The 7 Best War Movies on Netflix

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The 7 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. Inglourious Basterds

inglourious_basterds_ver14.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 153 minutes

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Quentin Taraninto’s fist-pumping “kill all the Nazis” World War 2 film Inglourious Basterds bookends an interminable decade of rising worldwide fascism aided and abetted by white nationalist political parties comprising hate-mongering loudmouths and cross-eyed dimwits. Buttressing the intervening years and Tarantino’s filmography on the other end stands his latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a raucous and meticulously dressed tribute to the movies writ large and a movie-going period in the specific. The latter reads as the earnestly sentimental of the pair, wearing its love for cinema on its sleeve via painstaking recreation of 1960s Tinseltown. Inglourious Basterds, on the other hand, folds its admiration for the medium into a climax involving a pile of nitrate film, a match and a vengeful Jew bent on burning the Nazi High Command to a crisp. Inglourious Basterds sees cinema itself as a weapon for killing tyrants. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood experiences cinema in wistful spirit, pining for an era long past at a moment where the movies occupy less desirable real estate in pop culture than television. But both of them exist to right history’s wrongs through violence so over the top that no one can agree on whether said violence is gleeful, shocking or a mixture of the two. Is it a sin to cheer for the good guys when they’re using Hitler’s face for target practice and hitting all their shots, or when they’re torching Susan Atkins with Chekov’s flamethrower? Is it immoral to deny these assorted villains their humanity, such as it is, in exchange for a cathartic rush? Are these serious questions worth asking? Tarantino’s career in between 2009 and 2019 has orbited retellings, reimaginings and reframings of American and global history, spanning the events of WWII, the grim days of the U.S. slave trade, the slightly-less-grim-but-still-grim days following the collapse of the nation’s slave trade, and the years America had its innocence stolen at knifepoint by cult fanatics driven to a murderous frenzy by a madman. Of this motley assortment of pictures, it’s Inglourious Basterds that endures, the fertile ground where Tarantino planted the seed of his historical revenge fantasies, movies which harbor a compelling need to punish past atrocities: racism, antisemitism, the murder of a young woman who died begging for her unborn child’s life. Movies are mutable. They can provide raw material for pastiche, and pastiche can, with proper craftsmanship, be made original. Movies recycle movies all the time. Iconic shots from the classics are recreated in new films over years and decades. But with Inglourious Basterds, the movies are mutable in another way: They’re a literal weapon against a regime committing genocide. The image of Shosanna’s (Mélanie Laurent) face—the face of Jewish vengeance, triumphantly delivering Germany word of its impending demise like an avenging Wizard of Oz—is indelible, a validation of cinema’s power as a means of altering the world and even time itself. The movie is the ultimate expression of Tarantino’s weltanschauung; he’s a filmmaker whose movies are made of movies. This is Tarantino’s masterpiece. —Andy Crump

2. The Dirty Dozen

dirty-dozen-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1967
Director: Robert Aldrich
Stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 150 minutes

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Imitated by many and bettered by none, Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen is the greatest men-on-a-mission movie not because it has the coolest action sequences—though the final showdown between the dozen and German forces at the French chateau is a fine bit of mayhem—but because it so capably finds a balance between nihilistic fun and viewer investment in its characters’ welfare. The first two-thirds is full of goofery, as a none-more-Lee-Marvin Lee Marvin whips a group of unrepentant criminals (including Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes, stealing every scene with his jackal’s grin) into shape for a mission in Nazi-held France, but the final third has the film take an abrupt turn, as our charming reprobates are picked off whilst slaughtering a house full of partying Germans—officers, their wives and all. A snappy, studio-lot, heroes-and-villains war movie with a wickedly subversive tone and that nasty finale, The Dirty Dozen fascinatingly straddles the Old and New Hollywood eras. 1967 was the year things started to really shift in American cinema, and The Dirty Dozen’s queasy, morally murky climax announces the sea change in spectacular fashion. —Brogan Morris

3. Hamburger Hill

hamburger-hill-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: John Irvin
Stars: Dylan McDermott, Courtney B. Vance, Don Cheadle
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Flanked as it was by two mega hit Vietnam movies—Oliver Stone’s Oscar darling Platoon and Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed Full Metal Jacket—1987’s Hamburger Hill had a hard time making an impact. Critics and audiences of the time shrugged, but on reflection the film today seems like a natty forerunner to Black Hawk Down, a no-nonsense, almost apolitical grunt’s-eye view of combat on alien soil. The “why” of the war at ground level matters little to the mostly poor (and disproportionately black) conscripts who make up the American side; as in Black Hawk, the chief concern in the heat of the moment is kill or be killed. Following a brief introduction to a platoon of regular joes, obsessed with music, women and counting the days until the end of service, we watch as heads are blitzed by machine gun fire and bodies disappear from the shock of tree-bound explosives—and all for the sake of capturing a hill of little-to-no strategic value. Platoon argued that “the first casualty of war is innocence.” Hamburger Hill, a meat and potatoes war movie, counters that the only casualties are the unlucky ones who fail to make it out alive, plain and simple. —Brogan Morris

4. Shadow

shadow-yimou-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Xiaotong Guan, Wang Jingchung
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
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

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. War Horse

war-horse.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson & Tom Hiddleston
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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Only a true visionary like Steven Spielberg could take a simple story about a horse and transform it into a grandiose work of cinema. Though not the acclaimed filmmaker’s greatest feat, War Horse is a poignant picture wrapped warmly in humanity. The film, despite an entirely different setting, also evokes prior Spielbergian gems such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. with its redemptive inferences. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel of the same name, War Horse tells the story of a boy, Edgar (Jeremy Irvine), and his beloved horse, Joey. From the genesis of their relationship on the English countryside, to Joey’s involvement in World War I, to the hopes of their eventual reunion, the film captures the journey of the horse and the pivotal effect it has on everyone whom the horse encounters, particularly Edgar. In the same way he previously used aliens, Spielberg uses Joey as a supernatural catalyst for hope and salvation amid difficult circumstances. The horse’s very being, a representation of all that is good in the world, brings redemption to children, families, soldiers and, essentially, a war. Because of this, he receives the nickname “miracle horse.” Joey’s transcendence becomes especially realized in a humorous war sequence during the film’s second half. Caught in barbed wire in the middle of the battlefield, he fights to survive and inspires soldiers from both regimes to momentarily set aside their differences to rescue him. The unlikely scenario invokes humor as two enemies, who moments before were intent of killing each other, engage in small talk on the front line but, even more, it further confirms Joey as a vehicle of divine intervention. This sequence portrays redemption on a macro level, but perhaps the most moving aspects of the film lie in the smaller moments in which Joey forms a bond with different characters. In these threads, Spielberg taps into human experience the most directly. As Joey brings out the good in a host of minor characters—beset as they are by struggles so familiar to us all—the audience connects with them, as well. —David Roark

7. War Machine

war-machine.jpg Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
Rating: NR
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