Best Military Movies of All Time

Several years ago we held a reader poll to help decide the best military movies (or at least our readers favorite military movies!) This is a list of the best military movies as voted by readers of The Military Wallet. This list includes a small selection of ancient wars, then after that, the lists are…
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Several years ago we held a reader poll to help decide the best military movies (or at least our readers favorite military movies!)

This is a list of the best military movies as voted by readers of The Military Wallet. This list includes a small selection of ancient wars, then after that, the lists are focused on wars in which there was a substantial American presence. No list can be all-inclusive, but we have done our best to include a wide range of wars, and a wide range of movies including blockbusters, multi-part mini-series, and documentaries. Some of these movies are based upon fact, but many are fictionalized representations of events which occurred or may have occurred. The focus and purpose of this list isn’t historical accuracy, but rather, to share with others the films which, in our opinion, and the opinion of our readers, best represent the men and women who sacrificed so much to make our world a better, and safer place in which to live.

What counts as a military movie? In my opinion, anything that has a military topic, or a war as the centerpiece of the story. Ancient warfare, modern warfare, The Cold War, peace time movies that focus on the military, documentaries, comedies, dramas, foreign language films, you name it – if it focuses on the military or a war, it’s good to go. We will draw the line at science fiction (sorry Star Wars fans!), and action movies (Example, Bourne Identity and sequels would not qualify).

Best War Film Categories

Here are a few categories we used for classifying these films. As always there is room for debate. Your favorite movie may or may not be listed here. Don’t like our top choice? Leave a comment at the end of this article and share your favorite military film!

  • Ancient Wars
  • American Revolution
  • American Civil War
  • World War I
  • World War II (European and Pacific theaters)
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • Iraq, Afghanistan, and Middle Eastern Conflicts
  • Documentaries
  • Comedies
  • Worst War Movies Ever!
  • Other?

Best Military Movies of All-Time

What follows are the best movies as selected by you, our readers. Do you agree with these selects? Disagree? Then please share your comments below. If we get enough votes for different movies, we may change the rankings to reflect those votes. So please, share your opinions on the best war movies, and more importantly, why you believe your favorite movie is the best.

The Best Movies of Ancient Wars

These movies encompass the real, the imagined and the “inspired by” events of yesteryear. These events probably didn’t happen as they are portrayed in these films, but they are entertaining and inspiring, nonetheless.

  • Braveheart
  • Ben Hur
  • Gladiator
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Troy

American Revolutionary War Era

The American Revolution was a turning point in the tactics used in Western warfare. Lining up and trading volleys was still commonplace, but The American Revolutionary War brought about changes including the citizen warrior, regional militias, and guerrilla tactics which were unheard of in Western warfare prior to these wars. This section includes movies from the related era, including the Spanish Indian War.

  • The Patriot
  • The Crossing
  • The American Revolution Boxed DVD Set (A&E)
  • Liberty! The American Revolution
  • Johnny Tremain
  • Last of the Mohicans – Spanish Indian War
  • Rough Riders

The Best American Civil War Movies

The American Civil War has long been romanticized by poets, novelists, story tellers, and screenwriters – and for good reason. Not only was this war fought over economics and control of a territory, but also over the definition of freedom and equality. The American Civil War was the bloodiest battle in American history and represented a major turning point in Western warfare (did you know that more Americans died in the Civil War than in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined?). The American Civil War split the country, then brought it back together. This war featured brothers fighting brothers, fathers fighting sons, the first instances of aerial combat and submarine warfare in the US, armored battleships, espionage, and a Presidential assassination following the war. The result of the war was a unified nation and the freedom of 3.5 million slaves, representing 15% of the American population. Did you know that an estimated 2/3 of all Civil War deaths have been attributed to disease? Here are some amazing Civil War facts, and here are some more. Now on to the best Civil War movies of all time.

  • Glory
  • Dances With Wolves
  • Gettysburgh
  • Gone With the Wind
  • Andersonville
  • The Hunley
  • Ironclads
  • Birth of a Nation
  • The Red Badge of Courage
  • Outlaw Josey Wales
  • North And The South ( 1985, Warner Bros, ABC Mini-Series)
  • Gods & Generals

Honorable Mentions: Cold Mountain, Shiloh, Friendly Persuasion, Shenandoah, The Blue and the Gray

The Best World War I Movies

World War I was commonly referred to as “The War to End All Wars.” That is, until it was all but certain there would be a second World War. World War I is now most commonly referred to as WWI or “The Great War.” World War One saw the advancement of warfighting various technologies including trench warfare, the first wide scale use of poisonous gases gases and perhaps most notably, using airplanes in aerial conflict. This in itself is an interesting topic as the first airplanes in WWI were used for scouting and the pilots brought along long range rifles, and later machine guns as protection and to shoot at enemy scouts. It wasn’t long before advancements in airplane and weapons technology brought about the introduction of true fighter aircraft and the first “dog fights.” Here is a selection of WWI movies which best represent this era.

  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Farewell to Arms
  • Sergeant York
  • A Very Long Engagement
  • Gallipoli
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • African Queen
  • Flyboys
  • Joyeux Noel

Honorable Mentions: Paths of Glory, The Blue Max, Wings, The Dawn Patrol, The Lost Battalion

The Best World War II Movies

World War Two is probably represented by the most movies of any war in the history of mankind. The fact that it was probably the largest war of all-time is only one reason for this. However, the size of the war is only part of the equation. The recency in our history plays a large part, as does the fact that WWII was one of the first major wars to be covered extensively in the media. There are literally hundreds of movies and film clips representing this rich era of warfare. The scale of the war, it’s duration, and the fact that it touched hundreds of millions of lives around the world makes WWII such and enduring part of our lives, even to this day. To top it off, the technological advancements of this period represent one of the largest jumps in warfare technological in a given 5 year period. WWII also represents “the end of innocence,” as we left the … and entered  the Roaring 50’s and The Cold War. Here we break down the best WWII movies by the European and Pacific Theaters, as these were very diverse segments of the war.

