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The best war movies to watch on Netflix

Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge.
Lionsgate

The best movies on Netflix aren’t limited to any single genre. And in honor of Memorial Day, we’re taking a look back at seven of the best war movies on Netflix. Because Netflix largely relies on its own original films, it doesn’t have a deep library of classic war films like The Bridge on the River Kwai or even more contemporary titles like Saving Private Ryan. But it does have a fine selection of films that deserve their place among the very best.

It should also be said that the best war movies are the ones that don’t glorify war itself. Some wars have to be fought, but there’s always a high cost to be paid, especially in human lives. Memorial Day is meant to honor America’s fallen soldiers who perished in wars across the world. Their deaths were not in vain, but these films also serve as reminder of what they were fighting for.

Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge.
Lionsgate

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a combat medic during World War II who was a devout pacifist who refused to carry a gun. The real Doss saved several of his fellow servicemen during the Battle of Okinawa, which is depicted in the film. However, director Mel Gibson spends the majority of the movie letting viewers understand why Doss was so adamant against taking up arms against anyone and the price he paid for his moral stance. Doss’ refusal to bend to pressure from other troops and the military brass was also heroic, even though his contemporaries didn’t think so at the time.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Felix Kammerer in All Quiet on the Western Front.
Netflix

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2029. Additionally, the story’s antiwar message is just as relevant for 2024 as it was in 1919. This is the novel’s third movie adaptation, and the film stars Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer, a German teenager during World War I who is swept off to war with romantic notions of becoming a hero in battle.

Unfortunately for Paul, he soon discovers that war isn’t a game in which his side can easily be victorious. The brutality and hopelessness of the situation beats Paul down as he watches his fellow soldiers fall in battle or worse. Soon, Paul’s ambitions shift to simply surviving the war, and even that may not be in the cards for him.

The Outpost

The cast of The Outpost.
Screen Media Films

The Outpost is a more contemporary war story set in 2009 during the War in Afghanistan. It depicts the Battle of Khamdesh, in which American soldiers were badly outnumbered by Taliban forces. There is real heroism in the story, but the film also chronicles the incredibly short-sighted and downright foolish decisions by the chain of command that left the soldiers vulnerable to an all-out attack. That makes the story into a tragedy that could have been avoided.

Scott Eastwood leads a cast that includes Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cory Hardrict, Milo Gibson. and Jacob Scipio. But in war movies, as in actual wars, not everybody gets to go home when it’s over.

Unbroken

Jack O'Connell in Unbroken.
Netflix

Unbroken was the second film ever directed by Angelina Jolie, from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. The movie is based on the true story of Captain Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an American athlete at the 1936 Olympics in Germany before he enlisted in the Air Force as a bomber pilot.

Zamperini’s heroics are more significant after his plane goes down and he is captured by the Japanese. As a prisoner of war, Zamperini endures physical and mental torture that is designed to break him. Prison commander Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (Miyavi) is particularly obsessed with crushing Zamperini’s spirit. Yet, as the name of the movie implies, Zamperini is remarkably resilient even when facing death.

The Forgotten Battle

Gijs Blom in The Forgotten Battle.
September Films

The Forgotten Battle is a Dutch World War II movie that follows three separate yet occasionally intersecting storylines about a Dutch soldier, Marinus van Staveren (Gijs Blom), who is forced to fight on the German frontlines; British pilot William Sinclair (Jamie Flatters); and Teuntje Visser (Susan Radder), a young Dutch woman who attempts to be neutral during the war.

Of the three main characters, Teuntje has the most interesting path as she abandons any notions of staying on the sidelines after her brother is killed for being part of the resistance. When that happens, Teuntje will do anything to help bring down the Nazis, even at the cost of her own life. Meanwhile, Marinus is disillusioned by the Nazi regime, but there are few opportunities to escape from the war when death is an ever-present companion.

Beasts of No Nation

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation.
Netflix

True Detective season 1 helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed Beasts of No Nation, based on Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name. This was also one of Netflix’s earliest original movies before the streamer ramped up its production pipeline. The film is a truly harrowing story about Agu (Abraham Attah), a young African boy who is taken in by the Commandant (Idris Elba) and turned into a child soldier.

Agu is forced to do things no one, much less a child, should ever be subjected to while also enduring abuse from the Commandant. This forces Agu to wonder if he can ever escape to a life outside of war.

The Guns of Navarone

The cast of The Guns of Navarone.
Columbia Pictures

The Guns of Navarone is one of the few classic World War II movies on Netflix, and it was made in 1961, just over two decades after the war broke out. Unlike many of the other films on this list, The Guns of Navarone is purely fictional as it depicts a team led by Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck) that goes behind enemy lines to destroy a German fortress so 2,000 British soldiers can be evacuated safely.

One of Mallory’s men, Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn), is sworn to kill him after the war over a tragedy involving Stavros’ family. Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), another member of the team, goes down early to an injury that threatens the entire mission. Mallory and company also meet two women working with the resistance: Maria Pappadimos (Irene Papas) and her friend, Anna (Gia Scala). Yet even with the local support, the chances of the mission succeeding look increasingly grim.

Editors' Recommendations

Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell is a freelance writer for The Manual, Digital Trends, Fandom, Yahoo Entertainment, and more!
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