While it may be true that — as the narrator for the Fallout games always tells us — “war never changes,” not every war movie is the same. Whether they’re covering conflicts in the past or visions of the future, following soldiers on the ground or heroes in the air, the history of cinema includes no shortage of war movies. On Netflix’s streaming service, there’s almost always a diverse crop of films showing both the heroism and the horror of wartime. Here’s what we think are the best war movies you’re likely to find on Netflix right now.
The Vietnamese name is Dong Ap Bia and the official American military name for it was Hill 37, but in the west it would become best known as the name it earned after a dreadful battle in 1969 — Hamburger Hill, named for how “chewed up” the combatants were. John Irvin directed 1987’s Hamburger Hill, recruiting a cast of largely unknowns at the time like Dylan McDermott and Don Cheadle. The film — one of the most acclaimed war films in the history of cinema — is an affecting depiction of not only the hell the soldiers went through, but the utter futility of their struggle. It may not have a lot of headline Hollywood names, but it’s still a powerful film that honors the warriors of the Vietnam War while damning the war itself.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle
Director: John Irvin
Runtime: 104 minutes
While it’s well known that Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland was the inciting event of World War II — and there’s no shortage of films about the conflict — there are few films that explore the Polish side of things. One worthy exception is 2018’s Mission of Honor, about Polish pilots who escape their homeland after the Nazis invade and continue to fight as part of Britain’s Royal Air Force. Viewers who know Iwan Rheon best as the brutal Ramsay Snow from HBO’s Game of Thrones will be pleasantly surprised to see how well the actor plays the heroic pilot Jan Zumbach. Mission of Honor isn’t particularly subtle or innovative, but it’s a great film about an overlooked corner of World War II.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Stars: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson, Stefanie Martini
Director: David Blair
Runtime: 107 minutes
Kilo Two Bravo is based on the true story of a unit of British soldiers trapped in a minefield near Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam. Sent there to take out an enemy roadblock, the soldiers soon find themselves the subjects of a desperate air rescue. While the film carries a palpable anti-war message, there’s no high-handed sanctimony involved. Kilo Two Bravo is an incredibly tense and suspenseful film about soldiers staring death in the face. It may carry a social message, but the focus is on making you hold your breath every time one of the heroes finds his neck close to the chopping block.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: David Elliot, Mark Stanley, Scott Kyle
Director: Paul Katis
Runtime: 108 minutes
Titled Le Chant du loup for its original French release, The Wolf’s Call is a brilliant submarine thriller about a crew doing everything it can to prevent the end of the world. The film follows the crew of the French submarine Titan, and in particular its sonar expert Chanteraide (François Civil), known for his uncanny ability to hear what no one else can. Guided by Chanteraide’s hearing, the Titan struggles in a sweaty, claustrophobic tale of suspense to stop the nuclear exchange between Russia and France. Fans of great submarine flicks like Crimson Tide and Das Boot will find themselves very much at home watching The Wolf’s Call.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: François Civil, Omar Sy, Mathieu Kassovitz
Director: Antonin Baudry
Runtime: 116 minutes
Steven Spielberg has made his share of World War II films, but 2011’s War Horse reaches back further to the First World War. Through the eyes of the horse Joey and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) — the young man who forms a bond with the majestic beast — we see the different events and nations of the early 20th century’s deadliest conflict unfold before us. The war epic isn’t without its sentimentality or melodrama, but it’s handled expertly by one of our greatest living filmmakers. War Horse is not the absolutely best film Spielberg has made, but it’s a worthy tribute to the heroes of a horrifically costly war — those on two legs or four.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 146 minutes
Beasts of No Nation is not a movie to watch if you want to easily forget what you see. The film stars Abraham Attah as Agu — a young boy pressed into service as a soldier by a warlord going only by Commandant (Idris Elba). While the story is set in West Africa, we’re not told exactly what country we’re seeing Agu’s journey in, which is fitting considering the name. It helps to give this powerful depiction of child soldiers a sense of surreal terror. Beasts of No Nation is harrowing and an important tale of the loss of innocence and the ugliness of war.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Idris Elba
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Runtime: 120 minutes
If there’s a war movie more unapologetic about its depictions of brutality than 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, we haven’t heard of it. In an alternate take on history, director Quentin Tarantino gives us a squad of mostly Jewish soldiers — led by the scalp-hungry Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) — deployed to German-occupied France where they wage a ruthless guerrilla war on every German soldier they can find. With as much dark humor and bloodletting as you’d expect from a Tarantino vehicle, Inglourious Basterds is a devilishly fun war epic, with a standout performance by Christoph Waltz, who plays the infectiously confident and verbose Colonel Hans Landa.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Stars: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 153 minutes
Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) isn’t in the shape to fight any wars in the beginning of 2003’s The Last Samurai. He’s doing everything he can to drown the trauma of past conflicts with all the alcohol he can get his hands on. Nonetheless, he’s sent to Japan to help squash a rebellion led by samurai who refuse to be replaced by the country’s more modern army. Instead of stopping any revolutions, Algren winds up a prisoner of those he’s meant to fight, and as he and his captors earn a mutual respect of one another, Algren’s life is changed by the centuries-old Bushido code. While Cruise might get top billing here, it’s Ken Watanabe who truly impresses as the noble Katsumoto.
