The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (2022)

There aren’t a ton of war movies on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean the streaming service doesn’t have some great ones available. There’s no “War Movie” category, so we’ve dug through their catalog to find some classics, some little-seen gems and even one of the best Netflix originals to date. We’ve broadened the definition from our list of the Best War Movies of All Time, but we have limited the selections to movies about actual wars (no Star Wars or other imagined conflicts).

Here are the 14 best war movies on Netflix:

1. The Hurt Locker

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (1)

Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may have been more ambitious in its step-by-step chronicle of the efforts to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but her preceding War on Terror film, The Hurt Locker, remains the more resonant achievement. It’s essentially a character study in the guise of an action movie, with Bigelow’s subject Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), a devil-may-care maverick who not only has a knack for disarming bombs, but loves doing it to a reckless degree. Beyond its hair-raising action and suspense set pieces, much of the film’s drama is driven by the tensions James’s hot-dog tendencies create between himself and everyone around him. But perhaps the film’s most noteworthy achievement lies in the way Bigelow uncannily inhabits James’s perspective while also standing outside of it. When, in its quiet epilogue, James finds himself immediately bored by suburban life and itches to return to the adrenalized theater of war, after nearly two hours of relentless nerve-wracking tension, we in the audience feel the same sense of stagnation he does. “War is a drug,” says journalist Chris Hedges in a quote that opens the film. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow makes us understand that perspective in the most visceral way possible, to truly revelatory effect. —Kenji Fujishima

2. Da 5 Bloods

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Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Lê Y Lan, Johnny Trí Nguy?n
Rating: R
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump

3. Beasts of No Nation

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Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes

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A harrowing descent into a modern-day heart of darkness, Beasts of No Nation channels Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now for its tale of one child’s recruitment into an African rebel battalion. Adapting Uzodinma Iweala’s novel with fearsome intimacy, writer/director Cary Fukunaga depicts his unidentified African setting as a mixture of lushly green forests, bullet-shattered villages and mist-enshrouded horizons—the last of which is due, at least in part, to the fires that rage throughout the countryside. Those conflagrations are the result of a conflict between government and revolutionary forces, the specifics of which the film, like its precise locale, leaves more or less vague. Fukunaga’s film is thus mired in a hazy, nightmarish fugue of violence and degradation, the director presenting a landscape of hellish depravity and amorality through the eyes of one young boy unwittingly swept up in his nation’s insanity. A coming-of-age saga twisted into unholy form, Beasts of No Nation eschews undue melodramatic manipulations (and avoids romanticizing its perversions) in charting Agu’s maturation into a pitiless soldier. —Nick Schager

4. Ip Man

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Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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2008’s Ip Man marked, finally, the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters (one of whom was Bruce Lee). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith

5. Zero Dark Thirty

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Year: 2012
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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It’s a rare occasion when a major theatrical film is as timely as director Kathryn Bigelow’s widely acclaimed military drama, Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow had been collaborating with her The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal on a film about the futile hunt for Osama bin Laden when the al-Qaeda overlord met his demise via Seal Team 6. Bigelow and Boal rewrote the entire final act—quickly—changing their film, but sticking to the basic facts. The result is a remarkably thorough, unexpectedly cinematic, two-and-half-hour chronicle of American persistence. The pervading emotion one derives from Zero Dark Thirty is a sense of gratitude, not only for the intel brains and military balls that infiltrated the cover surrounding the world’s most wanted man, but that someone like Michael Bay didn’t get his explosive-happy hands on this story. Jessica Chastain has a sort of gritty elegance as Maya, an intelligence operative who begins her assignment in 2003 a little green around the edges, and ends it in 2011 as a tough, semi-obsessed expert. Bigelow’s direction is as structured and familiar as it’s ever been; she’s just never had this much subject matter to cover. Her spit and polish as an action filmmaker is a fantastic complement—and contradiction—to Boal’s exhaustive, investigative-reporter style of story development. Think of Zero Dark Thirty as a Hollywood adaptation of a step-by-step CIA report, complete with false leads, shots in the dark, prisoner interrogation, hesitant decision-making and thousands of hours of surveillance video. Zero Dark Thirty might not be groundbreaking, but it’s tight and comprehensive, and just conventional enough to be recognized by any moviegoer as an American Thriller. And a really good one, at that. —Norm Schrager

6. The Dirty Dozen

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Year: 1967
Director: Robert Aldrich
Stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel
Rating: NR
Runtime: 150 minutes

