The 50 greatest war films of all time

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

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  • War films: Duck, You Sucker! (1971)

  • War films: The Big Red One (1980)

  • War films: Men in War (1957)

  • War films: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

  • War films: Casualties of War (1989)

  • War films: Das Boot (1981)

  • War films: The Thin Red Line (1998)

  • War films: The Steel Helmet (1951)

  • War films: The Hurt Locker (2008)

  • War films: Empire of the Sun (1987)

War films: Duck, You Sucker! (1971)

20
DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (1971)

Duck, You Sucker! (1971)

Scuzzy outlaw Rod Steiger and mysterious explosives expert James Coburn reluctantly team up to rob a bank, only to be drawn into the bloody Mexican Revolution. This lesser-known gem from Fistful of Dollars–trilogy auteur Sergio Leone brilliantly shifts between broad comedy and sobering tragedy, and you'll be humming Ennio Morricone's incredible score for days.—Keith Uhlich

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19
THE BIG RED ONE (1980)

The Big Red One (1980)

Director Sam Fuller's earthy WWII picture, starring Lee Marvin at the end of his likable career, might have lost the battle at the box office, but it's won the war of reputation: A 2004 reconstruction added nearly 50 minutes of excised material, including many off-kilter yet vivid scenes from veteran Fuller's own recollections of the battlefield.—Joshua Rothkopf

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18
MEN IN WAR (1957)

Men in War (1957)

The director, Anthony Mann, was best known for his Westerns that pinned heroes in uncomfortable, craggy environments. When he tried his hand at a combat film (this was his first), he set the action in a Korean no-man's land where an American platoon led by Robert Ryan finds itself stranded. The result was an uncommonly tough movie for the Ike era.—Joshua Rothkopf

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17
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Steven Spielberg's WWII drama weds an intimate story to the sweep of history—and even if you didn't care for the fortunes of one lucky soldier, you couldn't avoid being floored by the movie's epic mounting of the 1944 Omaha Beach landing. Spattered with gore and mud (and running a harrowing 27 minutes), the sequence has no equal on this list, or anywhere else—Joshua Rothkopf

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16
CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989)

Casualties of War (1989)

No stranger to confrontational cinema, Brian De Palma takes a lurid premise—American soldiers kidnap a Vietnamese village girl to use as a sex slave—and makes a harrowing statement about how easily integrity is discarded in battle. A mortified Michael J. Fox, beautifully cast against type, plays the squad's lone dissenter.—Keith Uhlich

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15
DAS BOOT (1981)

Das Boot (1981)

If, as many have said, warfare is a state of mind (as well as a geostrategic one), no film captures that interiority with such pressure-filled flair as this one. Set hundreds of feet below the ocean in a seeping, clanking U-boat, Wolfgang Peterson's international smash almost made you forget its heroes were German.—Joshua Rothkopf

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14
THE THIN RED LINE (1998)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

After a 20-year absence from filmmaking, the reclusive Terrence Malick returned with this astounding adaptation of James Jones's novel about the Battle of Guadalcanal in WWII's Pacific theater. The overall tone is philosophical and introspective (as is the director's latest, The Tree of Life), though Malick proves himself a confident director of action sequences, too.—Keith Uhlich

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13
THE STEEL HELMET (1951)

The Steel Helmet (1951)

Ex-GI Samuel Fuller brings his rough-and-rugged perspective to this Korean War classic. A ragtag group of soldiers takes refuge from snipers in a Buddhist temple. The longer this respite lasts, the greater the racial and ideological tensions grow. The writer-director's tabloid-headline style gives the proceedings a charged immediacy that lands with a gut punch.—Keith Uhlich

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12
THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

The Hurt Locker (2008)

All eyes should be on director Kathryn Bigelow's next film, the uniquely well-positioned Kill Bin Laden (now, presumably, with a different coda). But it's worth recalling that her Oscar winner relied less on happy endings as much as an acute portrayal of the daily pressures of Iraq-based bomb defusers.—Joshua Rothkopf

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11
EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987)

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Steven Spielberg directed this stirring coming-of-age tale, in which a fantasy-prone English boy (Christian Bale, in his film debut) is sent to live in a Japanese internment camp after the Allied abandonment of Shanghai in 1941. Twelve-year-old Bale makes an indelible impression in the lead role, all juvenile swagger until the terrible realities of his situation wear down his resolve.—Keith Uhlich

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Users say

192 comments
Christopher J
Christopher J

I would add U-571 and Black Hawk Down to this list and Saving Private Ryan should definitely be in the top 5.

Brian M
Brian M

Breaker Morant, The Odd Angry Shot...the list goes on.  And somehow Starship Troopers comes in at number 5?  I was enjoying this list up until that point.

Ismael C
Ismael C

Oh come on Starship Troopers? Battle of the Bulge, MacArthur, Hamburgel Hill, From Here to Eternity, The lost Platoon. LMFAO. 

David S
David S

The Blue Max, greatest aviation war movie!!!

Marvin P
Marvin P

Starship Troopers?!? Is this a fucking joke? Where is Guns of Navarone and Hamburger Hill?

Rio S
Rio S

i think "Saving Private Ryan" no 1
and where "Black Hawk Down" ?
now "Lone Survivor" appropriate in to list :D

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!!?

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.