Film List: The five best war movies of all time

In anticipation of the new Brad Pitt vehicle, Fury, film fan and arts journalism graduate student Kevin Garcia examines the five war films most often mentioned as shining exemplars of the genre.

With Fury starring Brad Pitt coming out this Friday, we look at five highly celebrated war films that have stood the test of time. They will be placed in chronological order. Check them out.

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

There have been a multitude of war films based on the Vietnam War. This one ranks as the best. While one of the goals of war films is to establish a sense of realism and anguish, director Francis Ford Coppola focuses on the macabre.

The 3-hour-and-22-minute story, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, focuses on Capt. Benjamin Willard, played by Martin Sheen, who is assigned to go into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel. This colonel now believes he is a god to a native tribe.

None of the soldiers in this film are pretty boys or, should I say, heroic boy scouts. Every single soldier is broken or demented in some way, which implicates the casualties of war. From the first shot of the film, we see how the horror of the war affects Martin Sheen. He talks to himself, cries, gets wasted and loses control.

In the climax of the film, Marlon Brando appears for only about 15 minutes as the renegade colonel. But he gives us a look of what happens when you’re in Vietnam long enough. You see he is totally gone and lost inside his own head. It is Brando’s most haunting performance.

2. Platoon (1986)

Another Vietnam portrayal, Platoon focuses more on the controversial question on why we were there in the first place. We see the story of Vietnam unfold through the eyes of soldier Chris Taylor played by Charlie Sheen (following in his father’s footsteps).

One scene between Taylor and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) puts it best:

Sgt. Elias: “Barnes believes in what he's doing.”

Taylor: “And you? Do you believe?”

Sgt. Elias: “In '65, yeah. Now, no. What happened today is just the beginning. We're gonna lose this war.”

For a film of this magnitude, there was no better man for the job than controversial director and military veteran Oliver Stone (JFK, Born on the Fourth of July). From looking at his track record, these types of films are his bread and butter, and that's usually more than enough.

What separates this film from others more than anything is the duality of man: the conflict between malevolence and benevolence. Which side takes over? Watch the film and find out.

3. Glory (1989)

A unique entry into the Civil War genre, Glory chooses to focus on the first-ever all-black regiment, led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick).

It's a very inspirational story about a cause that changed the course of history through the transformation from slaves to soldiers. When you have supporting characters with the likes of Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, you’re in business.

But what carries the film is the spirit of the regiment. They are looked as different, but the soldiers are coming to terms with what it means to fight this war in a divided country At first, many of the soldiers are not adamant about participating, but with the encouraging leadership of Shaw, they choose to follow his lead.

Out of all Civil War films, this is the one to watch because of its strong cast and provoking message on racial equality.

4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

For modern audiences, this film is looked at as the classic war film, and rightfully so. This film is the most realistic interpretation of what happened in WWII, and the first battle scene is notable for being one of the fiercest and graphic battles shot in cinema.

The story centers on a group of soldiers led by Capt. John Miller, played by Tom Hanks. They receive a mission to go behind enemy lines and retrieve Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon) and bring him home since all of his brothers have been killed in action.

While so many fans and critics pride the film on its realism, it is also just a selfless tale about a group of soldiers risking their lives for one man. They don't question the order; they do it willingly, risking tooth and nail.

The film is very impactful, not only when they reach Pvt. Ryan, but throughout the journey. During the quest, you get to understand these characters by their interactions and, because of that, you care for them, which makes the movie so gratifying once it reaches its end.

5. The Hurt Locker (2008)

This war piece is so interesting because it was the lowest-grossing movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. Although, a huge triumph was made when Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director, being the first woman to ever win the award.

Jeremy Renner plays Sgt. William James who is part of a three-man bomb disposal team during the Iraq War. James is a maverick, and his techniques are unorthodox, which puts him in opposition with his partners.

One of the possible reasons for its low-grossing total is its slow pacing. There are times when it treads like a turtle, but when you’re trying to disarm bombs, you need patience and steady hands.

The process of diffusing the bombs and general warfare makes for some pulse-pounding moments where anything can go wrong. The suspense truly carries this film to the Promised Land.

The silver lining to this film is its take on conditioning. These soldiers are out there for so long that this becomes all they know, shown particularly in Renner's character, when once he goes home to see his family, he cannot cope with the civilian style. It's the idea that you become depressingly mundane when you’re not in the midst of war.

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