As veteran director Sam Fuller once remarked, “A war film’s objective – no matter how personal or emotional – is to make a viewer feel war.” But while moviemakers the world over have seemingly taken Fuller’s words on board when crafting their own evocative tales of real or fictional battles, the work that they have produced is often as varied as combat itself. Some pictures use war as a backdrop to a wider story, for example, while others offer more ruminative takes on the psychological cost of conflict – or simply thrust audiences right into the heart of the action. Yet regardless of the issues explored, certain films undoubtedly shine brighter than the rest. Here, then, are the very best war movies available to watch on Netflix as of June 18, 2019.
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However, if you’re a lover rather than a fighter, then you should see our list of “The 25 Best Romantic Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Fans of spooks and scares, meanwhile, should head right over to “The 25 Best Horror Movies On Netflix Right Now.” More up for nailbiting tension? Then check out “The 25 Best Thriller Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And for the cream of the most recent releases, take a look at our list of “The 25 Best New Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
To establish which war movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of films currently available on Netflix. We then selected the 25 war films with the highest scores on that site. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those 25 movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each movie an average score out of 100, and the 25 war films with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
25. Valkyrie (2008)
Given Valkyrie’s checkered production history, it appears that casting Tom Cruise as a German war hero isn’t all that conducive to making a film in Berlin. You see, in 2007 Der Spiegel reported that Cruise’s religious beliefs may have factored into the German government’s refusal to allow Bryan Singer to shoot at certain locations in the capital. And the real-life son of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was reportedly none too keen on a Scientologist portraying his father in the picture, either. Despite these setbacks, though, the thriller still ultimately made it into movie theaters, where it earned over $200 million worldwide. The true-to-life story – albeit one slightly embellished for the big screen – recounts Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators’ courageous bid to assassinate Hitler.
24. Outlaw King (2018)
After Outlaw King premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, arguably the biggest talking point that emerged concerned the on-screen appearance of star Chris Pine’s penis. Entire articles were devoted to the subject, in fact – something that led Pine himself to rather damningly describe the hoopla as “so stupid.” But for director David Mackenzie, the drama’s debut presented him with an altogether different problem: the work simply wasn’t as good as it could be. So, the filmmaker went back to the editing room and cut the movie down by 20 minutes or so, with the finished product subsequently dropping on Netflix mere weeks later. And according to IndieWire, for one, the revised version of the tale of Robert the Bruce is “a better one in every way” to its predecessor – as well as one of the best war films on the streaming service.
23. Allied (2016)
Allied may have pretty much bombed upon its release in movie theaters, but the WWII-set movie still managed to find a certain number of cheerleaders among the media. The BBC’s Sam Adams, for example, lauded the picture as being “technically immaculate from stem to stern”; and the movie’s solid 7.1 rating on IMDb suggests that plenty of film fans appreciated Robert Zemeckis’ work, too. Here, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play Canadian spy Max Vatan and French member of the resistance Marianne Beauséjour, respectively, with the pair’s romantic relationship becoming strained when Beauséjour falls under suspicion of being a secret agent for the Germans. And it seems that Allied may actually have been inspired by a real-life tale. That’s according to screenwriter Steven Knight, who in 2015 told Collider that he had once encountered a woman whose brother had apparently suffered through similar circumstances during the war.
22. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Adapted from John Boyne’s best-selling book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of a young German boy named Bruno who befriends a Jewish child living in a WWII concentration camp. Yet as Bruno learns more about the camp – and his father’s role in overseeing the horrors that go on there – he understandably begins to lose his innocence. As writer-director Mark Herman told IndieLondon in 2008, Holocaust survivor Eva Newman, for one, believes that watching the drama is therefore the “ideal first step” in teaching young people more about the historical genocide that occurred in Nazi Germany. As you may imagine, though, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas isn’t at all easy viewing. Indeed, in his five-star review, the Orlando Sentinel’s Roger Moore described Herman’s work as “the most heartbreaking film about the Holocaust since Schindler’s List.”
21. Mohawk (2017)
Although Mohawk is a work of fiction, Ted Geoghegan was keen to ensure that his genre-blending drama convinced audiences. To that end, then, the director and his team worked closely with lead actress Kaniehtiio Horn – herself of Mohawk decent – in order to bring the lives and culture of members of the Native American tribe to life. But that wasn’t all; as Geoghegan told ComingSoon in 2018, his co-writer, Grady Hendrix, also took the time to confirm that the on-screen action was completely on point from a historical perspective. Fortunately, it seems that this painstaking process was worth it; Mohawk certainly went on to win over its fair share of critics. And the Los Angeles Times’ Noel Murray was among those who approved of the “gripping, despairing action picture” – which takes place during the War of 1812 and follows Horn’s character, Okwaho, as she faces up against American troops.
