Last Updated: February 18th
Few movie genres are as consistently called upon to entertain and inform audiences like the universally-loved war movie. From period pieces that recount historical battles to genre-bending contests and gritty, real-life depictions of current conflicts, these films show the best (and worst) of our shared humanity and invite us to pick a side.
Outlaw King (2018)
Run Time: 121 min | IMDb: 7/10
Chris Pine goes full-on Braveheart in this historical action epic about Scottish nobleman Robert the Bruce, who led a rebellion against England. Pine plays the famous “Outlaw King,” a soft-spoken good guy who thwacks his enemies with his ax and believes in freedom for Scotland above all else. His sidekick, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is a bit more complicated, a nobleman looking to win back his title through bloodshed. There’s plenty of the expected fare here: Beards, Scottish brogue, majestic scenery, men wrestling in the mud, and Chris Pine’s peen. Honestly, if you come for nothing else, come for Chris Pine’s peen.
The King (2019)
Run Time: 140 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Timothee Chalamet is everywhere right now so really, are you that surprised he’s playing a boyish, rebellious King Henry V in this big-budget Shakespeare adaptation from Joel Edgerton? Chalamet and his bowl-cut bring Hal to life, the wayward prince forced to assume the throne after his father’s death. Hal has to grow up quickly to lead his men into battle against a bloodthirsty French foe (Robert Pattinson having too much fun with his overdramatic accent) and preserve England’s reign. Ben Mendelsohn and Lily-Rose Depp also star.
Run Time: 120 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
Forest Whitaker, William Defoe, and Charlie Sheen are just a few of the actors who give memorable performances in Oliver Stone’s drama that centers on the Vietnam War. The film is decidedly anti-war and is based on Stone’s own experience as an infantryman for the U.S. during that time. Charlie Sheen is his stand-in here, playing a U.S. Army volunteer named Chris Taylor who arrives in country to feuding superior officers and a seemingly hopeless situation with the locals. Through drawn-out firefights and brutal killings, Chris is forced to question his desire to serve and the value of human life.
Triple Frontier (2019)
Run Time: 125 min | IMDb: 6.5/10
Netflix’s latest entry into the big-budget action flick universe is this heist thriller starring a who’s-who of Hollywood hunks. Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal play a group a former special ops guys who reunite to take down an infamous cartel kingpin and steal his profits in the process. Isaac and Affleck look to be the leaders of the team, two men fed up with risking their necks for a country that doesn’t look after them once they’re back on home soil, and Isaac’s A Most Violent Year director, J.C. Chandor, is at the helm, which means a couple of plot twists and some high-stakes action are in store.
Run Time: 137 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell star in this war drama based on a true story about a trio of brothers who lead a group of Jewish refugees to freedom during World War II. The Bieliski brothers rescue Jews from the Ghetto before they’re sent to concentration camps, fleeing deep into the Belarussian forests as the Nazi’s invade Eastern Europe. Craig’s Tuvia builds a community there, teaching the people how to fight and survive while Shreiber’s Zus joins a group of Russian resistance fighters. Their harrowing journey to freedom doesn’t happen until the end of the film, but it’s worth sticking around to see.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Run time: 134 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
It’s hard not to like a guy as talented and charismatic as Idris Elba but the actor plays a morally-corrupt psychopath to perfection in Beasts of No Nation. As the Commandant, Elba recruits young boys to his rebel army fighting the government of Ghana by forcing them to undergo a brutal initiation process. Agu, a young boy who saw his father and older brother murdered at the hands of the government, is captured and indoctrinated into the Commandant’s army, suffering through terrible torture, both physical and psychological, before he eventually escapes.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Run Time: 154 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Any Spike Lee joint is worth a watch, but this genre-bending thriller about a group of black Vietnam War vets returning to the battlefield decades later feels especially timely. That’s because Lee manages to shed light on a little-known part of our shared history: the way our country treated Black soldiers returning from the war, but he also raises the stakes with a subplot that includes a buried treasure hunt and a heartwrenching mission to retrieve the remains of a fallen comrade. The cast, which includes Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman, is brilliant, the story is gripping, and you’ll probably be seeing more talk of it come awards season, so go ahead and watch it now.
First They Killed My Father (2017)
Run Time: 136 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Angelina Jolie directs this war epic, based on a true story by author Loung Ung. The film follows Ung as a 5-year-old girl growing up in Cambodia during the country’s civil war. She’s forced to seek refuge at labor camps set up by communist forces hoping to take control from the Vietnamese, eventually becoming a child soldier and witnessing the horrors of war first hand. It’s by no means a “fun” watch, but it is an excellent piece of filmmaking supported by a gripping story of survival.
War Horse (2011)
Run Time: 146 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic gives us a unique spin on the genre. There’s plenty of front-line action here, but it’s filtered through the lens of a young boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his connection to his beloved horse. When the animal is sold to the cavalry, Albert enlists and leaves his small English village to track down his best friend. Tom Hiddleston and David Thewlis also star as Spielberg uses sweeping shots of tattered battlefields to give us a birds-eye-view of the devastation war can cause.