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The 100 Greatest War Movies of All Time

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The 100 Greatest War Movies of All Time

War. What is it good for? Well, if nothing else, then a tidy template for cinema: conflict, clear protagonists and antagonists, heightened emotions, and a generally unpredictable, lawless atmosphere which—as per the western—has since the dawn of cinema offered an elastic dramatic environment in which filmmakers can explore men at both their best and worst. And make no mistake, the war movie is almost always about men.

It’s the most masculine of genres, the fact that armies have throughout history often been almost exclusively male seeing to it that men almost always dominate these things. It’s a genre that emphasizes action and existential angst. It’s also a malleable genre, and one that could broadly include all manner of films that we ultimately ruled out of the running in this list.

With this top 100, we’ve made the decision to include only movies whose wars are based on historical conflicts, so none of the likes of Edge of Tomorrow or Starship Troopers. We’ve picked films that deal with soldiers, soldiering and warfare directly, meaning wartime movies set primarily away from conflict, often told largely or exclusively from the civilian perspective—a category which includes such classics as The Cranes Are Flying and Hope & Glory, Grave of the Fireflies and Forbidden Games—didn’t make the cut. Post-war dramas, like Ashes and Diamonds and Germany, Year Zero, as well as films that go to war for only a fraction of the running time, such as From Here to Eternity and Born on the Fourth of July, were also excluded.

Some tough choices were made on what actually constituted a “war movie.” Resistance dramas feature in this list, but Casablanca doesn’t appear. Likewise Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Sidney Lumet’s The Hill. It was decided ultimately that the war was too much a peripheral element in these films. On the other hand, while both western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and biopic The Imitation Game feature war prominently, they, like Casablanca (a romance with noir and thriller elements) plus A Man Escaped and The Hill (both prison movies), belong more obviously to other genres. We’ve also decided not to include movies which focus on the Holocaust here; those are set to appear in another feature entirely.

Regarding the films that do feature here: our 100 hail from all over the world. These films were released as recently as last year and as far back as 1930. They range from comical to harrowing, action-packed to quietly introspective, proudly gung-ho to deeply anti-war. They are a diverse set of movies; they are also worthy of being called the 100 greatest war movies ever made.

100. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Director: Nagisa Oshima

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence may be the first film to confront and then attempt to understand the flawlessness of David Bowie’s charm. Pretty solidly a superstar by this point and already flush with acting experience, Bowie plays Major Jack Celliers, an impudent British officer captured by the Japanese during the thick of World War II and sent to a POW camp on Java overseen by Captain Yanoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto, a legendary musician in his own right, who also provides the film’s searing neon score). Yanoi struggles to suppress his obsession with this new prisoner, knowing full well the severe punishment that awaits any homoerotic activity under his army’s strict bushido code. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a quiet film, unhurried and rarely manic: Long shots wander over barracks full of dirty, downtrodden and sometimes destroyed prisoners, but always Oshima finds his way back to the saint-like Bowie, who skirts the line between wit and tragedy, mean-mugging while the camera laps up his every microgesture. —Dom Sinacola


99. Days of Glory (2006)
Director: Rachid Bouchareb

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The little-discussed plight of the ill-treated North African soldiers who valiantly fought for the Allied Forces in WWII (and were subsequently denied the pensions to which they were rightfully entitled) is the topic of French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory, which concerns itself with how the utter poverty young Algerians faced at home drove them to join the French military campaign against the Nazis. However, once recruited, the men—unsentimentally played by a quartet of actors including Amelie’s Jamel Debbouze—struggle to not let discriminatory treatment by the military brass quell their patriotism for the “Motherland.” Their resistance is bold and transformative in the face of not only institutional prejudice but also the bleak war which Bouchareb realistically and brutally captures. A history lesson, both important and beneficial for us all. —Jonah Flicker


98. 84 Charlie MoPic (1989)
Director: Patrick Sheane Duncan

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Like many an embedded Vietnam War doc, 84 Charlie MoPic follows a unit of homesick GIs into the jungle, where things subsequently go south, and the ensuing chaos is bottled in the half-heard, half-seen footage captured by the cameraman. Only Patrick Sheane Duncan’s MoPic isn’t a documentary at all, but one of the pioneering examples of the found-footage movie. One sees in it why the subgenre has since become basically exclusive to the horror genre—the idea that we’re watching something shot by the missing (presumed dead) is inherently unsettling and immediately introduces a crucial element of suspense. The story (a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol scopes out North Vietnamese Army territory) is perfunctory; with 84 Charlie MoPic, a Vietnam vet filmmaker uses the pseudo-doc technique to invoke something like the shuddering fear the soldier on the ground in that war must have felt. —Brogan Morris


97. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director:   Mel Gibson  

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More or less, every film Mel Gibson has made as a director from Braveheart onwards has been a Christian parable with splatter, each one (particularly, obviously, The Passion of the Christ) about a common Chosen One offering himself as a sacrifice for the good of mankind. Gibson’s latest, the schizophrenic WWII drama Hacksaw Ridge—half cornball melodrama, half ultra-violent action movie—is a bloodthirstily reverential bio in the same mould. Its subject, conscientious objector Desmond Doss (played with saintly sincerity by Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-day Adventist who won the Medal of Honor despite never carrying a weapon into combat, might not have approved of Gibson’s gore-hungry style, but the director’s way with battle scenes in the second half of the film is undeniable as cinema. Once it enters the Pacific Theater, and Doss’ regiment sets up camp on the heavily fortified Okinawa, Hacksaw Ridge is all Sturm und Drang, a visceral depiction of war like no other. —Brogan Morris


96. Savior (1998)
Director: Predrag Antonijevic

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The film begins with our protagonist shooting a group of Muslims at prayer. Unwilling to face justice, this same man then joins the French foreign legion and becomes a mercenary for hire in the Bosnian War of the early-to-mid-’90s. Savior may feature a square-jawed American star in the lead, in the form of a rarely better Dennis Quaid, but director Predrag Antonijevic is keen to establish from the opening scenes that his movie is no Hollywood-ized take on Europe’s last major war (a war which the Serbian Antonijevic saw up close). As he escorts to safety a young woman, pregnant after being raped by enemy soldiers, Quaid’s “Guy” is witness to atrocities that barely make sense in a modern Western setting: smiling children lobbing grenades at unsuspecting infantry; a soldier cutting the finger off an elderly woman’s hand so he can snatch her ring; a humongous Croat executing a line of his former Yugoslav countryfolk, clubbing them over the head with a range of domestic tools. Only in a war like this one, even more senselessly barbaric than his own crime, could someone like Guy find redemption. —Brogan Morris


95. Stalingrad (1993)
Director: Joseph Vilsmaier

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One of the most costly battles of the Second World War gets appropriately unflinching treatment in Joseph Vilsmaier’s Stalingrad, a German counterpart to 2001’s Russian sniper drama Enemy at the Gates. From this side, there is no pride wrapped up in fighting Stalin’s great battle—only, initially, complacency and arrogance after the Third Reich has dominated Europe for so long, then later, a gradual, horrifying deflation as the ever-shrinking remnants of Lieutenant Hans von Witzland’s (Thomas Kretschmann) platoon realize the only way they’re leaving the Russian stronghold city is through their own demise. For over two hours, we watch them die in repeated infantry assaults, by sniper fire, in a tank attack, and—eventually, as winter sets in—through illness, starvation, mutinous friendly bullets and the unrelenting cold. By the end, Vilsmaier’s film is a slog, but then it probably shouldn’t be anything else. —Brogan Morris


94. American Sniper (2014)
Director:   Clint Eastwood  

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For some it’s too many caveats, but uncertain politics, historical revisionism and obvious fake baby aside, American Sniper is still one of the very few great fiction films to be made about any of America’s post-9/11 wars. Directed by (the anti-war) Clint Eastwood, the adaptation of the autobiography of deadliest sniper in U.S. history Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is punishingly tense in its Iraq-set battle scenes, the octogenarian filmmaker proving he can still fine-tune an action sequence, and subtly moving whenever it’s back on U.S. soil. It’s in the scenes of quiet Texas domesticity, the sounds of war still playing out as Kyle sits alone at a bar or absent-mindedly watches a blank TV screen at home, that Bradley Cooper emerges as the film’s MVP. He plays Kyle with a sensitivity and restrained anguish that perhaps doesn’t represent who the real Kyle actually was, but whatever the veracity of the depiction, it’s a gently stunning portrait of the emotional paralysis soldiers can suffer upon returning home from an unnatural situation. —Brogan Morris


