While the preconceived notion associated with war and military movies is that they are only about violence and death, the truth is that they are so much more. Early war movies were mostly revolving around the World Wars and the aftermaths of them. After 9/11, war films started focussing on several different subject materials – like terrorism, crude oil, nuclear weapons etc. The best war films are so good that they make you feel like you’re actually there.
Besides incredible action scenes, they also have the ability to be emotional and heartbreaking. From Steven Spielberg’s classic ‘Schindler’s List’ to ‘Troy’, war movies can be of different kinds. You just have to pick which kind suits you. With that said, here is the list of really good war movies on Netflix. The list includes World War I movies, World War II movies, Vietnam War movies, Korean War Movies and Gulf War movies.
28. War Machine (2017)
Brad Pitt plays the highly decorated General Glen McMahon who has been sent to Afghanistan to assess how early can the US withdraw its troops from the war-torn nation. Owing to the ground situation and after a careful assessment, McMahon comes to a conclusion that the ongoing war could be easily won if the Government approves an addition of 30,000 troops to the existing force – exactly as opposed to the Government’s directive of withdrawal from the country. Due to the upcoming Presidential Elections in the US, McMahon’s report is delayed for review and amid a lot of other incidents, the report gets leaked. The US approves adding more troops but all in vain, as the operation fails due to a lot of collateral damage. McMahon returns to the US and takes up a private job while his place in the army is replaced by another general. ‘War Machine’ is flawed and doesn’t make for an impactful movie, yet, Brad Pitt’s performance is worthwhile.
27. Operation Chromite (2016)
‘Operation Chromite’ was the official codename for the Battle of Incheon, a decisive battle during the peak of the Korean War in the ’50s. The movie revolves around the US and the UN-led coalition which tries to retake the entirety of South Korea from the clutches of North’s army and navy. What ensues is an amphibious battle coupled with clandestine operations led by South Korean Intelligence officer Jang Hak-Soo, who is a former North Korean Army officer along with several other members codenamed X-Ray, who successfully infiltrate North Korea’s army and gather the know-how on their installations and defences. Simultaneously, a battle-hardened General McArthur prepares an offensive on a scale never heard of before. ‘Operation Chromite’ won numerous awards and was one of the popular South Korean movies released at the time.
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26. 6 Days (2017)
Set around the real-life incident of the siege of the Iranian embassy in London by the terrorists originating from Iran, six terrorists led by a man named Salim enter the embassy and take hostages. During a span of six days, they grow more and more desperate and soon they realize that their demands are not being met owing to some political barriers. Negotiations fail, a few hostages are killed by the terrorists and towards the end, the British SAS enters the embassy and flushes the terrorists to free the hostages. Given its gripping sequences set in a war-torn environment, ‘6 Days’ qualifies as a war movie in the backdrop of a chilling hostage drama.
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25. Sand Castle (2017)
The story of a reluctant soldier, Matt Ocre, who has enlisted in the US army for making some extra bucks in the aftermath of 9/11 gets deputed to Iraq. As the war heightens and Ocre gets assigned to a battle group, his methods of evading confrontations by hurting himself seemingly fail. His squad is eventually tasked with repairing and restoring the water supply system in one of the Iraqi villages called Baqubah. While they have to restore the water supply at the earliest, they also need to be wary of the incoming guerilla attacks from the enemy and ambushes they need to resist. ‘Sand Castle’ is an interesting premise but somehow, it couldn’t make to the bigwigs of war films. Still, one can watch it for Nicholas Hoult and Henry Cavill.
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24. Spectral (2016)
A war movie with a difference, as the war is against the vast unknown – an alien race, ‘Spectral’ is one of the thrilling and spellbinding experiences as far as war and military movies are concerned. The movie opens with the Moldovan war, wherein the US army is engaged against the beings which are invisible to the naked eye, are vicious with a humanoid appearance which can kill at the blink of an eye. The army men are issued hyperspectral goggles which would enable them to see their adversary albeit partially and target them as appropriate. As the movie progresses, we get to know what are the alien’s weaknesses and how a cornered group of men and women take on an unknown, unheard-of enemy with all their technological prowess. The movie received mixed reviews upon its Netflix release and seemingly became lost in translation.
