The 10 Most Influential War Movies of All Time

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The 10 Most Influential War Movies of All Time

War films are an intense cinematic experience that highlights the brutality of the act, the fear, and the repercussions it has on all those who witness it. They often take you back to a point in history in an attempt to make you relive that horrendous truth. They need great battle scenes, acting, accuracy, production, and sound design to translate the somber reality of war. Attempting to recreate a period from the past is always a brave filmmaking approach and luckily with war films, many deliver their story to a high caliber. Here are some of the most influential war movies ever made.



10 Schindler’s List (1993)

Universal Pictures

Schindler’s List is one of the most highly-rated films ever made, and has won an impressive seven Oscars. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, the holocaust themed film is based on a true story. Set during the occupation of Poland by German forces during World War II, Oskar Schindler, a greedy German factory owner and a member of the Nazi party who only cared to see his business run smoothly, ends up saving the life of his Jewish workforce after facing their persecution.

He becomes an unlikely hero in the face of circumstances, which makes it a true testament to the good in humanity despite all evil. It’s a story of choosing differently and in making a valid difference with that choice. Schindler’s List is a harrowing story about a very dark point in history that was normalized at the time, but underneath it all, it breathes life and hope despite its disturbing nature. The film is realism at its best, and will totally make you forget it’s a motion picture.

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9 Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Vin Diesel in Saving Private Ryan
DreamWorks Pictures

The intense tale of Saving Private Ryan was told through Stephen Spielberg’s vision and remains one of the most iconic war movies of all time. The ensemble cast includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Tom Sizemore. Set during the Normandy invasion, three out of four brothers get killed during the conflict in one of the most gruesome battles. Upon hearing the news, the general of the army of the United States Department of War sends eight men to recuperate the remaining survivor before it is too late so that he can come home to his family. The influential film is one of the most realistic portrayals of war, with battles that will give you shivers.

Due to its realistic nature, many veterans found it too hard to stomach, as the scenes are known to be triggering for them. It’s also one of the most powerful war opening scenes that is completely haunting. While focusing on the war, it also intricately explores the thoughts, feelings and development of different soldiers, which makes it a compelling narrative of humans in such distress. Saving Private Ryan captures chaos, panic and desperation at its best; all those coming out of it know it’s a movie for centuries.

8 All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

All Quiet On the Western Front movie on Netflix

All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most finely produced films to come out of Netflix. The war motion picture was directed by Edward Berger and was based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel on his own extremely harsh experience from his time in combat. The film zooms in on a German soldier and his experience at the Western front during World War I. The anti-war production greatly depicts soldiers going from feeling honor and patriotism as they set out on their mission to falling into one of the most traumatic experiences of their life.

The brutal material does not shy away from showing a war so intense, filled with the incredible suffering faced physically, and mentally, that it becomes quite a hard watch. What makes All Quiet on the Western Front so memorable and so accurate is its great attention to every cinematic element that would make it the work of art that it is. It has atmospheric cinematography, a soul-stirring musical score, incredible acting, and extremely vivid set design which makes it a true masterpiece.

7 Dunkirk (2017)

Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk
Warner Bros.

Dunkirk is a phenomenal film by Christopher Nolan that deeply explores the battle of Dunkirk in World War II. In 1940, thousands of British soldiers were trapped on the port of Dunkirk while the Germans were after them. Their only hope was to evacuate through the open sea via Operation Dynamo, where Britain was trying its best to send private boats to rescue the soldiers. The stranded soldiers were cut off from the rest of the army and were trying to hold on to life during a six-week-long battle that was a nightmare.

Dunkirk is told through a distinct style of storytelling, and that is through creating an all-time high war atmosphere with little dialogue. As a result, you are taken into a completely immersive experience that’s full of tension, and you can’t help but feel the overwhelming happening of it all through what is showcased more than what is told. The story is about snapshots of moments rather than the development of character, which makes every scene in Dunkirk memorable. There are incredible fighting sequences, with notable dogfight sequences that are nothing short of cinematic perfection.

6 The Pianist (2002)

The Pianist with Adrien Brody from Roman Polanski
Syrena Entertainment Group

The Pianist is a gripping narrative based on the memoir written by Polish-Jewish composer and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. Set during the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, It chronicles the story of a man who loses everything and his struggle to survive in a world that has become devoid of those he so deeply loved. It intimately portrays the savagery of the holocaust and all the damage it has caused for those affected by it.

