It seems like a tall order picking the best military movies of all-time.
Nevertheless, it’s a fun debate arguing over the top military movies.
These films are fan favorites and critically acclaimed, and range from instant classics to war epics.
Browse the 20 Best Military Movies of All-Time:
Table of Contents
#1. Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan is an iconic war epic.
The film was robbed of “Best Picture” at the 1999 Academy Awards yet remains among the best military movies of all-time. (for those wondering, the winner was ‘Shakespeare in Love’)
Saving Private Ryan opens during the Normandy Landings as a group of U.S. soldiers fall behind enemy lines to rescue a paratrooper.
The first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan steal the show yet audiences find themselves glued to the remainder of the WWII epic.
Saving Private Ryan stars Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Barry Pepper in career-altering performances.
#2. Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket constantly ranks among the best military movies of all-time.
The war epic is divided into 2 distinct parts with the first half of the film observing new recruits at Marine boot camp.
Meanwhile, the second part of Full Metal Jacket recognizes the dehumanizing effects of the Vietnam War.
It takes a couple of hours to watch Full Metal Jacket yet is well worth the time and effort.
Additionally, you’ll get more than a few chuckles from R. Lee Ermey who shines as Marines Drill Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman.
Platoon is another intimate, personal account of what it took to survive in Vietnam.
The main character (Charlie Sheen) in the movie gets involved in a battle of wills between 2 sergeants, each with very different personalities.
For this reason, Platoon is a shrewd yet honest examination of the brutality of war along with the clashes among those serving in the military.
Notwithstanding, it also does a terrific job of presenting the history of the War in Vietnam and the hardships faced by Marine grunts.
Platoon was directed by a Vietnam veteran (Oliver Stone) and also hired a military technical advisor to ensure the film was realistic.
#4. Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge restored the career of Mel Gibson and also sparked a new wave of war epics.
The 2016 Oscar-winning picture features the WWII true story of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss.
Private Doss served in WWII yet refused to carry a firearm or harm enemy forces because of his religious beliefs.
Be that as it may, Doss became a hero in WWII, saving the lives of countless soldiers and receiving the Medal of Honor as a result.
#5. Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is one of the most underrated military movies of all-time.
The film tells the true story of 160 elite soldiers who dropped into Moogadishu in 1993 during a planned capture of 2 renegade warlords.
However, everything quickly turns south when the special operatives are raided by a surprise force of heavily armed Somalis.
The Ridley Scott epic features Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, and Eric Bana.
Black Hawk Down is based on a book by journalist Mark Bowden who details an operation that should have only lasted 15 minutes yet erupted into a disaster.
#6. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is unlike anything else you’ve ever watched.
The 1979 war epic continuously ranks among not only the best military movies but the greatest films of all time, too.
It depicts a small unit of Army soldiers tasked with tracking down a rogue Special Forces Colonel (Marlon Brando), who has transformed into a god among the locals.
Apocalypse Now struck a lot of chords with those who served in Vietnam both for the good and ugly of warfare.
Today, the Francis Ford Coppola epic remains a must-see for those who haven’t had an opportunity to watch it yet.
#7. Lone Survivor
Lone Survivor is based on the real story of a small team of Navy SEALs sent to hunt down a notorious leader of the Taliban.
Unfortunately, Operation Red Wings is unsuccessful causing the Navy SEALs to abandon the mission and fight for survival.
Lone Survivor stars Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell along with Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana.
It’s definitely a must-watch for those interested in the role of special forces and/or conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jarhead is vastly underrated among the best military movies.
The film examines the psychological state of Marines during their service in the Gulf War.
Jarhead is presented through the eyes of a U.S. marine sniper who struggles to cope with boredom and isolation.
The movie is based on the 2003 best-selling book by Anthony Swofford which chronicles his time in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Jarhead is a brutal watch yet an honest portrayal of being in the Marine infantry during the Gulf War.
#9. The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter is a classic for those who have missed out on the 1978 war drama.
Yes, with a 183-minute runtime, it does take more than a minute to get through the Vietnam epic starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.
Notwithstanding, The Deer Hunter is worth the long watch as it transitions between Vietnam and life back home in rural Pennslyvania.
The Deer Hunter also features Meryl Streep in one of her early supporting roles.
#10. Flags of Our Fathers
Flag of Our Fathers was the first of a 2-part war epic designed to present both sides of the Pacific Theater in WWII.
As a result, Flag of Our Fathers details the lives of 6 men who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a turning point in World War II that helped reverse the trend for Allied troops fighting in the Pacific.