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23. Good Kill (2014)
Perhaps one of those rare movies where the conclusion takes away the prize, ‘Good Kill’ is the narrative of Major Thomas Egan, an officer with the USAF who is currently on a reaper drone mission. HIs work involves sitting at an airforce base in Las Vegas and hunt and kill alleged terrorist cells in Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan. While he initially enjoys his job and aces it in his own way, soon he realises the collateral damage taking a toll on his personal life and aiding to his stress. Moreover, on another overwatch mission, he fails terribly and troops are killed and he’s demoted to surveillance missions. His only good kill is the killing of a rapist by tricking his CO and colleagues away. Oops, spoiler alert!
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22. 1898: Our Last Men in The Philippines (2016)
In Spain’s last-ditch attempts to save one of its colonies in Baler, Phillippines is met with a violent rebellion by the natives. ‘1898: Our Last Men in The Philippines’ is set in the year 1898 where a small force which has just arrived in the town led by Captain Morenas and Lieutenant Cerezo is holed up in a church which is turned into a fortress. Apart from the visible adversaries which are the local rebels, the Spanish soldiers also have to fight the environment, tropical heat conditions and mosquitoes among others. After the Captain’s death owing to a disease, Cerezo takes it upon himself to defend the colony and upkeep the pride of his glorious empire. ‘1898: Our Last Men in The Philippines’ was met with positive reviews by critics and audiences alike.
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21. The Exception (2016)
This 2016 war-drama film is the directorial debut of David Leveaux. The story of the film centers around a German Nazi soldier who has been assigned the responsibility to check out how the former German emperor, Wilhelm II, is leading his life post his banishment. The former emperor now lives in the Netherlands and the German army are of the opinion that a Dutch spy has been planted in Wilhelm’s residence. As the soldier begins investigating into the same, he also falls in love with a girl who works for the former emperor. The only problem in their love story s the fact that the girl is a Jew, and thus falling in love with her is a sin according to the teachings his party has taught him. We focus on the romantic relationship between the two characters as the soldier ponders over what he should give more importance to- his ideology, or his love. The film is rather interestingly set up, keeping all the historical accuracies. The performances of each of the actors has also been extraordinary.
20. Too Young the Hero (1988)
Based on the life of Calvin Graham, the youngest person ever to serve in the US armed forces, the movie revolves around the ambitious 12-year-old who enlists in the navy to fight in the WWII using the forged signature of his mother. After completing his training and serving aboard the USS Dakota during the Battle of Guadalcanal, while returning home, he’s arrested on forgery and is kept in an army prison before his tales of bravery and his acts of forgery are discovered. Turns out, he got enlisted because he looked much older than he actually was. ‘Too Young the Hero’ seems unreal, even for a real-life story, but regardless, makes for an extremely engaging and defining war movie.
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19. Kajaki (2014)
A British war docudrama, ‘Kajaki’ is the story of a British platoon which has been assigned the duty of destroying a roadblock created by the Taliban. However, as soon as the platoon proceeds to complete their mission, they realize that they have been trapped in a zone where there are mines all around. Having no other way, they need to call for air support so that they can be lifted away to safety. However, the problem is that any mistake from the airlift can cause this entire area to blow up. The film is brilliantly made, and will grip you completely from the beginning to the end. We get to learn here the amount of courage and mental agony one has to go through in order to perform successfully as a soldier.
18. The Resistance Banker (2018)
A Dutch film based on the real-life story of a banker during the WWII, ‘The Resistance Banker’ is the telltale of Walraven van Hall, a man who, after the Nazi occupation of the Holland in WWII, comes up with the idea of funding the Dutch resistance against the Nazi by creating a fake bank. Slowly, by propagating the idea that he’s going to help Dutch POW’s out of the country in a non-profitable way through the bank, he starts drawing money into the bank through money laundering via the Nazi banks. Ultimately, he succeeds in converting forged bonds into real ones and redeeming them via cash and thus funding the Dutch resistance out of nothing. A pathbreaking action-adventure, ‘The Resistance Banker’ is a story seldom made.
