The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix

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The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix

There aren’t a ton of war movies on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean the streaming service doesn’t have some great ones available. There’s no “War Movie” category, so we’ve dug through their catalog to find some classics, some little-seen gems and even one of the best Netflix originals to date. We’ve broadened the definition from our list of the Best War Movies of All Time, but we have limited the selections to movies about actual wars (no Star Wars or other imagined conflicts).

Here are the seven best war movies on Netflix:

1. Apocalypse Now Redux

apocalypse-now-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: R
Runtime: 206 minutes

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Let’s invoke Truffaut, because his spirit feels as relevant to a discussion of Francis Ford Coppola’s baleful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as to a discussion of a war film like Paths of Glory, and to considering war films in general. Maybe, if we take Truffaut at his word, Apocalypse Now (and its remastered version with 49 more minutes of footage that’s streaming on Netflix) can’t help but endorse war merely through the act of recreating it as art. Maybe that doesn’t stop the film from conveying Coppola’s driving theses: War turns men into monsters, leads them on a descent into a primal, lawless state of mind, and war is itself hell, an ominous phrase now made into cliché by dint of gross overuse between 1979 and today. If the film innately sanctions war by depiction, it does not sanction war’s impact on the humanity of its participants. In fact, Apocalypse Now remains one of the most profound illustrations of the corrosive effect nation-sanctioned violence has on a person’s spirit and psyche. It’s cute that in 40 years later we’re OK with quoting this movie in gratingly awful AT&T commercials, or repurposing its period backdrop for the sake of making King Kong happen for contemporary audiences for a second time, but there’s nothing cute, or even all that quotable, about it. Apocalypse Now sears, sickens and scars, branding itself in our memories as only the grimmest displays of human depravity truly can. —Andy Crump

2. The Guns of Navarone

guns-navarone.jpg Year:1961
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn
Rating: TV-14
Runtime: 156 minutes

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Depending on who you ask, The Guns of Navarone is a work of pure artifice, historical fiction that’s all fiction and no history. True, its source work, Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel of the same name, was inspired by the Battle of Leros during World War II, but J. Lee Thompson’s film feels like its own beast, beholden to neither MacLean’s novel nor the war itself. Guess what? That’s fine. The Guns of Navarone is a stunner, no matter where it draws the pieces of its “men on a mission” plot from. Not incidentally, it’s also the first (one of, anyway) of many such movies to emerge during the 1960s, a niche in the war movie genre that multiplied over the course of the next twenty year following its release. You may cite the film’s cast, which starts with Gregory Peck, continues with Anthony Quinn, and fills out with Anthony Quayle and David Niven (among many others), as well as its character development, as the two key ingredients to its success; you may instead single out the action scenes, each as fluid and thrilling and as varied as the others; or you may choose to cheer for Thompson himself, whose second-to-none pacing keeps the film on rails without ever flagging or dragging or otherwise growing repetitive. Whatever. The truth is that you can’t take one of these elements away without affecting the others, and ultimately, that signifies The Guns of Navarone’s excellence as a harmonized piece of top-drawer action filmmaking. —Andy Crump

3. Da 5 Bloods

da-5-bloods.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Lê Y Lan, Johnny Trí Nguy?n
Rating: R
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump

4. Stripes

stripes netflix.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P.J. Soles, Sean Young, John Candy, John Larroquette, Judge Reinhold
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Stripes might not be as beloved as Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day, but John Winger, the sarcastic, irreverent cabdriver who joins the army after his life falls apart, should be Bill Murray’s defining role. (Or, at least, early Murray, before he became a respectable actor.) Sure, Murray had already developed his voice at Second City and on Saturday Night Live, and premiered it on the big screen with Meatballs, but Stripes put Murray’s anti-authoritarianism up against the most authoritarian institution in America, allowing him to reach new heights of smarmy disrespect. And it’s not afraid to make him look like an asshole without trying hard to rehab him, something that can’t be said about Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day. Stripes has problems as a movie—it drags on too long, the last third is overblown and unrealistic, and the way it treats women was uncomfortable back then and would be downright unacceptable today—but between Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy, Judge Reinhold, John Larroquette, and a fantastic straight man performance by Peckinpah tough guy Warren Oates as the drill sergeant, it might be, laugh for laugh, the funniest movie on this list.—Garrett Martin

