From patriotic classics to epic violence, it’s all here.
Whether you’re somberly reflecting on the American spirit during a holiday or in the mood for loud noises, streaming giant Netflix offers plenty of good war movies. They run the gamut from ridiculous to classic, with enough variety to satisfy every red-blooded impulse. Here’s what you can expect.
The best war movies on Netflix
1) Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick’s film about the dehumanizing nature of war remains just as powerful now as it was 30 years ago. The intensity of the bootcamp half of the film compared to the war half is startling, not for the differences but for their similarities. Despite the nature of the story, there’s enough humor (even if it’s dark) to bring a little levity. Still, this isn’t one you want to watch when you want to relax. But it’s Kubrick, so you know going in that you’re going to be challenged. —Eddie Strait
2) The Longest Day
The story of D-Day has been told countless times over the years, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a nearly impossible mission, the stakes have never been higher, and while the Allied troops had fought back for years, D-Day was a chance for them to take the offensive. With 159,000 troops landing by the end of the day, there’s an infinite number of stories to tell. The Longest Day, however, plays it straight as it shows what’s happening on both sides, showing no preference for either the Allied forces or the German ones. As with many war movies made during this time, it had the added gravitas of featuring a cast of actors who had also fought in World War II; they knew what war was like, and the film had plenty of consultants who had fought in the battle. It’s as real a docudrama to the day as you’re gonna get. —M.J.
3) The Hurt Locker
When people usually think about war movies, they think about gut-wrenching action. Kathryn Bigelow goes the opposite route for its thrills. Jeremy Renner stars as a sergeant whose preference to do things his way doesn’t sit well with the rest of the bomb squad. The Hurt Locker is a trip-wire taut drama anchored by career-best work by Renner and strong support from Anthony Mackie. Bigelow’s work made her the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director. The Hurt Locker is a top-tier war film.
4) Schindler’s List
Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus is the ultimate one-timer. For those that don’t know, Schindler’s List is about a German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who saved over 1,000 Jewish people during the Holocaust. It is essential viewing and everyone should see it at some point in their lives. Watching it at home through a streaming outlet isn’t the ideal way to see the movie, but sometimes the privacy of your home opens you up to the emotional experience of the film in a different, more turbulent way than a darkened theater. Assuming you put your phone away, that is. —E.S.
5) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
This adaptation of John le Carré’s novel is an absorbing espionage film. Gary Oldman gives one of his best, and most subdued, performances as George Smiley. It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson (of Let the Right One In fame) who is no stranger to thoughtful, slow-boil genre films. Tinker Tailor solidified Alfredson as a compelling new voice in world cinema and delivered a film worthy of le Carré’s legacy. —E.S.
Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel is about a lie that destroys a family. It’s not explicitly a war movie, but rather a movie set during World War ll. Briony (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses something she doesn’t understand and tells a lie that sends her sister’s boyfriend Robbie (James McAvoy) to prison and eventually the army. Briony’s claim ruins her relationship with her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and the movie is about the fallout. It’s a rich, mournful drama anchored by tremendous performances and stellar direction by Wright. —E.S.
7) First They Killed My Father
Angelina Jolie’s continues to grow as a director. After her attempt at Oscar bait, Unbroken, the commercially successful but non-player at awards season, Jolie works on a smaller scale with First They Killed My Father. It tells the true story of Luong Ung (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jolie and wrote the memoir the film is based on), whose family was one of many that suffered under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The film is contemplative without being boring and emotionally devastating without being manipulative. It’s a tough watch but a strong film.
8) Tropic Thunder
If you think I’m going to pass on a chance to recommend this Tropic Thunder, well that doubt makes my eyes rain. But you can make your eyes rain in the good way if you hit play on Tropic Thunder post haste. Ben Stiller’s Hollywood spoof tracks a film crew making a war movie. The crew inadvertently oversteps their bounds and ends up in unfriendly territory. Hilarity ensues. It’s easy to forget that Robert Downey Jr. (whose comeback started in summer ’08 with this and Iron Man) was Oscar-nominated for his work as Kirk Lazarus, a cocksure Australian actor playing a black American character. But he’s great, Stiller is great, Jack Black is great, Matthew McConaughey is great, everyone’s great. —E.S.