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17. Stripes (1981)
A relatively older flick as far as this list is concerned, ‘Stripes’ is the narrative of John Winger, a distraught cab driver who has been fed up with his job, his girlfriend and loses everything yet decides to join the army for some fun. He also asks his friend Russell to tag along, which he agrees to. While they’re the laggards in the training, they are constantly motivated by Stella and Louise, their crushes and later girlfriends, during the training. While they both are assigned on a testing mission in Italy to test out a new armoured vehicle, their girlfriends are in West Germany, not too far from them. One fine day, they cross into Czechoslovakia inadvertently, thus inviting a lot of problems for themselves and their platoon. ‘Stripes’ is funny and is considered one of the Bill Murray’s acting classics, all in an army and war-torn backdrop.
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16. Camp X-Ray (2014)
Set in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this film is based out and set around in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, the infamous penitentiary for dreaded criminals and terrorists who were once treated in an animal-like manner. ‘Camp X-Ray’ revolves around Amy Cole, a private at the Guantanamo Bay prison and is initially averse of how the prisoners are treated in there. Ali, a prisoner who was picked by the special forces on the day of 9/11 and has been in the bay since. Slowly, Amy and Ali form a bond which they can’t show in public – while Amy can’t violate any of her SOP’s and has to constantly evade the advances of her boss, Ali has to fight a battle within – with his anxiety and his suicidal tendencies. ‘Camp X-Ray’ touches upon a sensitive subject, but as normal viewers, one can’t really tell how much of it is in fact, real.
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15. The Stranger (1946)
Film noir is a genre of cinema which first started in the United States and then spread over across the world. One can easily say that the German Expressionist style of filmmaking in the 1920s has been a great influence on this genre. One of the best directors to have worked in this genre is the great Orson Welles, with 1946’s ‘The Stranger’ remaining one of his most coveted films to date. The story of this film centers around a member of the War Crimes Commission called Wilson who believes that the main man behind the Holocaust, Franz Kindler, has taken shelter in Harper, Connecticut. However, the problem is that the war criminal has taken on a new identity. Wilson doesn’t know what he looks like, and has only one information to carry out his investigation- the fact that Franz is a lover of antique clocks. The use of light and shadow in this film is masterful, and the camerawork we see in this Welles film is far ahead of its time.
14. Outlaw King (2018)
The latest entrant to Netflix, ‘Outlaw King’ has only Chris Pine as the most striking characteristic if nothing else. Based on a true story, ‘Outlaw King’ describes the story of Robert the Bruce, who, even after swearing his fealty to the English Crown, decides to stage a rebellion against the powerful English army using Guerilla war tactics. The story is set in the early 1300s and aptly describes the English oppression of the Scottish locals and how Scotland needed their own King despite a lot of infighting. After the English allegedly killed William Wallace, the feared Scottish knight, Robert’s rebellion comes to reality and he starts garnering support for himself against the English, followed by a decisive battle of Loudoun Hill, which was won by Robert’s army even though they were heavily outnumbered. Later, in the post-credits, it is shown that James VI, the first King of a Unified England and Scotland was a descendant of Robert the Bruce. Although flawed, ‘Outlaw King’ rekindles the historical aficionado in you.
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13. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)
‘Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’ is one of the most devastating things you will get to watch on Netflix. The severe civil unrest that happened in the country of Ukraine in 2013-2014 is documented in this film with great detail. We get to see the student protests where the demand is for the country to integrate itself in Europe. They also wanted their President, Viktor F. Yanukovich to resign from his office. There are some rather gruesome images of death and destruction that we get to see in this documentary. ‘Winter On Fire’, however, always makes a strong argument in favor of the protestors, and does not show us the other side of the coin. We get to see here how social media has become the fastest mode of communication in today’s world, and how the strength of the mass is still far greater than all the guns and weapons put together.
