The 50 greatest war films of all time

Fall in for TONY's list of mighty military movies.

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  • War films: Click to the next image to see our 50 greatest war films of all time

  • War films: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

  • War films: Ride with the Devil (1999)

  • War films: Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

  • War films: Hell in the Pacific (1968)

  • War films: In Which We Serve (1942)

  • War films: Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

  • War films: Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

  • War films: The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

  • War films: The Great Escape (1963)

  • War films: The Sun (2005)

War films: Click to the next image to see our 50 greatest war films of all time

What better way to honor the sacrifice of Memorial Day than with a ranked list of cinematic greatness? TONY Film has slogged through its own basic training to arrive at the 50 ultimate war movies—and not merely the ones with the biggest battle scenes (though expect plenty of ammo). Rather, here are the most profound statements, pointed and patriotic alike, on the distinctly human condition of fighting. We offer the list to you, our readers, along with our sharpest salute. Why not put on your war face and sound off, in the comments section below?


50
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Quentin Tarantino makes the WWII film his own: violent, verbose and endlessly entertaining. There's plenty of bloodshed, but this gloriously demented pulp fiction is more about the destructive power of words. In QT's universe, the right turn of phrase—especially when tripping from the malevolently multilingual tongue of Nazi commandant Hans Landa—can kill both body and spirit.—Keith Uhlich

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49
RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (1999)

Ride with the Devil (1999)

You wouldn't expect anything less complex from director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain), whose oblique take on the Civil War—specifically guerrilla fighting in Missouri—thrilled critics and mystified crowds. A pre-Spidey Tobey Maguire anchors the movie in sympathy, while Jeffrey Wright electrifies as a liberated slave.—Joshua Rothkopf

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48
TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949)

Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

Gregory Peck had already arrived as a magnetic onscreen presence by the time this minutely detailed WWII Air Force drama gave him his most ambitious role to date, as a stern disciplinarian whose leadership transforms a bomber unit into a well-oiled machine. The ultimate praise: The movie was required viewing at military-service academies for decades—Joshua Rothkopf

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47
HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968)

Hell in the Pacific (1968)

Two soldiers—one American, the other Japanese—are marooned on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean during the height of WWII and must work together to survive. Director John Boorman crafts a potent existential parable out of their plight (Jean-Paul Sartre would be proud) while also allowing the great Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune to rage with crowd-pleasing gusto.—Keith Uhlich

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46
IN WHICH WE SERVE (1942)

In Which We Serve (1942)

Let's give it up for wit-of-all-trades Nol Coward, who wrote, codirected (with David Lean), starred in and even composed the score for this veddy British WWII naval tale, about a shipwrecked crew and their valiant efforts to carry on with stiff upper lips.—Joshua Rothkopf

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45
SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949)

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

John Wayne was born to the swagger of a certain kind of war film, neither especially negative nor devoid of a soldier's vulnerability. This celebratory recreation of the title's WWII Allied triumph accommodates plenty of heart-thumping jingoism but also the fatalism of sniper fire.—Joshua Rothkopf

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44
BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1959)

Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

A delicate Russian-made tribute to that nation's staggering sacrifice during WWII, Grigori Chukhrai's drama concerns a teenage infantryman's journey back home for a six-day break, a reward for taking out two German tanks. He marvels at the rape of the land—and also connects with a beautiful girl. It's a film about the value of the fight.—Joshua Rothkopf

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43
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE (1951)

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

The verdict is still out what could have been the full edit of this Civil War picture, which was drastically cut to under 70 minutes after poor test screenings. Given the talent of the director—John Huston, whose next film was The African Queen—we're inclined to believe he was onto something special with Stephen Crane's classic. Enough of Huston's noirish vision remains.—Joshua Rothkopf

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42
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

The Great Escape (1963)

Made at the peak of Hollywood's studio system and a flawless example of robust mainstream entertainment, John Sturgess's protoblockbuster turned Steve McQueen into a marquee idol—he gobbles up the lens even before he jumps the barbed-wire fence of his WWII POW camp on a motorcycle. Amazingly, the story is a real-life one.—Joshua Rothkopf

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41
THE SUN (2005)

The Sun (2005)

In the final days of WWII, twitchy Japanese Emperor Hirohito (Issei Ogata in a spectacularly oddball performance) holes himself up in an underground bunker while Douglas MacArthur and his troops inch closer to the palace. Russian director Alexander Sokurov's haunting character study is a dreamy and disquieting look at an enigmatic man sliding from power.—Keith Uhlich

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  1. 50–41
  2. 40–31
  3. 30–21
  4. 20–11
  5. 10–1

Users say

186 comments
Ed E
Ed E

Really, Starship Troopers? Why not just throw Tropic Thunder on the list. Patton & Platoon don't even break below 30. What about From Here to Eternity, In Harm's Way, Tora Tora Tora, To Hell and Back. Sure they from an older generation of movies many of the actors and crew actually served in the military.

Stalag 17 was better then about 45 of those movies.

ChicagoCrew .
ChicagoCrew .

