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10 Best Anti War Movies of All Time

April 5, 2017
9 min read

We all know that war is hell and war means destruction and death. War is a catastrophe, where countries are divided, cities are destroyed and most importantly, souls are obliterated in the name of patriotism. But the true reason behind the war is the failure of understanding, hence the failure of diplomacy, where a band of soldiers is called to pacify a situation created by the agendas of corrupt politicians and warmongers. Following their orders, soldiers march through diverse landscapes with their weapons in hand and with their lobotomized souls. They come back home in pieces or with a gift of PTSD. Manier times, the victims end up without a home or are forced to flee from their homeland.

Here is a list of movies that deals with the brutality of war. Some of them bring the harrowing experiences of the battlefield on reel and some dig deeper into the roots. Out of too many, here is the list of top anti war movies ever. You can watch some of these best anti-war movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

10. Jarhead (2005)

Directed by Sam Mendes, Jarhead is based on the Anthony Swofford’s eponymous memoir. The film depicts an U.S Army Sniper’s struggle during Gulf War. His obsession to get his first kill, causes him a greater amount of psychological damage and eventually he becomes a victim of boredom and depression. The movie does not contain much graphic images or on-screen combat scenes as it focuses more on the psychological stress a soldier faces during a war.

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9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan is a milestone in the history of cinema. It is a gruesome tale of a band of soldiers led by Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) and their quest to find the the titular character (Matt Damon). The film is set during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II – The Invasion of Normandy. It is remembered specially for the graphic portrayal of the famous or in this case, infamous Omaha Beach landing. In this sequence young soldiers are gunned down by hailstorm of bullets, charred and dismembered by intense artillery fire from the Nazi stronghold. The movie perfectly depicts how futile a soldier’s life can be and to save one soldier how dozens can lose their lives in a brutal fashion.

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8. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter is one of the earliest attempts by Hollywood to process the traumatic memories of the Vietnam war. It focuses on a trio of Russian-American Steelworkers who get drafted in Vietnam to fight a futile war after one of their friend’s wedding. Driven by inexperience, the trio face horrendous consequences and one of them becomes a victim of PTSD. Packed with visceral imageries, the movie is a detailed portrayal of the war that sacrificed the lives of young lively individuals. Featuring an ensemble cast including Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale and Meryl Streep, the movie is a tight slap to the people who encourage war. In between the beautifully depicted Pennsylvenia, the mid section of the film is the horrific depiction of Vietnam, in which the trio witnesses genocide, torture and are forced to participate in the brutal game of Russian Roulette.

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7. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

This Mel Gibson war drama is set against the backdrop of the Battle Of Okinawa. the movie already got Oscar Nods for its visceral and graphic depiction of war. It features well-choreographed and gruesome battle scenes, where a soldier’s life ends in a blink of an eye. The portrayal is so real and horrific, it will compel one to re-think before taking part in a war.

The central character of the movie is real life medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who took part in the bloody battle as a medic without a single weapon to protect himself. In the midst of all the blood spilling and carnage, he poses as a symbol of peace and a bringer of hope by saving countless disabled teammates and even soldiers from the enemy front. He chose to save lives instead of taking them hence perfectly carrying out the Biblical commandment – “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

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6. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Based on an autobiographical novel penned by Ron Kovic and directed by Oliver Stone, who is a Vietnam veteran himself, Born on the Fourth of July deals with the after effects of war. Here, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), volunteers for the War in Vietnam. He ends up doing horrible things like taking part in the massacre of a village full of unarmed Vietnamese civilians as well as accidentally killing one of his fellow comrades. After being critically wounded in a firefight, Kovic becomes paralyzed and falls victim to PTSD.

The title itself is an irony as 4th of July is the independence day of America and on the same day a soldier was born only to become a disillusioned individual. Here, Kovic’s journey is an example of naive patriotism and the results of it.

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5. Apocalypse Now (1979)

The hallucinatory adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by Francis Ford Coppola, is considered not only as one of the best films of 20th Century but also one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made.

