top 40 all time war films

by drystyx | created - 16 Jul 2011 | updated - 16 Jul 2011 | Public

These are the 40 greatest all time war films based on the criteria of characters (their credibility throughout line up, how interesting they are, how three dimensional, and how we can care about them), plot (freshness, credibility, being interesting, risk taking), Entertainment value, directing, story telling, scenery, cinematography, and other factors.

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1. Jungle Fighters (1961)

Approved | 110 min | War, Drama

In 1942, a group of British soldiers is sent on a mission in the Malaysian jungle and gets lost into the Japanese controlled zone.

Director: Leslie Norman | Stars: Richard Todd, Richard Harris, Ronald Fraser, David McCallum

Votes: 673

This is the most incredible, moving war film ever made. It is Ox Bow Incident in World War II as we explore mob mentality of seven men who capture a Japanese soldier. The most ironic film ever made, too, as we see in the fates of all involved. Realistic and credible to a tee.

2. 49th Parallel (1941)

Not Rated | 104 min | Drama, Thriller, War

A World War II U-boat crew are stranded in northern Canada. To avoid internment, they must make their way to the border and get into the still-neutral U.S.

Director: Michael Powell | Stars: Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey, Anton Walbrook

Votes: 5,418

The movie that caused Hitler to put a contract on an actor (Leslie Howard), and it appears to have been acted upon, but what makes this war film great is the way in which the six Germans are depicted, each as different characters, cogs in the war machine. The execution scene is the greatest ever, even greater than Paths of Glory and Rome Open City.

3. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Not Rated | 136 min | Drama, War

91 Metascore

A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy

Votes: 54,729 | Gross: $3.27M

Incredibly true to the masterpiece of literature. A young man's disillusionment with war, but almost none are saved.

4. Platoon (1986)

R | 120 min | Drama, War

92 Metascore

A young soldier in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.

Director: Oliver Stone | Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David

Votes: 362,143 | Gross: $138.53M

"All Quiet" of Viet Nam, as we see a young gung ho soldier become disillusioned with war, only here it is because of his own comrades.

5. Three Came Back (1961)

82 min | War, Drama

US Army personnel patrolling through Italy during World War 2, are being killed off by an unknown German agent posing as a fellow soldier.

Director: Alex Nicol | Stars: Barry Cahill, Frank Latimore, Alex Nicol, Fredrick R. Clark

Votes: 80

Excellent war mystery, the best of the war spy thrillers, a hidden gem that makes us care about these characters. And when we find out who the spy is, we see him as a character, too.

6. The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

Approved | 102 min | Drama, Romance, War

Set during the Korean War, a Navy fighter pilot must come to terms with with his own ambivalence towards the war and the fear of having to bomb a set of highly defended bridges. The ending of this grim war drama is all tension.

Director: Mark Robson | Stars: William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Mickey Rooney

Votes: 4,981

Touching war story told from many different angles, and ending in a muddy ditch for some of them.

7. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

PG | 161 min | Adventure, Drama, War

87 Metascore

British POWs build a railway bridge across the river Kwai for their Japanese captors, oblivious of the Allies' plans to destroy it.

Director: David Lean | Stars: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa

Votes: 191,913 | Gross: $44.91M

The other classic Holden bridge film. There's a lot more to this than one can say in a short paragraph. The prison scenes are well acted, but it is the scenes with Hawkins and Holden that hold your interest.

8. Too Late the Hero (1970)

PG | 145 min | Action, Drama, War

A reluctant hero, American Lieutenant Sam Lawson, is secunded to a motley British unit tasked with destroying a Japanese radio on a Philippine island.

Director: Robert Aldrich | Stars: Michael Caine, Cliff Robertson, Ian Bannen, Harry Andrews

Votes: 3,117 | Gross: $0.31M

Cliff Robertson was at his best in this sort of cocky liberal style hero role. Here, we get a great sampling of true life characters in war.

9. Troy (2004)

R | 163 min | Drama, History

56 Metascore

An adaptation of Homer's great epic, the film follows the assault on Troy by the united Greek forces and chronicles the fates of the men involved.

Director: Wolfgang Petersen | Stars: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Julian Glover

Votes: 465,582 | Gross: $133.38M

Gives us the most accurate depiction, and despite a few changes, truest to the original intent of the Iliad, the story of Achilles and his wrath. Superior in all ways to any other telling of the Trojan War, and the most credible.

