War movies are nearly as old as the movie industry itself. One of the most discussed and debated movies in history, “The Birth of A Nation,” is partially about the Civil War. Denounced today as racist, it remains known for its length and the technical skill of director David Wark Griffith.
Some war films, like “Saving Private Ryan,” are about characters invented by the writers. Others are based on real people, incidents, and events. The classic “Sergeant York,” which stars Gary Cooper, is an example. Many war movies depict war in all its destructive, bloody, terrible mess, including the best war movie of all time, “Apocalypse Now.”
The list includes classics as well as more recent films, and they all convey their messages effectively either by using comedy or by exploring the darkness of war. (This is the best classic movie released every year since 1950.)
The films on the list are from every decade, starting with the 1930s. These films are about more than a dozen different conflicts and wars. Many are about World War II. World War I is also a popular topic. Even the most recent movies we reviewed have plots set in either of these global wars. (These are 18 of the deadliest weapons of all time.)
The best war movie, “Apocalypse Now” (1979) is about the Vietnam War. Starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was also nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two, for sound and cinematography. The film also won three Golden Globes Awards.
Currently, “Apocalypse Now” holds a score of 8.4 on IMDb. On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score is 94%, and the Tomatometer critics rating is an almost perfect 98%.
To determine the best military movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. All ratings are as of October 2021 and were weighted equally. Only movies tagged with the word “military” or the war genre tag on IMDb with at least 10,000 audience votes on that site were considered. Movies that have military elements but are not explicitly about the military experience were excluded. Directorial credits and cast information come from IMDb.