10 Best Historical War Movies

Thursday, February 24 by William Gish

The 10 best historical war movies are dramatic and suspenseful for any cinema lover. On this list, find some cinematic greats but be wary of spoilers.

  1. “Grand Illusion” The rare film to examine questions of morality, humanity and ethics in the context of World War One, “Grand Illusion” is a classic film that manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking. With this picture, filmmaker Jean Renoir gave us one of the 10 best historical war films and the template for classics like “Bridge on River Kwai.”  
  2. “Apocalypse Now" Watching this film is similar to a two-hour acid trip in hell, but in a good way. “Apocalypse Now” is an examination of madness, evil, terror and the human propensity for all three told through the filter of the Vietnam War. It’s an all-time great and one the 10 best historical war movies.
  3. “Fires on the Plain” “Fires on the Plain” is a quiet and harrowing film about the Japanese experience during the Pacific War. The movie tells the tale of a group of Japanese soldiers abandoned by the high command to die in a remote region of the Philippines. It’s a film about a group of men starving to death, and the revelations they find in that experience.
  4. “Come and See” This Belarusian WW2 film is one of the most surreal, intense, and horrific films you will ever see. It is not for the faint at heart in its graphic and infernal depictions of the atrocities visited upon Soviet villages during the Nazis march to Russia from the heart of western Europe. “Come and See” is a nauseating document.
  5. “Saving Private Ryan” Steven Spielberg’s World War Two epic is responsible for the lexicon of the modern historical war film, epic battles filmed with a gritty, jumpy, newsreel-like hyper realism, coated with mind numbingly graphic violence and tempered by scenes of gentle humanity. It’s one of the 10 best historical warm movies.
  6. “Glory” “Glory” is the ultimate Civil War film, the only Edward Zwick project that’s good from start to finish, and one of the 10 best historical war movies. In telling the tale of a black squadro fighting for the North in the Civil War, “Glory” finds a potent and historically significant topic and examines it passionately.
  7. “Braveheart” Mel Gibson’s historical epic turned the bravery of a group of Scottish rebels who dared defy the English monarchy into one of the 10 best historical war movies with “Braveheart.” Here you will find romance, intrigue, bravery defiance, betrayal, brutality, battle-axes and blue face paint.
  8. “Zulu” This historical epic examines the brutal battles fought by the British army and warriors of the Zulu nation during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Despite a handful of historical inaccuracies, the film was favorably reviewed upon release and is widely considered a classic.  
  9. “Spartacus” Though Stanley Kubrick built his reputation by being a willfully obtuse director who radically influenced the parameters and approach to mainstream cinema during the 60’s and 70’s, he made some damn fine popcorn flicks in his day. This list includes “Spartacus,” one of the 10 best historical war movies and a rousing portrait of a slave uprising in Ancient Greece.
  10. “Welcome to Sarajevo" One of the few films major western films made about the conflict in Bosnia, “Welcome to Sarajevo” views the conflict form the point of view of journalists and aid workers. It's a hectic film filled with the type of pedestrian violence that is commonplace in war zones. “Welcome to Sarajevo” is effective for its refusal to amplify anything to the level of grandiosity.  
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