Special Report

The Most Accurate War Movies of All Time

The challenge of accurately depicting the horrors of war was first undertaken by the ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides. Many classic novels have since attempted the same feat – for instance, Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” and Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead.” And for almost as long as there have been movies, filmmakers have strived to depict the realism of combat.

To compile a list of 20 of the most accurate war movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed lists of movies considered particularly accurate or realistic, by veterans among others, from numerous online sources, among them IMDb, Ranker, and WatchMojo. We only included films that were mentioned by at least two sources as being among the most accurate.

World War I provided fresh wartime storylines for the emerging motion-picture industry. Films such as “The Big Parade” (1925) and “All Quiet of the Western Front” (1930), both well-regarded by critics, humanized soldiers and did not glorify war. (These are the best military movies of all time.)

Strong storytelling and deeply held beliefs about the futility of war animated movie makers’ approaches in the ensuing decades. But it has been the advancements of camera technology that have taken war movies to another level. Handheld and lightweight cameras brought an unprecedented immediacy and intimacy to combat.

Click here to see the most accurate war movies ever made

Among war movies that have made their mark with remarkable technique are “1917” (2019), famed for its opening moments following two British soldiers making their way across the desolate landscape of no-man’s land – in effect bringing the viewer along for their dangerous journey; and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), which changed how war movies were made forever through the gruesomely realistic cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, who won an Oscar for his work. (These are 35 horrifying images of World War II.)

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

A Bridge Too Far (1977)
> Director: Richard Attenborough
> Main cast: Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine

An all-star cast distinguished this epic about a failed Allied offensive, Operation Market Garden, that hinged on capturing a series of Dutch bridges that would facilitate an Allied advance and hasten the end of the war. Director Richard Attenborough, who starred in WWII films such as “The Great Escape” and “Desert Patrol,” got kudos for getting the history right, though some complained the movie was too long and flat in places.


Source: Courtesy of United Artists

Apocalypse Now (1979)
> Director: Francis Ford Coppola
> Main cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” – a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness” – has grown in acclaim over time as a portrait of the descent into evil. In this case, evil is personified by Marlon Brando, an American colonel operating without supervision, in this sometimes hallucinatory and often horrifying depiction of combat in Vietnam.

Source: Courtesy of Triumph Films

Das Boot (1981)
> Director: Wolfgang Petersen
> Main cast: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann

The grueling daily life of German submariners was grimly depicted by director Wolfgang Petersen in this multiple Academy Award nominee. U-boat sailors had the most perilous service of any branch of the German military – 75% of those who served on the submarines during World War II did not survive.

Source: Courtesy of Sovexportfilm

Come and See (1985)
> Director: Elem Klimov
> Main cast: Aleksey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova, Liubomiras Laucevicius

The experiences of partisan fighters in the Soviet Union, not well-known in the West, are revealed in this harrowing movie about Nazi brutality in World War II. In “Come and See,” a young man joins the resistance after his village is wiped out by the German invaders.


Source: Courtesy of Orion Pictures

Platoon (1986)
> Director: Oliver Stone
> Main cast: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe

Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for its searing scenes of firefights and victimized civilians in Vietnam and the battle of wills between two American sergeants.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)
> Director: Stanley Kubrick
> Main cast: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio

The brutality of the Vietnam War and the intensity of boot camp were brought to the screen by Stanley Kubrick, who received the last of his Oscar nominations, for best writing, for this film. R. Lee Ermey, who served in the marines for 11 years, brought authenticity to his role as the drill instructor.


Source: Jesse Grant / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment

84 Charlie MoPic (1989)
> Director: Patrick Sheane Duncan
> Main cast: Jonathan Emerson, Nicholas Cascone, Jason Tomlins

“84 Charlie MoPic” is a below-the-radar war film about an Army cameraman shooting a documentary about U.S. infantrymen in Vietnam. The movie shows the bonds that develop between soldiers whose motivations for fighting on dangerous missions in the Vietnamese jungle vary from soldier to soldier. The title of the film is Army job code for a combat cameraman.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

Glory (1989)
> Director: Edward Zwick
> Main cast: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes

Director Edward Zwick brought to the big screen the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-African-American regiment, which fought the Confederacy on the battlefield and against the bigotry of Union soldiers during the Civil War. Denzel Washington won the first of his two Academy Awards as an escaped slave who served in the unit.