10. Stalag 17 (1953)

Not Rated | 120 min | Comedy, Drama, War

84 Metascore

When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German P.O.W. camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer.

Director: Billy Wilder | Stars: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss

Votes: 49,088

The characters hold your interest. It's sometimes called a war comedy, and while there are two central comic relief characters, most of the others indulge in it, too. Great work in story telling, and a great depiction of a muddy POW camp.

11. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

PG-13 | 138 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

81 Metascore

During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.

Director: Peter Weir | Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy

Votes: 193,386 | Gross: $93.93M

Fascinating naval war story, which becomes a "duel" between two ships, and in which a doctor emerges as an important cog in a war story. Lots of subplots, lots of characters. Most of us need closed captioning to understand the words, but this is fascinating.

12. Bataan (1943)

Approved | 114 min | War

In 1942, in the Bataan peninsula of the Philippines, a ragtag American unit commanded by Sergeant Bill Dane attempts to blow-up a bridge in order to slow the Japanese advance.

Director: Tay Garnett | Stars: Robert Taylor, George Murphy, Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell

Votes: 2,144

The imagery in this war film of an isolated group being whittled down is strong. We often think of the fight scenes as unreal, but veterans say that the Japanese soldiers were so malnourished that they could fall so easy. Iconic scenes throughout.

13. Warkill (1968)

Approved | 100 min | Drama, War

At the end of World War Two, a reporter follows a Colonel and his men searching for small groups of Japanese soldiers hiding in the jungle.

Director: Ferde Grofé Jr. | Stars: George Montgomery, Tom Drake, Conrad Parham, Eddie Infante

Votes: 56

Gritty anti war story and anti worship of hero story as a writer learns the truth about a savage hero.

14. The Alamo (2004)

PG-13 | 137 min | Drama, History, War

47 Metascore

Based on the 1836 standoff between a group of Texan and Tejano men, led by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and Mexican dictator Santa Anna's forces at the Alamo in San Antonio Texas.

Director: John Lee Hancock | Stars: Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Emilio Echevarría, Jason Patric

Votes: 18,978 | Gross: $22.41M

After long thought, I put this in "war" instead of "western", because I wanted to categorize each film in one category. This strives to be as true to the story as possible.

15. Battle of the Bulge (1965)

Not Rated | 167 min | Drama, History, War

A dramatization of Nazi Germany's final Western Front counterattack of World War II.

Director: Ken Annakin | Stars: Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews

Votes: 13,892 | Gross: $11.12M

This war film follows several different characters, but mostly Henry Fonda, Shaw, and Dano of Hawaii 5-O. Well told story.

16. Anzio (1968)

PG-13 | 117 min | Drama, History, War

One of WWII's bloodiest battles as the Allies smash through the German lines which have enclosed the Anzio beachhead. Four months and 30,000 casualties before the Allies finally march to Rome.

Directors: Edward Dmytryk, Duilio Coletti | Stars: Robert Mitchum, Peter Falk, Robert Ryan, Earl Holliman

Votes: 2,814

At times this looks great, and at times not, but in all a very strong war film, with an eerie finale against snipers.

17. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

PG | 175 min | Drama, History, War

Operation Market Garden, September 1944: The Allies attempt to capture several strategically important bridges in the Netherlands in the hope of breaking the German lines.

Director: Richard Attenborough | Stars: Sean Connery, Ryan O'Neal, Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier

Votes: 48,815 | Gross: $50.80M

Like Patton, this comes across as more of a drama than a war film, but it mixes drama and action well. More substance than style here.

18. Wake Island (1942)

Approved | 88 min | Action, Drama, War

December, 1941. With no hope of relief or re-supply, a small band of United States Marines tries to keep the Japanese Navy from capturing their island base.

Director: John Farrow | Stars: Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston, Macdonald Carey, William Bendix

Votes: 1,686

The actors and characters carry this war action film through. Well told story.

19. The Last Chance (1945)

Approved | 104 min | Drama, War

Escaping a Nazi prison train in war-torn Italy, an American and a British soldier set out for the Swiss border and find themselves leading a multi-national party of refugees for the Italian underground.

