30 War Movies That Actually Get History (Mostly) Right
It’s said that art imitates life. Some life situations are easy to transmit into art because they are lovely, full of life and love. Then, some leave people devastated and in pain, like war. War is a terrible, awe-inspiring monster that has fascinated filmmakers for decades. Some of the most humane stories are told in a war movie.
Since a lot about war is pure guessing, it can be tricky to know just how realistic certain movies are. Still, some movies are more realistic than others because they are based on personal stories. So, when done right, brutal war movies offer teachable moments. Keep on scrolling to see which movie did it right. Maybe your favorite war movie is on this list. Check it!
30. We Were Soldiers
We Were Soldiers, directed by Mel Gibson, is an accurate portrayal of the Vietnam War. It’s set throughout the Battle of la Drang, a three-day conflict in November of 1965 that was the most massive clash in Vietnam.
The movie is also very emotional because it portrays horrible events through both soldiers’ eyes and the families they left at home. From top to bottom, this is a true-to-life movie. Tactics, soldiers’ movements, and even shooting are portrayed with a close eye on history.
29. Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan is intense from the first scene until it’s ending. A group of men, joined for a single mission, are giving their best to save the last son of a bereaved mother. In reality, this mission never happened, but the war did.
Steven Spielberg directed this movie, and he placed an incredible amount of historical facts into the narrative thread. The small squad’s tactics, the military garb, and the soldiers’ dynamic were all spot on. The opening scene – a recreation of the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day — was so accurate that WWII veterans had to be escorted from theaters. Too realistic scenes can evoke an enormous amount of emotion, and everyone reacts differently to it. Also, Tom Hanks’ character didn’t exist. Neither did Private Ryan himself.
28. Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima is a 2006 Japanese-language American war film directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood. This movie perfectly portrays one of the most significant confrontations of the war.
The entire movie is told from the Japanese perspective. Iwo Jima goes the extra mile to show the fearlessness of the Japanese soldiers. Played by Ken Watanabe, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is shown with such reverence that even his real-life quotes are incorporated into the movie.
27. Black Hawk Down
Among Ridley Scott’s fans, the Black Hawk Down is known as a masterpiece. The movie is a portrayal of the real-life horror facing the soldiers in Mogadishu is unparalleled in its accuracy.
It is an adaptation of the 1999 book of the same name by Mark Bowden based on his series of articles published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. A big part of the movie revolves around politics, but all battle scenes are of absolute adherence to history. This movie has a single goal: to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for freedom and celebrate the lives of those who made it back.
26. Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick wanted to make an original war movie. He didn’t want to make an anti-war movie. Kubrick wanted to show how war is raw and harmful by accurately depicting war.
Full Metal Jacket has some of the most difficult to watch boot camp scenes because they were based on a real-life experience. Luckily, boot camps are different today. Actor R. Lee Ermey was even brought on board because of his extensive military experience as a drill instructor. Experts also claim that the movie’s portrayal of Vietcong tactics and politics is near-perfect.
Glory tells the story of Robert Gould Shaw, a privileged young soldier who’s commanding one of the first all-black regiments commissioned during the Civil War. The narrative of the movie is a realistic portrayal of the Civil War, with scenes of brutality.
What’s more, the story is pieced together from Shaw’s letters written while in command of his regiment. Glory has a particular share of inaccuracies, but everything was done with a plan. Moreover, everything is in the service of creating a fully-formed picture of Civil War times.
24. Lone Survivor
The Lone Survivor is based on the 2007 nonfiction book of the same name. What makes this film so unique is that’s based on a true-life story. Set during Afghanistan, Lone Survivor gest it right.
That scene when the men have to jump to escape the gunfire is real. They really had to do it. And Marcus Luttrell was saved only through the grace of a village of people who believed that it was proper not only to help loners but also to save them from their enemies.
23. A Bridge Too Far
When you have Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, and Michael Caine all in one film, success is guaranteed. However, this crew did even more. They delivered a fantastic story of an allied attempt to enter Northern Germany in 1944 to “drop paratroopers in the German-occupied Netherlands, seize bridges behind enemy lines, and make way for a full invasion,” according to The Guardian.
This attempt was known as the Market Garden. Veterans form this event were included in the making of the film. A Bridge Too Far is praised for its accuracy, description of characters, and anyone else involved in the actual event. By many veterans, this movie is considered to be a mostly faithful depiction of a critical moment in history.
22. Tora! Tora! Tora!
Tora! Tora! Tora! is directed by Richard Fleischer, an American filmmaker, and the Japanese duo, Toshio Masuda and Kanji Fukasaku. This international team decides to team up and create a historically accurate picture of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Movie title reflects the Japanese code word for the mission, Tora, which means ‘tiger.’
