Top Ten War Films

Memorial Day provides a good excuse to make yet another top ten list. Here are my top ten war films (with apologies to John Wayne fans – I guess I’m not big on flag-waving jingoism):

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)


Like Kubrick’s great Paths of Glory, Strangelove is an equally stinging indictment of the military mind, though here straight drama is replaced by a black comedy in which gung-ho warmongers, paranoid Generals, venal Russkies, humanoid Nazi bomb makers, and rodeo cowboy bomber pilots engage in an absurd conflict that can only result in their mutual destruction, concluding appropriately with that yahooing cowboy riding a huge phallic missile to oblivion, a fitting final image of life as we know it and proof that the world will end not with a whimper but with a bang.


The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)


Chronicling the events surrounding the titular battle of the Algerian War, this fascinating political film, which remains as authentic, powerful and relevant today as it was 45 years ago, uses a documentary-like approach to explore the ruthless tactics employed by rebels and occupiers alike to conduct urban warfare. It also benefits from Ennio Morricone’s forceful score.


Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst, 1930)


Ask the typical movie buff to name a WW1 film from 1930 which uses elaborate tracking shots in its harrowing depiction of bloody hand-to-hand trench warfare, and the likely answer you’ll get will be, of course,  All Quiet on the Western Front. And that’s a pity because Westfront 1918 is a more realistic and better acted, less sentimental and heavy-handed account of similar events than the comparatively dated All Quiet on the Western Front.


Shame (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)


Bergman’s bleak, apocalyptic vision of war, which focuses on a pacifist couple’s futile attempt to remain neutral when armed forces invade their island, powerfully demonstrates how quickly and easily the tenuous thread between order and chaos, peace and conflict, civilization and savagery can snap.


Objective Burma! (1945) Raoul Walsh


Detailing the plight of a platoon stuck behind enemy lines in the unforgiving jungles and marshes of Burma, Objective Burma is the best WW2 combat film of the ‘40s thanks to Errol Flynn’s compelling performance, an authentic recreation of the Burmese jungle, and above all, Walsh’s genuinely potent direction. Particularly impressive is the way Walsh heightens suspense by emphasizing the anxiety and tension the soldiers experience before a battles begins.

Rounding out the top ten:

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)

Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959)

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

The Ascent (Larissa Shepitko, 1977)


Additional recommendations:

The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1927)

Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

The Lost Patrol (John Ford, 1934)

La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1938)

Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)

Der Fuehrer’s Face (Jack Kinney, 1942)

Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)

Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)

It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow & Andrew Mollo, 1963)

The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963)

Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)

Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

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