The Best War Movies of All Time

By Phill Powell

Veterans Day is not just a national holiday. It’s also the time when we pause as a country to remember the brave men and women who defend the United States, and risk life and limb to protect this country and its core freedoms.

Here are some great movies to help us remember their sacrifices:

GLORY (1989)

With Denzel leading the charge, the Civil War rages once more in Glory.

We recently marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War – the nation’s deadliest war. Glory is about human dignity as much as it is about conflict, but that’s no slam against the film’s battle scenes, which chronicle the brutal rifle-and-cannonball action seen by the Union’s first division of black troops.

Hugely entertaining film with memorable performances from a dignified Morgan Freeman, a somber Matthew Broderick and (especially) Denzel Washington, as a runaway slave turned angry soldier…with a major score to settle.

PATTON (1970)

WWII from two different perspectives. Patton celebrates individual genius…

Maybe it’s unfair to pick two movies to represent WWII – but then again, it was a pretty big war. Patton celebrates individual genius, and how it contributed to the war effort, while Saving Private Ryan is about the collective sacrifice of battle and how soldiers unite to achieve the impossible.

Patton is worth seeing for two primary reasons: George C. Scott’s towering portrayal of the feisty Army general and a brilliant, Oscar-winning script penned by Francis Ford Coppola. (Too cool for the red carpet: When Scott won the Oscar for Patton, somebody else had to grab the trophy for him. The actor stayed home and watched a hockey game on TV instead.)


Meanwhile, war is very much a team effort in Saving Private Ryan, especially on bloody Omaha Beach.

While Patton‘s famous opening scene could inspire you to battle, the blood-and-thunder opening of Saving Private Ryan will make you glad you weren’t around for the Omaha Beach landing that took place on D-Day – but grateful that others were.

The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million and required more than 1,000 extras to shoot. It captures all the kinetic energy and mass confusion of a full-scale battle as Allied forces battle the Axis stronghold, with the world’s fate truly hanging in the balance. Can’t get much more dramatic than that, right?

M*A*S*H (1970)

Draftee doctors Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland play the Army for laughs in 1970′s M*A*S*H.

If you only know the TV show, it’s time you see why everyone got knocked for a loop by Robert Altman’s absurd take on American surgeons operating in an Army hospital during the Korean War. M*A*S*H was totally unique and completely unexpected, with a subversive vibe and crazy rhythm.

Bloody battlefield surgery collides with umpteen types of humor, and the war comedy is never the same again. Director Altman’s techniques were so bizarre that co-stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould went to studio brass and tried to have him fired from the movie, because they actually thought the director was mentally unbalanced. Instead, Altman’s smash hit made them both huge stars.


Here come the Americans…

Many films admirably portrayed the Vietnam War, but none captured the sheer and utter confusion quite like Francis Ford Coppola’s war opus. Apocalypse Now is not just about the madness of a renegade colonel gone native, but also the insanity of trying to graft an American design for war onto a country like Vietnam.

A fool’s paradise of cinematic riches, Apocalypse Now is a massive spectacle of a film, which nearly killed and bankrupted its makers. And its centerpiece – a dizzying helicopter assault on a coastal village (scored with opera, no less) – is still arguably the greatest battle scene in all of film.


Although set in 1993 in Somalia, Black Hawk Down speaks to our current conflicts.

Modern warfare has gotten even more complicated than it was in ‘Nam. Ridley Scott’s re-enactment of all the various things that went wrong in 1993, when an American helicopter crew crash-landed in Somalia city streets, is terrifying even before the chopper is down and the crew is savagely overrun by violent locals.

What happens next is a sobering look at the dangers faced by our military personnel everywhere the U.S. presence is not wanted. Black Hawk Down is the link to recent movies that deal with America’s ongoing wars.

DMA Salutes America’s Veterans!
This Veterans Day, the staff and instructors of Digital Media Academy applaud the service of America’s military personnel, no matter where they find themselves stationed during this holiday. We also thank military families for the lifetime of sacrifices that they make on behalf of our nation.