10 Most Important War Films Ever Made

From the earliest talkies to the nuclear pie-fights to the psychedelic nightmares of Vietnam...

Platoon Willem Dafoe Charlie Sheen
Orion Pictures

There are few genres as contested and contentious amongst film fans as the war movie. Since the birth of cinema as a medium and up to as recently as this year's 1917, the naturally dramatic spectacle of war has been a favourite focus of filmmakers from across the political spectrum.

As a result, war films have evolved over time from shameless pieces of glossy propaganda promoting US interests, into virulent anti war screeds from filmmakers embroiled in protest movements, to trippy psychedelic re-imaginings of real life conflicts as psychological head f***s.

To this day, a great many war films are essentially paid advertisements for the US empire (cough cough Kathryn Bigelow's acclaimed propaganda piece Zero Dark Thirty), but every once in a while a war movie is released which reshapes public perceptions of real life conflicts.

Many of the films on this list may be dated, but its testament to their extraordinary achievements that the changes they made to the war film genre have become commonplace in the decades since.

Whether it's Kubrick deconstructing the image of heroic American soldiers, Coppola delving inside the mind to offer a stranger vision of war, or Spielberg reframing the Holocaust as one man's struggle, these films changed how war films were made, and how audiences viewed war as a result, for good.

10. Paths of Glory

Platoon Willem Dafoe Charlie Sheen
United Artists

Banned in Switzerland, France, and across all American military bases for its unapologetically anti-war themes, 1957's Paths of Glory is an early cinematic expression of the intense anti-conflict sentiment which became widespread in the wake of post-World War II global devastation.

Sparse and tragic, this early Kubrick dropped viewers into the trenches and made manifest the glory-less tragic folly of war for the filmgoing public.

As cinema was no longer content with glorifying violence and conflict, the film followed a set of soldiers who refused to undertake a suicidal mission and starred Kirk Douglas as the fearless commanding officer who defends the men against claims of cowardice levelled at their unit.

Even before loosened censorship laws ensured that directors could portray the visceral horrors of war, Kubrick's unsparing depiction of the conflict forced viewers to contend with the sacrifices expected of their soldiers and left audiences with no choice but to sympathise with the men, deconstructing the heroic soldier archetype once and for all.


Cathal Gunning hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.