14 Best Military Dramas Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

David O. Russel (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) is one of those directors who the more you dig into his past, the more you are rewarded. I Heart Huckabees is a great example of this, as is The Fighter (both are must-watch if you haven't seen them). But it is Three Kings that truly presented him as someone who can give great substance to big-budget movies. It stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and even director Spike Jonze (Her, Adaptation), in other words, a festival of talent at its peak. And it follows three soldiers who want use the end of the Gulf War as an opportunity to get rich. Their journey through a devastated and uncertain Iraq is a thrilling one, as Three Kings is action-packed. But the purpose of this movie lies somewhere between political satire around American interventionism and social criticism of the main characters. However, none of that stands in the way of this movie being an entertaining and exhilarating movie.

Genre: Action, Comedy, War

Actor: Ali Afshar, Alia Shawkat, Brian Bosworth, Cliff Curtis, David O. Russell, Doug Jones, Dylan Brown, George Clooney, Holt McCallany, Ice Cube, Jamie Kennedy, Jim Gaffigan, Jon Sklaroff, Judy Greer, Liz Stauber, Mark Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson, Nora Dunn, Rick Shuster, SaÁ¯d Taghmaoui, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sayed Badreya, Spike Jonze

Director: David O. Russell

Rating: R

The Siege of Jadotville is a different kind of war movie. It doesn’t recount famous battles or portray renowned heroes - instead, it’s about heroes and events that went completely unnoticed. Namely, the Irish 35 Battalion ‘A’ Company - a group of youngsters who are sent out on a U.N mission to the Congo. What was supposed to be a simple positioning quickly becomes one of the most sought-after locations and the battalion of 150 ‘war-virgins” find themselves up against 3000 mercenaries led by experienced French commandants. And what a tribute this film is: it’s well-paced, powerfully shot, and the acting, led by Jamie Dornan on one side and Guillaume Canet on the other, is absolutely perfect.

Genre: Drama, Thriller, War

Actor: Ashish Gangapersad, Charlie Kelly, Conor MacNeill, Conor Quinlan, Danny Sapani, Emmanuelle Seigner, Fiona Glascott, Fionn O'Shea, Fionn O'Shea, Gérard Rudolf, Guillaume Canet, Jamie Dornan, Jason O'Mara, Jason O'Mara, Jordan Mifsud, Luc Van Gunderbeeck, Mark Strong, Michael McElhatton, Mikael Helmuth, Mikael Persbrandt, Mike Noble, Richard Lukunku, Ronan Raftery, Sam Keeley

Director: Richie Smyth

Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA

, 2018

Director Zhang Yimou, who already has remarkable wuxia films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers under his belt, delivers another exceptional epic. Set during China's Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD), Shadow revolves around a great king and his people, who are expelled from their homeland but will aspire to reclaim it. The story requires a fair amount of patience at first, as it slowly builds a world consisting of various characters with different motives, before the real action begins. The journey through Shadow is visually pleasing thanks to its stunning cinematography, impressively choreographed combat, and overall brilliant production design. Packed with sequences that will take your breath away, it is an inventive martial arts epic with one amazing scene after another.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Chao Deng, Deng Chao, Feng Bai, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Leo Wu, Li Sun, Qianyuan Wang, Ryan Cheng, Ryan Zheng, Ryan Zheng Kai, Sun Li, Wang Jingchun, Wang Qian-Yuan, Wang Qianyuan, Zhang Yimou

Director: Yimou Zhang, Zhang Yimou

Rating: Not Rated

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura, Kaichi Kaburagi, Keiko Takeshita, Mansai Nomura, Martin Short, Masahiko Nishimura, Miori Takimoto, Mirai Shida, Morio Kazama, Sascha, Shinobu Otake, Stephen Alpert

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

Taking place entirely on beachside farmlands in Denmark, Land of Mine takes a particularly intimate—and visually distinct—approach to war. The fighting may be over, but the film remains a tense and emotionally distressing, with all the pain and violence being carried over onto these German boys being forced to clear the beaches of live explosives with their bare hands. The relationship between these young men and their vengeful Danish commanding officer may progress a little quickly for some, but their volatile bond only emphasizes that rage isn't meant to be felt forever, and that war is a destructive cycle that eventually needs to come to an end.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: August Carter, Emil Belton, Joel Basman, Johnny Melville, Karl Alexander Seidel, Laura Bro, Leon Seidel, Levin Henning, Louis Hofmann, Mads Riisom, Magnus Bruun, Maximilian Beck, Mette Lysdahl, Michael Asmussen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Oskar Belton, Oskar Bökelmann, Roland Møller, Roland Moller

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Rating: R

An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending state of war in Africa. It takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached. As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, and the whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are enthralling.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Andrew Adote, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Cornelius Keagon, David Dontoh, Emmanuel 'King Kong' Nii Adom Quaye, Emmanuel Affadzi, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Francis Weddey, Fred Nii Amugi, Grace Nortey, Idris Elba, John Arthur, Jude Akuwudike, Kobina Amissah Sam, Kurt Egyiawan, Nana Mensah, Nataliah Andoh, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, Richard Pepple, Ricky Adelayitor

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: Not Rated

, 2015

A War (Krigen) is a Danish war drama that focuses on Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) as he leads a company of soldiers in modern day Afghanistan, while his wife at home in Denmark struggles to care for their three children. During a mission to rescue a family from Taliban threat, Claus’ unit is overcome by enemy fire, forcing him to make a dramatic decision that has a complicated effect upon himself, his fellow soldiers, and his family back home. A War is a tense yet thoroughly involving drama that offers a profound example of moral ambiguity and the repercussions of warfare. The acting and direction are utterly superb across the board—another enthralling and superbly humanistic affair from Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking).