The production team was determined to create a non-biased retelling of the vent. They studied the work of a military historian, Ladislav Farago, who helped them put the story right. Critics weren’t impressed with the long storytelling, but the audience loved it. This event changed the course of history, and this movie shows it perfectly and honesty.
First, you should know that there are two Stalingrad movies. One is a tragic masterpiece from Germany released in 1993. This movie has been called one of the most accurate war films ever, for its attention to detail and focuses on soldiers.
The second Stalingrad movie was released from Russian, in 2013, and it’s more of a heroic spectacle movie. Here, we are talking about the German version from 1993. In its opening scene, Stalingrad goes from violent images to panicking soldiers. The movie is hugely focused on the experience of soldiers and what is happening around them. There is also extra attention to the survivor’s guilt. Plus, Stalingrad features a vast array of accurate period weaponry.
20. Hamburger Hill
Hamburger Hill premiered one month after Full Metal Jacket. Initially, the movie was well-received upon its release, but the rest of the days were far from kind to this movie creation.
Hamburger Hill is similar to Full Metal Jacket. It’s divided into two parts: one is focused on new soldiers and their introduction, while the second part is focused on the Vietnam War. Veterans claim that the movie is so accurate that it can mentally trick anyone that the plot is real.
19. Enemy at the Gates
Enemy at the Gates is focused on the difficult battle between two snipers in World War II’s Battle of Stalingrad. The truth is that Khrushchev never played a part in orchestrating the battle, but that’s just a minor detail here used to build up tension.
The most true-to-life scenes show hunger, lack of experience, and pure desperation of the Soviet soldiers who pulled off the impossible task of thwarting the terrifying army in the world.
1917 was mostly inspired by the World War I recollections of director Sam Mendes’s grandfather. So, the movie isn’t based on real soldiers or any specific anecdote. Still, this fictional race-against-the-clock thriller is anything but fictional.
The battlefield is very realistic, and a sense of detail quickly puts you back into 1917. It’s easy to see that the entire team of filmmakers was into detail. They put extra attention to accurate WWI specifications, going so far as to dig 2,500 feet of trenches into recreating the physical conditions of trench warfare. The care for authenticity was essential to the execution of the narrative.
17. 84C MoPic
84C MoPic is a movie about the Vietnam War. It’s sometimes called 84 Charlie MoPic. This movie was written and directed on a minuscule budget by Vietnam veteran Patrick Duncan.
So, when a veteran makes a movie, you know it will be authentic. This movie is one of the earliest examples of a found-footage picture. If you want to know how immediate fight for survival looks like, this movie should be on your list.
Platoon is another movie on this list, written and directed by a veteran. Oliver Stone developed the screenplay over the years after returning home from service in Vietnam in 1968. It’s important to note that the story isn’t based on specific true events; Platoon was still praised for capturing the texture of the conflict.
Many would say that this movie isn’t for those of a weak stomach. If you are a war-movie fan, this movie should be on your watch list. Prepare yourself for some fantastic characters, superb acting, and real-life scenes.
15. Act of Valor
Act of Valor is an action thriller about Navy SEALs released in 2012. It shows soldiers dispatched to rescue a captured CIA agent. Some movie critics called this movie ‘too real.’ According to them, action movies aren’t meant to be realistic, because it can awake stress in the audience.
Writing for IndieWire, critic Christopher Campbell said: This relatively fictional and dramatized look at the work of a U.S. Navy SEAL team is unquestionably the most realistic portrayal of the special ops branch in a ‘narrative’ motion picture, and having employed actual active-duty SEALs in the lead roles of the main characters… He also added that movies should be seen as a hybrid of documentary and fiction similar to that seen in reenactments of actual events from documentaries. He also left for the audience to decide if the movie is good or not.
14. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 American epic period war-drama film co-written, produced, and directed by Peter Weir. Russell Crowe as the captain, together with his crew, pursuing an enemy vessel, when they are ambushed by a more reliable ship.
The other ship is conducting a hunt of their own. The slow-paced story is punctuated with scenes of thrilling, yet historically accurate naval battles. There is also one unusual scene. Many would call it horrible because it shows an on the nearly barbaric medical practices of the day.
13. Sergeant York
Sergeant York, released in 1941, tells the tale of a reformed rabble-rouser who needs to be convinced to fight in the First World War. Thanks to his surroundings and kind words from the Bible, this commanding officer ends up single-handed capturing more than 30 machine guns and 130 prisoners of war.