93. Kelly’s Heroes (1970)
Director: Brian G. Hutton

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Kelly’s Heroes is a mess of conflicting styles. This daft, odd trifle is a heist movie, a comedy and a western set in WWII-era France, with Clint Eastwood playing a khaki’d Man With No Name, Don Rickles doing his wiseguy shtick and Donald Sutherland acting like he’s time-travelled in from the Summer of Love to play a spaced-out tank commander. All these awkward elements flesh out the bones of a straightforward men-on-a-mission movie, wherein a team of rogues led by Telly Savalas’ sergeant and Eastwood’s laconic Pvt. Kelly carry out the robbery of Nazi gold inside enemy territory. The brash strangeness of the conceit is a big part of why Kelly’s Heroes is so enjoyable—not tied down by anything like realism or tonal consistency, it’s an enthusiastic grab-bag of ideas, with director Brian G. Hutton reveling in destroying his sets like a kid wrecking his playset. It’s a cartoon done live-action, with war as a romp, the backdrop to an escapade without consequences. —Brogan Morris


92. Trial on the Road (1971)
Director: Aleksei German

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Enfant terrible of Soviet cinema Aleksei German made a hell of an impression with Trial on the Road back in the day—at least with Russian government officials, who were so incensed by his sophomore effort that they banned it for 15 years. Presumably they disliked the harsh tone and wretched violence, as well as the moral gray zone that the film proudly resides in, wherein a Russian who fought for the Nazis under duress might be deserving of and ultimately earn redemption by rejoining the anti-German partisans—all the elements that make Trial on the Road so memorable. It’s a hybrid: a thoughtful and offbeat arthouse film in black-and-white that also has ambitions to be an action movie, led by the inscrutable, Charles Bronson-esque Vladimir Zamansky. It’s gloomy and sad, and ends with a bullet-riddled finale at a German-held trainyard that any Hollywood action director could be proud of. —Brogan Morris


91. Waterloo (1970)
Director: Sergei Bondarchuk

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There’s a feast of pre-CGI spectacle on offer in Sergei Bondarchuk’s epic 1970 undertaking Waterloo, which took all the money and might that the Soviet Union and super-producer Dino De Laurentiis together could muster to recreate one of Europe’s most famous skirmishes. Courtesy of Brezhnev’s Russia, the production had at its disposal acres of engineered land and, as extras portraying British, French and Prussian forces, 17,000 of the country’s infantry and cavalry—or, to put it another way, what was said at that time to be the seventh largest army in the world. The film proudly displays its assets in breathtaking widescreen during its chaotic, almost hour-long battle sequence, but still somehow manages to strike a balance between opulent war movie and double character study of two legendary figures. Christopher Plummer plays the Duke of Wellington as a smarmy aristo who enjoys war like a board game, while Rod Steiger is a Napoleon gone to seed, the former military golden boy now an overweight middle-aged man in failing health, showing signs of manic-depression and desperately clinging on to what power he has left as Emperor. —Brogan Morris


90. Restrepo (2010)
Director: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

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Filmed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley during however interminable months it took for a small company of American soldiers to take back inches of that territory from the Taliban and establish the titular outpost, named after their fallen friend, photojournalist Tim Hetherington and journalist Sebastian Junger keep their documentary hyper-focused on the quotidian of the War on Terror. Alternating pointlessly but predictably between long bouts of boredom and spurts of graphic violence, the lives of the soldiers are drained every passing day of all sense of purpose while the lives of both the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban enemy become, more and more, abstractions—to the point that, in a scene following an especially harrowing loss, the soldiers greet a Taliban fighter’s death as one would a villain’s end in a Zack Snyder movie. In Restrepo, death is real until it’s not, the reality of the soldiers’ time in Afghanistan rarely making sense the more they try to accept it. —Dom Sinacola


89. Hamburger Hill (1987)
Director: John Irvin

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Flanked as it was by two mega hit Vietnam movies—Oliver Stone’s Oscar darling Platoon and Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed Full Metal Jacket—1987’s Hamburger Hill had a hard time making an impact. Critics and audiences of the time shrugged, but on reflection the film today seems like a natty forerunner to Black Hawk Down, a no-nonsense, almost apolitical grunt’s-eye view of combat on alien soil. The “why” of the war at ground level matters little to the mostly poor (and disproportionately black) conscripts who make up the American side; as in Black Hawk, the chief concern in the heat of the moment is kill or be killed. Following a brief introduction to a platoon of regular joes, obsessed with music, women and counting the days until the end of service, we watch as heads are blitzed by machine gun fire and bodies disappear from the shock of tree-bound explosives—and all for the sake of capturing a hill of little-to-no strategic value. Platoon argued that “the first casualty of war is innocence.” Hamburger Hill, a meat and potatoes war movie, counters that the only casualties are the unlucky ones who fail to make it out alive, plain and simple. —Brogan Morris


