Movie List

10 Best Terrorism Movies Ever Made

Updated September 16, 2018
11 min read

We live in turbulent times. The world is in an eternal state of cross-fire with different parties vested with selfish interests keen on making their views stand. Settlements for peace are met with harsh rebukes and are blatantly ignored. Terrorism keeps the common man awake as he doesn’t know if he will be the pawn in the elaborate chess game that is being played by the big powers. Fortunately we have some expert filmmakers who treat us to their art from time to time. Like all artisans, they too are drawn to the romanticism of revolution and often take up this rebellious subject in their visual storytelling. The statement stands as opinion is divided: What is terrorism for one is a battle of revolution for the other. We, at The Cinemaholic, take a look at the list of top movies ever made or based on terrorism. You can also stream some of these best terrorist movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

10. Air Force One (1997)

The Russian terrorism is always a touchy, especially for an American film production house. Wolfgang Petersen played a bold move with this film, depicting the differences between the two nations and subtly criminalizing one. The in-air thrill was impeccable and Harrison Ford hardly ever ate a fruit wrong those days and delivered yet another performance disguised as the intelligence spy. Gary Oldman was nothing short of excellent in his role as the troubled adversary Ivan Korshunov. ‘Air Force One’ was an excellent, straight-up action thriller following Ford’s US President Marshall as he attempts a recoup of the flight from the Russian terrorists.

The overall plot might be too obvious but the weight of the performances by the left duo has helped in carrying the film to a whole new level altogether. Jerry Goldsmith’s tracks were original inspiring and the director praised his colleague’s talent in devising a score in such a little time interval. An entertaining film, ‘Air Force One’ scaled heights at the box office, taking it into the modern archive.

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9. Munich (2005)

Based on the true event, ’Operation Wrath of God’ where Israel organized a secretive vengeance mission on the Palestinians in the wake of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack, ‘Munich’ is an excellent political thriller drama made by the expert hands of Steven Spielberg. It follows the capture and assassination of the members of terrorist organization Black September who was responsible for the massacre. The grueling tension and ever persistent suspense are the hallmarks of any Spielberg thriller and ‘Munich’ was no different. It was an eye opener, asking difficult questions on morality and basic humanism while giving us well developed characters with varied personalities and kept the audience on tenterhooks all the time.

The original score by John Williams was haunting and rightly deserved the Academy Award nomination. The degradation of the soul in the pursuit of vengeance was immaculately depicted through the life of Mossad Agent Avner Kaufman. The cast, led by Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, delivered top-notch performances, earning ‘Munich’ positive critical reviews and made it one of the best films to watch in this decade.

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8. Body of Lies (2008)

When you have the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe with veteran director Ridley Scott at the helm, you can hardly step a foot wrong. So was the case with ‘Body of Lies’. Set in a controversial theme about the collaboration of CIA and the Jordanian Intelligence Agency to catch a notorious terrorist Al-Saleem, this espionage film focuses on the psyche of the officers as they team up. The differences in their mentality almost proves fatal in cases as their egos clash amidst the desert storm. They get their acts right finally, overcoming their base instincts and the sea of deception.

The uniqueness of the film lies in the depiction of the tension and uneasiness between the main players in the game and the stakes they play on to win it. The stellar acting and the visual cinematography was aided by a resounding background score by Marc Streitenfeld. ‘Body of Lies’ is a must-watch for those bitten by the action-thriller bug.

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7. Black Friday (2007)

The March 31st terrorist attack on Mumbai in 1993 is one of the most horrific incidents to have taken place in the subcontinent. The viciousness still ranks the minds of the Indians and had reignited the preexisting feud between India and Pakistan. Several documents have been made on this, but when the mastery of S.Hussian Zaidi and the brilliance of Anurag Kashyap were combined, a masterpiece was born, the like of which rarely comes out of Bollywood. ‘Black Friday’ created little ripples amongst the general audience but the critics dug it. It was an honest take on the inhuman atrocities by the notorious terrorists.

The on-screen expertise of Kay Kay Menon and Aditya Srivatsava coupled with the soulful music by Indian Ocean created one of the few human documentaries in the history of India’s biggest film house. It is hard-hitting and objective and completely devoid of the usual melodrama. A blood-curling watch, ‘Black Friday’ merits to be on the list of all-time best terrorist movies around the globe.

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6. Die Hard (1988)

For the action movie lovers ‘Die Hard’ needs no introduction. Widely regarded as one of the best action movies of all time, this Bruce Willis – Alan Rickman starrer revolutionized the way action movies are made. The film is about German terrorists taking over a Los Angeles office block after watching ‘The Towering Inferno’ was innovative and filled with the thrill required of a terrorism flick. The action sequences were too well choreographed and the suspense was chilling. Michael Kamen’s heart-pumping music added the extra dollop of brilliance in this movie.

Bruce Willis was converted from a comic to an action star overnight and Alan Rickman cemented his place as a commanding villain in Hollywood. The impact was so huge that it crept its way into many of the ‘Top 10’ lists including the Christmas category. A movie that can be re-watched numerous times, ‘Die Hard’ is one stupendous hit.

