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The best war movies on Netflix

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.

War Machine

Brad Pitt in War Machine

No, this is not a Marvel movie about Don Cheadle’s character. War Machine is a modern war satire based on Michael Hastings’ The Operator: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. Written and directed by David Michôd, War Machine features hilarious performances of Brad Pitt and Anthony Michael Hall as commanders of America’s army in the Middle East after 9/11, showing them to be every bit as over their head and inept as they could possibly be.

Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Stars: Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall
Director: David Michôd
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

Mission of Honor

Shot from Mission of Honor

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far

This star-studded action flick was written by William Goldman and directed by Richard Attenborough. In late 1944, the Allied armies believe they can win World War II and be home by Christmas, just so long as they can land a knockout punch through a Nazi garrison in Holland and gain entry into Germany. Paratroopers led by British major general Robert Urquhart (Sean Connery) and American brigadier general James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) are ordered to seize five bridges through Holland, including a final, critical bridge in the small Dutch town of Arnhem. Once they have control of the bridges, Allied infantry and armor will flow into German territory, dealing a fatal blow to the German forces. However, the plan requires precise timing and it has one critical flaw: Intelligence failed to note that the German forces in Arnhem are SS — the best troops the Nazis have to offer. A Bridge Too Far is the rare American war film where the Americans don’t win, depicting the desperation and hubris of Allied forces so exhausted from warfare, they’re unable to see the danger hiding in plain sight.

Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, James Caan, Michael Caine
Director: Richard Attenborough
Rating: PG
Runtime: 175 minutes

The Wolf’s Call

Shot from The Wolf's Call

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 116 minutes

War Horse

Shot from War Horse

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
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

Beasts of No Nation

Shot from Beasts of No Nation

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes


Winner of three Oscars, Glory tells the story of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-Black regiment in United States military history. Led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the son of an influential abolitionist, the Massachusetts 54th is made up of Black soldiers who are denied practically every privilege and amenity received by white soldiers, but who nonetheless are willing to fight and die in the Civil War for the preservation of the Union. However, Union command refuses to put them into battle, believing Black soldiers to be inferior fighters. When they’re finally given their chance at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, however, the 54th acquits themselves valiantly, laying siege to a garrison protected by more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman
Director: Edward Zwick
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

The Siege of Jadotville

In 1961, 3,000 Congolese troops, led by French and Belgian mercenaries and paid by mining companies in the Congo, launch an attack on a United Nations garrison that seeks to bring some peace to the region. Led by Commander Patrick Quinlan (Jamie Dornan), the 150-strong, predominantly Irish battalion is pinned down at Jadotville, forced to find for their lives against the mercenaries while facing impossible odds.

Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Stars: Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong
Director: Richie Smyth
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Operation Red Sea

Shot from Operation Red Sea

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 141 minutes

The Photographer of Mauthausen

Shot from the Photographer of Mauthausen

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 110 minutes


Promotional art for Spectral

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
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes


Defiance 2008

Defiance tells the true story of a troop of Eastern European Jews who took up arms against Nazi brutality. In 1941, Jews are being massacred by the thousands as the Nazi blitzkrieg extends into Eastern Europe. After escaping death, three brothers take refuge in the dense woods that they’ve roamed since childhood. There, they take a stand, launching a guerrilla war effort to avenge their lost loved ones and save as many people as they possibly can. As their legend grows, more resistance fighters join their cause. But as the resistance grows, so do their risks, and the sacrifices they must make to keep their outfit alive and safe become increasingly more painful.

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Stars: Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Bell
Director: Edward Zwick
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

First They Killed My Father

Shot from First They Killed My Father

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
Rating: NR
Runtime: 136 minutes

The King

Shot from The King

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
Rating: R
Runtime: 133 minutes

Schindler’s List

Although it’s not strictly a war movie, Schindler’s List is one of the best and most important films about World War II. Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic depicts the corruption and horror of Nazi politics through the eyes of a German businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Schindler joins the Nazi party for economic expediency, realizing he must be a member of the party if he’s going to profiteer off of World War II. But as the Nazi Final Solution comes more clearly into view, Schindler works with his Jewish accountant and friend Itzhak Stern to create a “list” of Jewish workers that he needs in his factories. By putting Jews to work in his extensive business empire, Schindler protects them from near-certain death. But as the war turns against the Nazis, the walls begin to close in on Schindler, most notably from the pressure of sociopathic concentration camp leader, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). Rather than buckle under the pressure, Schindler fights to the war’s last moments to save every person he possibly can.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Stars: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: R
Runtime: 196 minutes

Editors' Recommendations

Michileen Martin
Michileen Martin has written about pop culture in general and comics in particular for two decades. His work has appeared in…
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