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01.17.2014by: Alex Maidy

Top 10 War Movies of the 21st Century (Video Edition)

With LONE SURVIVOR becoming the first surprise of 2014 at the box office, it seems a good time to go back and look at one of the most popular genres of film: War. With over a hundred years of movies to dig through, this list will instead focus on the best war films released since 2000. Believe me, there have been so many good ones it was hard to get this list down to ten. But, these represent both the best made and most entertaining war films of the last 14 years. If your picks didn't make the list, feel free to add them to the talk backs below.

Honorable Mention - GENERATION KILL

Not a movie but rather a mini-series, HBO's GENERATION KILL is a stark and realistic portrayal of the 2003 invasion of Iraq from the creators of THE WIRE. Like that series, GENERATION KILL pulls no punches in showing an accurate representation of life amongst the U.S. Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Featuring Lee Tergesen, Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransome, and Billy Lush, GENERATION KILL is not glossy, cinematic, or Hollywood but a must see nonetheless.

#10 - VALKYRIE

World War II movies come in all shapes and sizes, but when you put the writer and director of THE USUAL SUSPECTS together, the results are going to be phenomenal. Not a battle film but a thriller centered around the July 20th Plot to kill Hitler by his own troops, VALKYRIE takes us into a view of one of the biggest bruises on the 20th Century and shows that not all of those under his command followed Hitler blindly.

#9 - FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS & LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

Combine Steven Spielberg as producer, Paul Haggis as screenwriter, and Clint Eastwood as director and you get the reverential WWII film FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. By itself, FLAGS is a well made and respectful film about the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima and the iconic flag-raising after the battle, but what really makes this film special is the companion movie LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Giving equal play to both the American and Japanese experience during the same event is something rarely seen from a major studio. By themselves, the films are good, but together they are momentous.

#8 - THE PIANIST

War movies can be approached from numerous angles and the most common when dealing with the Holocaust is to show the heroes and fighters who survived the unspeakable evil of that time period. What Roman Polanski does with THE PIANIST is show neither a fighter or a hero but rather the ordeal of what an average person dealt with during the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis. Władysław Szpilman is played to perfection by Oscar winner Adrien Brody as a man who happens to be a brilliant musician in a time where playing the piano eventually saves his life. A difficult movie to watch and also one of the most haunting portrayals of this era put to film.

#7 - KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Since the release of GLADIATOR in 2000 and LORD OF THE RINGS in 2001, there has been an ongoing attempt to film an epic historical war film with the scale and grandeur of those two movies. Ridley Scott combined both his Russell Crowe starring Best Picture winner with Peter Jackson's elf star Orlando Bloom for the brilliant KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. While the theatrical version has some holes, the Director's Cut is one of the finest pre-20th century set war movies of all time. A great cast tackling a divisive religious event provides for a truly entertaining adventure.

#6 - ENEMY AT THE GATES

The Battle of Stalingrad remains one of the biggest events of World War II and yet there are few films about it as good as ENEMY AT THE GATES. Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law are excellent as soldiers fighting for the Red Army who become romantically entangled with a fellow soldier played by Rachel Weisz. The battle scenes are harrowing but it is the drama between gunshots that makes this a must see. Plus, you have never seen a more awkwardly quiet sex scene in your life.

#5 - MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

When you think of war movies, you rarely see anything set in the Napoleonic War, especially set at sea. But, the much beloved Aubrey–Maturin series of nautical novels came to life in Peter Weir's MASTER AND COMMANDER. Reunited A BEAUTIFUL MIND co-stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany lead an amazingly filmed movie with epic sea battles that have yet to be rivaled on the big screen.

#4 - INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

Another war movie that isn't about the war itself, Quentin Tarantino's homage to spaghetti westerns and war movies is just the kind of exploitation film that make movies great. Who hasn't fantasized about killing Hitler? Great performances from Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Michael Fassbender highlight this revenge flick that has the right amount of humor mixed with buckets of blood from dead Nazi scalps.

#3 - LONE SURVIVOR

A difficult movie to watch, LONE SURVIVOR is not about character development or choosing sides in the 'Merica versus Muslims debate. This is not a Red State or a Blue State movie. LONE SURVIVOR is a portrait of what soldiers do to survive in the most extreme scenarios that they are trained to deal with. Director Peter Berg drops you into the line of fire in a way few films have been able to do as effectively. Not a movie that will address the political machinations of war but an enduring example of what being in a war is like for those of us who are lucky enough not to have to.