Best WWII Movies – The European Theater

  • Band of Brothers
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • The Longest Day
  • Patton
  • Das Boot
  • Casablanca
  • Schindler’s List
  • The Great Escape
  • Guns of Navarone – 10 from Neveron
  • The Cross of Iron
  • A Bridge Too Far
  • The Black Book (foreign language)
  • Enemy at the Gate
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • u-571
  • To Hell And Back
  • Valkyrie
  • The Tuskegee Airmen
  • Red Tails
  • Memphis Belle
  • The Caine Mutiny (1954)
  • In Harm’s Way

Honorable Mentions: The Glenn Miller Story, Catch-22, Inglourious Basterds, Sink the Bismarck, Gardens of Stone, The Final Countdown,

Best WWII Movies – The Pacific Theater

  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!
  • Empire of the Sun
  • From Here to Eternity
  • The Thin Red Line
  • 30 Seconds Over Tokyo
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Sands of Iwo Jima (John Wayne)
  • Windtalkers

Honorable Mentions: Pacific (HBO Mini-series), The Raid, Wake Island (1942), The Bridge On the River Kwai, Midway, Fat Man and Little Boy

The Best Korean War Movies

Often referred to as The Forgotten War, the Korean War was sandwiched between World War Two and The Vietnam War, perhaps the most popular and most unpopular wars (and most influential wars in recent American history). Though the Korean War isn’t as popular in American pop-culture as the aforementioned WWII and Vietnam War, it remains a popular topic for films and books in Asia. And before dismissing the Korean War as just another dark spot in the Cold War, try taking a few moments to read up on some of the stories from our American Vets who served in the Korean theater, or spend a couple hours watching one of the following films. Better yet, take a Korean War vet out for a nice meal and let him tell you a few stories about his experiences. Then you will realize that the Forgotten War is one that needs to be remembered.

  • M*A*S*H
  • Pork Chop Hill
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri
  • Macarthur
  • Manchurian Candidate
  • The Hunters

The Best Vietnam War Movies

The last American war staffed by a non-volunteer military, the Vietnam War was not even a declared war, but a military action… Despite the semantics, the Vietnam War was (and is) real to the hundreds of thousands of Vietnam Veterans who served our country during this dark hour.

  • Platoon
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Apocalypse Now
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Good Morning Vietnam
  • We Were Soldiers
  • Forrest Gump
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Uncommon Valor
  • Rescue Dawn

Honorable Mentions: Tigerland, Birdy, Gardens of Stone, The Green Berets, The Killing Fields, Hamburger Hill, The Quiet American

The Best Cold War Movies

We don’t know what it is about Cold War movies and submarines, but we detected a major trend in that direction!

  • The Hunt for Red October
  • K-19 – The Widowmaker
  • Crimson Tide
  • Top Gun
  • A Few Good Men
  • Strategic Air Command

Honorable Mentions: Dr. Strangeglove

Best Movies of the Iraq, Afghanistan, & Middle Eastern Conflicts, & Modern US Engagements

These movies collectively cover the War on Terror. These conflicts and movies are the most recent in our memory, as they are still ongoing.

  • The Hurt Locker
  • Green Zone
  • Jarhead
  • Three Kings – A guilty pleasure. It’s not very realistic, but it’s a lot of fun.
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Act of Valor

Honorable Mentions: Courage Under Fire

Various Wars, Conflicts and Peacetime Battles

  • Master & Commander
  • 300
  • Generation Kill
  • Sniper
  • Tears of the Sun
  • No Man’s Land

Honorable Mentions: The Alamo, Behind Enemy Lines, The Last Samurai, The Sand Pebbles, Pan’s Labrynth

The Best War Documentaries

The best war documentaries as voted by our readers:

  • Korengal
  • Restrepo
  • Ken Burns’ Civil War
  • The War: A Ken Burns Film

Best War Comedies

These movies have little to no basis in fact, but some of them are just plain fun anyway.

  • Stripes
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • Major Payne
  • In The Army Now
  • Private Benjamin

Honorable Mentions: Down Periscope, How I Won the War, Tropic Thunder, The Men Who Stare at Goats

Dishonorable mentions:

These movies are some that received poor ratings from our readers:

  • Pearl Harbor
  • Navy Seal
  • Iron Eagle – all of them
  • GI Jane
  • Starship Troopers

A few of my favorite military movies.

I’ll get things started with a few of my favorite military movies (chronological order of conflict):

  • Glory
  • Ken Burn’s Civil War
  • Band of Brothers
  • Enemy at the Gates
  • The Longest Day
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • The Great Escape
  • Platoon
  • Full Metal Jacket

Love the rankings? Hate them? We would love to hear your opinions of the movies as they have been rated. Please be sure to share why your movie should be listed.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

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  1. Terry S says

    This was a no brainer for me since I saw the hard charging Sgt. Striker in Sands of Iwo Jima, Christmas Day 1982, Paris Island, SC. Four weeks til graduation from Platoon 3005, there couldn’t have been a more moral boosting movie for all of us. Feeling alone and missing our families like in the movie, we had our new found Devil Dog brothers. I know we’ve come all the way to Lone Survivor with many greats between but that will always be my favorite. Semper Fi!!

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