Director: Leopold Lindtberg | Stars: Ewart G. Morrison, John Hoy, Ray Reagan, Luisa Rossi

Votes: 312

Perhaps this is more of a "refuge" story than a war story, but it has lots of movement, as soldiers join refuges in fleeing Nazis. Great characterizations, and a sense of comaraderie we don't see from modern agers.

20. Patton (1970)

GP | 172 min | Biography, Drama, War

91 Metascore

The World War II phase of the career of controversial American general George S. Patton.

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner | Stars: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong

Votes: 90,138 | Gross: $61.70M

Sometimes slow, but not overly so. Great acting, and of course the iconic soldier slapping scene can't be missed.

21. No Man Is an Island (1962)

Approved | 114 min | Drama, War

During the early Pacific war years, American seaman George Tweed is the only U.S. serviceman on Guam not captured by the Japanese forces.

Directors: Richard Goldstone, John Monks Jr. | Stars: Jeffrey Hunter, Marshall Thompson, Barbara Perez, Ronald Remy

Votes: 403

Story of Tweed, who had a heck of a time hiding from Japanese, but had help. It is told in the form of a "small isolated group of soldiers" story, and we are spellbound.

22. Soldier of Orange (1977)

R | 165 min | Drama, Romance, Thriller

During WWII, Dutch students join the resistance movement against the German occupation of the Netherlands.

Director: Paul Verhoeven | Stars: Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbé, Susan Penhaligon, Edward Fox

Votes: 10,500

Bizarre story of a group of young men who split up and go seperate ways in war. There is style and substance here, so no wonder it is highly regarded.

23. PT 109 (1963)

Approved | 140 min | Biography, Drama, War

During WW2, Lieut. John F. Kennedy takes command of PT 109 to fight the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.

Director: Leslie H. Martinson | Stars: Cliff Robertson, Robert Culp, Ty Hardin, James Gregory

Votes: 2,115

Cliff Robertson plays future President Kennedy with great style. nderrated actor Ty Hardin is his first mate. Great story telling and acting.

24. Das Boot (1981)

R | 149 min | Adventure, Drama, Thriller

86 Metascore

The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth and sheer terror.

Director: Wolfgang Petersen | Stars: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch

Votes: 218,220 | Gross: $11.49M

A bit of substance and style in a story of a German U Boat. Maybe too realistic to be interesting, but it tries. And there's a bang up finale.

25. 633 Squadron (1964)

Approved | 102 min | Drama, War

An RAF squadron is assigned to knock out a German rocket fuel factory in Norway. The factory supplies fuel for the Nazi effort to launch rockets on England during D-Day.

Director: Walter Grauman | Stars: Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris, Maria Perschy, Harry Andrews

Votes: 3,257

I don't want to spoil the ending, but expect a ton of action.

26. The Longest Day (1962)

G | 178 min | Action, Drama, History

75 Metascore

The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view.

Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Gerd Oswald, Bernhard Wicki, Darryl F. Zanuck | Stars: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda

Votes: 50,194 | Gross: $39.10M

Hard to make an epic war film and follow so many different subplots, but this one does a pretty good job, tying up many war stories together.

27. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

R | 169 min | Drama, War

91 Metascore

Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns

Votes: 1,157,526 | Gross: $216.54M

Aside from the handling of kid gloves for the new yorker (common in war films, since New Yorkers are a large part of the audience), this is a very believable film, and has lots of great moments.

28. Sahara (I) (1943)

Approved | 97 min | Action, Drama, War

After the fall of Tobruk in 1942, during the Allied retreat in the Libyan desert, an American tank picks-up a motley group of survivors but they face advancing Germans and a lack of water.

Director: Zoltan Korda | Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, J. Carrol Naish, Lloyd Bridges

Votes: 7,543

Bogie leaves the Sierra and Duryea leaves the West to be part of an isolated band of soldiers fighting in the desert. I left the Western version of this off the Western list (Last of the Commanches) only because there have been so many great Westerns. Both are equally good.

29. 'Gung Ho!': The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders (1943)

Approved | 88 min | Drama, History, War

The true story of Carlson's Raiders and their World War II attack on Makin Island.

Director: Ray Enright | Stars: Randolph Scott, Alan Curtis, Noah Beery Jr., J. Carrol Naish

Votes: 1,191

Basic war film, but with lots of good characters that make it stick out.

