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

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