, Patton stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates and Karl Michael Volger. The opening monologue, which was actually a compilation of several speeches delivered by General Patton, remains one of the most iconic images in film. In 2003 Patton was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Burt Lancaster and John Wayne were both considered for the role of Patton. Ronald Reagan wanted the role, but producers never offered it to him. By the time the film was released, Reagan was the Governor of California. The movie suggests that Patton and General Dwight Eisenhower were distant, when in fact they had been close friends for decades. In the movie, Patton got in a lot of trouble for slapping a soldier that he thought was a coward. There were actually two different soldiers he slapped. He was proud of his actions and bragged about them to General Bradley.
Patton was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won in 7 categories including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Director.
8 – Full Metal Jacket (1987) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 95%
Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film produced, directed and co-written by Stanley Kubrick. The movie, set during the Vietnam war, stars Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard and Adam Baldwin. The film follows a group of U.S. Marines through their demanding bootcamp and two Marines of the platoon in the Tet Offensive.
The main character is J.T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) who, along with the other recruits is forced to endure the constant punishment of their demanding Drill Instructor, Gny. Sgt. Hartman. One recruit, Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio) is singled out by the Drill Instructor after multiple screw ups, which leads to a tragic confrontation. Davis soon finds himself in Vietnam where tragedy turns to horror.
To make Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann’s performance and the recruits’ reactions as convincing as possible, Mattew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, and the other actors playing recruits never met R. Lee Ermey prior to filming. Stanley Kubrick also saw to it that Ermey didn’t fraternize with the actors between takes.
Full Metal Jacket was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
7 – Das Boot (1981) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 98%
Das Boot is a 1981 German epic war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer and Klaus Wennemann.
Wolfgang Petersen’s extraordinary depiction of the horrifying, brutal underwater world of life aboard a German U-boat during World War II. This suspenseful and at times claustrophobic drama is set in 1941 and chronicles the terrifying experiences of an inexperienced crew and their brave captain as they face Allies in the Atlantic. The film humanized German soldiers to an American public that had largely viewed them as caricatures of evil in film to that point. Though the film is light on dialog, it expresses its anti-Nazi sentiments quite clearly. The film originally aired as a 6-hour mini-series in Germany.
Originally filmed in German, all of the major actors could speak English. When the movie was dubbed into English for USA and UK distribution, all of the principal actors actually dubbed their own voices into English.The submarine models built for Das Boot were also the ones used in Raiders of the Lost Ark. To help his actors convey the claustrophobic conditions found on a real U-boat, director Wolfgang Petersen insisted on filming within the actual confines of the ship (scarcely wider than a man’s outstretched arms), rather than removing the model’s outer wall.
Das Boot was nominated for 6 Academy Awards.
6 – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) [Rated PG] – RT Rating: 94%
The Bridge of the River Kwai is a 1957 epic World War II film, directed by David Lean. Mr. Lean would go on to direct multi-million dollar blockbusters such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).
The film is loosely based on the real-life character of British Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Toosey. One of a number of Allied POW’s, officer Toosey was in charge of his men from 1942 through May 1943 when they were ordered to build a two Kwai river bridges in Burma to help move Japanese supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon.The story’s theme is the futility and insanity of war. The two protagonists, the British and Japanese Colonels, are symbols of different, opposing cultures that actually share much in common.
Alec Guinness initially turned down the role of Colonel Nicholson, saying, “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British Colonel for two and a half hours.” Turned out he was wrong. The Bridge on the River Kwai was the #1 moneymaker of 1958, with a U.S. box office of $18,000,000.
Bridge on the River Kwai was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won in 7 categories, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography.
5 – Schindler’s List (1993) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 96%
Schindler’s List is a 1993 American epic directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally.
The film is based on the life of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) sees an opportunity to make money from the Nazi’s rise to power and starts a company to make cookware and utensils using an unpaid labor force consisting of Jews from the Krakow ghetto. Schindler brings in accountant and financier Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help run the factory. In 1942, all of Krakow’s Jews are assigned to the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp run by the sadistic Commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), an angry alcoholic who takes pleasure from shooting Jews from the comfort of his balcony. As he realizes whats happening to the Jews in his plant, Schindler begins to develop a conscience. He quickly realizes that the only thing standing between his labor force and certain death is work at his plant. Soon Schindler begins to order more workers and starts bribing Nazi leaders to keep Jews on his staff and out of the labor camp. By the time Nazi Germany falls, Schindler has lost his entire fortune and saved the lives of over 1,100 people.
