A Break Down of the Best War Films

Why are war movies so popular? The simple answer is that wars are inherently thrilling and visually stunning – the perfect recipe for a great film. However, wars are also relentlessly cruel and traumatizing, elements which require an especially talented filmmaker to bring to the screen without losing sight of the entertainment factor. The best war films ever made tend to be those which combine cinematic brilliance with the hard truths of battle.

Here is a further break down of the elements which tend to be present in the war films considered by critics and audiences to be the best of the genre:

Depicts war honestly

The war movies consistently ranked the best ever made tend to be ones which don’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of armed combat. The list of MovieRanker’s best war films and similar lists reveal the most acclaimed war movies are praised for their realism. In addition to storylines which approach the dark themes of war head-on, the best war movies of all-time often include equally unapologetic cinematography. Popular examples include Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, and The Hurt Locker.

Acknowledges the enemy within

Nobody is perfect, and this extends outwards to apply to countries and armies. The best war movies ever made tend to take a hard look inward when scrutinizing the dark truths of warfare. Whether it’s characters questioning their own motives to fight, conflicts between soldiers on the same side, or the costly results of bad orders coming down from ill-informed generals and politicians, great war films tend to avoid being sanctimonious. They do this by showing how wars are rarely a purely black-and-white/good-and-bad affair.

Provides some comic relief

The best war movies make us laugh…at some point. Full Metal Jacket, for example, is one of the darkest war films ever made but still manages to be remembered for the humorous cadences and trash talk used in the United States Marine Corps training during the Vietnam War. It’s a way to break from the otherwise relentlessly dark nature of most war films. If the story is about soldiers facing death at every turn, the script needs moments to lighten up the mood a little. Comic relief is a simple and commonly used filmmaking ploy when dealing with especially dramatic material, and proves essential for making a great war movie.

Shows glory achieved through guts and ingenuity, not guns alone

Showing the heroes successfully shooting and exploding their way past their enemies is a crucial component of any war movie. We need a way to establish their skills in battle and introducing them via their abilities to fire a rifle and throw a grenade serves that purpose. However, the best war movies ever made will not keep relying on the sharpshooting accuracy and major league throwing arm of the heroes as the story progresses. The glory they achieve on the battlefield has to primarily derive from courage and acumen. The recent film Dunkirk is an excellent example of this, as the movie centers around the quick-thinking actions of soldiers to evade capture while under heavy fire.

Tells a (relatively) small story

Wars are big. Even regional conflicts are, on a certain scale, a tremendous effort at mobilizing man and machinery in unison towards a common goal. With this in mind, it’s difficult if not impossible to tell the whole story of a specific war within two to three hours. Therefore, the best war movies ever made tend to zero-in on a relatively small story set within the larger conflict. Saving Private Ryan, while considered one of the greatest if not the greatest World War II movie ever made, is ultimately about a small squad of men on a mostly insignificant mission. It tells the story of the whole war by focusing a very small part of it, and most great war movies do the same.

Wars make for great movie content for obvious reasons. With that said, making a truly great war movie is no easy task. It requires filmmakers to couple the cinematic artform with the horrors of armed combat.

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