#2 - ZERO DARK THIRTY

Wars are not always fought cleanly and ZERO DARK THIRTY shows us that in torturous detail. The hunt for Osama Bin Laden was never going to be a fair and balanced one and Americans had to get their hands dirty. Lives were lost, many very painfully, but the end goal of finding the man behind September 11th and countless other acts of terror was the goal. Whether you agree with it or not, ZERO DARK THIRTY will forever be looked at as the summary of those events. Watching it is not easy but it most certainly will stick with you.

#1 - BLACK HAWK DOWN

As with LONE SURVIVOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN portrays an operation gone horribly wrong. With a cast ten times as large as that film, Ridley Scott gives us soldier after soldier that we watch fall to the enemy bullets in Mogadishu. Every actor including Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard deliver performances that will stick with you long after you have seen this movie. It is hard to not describe this movie as action-packed, because it is, but despite the lack of character development we get to know each soldier as if they were people we really knew and that drives home the horror even more.

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+0
9:28AM on 01/23/2014

decent list but...

umm, saving private ryan anyone?
umm, saving private ryan anyone?
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8:40AM on 01/20/2014
Really. This is pure fiction. And bad fiction at that. Is number 3 gonna be War of the Worlds?
Really. This is pure fiction. And bad fiction at that. Is number 3 gonna be War of the Worlds?
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8:38AM on 01/20/2014
At what point in history did the events of Lord of the Rings happen? I know it was about 75 years after the Hobbit, but I'm just getting my dates mixed up.
At what point in history did the events of Lord of the Rings happen? I know it was about 75 years after the Hobbit, but I'm just getting my dates mixed up.
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-1
10:51AM on 01/19/2014
No Jar Head?
No Jar Head?
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-3
10:48AM on 01/19/2014
A complete joke and no way better than Basterds, Pianist or any number of films. Casting was horrible.
A complete joke and no way better than Basterds, Pianist or any number of films. Casting was horrible.
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-1
8:02PM on 01/18/2014

I refuse to watch this movie

Due to him being a child molester, which is too bad as he is a great film maker.
Due to him being a child molester, which is too bad as he is a great film maker.
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+1
7:58PM on 01/17/2014
Good list, although I am of the mind that Hurt Locker is one of the better modern war films. While I do think it is, indeed, hyped, it's still a great movie. I know it's one that divided people, but I enjoyed it and found it very compelling.
Good list, although I am of the mind that Hurt Locker is one of the better modern war films. While I do think it is, indeed, hyped, it's still a great movie. I know it's one that divided people, but I enjoyed it and found it very compelling.
Your Reply:



-6
4:36PM on 01/17/2014
Valkyrie was horrible. Also, since this just looks like a list of American made war movies, I'm not surprised that No Man's Land (2001) didn't make the list.
Valkyrie was horrible. Also, since this just looks like a list of American made war movies, I'm not surprised that No Man's Land (2001) didn't make the list.
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7:56PM on 01/17/2014
No Man's Land was pretty good. There are a ton of war movies out there, many of which are very good. Taegukgi is another fantastic war movie. Deathwatch is also a personal favorite, though I don't think that ends up on most lists. It's possible Alex hasn't seen No Man's Land.
No Man's Land was pretty good. There are a ton of war movies out there, many of which are very good. Taegukgi is another fantastic war movie. Deathwatch is also a personal favorite, though I don't think that ends up on most lists. It's possible Alex hasn't seen No Man's Land.
7:52PM on 01/17/2014
Actually, Valkyrie was not horrible.
Actually, Valkyrie was not horrible.
4:25PM on 01/17/2014
Was surprised to see Saving Private Ryan not among the list.
Was surprised to see Saving Private Ryan not among the list.
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5:46PM on 01/17/2014
Saving Private Ryan (1998). Definitely a timeless film that still holds up against the top ten
Saving Private Ryan (1998). Definitely a timeless film that still holds up against the top ten
4:38PM on 01/17/2014
That was '98 muchacho
That was '98 muchacho
4:24PM on 01/17/2014
So many nopes. This is probably by far the worst WWII movie and the worst Tarantino movie, maybe ever.
So many nopes. This is probably by far the worst WWII movie and the worst Tarantino movie, maybe ever.
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+3
2:52PM on 01/17/2014

Yeah, Rescue Dawn got gipped.

