The Best War Movies on Netflix – May 2019
For a genre that should be simple enough to narrow down into one idea, films about war are complicated, often offering different viewpoints on war based around when the film was developed. War films developed during World War II often took the form of propaganda for the Allies, with documentary films like Why We Fight or Edge of Darkness being developed to support war efforts in the 1940s. Even throughout the 1950s and onward, films surrounding war saw the heroes as the paragons of American culture, very rarely critiquing war.
Since the 1970s, films about war have become a far more varied genre. Anti-war films, comedy or satire films, and biopics have all been crafted out of the general wartime film, offering those who seek a deeper understanding of war content their chance at watching a film. If you’re looking to explore the vast genre of war films on Netflix, here are our fifteen favorite films currently streaming for May 2019.
One of Spielberg’s best films of the past decade, Lincoln is a brilliant epic historical drama, following President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) through the final four months of his life, including the end of the Civil War and his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed and ratified by Congress. The film is worth watching for plenty of reasons—the script by Tony Kushner, based on the book Team of Rivals; Spielberg’s direction; and the supporting cast, which include Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field as Mary Todd, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The real reason to watch the film, however, is for Daniel Day-Lewis. His now-penultimate performance before retiring in 2017, Day-Lewis brings everything you could want as Lincoln to the table. The film earned Day-Lewis his third Best Actor award from the Oscars, making him the first actor to do so.
Nothing can poke more fun at institutions than satire, and the Netflix Original War Machine sets out to do just that. Written and directed by David Michôd and starring an ensemble cast including Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Anthony Hayes, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Ben Kingsley, Will Poulter, Lakeith Stanfield, and an uncredited Russell Crowe, War Machine follows a four-star US General named Glenn McMahon (Pitt), a man who has become successful and well-liked in the DC world for his leadership in Iraq. When sent to Afghanistan to prepare an assessment to end the war during the summer of 2009, McMahon finds himself struggling to convince the US government to let him win the war. Fed up with being restricted, McMahon (based on real-world general Stanley McChrystal, who wrote the book being adapted by Michôd) uses the press to try to get his way.
Another Netflix Original, Sand Castle leaves behind the satirical roots of War Machine to tell a haunting drama set in the backdrop of the Iraq War. The film centers around a young, inexperienced private named Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult, Skins, Mad Max: Fury Road), who is asked to help assist with a mission to repair a water pumping station near a rural village in Iraq. With the repair possibly taking up to weeks of time to perform, Ocre and his fellow soldiers will be forced to repair the pump without assistance from the nearby village, all while dealing with true horrors of war. The film is based on true events, inspired by writer Chris Roessner’s time in the military during the 2000s.
From director Paul Gross (Passchendaele), Hyena Road is set in Afghanistan, following a Canadian Army troop as they construct the titular trail leading into Taliban territory. Starring Gross as Captain Pete Mitchell, the film finds Mitchell enlisting a sniper named Ryan Sanders (Rossif Sutherland) to help track down a missing freedom fighter, who may be able to help the Canadian troops as they dive deeper into unsafe territory. The film received mixed-to-positive reviews, but was nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards in 2016, winning three, including sound editing and visual effects. Anyone who found Jarhead a gripping war drama will find plenty to love in Hyena Road.
Directed by Ridley Scott, and released less than a year after Hannibal, Black Hawk Downtells the story of the 1993 raid in Mogadishu, aimed at capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, the film follows US special forces sent into Somalia to bring food, resources, and humanitarian aid to the starving population, all while trying to destabilize the government to bring down the group. The troops use Black Hawk helicopters to lower the soldiers onto the ground, but an unexpected attack by Somalian fighters leave two helicopters down on the ground. From there, the US soldiers must struggle against the odds to survive in Somalia. Starring a A-list cast, Black Hawk Down won two Academy Awards and was a box office success.
Beasts of No Nation is a Netflix Original directed by acclaimed filmmaker Cary Fukunaga, whose work on the first season of True Detective has been praised endlessly online. In his third feature-length film as director, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a civil war in Africa, as a fierce warlord (Idris Elba) trains a young orphan named Agu (Abraham Attah) how to fight in order to join his group of guerrilla soldiers. The film is terrifyingly bleak, following Agu’s loss of innocence as his brother is taken from him. The film was praised by critics for its stark portrayals of the horrors of war, and though the film was ignored by the Oscars (largely thanks to their distaste for Netflix Original films), Idris Elba did receive a nomination at the Golden Globes for his role as the Commander.
Director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Ocean’s 8) brought this true story of war set against the Civil War in 1863 to the big screen. The film follows Mississippi farmer Newton Knight, a real soldier during the Civil War. Opposed to slavery, Knight would rather help the wounded than fight the Union. After his nephew dies in battle, Newt returns home to Jones County to safeguard his family but is soon branded an outlaw deserter. Forced to flee, he finds refuge with a group of runaway slaves hiding out in the swamps. Forging an alliance with the slaves and other farmers, Knight leads a rebellion that would forever change history. The film features an all-star cast, with Matthew McConaughey playing the lead role and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book), and Keri Russell (The Americans) all supporting.