30. The North Star (1943)

Passed | 108 min | Drama, Romance, War

A Ukrainian village must suddenly contend with the Nazi invasion of June 1941.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Walter Brennan

Votes: 1,145

Much like the new age movie "Come And See", as Germans attack civilians to the East with great barbarity. Here, we get a more realistic appraisal of the German and civilian characters. Some contrived bits, but overall very credible.

31. Journey to Shiloh (1968)

Approved | 101 min | Drama, War, Western

At the beginning of the Civil War, seven friends embark on a cross-country journey in order to join the Confederate army.

Director: William Hale | Stars: James Caan, Michael Sarrazin, Brenda Scott, Don Stroud

Votes: 757

War or Western? It is the Civil War. On the surface, it looks and sounds like a "glory" film, but it isn't. Two of the seven young men looking to join the war die before they see any part of it. One of the two major characters loses a limb via amputation. Pretty gritty, and that's enough spoilers.

32. Von Ryan's Express (1965)

Approved | 117 min | Action, Adventure, War

An American POW leads a group of mainly British prisoners to escape from the Germans in WWII.

Director: Mark Robson | Stars: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Raffaella Carrà, Brad Dexter

Votes: 12,041 | Gross: $17.11M

Mostly a very interesting story with great characters. A contrived cliche scene with the woman brings it down. Overall, as Arte Johnson would say "very interesting".

33. Objective, Burma! (1945)

Approved | 142 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A platoon of special ops are tasked to parachute into the remote Burmese jungle and destroy a strategic Japanese radar station, but getting out isn't as easy.

Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Errol Flynn, James Brown, William Prince, George Tobias

Votes: 4,172

Some smart directing here, as we see horrors of war excellently depicted in a way that is tons more effective than special effects geeks cram down our throats.

34. Desperate Journey (1942)

Approved | 107 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

When the crew of a downed British bomber escape from their Nazi captors with Top Secret intelligence, they make a desperate journey to get out of Germany alive.

Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Coleman, Raymond Massey

Votes: 1,884

The downed Allied airmen in German territory have a lot of cliche escapes that we can laugh at, but the characters are good, and it is a well told yarn.

35. The Naked and the Dead (1958)

Approved | 131 min | Drama, War

Set during the Pacific War against the Japanese, this WW2 drama discerns between achieving one's mission at any cost versus preserving the lives under one's command and enforcing discipline through fear as opposed to mutual respect.

Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Aldo Ray, Cliff Robertson, Raymond Massey, Lili St. Cyr

Votes: 1,168

Fortunately, this is a lot less contrived than the book, and not your usual Hollywood cliche of depressing story telling. Action and drama mixed well.

36. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Not Rated | 150 min | Action, Adventure, War

73 Metascore

During World War II, a rebellious U.S. Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers.

Director: Robert Aldrich | Stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes

Votes: 63,512 | Gross: $45.30M

Very interesting characters. Obviously a fantasy war piece, and cliche filled. Still, some things to like.

37. Casualties of War (1989)

R | 113 min | Crime, Drama, War

75 Metascore

During the Vietnam War, a soldier finds himself the outsider of his own squad when they unnecessarily kidnap a female villager.

Director: Brian De Palma | Stars: Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly

Votes: 39,067 | Gross: $18.67M

A young man must grow up in a hurry. His comrades are hardly comrades.

38. Ran (1985)

R | 162 min | Action, Drama

96 Metascore

In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.

Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryû

Votes: 103,410 | Gross: $3.52M

Why don't I include "Seven Samurai"? Because I don't think "Seven Samurai" is a war film. It is about a conflict, a police conflict or a few battles. This is a war film.

39. Halls of Montezuma (1951)

Approved | 113 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A company of Marines races against the clock to find a Japanese rocket base.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Reginald Gardiner, Robert Wagner

Votes: 2,363

Widmark is best as an "everyman", and here he leads a great cast of characters in war.

40. Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

Approved | 130 min | Adventure, Drama, War

During World War II in North Africa, a medical field unit must cross the desert in their ambulance in order to reach the British lines in Alexandria.

Director: J. Lee Thompson | Stars: John Mills, Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms, Harry Andrews

Votes: 4,697

Intriguing story, and allegedly true. Probably is. A trek through the desert by a small group with some drama and revelations. Many think it is a classic, and it certainly is on the cusp.

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