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Most Realistic War Movies, Ranked

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Most Realistic War Movies, Ranked

War films are often employed as hard-hitting vehicles that further our awareness of the grim reality of combat. Yet, there are many Hollywood dramatizations that flagrantly disregard the real-life dangers that wars pose to those fighting and those caught in the crosshairs.

They embody the famous Mark Twain quote, “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story,” (which itself may not even be truly Twain’s, but is too good to pass up); these are the movies where men blown up by atomic warheads or pelted by 20 bullets miraculously survive, or where the penchant for discipline is continuously flouted by disobedient soldiers.

While there have been unrealistic war flicks aplenty, there have also been some exceptionally accurate and very poignant representations of war on the big screen. Let’s take a look at the most realistic war movies…


5 Come and See


Similar to All Quiet on the Western Front, Come and See is Russia’s horrifying answer to an anti-war flick, an idea that is perhaps a little on the ironic side considering the current affairs in Ukraine. However, this 1985 movie is thought to be one of the most disturbingly detailed displays of what unfolded on the Eastern Front when Nazi forces rolled into town. As a young boy flees his small village in order to join up with a Russian resistance group, he soon has to come to terms with the destruction the Nazis have imposed on him, his family, and his fellow Russians.

4 Jarhead

Jarhead, a Movie About the Daily Life of a Soldier
Universal Pictures

Sam Mendes’ Jarhead isn’t necessarily a film that would automatically spring to mind when thinking of films that really delve deeply into the heart of war, especially when it comes to the merciless art of combat. However, the 2005 movie set during the Gulf War, and adapted from Anthony Swofford’s fascinating memoir, is a portrait of the mind-numbing boredom suffered by those in Iraq; it’s like an American version of Das Boot, immaculate in its depiction of mundanity.

Days, weeks, and months of inaction led to growing frustrations among soldiers, with Swofford’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) narration stating, “Four days, four hours, one minute. That was my war… and I never shot my rifle”. This is a film that, rather than portray the despair of continuous fighting, exposes the despair of those who have trained for years to simply sit around in the Saharan sun, reading books, and passing time by any means necessary, all with the uncertain threat of combat looming over them. It is a movie that demonstrates that lack of stimulation and the ongoing psychological battle with oneself can be just as difficult as the trauma and death of combat.

3 Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan - Omaha Beach D-Day
DreamWorks Pictures

Whether it just be once, or every other Sunday on network television, the image of a legless soldier crying out for his mother while essentially cradling his intestines will be equally haunting upon each viewing. Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning war epic, Saving Private Ryan, offers a no-holds-barred approach to capturing the horror and grotesque reality of war.

From the unforgettable opening scene where thousands of American and allied soldiers are greeted by a hail of Nazi gunfire as they storm the beaches of Normandy, to the precise replication of bombed-out, derelict towns of northern France, Saving Private Ryan explores the immense hardships of the soldiers, but also the civilians caught in the crossfire.

2 Stalingrad

Strand Releasing 

Historians will regularly describe the Battle of Stalingrad as one of the bloodiest of the Second World War, with over two million casualties, and numbers exceeding a million deaths. The 1992 movie Stalingrad, directed by Joseph Vilsmaier paints a similarly bleak portrait of the infamous battle between the Germans and the Soviet Union. The film offers an Axis perspective of the affair and focuses on the extreme weather conditions the German Army was completely unequipped for.

Perishing in the freezing, sub-zero Russian winter temperatures, thousands lost their lives to a lack of supplies, ammunition, suitable clothing, and a bitterly cold climate. Stalingrad follows a group of soldiers, who following a warm break in the relative tranquility of Italy, are deployed in Stalingrad and must not only fight the oncoming Russian onslaught but the deathly temperatures.

1 All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

Although the 1930 original marginally edges the critical reception debate (and is perhaps the defining film of the 1930s), Edward Berger’s 2022 remake based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name was the first time All Quiet on the Western Front stayed true to its origin. Written by a German about German soldiers during WWI, the realism in both the action sequences and the moments of ‘Deutsch gesprochen’ brought another dimension of authenticity to a deeply affecting picture.

A film that prides itself on revealing the true, ungodly reality of war, All Quiet on the Western Front is a vivid, high-definition depiction of conflict at its most barbarous. It dispels the lethal words relentlessly churned out by the West’s propaganda machines and is harrowing in its illustration of there being no honor, gallantry, or morality in partaking in the mass slaughter of fellow innocent men. The election of a fresh-faced schoolboy as the protagonist, naïve to the perils and evils he is about to witness, is both poetic and also brutally accurate, with hundreds of thousands of young men, many not even of school-leaving age, having actually signed their lives away when enlisting. It doesn’t get more depressingly realistic than that.

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