Missing movies ----- The Enemy Below

                                     Captain Horatio Hornblower

                                       Sink the Bismarck

                                       Courage Under Fire 

                                       Glory

                                       Braveheart

joe
joe

This is a terrible list.

Claire
Claire

Johnny got his gun (1971)

Daniel Devine
Daniel Devine

This is ridiculous. Saving Private Ryan not top 10? WHAT??!! Where is Glory in the top 10 as well? No Hamburger Hill?

Mike Crowner
Mike Crowner

What about Glory??????????????? Glory is the best war movie by far! Come on!

Mark Bell
Mark Bell

Bingo! Good List because he got "Paths of Glory" at top. Good Choice. The man knows how to value and review a movie.

Andrew
Andrew

How come The Fall (Der Untergang) depicting last 48hrs of Hitler's reign in the bunker NOT on the list!????

Anthony DeRoche
Anthony DeRoche

Come on - what a joke of a list. This guy is a Disney lover! Assembly, Johnny Mad Dog, Stalingrad to name a few are missing. Someone please compile a serious list .

mike
mike

How is Hamburger Hill not even on this list.. Easily a top 15 (top 10 in my books)

jayce
jayce

who ever made this list is an idiot with no understanding of movie quality, maybe go review cartoons instead cant believe I spent a couple minutes of my life reading the order of that list.

JJ
JJ

I nominate this piece as number one worst list of great war films. No Blackhawk down? Apocalypse now as #2? WTH

Fred Pahlke
Fred Pahlke

No Lawrence of Arabia? I would rank it third, behind Come and See and Paths of Glory.

douglas
douglas

its a good list Ive seen over half these movies and enjoyed everyone. the only problem I have with this list is WHY is Starship Troopers on here and not Enemy at the Gates?

Paul
Paul

This list could use some work. Hamburger Hill, Blackhawk Down, We were Soldiers could all certainly replace a few movies on this list for top 50. Yet, the biggest mistake is not making "Band of Brothers" the #1 war movie. Some films such as hurt Locker should not be in the top 50. As a military veteran I am giving you a combat experienced point of view. The Pacific could also easily beat a few of these films.

jon mcinerney
jon mcinerney

this list is incredibly poor, the longest day is one of the epic war films of all time, but doesnt make the list, neither does a bridge too far, both epic productions..so many films missing from this...

Armstrong
Armstrong

David, Joshua and Keith, you guys must be on drugs or something, STARSHIP TROOPERS!!! OMG!!! Why not Star Wars or maybe Star Trek or the Lord of the Rings but no no it has to be STARSHIP TROOPERS !!! WOW!!! I'm lost for words.....STARSHIP TROOPERS!!!

Top
Top

I got a good pointers for movies I had forgotten or didn\t know about, which I think makes this a good list. Seen way too many all/too/obvious lists of movies I have already seen. I\d add a couple of very good ones for anyonewho is looking for some good suggestions to watch instead of a reason to complain about how their obvious favs are not included. Stalingrad (1993), Ghetto(2006), Bretskaya Krepost (Brest Fortress/fortress of war (2010)...

chaloner
chaloner

Three Kings (1999) better then All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) STUPID!!!!!!!!!!!

David
David

This list is not up to your usual standards. Sorry, but you rate an automatic fail for omission of. . . Do I have to say it? Fail Safe (original sixties version). Best war movie ever. And what about its black comedy counterpart Dr. Strangelove? Still more points lost for failure to include The Enemy Below, which Das Boot was a bit of a ripoff of. Better revise this one, boys.

John Reviewer
John Reviewer

Horrible List. I stopped looking at it when The thin Red Line was ranked higher than Saving Private Ryan. Seriously, Apocalypse Now 2nd, ridiculous. Starship Troopers? How about putting spaceballs on the list.

Chris
Chris

How about Midway? The Green Beret? Schindlers List? The Alamo (John Wayne version)

Connor
Connor

We Were Soldiers, The Patriot, Enemy at the Gates, God and Generals, Gettysburg, Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, Jarhead, SO MANY MORE.

Art Ryden
Art Ryden

Starship Troopers...Are you kidding? No Zulu? No Glory? No Gladiator? Platoon has to be rated higher than it is here. I'm glad to see that older films get their proper representation here. There is such a tendency to give higher ratings to more recent movies at the expense of earlier films.

Steve
Steve

gotta agree with some of the comments here, a list of top war movies is what is advertised...your description of starship troopers may or may not be true however put it on a different top list of ironic movies or whatever. To put it in the top five war movies of all time? that's just f*cking ridiculous.

chris mann
chris mann

How can this list not include, and should have been #1 "IN HARMS WAY"

Charles
Charles

Not a bad list although the Starship Trooper entry is just bizarre. So many of my favs like Mr. Roberts, Tora Tora Tora, Sand Pebbles, The Longest Day, Battle of Britain, Bridge too Far, From Here to Eternity, Run Silent Run Deep, Black Hawk Down, Midway, Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone ( I can go on and on) are not on the list.

