The 45 best war movies of all time, according to critics

Miramax‘Apocalypse Now.’

Many of cinema’s greatest directors have pursued war and its inherently cinematic drama as a subject.

The Metacritic data we compiled here to track the most critically acclaimed war movies of all time finds contemporary films like Christopher Nolan’s WWII thriller “Dunkirk” alongside classics like Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

The list consists of the highest-rated movies on Metacritic’s site labelled with a “war” tag, and includes both feature films and documentaries.

Here are the 45 best war movies of all time, according to critics:


45. “City of Life and Death” (2011)

Cinema Ventures

Critic score: 85/100

User score: 7.7/10

What critics said: “‘City of Life and Death,’ a stunning re-creation of the Japanese army’s annihilation of Nanking in 1937, will make you flinch, even as you admire its brilliant black-and-white cinematography, breathtaking art design and unerring direction.” – San Francisco Chronicle


44. “The Pianist” (2002)

Focus Features

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 7.7/10

What critics said: “A great movie on a powerful, essential subject — the Holocaust years in Poland — directed with such artistry and skill that, as we watch, the barriers of the screen seem to melt away.” – Chicago Tribune


43. “City of Ghosts” (2017)

Amazon

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 6.3/10

What critics said: “What ‘City of Ghosts’ does best is to humanize those who’ve suffered most from the conflict in Syria, educating us through both outrage and compassion.” –Variety


42. “Children of Hiroshima” (1952)

Kaneto Shindo

Critic score: 86/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “Shindô concocts a stylistic mix of odd experimental flourishes, female nudity, Soviet-style close-ups and baldly sentimental melodrama to emphasise the toll this disaster took; its cup may runneth over, yet the stark vibe is impossible to shake.” – Time Out


41. “Das Boot” (1982)

Columbia

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 6.5/10

What critics said: “Racing through the sub, squeezing through tiny openings, director Wolfgang Petersen’s camera brilliantly evokes the claustrophobia and clamor of undersea battle.” – TV Guide Magazine


40. “Last Days in Vietnam” (2014)

PBS Films

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 7.8/10

What critics said: “These stranger-than-fiction tales, piled one on top of the other in the most gripping way, not only mesmerize us, they also point up another of ‘Last Days in Vietnam”s provocative points, that the chaos surrounding the evacuation was, in effect, the entire war in microcosm.” –Los Angeles Times


39. “To Be or Not to Be” (1942)

Paramount

Critic score: 86/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “It’s certainly one of the finest comedies ever to come out of Paramount, the allegations of dubious taste missing the point of Lubitsch’s satire – not so much the general nastiness of the Nazis as their unforgiveable bad manners.” – Time Out London


38. “Lincoln” (2012)

20th Century Fox

Critic score: 86/100

User score: 7.5/10

What critics said: “As unexpected as it is intelligent, thanks to virtuoso work from Spielberg and Kushner, Lincoln is landmark filmmaking, while Day-Lewis is so authentic he pulls off that stovepipe.” – Empire


37. “The Great Escape” (1963)

United Artists

Critic score: 87/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “With accurate casting, a swift screenplay, and authentic German settings, Producer-Director John Sturges has created classic cinema of action.” – Time


36. “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003)

Sony Pictures Classic

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.5/10

What critics said: “Errol Morris may have been put on earth to make ‘The Fog of War,’ a stunning portrait of Robert S. McNamara that closes a year of outstanding nonfiction movies on a high note.” – Entertainment Weekly


35. “Spartacus” (1960)

Universal

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 7.3/10

What critics said: “This may be the best-paced and most slyly entertaining of all the decadent-ancient-Rome spectacular films. It’s a great big cartoon drama, directed by Stanley Kubrick, with Kirk Douglas at his most muscular.” – The New Yorker


34. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

Columbia

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “This intelligent and exciting WWII tale, masterfully helmed by Lean (at the start of his ‘epic’ period), features a splendid performance from Guinness as Col. Nicholson, a British officer who has surrendered with his regiment to the Japanese in Burma in 1943.” – TV Guide Magazine


33. “Level Five” (2014)

Icarus Films

Critic score: 87/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “It humanely, intelligently questions the very nature of our desire to make sense of the past with the tools of the present, when the human mind remains the most aggressively obliterating battlefield of all.” – Los Angeles Times


32. “Of Men and War” (2015)

Alice Films

Critic score: 87/100

User score: 8.3/10

What critics said: “A work of astounding sensitivity and precision, it argues for emotional honesty as a moral and psychic imperative.” – Slant Magazine


31. “Overlord” (1975)

Janus Films

Critic score: 88/100

User score: 8.0/10

What critics said: “The scale and ambition of combat movies has usually been epic, but this one is disarmingly lyrical and subjective.” – The New York Times


30. “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006)

Warner Bros.