20. The Siege of Jadotville (2016)
In dramatizing The Siege of Jadotville’s titular battle, director Richie Smyth brought to light an almost unheard-of fragment of history. You see, following the 1961 assault on Irish UN forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the real-life soldiers involved in the engagement were reportedly compelled to keep quiet about what went down. And while this enforced silence could have proven problematic in the bid to sort fact from fiction, Smyth and his team found that survivors of the conflict were in fact willing to talk about their experiences decades on. In addition, the action movie’s stars – including Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan – were all put through a military boot camp so that they could better imitate actual troops. All of the research appeared to pay dividends, too, as Netflix subsequently snapped up the rights to The Siege of Jadotsville for a cool $17 million.
19. Suite Française (2015)
In 1942 the Nazis apprehended Jewish author Irène Némirovsky and then transported her to Auschwitz, where she died within mere weeks of her arrival. And while Némirovsky’s children thankfully managed to escape the Holocaust with their lives, they had just a suitcase full of possessions by which to remember their mother. In the late ’90s, however, the writer’s legacy came to attention once more when her daughter Denise stumbled upon work that she had penned not long before her arrest and concealed within her belongings. These two books in turn became Suite Française, which received considerable critical acclaim after its publication in 2004 and made its way onto the big screen a decade later. Said movie adaptation sees Michelle Williams star as protagonist Lucile Angellier – a French woman who begins an unlikely romance with the Nazi officer residing within her home.
18. Lone Survivor (2013)
Peter Berg and his team’s efforts to accurately recreate the events of Operation Red Wings definitely didn’t go unnoticed by one of the men who had been at the heart of the real U.S. military mission. Yes, erstwhile Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell applauded the director for going “above and beyond” in his efforts to nail the details of Lone Survivor, which depicts American forces’ ultimately unsuccessful strike against Afghan insurgents in 2005. According to the movie’s press kit, Luttrell added, “[Berg]’s done all his homework [and] studied for years to get this right, and it paid off.” Nor was the former soldier the only person to applaud the filmmaker. The Denver Post’s Lisa Kennedy certainly saw fit to do so, too, writing that he had “directed [the movie] with care for its protagonists.” Lone Survivor also received two Academy Awards nominations following its release in 2013.
17. War Horse (2011)
For producer Kathleen Kennedy, part of the appeal of bringing War Horse to the big screen came down to the period in which the original book is set. You see, the events of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel – as well as those of the subsequent Broadway play – largely take place during the First World War, and Kennedy felt the need to further represent the conflict from a cinematic perspective. “[WWI] is… forgotten… in the United States, and that had a very powerful effect on Steven [Spielberg] and I,” she told the BBC in 2011. And given that Spielberg had previously embarked on his share of WWII-set productions, it perhaps made sense for the iconic director to redress the balance. As its name suggests, War Horse tracks the evolving relationship between a thoroughbred and his young owner – although the animal makes an impact on many other people too.
16. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Films based on real-life events arguably tend to focus more on drama than thrills. Yet Black Hawk Down mines just as much action as emotion from its depiction of the deadly 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. This real-life conflict saw elite U.S. soldiers trapped in the Somalian capital following a botched raid during the country’s civil war. And Ridley Scott’s war film subsequently received particular acclaim for its frenetic editing and sound design – both of which bagged Academy Awards. What’s more, even though the picture was criticized for presenting a seemingly unfavorable view of Somalians, according to the Chicago Tribune, at least, Black Hawk Down “presents its subject so horrifyingly well that it doesn’t need to probe or preach.”
15. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Decades prior to the publication of classic novel Doctor Zhivago, communists had branded its author, Boris Pasternak, “an enemy of the people.” And even after the book was later smuggled out of Russia and published to vast success in the West, Pasternak was further criticized by his countrymen – this time as a “traitor” whose “artistically squalid, malicious work” espoused a “hatred of socialism.” No such fate befell the movie adaptation, however, for in 1965 David Lean’s sweeping romance emerged to considerable critical acclaim. The Los Angeles Times was particularly fulsome in its praise, writing that the picture “was [as] throat-catchingly magnificent as the screen could be – the apotheosis of the cinema as art.” The lengthy drama – about a Russian doctor’s love affair during the First World War – also went on to scoop five Academy Awards and become one of the highest-grossing movies ever at the domestic box office.
14. First They Killed My Father (2017)
Nearly two decades before the release of First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie had picked up a copy of Loung Ung’s memoir of the same name in a Cambodian marketplace. The director and actress later went on to forge an enduring bond with Ung, too. That said, shooting the biographical war movie might not always have been pleasant – not least because Jolie was at times recreating some of the most traumatic experiences of her friend’s life. You see, the whole film actually takes place during the period when the brutal Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, meaning viewers see the often-harrowing ramifications of the Communists’ reign. However, in the process, according to critic Matt Zoller Seitz at least, the star helped create “one of the greatest films about war ever made” – as well as one of the top war movies on Netflix to boot.