Source: Courtesy of Strand Releasing

Stalingrad (1993)
> Director: Joseph Vilsmaier
> Main cast: Dominique Horwitz, Thomas Kretschmann, Jochen Nickel

There have been many movies about the horrors of one of history’s most deadly battles, and “Stalingrad” is one of the best. The film follows a German officer and his soldiers across the steppes of Russia into the city that will seal their doom in the depths of winter.


Source: Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
> Director: Steven Spielberg
> Main cast: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

Loosely based on the Niland brothers, who perished during World War II, “Saving Private Ryan” is about an American patrol tasked with finding a paratrooper behind enemy lines whose brothers have been killed in the war. Among the five Oscars won by the film were a Best Director statue for Steven Spielberg and a Best Cinematography award for Janusz Kaminski – whose filming of the D-Day landings was so realistic that it upset World War II veterans watching the movie.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Black Hawk Down (2001)
> Director: Ridley Scott
> Main cast: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore

Ridley Scott directed this story about a U.S. mission to eliminate warlords in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 – an effort that goes wrong when Somali militia fighters take down Black Hawk helicopters, forcing American soldiers to fight their way out. The film accurately captured the chaos and desperation of street fighting in Mogadishu.


Source: Courtesy of Home Box Office

Band of Brothers (2001)
> Director: Various
> Main cast: Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston

“Band of Brothers” wasn’t a movie, but it was a cinematic television miniseries based on the book by historian Stephen E. Ambrose about the experiences of Easy Company – the honored 101st Airborne Division contingent that fought their way across France from D-Day into Germany and aided the liberation of concentration camps. The series was created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

We Were Soldiers (2002)
> Director: Randall Wallace
> Main cast: Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear

This movie is based on the best-selling book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and journalist Joseph L. Galloway. The movie is about the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, the first major battle between the United States and North Vietnamese forces. The U.S. government is considering renaming Fort Benning in Georgia after Moore.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
> Director: Peter Weir
> Main cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd

This sweeping nautical epic follows a brash British naval captain who leads a ship in pursuit of a French vessel in South American water during the Napoleonic Wars.


Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jarhead (2005)
> Director: Sam Mendes
> Main cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black

“Jarhead,” which is a nickname for a U.S. marine, is a psychological examination of the mind of a Marine sniper during the Gulf War, dealing with how he copes with the tedium of serving in a war zone and with the tension related to his home life. The screenplay was written by William Broyles Jr., who also scripted the Clint Eastwood-directed film about the Battle of Iwo Jima, “Flags of Our Fathers.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
> Director: Clint Eastwood
> Main cast: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara

Director Clint Eastwood told the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima twice in films, from the perspective of each side. The Japanese view is expressed here through letters written by a Japanese soldier, unearthed in Iwo Jima’s caves decades after the battle. “Letters from Iwo Jima” earned an Academy Award for sound editing.


Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Lone Survivor (2013)
> Director: Peter Berg
> Main cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

This film is the real-life story of four Navy SEALs in Afghanistan tasked with eliminating a high-ranking Taliban leader and how they are given up by a goat herder and ambushed by a larger squad of fighters. The movie is based on the book written by Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of the mission.

Source: Courtesy of Lionsgate

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
> Director: Mel Gibson
> Main cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of U.S. Army medic Desmond T. Doss, a pacifist, who saved Americans wounded at the Battle of Okinawa and became the only American serviceman to win the Medal of Honor for not firing a shot. The movie is remembered for its depiction of the extraordinary bravery of Doss, played by Oscar-nominated actor Andrew Garfield, and its gripping battle scenes.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Dunkirk (2017)
> Director: Christopher Nolan
> Main cast: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance

“Dunkirk” is the story of how Great Britain averted a total military disaster by rescuing 400,000 Allied troops via Royal Navy and civilian seacraft from the Nazi onslaught in France. The three-time Oscar-winning movie focuses on the stories of an aviator (Tom Hardy), a soldier (Fionn Whitehead), and a civilian (Mark Rylance).


Source: Courtesy of Mister Smith Entertainment

1917 (2019)
> Director: Sam Mendes
> Main cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays

Nominated for 10 Oscars and winner of three, “1917” is famous for its opening shot, which follows two British soldiers tentatively crossing the torn landscape of no-man’s land to bring a message to a battalion to call off an attack and avert a massacre. Few movies have captured the harrowing conditions of World War I battlefields like “1917.”

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