Martin Sheen portrays Capt. Captain Benjamin. L. Willard, a cynical and battle-hardened soldier, who is tasked to find and kill Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Colonel Kurtz has become a Demi-God for Montagnard troops and fighting his own war. He is a perfect example of how the hunger for power can make someone go fully insane. During the journey of finding Kurtz, Willard encounters horrific accounts of human slaughter and destruction. The movie does not showcase the war on the battlefield as much as it depicts the war within the human soul.

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4. Waltz With Bashir  (2008)

This is only animated entry in the list. Directed by Ari Folman, the movie is the real life account of Lebanon War. Told from the perspective of Folman himself, the movie deals with a soldier’s desperate attempt to recall the unpleasant memories of war. Here, Folman, a 40 years old individual, is in search of his lost and repressed memories. As the film progresses, we come to know why those memories are repressed.

Showcased in a documentary format, it is based on the real life incident of Sabra and Shatila Massacre in which Folman played an indirect part. He was one of the soldiers, who surrounded the refugee camp and fired flare to illuminate the camp for Christian Phalange militants. A sense of guilt overwhelmed him out of which he could never recover.  The movie moves like a hallucination that is gripping and painful at the same time. It deals with two predominant themes – memory and war – and powerfully shows the collision of the two.

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3. Platoon (1986)

Platoon is loosely based on director Oliver Stone’s own experiences during Vietnam War. The movie is not only a anti-war film but also a social commentary. The story is told from the perspective of a young idealist soldier named Chris Taylor, (Charlie Sheen), who volunteered for the war and is serving under the command of Sgt. Barnes, played by Tom Berenger.

Sgt. Barnes and his followers are the true products of war. They do not flinch at torturing innocent civilians, raping young children and killing the old and the disabled. They were drafted because they are the unwanted and were not born with a silver spoon. The village assault scene in the movie is a reference to the infamous Mai Lai Massacre, where U.S Troops indiscriminately killed 300-400 unarmed civilians including men, women, children and infants.

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2. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Terrence Malick is well-known for using stunning visual imageries in his movies. ‘The Thin Red Line’ is about peace in the midst of the harrowing battle of Guadalcanal. Told from the perspective of various soldier’s the movie explores the theme of compassion and how important it is during a full-scale war. Taken from a real life account of a veteran, the movie goes beyond politics and draws the thin line between idealism and death.

The moment when a soldier is shot and is about to die, all concepts of ideology, social and military conditioning are stripped away from his soul and fear is the only thing that overwhelms him. The internal monologues of each soldiers in the movie raises these unforeseen questions.

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1. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Released in the year 1987 this Stanley Kubrick war drama is considered as a classic. Here, Kubrick shows what it takes to become a soldier and a cold ruthless killer. Within every man resides good and evil. Which quality prevails itself is determined by how one is raised and perceives the world. The film shows how soldiers are brainwashed with ideas of right or wrong. By injection of words of propaganda, a moral ambiguity is created within the soldier. Once this takes place, it is the job of the soldier to figure out what he is; a killing machine as he has been trained, or a peace-bringer to a war-torn nation. Here, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, portrayed by R. Lee. Ermey, uses many different psychological attacks ranging from repeated chants in training to insulting their masculinity. Eventually Pvt. Leonard Lawrence A.K.A ‘Gomer Pyle'(Vincent D’ Onofrio) as called by Hartman, kills Hartman as he becomes robotic and psychologically numb, disturbed by the harsh truth of militarism.

The final segment of the movie is also symbolic as Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) gets pinned down by an N.V.A Enemy Sniper and three of the team members get killed as the sniper uses the first one as a decoy to attract the attention of the other. This scene is a reminiscence of Hartman’s previous tips about war –  “there is no such thing as sympathy”. Joker and his team finally incapacitate the sniper, which later reveals to be a teenage girl and Joker coldly executes her justifying the film’s tagline “Born to Kill”.

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