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Imitated by many and bettered by none, Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen is the greatest men-on-a-mission movie not because it has the coolest action sequences—though the final showdown between the dozen and German forces at the French chateau is a fine bit of mayhem—but because it so capably finds a balance between nihilistic fun and viewer investment in its characters’ welfare. The first two-thirds is full of goofery, as a none-more-Lee-Marvin Lee Marvin whips a group of unrepentant criminals (including Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes, stealing every scene with his jackal’s grin) into shape for a mission in Nazi-held France, but the final third has the film take an abrupt turn, as our charming reprobates are picked off whilst slaughtering a house full of partying Germans—officers, their wives and all. A snappy, studio-lot, heroes-and-villains war movie with a wickedly subversive tone and that nasty finale, The Dirty Dozen fascinatingly straddles the Old and New Hollywood eras. 1967 was the year things started to really shift in American cinema, and The Dirty Dozen’s queasy, morally murky climax announces the sea change in spectacular fashion. —Brogan Morris

7. The Hunt For Red October

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (7)

Year: 2012
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill
Rating: PG

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Just because Sean Connery had hung up his Walter PPK for good in 1983 didn’t mean he couldn’t keep the action films coming. For once, he got to play for the other team in The Hunt For Red October as a rogue Soviet submarine captain. It was the first and best adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel with Alec Baldwin playing the now-iconic Jack Ryan. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with both the Russians and the Americans seeking Red October and a thrilling undersea adventure.—Josh Jackson

8. Darkest Hour

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (8)

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Samuel West, Ben Mendelsohn
Rating: PG-13

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Darkest Hour is a film of flummoxed old white men hollering at each other, a perfect foil to (and double-bill alongside) Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, both because the two take place at about the same time during the early years of World War II—as Hitler’s world domination began to take shape and an invasion of the UK imminent—and because they are entirely different experiences: Dunkirk is all action, while Joe Wright’s film is all words. And with volume, those words gain weight—sound, in all of its ephemera and exigencies, is just as important to Darkest Hour as it is to Nolan’s visceral spectacle, except Wright’s are the sounds of bureaucracy and urbanity building to a fever pitch, and Nolan’s are the sounds of bodies in motion through time. Rarely has the uncomfortable, marrow-deep scritch of pen to paper bore such portent, except for maybe in Wright’s other period drama, Atonement. Silence erupts from the din of war—in that ebb and flow of Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman’s performance is formidable. Not only is his makeup beyond convincing (and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy), but Oldman understands that the bluster of what’s required of him to overcome the silliness of both his casting and facade must be balanced—countered and, all puns intended, fleshed out—in quiet. The film’s two most striking moments occur in silence: When Churchill allows his secretary (Lily James, impressively reserved) a moment with him to soundlessly ponder her brother’s death at Caille, and when, first addressing the nation on May 19th to tell white lies about the state of the British army and Hitler’s advance, Churchill’s silence is a palpable thing, felt until he breaks it with the onslaught of war propagandism, which Wright only stylizes via an aerial shot of a French battlefield landscape bombed to smithereens transitioning seamlessly into the landscape of a young corpse’s face, Bruno Delbonnel’s camera lingering on a vacant, clouded-over eye. Wright often pulls out to these aerial shots, relieving the audience of the claustrophobia of war bunkers and overly-festooned rooms and smoky halls full of flummoxed old white men with a God’s Eye perspective. This push-and-pull, between loud and quiet, between intimacy and vastness, deepens what could otherwise end up a mealy-mouthed glimpse at a moment too engorged on its own laudatory memorializing. Which is why Darkest Hour transcends its biopic trappings to work, almost despite itself. —Dom Sinacola

9. Five Came Back

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Year: 2017
Director: Laurent Bouzereau
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 195 minutes (three-part docu-series)

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At its best, when text and explication fuse, Five Came Back resembles its source material, the deft combination of historical investigation and incisive criticism that defines Mark Harris’ monograph on Hollywood filmmakers in the Second World War: The series’ director, Laurent Bouzereau, substitutes the language of cinema for Harris’ descriptive precision, illustrating technique as even the finest writing cannot. If Netflix’s rendition necessary loses certain nuances, for the rare footage alone, Five Came Back is an estimable introduction to the subject, or companion to the text. Bodies bobbing off the French coast on D-Day; bloody viscera strewn on the floor of a Higgins boat; Stevens’ dreadful record of the Holocaust, later presented as evidence at Nuremberg, which he captured at Dachau in the aftermath of the German retreat: These form the spine of the series’ moving valediction, in which images—as journalism, as propaganda, as instruction, as bearing witness—are essential to our understanding of the Second World War and its unimaginable cost. —Matt Brennan

10. First They Killed My Father

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (10)

Year: 2017
Director: Angelina Jolie
Stars: Sreymoch Sareum, Kompheak Phoeung, Sochteata Sveng
Rating:TV-MA
Runtime: 136 minutes