I personally liked Kingdom of Heaven but objectively, I don't think it deserves to be in the Top 10. I'm not sure if The Hurt Locker qualifies as a "War Movie" per se, but if Zero Dark Thirty makes the cut then it seems like it should have too.
I personally liked Kingdom of Heaven but objectively, I don't think it deserves to be in the Top 10. I'm not sure if The Hurt Locker qualifies as a "War Movie" per se, but if Zero Dark Thirty makes the cut then it seems like it should have too.
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-3
1:42PM on 01/17/2014
1) FLAGS-5/10: There's no war movie cliché it doesn't use. And unlike... say... PRIVATE RYAN, it doesn't have a uniqueness to tell it apart from other movies of the genre. However, the acting and photography are good, and the characters are sympathetic enough.
2) IWO JIMA-4/10: While FLAGS combined flashbacks from the battlefield with the survivors on the U.S., this one is told mostly in chronological order, which gives it a worse pacing that its predecessor. Once again, it has too many
1) FLAGS-5/10: There's no war movie cliché it doesn't use. And unlike... say... PRIVATE RYAN, it doesn't have a uniqueness to tell it apart from other movies of the genre. However, the acting and photography are good, and the characters are sympathetic enough.
2) IWO JIMA-4/10: While FLAGS combined flashbacks from the battlefield with the survivors on the U.S., this one is told mostly in chronological order, which gives it a worse pacing that its predecessor. Once again, it has too many clichés to tell it apart from other war movies, and once again, the acting and the sympathetic characters make it watchable. Spoiler alert! Just because there were no survivors, doesn't mean that the movie couldn't have an epilogue. FLAGS had one. That ruined the ending for me.
3) THE PIANIST-4/10: Here's my full review: [link]
4) BASTERDS-10/10: I agree with everything that has been said about this movie, except for one thing: Brad Pitt. It's OK to be over-the-top when you're playing a character like this. But you still have to take the movie seriously. You have to treat your character like a real person so that he can feel like a real person through you. That's what separates him from his also over-the-top (but in a good way) co-star Christoph Waltz. That's the only flaw the movie has. And it's not even bad enough to ruin it.
5) Z.D.T.-6/10: My thoughts on it: [link]
6) B.H.D.-3/10: I had to check my cliché list very often. While it’s not as long as PEARL HARBOR (which came out the same year) nor SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (which had come out 3 years earlier), it’s still longer than the average movie, even though it has very little content. It’s basically a 145-minute-long repetitive action scene. If it wasn’t for the fact that I recognized a lot of the actors, then I wouldn’t be able to tell the characters apart. And I’m sure people who saw it at the theatre had a harder time, since a lot of the actors weren’t famous back then.
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2:49PM on 01/17/2014
Holy heck, I agree with most of your comments about Eastwood's two WWII movies but just about disagree with your entire review of The Pianist. I think The Hurt Locker was slightly overhyped but Zero Dark Thirty and The Pianist are both just masterful pieces of cinema. Yes, there are such things as Oscar Bait film and Academy favorites but a movie doesn't wind up with an 85 or 95 on Metacritic by accident that means that virtually every professional critic int he country gave those films either
Holy heck, I agree with most of your comments about Eastwood's two WWII movies but just about disagree with your entire review of The Pianist. I think The Hurt Locker was slightly overhyped but Zero Dark Thirty and The Pianist are both just masterful pieces of cinema. Yes, there are such things as Oscar Bait film and Academy favorites but a movie doesn't wind up with an 85 or 95 on Metacritic by accident that means that virtually every professional critic int he country gave those films either 3/4 or 3.5/4 stars, and that is exactly what I would give them too. Your Pianist review just seems like a list of personal qualms rather than pointing out any actual objective faults with the film.
+0
12:51PM on 01/17/2014
Weak list. No rescue dawn? The Eastwood films were dull.
Weak list. No rescue dawn? The Eastwood films were dull.
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12:32PM on 01/17/2014
No one likes We Were Soldiers? I don't even know if I would consider Zero Dark Thirty a war film.
No one likes We Were Soldiers? I don't even know if I would consider Zero Dark Thirty a war film.
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11:04AM on 01/17/2014
As a vet and being around the people I've been around, there's no way Band of Brothers should've been left off of this list. Regardless that it was a miniseries and not a feature film.
As a vet and being around the people I've been around, there's no way Band of Brothers should've been left off of this list. Regardless that it was a miniseries and not a feature film.
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11:02AM on 01/17/2014