This movie is unique because producers made the right choice. They decided to listen to the real-life Alvin York when they were making the film. The result is that the events portrayed in the movie are correct. His wife, Grace, and all the men of his platoon were based on real people.
12. Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn portrays life and times of Dieter Dengler, a former pilot who spent time imprisoned in a Laotian internment camp. The movie carefully follows the capture, torture, and imprisonment of the U.S. Navy pilot in Laos’ jungles.
Christian Bale was a perfect choice for this role since he put his best into portraying the horrors of the war. Bale demonstrates how men can feel while trying to survive.
11. The Great Escape
The Great Escape is an extremely accurate movie. The whole story and characters were shaped a bit to make them fit into the role. After all, this movie was only two hours long.
The Great Escape is a story of intrepid soldiers of war at Stalag Luft III, where men dig three tunnels – named Tom, Dick, and Harry — in an attempt to get as many POWs out of the camp as possible. In all, 76 men escaped (though most were captured).
10. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
The Hollywood era of western movies was fruitful in many ways, but it was far from accurate. Luckily, with the time that changed. Back then the audience loved the simplicity of the time and well-known stories.
However, the New Hollywood ear changed that, and Jesse James’s story was told in many different ways as a result. In the movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the audience got to see more of Robert Ford, whose star lust for James makes it all that much easier to appreciate the legend in his own time.
9. All The President’s Men
The year 1974 was a big one for the movie industry—this Oscar-nominated movie exposed to the world one of the most shocking scandals ever – the Watergate scandal. Two Washington Post journalists, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, broke the story. However, they weren’t willing to work together and help the movie creators with the script.
William Goldman wrote the first draft while Woodward assisted him, and then Bernstein wrote his version. In the end, director Alan J Pakula and star Robert Redford wrote their version with the help of Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee.
Some would say that Gettysburg is 100% accurate because it’s so long. Yes, the movie is exceptionally long. If you decide to watch this movie, know that you should invest four hours and thirty-one minutes.
Originally pitched as a miniseries, Ronald’s Gettysburg is slavish to every detail of the military tactics used. Both sides are presented fairly and accurately as possible.
7. Come And See
Come And See from 1985, is one of the most painfully realistic war-related movies ever made. Klimov’s Soviet drama touches even those with the hardest skin. It presents the backdrop of the Nazi occupation of Belarus.
Klimov used all nonprofessional actors, used actual Nazi uniforms instead of costumes, and (insanely) insisted on using live rounds instead of blanks, wherever possible. Rumor has it that movie’s star, the 14-year-old star, Aleksei Kravchenko, returned to school with grey-hair after a year of intense filming.
6. Das Boot
Das Boot is a 1981 movie directed by Wolfgang Peterson. From its premiered, the film is considered to be classic. This movie is considered to be the king of submarine movies, even today. The reason for this? While watching, it actually feels like being stuck on a submarine.
In reality, the film was shot on a meticulously recreated interior of a U-96 submarine. Also, the entire movie was shot in sequences over the course of a full year, so actors face, skin tone, and even beards would keep up with the development of their characters.
5. Schindler’s List
Steven Spielberg made so many historical movies during his career, but Schindler’s List is probably one of the most memorable ones. Schindler’s List is still one of the most emotional films ever directed by Steven.
Schindler’s List is celebrating its plot, actors, and historical accuracy. This classic movie was filmed in the actual locations where the events took place.
Many movies were made about WWII and how it affected the world. However, only a few of them focused on how it affected its leaders. This movie portrayed Hitler’s last days and hours of life and how a modern empire collapsed.
Movie Downfall is in German language and is much appreciated for its storyline and historical accuracy. If you want to know how Hitler’s final days looked like, and how the Third Reich has fallen, you should watch this movie.
3. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is an Oscar-winning movie highly celebrated for its authenticity. The film is based on a mostly praised book of the same name, written in 1853. The book is based on a true story, and that authenticity is adapted to a movie.
The movie portrays the brutality and dehumanizing reality of slavery in the American South at the time. As a topic, slavery has been portrayed many and many times, but historians agree that this movie so far offers the most authentic details.
All the President’s Men was a big influence on David Fincher’s approach to filming Zodiac. As a result, Fincher created a movie that many consider being a real masterpiece.
What makes Zodiac stand out from other versions is its attention to details. Plus, this movie was glorified for embracing the ultimately anticlimactic resolution of our protagonist’s obsession with the Zodiac killer’s identity.
This movie isn’t about direct war conflicts, but more about the hidden world of church leaders. This movie portrays a team of a newspaper journalist who is working on a particular case.
Spotlight tells an accurate story on the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed the widespread systemic physical assault of children by Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.