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We may tease or scorn actors for stepping out of the frame to hunker down behind the camera, because for whatever reason we’re only cool with artists when they stay in their lane. Think of Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father as a democratic response, or, if you like, a defiant flip of the bird. It’s fitting that Jolie should be the actor to produce a film this accomplished. Recall the volume of shit shoveled on her for the release of 2014’s Unbroken, her Louis Zamperini biopic, and 2015’s By the Sea, the romantic drama she made with Brad Pitt: These were works met with deserved and undeserved response, both middling at best, but neither could be mistaken for being too vain. Whatever promise was found in her earlier movies is fully realized in First They Killed My Father, a brutal movie with a human heart. Jolie doesn’t gloss over the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. She knows honesty is the best way to face history and honor the dead, but she doesn’t find any nobility in the suffering of Loung Ung’s family as they flee from state-sanctioned genocide. First They Killed My Father’s emphasis falls on Loung, on the violence paraded before her young eyes, Jolie mining tragedy not for a misguided sense of importance but for an experiential scope and for, most of all, empathy. —Andy Crump

11. All Quiet on the Western Front

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (11)

Year: 2022
Director: Edward Berger
Stars: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Edin Hasanoviç, Daniel Brühl
Genre: War
Rating: R

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There are now three major screen adaptations of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The first two were grim reflections of the wars of their time, and remain fascinating not just for their treatment of Remarque’s work, but for viewing them in the context of the time in which they were made: Lewis Milestone’s 1930 film landed in the precise middle of the two World Wars that forever reshaped Europe; Delbert Mann’s 1979 television adaptation inescapably called back to the Vietnam War. Edward Berger’s new adaptation, distributed by Netflix, is unique among these in that it’s actually a German-language and German-led production. Despite their clear dedication to paint a universalist picture of the futility and inhumanity of modern war, the previous productions were, on some level, putting an American spin on this tale. Berger (born in then-West Germany in 1970) is not. It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that this adaptation ditches a lot of the particulars of the novel, widens its perspective characters to include top German brass, elides characters and even changes the particulars of major plot points to tell what amounts to an almost completely different story—one with a wider scope. By virtue of including two other characters, it makes an attempt to go beyond the trenches and indict the inhumanity of the people whose words cause wars. It’s wild, compared to the mostly faithful adaptations of the past. It also, inescapably, feels as if it’s more of a war film than the others, with more action scenes and necessarily less of an examination of the effect of war on the individual soldier. It’s a completely different perspective that is exceptionally well-shot and directed and raises its voice about Germany’s part of culpability for the war. It’s therefore profoundly frustrating that All Quiet on the Western Front, at times, bucks against Remarque’s thesis. It is, nonetheless, the first All Quiet on the Western Front adaptation in wide release that we’ve got from an actual German perspective. As we grow more and more distant from the war to end all wars, that kind of reappraisal becomes even more important. —i>Kenneth Lowe

12. The King

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (12)

Year: 2019
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Lily-Rose Depp, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and for Timothée Chalamet’s Henry IV, it proves nearly unbearable. It’s a heaviness that at times pervades the 140-minute film to its detriment. Still, Chalamet’s performance as the young prince “Hal” who must learn to navigate both court and battlefield is mesmerizing to watch, surrounded by a strong cast and cinematography that deserved more time on a big screen. Based partly on Shakespeare’s plays, partly on history and partly on Michôd’s own imagination, the internal conflicts are every bit as elevated as the Battle of Agincourt depicted in The King. Though he prefers peace, he’s manipulated by his advisors into attacking France, his former drinking companion Falstaff (co-writer Joel Edgerton) his now trusted lieutenant. It’s an epic tale of a reluctant king, a political betrayal and a deadly war. —Josh Jackson

13. War Machine

The 13 Best War Movies on Netflix (13)

Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Watching War Machine is to witness a film applying an accessibly dark comic tone to the low-hanging fruit of the futility of nation-building in Afghanistan. The movie takes place in 2009, when General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt as a version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal)—fresh off successes in Iraq—is put in charge of the multi-nation, U.S.-led coalition to stamp out the Taliban while molding Afghanistan into what a country should look like according to Western democracies, which, as McMahon describes it, means jobs and security. Our introduction to McMahon comes through a narrator, Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), who is based on the late Michael Hastings. It was Hastings’ article for Rolling Stone that led to McChrystal’s ouster, and it was Hastings who wrote The Operators, upon which this film is based. His narration sets the sardonic tone, and every characterization and situation that follows reinforces it. The problem with War Machine is its difficulty keeping its tone consistent in the service of a compelling story or dramatic rendering of ideas. Cullen-as-narrator casually drops that McMahon was a straight-A student with a degree from Yale, while simultaneously characterizing him as a well-meaning jock out of his depth. The way Pitt plays him and Cullen describes him, McMahon is a decent, disciplined jarhead trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. If you were already inclined to think of our involvement in Afghanistan as an incompetent diaster, War Machine might be your film: Those given charge of transforming the region can’t even make an electric razor or Blu-ray player work. But by frequently reminding us that McMahon is oblivious to what his masters really want, Michôd’s film is as much of a blunt, simple instrument as that which it tries to lampoon, essentially letting the D.C. establishment of the hook. —Anthony Salveggi

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