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Top 10 All Time Greatest War Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton

The most powerful war films ever put on the silver screen. WatchMojo ranks the top 10 movies of all time to tell the story of warfare. So which stands above the rest? Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now", Steven Spielberg's Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", or could an underdog like Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" take the top spot? Watch to find out.

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Top 10 All Time Greatest War Movies

At ease, soldier. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 War Movies of all time.

For this list, we’re ranking the all time best movies that take place during a major war. Battles must be a main priority of these films, however. So stories that take place during wartime and don’t directly focus on combat will be omitted for another time. We will also not be taking into consideration films like Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which take place during an alternate timeline of history.

#10: “Platoon” (1986)

War is hell, and very few films captured the realism of frantic combat better than Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.” Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Willem Dafoe star as soldiers stationed during the Vietnam conflict, in a platoon full of widely varied personalities and levels of morality. Stone’s purpose in writing the film was to offer a stark contrast to the Vietnam portrayed in 1968’s “The Green Berets,” starring John Wayne. In fact, “Platoon” utilized the director’s own firsthand experiences as an infantryman for inspiration. The results are harrowing and haunting, making “Platoon” one of the finest war movies ever made.

#9: “A Bridge Too Far” (1977)

This World War II era film follows the failed Allied military campaign known as “Operation Market Garden,” a tactical maneuver that was originally designed to end the war quickly before Christmas of 1944. “A Bridge Too Far” stars James Caan, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and more as they form a very impressive ensemble cast, and features some splendid performances from everyone involved. This makes the film a captivating watch, even for those well aware of how the original “Operation Market Garden” botched its attempts to take over key bridge points in the German-occupied Netherlands.

#8: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

This British-American co-production has not only garnered praise from war film buffs since its original release back in 1957, but from the National Film Registry, which selected “The Bridge on the River Kwai” for preservation for its cultural significance in the Library of Congress in 1997. Director David Lean helms a story of British prisoners of war who are assigned to a Japanese prison camp in Burma, and are put to work constructing a bridge connecting Bangkok and Rangoon – this, despite Geneva Conventions stating that officers are exempt from such work. The result is a film full of world-class acting and memorable set pieces.

#7: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930)

The late ‘70s television adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 novel was successful in depicting many of its source material’s themes. However, it in no way compares to the 1930 Pre-Code effort from director Lewis Milestone. This black-and-white epic was considered quite faithful to what the First World War was like, but also didn’t shy away from putting any disturbing or traumatic experiences on the big screen. The story about how joining the army affects a group of young recruits on the battlefield and at home was also the first movie to win Oscars for both Best Director and Outstanding Production.

#6: “The Hurt Locker” (2008)

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to win a Best Director Oscar thanks to her efforts on the war film “The Hurt Locker.” Bigelow’s action thriller follows a bomb disposal unit stationed in Iraq during the Iraq War, and the smoldering tensions that arise between new squad leader William James and his crew. Jeremy Renner leads the cast as James, and it’s these performances of Renner and his co-stars Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty that really make “The Hurt Locker” shine as one of the best war films in recent memory.

#5: “The Great Escape” (1963)

Even if you’re never seen 1963’s “The Great Escape,” it’s more than likely you’ve heard or hummed the movie’s main theme, a jaunting and infectious march composed by Elmer Bernstein. Steve McQueen stars as the leader of a group of World War II POWs who are intent on digging an escape tunnel from their German concentration camp prison. McQueen’s charisma is undeniable here, as is the impressive stunt work on display in the film, particularly during a death-defying motorcycle scene. This sequence has gone on to become the stuff of war movie legend, and has earned “The Great Escape” a spot on our list.

#4: “Das Boot” (1981)

Fans might remember seeing this film as either a theatrical release or a T.V. miniseries, depending on where they lived, but “Das Boot” has continued to earn fans on home video over the years. The film was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and follows the crew of a German U-Boat during World War II. “Das Boot” was notable for capturing not only the thrill and danger of battle, but also the dullness that can come to define the often-long stretches of down time in between sporadic conflict. Add to this a memorable score by Klaus Doldinger, and you have one unique war film for the ages.

#3: “Paths of Glory” (1957)

Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick may be known among his fans for his infamous 1987 Vietnam era picture “Full Metal Jacket,” but the director actually worked in the war movie genre much earlier with this 1957 tale of a French battalion during World War I. Kirk Douglas stars as the troupe’s commanding officer, who attempts to defend his men against charges of cowardice, due to their failure of what’s essentially a suicide mission. Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is crowded with classics, but the anti-war flick “Paths of Glory” may be one of the director’s more underrated efforts.

#2: “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

The word “epic” doesn’t even begin to describe this massive film from director Francis Ford Coppola and co-screenwriter John Milius. “Apocalypse Now” is a dark and violent thrill ride that follows Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin Willard, a detached military man in search of a mission. That mission turns out to be an assassination attempt on a reclusive, renegade Colonel by the name of Kurtz. Marlon Brando’s magnetic performance as the mentally unhinged Kurtz may not appear until the film’s final sequences, but its immense power continues to haunt viewers to this day as one of the best war film performances ever committed to celluloid.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorably discharged mentions!
“The Thin Red Line” (1998)
“Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006)
“Glory” (1989)
“Patton” (1970)
“Black Hawk Down” (2001)

#1: “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

Realistic violence is a staple of war films, but not everyone was ready for the astonishing level of grit director Steven Spielberg put on screen in “Saving Private Ryan.” The film’s opening sequence alone, which details the invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944, is a visceral gut-check that places the audience directly in the middle of combat. Spielberg’s film also focuses on people, however, specifically a squad whose mission is to find Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have perished during the conflict. This balance of action and emotion, along with its immense critical and commercial success, more than justifies “Saving Private Ryan”’s top position as the greatest war movie ever.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your all time favorite war movie? For more brave and bold top ten lists published every day, be subscribe to!

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