The 100 Greatest War Movies of All Time

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75. Che (2008)
Director:   Steven Soderbergh  

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Steven Soderbergh’s “biopic” of Che Guevara, actually a double bill of films centered on two of the revolutionary’s military campaigns—the one that made his name and the one that would claim his life—is a story of guerrilla warfare in two parts. Part one, The Argentine, is a rousing, lushly colorful account of the Cuban revolution, and part two, Guerilla, a somber, handheld take on the doomed Bolivian “revolution” of 1967. The former is a story of the soldier in victory, with the scrappy July 26th Movement winning clashes against government forces, while the latter—originally a Terrence Malick project—is a treatise on death, a grim tale of idealism broken on the dusty slopes of Bolivia, as Guevara and an ever-dwindling band of combatants are picked off by CIA-backed anti-insurgency troops. Benicio Del Toro towers over the project as rebellion’s poster boy, while Soderbergh’s depiction of combat is almost anti-cinematic: confused, drawn-out and fundamentally inglorious. —Brogan Morris


74. A Walk in the Sun (1945)
Director: Lewis Milestone

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“Seems like this war is nothing but waiting,” intones narrator Burgess Meredith early in Lewis Milestone’s understated WWII drama A Walk in the Sun. The waiting is what the film emphasizes: the long, dull moments that come in between the action sequences most war movies savor. Any fighting that happens in Milestone’s movie is brief, or takes place off-screen, heard in the distance or discussed as hearsay by bored servicemen men. The antithesis to all that was thought to make a war movie in 1945, A Walk in the Sun’s speciality is inaction. The entertainment instead comes from jocular exchanges about home or inedible military chow that the men of the 36th Infantry, like Lloyd Bridges’ affable Sgt. Ward and Richard Conte’s chain-smoking smart-mouth Rivera, use to pass the time on their cross-country invasion trek through rural Italy. An hour and a half of waiting is enough to lull the viewer into a false sense of security before suddenly a final battle finds enormous expense for negligible gain, a sacrifice from the “Texas Division” for an objective so insignificant it would not even make the history books. —Brogan Morris


73. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Director: Michael Mann

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On one of his many jaunts through American history, Daniel Day-Lewis stops off in 1757 in the middle of the French and Indian War in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, playing a white man raised by a Native American chieftain and beholden to no one side in the fight engulfing the then-British colony of New York. Mann does not delve too deeply into the tangled politics of this particular American war, instead focusing on the general antagonism felt by American Indians towards white colonists—whether French or British, Europeans scrap for land that never belonged to them in the first place—and their perpetual thirst for conflict. The romance between Day-Lewis’ Nathaniel Hawkeye and Madeleine Stowe’s English debutante Cora Munro may be tepid, but typical for Mann the action is marvelously arranged, from the explosive siege at Fort Henry (first spied from a distance as a storm of fire in the night, just one of many spellbinding images courtesy of DoP Dante Spinotti) to the rousing, emotionally charged showdown between the last Mohicans and a rival tribe led by a glowering, damaged Wes Studi. —Brogan Morris


72. Ride with the Devil (1999)
Director:   Ang Lee  

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Unlike so many Civil War movies taken from the Confederate side (see Gettysburg from six years prior, or Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain, which arrived four years later), Ride with the Devil doesn’t shy away from the racial factor which played such a crucial part. Ang Lee’s bushwhackers—gentlemanly guerrillas played by blandly pretty actors like Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich—are racists, as well as cold-blooded murderers. It has realistically clumsy action and painterly scenery, but a major part of the appeal of Devil is that it takes a complicated view of a mythologized war and its combatants. Lee’s mastery of character is present and correct right along with his fascination with one of his specific American milieus—its sociopolitical layers, its language (oh how James Schamus writes that florid southern dialogue) and its topography, lensed with quiet admiration by cinematographer Frederick Elmes. There’s a love triangle between the characters played by Maguire, Ulrich and Jewel (it can be an oh-so-’90s movie at times), but the real love story is between Maguire’s German-born idealist Roedel and Jeffrey Wright’s free black Holt, two men who form a bond fighting for a country that often doesn’t even consider them its own. —Brogan Morris


