The 10 Best War Movies on Netflix

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The 10 Best War Movies on Netflix

There aren’t a ton of war movies on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean the streaming service doesn’t have some great ones available. There’s no “War Movie” category, so we’ve dug through their catalog to find some classics, some little-seen gems, a documentary and even one of the best Netflix originals to date. We’ve broadened the definition from our list of the Best War Movies of All Time, but we have limited the selections to movies about actual wars (no Star Wars or other imagined conflicts).

Here are the 10 best war movies on Netflix:

railroad-tigers.jpg 10. Railroad Tigers
Year: 2017
Director: Ding Sheng
Railroad Tigers is an old-school, moderately campy adventure movie, something American directors were focused on making in the ’90s (think 1995’s Jumanji) but audiences have mostly relegated today to the realm of nostalgia. The framing device of a child discovering a relic of the past, and thus becoming transported on a fantastical journey, alludes to a storytelling device once-beloved by the Spielbergs and Lucases of the film world, combining moviemaking and Saturday morning serial (and cereal) consumption with the biggest budgets these grown children could garner. In the case of Railroad Tigers, the obligatory kid only appears at the beginning and the ending of the film, “seeing” everything happen through a magical train engine in a museum, casually tying the present to a heroic past. Like in an Indiana Jones flick, for Railroad Tigers, nostalgia and modernity fight it out as the wartime ’40s are siphoned through a fun-filled genre. This modern fable begins with a hyper-stylized art deco propaganda-like credit sequence of machinery and industry—the strong lines of accent and garish graphics reflect the action to come, presenting the bullets like bigger stars than the names of cast and crew they overwhelm. This style resurges in a later animated planning stage for the main plot’s big culmination: the destruction of a supply bridge connecting Japanese troops across a Chinese ravine. The film’s focus, set in stages, is on dozens of Chinese characters in their struggle against Japanese occupiers during Japan’s 1941 railway-aided occupation of East China, from Tianjin to Nanjing. Throughout, Jackie Chan’s wizened blue collar leader Ma Yuan commands a ragtag group of rebels named the Railroad Tigers, whom their Japanese antagonists call “hicks.” The actors embrace this designation with an earthy wit and humor, letting the physical comedy, acrobatics, ropes and tagteam misdirection play off of a knack Chan and his costars possess for sheepish facial expressions and playful surprise. Their constantly awry plans have the cadence of a Coen brothers movie or the levity of a dry punchline to undercut the most seriously planned aspects of an Ocean’s-like heist. The film’s flaws, including a plethora of female stereotypes—the matriarch (Xu Fan, a pancake chef), the useless tagalong tomboy (Zhang Yishang), the cold villain who’s terrifying because how else could a woman achieve such a military rank (Zhang Lanxin)—and broadly-drawn Japanese, affect Railroad Tigers only when the momentum slows. —Jacob Oller

war-machine.jpg 9. 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

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

black-hawk-down.jpg 7. Black Hawk Down
Year: 2001
Director: Ridley Scott 
More than just a neat riff on Apocalypse Now’s Ride of the Valkyries sequence, stylistically it seems appropriate that Jimi Hendrix soundtracks the approach into Mogadishu by Black Hawk Down’s titular attack choppers: once Ridley Scott’s movie hits the Mog’, it’s almost psychedelic, a chaotic array of color and sound as Somali troops and a cast of Hollywood all-stars do battle in the searing sunshine. Based on the true story of one escalating firefight—that which emerged when the American plan to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in 1993 went awry—Black Hawk Down allows Scott to focus in beautifully rendered detail on what happens when the cold, regimented modern military machine of the West meets a multitudinous foreign enemy on home turf. Not quite indictment or endorsement of modern warfare, Black Hawk’s still grizzly and draining, a near two-hour-long action sequence testifying how much punishment a human body can take, and how much death and destruction one can sow with modern firepower. —Brogan Morris

civil-war-movie-poster.jpg 6. 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

war-horse.jpg 5. War Horse
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Only a true visionary like Steven Spielberg could take a simple story about a horse and transform it into a grandiose work of cinema. Though not the acclaimed filmmaker’s greatest feat, War Horse is a poignant picture wrapped warmly in humanity. The film, despite an entirely different setting, also evokes prior Spielbergian gems such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. with its redemptive inferences. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel of the same name, War Horse tells the story of a boy, Edgar (Jeremy Irvine), and his beloved horse, Joey. From the genesis of their relationship on the English countryside, to Joey’s involvement in World War I, to the hopes of their eventual reunion, the film captures the journey of the horse and the pivotal effect it has on everyone whom the horse encounters, particularly Edgar. In the same way he previously used aliens, Spielberg uses Joey as a supernatural catalyst for hope and salvation amid difficult circumstances. The horse’s very being, a representation of all that is good in the world, brings redemption to children, families, soldiers and, essentially, a war. Because of this, he receives the nickname “miracle horse.” Joey’s transcendence becomes especially realized in a humorous war sequence during the film’s second half. Caught in barbed wire in the middle of the battlefield, he fights to survive and inspires soldiers from both regimes to momentarily set aside their differences to rescue him. The unlikely scenario invokes humor as two enemies, who moments before were intent of killing each other, engage in small talk on the front line but, even more, it further confirms Joey as a vehicle of divine intervention. This sequence portrays redemption on a macro level, but perhaps the most moving aspects of the film lie in the smaller moments in which Joey forms a bond with different characters. In these threads, Spielberg taps into human experience the most directly. As Joey brings out the good in a host of minor characters—beset as they are by struggles so familiar to us all—the audience connects with them, as well. —David Roark

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

platoon-poster.jpg 2. Platoon
Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone 
You can boil down Platoon to a single iconic image: Willem Dafoe, hands and arms held aloft as Vietnamese soldiers gun him down, his fellow infantrymen the sole audience to his grim and lonesome demise on the ground. Is he making an act of supplication in his final moments? Is he submitting to death itself? Or is his gesture meant to be interpreted as an acknowledgment of his helplessness, a pantomime outcry at his betrayal and abandonment? No matter how many times this scene plays out, its subtexts remain open to interpretation. What remains the same is our horror at Dafoe’s exit from the film, and what it means in context within the narrative. Platoon, like any Vietnam war movie, is unforgivingly brutal, a picture show of relentless barbarity that recreates one of America’s greatest self-made martial, political and international debacles. Also like any Vietnam war movie, or any war movie in general, really, it repurposes a host of atrocities as tense entertainment, folding the cathartic release of seeing the bad guy get what’s coming to him within the bloody details of America’s intervention in Vietnam. —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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