Critic score: 89/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “It’s unprecedented, a sorrowful and savagely beautiful elegy that can stand in the company of the greatest antiwar movies.” – Newsweek


29. “No End in Sight” (2007)

Magnolia Pictures

Critic score: 89/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “The most remarkable aspect of Charles Ferguson’s lacerating documentary about the U.S. invasion of Iraq is that the film contains virtually no new information, and yet its message is as compelling as if we were hearing it for the first time.” – Miami Herald


28. “Son of Saul” (2015)

Sony Pictures Classic

Critic score: 89/100

User score: 7.2/10

What critics said: “A lasting work of art – difficult to watch, impossible to forget.” – Chicago Sun-Times


27. “Love and Death” (1975)

United Artists

Critic score: 89/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “This magnificent, often anarchic pastiche of Russian literature’s portentous habits with a side order in Bergmanesque death wallowing actually finds Allen at his silliest.” – Empire


26. “Persepolis” (2007)

Sony Pictures Classic

Critic score: 90/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “Satrapi’s parents ship her off to a French school in Vienna, but she’s rudderless, ungrounded. She’s drawn back to a devastated Tehran, where she can’t design a life, either. This great film, by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, is that life, designed. It freed her mind; it frees ours.” – New York Magazine


25. “La Commune (Paris, 1871)” (2003)

Shellac

Critic score: 90/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “Watkins restages history in its own ruins, uses the media as a frame, and even so, manages to imbue his narrative with amazing presence. No less than the event it chronicles, ‘La Commune’ is a triumph of spontaneous action.” – Village Voice


24. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

Paramount Pictures

Critic score: 90/100

User score: 8.9/10

What critics said: “A searingly visceral combat picture, Steven Spielberg’s third World War II drama is arguably second to none as a vivid, realistic and bloody portrait of armed conflict.” – Variety


23. “Bloody Sunday” (2002)

Paramount Classics

Critic score: 90/100

User score: 8.5/10

What critics said: “An astonishing re-creation of the Londonderry massacre of January 1972.” – New York Post


22. “Ben-Hur” (1959)

MGM

Critic score: 90/100

User score: 9.4/10

What critics said: “Although it is a spectacle film, the story of how a man takes on the tyranny of the Romans, with all sorts of horrible consequences to himself and his family, is powerful and gripping.” – The Telegraph


21. “Patton” (1970)

20th Century Fox

Critic score: 91/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “Remains to this day one of Hollywood’s most compelling biographical war pictures.” –ReelViews


20. “Waltz with Bashir” (2008)

Sony Pictures Classics

Critic score: 91/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “‘Waltz With Bashir’ has transcended the definitions of ‘cartoon’ or ‘war documentary’ to be classified as its own brilliant invention.” – Entertainment Weekly


19. “The African Queen” (1952)

United Artists

Critic score: 91/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “Grand, propulsive.” –The Telegraph


18. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)

RKO Radio Pictures

Critic score: 92/100

User score: 9.0/10

What critics said: “After the war years of patriotism and heroism in the movies, this was a sobering look at the problems veterans faced when they returned home.” – Chicago Sun-Times


17. “Threads” (1984)

2 Entertain

Critic score: 92/100

User score: N/A

What critics said: “Clearly, Threads is not a balanced discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear armaments. It is a candidly biased warning. And it is, as calculated, unsettlingly powerful.” – The New York Times


16. “Apocalypse Now Redux” (2001)