71. Lebanon (2009)
Director: Samuel Maoz

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So eerie and humming with dread it could almost be a horror film, Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, based on the director’s own experiences as a gunner for the Israeli tank corps during the 1982 Lebanon War, uses budgetary shortcomings to its distinct advantage. Maoz makes the Das Boot of tank movies, a sweaty, intensely claustrophobic film where the viewer hunches inside a creaking war machine for almost the entire run time. We, like the inhabitants of the tank, see outside the vehicle only via its gunsight. Whether they’re viewing the remains of a recently besieged town or the screaming, de-limbed torso of a Lebanese civilian whose truck they’ve just shelled, the crew remains always at a curious distance from the conflict. From their perspective, war is hell through a periscope lens, both frightening and unfathomable. —Brogan Morris


70. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Director: Quentin Tarantino

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Quentin Tarantino’s dual loves of vengeance and cinema have never had a purer expression than the face of a Jewish cinematheque owner projected Oz-like onto the smoke of Nazis aflame. The story goes like this: In the middle of the war, propagandist Joseph Goebbels plans to screen his latest pro-Nazi film for the party’s elite at a small Parisian theatre that is, unbeknownst to Goebbels, run by Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent)—whose family was killed by SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, evil incarnate with a gentleman’s face), and who is working in collaboration with American Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his squad of Nazi-scalping Jewish soldiers. To an almost touching degree, Inglourious Basterds recognizes that the vengeance driving so many films—and certainly Tarantino’s own—is a cinematic impulse, a fantasy of light and sound, cleanly separated from common sense and actual history. It’s flippant, but in Tarantino’s low-rent, pulpy way, Basterds celebrates the well-known cases of Jewish resistance. —Robert Davis


69. Jarhead (2005)
Director:   Sam Mendes  

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What perversity, to make a war film all about people waiting for a chance to fight in a war and never getting a chance to actually do it. That’s Jarhead, Sam Mendes’s adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s 2003 memoir about his experiences during the first Gulf War. But considering that that initial middle-Eastern conflict turned out to be mostly fought in the air and through media airwaves, how else to be true to Swofford’s wartime experience? That perhaps makes this film more conceptually interesting than compelling to actually watch; nevertheless, there is a thematic and structural integrity to this film that is admirable in the abstract. If Jarhead adds up to anything resonant, it’s as a feature-length meta-commentary on other war movies. Seeing a whole room of soldiers cheering the ostensibly horrifying destruction orgy set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, one can’t help but be reminded of François Truffaut’s famous skepticism that war movies could be anything but pro-war, however unintentional on a filmmaker’s part. Mendes’s film takes that sentiment to a deliberately frustrating yet utterly logical extreme: Jarhead is a war movie that leaves no one—neither viewers who get off on depiction of wartime combat nor those who demand a confirmation of their anti-war biases—satisfied. —Kenji Fujishima


68. The Blue Max (1966)
Director: John Guillermin

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“There’s something of the cobra in you.” That’s how Jeremy Kemp’s WWI flying ace von Klugermann greets greenhorn pilot and soon-to-be rival Bruno Stachel, who outwardly may have the prim dash of a golden-haired George Peppard, but is in actuality a smirking, entitled psychopath determined to bag the German air force’s top medal: the Blue Max, a prize for downing 20 enemy craft. To Stachel, all else is immaterial—he’ll slaughter unarmed enemies and even betray his own to win the ribbon and silence the high-born comrades who mock his commonality. Bear with the redundant romance between Stachel and Ursula Andress’ Countess; there are few better films about war in the air, and rarely do we get to see the war movie’s hero acting so thoroughly unheroic, fighting not for patriotism, but for a chance to claim superiority among his peers. The aerial sequences are the highlight, pre-CG dogfights shot with real clarity, though on the ground there’s also a fascinating glimpse of an alternative WWI: behind the mud-swamped trenches, in plush manor houses filled with champagne, the air aces live like aristocracy. —Brogan Morris


67. Overlord (1975)
Director: Stuart Cooper

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How can something so meager possess such power? Dirty Dozen cast member-turned-writer/director Stuart Cooper fills the budget-necessitated holes of British WWII drama Overlord with copious archive footage, to tell the story of a Brit draftee named Tommy (what else?). Put through military training in preparation for D-Day, Tommy and his fellow soldiers suspect they’ll be killed almost instantly. Before his departure for Normandy, Tommy briefly woos a girl, only to be haunted by the possibilities were it not for a war he’s reluctant to fight. Bolstering the fiction filmmaking with documentary footage achieves some mesmerizing effect here—rather than cheapen the film by highlighting its budgetary shortcomings, the decision to include archival material retains a vital tie to the past. The film basically plays one sustained note about the death of innocence, but Cooper chooses the perfect chord. —Brogan Morris


