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The 14 Best War Movies on Netflix

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The 14 Best War Movies on Netflix

The war movie, like the western or the film noir, had its heyday of popular appeal several decades ago. So it’s hardly surprising that, on Netflix, it’s a genre without a great deal of representation. Pickings are slim—classics and little-seen gems are nestled in amongst modern war movie fodder such as the Dolph Lundgren-led actioner War Pigs, along with two direct-to-video sequels to Jarhead—but make no mistake, there are some classics and gems to be found there. As well as a Netflix original that already looks like one of the great all-time war movies, there are classic studio flicks, recent hard-hitting documentaries and a couple of foreign-language hits in Netflix’s war movie roster. Like our list of the 100 Best War Movies of All Time, we’ve only included films about actual, historical wars (no Star Wars).

Here are the best war movies on Netflix:

war-machine.jpg 14. War Machine
Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
Watching War Machine is to witness a film applying an accessibly dark comic tone to the low-hanging fruit of the futility of nation-building in Afghanistan. The movie takes place in 2009, when General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt as a version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal)—fresh off successes in Iraq—is put in charge of the multi-nation, U.S.-led coalition to stamp out the Taliban while molding Afghanistan into what a country should look like according to Western democracies, which, as McMahon describes it, means jobs and security. Our introduction to McMahon comes through a narrator, Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), who is based on the late Michael Hastings. It was Hastings’ article for Rolling Stone that led to McChrystal’s ouster, and it was Hastings who wrote The Operators, upon which this film is based. His narration sets the sardonic tone, and every characterization and situation that follows reinforces it. The problem with War Machine is its difficulty keeping its tone consistent in the service of a compelling story or dramatic rendering of ideas. Cullen-as-narrator casually drops that McMahon was a straight-A student with a degree from Yale, while simultaneously characterizing him as a well-meaning jock out of his depth. The way Pitt plays him and Cullen describes him, McMahon is a decent, disciplined jarhead trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. If you were already inclined to think of our involvement in Afghanistan as an incompetent diaster, War Machine might be your film: Those given charge of transforming the region can’t even make an electric razor or Blu-ray player work. But by frequently reminding us that McMahon is oblivious to what his masters really want, Michôd’s film is as much of a blunt, simple instrument as that which it tries to lampoon, essentially letting the D.C. establishment of the hook. —Anthony Salveggi


point-and-shoot.jpg 13. Point And Shoot
Year: 2014
Director: Marshall Curry
Before deciding to take a motorcycle trek through the Middle East, before joining the Libyan rebels in their fight against the late Muammar Gaddafi’s totalitarian regime, before spending six months in that government’s worst prison, American Matthew VanDyke played video games—a lot. The self-described loner with OCD who loved watching the film Lawrence of Arabia while growing up proceeded to take his life to an extreme he never expected, all chronicled in the remarkable film Point And Shoot. While traveling, VanDyke took hundreds of hours of video that he eventually shared with two-time Oscar nominee Marshall Curry, who in turn created a film that would seriously challenge anything Hollywood could come up with. We see VanDyke’s fascinating transformation not just through the battles he finds himself in but also through the friendships he makes and the love he leaves behind in the States. The film won Best Documentary at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. —Tim Basham


walking-with-the-enemy.jpg 12. Walking With the Enemy
Year: 2014
Director: Mark Schmidt
War is a terrible thing, full of horrors big and small. And yet in the swirling darkness, amidst all the depravity and moral compromise, slivers of light often emerge, offering compelling case studies in human character and resilience. That truism is again borne out in Walking With the Enemy, an unfussy but robust World War II drama inspired by the factual story of a small-town Hungarian rabbi’s son who used wile, guile and occasionally brute force to disrupt Nazi occupation and save countless Jewish friends and families. Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley), the leader of Hungary and a onetime German ally, has fallen out of favor with Berlin over his refusal to fully prosecute their Final Solution. As he attempts to stall and open back-channel negotiations to Allied powers, the clock runs out and his grip over government apparatus is wrested from him. Meanwhile, separated from his family during forced relocations, Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong) escapes and reconnects with Hannah Schoen (Hannah Tointon), a young girl whom he met at a dancehall some months earlier. With the help of Hannah’s uncle, Miklos (Simon Dutton), Elek starts forging Swiss citizenship documents. When a colleague is pinched by the Nazis, however, matters escalate further. Walking With the Enemy has just enough scale to give its narrative roots. Its characterizations are crisp and clear, and there’s an appreciable sturdiness to its screenplay, by Kenny Golde. It has dramatic incidents aplenty, which give it girders. But it also elicits plenty of rich, corresponding thought and feeling by way of glancingly showcasing the cracks in the Nazi propaganda machine (falsified postcards from those sent away to concentration camps), and the way that misinformation and especially the lack of concrete information slowly seeds doubt, worry and, eventually, action. —Brent Simon