12. Ip Man (2008)
This 2008 film first starts off as any martial arts movie, but soon we realize that there is much more to it than just amazingly choreographed action sequences. This film serves as the origin story of the eponymous character, who is widely considered one of the greatest martial artists of all time, and was also the teacher of Bruce Lee. We see that Ip Man lives in a small town where there are many martial arts schools. However, being the best martial artist in town, Ip Man has never opened a school as he does not require the money. His life is going smoothly until the day when China gets invaded by the Japanese. Many lives are lost, and the entirety of Ip Man’s village is destroyed. So much so that he has to now forget about his affluence and take up work in a factory. However, his insane skills soon get noticed by a Japanese soldier who wants Ip Man to take part in a martial arts contest. This film boasts of mesmerizing action sequences and unparalleled art direction. Moreover, the condition of China and the suffering of the Chinese people after the Japanese invasion is also deftly portrayed in this film.
11. Troy (2004)
The legendary epic war film ‘Troy’ needs no introduction, for it is certainly one of the most watched war films of all the time. The film follows a storyline that begins with the eloping of Paris, the young prince of Troy with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the Spartan King. As Paris, Helen and his elder brother Hector arrive at Troy, King Priam welcomes them and begins his preparations for an upcoming war. Agamemnon, the Greek King, along with Achilles and Menelaus, declare war on Troy. Despite their unflinching attempts, they couldn’t lay a siege on the walled city and crumble under its defences. In the end, they get their best soldiers inside a wooden horse (hence the name – Trojan horse), while other soldiers apparently pretending to be retreating, and as the people of Troy carry the wooden horse inside the city, they are taken aback by the soldiers hiding inside them and the city is taken from within. ‘Troy’ is a masterpiece and to this day, is considered an epic spectacle.
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10. First They Killed My Father (2017)
‘First They Killed My Father’ is the heartbreaking tale of a kid named Loung, who is trained to be a child soldier during the peak of the Cambodia-Vietnam war during the late ’70s. The movie begins with the US’ attack on Cambodia, a so-far neutral country as far as the Vietnam war was concerned. Pa Ung and his seven children including Loung are forced to stay in a refugee camp and perform menial jobs. Later, Pa is abducted by the Khmer Rouge and is allegedly killed, leaving his kids in the mayhem. As it turns out, Khmer needs more soldiers and they pick up Loung to train him in basic combat and warfare, only to be exposed to the perils of war. ‘First They Killed My Father’ is not only made on a unique yet sensitive subject, but its high emotional quotient and its compelling storytelling are also second to none.
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9. Riphagen – The Untouchable (2016)
The story of a dreaded Dutch traitor during the WWII, who, while collaborating with the Nazis during their invasion of Holland, also gave them the information about Jewish hideouts across the country. If that wasn’t enough, he’d often reap his returns in the form of Jewish prized possessions, much to everyone’s dismay. Perhaps, Riphagen has to be one of the most hated criminals in the history of WWII, who successfully managed to eliminate all the resistance being put up against Nazis single-handedly. A film worth your time, this war criminal story might leave you peeving with anger.
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8. Hostiles (2017)
Set in 1892, with Christian Bale appearing in a leading role, ‘Hostiles’ is mostly set in a hostile environment of West America back in the day and follows the story of Captain Joseph Blocker – a decorated war veteran who has successfully thwarted many attacks by the Commanche, Apache and other American Indian tribes over the past two decades. His final assignment, however, is to transport and safely escort a Cheyenne war chief named Yellow Hawk to Montana. Apparently, Yellow Hawk is his one of the most hated enemies and Blocker has to protect himself and the war chief from attacks of belligerent soldiers who’re on a prowl against the tribals. ‘Hostiles’ was hailed as “stunning” and “visually appealing” while everyone praised Christian Bale’s performance in a leading role.
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7. The Siege of Jadotville (2016)
My personal favourite on this list, ‘The Siege of Jadotville’ is yet another movie which remains underrated to this day, like its real-life characters were, for a long time. The movie is an actual historical account of the Irish Army and its unsung heroes who defended Jadotville, a bordering place near Katanga – which had declared itself free from the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Congo crisis of the ’60s. It was a strategically important place owing to the rich ore deposits and Irish army commandant Quinlan is asked to lead a company of men at Jadotville against the Katangese rebels, who’re backed by French mercenaries. Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned, in a historic battle that follows, none of the Irish soldiers dies, while killing more than 300 enemies. Spectacular, stunning and groundbreaking, ‘The Siege of Jadotville’ is a road less travelled.
