10 Best War Moves Every Filmmaker and Movie Buff Should See


The pain and agony of war are difficult to capture on film, but many movies have come close.

For a look at the worst and most heroic of humanity, I’ve created a list of the best war movies of all time.

So strap on your army boots and helmet, hang the dog tag around your neck, duck deep into the trenches, and look at some of the best war movies of all time.

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

“I like the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like…victory.”

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore
  • Genre: psychological war
  • Director: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Screenwriters: Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius
  • Starring: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Why you should watch it:

This film is essential for filmmakers to study for its unique and visionary approach to storytelling.

Coppola’s direction is epic and poetic, using surreal visuals and atmospheric sound design to create a hallucinatory experience.

One of the most iconic sequences is the helicopter attack on a Vietnamese village set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which showcases the juxtaposition of beauty and destruction.

“Apocalypse Now” also explores the psychological effects of war on individuals and the moral ambiguity surrounding military actions.

The film’s exploration of the human psyche and the blurred lines between sanity and insanity provide filmmakers with a profound example of character study and thematic depth.

I love this movie; the awesome performances by all the actors and the cinematography and sound design are still amazing. I recommend watching the director’s cut (Apocalypse Now Redux) and catch a glimpse of a very young Harrison Ford.

Also, check out the Best Quotes from Apocalypse Now here.

2. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

“We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth—with guns.”

Crazy Earl
  • Genre: war drama
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Screenwriters: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford
  • Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey

Why you should watch it:

“Full Metal Jacket” examines the dehumanization of soldiers during the Vietnam War. Kubrick’s cinematography and use of contrasting visual styles in the film’s two parts make it a fascinating study for filmmakers.

The training camp sequence, particularly the drill instructor’s intense monologues, demonstrates Kubrick’s expertise in creating memorable and impactful dialogue scenes.

Full Metal Jacket is a great movie, and what I love the most about it is the psychological transformation of Private Gomer Pyle. Terrifying and excellent at the same time!

3. Black Hawk Down (2001)

“Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.”

  • Genre: war
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Screenwriter: Ken Nolan
  • Starring: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and more.

Why you should watch it:

“Black Hawk Down” depicts the intense Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. It is a prime example of Scott’s skill in crafting gripping and visceral action sequences.

The extended street battle scene showcases his ability to create tension and deliver impactful moments of chaos and heroism.

It features a large and great ensemble cast, and many young actors moved on to become big movie stars. See if you can spot a young Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom, and a young Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

4. 1917 (2019)

“Hope is a dangerous thing.”

Colonel MacKenzie
  • Genre: War Drama, Action, Historical Drama
  • Director: Sam Mendes
  • Screenwriters: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Why you should watch it:

This film is essential for filmmakers to study because of its technical achievements and storytelling prowess.

Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins created a seamless and unbroken visual experience, using long takes and camera movements to enhance the tension and urgency of the narrative.

The continuous shot technique makes the audience feel like they are accompanying the characters in real-time, heightening the story’s emotional impact.

“1917” also explores the futility and brutality of war, presenting a harrowing depiction of trench warfare and the human cost of conflict.

The film’s attention to detail and historical accuracy, combined with the character’s emotional journey, make it a powerful example of how war can be portrayed on screen.

The movie landed cinematographer Roger Deakins a well-deserved Oscar.

5. Dunkirk (2017)

“Survival’s not fair.”

  • Genre: War, Drama, Historical Fiction
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan
  • Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy

Why you should watch it:

“Dunkirk” provides a unique perspective on war by focusing on the evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II.

Nolan’s innovative approach to storytelling, with three interwoven narrative threads, demonstrates his mastery of non-linear narrative structure.

The aerial dogfights and sinking ship scenes exemplify his ability to create breathtaking and immersive action sequences.

6. The Hurt Locker (2008)

“You realize every time you suit up, it’s life or death.”

Sgt. J. T. Sanborn
  • Genre: War thriller
  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Screenwriter: Mark Boal
  • Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

Why you should watch it:

“The Hurt Locker” provides an intense and immersive look into the world of bomb disposal units during the Iraq War. Bigelow’s direction effectively captures the job’s high-stakes tension and psychological toll.

The sniper scene, in which the protagonist must make a crucial decision, showcases Bigelow’s ability to create suspense and capture the emotional turmoil of war.

7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

“No. I meant it. Find him. Get him home.”

Captain Hamill
  • Genre: war
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Robert Rodat
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

Why you should watch it:

“Saving Private Ryan” is renowned for its realistic portrayal of World War II. It is a masterclass in capturing the chaos and brutality of war, with its opening Omaha Beach scene being one of the most intense and impactful sequences in cinema history.

Spielberg’s use of handheld cameras and a desaturated color palette adds to the authenticity and immersive nature of the film.

8. Platoon (1986)

“Hell is the impossibility of reason.”

Chris Taylor
  • Genre: war
  • Director: Oliver Stone
  • Screenwriter: Oliver Stone
  • Starring: Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen

Why you should watch it:

“Platoon” offers an authentic portrayal of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a young soldier. Stone’s experience as a Vietnam veteran brings a raw and gritty realism to the film.

The ambush scene in the jungle effectively captures the fear and confusion of combat, showcasing Stone’s talent for creating tension and realism.

Watch this one in the evening because it is dark; it can be difficult to see what’s going on in the scenes in the jungle if you’ve got a window light reflecting on the screen.

9. Schindler’s List (1993)

“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

Oskar Schindler
  • Genre: historical drama
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Why you should watch it:

“Schindler’s List” is a poignant exploration of humanity amidst the atrocities of war.

The film’s black-and-white cinematography and powerful performances make it a must-watch for filmmakers.

10. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

“Everything happens in Threes.”

General Kuribayashi
  • Genre: war
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Screenwriter: Iris Yamashita
  • Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara

Why you should watch it:

“Letters from Iwo Jima” presents the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective. Eastwood’s direction and cinematography offer a nuanced portrayal of war, highlighting the humanity and sacrifices made by soldiers on both sides.

The scene where General Kuribayashi confronts his officers about their arrogance demonstrates Eastwood’s ability to create complex and compelling character interactions.


Studying the best war movies is essential for any filmmaker looking to create one within the genre.

These films not only entertain but also provide valuable insights into the complexities and realities of war.

By analyzing their storytelling techniques, character development, and cinematography, filmmakers can gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively convey war’s emotional and psychological impact on individuals and society.

The best war movies often explore themes of sacrifice, honor, and resilience, allowing filmmakers to learn how to portray the human experience amidst the chaos of war.

By studying these films, filmmakers can also gain inspiration for unique storytelling approaches, such as nonlinear narratives or multiple perspectives, that can enhance the audience’s understanding and engagement with the subject matter.

Moreover, war movies have the power to educate and raise awareness about historical events and their consequences.

Up Next: What is a Setting in Film?


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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