5. Beasts of No Nation

3-Beast-of-no-nation-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes

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A harrowing descent into a modern-day heart of darkness, Beasts of No Nation channels Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now for its tale of one child’s recruitment into an African rebel battalion. Adapting Uzodinma Iweala’s novel with fearsome intimacy, writer/director Cary Fukunaga depicts his unidentified African setting as a mixture of lushly green forests, bullet-shattered villages and mist-enshrouded horizons—the last of which is due, at least in part, to the fires that rage throughout the countryside. Those conflagrations are the result of a conflict between government and revolutionary forces, the specifics of which the film, like its precise locale, leaves more or less vague. Fukunaga’s film is thus mired in a hazy, nightmarish fugue of violence and degradation, the director presenting a landscape of hellish depravity and amorality through the eyes of one young boy unwittingly swept up in his nation’s insanity. A coming-of-age saga twisted into unholy form, Beasts of No Nation eschews undue melodramatic manipulations (and avoids romanticizing its perversions) in charting Agu’s maturation into a pitiless soldier. —Nick Schager

6. Shadow

shadow-yimou-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Xiaotong Guan, Wang Jingchung
Rating: NR
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Zhang Yimou’s latest is Shadow, a wuxia film based on the Chinese “Three Kingdoms” legend. Where Yimou’s recent filmography either favors substance over dazzle (Coming Home) or dazzle over substance (The Great Wall), Shadow does what the best of his movies do by sewing them together into one seamless package. As in Hero, as in House of Flying Daggers, the anti-gravity fight scenes are stunning to behold, but those movies put performance and action on the same plane, and Shadow deliberately separates them with a gorgeous monochrome palette, backgrounded by gray scale that lets the actors, and the copious amount of blood they spill throughout, hold its forefront. Here, in this tale of palace intrigue, Commander Yu (Deng Chao) employs a double to act in his stead (also Deng Chao)—his shadow, if you will—to seize control of a city of strategic value from invading forces against orders from his king (Zheng Kai). The film twists and turns, but through Zhang’s devoted stylization, the intricacies never overwhelm. Instead, the stylization does. —Andy Crump

7. Cold Mountain

cold-mountain.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Anthony Minghella
Stars: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland
Rating: R
Runtime: 154 minutes

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When Anthony Minghella adapted Charles Frazier’s gripping novel about a Civil War deserter from the Confederate Army and his long journey home to the woman he loves, he enlisted an all-star cast to bring it to life. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman led the marquee, but it was Renée Zellweger’s turn as Ruby Thewes, the woman who helps Kidman’s character survive on her farm as the nation was torn apart, who earned most of the plaudits. Gorgeously shot (with Romania mostly standing in for North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest), Cold Mountain also introduced the world to the glorious sounds of sacred harp or shape-note singing. —Josh Jackson

8. Ip Man

ip-man.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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2008’s Ip Man marked, finally, the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters (one of whom was Bruce Lee). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith

9. Five Came Back

Year: 2017
Director: Laurent Bouzereau
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 195 minutes (three-part docu-series)

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At its best, when text and explication fuse, Five Came Back resembles its source material, the deft combination of historical investigation and incisive criticism that defines Mark Harris’ monograph on Hollywood filmmakers in the Second World War: The series’ director, Laurent Bouzereau, substitutes the language of cinema for Harris’ descriptive precision, illustrating technique as even the finest writing cannot. If Netflix’s rendition necessary loses certain nuances, for the rare footage alone, Five Came Back is an estimable introduction to the subject, or companion to the text. Bodies bobbing off the French coast on D-Day; bloody viscera strewn on the floor of a Higgins boat; Stevens’ dreadful record of the Holocaust, later presented as evidence at Nuremberg, which he captured at Dachau in the aftermath of the German retreat: These form the spine of the series’ moving valediction, in which images—as journalism, as propaganda, as instruction, as bearing witness—are essential to our understanding of the Second World War and its unimaginable cost. —Matt Brennan

10. First They Killed My Father

first-they-killed-my-father-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Angelina Jolie
Stars: Sreymoch Sareum, Kompheak Phoeung, Sochteata Sveng
Runtime: 136 minutes

