war movies

Since the dawn of modern film, the War Movie has been a centric pillar of popular cinema. Acting not only to entertain profusely with action both endless and intense, War Movies strike their own specific chord with most- portraying the heartbreak and grief of this truly human institution. As one of the most saturated genres, highlighting a mere 10 standout offerings is in itself, a tremendous tragedy.

10. The Hurt Locker

The most recent movie on my list, The Hurt Locker is an adventure into the most modern of world conflicts. Concentrating on the exploits of a Baghdad based US Explosive Ordinance Disposal team and their danger hungry commander; it is an insight into the daily plagues faced by service men and women serving in the Middle East- some of which are more obvious than others. Although featuring less combat action than others further down the list, this six Oscar winning piece does remarkably well to keep viewers both enthralled and horrified.

9. Gods and Generals

The second in a two part Civil War epic, Gods and Generals is based mostly on Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (portrayed by Stephen Lang) and the role played by him and his famous ‘First Brigade’. Capturing this most brutal of wars with a mixture of lengthy authentic dialogue and equally endowed realistic battle scenes, the movie follows the conflict from its conception in 1861 all the way through to the eve of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. Based on a novel by Jeffrey Shaara, the film also features Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall (as General Lee) and runs for a lengthy 214 minutes.

8. Master and Commander: The far side of the World

Gripping historical drama centred on the captain and crew of HMS Victory circa 1805. At the height of Napoleons power/madness, the French are in pursuit of domination over the world’s oceans- the only thing in their way being the grit and determination of British Naval crews. In this case personified by Captain Jack Aubrey (Russel Crowe), an experienced and well respected commander, Jack and his lads are charged with the pursuit of a French privateer named ‘Acheron’- with orders to ‘Sink, Burn, or take her a prize’. However, the Acheron soon proves to be a worthy opponent- a revelation which leads to an intense game of cat + mouse, but with cannons and swords. Great fun.

7. Black Hawk Down

Furious fire-fighting drama based on the events leading up to and encompassing the Battle of Mogadishu, following a team of Delta Force Rangers tasked with a snatch and run mission in the heart of a civil war torn Somalia capital. Based on true events, the film depicts some of the most bloody and helpless scenarios in modern war- as the mission goes wrong leaving many Rangers not only cut off from base, but from each other. Ridley Scott directs an all-star cast including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and Tom Sizemore to capture one of the most notable disasters in recent US military practice.

6. Braveheart

Loosely (very loosely) based on some of the events of the first war of Scottish independence in the early middle ages (1296-1328 I believe..) Mel Gibson’s modern masterpiece documents the life of Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. From an opening 30 minutes which shows a young William lose his father and brother as a result of their rebellion towards English crown and rule, to some of the most epic battle scenes of all time featuring a fully grown William (Gibson) slicing Englishmen clean in half with a giant sword, the film hardly lets up. Of course there are the tangents of love, loyalty and inevitably betrayal, however these subplots merely act to supplement the passion of the rousing battle scenes, at least in my opinion.

5. Schindlers List

Where exactly does one draw the line between WWII and holocaust movies? The answer is simple- right here. Steven Spielberg is indeed the king of on screen pain and this epic tracking the deeds of kind hearted Nazi party member Oskar Schindler (that reads strangely), is a journey of emotion, devotion and human nature both angelic and vile. Based on a true story, the plot follows Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a business man seeking success in wartime Poland. His desire to profit from grief soon flips on its head however as the horrors of the holocaust are fully realised. Soon Schindler finds himself losing profit at the cost of saving Jews, many of whom he has come to admire and respect. Schindler’s need to keep favour with fellow Nazi’s also adds dimension, with the scrutiny of SS Lieutenant/super villain Amon Goeth (depicted inspirationally by Ralf Fiennes) never too far away.

4. Zulu

The old-timer of my list, Zulu is the tale of Rorke’s Drift- a battle which occurred between the British Army and the Zulu’s in 1879. Starring a very young Michael Caine, Stanley Baker and Ulla Jacobsson the movie tracks the operations of a Welsh regiment occupying a missionary station close to Zulu territory. Upon hearing that a much larger, more battle-ready Zulu force are heading their way- the men decide to stand instead of flee and begin to fortify their position. A great battle of course then ensues, with wave after wave of Zulu warrior coming at the tiring defenders. As well as taking on this famous battle, Zulu tackles the issue of the post-Victorian class system within British society of the time and how it transpired into the ever modernising military. All in all a well-rounded war feature.

3. Platoon

Vietnam, despite being a war of much unrest and controversy, has established itself as a very attractive conflict amongst film makers. Oliver Stone’s Platoon is arguably one of the best ‘nam movies ever, encapsulating the essence of the war in an objective yet hands-on manner. It captures perfectly how many soldiers were too emerged in wars amongst and even with themselves to worry about their supposed enemy as well. Doing well to capture the despair of the draftees and volunteers alike, correct emphasis is also placed on the hardship endured at this time by the civilians caught in the middle of it all. An excellent cast featuring Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger and John C. McGinley is supplemented by awe-inspiring locations and a famous soundtrack to make this a very worthwhile 2 hours.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front

This remake of the 1930 movie of the same name sees a group of German schoolboys being conditioned for, and ultimately thrown straight into, the horrors of the First World War. The movie displays the willingness with which this barbaric conflict appropriated its millions of victims- usually young men willing to fight, suffer then die for causes mostly unbeknown to them. From receiving inspiring yet clearly deluding speeches from their nationalist teacher, young classmates run off to join the Imperial Army. Through their training right up until their first encounters with a hardened French enemy, the men undergo the type of horrors usually associated with the Great War, all the while losing sight of the true intentions of it all.

1. Saving Private Ryan

This film tops the list on the grounds that it depicts war in the most literal of senses. Opening with that famous half hour long scene of slaughter and chaos depicting Omaha beach on D-Day, the movie goes on to follow a group of soldiers led by a cryptic yet intelligent Army Captain (Tom Hanks) as they make their way through Nazi occupied Normandy in search of an airborne Private. The reason for their mission? Private Ryan (Matt Damon) is the last remaining brother of four, the other three having been claimed already by the conflict. Marrying the contrasts of grim warfare with a near perfect insight to the bonds formed between soldiers, the film emits hope and misery in equal measure, as all good war films should.