Top 10 Military Movies of All Time

G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra

Mark your calendars for August 7, when G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra will premiere in theaters. The live-action film, which is set ten years in the future, promises to fill in empty holes for fans curious about how the Cobra Organization came to be. And for moviegoers who are unfamiliar with the G.I. Joe franchise, the new film promises plenty of spectacular effects, stunning fight scenes, and raw intensity.

We can’t wait!

To help pass the time until then, we’ve decided to compile a list of the top military movies of all time. If you’re like us and want to make sure you’re fully battle rattled by the time the Cobra rises on August 7, make sure you check out these classic war films:

1.    Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket“Wow” is a fairly common reaction following an initial viewing of Full Metal Jacket, which is arguably one of the most intense Vietnam-era military movies ever made. Released in 1987, Full Metal Jacket returns us to the late 1960s and the experiences of a group of Marines as they start out in basic training. R. Lee Ermey portrays one of the most memorable military characters of all time in Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, whose in-your-face insults and training methods prepare the Marines for their service in Vietnam.

Why we love it: Gunnery Sgt. Hartman’s rampages are often so intense that they make us laugh, though it’s the sheer intensity of this movie that keeps us coming back for more.

2.    Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private RyanSaving Private Ryan follows a group of U.S. servicemen in World War II on a “needle in a haystack” search for a Private who is his mother’s last remaining son following the deaths of his brothers. The idea of sacrifice is questioned throughout the film, as the soldiers on the hunt for Private Ryan find themselves face-to-face with the enemy on the search for one man.

Why we love it: The opening scene that depicts the Normandy invasion is perhaps our favorite single battle scene of all time. It’s difficult to watch, and that makes it all the more real. The remarkable thing about Saving Private Ryan is its ability to interweave dramatic action with heartfelt emotion almost seamlessly. Plus, Saving Private Ryan boasts pretty much the most awesome sniper scene ever!

3.    Platoon

PlatoonPlatoon is a Vietnam War film that tells the story of the disenchantment of Chris Taylor, a wealthy American student who volunteers to serve in military during the war. Upon arriving into the fray, Taylor is quickly confronted with the brutal realities of war. The film continues on to showcase the lives and deaths of Taylor and his platoon.

Why we love it: Oliver Stone isn’t afraid to be gritty, and this military masterpiece doesn’t attempt to gloss over the horrors of war. There’s a reason Platoon is banned in Vietnam to this day – it’s not pretty, and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

4.    Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk DownBlack Hawk Down is a film based on the events surrounding the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Although obvious liberties were taken in the creation of the movie from a book written by Michael Durant, an American soldier who was captured and later released, the film does follow the events leading up to the loss of two American helicopters into the heart of Mogadishu. With thousands of Somali militiamen in the streets, the soldiers are faced with constant assault.

Why we love it: While many of the greatest war movies of all time are based on general experiences, Black Hawk Down depicts an actual event that we remember watching and hearing about on the news. And besides that, the theme of heroism is a theme that runs throughout the film.

5.    Top Gun

Top GunTop Gun takes the military motif into the wild blue yonder of the sky. True to his call name Maverick, Lt. Pete Mitchell is a talented, albeit rebellious Naval pilot who gets a shot at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. During the training, Maverick and his sidekick Goose both impress and enrage their fellow pilots and trainers. Fast flying and hard hitting, Top Gun truly is one of the best military movies of all time.

Why we love it: Why don’t we love it? Between the action-packed flight scenes, the steamy love scenes and the heart-wrenching Goose death scene, Top Gun leaves nothing to be desired. In fact, Top Gun had most of us dreaming of becoming fighter pilots, ripping through the skies with a fun-loving RIO riding shotgun. And, of course, we’ve all tried the “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” routine that Maverick & Goose made famous.

Heartbreak Ridge6.    Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge is a film that uses the 1951 Battle of Heartbreak Ridge as the back-story of the life and service of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway. The movie is a character-driven film that focuses largely on the personal and professional life of Highway, calling special attention to his relationships and his sense of duty.

Why we love it: Clint Eastwood. Do we need anything else?

7.    The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red OctoberThe Hunt for Red October is to the seas what Top Gun is to the skies. The film centers on the Red October, a Soviet nuclear submarine captained by Marko Ramius. Fearing what the Soviet government has planned with the submarine’s secret silent propulsion system, Ramius defects to the U.S., a fact initially unbeknownst to the U.S.S. Dallas, which sees the Red October as a rogue threat.

Why we love it: While other popular military movies focus on fantastic battle scenes and gritty violence, The Hunt for Red October instead hinges its success on suspense.

8.    Glory

GloryThe only Civil War movie to make our list, Glory focuses on the efforts of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was comprised primarily of African-American soldiers, most of which were freeborn Northerners but some of which were freed or escaped slaves. Glory follows the regiments training and subsequent struggle to earn the respect and glory associated with battle.

Why we love it: While we do love the massive in-your-face Civil War battle scenes, it’s the more subtle struggles for glory and respect that make Glory a top choice on our list.

