This list is without doubt the most important and controversial list we’ve ever attempted. None of
other the groundbreaking contributions to cinema contained within this site are comparable. We at
www.whatmovieshouldiwatch.co.uk believe that this list will be our legacy. Long after the collapse
of the internet… and the nation state… and even after the second coming and the inevitable alien
invasion that will follow; this list will be all that remains to teach our descendents of the glory of our
1. All films selected are about the men/women who fought in the wars depicted. Films dealing
with war from the perspective of civilians have been studiously ignored including: Casablanca,
Schindler’s List, the Pianist, Life is Beautiful, Empire of the Sun etc.
2. All films selected are based on actual wars from the last 150 years. We believe a truly great war
film should evoke empathy and ignite the imaginations viewers. El Cid, Brave Heart etc have
been ignored because in this day and age it’s hard to imagine yourself hacking Muslims/English
people to death with a broadsword. Likewise, much as it pains me to leave it out, Transformers
(the animated classic) has also been ignored as, without the assistance of serious substances,
it’s just too difficult to imagine yourself transforming into a truck to battle evil fighter jets…
3. The films selected are all anti-war. Teenaged boys who get a hard-on from Hollywood violence
should click away; Tear of the Sun, Navy Seals, Top Gun and Act of Valour did not make the list…
4. Any complaints should be addressed to www.whatmovieshouldiwatch.co.uk corporate HQ in
Hong Kong where our dedicated staff of customer relations experts will sift through them, find
the least fucking stupid, and post them below.
We can now present to you the ten greatest war films ever made:
10. Zulu (1964):
The epic defence of Rourke’s Drift by the 24th Foot Regiment of Welsh Guards in
the Transvaal against wave after wave of courageous Zulu Impis is guaranteed to get your
blood racing, despite the blatantly colonial and racist depictions of the savagery of the
natives… (We all know the Welshies aren’t that bad!)
Best Scene: The Zulus approach the fort singing their stirring battle hymn and are answered
by the bloodied Welsh belting out “Men Of Harlech”. If you’re not inspired you’re a
Fun Facts: It was Michael Caine’s fist staring role. When Apartheid Authorities refused to
pay the Zulu extras, director Cy Endfield (himself a blacklisted communist) circumvented this
bullshit racism by insisting that all of the sand bags be filled with grain and buying (instead
of renting) the cattle used in the film. He then left everything to the Zulus as a gift, making
them far wealthier than if he had just paid them. Take that Apartheid… and Capitalism!
9. Savior (1998):
A jaded American mercenary (Denis Quaid would you believe?!) with a dark
past finds a semblance of redemption in protecting a raped women and her bastard child
from the horrors of the Bosnian war. There are several excellent films about the Balkan wars
(No Man’s Land is another clear standout) but Savior gets the nod due to its shocking
depictions of total war, ethnic cleansing and genocide. No romance here…
Best scene: A bus load of fleeing civilians runs into a Croat militia (it could just have easily
been a Muslim or Serb militia). If you can watch this scene without tensing all of your
muscles and feeling physically sick then you need to speak to a mental health professional…
Fun Facts: Check out the hate-fuelled obscenities below any youtube clip from the film to
see for yourself why Balkan people can proudly call themselves the World Champions of
8. The Battle for Algiers (1966):
No other film on our list has had such an impact. It literally
changed the nature of guerrilla warfare. Anyone with even a passing interest in current
affairs needs to see this film. Gillo Pontecorvo accurately describes the savagery of both the
French paratroopers and their FLN adversaries. Banned in France for five years, it’s often
cited as a major ideological influence for rebel/terrorist groups all over the world including
the Black Panthers, The Provisional IRA, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and the Baader-
Best Scene: It has to be the iconic arming of women terrorist bombers by their FLN
Fun Facts: An internal open-screening of the film in the Pentagon in 2003 reportedly came
with the following flyer:
“How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at
point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds
to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails
strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”
Presumably no one went. Yanks hate subtitles, and besides; Uncle Sam knows better than
those “cheese eating surrender monkeys”!
