The 10 Greatest American War Movies

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The war film has been around since the earliest days of cinema. In America alone, films like All Quiet on the Western Front have chronicled the human experiences of battle for nearly a century now, attempting to capture something which can never be truly understood except by those who have lived it and lived to tell those stories after the fact. While some films favor the chronicling of battle, and others take a more human approach to the effects of war and its aftermath, the war film is a unique genre in that it has often come to inform the ways in which civilians and servicemen alike understand the purpose and functions of domestic and international conflict. For better and worse, they play a role in informing how history is understood and digested by people from all walks of life.

This week, Christopher Nolan’s military epic, Dunkirk, hits theaters, the story of a mass evacuation beset by Axis violence during World War II. One of the more interesting facets of its approach is that it’s one of the very few modern, big-budget war stories to frame WWII from a non-American perspective; the soldiers on that beach came from many nations, but not primarily the US. By contrast, the tradition of American war stories, pro- and anti-war alike, is a long one full of films both celebratory and nihilistic, hopeful and cynical.

While Dunkirk exists outside of those traditions, the presence of a major war story in multiplexes across the country this weekend has moved us to consider the domestic end of war filmmaking and the ways in which so many different international conflicts have been captured on film over the years. From savagely dark comedies to stirring testaments in favor of the indomitable American spirit, directors have captured the unimaginable in many unique ways. To that effect, we’d like you to join us on a journey through some of the most essential war films, classic and recent alike, about some of the most unfortunate conflicts of the last century and well beyond.

There’s no one right way to tell a war story, and in fact, we have 10 on hand.

–Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Film Editor


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