E. A. Capuano
E. A. Capuano

Any set of "best movies of all time" is biased by the people who select it. I think some war movies do not deserve to be in this set (in fact, some of them are not war movies ...) and other must be in it: "The Lost Batallion", for instance, is a good movie that deserves to be among the "Top Ten" war movies of all time; and "The Thin Red Line" is not a war movie, but a dramatic movie. "Paths of Glory" can be the best war movie of all time only if you are a Kirk Douglas fan ... In my opinion, the best war movie of all time would be "Memphis Bell" and "Das Boot" the second ...!

Stephen
Stephen

Bolloxs, starship troopers in the top 5 and platoon is way back Terrible list and terrible taste in films

Daniel
Daniel

There are always going to be refutable omissions from a list like this. There are just too many great war movies out there. The films I was disappointed to see excluded were Glory, The Last of the Mohicans, Fort Apache, and Letters From Iwo Jima. But movies that I have been putting off seeing -- The Steel Helmet, Army of Shadows, Forbidden Games, Germany Year Zero, etc -- were so well argued for that I'm now even more excited to watch them. And to all the naysayers: Yes, Starship Troopers is indeed brilliant.

Chuck Catalano
Chuck Catalano

How can you have a list of the top 50 best war movies and not have Act of Valor on your list? Personally, I think it should be on the top ten, butat a minimum be on the list.

Kalah
Kalah

Re: previous comment.....They are obviously referring to what he did IN the movie sheesh

Mara
Mara

Steve MCQueen actually attempted to jump the barbed wire of the Swiss border NOT the barbed wire fence of his POW camp!!

Kalah
Kalah

What is wrong with this list? What happened to Schindlers List? U571? A Bridge Too far? Behind Enemy Lines, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Defiance, Braveheart, Cold Mountain, Enemy At The Gates, Geronimo, The Flowers of War, K19: The Widowmaker, The Last of the Mohicans, Mongol, The Pianist, The Messenger...most of these movies are set with WWII as their backdrop and have many war elements and tragedies and triumps and its tragic they are not recognized.

Pockeyway
Pockeyway

Horrible list on so many levels, that by the time I got to starship troopers I wasnt surprised. Apparently braveheat, the pianist, black hawk down, the longest & countless others wern't considered. Worst list I have seen in a long time.

Pockeyway
Pockeyway

Horrible list on so many levels, that by the time I got to starship troopers I wasnt surprised. Apparently braveheat, the pianist, black hawk down, the longest & countless others wern't considered. Worst list I have seen in a long time.

Pockeyway
Pockeyway

Horrible list on so many levels, that by the time I got to starship troopers I wasnt surprised. Apparently braveheat, the pianist, black hawk down, the longest & countless others wern't considered. Worst list I have seen in a long time.

Peter
Peter

What about THE BURMESE HARP (JAPAN)-perhaps the greatest film of all time.Also other classic war films are omitted:CANAL.(Poland);WAR AND PEACE; THE 45TH;,QUIET FLOWS THE DON and LENINGRAD.(all from Russia).CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (China).They are all masterpieces.I suspect that most of your readers have never heard of or even seen any of these films.

Simon
Simon

Where is Battle Of Algiers!!?

Torianblue
Torianblue

Glory? Guns of Navarone? ThePatrioit?

Pete
Pete

certainly some good films here but a lot of misses. Lawrence of Arabia, Waterloo, Zulu, Nicholas & Alexandria, Dr. Zhivago, to name a few. Starship Troopers is fun to watch, but is a scifi movie. 12 O'Clock High, Bridge on the River Kwai should be much higher. A very nice inclusion is Attack, which is always overlooked. I'd also add The Caine Mutiny.

darin zank
darin zank

by gosh, I think they got No. 1 right.

Simon L
Simon L

Who on earth is the guy that prepared this list? it needs to be much more objective to be worth consulting. He has just listed his favourite films and then tried to explain why. A perfect example is Starship Troopers at number 5 finishing, "Return to it with fresh eyes". No thank you. This is a parody, I get it. Just because I enjoyed Kentucky Fried Movie, it dosen't mean I can put it on a list of best comedy films. For this list to be taken seriously we need to see films like A Bridge Too Far, Dogs of War or The Wild Geese. If you want a funny war film include Kellys Heroes. The cast alone puts Starship Troopers to shame. Joshua Rothkopf. If you do this for a hobby, don't give up your day job. If its not, do.

Mitch
Mitch

No Lawrence of Arabia?

Todd
Todd

This list is an absolute abomination. The guy listed Starship Troopers at 5 over Saving Private Ryan, that's an automatic fail. He doesn't even have The Patriot, or Enemy at the Gates on the list. This guys taste in movies is atrocious.

Chris .
Chris .

@Mike Crowner Glory was a great movie,but Paths of Glory is the best War Movie ever,however he missed several great movies

Chris .
Chris .

@Paul Band of Brothers wasn't a movie was it?Paths of Glory won the Oscar and is rthe best war movie ever.Band of Brothers is certainly a decent mini series,but Kubrick's movie has much deeper meaning and is actually an indictment on the absurdity of war.Because we are veterans doesn't mean anything,this is about a movie.Band of Brothers merely followed a company from D-Day through the German offensive of the Bulge.