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5. Paradise Now (2005)

While majority of the films of this genre tend to focus on raw action and bloodshed, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad decided to journey on a different road while penning the script for ‘Paradise Now’. A tale of two suicide bombers from Palestine as they prepare for a bombing in Tel Aviv, the film is a humane documentary, looking deep into the troubled souls and the sacrifices they are willing to make for a promised stay in Paradise. The movie doesn’t have the prevalent high tension or the mandatory blood bath, but instead looks into the eyes and tells the hard, bitter truth.

The pain behind this inhuman sacrifice, the selfishness of the perpetrators and the everlasting bonds of compassion and friendship is brought about immaculately by this film. It asks the fundamental question – ‘Who are the actual terrorists’? Leaving the answer to the viewers. Winning several accolades throughout the globe, ‘Paradise Now’ overcame the actual terrorist hurdles during production to become one of the most appreciated cinemas in this decade. It is a benchmark for Palestinian cinema and we hope more miracles follow from the troubled land.

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4. The Dark Knight (2008)

The second film in the unique ‘Dark Knight’ Batman Trilogy by Christopher Nolan is a modern masterpiece on human psychology and shows the contrast of mind and will through the anarchist Joker and the knight Batman. Joker just wants to watch the world burn without any set motive, making the task of the caper crusader much more difficult, as he has to fight his basic instinct to save chaos and stay within his principles. The effect on terrorism on the best of humans was well depicted through the popular comic characters, transforming them into much serious representatives of human psychological behavior.

Grippingly shot with several iconic moments and monologues, ‘The Dark Knight’ takes a look at the common man as well, the party that is always sandwiched when the major powers are at play. Their unwillingness of participation, their subsequent descent into darkness and the corresponding reactions from the dark part of the society was shown with a haunting scene. Hans Zimmer’s music added the much needed bonus to the film. ‘The Dark Knight’ is one of the best movies of this generation and is worth a re-watch anytime. ‘Why so serious?’

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3. United 93 (2006)

The September 9/11 attacks in 2001 is the most widely documented and notorious terrorist attacks of all time. Apart from the crashing of the iconic World Trade Centre towers of New York, there was another story of a battle between the nefarious terrorists and some spirited common men who put up a challenge when the United 93 passenger plane was hijacked to act as a missile aimed at the US Capitol. Paul Greengrass used the last minute messages sent by the passengers on board, as the ‘soldiers’ strapped on and fought for the country, to form his screenplay. ‘United 93’ was more than just a film honoring these heroes, it is a symbol of true patriotism shown in the face of danger.

It depicts how common man has the power to fight the fear of death after a moment of realization and battle for the country and their loved ones. No danger is big enough or is any challenge hard enough to throttle their might. Paul Grenngrass made a chilling document on these facts based on the bravest example of common man taking up arms. This is a film which makes the audience want to stand on their feet and applaud with tears in their eyes. Salute! United!

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2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

‘The story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man’ can certainly never be a bed-time read. It is grueling, horrific, strenuous and heroic, proving America’s resilience to take revenge on the one who had destroyed a valuable part of their nation and had given the world a potent threat after the Cold War. Kathryn Bigelow’s second venture tells this narrative, albeit from a fictional point of view, and in her own grisly manner shows the extent US Intelligence had to go to find out the truth and get rid of the person who had tormented them, physically and mentally. Kathryn Bigelow, after ‘The Hurt Locker’, strikes a greater note of war pathos with this movie. A journey of 10 years is not easy to depict, and yet she does it, easily enough. 2nd May, 2011 00:30 AM marked the end of the most hated man on Earth, after Adolf Hitler.

The journey behind it was amazingly depicted through the eyes of an eager, handsome, redheaded, CIA Intelligence Analyst, Maya, who joined the force with a single goal in mind: the pursuit and capture of Osama Bin Laden. The film not only shows the efforts made, it also symbolized the change in the mindset of the US officials (symbolized through Maya). Jessica Chastain is nothing short of a marvel, showing the depth of the character like she was born for it. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ does merit to be on the list for the greatest movies of the decade.

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1. The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Every event has two sides of the story to it. Man concocts a version of this truth according to his own philosophies and narrates his story to his subsequent generations. The truth becomes divided and so does history. So we cannot really blame the films for taking sides while narrating its story. In 1966 came a film on the Algerian Revolution against the French Colonialism, called ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and it set a benchmark on how history has to be told. Apart from being well directed and well filmed, the essence of this black and white masterpiece lay in its unique storytelling, never giving impetus to one part and never admitting the moral superiority of either one. It shows their reasons and flaws in the same note, telling history like it should be told.

The audience sympathizes with the revolutionaries as they fight for their freedom but that sympathy is divided when the Algerians openly bombard public French spots, killing dozens of innocent bystanders. The French act of counter-terrorism thus had its reasons but the way they followed raised several questions on ethics. This duality conundrum was ever prevalent in this biopic making the film realistic. ‘The Battle of Algiers’ is by far the best war drama and most certainly is the best movie based on terrorism ever made.

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