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We may tease or scorn actors for stepping out of the frame to hunker down behind the camera, because for whatever reason we’re only cool with artists when they stay in their lane. Think of Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father as a democratic response, or, if you like, a defiant flip of the bird. It’s fitting that Jolie should be the actor to produce a film this accomplished. Recall the volume of shit shoveled on her for the release of 2014’s Unbroken, her Louis Zamperini biopic, and 2015’s By the Sea, the romantic drama she made with Brad Pitt: These were works met with deserved and undeserved response, both middling at best, but neither could be mistaken for being too vain. Whatever promise was found in her earlier movies is fully realized in First They Killed My Father, a brutal movie with a human heart. Jolie doesn’t gloss over the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. She knows honesty is the best way to face history and honor the dead, but she doesn’t find any nobility in the suffering of Loung Ung’s family as they flee from state-sanctioned genocide. First They Killed My Father’s emphasis falls on Loung, on the violence paraded before her young eyes, Jolie mining tragedy not for a misguided sense of importance but for an experiential scope and for, most of all, empathy. —Andy Crump

11. Defiance

defiance.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Edward Zwick
Stars: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Ravil Isyanov
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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Filmmakers continue to find inspiring stories from the ashes of World War II and Germany’s attempt to extinguish its Jewish population. In Defiance, it’s the relatively unknown story of the Bielsky brothers and their courageous undertaking in hiding and protecting hundreds of fellow Jews in the forests of occupied Russian territory. Daniel Craig plays Tuvia, who becomes the de facto leader of the hidden community after a power struggle with brother Zus (Liev Schreiber). When Zus and others leave to fight with the Russian troops, Tuvia and his wards face the hardships of cold, hunger and internal revolt. Director Edward Zwick has made a good-looking film in Defiance, not unlike his work on notable productions such as Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond. But with the exception of 1989’s exceptional Glory, Zwick’s films generally avoid the greatness that seems so close. Defiance has its share of great moments, however, such as when varying classes of Jewish people—the rich, the poor, the educated, the peasant—all begin to cooperate. Or when Zus must fight alongside an anti-Semitic Russian. But it also fizzles into overly familiar scenes. Defiance could easily have been trimmed by 20 or 30 minutes. Still, the strength of the true story and some solid performances by Craig, Schreiber and Jamie Bell, who plays the youngest brother, give Defiance enough to make for a gratifying, if not great, historical drama. —Tim Basham

12. The King

the-king.jpg Year: 2019
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Lily-Rose Depp, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and for Timothée Chalamet’s Henry IV, it proves nearly unbearable. It’s a heaviness that at times pervades the 140-minute film to its detriment. Still, Chalamet’s performance as the young prince “Hal” who must learn to navigate both court and battlefield is mesmerizing to watch, surrounded by a strong cast and cinematography that deserved more time on a big screen. Based partly on Shakespeare’s plays, partly on history and partly on Michôd’s own imagination, the internal conflicts are every bit as elevated as the Battle of Agincourt depicted in The King. Though he prefers peace, he’s manipulated by his advisors into attacking France, his former drinking companion Falstaff (co-writer Joel Edgerton) his now trusted lieutenant. It’s an epic tale of a reluctant king, a political betrayal and a deadly war. —Josh Jackson

13. War Machine

war-machine.jpg Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Watching War Machine is to witness a film applying an accessibly dark comic tone to the low-hanging fruit of the futility of nation-building in Afghanistan. The movie takes place in 2009, when General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt as a version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal)—fresh off successes in Iraq—is put in charge of the multi-nation, U.S.-led coalition to stamp out the Taliban while molding Afghanistan into what a country should look like according to Western democracies, which, as McMahon describes it, means jobs and security. Our introduction to McMahon comes through a narrator, Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), who is based on the late Michael Hastings. It was Hastings’ article for Rolling Stone that led to McChrystal’s ouster, and it was Hastings who wrote The Operators, upon which this film is based. His narration sets the sardonic tone, and every characterization and situation that follows reinforces it. The problem with War Machine is its difficulty keeping its tone consistent in the service of a compelling story or dramatic rendering of ideas. Cullen-as-narrator casually drops that McMahon was a straight-A student with a degree from Yale, while simultaneously characterizing him as a well-meaning jock out of his depth. The way Pitt plays him and Cullen describes him, McMahon is a decent, disciplined jarhead trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. If you were already inclined to think of our involvement in Afghanistan as an incompetent diaster, War Machine might be your film: Those given charge of transforming the region can’t even make an electric razor or Blu-ray player work. But by frequently reminding us that McMahon is oblivious to what his masters really want, Michôd’s film is as much of a blunt, simple instrument as that which it tries to lampoon, essentially letting the D.C. establishment of the hook. —Anthony Salveggi