The 50 greatest war films of all time

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

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  • War films: Black Book (2006)

  • War films: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

  • War films: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

  • War films: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

  • War films: Germany Year Zero (1948)

  • War films: Gallipoli (1981)

  • War films: The Deer Hunter (1978)

  • War films: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

  • War films: Three Kings (1999)

  • War films: Paisan (1946)

War films: Black Book (2006)

30
BLACK BOOK (2006)

Black Book (2006)

Pervy Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is better known for Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but war movies are his true métier. In this deliciously plotted WWII survival tale (a comeback of sorts for the Hollywood exile), a hotcha Jewish singer becomes a spy, a freedom fighter and a bed partner of Nazis. Talented Carice van Houten commits fully.—Joshua Rothkopf

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29
THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967)

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

It's become one of the most beloved "dad movies" of all time—but maybe Father knows best. The murderous "dozen," conscripted for a suicide mission on the eve of D-Day, includes a shifty-eyed psychopath (John Cassavetes), a religious fanatic and woman-beater (Telly Savalas), and a slow-witted "General" (Donald Sutherland). They get the job done.—Joshua Rothkopf

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28
MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983)

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Can it be that between The Man Who Fell to Earth and this quietly powerful film, David Bowie is the most underrated actor of his generation? The art-pop star effortlessly embodies the guilty conscience of a WWII British prisoner of war, striking up a complex friendship with camp sergeant Ryuichi Sakamoto (also the composer of the movie's gorgeous score).—Joshua Rothkopf

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27
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Hark! Is that the "Colonel Bogey March" we hear? In David Lean's rousing WWII epic, American POW William Holden plots a daring escape from a remote Japanese prison, while captured British colonel Alec Guinness and camp commandant Sessue Hayakawa determinedly vie for power. The title bridge figures in one of the most suspenseful action sequences ever filmed.—Keith Uhlich

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26
GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948)

Germany Year Zero (1948)

In the spirit of war photography itself, Roberto Rossellini focused on the ravaged aftermath of a city's destruction (here, actual locations in Berlin). Thus we have one of the purest records of the violence of World War II, an invaluable time capsule as well as a neorealist landmark.—Joshua Rothkopf

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25
GALLIPOLI (1981)

Gallipoli (1981)

Peter Weir's tragic, superbly mounted tale of two professional sprinters who join the Australian army circa WWI sheds some light on the casualty-heavy Turkish campaign. Weir's facility with action scenes is fully evident, especially during the gut-wrenching climactic battle. The film also helped to put a young actor named Mel Gibson on the international stage.—Keith Uhlich

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24
THE DEER HUNTER (1978)

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Based on its most notorious scenes—games of Russian roulette, one of them with vicious Vietcong captors—this actorcentric POW movie (featuring an unhinged Christopher Walken) earns its place on our list. The metaphor is a provocative one: Many saw holding a loaded gun to one's head as an obvious parallel to the United States' entrance into the war itself.—Joshua Rothkopf

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23
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

A pacifistic masterpiece that showed the horrors of WWI trench warfare to a curious if unprepared audience, this epic (based on Erich Maria Remarque's popular novel) also positioned the genre of the combat film as a Hollywood mark of pride: It was one of the first movies to earn a Best Picture Oscar.—Joshua Rothkopf

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22
THREE KINGS (1999)

Three Kings (1999)

Production was reportedly hellish, with director David O. Russell and star George Clooney coming to physical blows. (Guys, it's a war movie.) But the ultimate payoff was rare: a combat film that achieved political profundity via off-the-wall comedy. Call it the lure of Saddam's gold.—Joshua Rothkopf

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21
PAISAN (1946)

Paisan (1946)

The masterful second film in Roberto Rossellini's WWII trilogy—in between 1945's Open City and 1948's Germany Year Zero—is built out of six vignettes set during the Allied invasion of Italy, exploring stories about street urchins and soldiers, prostitutes and priests. There's not a dud in the bunch, and the director's clear-eyed appraisal of the moral havoc wrought in his homeland is particularly astonishing considering how recently the fighting had ceased.—Keith Uhlich

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Users say

185 comments

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.

Kirk
Kirk

Exactly Sam. Where is Glory? Great film in any category. Good list in most respects, except as much as I like Verhoeven...Starship Troopers? I would take Aliens as a better example of scifi war done well. I vote for The Beast (88), an excellent "tank" flick. In Harms Way is missing as well. Thanks for the list.

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.