Paste's 100 Greatest War Movies

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Created by Panunzio.

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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.

Published May 2017

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  1. 1 new

    Apocalypse Now

    1979, in 36 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Lawrence of Arabia

    1962, in 40 top lists Check
  3. 3 new

    The Thin Red Line

    1998, in 13 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    Idi i smotri

    1985 — a.k.a. Come and See, in 23 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

    1943, in 17 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    Csillagosok, katonák

    1967 — a.k.a. The Red and the White, in 7 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    Paths of Glory

    1957, in 25 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    La battaglia di Algeri

    1966 — a.k.a. The Battle of Algiers, in 25 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    La grande illusion

    1937 — a.k.a. The Grand Illusion, in 28 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Platoon

    1986, in 20 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    L'armée des ombres

    1969 — a.k.a. Army of Shadows, in 17 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    Das Boot

    1981, in 15 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Ivanovo detstvo

    1962 — a.k.a. Ivan's Childhood, in 11 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Full Metal Jacket

    1987, in 17 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Saving Private Ryan

    1998, in 27 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    All Quiet on the Western Front

    1930, in 17 top lists Check
  17. 17 new

    The Deer Hunter

    1978, in 24 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    The Bridge on the River Kwai

    1957, in 29 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    Nobi

    1959 — a.k.a. Fires on the Plain, in 5 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

    2003, in 7 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Ice Cold in Alex

    1958, in 2 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    Twelve O'Clock High

    1949, in 6 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    Patton

    1970, in 15 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    Three Kings

    1999, in 5 top lists Check
  25. 25 new

    Cross of Iron

    1977, in 2 top lists Check
  26. 26 new

    Ran

    1985, in 23 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    The Killing Fields

    1984, in 12 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    The Great Escape

    1963, in 14 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    The Dirty Dozen

    1967, in 7 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    Empire of the Sun

    1987, in 7 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    The Hurt Locker

    2008, in 10 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    The Big Red One

    1980, in 9 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Zwartboek

    2006 — a.k.a. Black Book, in 5 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    Der Untergang

    2004 — a.k.a. Downfall, in 14 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Vals Im Bashir

    2008 — a.k.a. Waltz with Bashir, in 9 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Ningen no jôken

    1959 — a.k.a. The Human Condition I: No Greater Love, in 9 top lists Check
  37. 37 new

    Ningen no jôken

    1959 — a.k.a. The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity, in 7 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    Ningen no jôken

    1961 — a.k.a. The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer, in 7 top lists Check
  39. 39 new

    Where Eagles Dare

    1968, in 5 top lists Check
  40. 40 new

    Voskhozhdenie

    1977 — a.k.a. The Ascent, in 10 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    The Dam Busters

    1955, in 2 top lists Check
  42. 42 new

    Play Dirty

    1969, in 0 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    Battleground

    1949, in 3 top lists Check
  44. 44 new

    MASH

    1970, in 21 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    Men in War

    1957, in 4 top lists Check
  46. 46 new

    The Train

    1964, in 4 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    The Guns of Navarone

    1961, in 6 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Die Brücke

    1959 — a.k.a. The Bridge, in 6 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    Black Hawk Down

    2001, in 3 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    Kanal

    1957, in 10 top lists Check
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Last updated on May 10, 2017; source