13. A War (2015)
In his 2015 feature A War, Tobias Lindholm wanted to emphasize the moral gray areas that often arise during times of conflict. After all, as the writer and director explained in a 2016 interview with the BBC, “the obsession of our world with right and wrong” sometimes denies the fact that “reality is far more complex” than it is frequently painted to be. This certainly appears to be the case in Lindholm’s drama, which centers on a military commander who faces an impossible life-or-death decision during the war in Afghanistan. Then, after the Danish national – portrayed by Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk – returns home from duty, he goes on trial for his actions. And in this way, A War is not only, in Empire’s words, “a riveting, complex film;” it also provides ample food for thought.
12. The Imitation Game (2014)
In his review for the New York Observer, veteran critic Rex Reed lauded The Imitation Game as “one of the greatest movies of 2014,” and the evidence suggests that he wasn’t alone. The Academy, for one, largely concurred, as the biopic earned eight Oscar nominations – with one win for Best Adapted Screenplay. The thriller stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing – the real-life British mathematician who helped decrypt German messages during WWII and so tip the conflict’s balance in favor of the Allies. Yet The Imitation Game doesn’t just focus on Turing’s part in winning the war; rather, Morten Tyldum’s work builds up a comprehensive picture of its brilliant but flawed protagonist. And neither does the film shy away from the tragic end to Turing’s life – a fate that was meted out without any seeming regard for the considerable mark the man had made on history.
11. Lincoln (2012)
When Steven Spielberg asked Daniel Day-Lewis to take the part of Abraham Lincoln, the notoriously selective actor initially declined the director. To Day-Lewis, you see, portraying the 16th President of the United States on screen was a ridiculous notion – and this feeling didn’t leave him even after filming on the historical epic got under way. “I thought, ‘This is a very, very bad idea,’” he told The New York Times in 2012. “But by that time, it was too late.” The actor’s misgivings about the role may have been assuaged after his performance earned him a third Academy Award, mind you; and Lincoln’s critical and commercial success probably didn’t hurt either. Anyhow, it’s worth noting that Spielberg’s biopic doesn’t cover the entirety of Lincoln’s life; instead, it tracks the last few months of the president’s tenure in office as he fights to abolish slavery.
10. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
After Netflix purchased the rights to Beasts of No Nation for a hefty $12 million, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s war drama became the first movie to officially receive distribution by the streaming service. And although this development ruffled some feathers at the time – a number of U.S. movie theater chains even refused to show the picture altogether – producer Amy Kaufman ultimately proved prophetic when she told Variety that the deal “could be a game changer.” Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a West African child warrior – portrayed by rising star Abraham Attah – who fatefully gets taken under the wing of Idris Elba’s merciless warlord. The film was something of a critical hit, too, with the San Diego Reader among those singling out the “consuming, harrowing adventure” for praise. Suffice to say, then, that the feature is among the very best war movies on Netflix.
9. The Breadwinner (2017)
The Guardian’s critic Mark Kermode gave The Breadwinner five stars out of five and praised Nora Twomey’s animated tale as “superb.” Meanwhile, the film holds a staggering 95 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It goes without saying, then, that The Breadwinner is not a juvenile work; instead, thanks in part to its subject matter, it possesses considerable gravitas. The movie is set in war-torn Afghanistan and sees young girl Parvana’s father being caught by the Taliban, after which Parvana has to disguise herself as a boy in order to help her family survive. And the feature took its cues from a novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, who interviewed real-life refugees in a bid to more accurately reflect their lives in her work.
8. Under the Shadow (2016)
Under the Shadow’s limited U.S. release certainly didn’t stop the movie from receiving its dues. For instance, in 2016 The Hollywood Reporter lauded the supernatural chiller for the skillful way in which it maintains suspense. Empire, meanwhile, chose to give kudos to the film’s “unusual backdrop and great performances.” And on the back of such drama-building qualities, first-time director Babak Anvari went on to win a clutch of awards on the festival circuit as well as a 2017 BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In a nutshell, Under the Shadow follows a mother-and-daughter pair who find themselves caged within their Tehran apartment as war rocks the streets outside. As mom Shideh – played by Iranian star Narges Rashid – begins to realize, moreover, a mysterious spirit has invaded the building.