YouTube

Critic score: 92/100

User score: 9.1/10

What critics said: “What was impressive 22 years ago seems even more so now; what was problematic seems less important. Changes in us as an audience, changes in filmmaking fashions, changes in the times we live in, they have all combined in making this ‘Apocalypse’ feel more impressive, more of a revelation than it did before.” – Los Angeles Times


15. “Platoon” (1987)

Orion Pictures

Critic score: 92/100

User score: 8.1/10

What critics said: “If ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’ are like slaps to the face, ‘Platoon’ is a punch to the gut.” – ReelViews


14. “Schindler’s List” (1993)

Universal Pictures

Critic score: 93/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “Spielberg restages the Holocaust with an existential vividness unprecedented in any nondocumentary film: He makes us feel as if we’re living right inside the 20th century’s darkest-and most defining-episode.” – Entertainment Weekly


13. “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

United Artists

Critic score: 94/100

User score: 8.8/10

What critics said: “‘Apocalypse Now’ was worth the wait. Alternately a brilliant and bizarre film, Francis Coppola’s four year ‘work in progress’ offers the definitive validation to the old saw, ‘war is hell.'” –Variety


12. “The Hurt Locker” (2009)

Summit Entertainment

Critic score: 94/100

User score: 7.3/10

What critics said: “Overwhelmingly tense, overflowing with crackling verisimilitude, it’s both the film about the war in Iraq that we’ve been waiting for and the kind of unqualified triumph that’s been long expected from director Kathryn Bigelow.” – Los Angeles Times


11. “Dunkirk” (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Critic score: 94/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “This is a powerful, superbly crafted film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favour of something desolate and apocalyptic, a beachscape of shame, littered with soldiers zombified with defeat, a grimly male world with hardly any women on screen. It is Nolan’s best film so far.” – The Guardian


10. “The Battle of Algiers” (1966)

Rialto Pictures

Critic score: 95/100

User score: 7.9/10

What critics said: “It’s one of the best movies about revolutionary and anticolonial activism ever made, convincing, balanced, passionate, and compulsively watchable as storytelling.” – Chicago Reader


9. “Virunga” (2014)

Netflix

Critic score: 95/100

User score: 8.2/10

What critics said: “Showcasing the best and the worst in human nature, Orlando von Einsiedel’s devastating documentary ‘Virunga’ wrenches a startlingly lucid narrative from a sickening web of bribery, corruption and violence.” – The New York Times


8. “Ran” (1985)

Rialto Pictures

Critic score: 96/100

User score: 8.4/10

What critics said: “The drama itself packs a powerful — and timeless — gut punch.” – The Washington Post


7. “Gone with the Wind” (1939)

MGM

Critic score: 97/100

User score: 8.8/10

What critics said: “A towering landmark of film, quite simply because it tells a good story, and tells it wonderfully well.” – Chicago Sun-Times


6. “Le Petit Soldat” (1963)

Rialto Pictures

Critic score: 97/100

User score: 6.4/10

What critics said: “Beyond the timelessness of the story itself, the film is beautifully shot and though early in Godard’s career already showcased his ability to capture emotional intensity in the very way he frames the shots.” – Los Angeles Times


5. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

Picturehouse

Critic score: 98/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “Dark, twisted and beautiful, this entwines fairy-tale fantasy with war-movie horror to startling effect.” – Empire


4. “Army of Shadows” (1969)

Rialto Pictures

Critic score: 98/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “From the first sight of German soldiers goose-stepping past the Arc de Triomphe to a postscript that spells out the fate of characters whose moral confusion is all too real, ‘Army of Shadows’ is a movie of its time — and ours.” – Rolling Stone


3. “Casablanca” (1943)

Warner Bros.

Critic score: 100/100

User score: 9.2/10

What critics said: “Seventy years on, this great romantic noir is still grippingly powerful: a movie made at a time when it was far from clear the Nazis were going to lose.” – The Guardian


2. “The Leopard” (1963)

Criterion Collection

Critic score: 100/100

User score: 7.9/10

What critics said: “Watching this masterwork allows you to return to the filmmaking sensibility of the 1960s, when epics looked like epics.” – The Washington Post


1. “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

Columbia Pictures

Critic score: 100/100

User score: 8.7/10

What critics said: “What a bold, mad act of genius it was, to make ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ or even think that it could be made.” – Chicago Sun-Times

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.