9.    G.I. Jane

G.I. JaneG.I. Jane is a fictional film that centers on the admission of Lt. Jordan O’Neil to the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Group. As the first woman to undergo the training, Lt. O’Neil is forced to deal with obstacles of sexism and tokenism in her attempt to be taken seriously and to successfully complete the training.

Why we love it: Hands down the best scene in the film occurs after Lt. O’Neil suffers a drawn out beating from Master Chief Urgayle. Her tenacity and ability to swallow down her fear is incredible. And of course, O’Neil’s response to being told to leave after the beating is absolutely classic.

10. Stripes

StripesOur only military comedy on the list, Stripes shines a comedic light on military basic training and overseas service. Front and center in the film is Bill Murray as John Winger, a ne’er-do-well who manages to bumble his way through basic training with the help of his best friend. Eventually deployed to Italy, their own stupidity has them wandering into Soviet territory, eventually leading a successful mission against a Soviet base.

Why we love it: Love him or hate him, Bill Murray is hilarious. Stripes was released in the pinnacle of Murray’s reign as the king of awkward comedy, and offers the much-needed comic relief that others – like In the Army Now and Major Payne – failed to do.

Related: Active Military and Veterans Qualify for VA Loans.

27 thoughts on “Top 10 Military Movies of All Time

  1. I would have to agree – Full Metal Jacket takes the top spot for me. Also, with regards to why you say you love Saving Private Ryan, I have to agree – the opening scene reminds me of one of the opening scenes of a popular war game, which is realistic and difficult to watch yet makes it authentic. Thanks for sharing this lineup.

  2. Hey VA Loan Blog, this top ten list is fantastic. Full Metal Jacket is one of my favorite movies period. Gomer Pile is a classic movie character and Kubrik does such an excellent job directing. You can post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

  3. I love the list. “Full Metal Jacket” isn’t mentioned sometimes as one of the best military or war movies. I like at the top spot. Missing from the list is “Hamburger Hill” and “Red Dawn”.

  4. If you’re talking ‘OF ALL TIME’ why are they all from the past 30 years, and all exclusively USA based hollywood stuff? Not that I am denying that the first four films you mention depict the classic reasons why the US has made itself a global target in the past half-century. I actually like most of these movies, but if you’re going to use the highly dangerous ‘of all time’ tagline then you need to widen your sweep a little, although I doubt you have either been outside your state or can speak a foreign language other than hispanic slang.
    What about a few genuinely good films (with little or no US influence or theme) which actually agree with the ambitious title of the page? –

    All Quiet on the Western Front
    Das Boot
    The Guns of Navarone
    The Bridge on the River Kwai
    The Great Escape
    A Bridge Too Far

    In case you forgot, there is a world outside your ex-superpower – it’s where the culture and education is….he he he!

  5. There are plenty of war movies that deserve to be considered. Here are a few:
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    The Great Escape
    Apocalypse Now
    From Here to Eternity
    Empire of the Sun

    Some of the list’s picks just don’t deserve to be considered:
    GI Jane – good but top 10???
    Top Gun – Surely you can’t be serious.
    The Hunt for Red October — no war involved except the Cold War; merely a political thriller not very well done

  6. What about Apocalypse Now or Jarhead? Both excellent depictions of the mental anguish of war. Personally I’d remove G.I. Jane and Glory (even though I don’t like Top Gun I can still appreciate its cult status so I’ll leave it be) and put in both mentioned above. The other 7 movies though I really enjoy and definitely agree with being on the list.

  7. “The soldiers of the war were initially volunteers, …, but increasingly were conscripted into service. Books such as All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) detail the mundane time, but also the intense horror, of soldiers that fought the war. ” Wiki

    The book was turned into an excellent movie in 1930, well worth watching.

    The Longest Day (1962) gives a broader view of D-Day than does Saving Private Ryan. I felt that Private Ryan lacked something.

  8. A good list forsure, but you left out perhaps the best “military”-movie of all time, that being Patton!!! How in the world do you justify having a movies like Stripes and GI Jane on your list when you leave out Patton-How about the scene when Pattons tanks run out of gas and the fighting is hand to hand. A good list, but you seem to be missing something here

  9. I would definitely replace Top Gun with Tigerland. I haven’t really heard anything about it but I’ve seen it and it’s a wonderful movie. Top Gun was cool when i was like 10 or 11, but now it just basically a 90 minute Tom Cruise gay joke.

  10. Seriously where is Apocalypse Now? One of the most incomplete top 10 lists I’ve ever seen.

  11. while das boot is decent, it is definately not a top movie.

    what im wondering is WHERE IS CROSS OF IRON!!

    sure its not from the US side of the war, but it is FAR better than top gun and on par with SPR.

  12. Hello! I’ve been reading your site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  13. What is the movie that starts with the fire fight where the Americans are pinned down by terrists and one of the soldiers says God help us then another soldier says in the radio “this is God I have your target and blows up the terrists?

  14. Military Boyz was founded on 9/21/2002.

    A continuing vision of co-founder Navy Petty officer Malcolm Finnie and military wife Chaune Finnie began a life purpose of bringing much needed humor to the men and women who serve our country throughout the world.
    Malcolm Finnie has had firsthand experience in the theatre of War being deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom after 9/11/2001. He had a part in liberating the Iraqi people.

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