7. Where Eagles Dare (1968):
An absolute classic! I am tempted to put it higher up the list but
it just doesn’t take the whole “war is hell” thing seriously enough. This film is also on the list
to represent a raft of other classic, “boys own”, WWII flicks that fall guilty of the same crime:
The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, The Guns of Navorone, Ice Cold in Alex,
Dam Busters etc. Please note that Bridge Over the River Kwai is NOT included because that
treacherous motherfucker Alec Guiness should have been offed twenty minutes into the
Best Scene: It’s a toss up between the outrageously complicated triple-cross scene in the
middle of the film and Clint’s mowing down of several hundred Nazis while leaning causally
over the banister at the top of the stairs… Clint wins with his impressively nonchalant blood
Fun Facts: Clint kills more people in Where Eagles Dare than in any of his other films! Go
Clint! Also Ingrid Pitt, who plays one of the central characters, was a real life prisoner in a
Nazi concentration camp. Apparently all of the German uniforms on set gave her vicious
flashbacks. The on-set pranks must have been hi-larious!
6. A Bridge Too Far (1977):
The greatest cast ever assembled (until The Expendables Two, of
course…): Connery, Hopkins, Caine, Hackman, Caan, Olivier, Krüger (the guy who always
plays the Nazi), Redford, O’Neal and Schell (the other Nazi guy) all assemble under Richard
Attenborough to tell the tragic story of “Operation Market Garden” – Montgomery’s hair
brained scheme to “…end the war by Christmas”. Historically accurate and fantastically shot,
A bridge Too Far lays bare the ultimate truth of war: Old bastards send young men out to
die. Plenty of classic “stiff upper lip” from the Brits; “blood ‘n’ guts” from yanks; and even a
dash of “Prussian honour” from the Huns.
Best Scene: A German officer approaches the battered, bloodied and surrounded Brits to
discuss terms of surrender. The Brits reply that while they appreciate the offer; “We haven’t
the proper facilities to take you all prisoner!” before adding a genuinely apologetic
Fun Facts: Connery went on strike when he found out that Redford was getting more than
him. Lovely man…
5. Platoon (1986):
Our first Vietnam film and another that could easily be further up the list.
Oliver Stone’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece is about as good a war film as has ever
been made: An incredible soundtrack, an outstanding cast, brilliantly shot combat scenes
and very rare character development, even of the bit players. The title of the film refers to a
military unit of approximately 30 people. By the end of the film you feel as if you know them
all; the psychos, the cowards, the stupid gobshites, the unlucky ones and, above all, the
ordinary guys just trying to get through it all.
Best Scene: Sergeant Elias (William Defoe) breaks out of the jungle in one final, lung-busting
effort to save himself against all of the odds from the hordes of chasing NVA troops, after
his comrades abandon him. As their choppers flee directly overhead, Elias falls to his knees,
raises both arms and cries out in one last gesture of hopeless defiance even as his body is
riddled with bullets. The audience is left shocked.
Fun Facts: With the exception of a few rape and murder victims there are almost no women
in the film! Also, look out for a hilariously young Johnny Depp in a bit part. Finally, Jim
Morrison was originally taped to play Charlie Sheen’s role. The script was even found on his
body in Paris…
4. Taegukgi aka – The Brotherhood of War (2004):
An outstanding effort from the Koreans toremind us that wars don’t just affect white people… Two brothers get caught up in thebloody turmoil of a country tearing itself to shreds. In fairness to the director Kang Je-gyu, he doesn’t sugar coat it and there’s no hint of South Korean propaganda. Perhaps the saddest film on our list, which is fitting because people die in wars… which is sad.
Best Scene: Younger brother Jin Seok begs his mortally wounded sibling Jin-tae to
summon the strength to crawl from the battle field; as Jin Seok desperately reminds his
semi-conscious brother of all the things they promised to do together, a furious battle wages
around them exemplifying the bloody waste of the human-wave tactics employed during
that brutal conflict. Basically, your only chance of survival is that the guy with the machine
gun randomly chooses to shoot your buddy next to you before he gets around to you…
Fun Facts: The final battle scene included a whooping 3,000 extras and 500 stuntmen and
took 3 weeks to film. At one point the actor who plays the North Korean captain called
in sick and was simply temporarily replaced by another lad who kind-a resembled him…
Fucking racist director must think all Asians look the same… But one of the interns here at
www.whatmovieshouldiwatch.co.uk spotted it! We only hire the most culturally sensitive
3. Tierra y Libertad aka – Land and Freedom (1995):
We here at www.whatmovieshouldiwatch.co.uk pride ourselves on our champagne socialism so it’s no
surprise that one of Loach’s offerings makes it onto the list. While The Wind That Shakes the
Barley is indeed a fine war film, it cannot hold a candle to Tierra y Libertad, a homage to the
glory and folly of the Spanish Civil War. The glorious ideals of brotherhood and solidarity,
which led young men and women to come from every corner of the earth to defend
democracy from fascism, are ground to dust as the revolution devours itself. Plus, the hero
is a Scouser, brilliant!