The Pianist tackles a crucial point, what if you lose everything you love but are still alive? Can you really be alive? The deeply moving tale showcases not just the horrors of the holocaust, but the guilt of being one of the survivors and the emotional turmoil it takes to try to live a normal life again amidst all the agony. Directed by Roman Polanski and acted by Adrien Brody as the main lead, The Pianist is one of the most emotionally wrenching films about the implications of war.

5 The Killing Fields (1984)

the-killing-fields cast
Goldcrest Films

The Killing Fields is an extremely underrated war film that tells the story of two journalists who go to great lengths to cover the civil war in Cambodia during the year zero cleansing campaign and the emergence of Khmer rouge rule which was full of abuse, including violence, forced medical experiments, starvation and horrifying deaths. One of the journalists was Sydney Schanberg, a New York Times journalist and the other is the local journalist Dith Pran but when the Khmer Rouge starts moving in, their life is threatened.

The film is a saddening reveal of the communist Pol Pot regime, especially told through Pran’s tale of extreme courage and survival, which is heartbreaking. Told from the perspective of the journalists while highlighting their loyalty and friendship, The Killing Fields is a unique take on war with sickening subject-matter that is thought-provoking, fascinating and important. The lead, Haing S. Ngor, gave an incredible performance despite no prior acting experience as Dith Pran which was inspired by his own life of being held captive under the Khmer rouge regime. His performance was awarded an Oscar.

4 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

The faun and Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth
Warner Bros. Pictures

Set in 1944, post-civil war in Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish fantasy film that mirrors the harsh realities of war and one’s need to escape from its darkness. A young girl and her sick mother live with the brutal Captain Vital. The atmosphere is gloomy but at night Ofelia ventures during the night in the forest where she is met by a fantasy world: Pan’s Labyrinth, where there is a kingdom full of magic that she soon becomes part of.

The film beautifully weaves together fantasy as well as stark realities, making this a poetic cinematic universe infinitely memorable and profound. You will explore a multidimensional world of many shades. What’s incredible is the amazing achievement in world-building as well as characters that were mostly created through complex makeup, prosthetics and very little CGI. It was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and was awarded three Oscars.

3 Come and See (1985)

Flyora receives news about his family's death (Come And See)

Come and See is a military drama directed by Elem Klimov that dives into the invasion of a village in Byelorussia by German forces through the perspective of a young boy. Florya, the young boy, decides to join the Soviet Army after finding an old rifle. His pursuit completely becomes a depressing tale when he faces a physical and mental challenge that forces him to move from innocence to hatred.

War ages him beyond measure. It slowly destroys him. Shot from Florya’s point of view, you cannot relax as the events get more horrifying and as you see their implications on him. Come and See shows the hell that War is, and you will never be able to forget it.

Related: 12 War Movies Released During the Wars They Were About

2 Gallipoli (1981)

Mark Lee and Mel Gibson in Gallipoli
Village Roadshow

Directed by Peter Weir, Gallipoli is an overlooked fine piece of cinema that chronicles the life of two sprinters who felt compelled to join the Australian army in order to become part of something greater than themselves and be of service. However, upon being turned down due to their young age, they make their own journey through Cairo and sign up for the Anzac (Australian and New Zealand army) and end up being sent to the to fight in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during World War I.

Gallipoli is a story of growing mentally, of friendship, and of facing a harsh world you undermined. The two protagonists have very different personalities, which makes their journey incredibly rich. Gallipoli is a war film that will spike your empathy for its characters as we study their development on the front lines. To top it off, the film has one of the most moving endings that is daring and haunting.

1 Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Nikolay Burlyaev in Ivan's Chilhood

Ivan’s Childhood is a compelling Russian film that was co-directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and Eduard Abalov. After the death of his family by the Nazis, young Ivan Bondarev (Nikolai Buriyaev) vows to work for the Soviet army and leads dangerous missions. Nobody suspects he is a scout, collecting the information that he is because of his young age. The chaos and brutality of the war are also a point of concern for the Soviet officers, as they deeply care for Ivan’s well-being.

As a result, they attempt to send him to military school to shelter him from the cruel war, however, Ivan wants nothing but to stay on the front lines. Revenge is running in his veins. The film is an intimate and dreamy exploration of loss and what it can do to the spirit of a child. He is a child pushed by abnormal circumstances. We are part of Ivan’s mind and emotions, which makes the viewing experience highly intimate. The film was Andrei Tarkovsky’s first directorial debut for a feature film and remains to be one of the most powerful films on World War II.

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