Hurt Locker

Good list...I would have the Hurt Locker in my top 5...I know there's a lot of backlash about that movie since it was released but I really enjoy it.
Also I don't think Inglorious Basterds is overrated (so we agree on)...I think it has some of the best dialogue of QT's career, Brad Pitt is a blast and Hans Landa is one of the 5 best villains of the last 25 years. Excellent work
Good list...I would have the Hurt Locker in my top 5...I know there's a lot of backlash about that movie since it was released but I really enjoy it.
Also I don't think Inglorious Basterds is overrated (so we agree on)...I think it has some of the best dialogue of QT's career, Brad Pitt is a blast and Hans Landa is one of the 5 best villains of the last 25 years. Excellent work
Your Reply:



10:50AM on 01/17/2014

Brutal

The cast was perfect and it was a brutal and harsh reality, of what I imagine, the hell of war looks.
The cast was perfect and it was a brutal and harsh reality, of what I imagine, the hell of war looks.
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10:49AM on 01/17/2014

Eastwood's epic was great

I am the minority that preferred "Flags"
I am the minority that preferred "Flags"
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10:48AM on 01/17/2014

One thing I loved about this movie

Is in the beginning where Cruise's character starts speaking German and slowly switches to English. I thought it was a really cool justification of why they all spoke English.
Is in the beginning where Cruise's character starts speaking German and slowly switches to English. I thought it was a really cool justification of why they all spoke English.
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10:40AM on 01/17/2014
Spoilers:

That final scene where the mission has been accomplished and Maya is in the plane headed home yet is still so overcome with emptiness and sadness that she breaks down and cries instead of celebrating was really impactful. I still think she should have won Best Actress at the Oscars that year over Jennifer Lawrence.
Spoilers:

That final scene where the mission has been accomplished and Maya is in the plane headed home yet is still so overcome with emptiness and sadness that she breaks down and cries instead of celebrating was really impactful. I still think she should have won Best Actress at the Oscars that year over Jennifer Lawrence.
Your Reply:



10:39AM on 01/17/2014
I know it's generally deemed "overrated" by Tarantino aficionados, but I enjoyed this. Christoph Waltz was nothing short of spectacular, his Hans Landa is definitely one of the great screen villains of our time.
I know it's generally deemed "overrated" by Tarantino aficionados, but I enjoyed this. Christoph Waltz was nothing short of spectacular, his Hans Landa is definitely one of the great screen villains of our time.
Your Reply:



10:06AM on 01/17/2014
Lyrical, poignant companion pieces.
Lyrical, poignant companion pieces.
Your Reply:



10:05AM on 01/17/2014
It's a well-made film with a mostly excellent cast but I think that ultimately, it didn't come together cohesively and that Tom Cruise was distracting in the lead role.
It's a well-made film with a mostly excellent cast but I think that ultimately, it didn't come together cohesively and that Tom Cruise was distracting in the lead role.
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+13
9:51AM on 01/17/2014
Band of Brothers should have been the honorable mention
Band of Brothers should have been the honorable mention
Your Reply:



9:14AM on 01/17/2014
kinda surprised hurt locker wasnt on here
kinda surprised hurt locker wasnt on here
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9:04AM on 01/17/2014

Pretty good list

I'm glad Black Hawk Down was number one. I think The Hurt Locker should replace The Pianist or Basterds which both are fantastic just not really something I'd put in this category. Also I'd put The Patriot on here.. I've always loved it and it never gets any credit.
I'm glad Black Hawk Down was number one. I think The Hurt Locker should replace The Pianist or Basterds which both are fantastic just not really something I'd put in this category. Also I'd put The Patriot on here.. I've always loved it and it never gets any credit.
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8:41AM on 01/17/2014

Pretty good list

I agree with all the movies in the list. I actually all of those movies except for Lone Survivor (obviously) and Master and Commander. I'm going to to check out Lone Survivor this weekend. And now I feel I need to pick up Master and Commander.
I agree with all the movies in the list. I actually all of those movies except for Lone Survivor (obviously) and Master and Commander. I'm going to to check out Lone Survivor this weekend. And now I feel I need to pick up Master and Commander.
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7:11AM on 01/17/2014
While not a movie, Generation War, a 3-part mini series, is easily one of the best I've ever seen.
While not a movie, Generation War, a 3-part mini series, is easily one of the best I've ever seen.
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