7. Incendies (2010)
Before wowing audiences with sci-fi gems Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve brought us lesser-known mystery film Incendies. In summary, the movie tells the story of twins who head to the Middle East to investigate some family secrets – and yet so much more than this is conveyed on screen. Roger Ebert put it best in his rave review of the thriller, writing that Incendies also “succeeds in demonstrating how senseless and futile it is to hate others because of their religion.” And Ebert evidently isn’t the only one to have been won over by the 2010 release, as it currently holds a 93 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In all, then, it’s certainly among the best war movies on Netflix right now.
6. Mudbound (2017)
After Mudbound earned a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival, Netflix paid out $12.5 million for its distribution rights. Dee Rees’ war drama then enjoyed a brief spell in theaters, which in turn made its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, eligible to receive an Academy Award. And rather astonishingly, when the nominations for the 2018 Oscars were announced, Morrison became the first woman ever to be in contention in the Best Cinematography category. That same year also saw Mudbound up for the Best Adapted Screenplay award, while star Mary J. Blige broke further ground when she received nominations in both the Original Song and Supporting Actress categories. Mudbound found favor with the critics, too; the film – about two WWII veterans trying to negotiate prejudice in Mississippi – currently holds a 97 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Kilo Two Bravo (2014)
Drama Kilo Two Bravo tells the real-life story of a company of British paratroopers who found themselves stranded in a minefield in Afghanistan in 2006. Naturally, then, the men had to try and escape their potentially lethal environment with both their lives and limbs intact – but it was far from a simple feat. And this frightening premise is at the heart of the work by director Paul Katis, who was spurred on to make a British picture that, for once, was set during a modern conflict. Authenticity was key, too, so Katis and screenwriter Tom Williams thoroughly consulted the soldiers who had gone through that traumatic day to in this way accurately portray their experiences on camera. Such efforts clearly weren’t in vain, either, as critics lauded the finished product. The Toronto Star’s Linda Barnard, for example, praised Kilo Two Bravo for providing “an intimate, unforgettable examination of war.”
4. Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone felt driven to make Platoon in part because he was unhappy with the romanticized version of the Vietnam War on screen in John Wayne’s 1968 offering, The Green Berets. You see, for Stone – an actual veteran of the conflict – the combat was neither a thrilling nor glamorous experience. And this ethos is certainly evident in Platoon, which tells the story of a young recruit – played by Charlie Sheen – who is grinding out his first tour of duty. Stone doesn’t shy away from depicting the atrocities of war, either – including scenes of murder and attempted rape. Yet the director’s often unflinching vision was nevertheless a hit with critics and audiences alike. The war movie landed four Oscars in total, with the coveted Best Picture award among them; it also brought in a substantial $138 million at the domestic box office.
3. The Hurt Locker (2008)
During her acceptance speech for the 2010 Best Director Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow described receiving the award as “the moment of a lifetime.” The win had significance beyond that felt by Bigelow, too, as it made her the first female filmmaker ever to have been honored in this way by the Academy. Nor was this the only prize that Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker took home on the night, for the war-themed work scooped a further five Oscars, including the gongs for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps inevitably, then, the critical reaction to the film was glowing as well; in a 2009 analysis for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert even deemed the drama “very nearly flawless.” And that’s all despite the often-weighty themes explored by the movie, which tells the story of bomb disposal expert William James (Jeremy Renner) as he contends with the dangers of the Iraq War.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In its critics’ consensus on Pan’s Labyrinth, Rotten Tomatoes labels the movie “Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups” – and there’s certainly some aptness to this description. After all, Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 release tells a haunting tale in which the fantastical and the mundane intertwine – much like what transpires in the children’s classic. Here, however, protagonist Ofelia ultimately finds herself not in the company of the Hatter and co but, rather, in an underground maze populated by intriguing beasts. There’s a subversive side to del Toro’s twisted fable, too. Indeed, as the director told The Guardian in 2006, “I wanted to represent political power within the creatures.” Yet whatever the inspiration behind Pan’s Labyrinth, the film has managed to enchant critics, win awards – including a trio of Oscars – and excel at the box office. On the latter score, the drama is the fifth highest-grossing foreign-language movie in the U.S., in fact.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg released two movies in 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List – and they couldn’t have been further apart in theme and tone. In fact, Spielberg was editing Jurassic Park as he was shooting the harrowing Holocaust drama – a situation that, as the director later disclosed at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, caused “a tremendous amount of resentment and anger” for him at the time. But whatever the circumstances of Schindler’s List’s creation, Spielberg and his team delivered a both artistically successful and exceptionally important film. The movie’s significance was then further underlined when producer Branko Lustig revealed at the Oscars that he had actually survived the Holocaust. “People died in front of me at the camps,” he said upon accepting Schindler’s List’s award for Best Picture. “Their last words were, ‘Be a witness of my murder. Tell to the world how I died. Remember…’