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6. Lincoln (2012)
In what could be called as Spielberg’s yet another masterpiece, ‘Lincoln’ was also widely appreciated for the power-packed, character-driven performances – especially that of Daniel Day-Lewis in the titular role and Sally Field as Mary Lincoln, his wife. The movie follows the time when the US was at the brink of its civil war, slavery was spreading like a disease and Lincoln has to struggle in finding a fine balance between his cabinet members to help abolish slavery – once and for all. The movie concludes with the tragic assassination of the 16th US President, accompanied with some eternal dialogues and never-seen-before visuals. ‘Lincoln’ is nothing short of legendary.
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5. Only the Dead (2015)
A gripping documentary which is the actual, official account of Australian journalist Michael Ware during a decade of the Iraqi war, ‘Only the Dead’ comprises of disturbing and heartbreaking visuals, scenes of raw perils of war, and the tale of sheer courage of journalists and special forces, especially of Ware who is chosen by a dreaded terrorist leader to convey a message to the western politicians. The aftermath of a war from the eyes of a camera in a real ground situation is terrifying. ‘Only the Dead’ shouldn’t be missed.
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4. The Lives Of Others (2006)
One of the best German films of this century, ‘The Lives Of Others’ is not exactly a war film, but is set during a war-like situation. The film is actually set in East Berlin during the Cold War when the USSR government used to spy on people in their area every day. We follow the life of a Russian soldier who has been asked to spy upon a playwright and his wife because there are reasons to believe that the latter is not wholeheartedly loyal to the Communist Party. In such a scenario, this soldier in question has to listen in to their daily conversations. What we witness is the stark difference between the lives of the two concerned parties. While the playwright and his wife are enjoying themselves along with their friends, this soldier has no one by his side to share a drink with. Over a certain period of time, he takes a liking to this couple. But problems arise for him when his senior asks him to kill the lawyer as he has taken a fancy to the wife. This film will leave you emotionally drained by the end. The range of emotions the Russian soldier goes through while speaking so few words is enough to send chills down our spines.
3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
This drama follows the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iwela, director Cary Fukunaga managed to create a beautiful film by using an incredible colour palette. Fukunaga took huge risks by making battle sequences very down to earth, which some may call “action poetry”. Despite that, “Beasts of No Nation” is brutal and harrowing. First-time actor Abraham Attah, playing young Agu, has the best performance by a child actor that I’ve ever seen. Idris Elba also has a powerful performance, granting him a nomination in the Golden Globes of 2016.
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2. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
One of the greatest films by the modern auteur Quentin Tarantino, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a movie which takes place mainly in German-occupied France during WWII. A group of Jewish American soldiers, led by a fierce commander, are sent in secret to France in order to eliminate as many Nazi soldiers as possible. This is the group which is known as the Basterds. They have created a sort of myth among the German soldiers who fear them because they scalp their prisoners alive and also carve a swastika on their foreheads with a knife. Besides their story, we also follow the life of one Jewish girl called Shosanna whose family was killed on orders of the Nazi officer called Hans Landa. Many years later, Shosanna has grown up and is now the owner of a theatre in Paris. Here she gets to meet Landa once again and plots a way to take revenge. Tarantino here twists and turns history to make a war movie which has not been attempted ever before. The powerful performances of Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz are the two highlights of this brilliant film.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Perhaps the greatest film from the kitty of Steven Spielberg, ‘Schindler’s List’ is the narrative of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who was rather infamous for his greed and self-centeredness during the Nazi rule in Germany. In a strange turn of events, as the Jews are regularly gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, he takes it upon himself to save a lot of Jew men, women and children by offering them refuge in his factory and helping them escape the clutches of fascism. It has been said that he successfully saved more than 800 Jewish people. Liam Neeson has given the performance of his career, and so has Ralph Fiennes. Easily, ‘Schindler’s List’ is the best war-based film you can stream on Netflix today.
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