9) Beasts of No Nation
Netflix’s first foray into film production was Cary Fukunaga’s (True Detective season 1) story about a child inscripted into an African civil war. It’s as tough to watch as you’d imagine a movie about a child soldier to be, but is worth your time. Idris Elba is typically great as a vicious leader, but the standout is young Abraham Attah as Agu, the child soldier. Netflix’s distribution model meant that Beasts was a test case for the platform, which drew the ire of major theater chains. It was also Netflix’s attempt at a prestige film (it failed to land any Oscar nominations). Now that all of the clutter around the movie has cleared it can be appreciated on its own terms. —E.S.
10) Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s first revisionist historical film is one of his very best. He created an all-time great villain in Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), and a slew of other memorable characters. As per usual for a Tarantino joint, the cast is immaculate and the writing is indelible. Even Eli Roth gets a chance to shine as the gleefully violent Bear Jew. If you like Tarantino, you’ll savor Inglourious Basterds. If you like historical fidelity, look somewhere else. We don’t lack for accurate portrayals of World War ll on film, but letting Tarantino present an alternative can be just as thought-provoking and compelling. —E.S.
11) The Imitation Game
Despite falling under into the category of airbrushed biopics, The Imitation Game is a solid effort for what it is. While it leaves out some crucial, or more interesting, aspects of famous code breaker Alan Turing’s life, the good things about The Imitation Game carry the day. Specifically, Benedict Cumberbatch’s lead performance is terrific and makes the film. Hopefully someday there will be a stronger project about Turing, but for now this one gets the job done.—E.S.
Supposedly the director’s cut of Alexander is the version to seek out, but Netflix only has the theatrical cut. Still, Alexander is an oddity worth watching, maybe with a group of friends, because Oliver Stone is almost incapable of making a boring film. Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie are commendable as Alexander the Great and Olympias, but they can’t save the movie from its worst tendencies. It’s long, the narrative is sprawling, and is more of a historical drama than a war movie, so why am I recommending it? Mainly out of personal curiosity. I’ve seen it once, and my memory of it is a baffling blur at this point. Netflix’s war offerings are kind of stale, so Alexander stands out. —E.S.
13) Five Came Back
A three-part Netflix original documentary tracks the story of five directors who left the comfort of Hollywood to serve in World War ll. It is a film studies class you wish you could have taken in college. The role of war in cinema is hard to quantify, and Five Came Back does a great job explaining it without stooping to lecturing. It is about some of cinema’s best storytellers as told by some of today’s masters. One of the best film writers going, Mark Harris, adapted his own book for the screen, with the assistance of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Guillermo Del Toro, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan. —E.S.
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14) War Machine
The Brad Pitt-starring Netflix original movie War Machine didn’t light the world on fire when it debuted earlier in the summer of 2017, but it’s worth watching. Director David Michod (Animal Kingdom, The Rover) is to too talented to make an uninteresting film, and War Machine has its moments. War satires set in Afghanistan are going to be divisive by nature, so don’t let the movie’s 53 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes deter you. Aside from Pitt, the cast features Tilda Swinton, Anthony Michael Hall, Scoot McNairy, Lakeith Stanfield, and Topher Grace. With that many compelling performers, there will be something to enjoy, even if the satire isn’t working for you.
15) Jarhead 3
More often than not Netflix doesn’t have the movie you’re looking for, but it does offer something… similar. Such is the case for those looking for Sam Mendes’ 2006 effect-of-war drama Jarhead. While that movie is about the absence of combat, Netflix would like to offer you not one but two straight-to-streaming, action-oriented sequels. DTV action star Scott Adkins takes the helm in Jarhead 3 and delivers a gluttony of sufficiently kicked asses in his wake. It’s not nearly as meditative and performance driven as Jarhead, but since that’s not an option at Netflix you have to take what you can get. —E.S.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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