88. Fury (2014)
Director: David Ayer

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Rather than portraying the closing days of a conflict (in this case, it’s April 1945, and we’re venturing deep into Germany with the crew of a Sherman tank nicknamed the Fury) as a time to celebrate, David Ayer with miserable expressionist flair presents this as the soldier’s most desperate hour, with exhausted veterans fighting only the fanatical holdouts and attempting to survive what little war is left. Our protagonists’ awareness of their situation in itself makes the picture grueling, a sensation compounded by Ayer’s hard R approach. Fury is one of the most brutal war movies to come out of the studio system, proven in its shocking violence (heads are disappeared by tank shells, German prisoners are beaten until they’re no longer visibly human) but perhaps best exemplified by its quietest scene: the veterans of the Fury, all to varying degrees struggling with PTSD in a time when nobody really understood what that was, regale to newcomer Logan Lerman a story of D-Day horror over dinner. Emotionally battered after three years on the line, we see none of these men quite know how to process what they’ve done, and are all too aware they might never understand “normality” again. —Brogan Morris


87. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
Director: Allan Dwan

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According to John Wayne’s third wife, after he missed service in WWII (something that regular collaborator and WWII veteran John Ford would subsequently berate the actor for on their sets), Wayne became a “super-patriot,” forever trying to atone for not volunteering. That psychology is obvious from all the unapologetically jingoistic movies Wayne signed up for post-war, one of the finest of which is Allan Dwan’s Sands of Iwo Jima, a star-spangled corker divided up into 40 minutes of training and soldierly bonding, and an hour of booming island combat. As Sgt. Stryker, Wayne plays up his most iconic persona: the hard-drinking and secretly sensitive man’s man, who privately harbors affection for the troops in his command who he’s prepared to pummel to success. The first half, Stryker builds them up; the second half, he one by one watches his boys die, which they always do heroically, their effort essential to the functioning of the colossal American war machine that always continues to roll on through Dwan’s impressively chaotic sets. —Brogan Morris


86. The Beast (1988)
Director: Kevin Reynolds

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No exception to the rule that all tank movies must take their crews on gruesome existential journeys, The Beast is an ’80s studio film with a harsh, reflective heart. It looks at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan from the Red side, and proposes that the invasion was not just a fiasco of bad planning and insufficient equipment, but of dwindling patriotism in a Soviet army exhausted by the failing communist state. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, of Waterworld infamy, the film is unsurprisingly offbeat and grungy, but unlike that flop The Beast is no maximalist indulgence. Like George Dzundza—here in the best shape of his career as the titular T-55’s grim commander—The Beast is lean and moody. On a budget, Reynolds offers an eerie atmosphere and some indelible imagery: the crew of “the beast” driving into battle in steampunk-esque war gear; the tank belching out a ring of fire in the night and unwittingly cooking a herd of goat; an Afghan rebel pulverized underneath the tracks of the T-55 into human roadkill. It’s slight, but it lingers. —Brogan Morris


85. Zulu (1964)
Director: Cy Endfield

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Every war movie, in adopting the perspective of one side of a conflict as most do, dehumanizes the enemy to an extent. Is Zulu, which begins with a tribal song and dance performed by Zulu extras but later reduces these tribesmen to mindless cannon fodder, guilty of this more than most? The debate will continue over whether or not Cy Endfield’s jingoistic combat film is also innately racist; what’s indisputable is that Endfield’s re-enactment of the defense of Rorke’s Drift by 150 British soldiers from 4,000 Zulu warriors is stirring action cinema. Set almost entirely in a barebones missionary station in the then-British colony of Natal, it’s a single-location movie that makes the utmost of its limitation: the views (of the location’s surrounding South African mountains) are staggering, the battle sequences are frenzied and desperate, and there’s a justifiably star-making performance by Michael Caine, as an effete, entitled officer coming good under pressure. If even potentially offensive filmmaking can still be art, then Zulu must be a minor Brit masterpiece. —Brogan Morris