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Stars: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly
Director: Edward Zwick
Runtime: 154 minutes
Operation Red Sea is a thrilling action blockbuster from a point of view we’re not used to — the Chinese navy. Rich with just about every over-the-top, explosive action movie spectacle you can think of, Operation Red Sea follows the exploits of the elite Jiaolong assault team as they stop a clandestine attempt to overthrow the Chinese government. It’s difficult — particularly from a Western perspective — to ignore the overwhelming nationalist saber rattling of the flick, but if you can overlook that, Operation Red Sea is an epic, bombastic thrill ride that’s more than worth your time.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Yi Zhang, Johnny Huang, Hai-Qing
Director: Dante Lam
Runtime: 141 minutes
The Photographer of Mauthausen is less about the battlefields of World War II and more about one of its nightmarish concentration camps. The film is a biopic about Spanish photographer Francisco Boix (Mario Casas), who winds up in the camp at Mauthausen-Gusen. Boix takes photos of the daily life at the camp, and later does everything he can to save the photos that could act as evidence against Nazi war criminals. The Photographer of Mauthausen is a horrifying picture of the evils of World War II, while at the same time celebrating the art of photography and its ability to capture some of history’s darkest crimes.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Stars: Mario Casas, Richard van Weyden, Alain Hernández
Director: Mar Targarona
Runtime: 110 minutes
You ain’t afraid of no ghosts? Well, 2016’s Netflix original Spectral may cure you of that. Set in the future, Spectral‘s villains are mysterious apparitions set loose in the Eastern European nation of Moldova. Dr. Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale) is flown to the besieged country to find out exactly what these spirit-like creatures are. While investigating, Clyne and the soldiers escorting him are ambushed by the apparitions, and the mystery of what they are and how to hurt them becomes much more desperate. Once the action gets going in Spectral, it doesn’t stop, and because of the fantasy element it holds more mystery than most war films.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Stars: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Nic Mathieu
Runtime: 107 minutes
Based on the 1946 memoir of pianist Władysław Szpilman, 2002’s The Pianist is a haunting and heartbreaking depiction of the Holocaust. Adrien Brody plays Szpilman, who narrowly escapes a Nazi roundup that sees the rest of his family murdered. Szpilman barely survives in the Warsaw ruins, and eventually it’s his love for music and compassion from an unexpected place that saves him from certain death. At the time of its release, 2002’s The Pianist was the darling of film critics. Along with tons of nods from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and others, The Pianist was nominated for an impressive seven Academy Awards and won three of them, including a Best Actor win for Brody.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox
Director: Roman Polanski
Runtime: 148 minutes
First They Killed My Father gives us the view of war from the eyes of a child. Directed by Angelina Jolie, the film is based on the childhood of real-life human-rights activist Loung Ung. After her family is captured and sent to labor camps by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) is forced into service as a child soldier by the oppressive regime. While the film doesn’t shy away from the horrors endured by Ung and other victims of the Khmer Rouge, Jolie tells the story with an empathy that doesn’t want to traumatize viewers. It’s arguably Jolie’s best directorial effort thus far, as well as an important and powerful film about an often forgotten corner of history.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata
Director: Angelina Jolie
Runtime: 136 minutes
Based on William Shakespeare’s plays about Henry V — the warrior king known best for his victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt — The King is a wonderful coming-of-age story for a legendary monarch. The King may not boast as much poetry as the plays upon which it’s based, but it nevertheless presents us with a layered and sympathetic hero. Timothée Chalamet is excellent as the young king who would rather be partying than be saddled with the wars left him by his father (Ben Mendelsohn). The casting of The King is one of the best reasons to watch it, including Joel Edgerton as Henry’s alcoholic friend Falstaff, and Robert Pattinson as the villainous Dauphin.
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris
Director: David Michôd
Runtime: 133 minutes
Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack and his shipmates would not be welcome in Gordon Chan’s God of War. The historical film covers a conflict not quite so familiar to western audiences — the 16th-century struggle to end the threat of the merciless pirates who had been raiding China’s coastlines since the 4th century. Two generals join forces and raise a new army with the specific intent of wiping out the pirates. Character-driven and action-packed, God of War is a thrilling epic that’s sure to entertain any viewers as well as satisfy Chinese history buffs.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Vincent Zhao, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Regina Wan
Director: Gordon Chan
Runtime: 128 minutes
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