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Alex Høgh Andersen, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Petrine Agger, Pilou Asbæk, Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Søren Malling, Tuva Novotny

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

Is an innocent child’s life worth millions of other civilian casualties? In a modern-day drone warfare led by Colonel Katherine Powell, played by the very versatile Helen Mirren, she is conflicted to order the target of the Somali terrorist organization when she spots Alia, a young girl who just happens to be selling bread within the premises of the Kill Zone. Her icy exterior, however, is a far cry from Lieutenant General Frank Benson’s profound sympathy, the portrayal of the late Alan Rickman in his last onscreen role being one of his most remarkable ones to date. Eye in the Sky is a thriller that will have you questioning your morals while gripping your seats in what appears to be a battle of the best choice and the only one. Do the ends always justify the means?

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Aaron Paul, Aisha Takow, Alan Rickman, Armaan Haggio, Arman Haggio, Babou Ceesay, Barkhad Abdi, Carl Beukes, Daniel Fox, Ebby Weyime, Francis Chouler, Gavin Hood, Graham Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, James Alexander, Jeremy Northam, John Heffernan, Kate Liquorish, Kenneth Fok, Kim Engelbrecht, Kim Suzanne Engelbrecht, Laila Robins, Lemogang Tsipa, Lex King, Michael OKeefe, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox, Richard McCabe, Roberto Meyer, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Vusi Kunene, Warren Masemola, Zak Rowlands

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

Kilo Two Bravo (Originally named Kajaki) is a must-watch for anyone who likes war dramas. It tells the true story of British soldiers in the Afghanistan war who find themselves trapped in a minefield during a mission, with their rescue team coming in a helicopter that might set off mines if it lands. It's a slow, dialogue driven film that is interested in taking you to the war zone more than it cares about entertaining you. Ultimately, it becomes an essay on the horrors of war, and an anti-war war film. Because of this and given the blood and gore, this movie is definitely not for those who would feel nauseated at sight of blood. Great setting, good cinematography, realistic acting and script all do justice to the true story. It's a film that will grip your senses and keep you at the edge of the seat throughout.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller, War

Actor: Ali Cook, Andy Gibbins, Benjamin O'Mahony, Bryan Parry, David Elliot, Grant Kilburn, Joe Corrigall, John Doughty, Jon-Paul Bell, Liam Ainsworth, Malachi Kirby, Mark Stanley, Paul Katis, Paul Luebke, Robert Mitchell, Scott Kyle, Thomas Davison

Director: Paul Katis

Rating: R

Atonement is a tribute to cinematography, an epic film that might just remind you why you fell in love with movies to begin with. A young girl and aspiring writer has a crush on the man her older sister loves, so the young sister indulges her imagination to accuse the man of a crime he didn't commit. The two are separated and the latter is then sent away to prison and after joins the army.  As the young girl grows up and realizes the true consequences of her actions, what can she do, what can anyone do, to remedy such a wrong? Winner of two Golden Globes and nominated to 6 Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ailidh Mackay, Alfie Allen, Alice Orr-Ewing, Anthony Minghella, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Seymour, Brenda Blethyn, Bronson Webb, Charlie von Simson, Craig Douglas, Daniel Mays, Elliott Francis, Felix von Simson, Gina McKee, Harriet Walter, Ian Bonar, James McAvoy, Jamie Beamish, Jérémie Renier, John Normington, Johnny Harris, Julia West, Juno Temple, Keira Knightley, Leander Deeny, Lionel Abelanski, Mark Holgate, Michel Vuillermoz, Michelle Duncan, Neil Maskell, Nick Bagnall, Nonso Anozie, Olivia Grant, Patrick Kennedy, Paul Stocker, Peter McNeil O'Connor, Peter O'Connor, Peter Wight, Roger Evans, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Tilly Vosburgh, Tobias Menzies, Vanessa Redgrave, Vivienne Gibbs, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Joe Wright

Rating: R

A thrilling French movie about a nuclear submarine division that is confronted with a world-ending scenario.

One sonar agent is at the center of the story, his exceptional hearing capabilities are the main resource of the submarine commanders he works for (one of whom is played by the masterful Reda Kateb).

Wolf’s Call tries very hard to be a Hollywood movie, but even if it serves as a reminder that countries like France don’t have to always make arthouse films to be noticed, the visual effects and the writing fall short of that big-budget feel.

Still, if you’re looking for a fun movie that’s full of surprises, solid acting, and a great heroism tale, you’ll love this.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller

Actor: Alexis Michalik, Antonin Baudry, Arthur Choisnet, Bastien Ughetto, Damien Bonnard, Etienne Guillou-Kervern, François Civil, Guillaume Clement, Guillaume Duhesme, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Léopold Bara, Marc Ruchmann, Mathieu Kassovitz, Nicolas Van Beveren, Omar Sy, Paul Granier, Paula Beer, Philippe Maymat, Pierre Cevaer, Reda Kateb, Sébastien Landry, Sebastien Libessart, Stefan Godin

Director: Abel Lanzac, Antonin Baudry

Rating: TV-14

Directed by Sam Mendes Jarhead is based on the best-selling 2003 memoir of the same title. In the film, Swofford is a 20-year-old soldier in the US Marine Corps during the 1991 Gulf War who is trained to be a sniper. But as the days go by, he doesn’t fire a single shot, given there is no one left to wage a battle after the US air attacks on the Iraqi army. Unlike most war movies, Jarhead stands out for its singular focus on the personal experience of a lost young soldier.  

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brian Geraghty, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert, Evan Jones, Iván Fenyö, Iván Fenyö, Jacob Vargas, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Laz Alonso, Lucas Black, Peter Sarsgaard, Sam Mendes, Scott MacDonald

Director: Sam Mendes

Rating: R