Schindler’s List was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture and a long-coveted Best Director for Steven Spielberg
4 – Apocalypse Now (1979) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 99%
Apocalypse Now is a 1979 epic war film set during the Vietnam War and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film stars Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen. U.S. Army special operations officer Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Sheen) is sent to assassinate renegade Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurz (Brando), who has gone rogue and taken on the guise of a god to the local people of the area.
The film was mired in controversy from the start. Marlon Brando was grossly overweight when he arrived on the set. Extreme weather conditions lead to the destruction of multiple sets, causing long delays and huge cost overruns. Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack during filming and the movies release was delayed repeatedly as Coppola edited millions of feet of footage.
Apocalypse Now received 8 Academy Award nominations and won for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.
3 – The Deer Hunter (1979) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 93%
Directed by Michael Cimino, this 1979 classic is a three-hour tale about how the Vietnam war forever changed the lives of a group of friends from a steel mill town in Pennsylvania. In Roger Ebert’s 1979 review he said of the film, “It is not an anti-war film. It is not a pro-war film. It is one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made.”
The Deer Hunter is perhaps best known for one of the most brutal scenes in film history. The three, now held captive by the Vietcong, are forced to play Russian roulette while their captors bet on who will or won’t blow his brains out.
All scenes involving John Cazale, who had terminal cancer, had to be filmed first. Because of his illness, the studio wanted to get rid of him, but Streep, who dated Cazale a the time and Cimino threatened to walk out if they did. Cazale was uninsurable and De Niro paid for his insurance because he wanted him in the film. Cazale never saw the finished filmed. He died shortly after the movie wrapped.
The Deer Hunter was nominated for 9 Academy Awards and won in 5 categories, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Director.
2 – Platoon (1986) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 88%
Platoon is a 1986 war epic written and directed by Oliver Stone, who fought in Vietnam. Stone set out to make a War movie based on his own experiences as a Vietnam combat veteran.
Stone claims to have written the movie to counter the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne’s The Green Berets. Platoon is the first of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy, followed by Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth (1993).
The film is narrated by a young soldier, played by Charlie Sheen and based on Oliver Stone. He is a middle-class, white college student who enlists because he believes it is his patriotic duty. There are no heroics in this film and no standard heroes. There is no carefully mapped out plot to lead us from one moment to the next, but rather a sense of danger permeates the film leading the viewer to suspect that anything is likely to happen.
Charlie Sheen was given the role of Chris Taylor, after it was turned down by Kyle MacLachlan and Sheen’s brother Emilio Estevez. During the filming of scene where Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) is gunned down by the Viet Cong, while his platoon watches from a helicopter, not a single special effects blood pack on Dafoe went off. Dafoe, unaware of the mishap, continued to act as if riddled by bullets. After watching the out-take, Oliver Stone was so impressed by Dafoe’s acting that he decided to the leave the scene untouched, rather than reshooting it with any of the special effects. Johnny Depp considers Platoon his first real acting job. He had written actress Sherilyn Fenn’s first name on the side of his helmet. He and Ms Fenn were engaged at the time.
Platoon was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 4, including Best Picture and Best Director.
1 – Saving Private Ryan (1998) [Rated R] – RT Rating: 92%
Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American epic war film, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. Set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II, this film is noted for its graphic and brutally realistic portrayal of war. Its 27 minute opening, depicting the allied assault on Omaha Beach, is one of the most memorable scenes of the genre. The film stars Tom Hanks as Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller. Captain Miller and his team of soldiers played by Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel and Jeremy Davies, are entrusted with finding Private First Class James Francis Ryan, played by Matt Damon. Private Ryan is the last-surviving brother of four servicemen. The film is loosely based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers, four siblings who served in the US Army during World War II.
Spielberg directed the film as a tribute to his father, Arnold Spielberg, who served in the U.S. Army and Signal Corps, and fought in Burma during World War II. Saving Private Ryan was the first time Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg worked together. They would go on to work together again in Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal and Bridge of Spies. The film’s battle scenes were so realistic that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs set up a national toll-free number for veterans and their family members to call if they felt unsettled by the war depicted on screen.
Saving Private Ryan received 11 Oscar nominations and won 5 awards including Best Director and Best Cinematography.