84. Land and Freedom (1995)
Director: Ken Loach

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Movies about the American Civil War and Russian revolution abound, but precious few have been made about the Spanish Civil War, a precursor conflict to WWII in which almost half a million were killed in little over two years. Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom might help to explain the dearth of films on the subject: Through the story of David Carr (a magnificently un-starry Ian Hart), a British communist gone to Spain to fight Franco’s fascists, we learn this was no “good war” of clear heroes and villains. David’s story begins romantically in the hazy Spanish hills, liberating small towns with a ragtag collection of anti-Franco fighters, but his idealism is slowly snuffed out by the reality of a complicated fight. The Marxist POUM militia face enemies not just from the right, but from the left and center, from rifle-wielding village priests eager to maintain the status quo and Stalinists determined to crush any socialist factions they consider hostile to the Soviet cause. It’s typically didactic stuff from Loach, who extolls the virtues of socialism while laboring the (fairly obvious) point that fascism and Stalinism are Bad, but the film leaves behind it the evocative whiff of melancholy, for all the hopefuls who find their idealism might not belong in such a complex world. —Brogan Morris


83. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Director: Richard Attenborough

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It’s an oddity among WWII movies: a blindingly starry cast and an enormous budget, amassed by director Richard Attenborough to “celebrate” one of the colossal military failures of WWII. The flip side to The Longest Day, A Bridge too Far is the story of how the Allies bet big on winning the war by Christmas, 1944, and subsequently left thousands killed, wounded or captured across the Netherlands. Beginning as adventure, revved up by bally-ho Brits and spunky yanks (including Michael Caine, Elliott Gould and a mighty Edward Fox), Attenborough’s film quickly devolves into a series of glum anecdotes on the futility of war. Anthony Hopkins’ glider troop are met behind enemy lines not by the predicted “old men and kids” but by superior German forces; Robert Redford’s paratroop company are decimated capturing a bridge with leaky boats; and Gene Hackman’s Polish general, dismissively treated by a self-satisfied Allied upper echelon, is forced to watch as his army of free Poles is massacred just as predicted. All the while the German command in Holland, in a strand of black comedy, repeatedly insist the Allies must have secret plans up their sleeve, because they couldn’t possibly be dumb or reckless enough to be attempting what they appear to be. —Brogan Morris


82. Red Cliff (2008)
Director: John Woo

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Filming the 2,000-page, 14th-century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a bit like trying to tell all of Shakespeare’s Henry plays in one movie. There are earth-scorching battles on a massive scale, endless naval armadas crowding the Yangtze River, labyrinthine military strategies, intricate tea ceremonies and a cast large enough to make Robert Altman sweat. The challenges of the source material makes John Woo’s adaptation, retitled Red Cliff, all the more impressive. The film (a five-hour two-parter) may bear little resemblance to Woo’s previous work, but at its core it’s a magnification of his favorite ideas and themes, with bravery and cunning prized above all else, and the line between right and wrong sharply and deeply drawn. Woo also explodes his trademark violence in scale: It’s not just a few cops shooting at each other, but thousands of soldiers attacking with spears, arrows, lances, swords and an array of blunt instruments, the action clear, concise, at times elegant, even as blood splatters across the camera lens. —Stephen M. Deusner


81. Braveheart (1995)
Director:   Mel Gibson  

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Despite a laundry list of historic “alternative facts,” Mel Gibson’s 1995 Oscar-winning medieval war epic is, unquestionably, one thoroughly stirring cinematic effort. This is due mainly to Scotland itself; John Toll’s cinematography, capturing the lush high and lowlands of the country, is what truly makes Braveheart so memorable—especially juxtaposed against the utter brutality of melee combat. (Gibson is certainly not shy in showing what happens when soldiers take an axe to the gourd.) Story-wise, the liberties taken with the actual events surrounding Scotland’s war for independence do probably make for a more compelling movie—the real William Wallace living in exile in France for years following the Battle of Stirling before his execution would be a tough sell on the big screen. So what that it’s practically an entire fabrication of a real conflict and people? It’s also one hell of an entertaining war movie. —Scott Wold


80. Fixed Bayonets! (1951)
Director: Samuel Fuller

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Until he was given something approaching a sizable budget for The Big Red One in 1980, WWII vet Samuel Fuller was forced to tell his war stories with little funding on the tiniest of canvases. Of all Fuller’s B war pictures, Fixed Bayonets! is the smallest—it’s set during the first winter of the Korean War at a U.S.-guarded mountain checkpoint, or quite clearly a small studio lot filled with fake snow—but as with the rest of Fuller’s movies, the filmmaker’s anthropological interest in his characters, sharp action and intelligent social commentary help the film transcend its confines. There are unpredictable, camera-shuddering firefights; there are excruciating trips through a minefield; there’s the growing tension of a responsibility-averse corporal (Richard Basehart) falling up the chain of command as his superiors are offed one by one by the enemy. It’s a cheap film with more brains and excitement than most movies made for 20 times the money. —Brogan Morris


