War has been a dominating factor in human history since the beginning of time. It both fascinates and terrifies us. It is filled with tales of heroics, courage, and perseverance as well as absolute brutality and carnage. It is the highest level of danger one could endure, leaving all else behind, but one’s humanity and their fight for survival.
Naturally Hollywood is full of war films meant to both inspire and educate. War films can show the height of humanity’s goodness as people band together to fight against tyrannical rules and fight for a better tomorrow. While others can expose the atrocities that war causes and show the true brutality man can commit against one another.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (2016) – 8.1
This incredible true story follows World War II American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served in the Pacific Theater of the war and survived the Battle of Okinawa. What makes Doss’ story so inspiring is he is the first American in history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot.
As a conscientious objector, Doss refused to use a weapon in battle and instead focused on treating fallen soldiers’ wounds. Despite not using a weapon Doss ran into the thick of battle and personally pulled out 75 soldiers himself. Hacksaw Ridgeshows the true courage and sacrifice of one man who stuck to his morals and saved countless lives in the process.
‘Platoon’ (1986) – 8.1
Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film, Platoon, follows new recruit, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), as he finds himself caught between two sergeants with differing opinions on how to conduct war. This naive young soldier now must decide what kind of warrior he is to become and just where exactly to draw the line.
Platoon gives a nonapologetic examination of the duality that all men of war face. Stone, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War himself, displays a moral dilemma that all soldiers must face in the heat of war, whether to give in to the sadistic nature of violence or to fight honorably and keep hold of one’s own humanity.
‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978) – 8.1
The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial wars in modern history and has brought in a slew of war films over the decades that examine both the war itself and the psychological effects it had on its soldiers as well as its citizens.
The Deer Hunterprovides an in-depth examination of the impact war has on its returning soldiers as they adjust to civilian life. The film works so well because although it’s set around the Vietnam War the themes it explores could relate to any war, showing just how universal certain psychological struggles, like PTSD, are for soldiers.
‘1917’ (2019) – 8.2
This beautifully shot film is the most immersive depiction of war ever done on screen. Shot by masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins, the entire film has no visual cuts, appearing as one long single shot tracking behind two British Soldiers as they traverse the dreaded trenches of World War I to get a message deep into enemy territory.
With no visual cuts, the audience is thrown right into the thick of battle alongside the protagonists, forced to follow them through the horrors of war in real time, experiencing both their failures and triumphs right along with them.
Stanley Kubrick’s brutal Vietnam War film displays the dehumanizing effects that war, and training, can have on soldiers as they transform from regular citizens into efficient killing machines.
Really a movie of two halves, Full Metal Jacketfollows a squad of soldiers, first through boot camp having to survive the malicious, demoralizing, and sometimes humorous taunts from their strict drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey) then finally into the war itself. It’s an unapologetic look into how war can strip away one’s humanity and questions the line all soldiers must face between good and evil.
‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) – 8.3
This classic war film tells the true story of TE Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), an English officer in World War I who successfully unites the varying Arab tribes of the Ottoman Empire in a fight against the Turks.
Masterfully directed by David Lean, this historical epic is filled with iconic imagery and regarded as one of the most influential films of all time. Grand in its scope, Lawrence of Arabia captures viewer’s attention immediately with its attention to detail and incredible cinematography that’s all brought together by O’Toole’s captivating performance.
‘Inglorious Basterds’ (2009) – 8.3
In the words of Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt) this truly might be Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. This fictional historical piece follows a group of Nazi killers, the “Basterds”, during the height of World War II who find themselves involved in a plot to take out Adolf Hitler.
Inglorious Basterdsis Tarantino at his best. It’s a highly entertaining, bloody, over-the-top historical epic that is filled with a multitude of iconic scenes, magnificent set pieces, and some incredible acting. It also brought one of cinema’s greatest villains to life, Nazi SS officer Hans Landa, played by the always impressive Christoph Waltzwhich won him an Oscar for Best Actor.
‘Grave of the Fireflies’ (1988) – 8.5
Grave of the Fireflies follows two young siblings, Seita and Setsuko, as they struggle to survive in Japan during the declining days of World War II. After an American bombing run leaves the siblings separated from their parents the two must rely on one another for their survival.
This animated masterpiece does an excellent job of contrasting brutal themes of war admits beautiful drawn imagery. Grave of the Fireflies never shies away from the reality of war showing the true cost of battle and the effect it has on innocent civilians.
‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) – 8.5
Apocalypse Now is one of those movies that sticks with you long after watching it. It’s an experience. A journey into a hellish world that is unlike our own where absurdity reigns and morals are an afterthought. Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who’s sent to take out a rogue Colonel (Marlon Brando) that purported himself to be a god to the locals.
Filled with iconic imagery, massive set pieces, and a slow methodical pace. Apocalypse Now is unlike any other war movie. It questions the sanity of the soldiers left out in the jungles, who are constantly surrounded by barbaric carnage. With all men having to face the choice of either holding onto what little shred of humanity they have left or fall into absolute chaos and lose themselves forever.
‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998) – 8.6
Saving Private Ryan has one of the most iconic opening scenes in cinema history, throwing viewers right into the middle of D-Day, depicting one of the most faithful interpretations of war ever shown on screen. From there the film never lets up as a squad of soldiers is tasked with moving through enemy lines in search of a single soldier and bringing him home.
Saving Private Ryan is truly a must-watch for any World War II buff or any war buff in general. Steven Spielberg’s incredible film never shies away from the brutal realities of war, showing both the terrible mutilation that battle can cause and the comradery and sacrifice these men made for their country and for each other.
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