66. Von Ryan’s Express (1965)
Director: Mark Robson

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Pearl Harbor melodrama From Here to Eternity revealed his humanity, but the laidback star quality of Frank Sinatra as actor was captured arguably nowhere better than Von Ryan’s Express. The swagger of Ol’ Blue Eyes is the driving force behind Mark Robson’s prison escape drama-cum-men on a mission movie, wherein Sinatra’s captured flight officer and his flock of Allied POWs commandeer a German prison train to escape from Italy into neutral Switzerland. It’s fights atop speeding trains, rocket-flinging air assaults and Allied soldiers nervously masquerading as German officers through Nazi-held checkpoints, as “Von Ryan’s Express” hurtles through picture-postcard Italy—all adding up to a thrilling caper, but for the last minute rug-pull that adds an unexpected, thudding pathos. Von Ryan’s Express is one example of a book-to-screen adaptation where Hollywood made the movie darker: in the screen version, the happy ending of the novel which Robson has been building towards for almost two hours is cruelly snatched away from us just as the credits are about to roll. —Brogan Morris


65. Air Force (1943)
Director: Howard Hawks

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Made—like so many Hollywood war films of the time—to bolster support for the war and inform the American public just what their tax dollars were paying for, Air Force bears the obvious hallmarks of propaganda: uncritical portrayal of the American war machine, tales of gallant sacrifice, dehumanization of the enemy that occasionally tips over into racism. What sets Air Force apart and keeps it vital is the way it keenly puts the viewer in the place of a U.S. airman, despite it being an almost entirely studio-bound enterprise. Once in the air, instead of a score we hear the constant hum of the flight, and the mundane, repetitive exchanges of the crew. In the confusion of the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, there’s teamwork between island-hopping strangers, in rousing, hectic battle sequences on land and in the air, in the USAF and Marines together rebuilding damaged airplanes as all the while Japanese forces approach. The point for audiences at the time was supposed to be that the U.S. Forces worked as a well-oiled unit, but the film’s message doubles as a comment on man as a durable social animal, cooperating even in the harshest of circumstances in order to ensure survival of the tribe. —Brogan Morris


64. Sergeant York (1941)
Director: Howard Hawks

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Howard Hawks’ Academy-Award-winning Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper, follows the story of a hell-raising conscientious objector who became one of the most decorated American soldiers of the Great War. York is a masterpiece, a parable about a sticks sharpshooter dead set against slaughter: how a poor Tennessee farmer found marriage, religion, and a cause, in that order. It provides much more food for thought than you’d expect from a movie made on the eve of Pearl Harbor. There’s a surprising amount of characterization and shading for a depiction of life during wartime: York kills, even though he does not want to. Though fictionalized in parts, the Hawks-Cooper two-man show does not play false with any part of Alvin York’s journey. In its own way, York tells us what soldiers have always known: the war is also fought within, as well as without. —Jason Rhode


63. Attack! (1956)
Director: Robert Aldrich

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If so many of the glut of war movies made in the post-war period have failed to stand the test of time, it could be that the unrealistic moral monochromia and lack of psychological insight of many ring false in a world that views complexity as a given in its war movies. Robert Aldrich’s Attack! is one that’s survived—and in fact flourished, since it opened to mediocre box office in 1956—because, were it not for the black-and-white boxy image and the presence of some of the most memorably salty actors of the day, it’s grown up and sophisticated enough that one could think it had been produced yesterday. James Poe’s dialogue-thick screenplay has little time for histrionics or heroics, focusing instead on the tussle between Eddie Albert’s inept company commander and Jack Palance’s headstrong platoon leader, the latter determined to get revenge on his insecure CO for repeatedly ordering his men to their deaths. Made at a time when John Wayne was still storming beaches with his uniformly loyal and capable grunts, Attack! posits that some, no matter the training, will always be just plain unprepared for combat—and that politics in war can be a shady, callous affair. —Brogan Morris