LastDaysVietnam.jpg 11. Last Days in Vietnam
Year: 2014
Director: Rory Kennedy
Rory Kennedy’s pointed documentary, Last Days in Vietnam, doesn’t deal with much of that political turmoil that steamrolled the country, or the notion of right and wrong or Red versus Red, White and Blue; instead, it chronicles a very narrow slice of the war—the time after the Paris Peace Accords when the U.S. had officially exited the war and the ensuing dilemma that faced U.S. forces remaining in Vietnam—what to do about the allied South Vietnamese who faced certain peril at the hands of the oncoming North. The effort sheds new light and understanding on a dark chapter in American history.—Tom Meek


9-Tell-Spring-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 10. Tell Spring Not to Come This Year
Year: 2015
Director: Saeed Taji Farouky, Michael McEvoy
What comes after the war can rarely be accurately described as peace. In Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy’s documentary Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, which spends a year in Afghanistan’s Helmand province with a company of the Afghan National Army as American troops prepare to withdraw, this seems especially true. Fighting continues between factions in a stunning ancient landscape dotted with the ruins of recent conflict, and the domestic soldiers now responsible for holding the fort harbor resentment, for their former American occupiers and their own politicians, convinced their country has been used for somebody’s personal gain. There’s a palpable melancholy to the film and its subjects, as though all are only too aware that the rest of the world has by the point of filming largely lost interest in their story and turned to focus on news elsewhere—even though these men, as we see in some fine battle photography of the ANA’s ongoing fight with the Taliban, remain in a hopeless position. —Brogan Morris


7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 9. The Way Back
Year: 2010
Director: Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


5-A-war-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 8. A War
Year: 2016
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Tobias Lindholm and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck shoot A War in unadorned, exacting clarity, treating both the scenic mountains of Afghanistan and the urban outlines of Denmark with the same stark, practically clinical eye. The moral quandary at the center of the film may not be an original one—Danish commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) must go to court over a split-second decision made during a firefight in which his actions saved a comrade while unknowingly leading to a number of civilian casualties—but Lindholm takes seemingly ages to get to that point, allowing the audience to soak in the monotony and incessant-if-buried burden of Pedersen’s position: serving as ersatz father for his unit while knowing, intuitively, that his family desperately needs him back home. Nothing at home happens with action-packed aplomb (though the director sets up tense red herrings to lure the audience into a sense of unease), and yet the stakes are painfully real. Pedersen did the only thing he knew to do, yet in saving his unit he may have sacrificed his family’s well-being.—Dom Sinacola


civil-war-movie-poster.jpg 7. The Civil War
Year: 1990
Director: Ken Burns
You can’t know Virginia without knowing the Civil War, and Ken Burns’s mammoth, beyond-classic documentary will stuff you so full of detail you’ll be dreaming of muttonchops and mournful fiddle music for weeks. It’s as good an anti-war film as any that’s been made, and you will leave The Civil War overwhelmed, staggered, devastated by the loss of so much blood and innocence, at once glorying in Emancipation and the heroes of the Union cause. Burns has been criticized for letting too much “Lost Cause” mythology seep into the project, but even if you see men like Virginians Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson as morally complex—and morally compromised—figures by the end of the final “episode,” Burns leaves no room for interpretation: The War was fought over slavery, and the South almost burned the country down to ensure that institution’s survival. As a Virginian, and especially as a white Virginian from a rural family, you have to reckon with this knowledge if you want to achieve anything close to an honest view of yourself and where you come from. I’m unspeakably in love with Virginia, and proud of where I’m from in the abstract and arbitrary way most of us are proud of where we’re from, but I also never shake the unspeakable—or as Burns shows us, speakable—horrors inflicted by my home state upon thousands of dead in the name of, to put it simply, utter evil. That’s what being a Virginian is, in the end: coming right up against the worst of the American character, looking it in the eye, and trying for the rest of your intellectual life to come to grips with that. I’ll take it, if it means I’ll always be able to come home. The Civil War takes that feeling and casts it across the entire nation. If we can’t look at what we’ve done, Burns says, we’ll never forge ahead. —Corey Beasley


