Ranked: War Movies

A ranking of the top ten best war movies of all time.


Photo by Tactical Life

Several images of the many great war movies

The plot, the dialogue, the characters, the stories. The war. War is one of the most popular genres in cinematic history. War movies have given us a wide range of history, from ancient times all the way to present day. From the Roman conquests to the raging wars in the Middle East and everything in between, these pieces of cinema have come to shape our knowledge of certain parts of history. 

I’ll be ranking a list of the top ten greatest war movies of all time. The criteria for these movies will be based on plot, character development, action, and overall production. With that being said, let’s begin.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Platoon
  • American Sniper
  • 13 Hours
  • Lone Survivor
  • The Longest Day


#10: Glory (1989)

The first movie on the list takes us to the Civil War and to a story that shaped the course of the struggle between the Union and Confederacy in the 1860s. Glory is a film about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first all-black regiments in the Union Army during the war. Following the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a white officer from Boston, is asked to command the new Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment. After months of basic training, the regiment is tasked with assaulting Fort Wagner, a Confederate fortress in South Carolina. The movie depicts the brave assault of the Massachusetts 54th and their legacy through the rest of the Civil War. Glory is an incredible story with action jam-packing the movie. Character development is excellent with big name actors including Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. While there were many other movies that could have been placed here, Glory edged them out in my opinion.


#9: 1917 (2019)

Opposite of Glory, 1917 is the newest movie on the list. The 2019 film follows two British soldiers in the British Army during World War One. The two, William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are tasked with crossing a several-mile warzone in order to warn a regiment of British troops of a German trap that they are walking right into. The most unique aspect of the film, which turned out to be a hit, is the use of the ongoing camera. The movie is filmed, essentially, as one giant scene, with hidden scene cuts that are hardly noticeable. I really enjoyed this and it set the movie apart from the rest. On top of that, the action is constantly propelling the movie forward, with high stakes events occurring time after time. This movie will not fail to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. The two soldiers experience war in all its horrors as they work toward their goal of saving over 1,500 British lives.


#8: We Were Soldiers (2002)

As the first of three movies starring Mel Gibson on this list, We Were Soldiers takes the number eight spot. At the dawn of the Vietnam War in 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), is given control of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, a group of U.S. troops who are specialized in helicopter transportation. In the first major battle of the war, Moore and his 400 troops are dropped into the Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnam, only to find out they are hopelessly surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese troops. The Americans are engaged in endless battle with the ruthless North Vietnamese for three days in constant, bloody warfare. Staying true to his word, Moore makes it his mission to ensure that every American soldier makes it back home, dead or alive. It’s a story of perseverance and determination. A story of brotherhood and leadership. With constant action, we as the audience are kept locked in as we watch the narrative unfold in a fast paced plot. We Were Soldiers is a must watch.


#7: Dunkirk (2017)

Adding onto the list of The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Tenet, Dunkirk is one of director Christopher Nolan’s many fantastic cinematic hits. The story follows the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Northern France in 1940. As the darkest hour of World War Two hits its peak, roughly 400,000 Allied troops await their uncertain rescue while stranded on Dunkirk beach. In a stunning move, the British Royal Navy enlists the help of British citizens to cross the English Channel and assist in the evacuation of the Allies who are facing near obliteration from the advancing Germans. Dunkirk follows three sections of the movie: the beach, the sea, and the air, as all three converge together for an incredible ending full of sacrifice and survival that could give anyone chills. Many complained about the lack of dialogue, but I believe this was a great aspect of the film. The entire movie gives an ominous vibe as the Allies are pushed to the brink, showing the true desperation of the situation. Dunkirk illustrates one of the most important stories of World War Two, and it was executed to near perfection by Christopher Nolan.


#6: Black Hawk Down (2001)

Taking a turn to more recent years, Black Hawk Down takes place in 1993 during U.S. intervention in the coastal African country of Somalia. The film follows an elite group of American troops tasked with entering the Somali capital city of Mogadishu and capturing Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aideed. The plan is successful at first, but then two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down by Somali fighters. The American troops mount a daring rescue as they face heavy resistance from the Somalis. The fighting rages for over a day until the Americans finally evacuate Mogadishu with all their troops. Once the fighting begins in Black Hawk Down, no one can take a look away from the t.v. until the end of the movie. A true war story, Black Hawk Down shows the brutality of war, and that victory isn’t always the case. With the traits of heroics and loyalty shown by the American soldiers, Black Hawk Down is a must see. 