Though it might be closer to a spy thriller than a traditional war affair, Body of Lies is a thrilling action set piece destined to entertain anyone looking for the rush of endorphins you can get from a solid gangster film. Body of Lies, directed by legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott, follows agents of both the CIA in the US and the Jordanian Intelligence in the Middle East to catch a terrorist known as “al-Saleem.” As he continues to hide in the shadows of the region, the three men in charge of pursuing the criminal (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and Mark Strong) each have their own ways of trying to capture the wanted terrorist, and their methods only clash more as the film develops.
Lovers of documentaries everywhere, rejoice: one of the best, most-acclaimed docuseries of our time is streaming on Netflix right now. The Civil War is a 1990 documentary miniseries produced by Ken Burns for PBS, running nine episodes that cover the entire war from 1861 to 1865. Unfortunately, this isn’t the HD remaster completed in 2015, but the original standard-definition series that originally aired in 1990. Nevertheless, even television fans unfamiliar with Ken Burns’ name will be familiar with his style, having been parodied in countless works, including Community. The Civil War was watched by an average of 14 million people per episode, and at least 39 million people tuned into one episode. It’s a landmark work of television, and must be experienced for any history buffs reading this article. If you’re still jonesing for some Ken Burns’ docs, check out The Vietnam War, also streaming on Netflix.
Antoine Fuqua earned himself plenty of attention with his critically-acclaimed 2001 crime-thriller Training Day, and though Tears of the Sun, his 2003 follow-up, didn’t garner the same amount of critical attention as the earlier film, it still found some defenders—including legendary late critic Roger Ebert. The film follows a Navy SEAL officer named A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis), who is assigned to lead a team of soliders into the Nigerian jungle after a milirary coup d’etat leaves the Nigerian president murdered and Dr. Lena Kendricks trapped with hostile forces. When Waters finds Kendrick deep inside Nigeria’s borders, the doctor refuses to leave her patients alone, fearing they’ll be slaughtered by the rebels who have taken over. With the US government losing patience and Nigerian forces moving in, Waters and his team agree to help Kendrick get the refugees to safe ground.
Undoubtedly one of the most important, influential war films ever made, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now is a must-watch for any fan of film. The film follows Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a Captain in the US military in 1969 Vietnam, who journeys upriver in order to find and kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a commander who has taken hold at an outpost in Cambodia. Seemingly insane, Kurtz reportedly has taken control of his patrol, who see him as a demigod and have begun operating as vigilantes. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard will find the mission harder than he ever imagined.
While this list has plenty of modern war films on it, anyone who appreciates classic war films will need to add The Dirty Dozen to their Netflix list. Whether you’re rewatching it for the dozenth (sorry) time, or you’re watching this classic for the first time on Netflix, it’s well worth checking out. As D-Day approaches, Colonel Breed hands the roguish Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) an important assignment: He must train a team of soldiers to parachute across enemy lines and assassinate German personnel at a French chateau. The soldiers, recruited from murderers, rapists and criminals on death row, are promised commuted sentences. In spite of their history, the twelve men prove a spirited and courageous unit. Led by Major Reisman, they will exact revenge.
Steven Spielberg is, perhaps, one of the most famous filmmakers in the world, and though his resume isn’t perfect, no one has made as many incredible, jaw-dropping films as he has. From crafting the original blockbuster with Jaws to recreating dinosaurs with Jurassic Park, it’s obvious that the man has more movie magic in his body than any living director. Schindler’s List isn’t one of his feel-good films, but it is an incredible document to the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who is credited with saving the life of 1,200 Jewish men and women during the Holocaust by employing them. Liam Neeson portrays Schindler in a spellbinding performance, with Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, and Caroline Goodall all appearing in supporting roles. At 195 minutes, it’s one of the longest films on our list (beaten only by The Godfather Part II below), but it’s a must-see for any and all film completionists or historical buffs.
The film that managed to overcome the financial success of Avatar to win Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards, The Hurt Locker marked a return to successful filmmaking for Kathryn Bigelow, the first female director to win Best Director (and as of 2019, still the only one). The Hurt Locker was one of the first films to really tackle the Iraq War on a grand scale, and ten years later, it holds up as as thrilling look at the real-world effects of war on the mind. The film follows Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge, who find their unit given a new leader following the death of their Staff Sergeant. New Staff Sergeant William James begins taking risks the unit isn’t used to, leading to needless death.
Directed by David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water), Outlaw King is a must-watch for any fans of Braveheart. Essentially taking place nearly directly after the conclusion of the 1990s Mel Gibson hit, the film follows Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), as he, John Comyn, and other Scottish nobility surrender to the English outside of Stirling Castle. When King Edward I agrees to give the Scottish nobility their land back in exchange for homage, Bruce is wedded to the king’s granddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh. Following years of unhappiness and unrest between the British and Scottish, however, Bruce is forced to lead another revolt—and pays dearly by being led into exile from England.