62. City of Life and Death (2009)
Director: Lu Chuan

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Most movies get made because their creators wanted to make them. Then there are movies such as City of Life and Death, which one feels simply had to be made—for education, for posterity, for mere perspective. Lu Chuan’s film is a stressful, appropriately black-and-white depiction of the 1937 Rape of Nanking, an approximately six-week “incident” in which between 40,000 and 300,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners-of-war were killed by occupying Japanese forces in the former Chinese capital. The film’s imagery is cruel to the viewer, right down to its starvation of color. Sometimes the film’s a moving Bruegel painting, each shot a tangle of bodies and rubble, with every character destined for death at worst or prolonged mental and physical torture at best. Lu begins with muscular battle scenes, then moves on to unflinching misery as occupation begins, with machine gun execution by the thousands, live burials, death by rape—human annihilation. It’s cinema as a monument, a reminder inscribed: never forget, never repeat. —Brogan Morris


61. Glory (1989)
Director: Edward Zwick

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Matthew Broderick may appear in the lead as Col. Robert Gould Shaw, but Glory belongs to Denzel Washington (Pvt. Trip), Morgan Freeman (Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins), Andre Braugher (Cpl. Thomas Searles) and Jhimi Kennedy (Pvt. Jupiter Sharts). These actors deliver incredible performances as members of the first all-black regiment in the Union army, during the Civil War, with Washington going on to win the 1990 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Instead of focusing on the obvious North vs. South binary, Glory follows the men as they struggle against Northern racism and their own perceptions of what it means to be black, and what it means to be black in an army where they are almost never seen as equals—despite fighting on the same “side” as their white counterparts. With a hauntingly beautiful score, and some of the most memorable war scenes directed by Edward Zwick, Glory is one of the most important films not just about the Civil War, but about America’s eternally complicated history of racism and the black pride that persists in spite, on the battlefield and beyond. —Shannon M. Houston


60. Rescue Dawn (2006)
Director:   Werner Herzog  

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As PG-13 as a war movie can get, Werner Herzog’s cinematic re-creation of his own documentary (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) feels as if, like any Herzog film can, it was re-created on the fly. Rescue Dawn avoids a strict adherence to the truth of Dieter Dengler’s ordeal, in which he served as a pilot for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, shot down over Laos then captured and tortured for months before escaping. It’s also historically inaccurate, as only any Herzog film can be, for the benefit of the more “ecstatic” truth the director was attempting to reach, ignoring the complaints of Dengler’s fellow prisoners’ accounts, which mostly have to do with how heroically Herzog portrays Dengler (Christian Bale) and how pathetically he imagines the others. Herzog saw himself in the real Dengler anyway—they were both born poor in Hitler’s Germany—and Bale seems to intuit the director’s projection, playing Dengler as an endlessly fascinating hybrid of wide-eyed innocent and arrogant American, fully committed to the freedom and opportunities for self-aggrandizement that being an American affords. And yet, Rescue Dawn doesn’t defend Dengler’s patriotism, or really have anything poignant to offer about American’s checkered military past. Instead, Herzog is concerned as ever with the tyranny of Nature and all powers like it, which happen to include war, America, the ambition of Man, whatever—an idealistic guy like Dieter Dengler can only suffer, survive and then tell his story later to a director who will warp its facts to keep the true extent of the man’s suffering from the cold, calculating judgment of the MPAA. —Dom Sinacola


59. The Steel Helmet (1951)
Director: Samuel Fuller

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“It dares tell the TRUTH behind today’s headlines!” yelled the poster banner for Sam Fuller’s first war film, and while the proclamation sounds sensationalist, the director was determined to speak truth to power at any cost. Making the first film about the Korean War while the conflict still raged, Fuller used his yarn, about a rag-tag group of dogfaces in a showdown at a Buddhist temple to take a critical look at America’s domestic affairs: a black soldier ruminates on why he goes to war for a country where he is regarded as a second class citizen while a Korean POW comments on America’s internment of Japanese citizens in WWII. As Sergeant Zack, future Fuller stalwart Gene Evans (cast by the director above studio favorite John Wayne) is the first in a long line of grizzled military anti-heroes carved straight out of Fuller’s own wartime experience. When Zack shoots a prisoner in cold blood, this earned Fuller the ire of the military brass. They couldn’t accept this as an actuality, to which the iconoclastic veteran and filmmaker replied: “It happens! I fought a war. Things like that happen! And you know it!” —Liam Dunn