Nevertheless, as the Clint Eastwood biopic examines, not everything was a smooth ride for the 3 surviving troops that raised the flag on their return home.
#11. Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima is the second part of the Clint Eastwood war epic.
It’s designed to present the Japanese version of Iwo Jima during World War II.
For this reason, Eastwood opted to focus on the perspective of the Japanese soldiers involved in the conflict.
While it may not seem like the first choice for a movie about the U.S. military, it’s also interesting to get the other perspective of the famous WWII conflict.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that most critics consider Letters from Iwo Jima the better of the 2 Clint Eastwood war dramas.
It’s not easy for any new movie to separate itself given the thick competition on Netflix.
Be that as it may, Extraction managed to transform into one of the most popular Netflix releases of all-time.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt that Chris Hemsworth is the lead actor, but not bad for a first-time director (Sam Hargrave).
Extraction was popular enough to inspire a sequel which arrived earlier this year on Netflix.
#13. American Sniper
American Sniper is another top military movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
The war drama introduces audiences to Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
Kyle served 4 tours in Iraq and was awarded numerous commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat.
Moreover, Kyle is one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills.
The Navy SEAL left the military in 2009 and published a best-selling autobiography, which inspired the movie.
1917 introduces audiences to a time period that is not explored enough in Hollywood cinema.
The World War I epic literally follows 2 British soldiers around the countryside as they attempt to evade German forces.
The purpose of the mission is to deliver a message that will prevent 1,600 men from walking straight into a deadly trap.
However, time is not on their side and numerous obstacles await in this 2019 war classic directed by Sam Mendes.
#15. The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker is another important watch for those who want to learn more about the Iraq War.
It features an elite cast including Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Guy Pearce.
The war thriller is loaded with tension as viewers observe an Army Sergeant assigned to a bomb squad during the invasion.
The Hurt Locker was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and won an impressive 6 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture” at the 2009 awards.
#16. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Michael Bay is renowned for producing entertaining movies that please fans yet disappoint critics.
However, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a rare exception.
The overlooked military thriller is based on a 2014 book by Mitchell Zuckoff.
It details 6 members of the Annex Security Team involved in the Benghazi compound raid and the fallout thereafter.
The heroic actions of these men saved the lives of many during waves of attacks by militants on September 11, 2012.
Fury is not the most well-known Brad Pitt movie but that doesn’t make it a flop.
In fact, many consider Fury an overlooked account of American tank crews fighting in Nazi Germany during the final weeks of WWII.
The film is written and directed by David Ayer who was inspired after discovering the stories of veterans in his family.
Fury also features Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal.
#18. The Covenant
“The Covenant” was released in movie theaters in April and will soon be streaming on multiple platforms.
It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, an Army Green Beret sergeant, along with Ahmed (Dar Salim) his Afghan interpreter.
The film is directed by Guy Ritchie who has produced cult classics like “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”.
Ritchie does a fine job of presenting an important yet little-known aspect of the War in Afghanistan, the longest-running conflict in U.S. history.
Additionally, if you haven’t seen Gyllenhaal in the extremely underrated “Jarhead” (2005) go stream it now.
“The Covenant” is available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
#19. We Were Soldiers
We Were Soldiers is about the first major battle regarding American involvement in the Vietnam War.
It opens with the notorious line: “Every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.”
Thus, the film is not afraid to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Vietnam War.
We Were Soldiers (like Flags of Our Fathers / Letters of Iwo Jima) presents the perspective of both sides involved in the conflict.
Additionally, the war drama examines the lives of the wives stuck waiting back home.
We Were Soldiers ranks among the best military movies and features Mel Gibson, Greg Kinnear, and Sam Elliott.
There are some who think Dunkirk ranks among the best military movies while others consider it vastly overrated.
Regardless, the Christopher Nolan war epic does a fair job of introducing audiences to a little-known story of World War II.
It’s based on a widescale evacuation that involved British, French, and Belgian troops surrounded by German forces.
Dunkirk was the highest-grossing WWII movie of all time until it was recently surpassed by another Nolan film, Oppenheimer.
Best Military Movies: Honorable Mention
These movies also deserve praise for ranking among the best military movies:
- The Great Escape
- Enemy at the Gates
- All Quiet On The Western Front
Conclusion: 20 Best Military Movies Of All-Time
What are the top movies about the U.S. military?
The best military movies include classics like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and Saving Private Ryan.
Furthermore, recent war epics like Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor, 1917, and Jarhead also deserve recognition.
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