#5: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

In the summer of 1945, the U.S. invaded Okinawa, a small island which happened to be the last battleground standing between the steamrolling Americans and Japan. Hacksaw Ridge follows the true story of Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an unlikely hero during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss was born into a Seventh-Day Adventist family, meaning his family was strictly against killing. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doss enlists in the U.S. military with the intent on being a medic. While going through basic training, he is mocked for his refusal to use a gun. Doss perseveres despite taking beatings nearly every day by his fellow trainees. By 1945, Doss and his regiment are deployed to Okinawa and eventually tasked with taking the strategic point of Hacksaw Ridge. Through bravery, determination, and toughness, Doss saves 75 American lives on Hacksaw Ridge without using a weapon once. He instantly becomes a hero in the U.S. Army. Hacksaw Ridge is a beautifully constructed film with an excellent plot which shows Desmond Doss’s childhood and emphasizes his struggles amidst keeping close to his ideals. The character development is fantastic and the story is even better.


#4: Braveheart (1995)

Taking a step back hundreds of years, Braveheart is the oldest movie on the list in terms of historical context. The story follows William Wallace (Mel Gibson), a Scottish peasant in 1280 during the English invasion of Scotland. After witnessing the execution of his wife, Wallace begins to lead a rebellion against the English. His leadership circulates throughout Scotland and many Scottish join the cause. Taking place long before the invention of firearms, Braveheart shows war in its brutality with hand-to-hand combat fighting. Wallace’s character development in this movie is almost better than any other character on this list, and his journey over the course of Braveheart is incredible. Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace excellently as he leads the Scottish rebels against the might of England. The story of Braveheart is one of the best stories on this list, giving it the number four spot.


#3: The Thin Red Line (1998)

As I enter my top three, we begin my list of almost perfect movies. The Thin Red Line is the first to take a top three spot. The 1998 hit has been widely regarded as one of the greatest war movies of all time, and it’s no surprise. The Thin Red Line follows the story of a company of American troops in the Pacific Theater of World War Two during 1942. They are tasked with the difficult mission of taking part in the invasion of Japanese-held Guadalcanal. I had a very tough time deciding whether or not this would take the number two spot, but ultimately it will be sitting at number three. Still, The Thin Red Line is an incredible movie with an even better story to follow. The character development is unmatched by most other war movies. The Thin Red Line will never fail to be a masterpiece of a movie, executed perfectly by everyone involved.


#2: The Patriot (2000)

Coming in at the number two spot, we have Mel Gibson’s third movie on the list. And this one is a homerun of a movie. The Patriot is one of the only movies out there about the American Revolution, but it makes up for the lack of other movies within that category. Mel Gibson plays the role of the loosely true character of Benjamin Martin, a widowed veteran of the French and Indian War living in South Carolina during 1776. Martin becomes disillusioned from war following his time serving, and is against the thirteen colonies fighting the British. However, his mind is changed when the war arrives at his home in South Carolina and the British kill his son. Martin and his other son, Gabriel, recruit men across the rural towns of South Carolina to join the cause and they use guerilla warfare tactics to pick off British General Charles Cornwallis’s regiments and weaken the British campaign. The story of Benjamin Martin beginning as a man completely against war to eventually a full proponent of taking the fight to the British is perfection. The movie showcases the true American spirit as Martin and his band of militiamen from all walks of life band together to take down the most powerful fighting force of the time. Watching the Patriot never gets old. It’s an easy 10/10 rating, no question. 


#1: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Finally, taking the number one spot is the absolute masterpiece of Saving Private Ryan. Starring Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan is another World War Two movie filmed in 1998. However, unlike The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan is set in the European Theater of the Second World War. Following one of the most warlike sequences in cinematic history showcasing the American storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), and his squad are given a dangerous mission. They are tasked with finding and bringing home Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), the brother of three deceased U.S. troops. His mother has requested that Ryan be brought home by the U.S. military. Miller and his men find themselves behind enemy lines as they wage a massive search over Northwestern France while World War Two continues to prolong. It’s a fictional story loosely inspired by true events, but nevertheless, the story is absolutely incredible and takes us viewers on a journey in which we will never take our eyes off the screen. The action is unmatched, the character development is amazing, and the constant intensity is one that not many movies are able to sustain. In short, Saving Private Ryan is perfect in every way possible.