58. The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
Director: John Huston

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In a rare example of a film surviving studio butchery with value and some auteurial vision intact, The Red Badge of Courage in its only viewable form—a studio-mandated 69-minute cut, with director John Huston’s own 95-minute version long thought lost—may be a sketch of the director’s original intent, but it’s still a substantial one. An adaptation of Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel, noted for its realism, Red Badge casts actual WWII hero Audie Murphy as Union trooper Henry Fleming, who flees from his first skirmish only to later seek redemption through recklessness on the battlefield. Huston’s noir-ish touches lend a despairing claustrophobia to an already despairing tale; Crane’s is a deeply unromantic war story, where proving one’s “courage” means shedding blood, and the natural instinct to fly from a slaughter is considered cowardice. Huston’s longer cut promised more fleshed-out portrayals of Henry’s platoon mates, but the film in its abbreviated form might actually be at an advantage: in keeping the other characters as ciphers, the movie heightens Henry’s isolation and makes an unintentional point about the soldiers in the bloodiest war fought on American soil being treated not as individuals, but pure, anonymous cannon fodder. —Brogan Morris


57. Stalag 17 (1953)
Director: Billy Wilder

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Tonally, Billy Wilder’s prisoners of war story is a true dramedy, fitting into an odd post-war space when American cinemagoers were apparently content to laugh at the horrors faced by prisoners, even while being reminded of the deadly results of incarceration, which were obviously even more dire for victims of the Holocaust. It’s William Holden who makes the film click and hum, portraying American airman Sefton as a somewhat sleazy but clever profiteer who figures that if he’s going to spend time in a POW camp, he might as well be an enterprising big shot while he’s there, living as comfortably as he can. In comparison with a film like The Great Escape, which would later come along and tell a story ringing with many of the same tropes, albeit without the screwball sense of humor, Stalag 17 is both an escape story and a light mystery, centered around the identity of the German informant who is sabotaging each attempt by the Americans to flee the camp and defy the Germans. With a cast of colorful characters and good-natured humor, Stalag 17 somehow takes a horrific premise and mines it for laughs more successfully than one would have thought possible. —Jim Vorel


56. Gallipoli (1981)
Director: Peter Weir

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Director Peter Weir has always been a master heartstring-puller; whatever his subject matter, he takes a very emotion-forward approach. That said, please understand that Gallipoli will not tug at your heart: It will flat out break it. A group of young men from rural Australia enlist in the Army during WWI and are sent to the Gallipoli peninsula in present-day Turkey to participate in the campaign that culminates in the tragic Battle of the Nek in 1915. This is a story about idealistic young men-primarily Archie Hamilton (Mike Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) losing their innocence about the real meanings and purposes of war. It’s a dissertation on futility and senselessness and no, there is not a happy ending. It’s also, like many films of the Australian New Wave, a coming-of-age story about Australia itself—a depiction of a young country trying to understand its identity. Weir’s always been a master at creating sympathetic characters whom we bond with as they bond with each other. In this film that emotional investment cruelly underlines the devastation of war. —Amy Glynn


55. Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)
Director: Robert Wise

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Captain Ahab and his elusive prize both get a WWII makeover in Run Silent, Run Deep, Robert Wise’s Pacific Theater thriller in which Commander Richardson (Clark Gable) of the USS Nerka mercilessly hunts the Japanese destroyer that sank his old vessel and killed his crew. All the while, the more interesting rivalry is happening within the American sub, where Richardson has to contend with his ambitious younger XO Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster), in a reflection of the very real discord between fading star Gable and Lancaster. Off-screen struggle proved grimly advantageous: Gable, then a chronic alcoholic, delivers a suitably exhausted performance as the obsessed Richardson, while the clash of egos between Gable and Lancaster seeps into the power balance enmity between their characters. Some of Run Silent’s then-state of the art miniature effects may have dated, but the ocean-bound battle scenes still have a tactility that no modern CGI can match. Scenes of enemy torpedoes or depth charges narrowly sailing by the Nerka pass in agonizing silence, as Wise cranks up the tension inside Richardson’s compressed tin can with a close, anxious realism. —Brogan Morris


54. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
Director: Ken Loach

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A tale of two wars in Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, an Irish counterpart to Loach’s own Land and Freedom. Once again, the initial purity of the revolution gives way to the reality of complicated regional politics, opportunistic power grabbing and divisions of opinion, the “successful” Irish independence struggle immediately segueing into the 1922 – ’23 Civil War that pitched formerly united friends and family against one another. There’s a nastiness and total lack of light that separates Barley from the director’s other works. British soldiers and Irish rebels, having dehumanized the other side, torture and kill with glee, while later the anti-treaty IRA (represented by Cillian Murphy and Liam Cunningham, incredible) and pro-treaty Irish Army having come so far kill their own countrymen in absolutist determination. The evergreen County Cork period setting makes this one of Loach’s more aesthetically pleasing features, but the tale and the tone make it one of his more heart-wrenching and fatalistic. —Brogan Morris


53. Hell in the Pacific (1968)
Director: John Boorman

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Just a year after he’d captured Lee Marvin at his most mythic in Nouvelle-noir classic Point Blank, John Boorman teamed up with Marvin again to present the granite-hewn star at his most human. Here, in Boorman’s spare survival drama, Marvin is a stubborn U.S. airman forced to cohabit with a Japanese naval officer (Toshiro Mifune, in a performance that’s by turns playful and stoic, defeated and triumphant) when the pair find themselves stranded on a desert island at the height of WWII. Said to be privately Marvin’s favorite of his own works, it’s a film that reflects the anti-war stance of its two veteran stars. As the situation of Marvin and Mifune’s unnamed pair becomes desperate, their hair growing wild and their clothes increasingly ragged, and they come to rely on one another to survive (without ever breaching the language barrier, and there are no subtitles to aid us either), Boorman emphasizes that the two soldiers’ initial shared disdain is based only on the fact that they occupy two artificially different “sides” of a conflict. It’s summed up in the tragicomic line Marvin delivers to Mifune late in the film, upon being spooked by his friend’s sudden appearance: “Oh—for a second I thought you were a Jap.” —Brogan Morris


52. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Director:   Ridley Scott  

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It’s mystifying that such a core component of a film could be so unmistakably off—in this case, a reliably flat Orlando Bloom, in the lead role of blacksmith-turned-crusader Balian—and still not spoil the overall product. The rest of Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic is so dazzling, so riveting thematically and so loaded with acting dynamos (Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Sheen…) that it engrosses absolutely. Visually Kingdom of Heaven is one of Scott’s finest feasts, the maestro voraciously capturing an ancient world in eager widescreen, but the film stacks up even better as food for thought. Amidst the borderline schlocky battle scenes and Middle-Eastern politics, Scott and screenwriter William Monahan ask big questions about faith, class and destiny that somehow strongly resonate some 800-plus years on from when their story takes place. The film’s hacked-up theatrical cut was dismissed in 2005; its director’s cut should now be reclaimed as a modern great. —Brogan Morris


51. Salvador (1986)
Director:   Oliver Stone  

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An undercurrent of inevitability carries Salvador all the way to where you know it’s bound to go. Co-written by director Oliver Stone and photojournalist Richard Boyle, the film loosely chronicles the exploits of freewheeling Boyle (James Woods) and his dumpy Dr.-Gonzo-esque friend Doctor Rock (Jim Belushi) as they smoke, screw and drink their way into El Salvador in 1980, just as the Revolutionary Government Junta was consolidating power. While it dawns on the two half-cocked nomads just what kind of horror has engulfed the country and to what extent the U.S. government has supported the large-scale oppression of the Salvadorans, war unfurls around them, rendered bluntly and with an almost total dearth of drama by Stone. When a Salvadoran death squad assassinates Archbishop Óscar Romero (José Carlos Ruiz) mid-sermon, Stone portrays it as if nothing is sacred anymore; by the time Cathy Moore (Cynthia Gibb, representing a group of slain U.S. missionaries in 1980), a friend of Boyle’s, is raped and murdered by the El Salvadoran National Guard, Salvador has long abandoned all hope. And still, Boyle wanders the increasingly war-scarred country, like Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal, finding nothing but pain and violence bereft of meaning, but committed to a duty: to capture what was going on, or simply to satisfy the same degree of American-bred ego that Stone was condemning in trying to witness such atrocities at all. Undoubtedly bleak, Salvador ends exactly as it should, with Boyle alone, adrift and powerless amidst the tide of forces he’ll never be able to grasp. —Dom Sinacola

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