79. Casualties of War (1989)
Director: Brian De Palma

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Take a true-life story of a group of GIs kidnapping, raping and murdering a village girl at the height of the Vietnam War, then re-tell it via the effortless popcorn style of Brian De Palma, and what’s left still can’t help but be a nasty film about a supremely nasty incident. That De Palma’s filmmaking remains typically showy even here makes Casualties of War a queasier ride than it would be minus the flash, and the director makes some questionable decisions in adaptation, like turning the murder into a thrilling action sequence and conjuring up an out-of-sync happy ending. Whatever missteps the film makes, Casualties is still overwhelmingly, unshakably shocking. Not simply a look at just how warped ’Nam got for innocent Vietnamese bystanders and for dangerously desensitized Americans, the film is also a lesson in toxic social psychology, with Michael J. Fox’s meek private attempting to talk his comrades out of their would-be crime, and being out-argued by a repulsively charismatic Sean Penn every step of the way. —Brogan Morris


78. They Were Expendable (1945)
Director: John Ford

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From the opening credits, which includes military rank alongside names, it’s clear how They Were Expendable has the edge on most war movies. Actor Robert Montgomery, an officer in the U.S. Navy during the D-Day landings, plays the resilient PT boat commander hero; Frank Wead, a naval veteran of both the First and Second World Wars, writes; and John Ford, wounded at the Battle of Midway whilst making one of his many documentaries for the war department, directs. Such direct experience makes for a film about the war at sea that was about as realistic as one could get from Hollywood in 1945. The combat scenes are spectacular, propulsive sea battles shot out in the waters of the Florida Keys, but Ford has more time for exploring the psyches of his characters. As his lieutenant delivers a eulogy for a fallen comrade, even John Wayne proves himself capable of some real emotional heavy lifting. —Brogan Morris


77. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Director:   Clint Eastwood  

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In 2006, Clint Eastwood released two war movies, one entirely expected—Flags of Our Fathers, the soggy, corn-fed story behind the iconic raising of the American flag at the battle of Iwo Jima—and another that didn’t read like an Eastwood pic at all. Letters From Iwo Jima is a humanist Japanese-language drama about that battle’s losing side, set largely during the buildup to attack, taken from the perspective of the sensitive Japanese general running the show (an extraordinary Ken Watanabe). And so a filmmaker so closely associated with American stories made one of the great Japanese war movies, closer to meditative Japanese cinema than to his own usual style, and near entrancing in its depiction of soldiers ritualistically preparing for an invasion they know will end in their deaths. With everything bathed in a green-and-tan sepia, Eastwood’s martyrs poignantly already look like long-gone relics. So long the faceless villains in Hollywood’s movies about the Pacific Theater, Eastwood contends that the Japanese grunts of WWII hated Iwo Jima, feared dying and had their own banal life concerns just like the soldiers on the other side. —Brogan Morris


76. The Sun (2005)
Director: Aleksandr Sokurov

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An unofficial companion piece to Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s recreation of Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker, Alexander Sokurov’s The Sun offers a woozy snapshot of the pampered, odd, lonely life of Emperor Hirohito as WWII comes to a close for Japan. It’s a war film in which we see no actual war, only the aftermath, when Hirohito is finally escorted from his own bunker through a bombed-out Tokyo to discuss peace with General MacArthur. Until then, we only hear bombs falling outside the fortified palace where Hirohito writes poetry, conducts scientific research and ponders out loud why he was urged to back a likely unwinnable war in the first place. Slow and surreal, The Sun is less accessible than its German counterpart, though it matches Hirschbiegel’s film for the quality of leading man. Issei Ogata gives an astonishing performance as Hirohito, painting a portrait of someone turned eccentric by years of isolation and coddling, a “living god” whom the occupying American forces come to regard as though some rare bird. In one scene, U.S. soldiers take photos of Hirohito during one of his infrequent public appearances. The soon-to-be abdicated Emperor, child-like, responds to requests for poses by putting on a Chaplin-esque show. —Brogan Morris

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