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Top 10 War Movies

Written by: Editorial Staff

March 30, 2011
Filed Under Movies 


A list of the top ten war moviesContributed by Michael Sanibel, Top 10 Guru

Narrowing down the great war movies to a list of ten isn’t easy. Ranking them from ten to one is even harder, but there was no doubt about the number one pick.

As great as the movie was, it also featured two iconic actors of tremendous talent and appeal. The younger one made his mark as a new tough guy who would later make several movies that cemented that reputation. The older one did some of his best work in this movie and it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the role.

Here’s the list of the top ten war movies:

10. The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen is one of the top ten war movies

Lee Marvin is given the mission to infiltrate a French château being used by senior German officers as a retreat. Their goal was to eliminate as many of the high command as possible before the Normandy invasion. Considered a suicide mission by Allied commanders, Marvin was directed to assemble a team of military convicts facing hard labor or death sentences. If the men survived the mission, their sentences would be commuted.

The dozen misfits include Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker, and Donald Sutherland. Brown was forced to retire from professional football in order to continue his acting career.

9. Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge is one of the top ten war movies

This historic battle was the final, major attempt by Hitler to stop the Allies from advancing into Germany. Most of the fighting occurred in Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg and lasted over a month in late 1944. The Allied victory spelled the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe.

The film was originally shown in Cinerama and features epic tank battles fought in dense forests in the depth of winter. The lack of fuel doomed the German counteroffensive, leaving the Allies a clear path to Berlin. The strong ensemble cast included Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Robert Shaw, Dana Andrews, Telly Savalas, and Charles Bronson.

8. Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tora! Tora! Tora! is on the list of the top ten war movies

This recounting of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is unrivaled in its attention to detail and historical authenticity. The book and screenplay were based on interviews conducted with veterans on both sides of the battle. The flying sequences were filmed over Pearl Harbor and include scenes of vintage World War II aircraft.

This film has none of the added drama of “Pearl Harbor,” the movie starring Ben Afflect that inserted a fictional love-triangle into an otherwise true story. It also lacks the advanced special effects, but it’s the real deal for those who want to know what actually happened.

7. A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is on the list of the top ten war movies

Another great cast was assembled for this epic war movie about Operation Market Garden during World War II: Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier, Elliot Gould, Maximilian Schell, Ryan O’Neal, Dirk Bogarde, and James Caan.

The film centers on the Allied attempt to penetrate German defenses and capture and control several bridges in Holland. Thousands of paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines and made their way to a road bridge over the lower Rhine River at Arnhem. It turned out to be “a bridge too far” and the operation did not succeed.

6. The Great Escape

The Great Escape is on the list of the top ten war movies

This classic based on a true story is chock full of big-name stars including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, and James Donald. The characters are composites of real POWs who were held by the Germans in Stalag Luft III in Żagań.

The men plan an escape from the POW camp by building three tunnels to ensure completion of at least one. Of the 250 men who planned to escape, only 76 actually made it. All but three of them are either killed or recaptured. It’s a sad ending to a great story.

5. Patton

Patton is on the list of the top ten war movies

General George S. Patton was one of the greatest field generals in U.S. history, and this movie shows why. The opening monologue by George C. Scott as the general remains one of the most quoted segments in the history of film. Standing in front of a huge American flag, Scott delivers an intimidating portrayal of battle and why American soldiers would be victorious over the German army.

Scott is completely convincing as the unstoppable Patton, and by the end of this classic movie there is no doubt that winning World War II would have been difficult or impossible without him.

4. The Longest Day

The Longest Day is on the list of the top ten war movies

The Allied landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944 are chronicled in this film that featured some of the biggest actors of the time: Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, John Wayne, Robert Wagner, Peter Lawford, and Red Buttons. It was the last movie Sean Connery appeared in before becoming James Bond.

Many D-Day veterans were used both as actors and advisors for the movie to ensure technical and historical accuracy. It features a series of vignettes and action sequences that capture many of the critical aspects of the mission.

3. Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is on the list of top ten war movies

This Steven Spielberg classic is the only recent movie to make the list. While the 27-minute D-Day landing sequence may be what you remember most about this movie, it overshadows the bigger story about a group of men risking their lives to find one lone soldier. Private Ryan was the only remaining survivor of four brothers, and General George Marshall had ordered his return to the United States.

The reality and horror of the landings at Normandy is captured like no other film before or since. The search for Ryan is inspiring and is a testament to the greatest generation that fought to preserve our freedoms.

2. The Bridge on the River Kwai

Bridge on the River Kwai is on the list of top ten movies

This fictional story is set in a Japanese POW camp in western Thailand during World War II. The British prisoners are compelled to build a railway bridge across the river by the camp commandant. After getting his officers exempted from physical labor, the British commander agrees to proceed with the construction. In the end, the British commander attempts to block destruction of the bridge by Allied commandos.

The top-notch cast includes Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, and James Donald. Because of its cultural significance, it is preserved in the U. S. Library of Congress National Film Registry.

1. Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare is on the list of top ten war movies

This is Richard Burton in a perfect role, and it’s not just a great war movie. It’s a great movie, period. Shot on location in Austria and Bavaria, it features dramatic cinematography, plot double-twists, and lots of action. The movie centers on Hitler’s Castle of the Eagles, the headquarters of the German Secret Service high in the Bavarian Alps.

A team of British commandos led by Burton is given the mission of rescuing an Allied general who was captured and being held at the fortress. His “enforcer” is Clint Eastwood, an American Army Ranger who takes no prisoners.

The Last Word

It’s probably no coincidence that every movie on this list is about World War II. It was the last war where the United States used every means available to crush the opposition to accomplish the final objective of unconditional surrender. It featured strategic battles orchestrated by great generals on all sides. In addition to being very entertaining, the movies that depicted actual events provided audiences with an inside look at real heroism in action.


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2 – My personal experience watching all of these movies more than once


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