Best Scene: After taking a village from Franco’s fascists the POUM activists heatedly debate
the new social order they will initiate. Even now, in the midst of victory the cracks begin to
appear. As Loach is so fond of doing, the scene was unscripted and actors (mostly local
villagers) were told to voice their genuine feelings.
Fun Facts: Despite being the third greatest war film of all times (so say we all…), the film
took less than ¼ million dollars at the box office, proving the old maxim that people are too
stupid to read subtitles. As that figure is in dollars I blame the Yanks…
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998):
It may be a clichéd choice but it deserves its spot. SPR is not about the vague horrors of war; there are no rape scenes, no murdered children or heart rendering scenes of little jimmy crying over his dead pup… This film is about combat. It’s about the terrifying violence of trying to kill people who are busy trying to kill you. It’s all loud noises, big flashes, dirt flying everywhere, confusion and fear. The combat scenes are so real that D-Day veterans ran out of the cinema screaming. They even gave some people who’ve never been near a gun fight post traumatic stress disorder! While these people were obviously Americans, it still shows the power of Speilberg’s excellent film. Ask any combat
veteran and they will tell you this is by far the most realistic war film.
Best Scene: It’s hard to look past the shocking opening scene as thousands of GIs storm
Omaha beach in the face of German machine guns spitting death at them. One particular
moment seems to stay with viewers: A young, stunned soldier staggers around amidst the
chaos at the water’s edge, searching vacantly for something on the sand below. He bends
down and picks up a severed arm exactly as we realise that his has been blown clear off at
the shoulder. No other film on this list does a better job of delivering so eloquent an anti-
war message so succinctly.
Fun Facts: The opening scenes were filmed on the beaches of Co. Wexford in Ireland.
Rumour has it that a French family, who were on a sailing holiday, rounded a headland to be
confronted with what appeared to be the invasion of Ireland. Terrified, they radioed it in
and quickly set all canvas for France. They were apparently half way across the channel (all
the while planning their survival of what they no doubt assumed was WWIII) before word
got to them that it was a film! Ah the Frenchies!
1. Full Metal Jacket (1987):
The coveted number one spot goes to Kubrick. Interestingly, Platoon is probably the better Vietnam film, but Full Metal Jacket is still the best war film EVER made. The dehumanising effects of the military apparatus are laid bare as in no other film before or since. The protagonist represents us, the viewers, who remain smugly confident that, like Joker, we could successfully navigate the moral conundrums of the Vietnam war without suffering any lasting psychological damage. He manages to retain his ironic sense of humour and remains aloof from the most traumatic effects of the war. That is, of course, until he is confronted with his first “kill”, which turns out to be a wounded, malnourished and unbelievably heroic, little woman. After deliberation, Joker executes her.
Shit just got real…
This is the perfect war film. It has everything: Harrowing combat scenes; dark, dark humour;
character development; outstanding performances; highly quotable dialogue (“…if I’m
gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is Poontang!”), fascinating philosophical
insights (Joker’s reference to “the duality of man” suggested by the peace sign on his helmet
beside a stencil exclaiming: “Born to kill”) and an extremely clear and potent moral that war
is indeed hell and it will fuck you up.
Best Scene: A film composed of “best scenes” but I suppose we should mention Gunnery
Sergeant Hartman’s outstandingly filthy, and totally improvised, diatribe to the raw recruits.
We are immediately aware that this is no ordinary war film: “You had best unfuck yourself or
I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!” – Marvellous stuff! The final scene
where survivors march through smoking ruins singing the theme song of the Mickey Mouse
club is also worth a mention… It’s fucking mental!
Fun Facts: The helicopter door gunner who gleefully admits to shooting women and children
(“…it’s easy, you just don’t lead ‘em so much!”) is based on a real person who the author of
the screenplay met while a correspondent in Vietnam. The actor who plays him got the role
as a consolation prize for being dumped at the last moment from the role of Gunnery
Sergeant Hartman which went to real life Marine Sergeant R. Lee Ermey, who was originally
hired as a technical consultant.