little-dieter-needs-fly.jpg 6. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Year: 1998
Director: Werner Herzog 
The story of former fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, told in his own words, is one that, while pretty unbelievable, best illustrates the mastery manipulation of the man helping tell it. Werner Herzog makes no apologies for the way he so often bends truth to more snugly serve the grandeur he finds in the subjects he chooses for his documentaries—but he’s never been interested in unadulterated truth anyway. Instead, he’s in the documentary game for the exultation of truth, conveying it in such a way as to focus on the overpowering emotions at its core. And so, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog takes Dengler back to Southeast Asia, where, in the early days of the Vietnam War, he was shot down and taken prisoner, tortured and starved—but then, somewhere within him, found the will to escape. Dengler leads us step by step through this harrowing experience, accompanied by locals who Herzog hired to help Dengler “reenact” the events, and in a sense help him remember. That Herzog later went on to make a narrative feature based on Dengler’s story isn’t at all surprising—Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale in the lead role, walks a fine line between harsh reality and patriotic melodrama. Because, as Herzog told Paste more than eight years ago: “Rescue Dawn is not a war movie. It’s a film about the test and trial of men … And survival.” It doesn’t necessarily matter how Dengler escaped, but that he was able to at all. Whatever you want to call it, it was that titular “need” that propelled him onward—and that’s the truth Herzog wants to discover. —Dom Sinacola


inglourious_basterds_ver14.jpg 5. Inglourious Basterds
Year: 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s dual loves of vengeance and cinema have never had a purer expression than the face of a Jewish cinematheque owner (Melanie Laurent) projected Oz-like onto the smoke of Nazis aflame. 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, a bonfire of highly combustible nitrate film stock, cleanly separated from common sense and actual history. For once, Tarantino doesn’t allude left and right to other movies, but instead makes celluloid itself a literal part of the story. In this way, he manages to ignite the screen time and again. —Robert Davis


3-Beast-of-no-nation-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 4. Beasts of No Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
A harrowing descent into a modern-day heart of darkness, Beasts of No Nation channels Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now for its tale of one child’s recruitment into an African rebel battalion. Adapting Uzodinma Iweala’s novel with fearsome intimacy, writer/director Cary Fukunaga depicts his unidentified African setting as a mixture of lushly green forests, bullet-shattered villages and mist-enshrouded horizons—the last of which is due, at least in part, to the fires that rage throughout the countryside. Those conflagrations are the result of a conflict between government and revolutionary forces, the specifics of which the film, like its precise locale, leaves more or less vague. Fukunaga’s film is thus mired in a hazy, nightmarish fugue of violence and degradation, the director presenting a landscape of hellish depravity and amorality through the eyes of one young boy unwittingly swept up in his nation’s insanity. A coming-of-age saga twisted into unholy form, Beasts of No Nation eschews undue melodramatic manipulations (and avoids romanticizing its perversions) in charting Agu’s maturation into a pitiless soldier. —Nick Schager


hurt-locker-poster.jpg 3. The Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow 
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may have been more ambitious in its step-by-step chronicle of the efforts to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but her preceding War on Terror film, The Hurt Locker, remains the more resonant achievement. It’s essentially a character study in the guise of an action movie, with Bigelow’s subject Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), a devil-may-care maverick who not only has a knack for disarming bombs, but loves doing it to a reckless degree. Beyond its hair-raising action and suspense set pieces, much of the film’s drama is driven by the tensions James’s hot-dog tendencies create between himself and everyone around him. But perhaps the film’s most noteworthy achievement lies in the way Bigelow uncannily inhabits James’s perspective while also standing outside of it. When, in its quiet epilogue, James finds himself immediately bored by suburban life and itches to return to the adrenalized theater of war, after nearly two hours of relentless nerve-wracking tension, we in the audience feel the same sense of stagnation he does. “War is a drug,” says journalist Chris Hedges in a quote that opens the film. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow makes us understand that perspective in the most visceral way possible, to truly revelatory effect. —Kenji Fujishima


full-metal-jacket-poster.jpg 2. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


schindlers-list.jpg 1. Schindler’s List
Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’d be hard to find a more inspiring, moving story to tell than that of Oskar Schindler, and in doing so, Spielberg produced one of the most ambitious, wise and moving motion pictures of our lifetime. The acting is superb—a career-making role for big lumbering Liam Neeson, so carefree and cocky at the beginning, so concerned and determined in the middle, and so noble and humble at the end of the film. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley are perfect in supporting roles. A host of unknowns give everything in their one moment on the screen. John Williams’s haunting score and Janusz Kaminski’s breathtaking black-and-white cinematography sparkle. But the script—oh, Steven Zaillian’s majestic script—is the biggest star. He manages to take a Holocaust tale and turn it into a story of triumph, the story of how much one man can do, and the regret we’ll each someday have that we didn’t do much, much more. Oskar’s “I could have gotten more out” speech is almost too much to bear. —Michael Dunaway

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