Many of us are lucky to have never experienced war as it truly is. Films that accurately depict war can really open our eyes to the victory, defeat, and valor that soldiers experience. The best war movies are the ones that strip away the over-production and show war in its true light. Read on to learn about which of your favorite war movies are brutally accurate, and which ones missed the mark.
All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
The epic pre-Code anti-war film set in WWI was directed by Lewis Milestone and stars Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, Ben Alexander, John Wray, and Arnold Lucy.
The highly-acclaimed film was the first to win the Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director.
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Braveheart isn’t accurate. Everything from its blatantly wrong timeline to the use of kilts way before their time, Braveheart is a historically inaccurate mess. One historian remarked that the Battle of Stirling Bridge didn’t even occur on a bridge.
Despite its failings, lead actor and director of the film Mel Gibson said he stands by his decisions to make a “cinematically compelling” story.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
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Everything from the military tactics used by the squad to the costuming in Saving Private Ryan was nearly perfect. The opening scene that showed the storming of Omaha beach was so accurate that some WWII veterans had to be escorted from theatres after watching it.
We’ll admit, though, that there are some inaccuracies when it comes to the actual plot of the film. Tom Hanks’ character never actually existed, and the plot of saving a mother’s son never happened.
Glory tells the story of a privileged white soldier who is put in command of the second all-black Union regiment during the Civil War. The screenplay was based upon letters from Shaw himself that he wrote while in command of the regiment.
Many scenes in Glory show the brutality of combat and how a trip to the field hospital almost certainly resulted in death.
Platoon, released in 1986, follows Charlie Sheen as a U.S. Army volunteer serving in Vietnam.
The film received much critical acclaim for the realistic battle sequences as well as for Stone’s directing and screenplay. Many Vietnam Veterans have said that watching Platoon was like reliving the war.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down was based on a non-fiction book by a journalist who was embedded in Somalia when the Battle of Mogadishu happened. The film expertly showcases the crash of the Black Hawk helicopter and the tactics U.S. soldiers are forced to employ under heavy fire.
While the film tends to ignore the story’s deeper meaning and the politics surrounding the Battle of Mogadishu, it still pays tribute to the soldiers who fought for their lives.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
This 2006 war film is one of the few films out of Hollywood that doesn’t follow an American soldier’s point of view. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima is a companion piece to the Eastwood film Flags of our Fathers, which follows the same battle but from an American perspective.
Letters From Iwo Jima goes to incredible lengths to show the fearlessness of Japanese soldiers in one of the biggest battles of WWII. The film is based on a book by the Japanese General of the battle and some of his direct quotes are even used in the film.
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While the 1970 film was meant to be a black comedy about the trial and terrors of war, it ended up becoming one of the most accurate and culturally significant war pieces. The film depicts a medical unit stationed in the Korean War but the subtext of the film is criticizing the Vietnam War.
Understandably, there were some inaccuracies with the setting and time period but by all accounts, the daily rituals and antics that the MASH unit used to keep themselves sane were remarkably accurate. A film doesn’t need to be a dramatic war epic to be historically accurate.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
In 1987, Stanley Kubrick set out to make a film about a platoon of U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War that was as accurate as possible. He began conducting research four years before filming by watching past footage of soldiers, reading Vietnamese newspapers, and studying “hundreds of photographs.” It all came together with Full Metal Jacket.
While the costuming and action scenes were already accurate, they were boosted by the experience actor R. Lee Ermey brought to the film. Ermey was a drill instructor during the Vietnam War who was supposed to be a technical advisor but asked to audition for the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
We Were Soldiers is set throughout the three-day Battle of la Drang during the Vietnam War. In particular, it showcases real tactics soldiers used like firing a few rounds of ammunition into a bush to try and flush out enemy soldiers.
Director Randall Wallace set out to make a movie based on a book about the battle written by former U.S. Army General Hal Moore. In the book, Moore complained that “every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” Wallace vowed to get it right, and according to Moore, he came pretty close.
There are two films titled Stalingrad. One was released in Germany in 1993 and has been called “one of the most accurate war films ever” and one is an over-the-top propaganda film released in Russia in 2013. The one made in Germany is shown through the perspective of its soldiers who dramatically failed after invading the Soviet city.
Stalingrad isn’t shy about including violent scenes of piled-up corpses and images of confused and panicked soldiers. Many people have praised Germany for depicting the losing side of the battle.
Lone Survivor (2013)
Based on the book of the same name, Lone Survivor follows the real-life experience that four Navy SEALs went through while stationed in Afghanistan. The SEALs were put into a life or death scenario after a Taliban attack. While much of the action might seem like it’s dramatized, it all truly did happen.
The SEALs did indeed have to jump down cliffs to escape the Taliban gunfire and Mike Murphy did give his life in order to radio for backup. Even the account of Marcus Luttrell being saved thanks to some friendly villagers is true.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Hamburger Hill goes largely unnoticed with war films because it was released nine months after Platoon and one month after Full Metal Jacket. Despite the fact it never got a lot of press, the film has gone down for accurately portraying the day-to-day experiences of an average platoon in war. Rather than put the events into a larger frame, the film simply shows the viewer the difficulties of everyday life.
Hamburger Hill is so accurate that they even nailed the “grunt slang” used by the soldiers and had to put in subtitles. One historian also called the battle scenes “as close as you could ask for.”
84C MoPic (1989)
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Released in 1989, 84C MoPic (also known as 84 Charlie MoPic) is a mock documentary that follows the view of a cameraman who is assigned to an LRRP team in Vietnam. It is one of the earliest “found footage” types of films and by all accounts is entirely accurate. Everything from the language used by the soldiers to the faulty weaponry and forms of radio communication is historically correct.
One US Army Iraq War veteran praised 84CMoPic because “there are no distracting subplots, only the immediate fight for survival.” Sometimes the independent films are the most accurate.
Come And See (1985)
Come and See is a Soviet film based on the war crimes committed by Nazi soldiers during the occupation on Belarus in WWII. The film follows a young boy as he grows up in occupied territory and experiences Nazi soldiers throwing grenades at houses for fun and other wartime atrocities.
The film culminates with a scene that’s nearly impossible to watch, as Nazi soldiers burn down an entire village and nearly all of its residents. Those who question the accuracy can find chilling photos and videos of Nazis in WWII doing the exact same thing all across Belarus.
Enemy At The Gates (2001)
This 2001 film also depicts the Battle of Stalingrad but this time, from the Soviet perspective. Enemy at the Gates excels at showcasing the conditions that soldiers and residents of the city had to deal with during the long winter of 1942-43. The film also notably included the perspective of the female soldiers and residents who contributed to the Soviet’s success.
While the film was based on a non-fiction book, it still added plenty of Hollywood drama by including a romantic love story half-way through.
Sergeant York (1941)
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One of the oldest films on this list, Sergeant York was released in 1941 and depicts the path of real life WW1 soldier Alvin York. York is one of the most decorated soldiers of WWI after killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 132. The film follows York’s story and was extremely accurate because York was on set to advise.
The film’s accuracy and ability to positively showcase the real horrors of war led to it being the highest-grossing movie of that year. It was also credited to increasing American morale since the U.S. had just entered WWII at the time.
One of the latest epic war films walked away with tons of awards and also was generally well received by critics when it came to historical accuracy. Unfortunately, there were some glaring problems that not even Christopher Nolan could avoid.
Kenneth Branagh’s character, in particular, was criticized for being a composite character. It was hard for many people to believe that Branagh could direct the evacuation by himself simply by standing on the edge of a ship. Dunkirk also left out the imperative role of the French, African, and Indian soldiers.