From patriotic films and public service announcements to retellings of historical events, the subject of war in cinema has evolved into a genre of its own and is now an important artistic expression of people and politics. But why are war movies so popular among viewers, filmmakers, and critics alike? It’s not because anyone wants to see the atrocities that wars bring with them but because we want to see the story behind the scenes and be somewhere we haven’t been or learn something that no one should ever have to experience directly in real life.
Most of the time, war movies gain popularity among fans not just for the heroism or the glorified portrayal of events but for the atmosphere they create. War movies, as grim as they might be, are a way of turning the most horrific acts of human society into a compelling and immersive work of art. It recreates history for future generations and evokes empathy, pushing us to be better as a species. Stories of war make its machinations more humanized for us, bring us closer to things we often distance ourselves from, and give us a different perspective.
This genre of movies has a very special place in filmmaking and finds fans across all categories. So, we did some digging and found these titles that you cannot miss. Here’s a list of the best war movies you can watch on Netflix right now. In this list, there are heroic sacrifices, psychological struggles, political conspiracies, historical events, and more. Whether you are a history buff or just eager to learn about the past, these Netflix war movies are sure to fulfill all your entertainment goals.
Editor's note: This article was updated October 2022 to include Zero Dark Thirty.
Related:The Best Action Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Outlaw King (2018)
Director: David Mackenzie | Run Time: 2 hr 17 min
Cast: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Stephen Dillane
If you need a slice of Scottish history served to you in bloody fashion, Outlaw King is a great follow-up to Braveheart. Anyone who saw Mel Gibson’s Best Picture-winning epic knows how the rebel leader William Wallace perished during the conflict against the English crown, and Outlaw King picks up with a subsequent rebel movement led by Wallace’s close ally, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine). Bruce gathers a group of loyal lords, and they gradually take back their homeland castle-by-castle. As you might expect, there’s no shortage of brutal combat. Pine re-teamed with his Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie for this fast-paced historical thriller. — Liam Gaughan
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow | Run Time: 2 hr 37 min
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle
Nominated for five Oscars and grossing over $130 million, Zero Dark Thirty was both a critical and box office success. The film stars an excellent Jessica Chastain as Maya, a CIA analyst tasked with finding Osama bin Laden – the man responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Dark, gripping, and expertly crafted, the film is sure to have you on the edge of your seat and raises some interesting, complicated questions about terrorism and war. – Taylor Gates
Darkest Hour (2017)
Director: Joe Wright | Run Time: 2 hr 5 min
Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn
Gary Oldman finally took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his brilliant performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s biopic. Rather than focus on the Prime Minister’s entire life, Darkest Hour shows the critical period involving Churchill’s surprise election into office and the early stages of World War II. It covers similar material to Dunkirk, and shows the political maneuvering Churchill had to handle in order to pull off the daring rescue of British troops from the French coast. Darkest Hour is much more thrilling than what you may expect; Oldman gives the role his all, and shows the subtle moments of humanity as Churchill faces skepticism from opponents that surround him. — Liam Gaughan
Blood Diamond (2006)
Director: Edward Zwick | Run Time: 2 hr 23 min
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Dijmon Honsou, Jennifer Connoelly, Michael Sheen
Blood Diamond is a gripping action-thriller set within the height of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Decades of civil war have tarnished the country, and amidst the never ending cycle of violence, many families are separated. The local fish trader Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is forced to enlist the aid of a Rhodesian smuggler, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), to help him locate rare jewels that could help his family survive. Although DiCaprio pulls off the difficult South African accent, it's Honsou who is the heart of the film. It easily could have felt like Blood Diamond was making pulp entertainment out of a real tragedy, but Honsou shows the desperate efforts common people must make to survive. — Liam Gaughan
Outside the Wire (2021)
Director: Mikael Håfström | Run Time: 1 hr 55 min
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham
Outside the Wire is a science-fiction military film that seems little more than an action-packed romp, but it has so much more to say. Set in the near future, Damson Idris plays drone pilot Harp who makes a tactical decision and is subsequently punished for it. For his crimes he’s redeployed and assigned to work with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), who is secretly a highly sophisticated android super-soldier. Much of the film rides on Idris and Mackie’s banter and frenemy chemistry. Neither can really trust each other, and it isn’t clear if the audience can either. As most action films of this kind go, there’s a grander conspiracy at play, which is revealed slowly. If Outside the Wire is guilty of anything, it’s that it thoroughly buries the lede! This film has a very important message to send but doesn’t get to it till well into the third act. It’s highly recommended to stick around because the denouement is rewarding. We do suggest caution as this fictional story is set in Ukraine and can be upsetting given the current war in the country. – Monita Mohan
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Run Time: 3 hr 22 min
Cast: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest
If you have seen the original classic Apocalypse Now, then this should be your follow-up. And if you haven’t, then this should be on the top of your classic war movies list. This epic psychological war film is considered to be one of the best works of award-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. In 1979, Coppola made Apocalypse Now, and then 22 years later, he released an extended version titled Apocalypse Now Redux. This 2001 movie is technically a re-edit of Apocalypse Now, which includes about 50 minutes of additional material that was not there in the original version.
Set during the Vietnam War, the plot follows the journey of U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) from South Vietnam to Cambodia on the Nung River. Willard is sent on a mission to take out Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a rebel officer of the Army Special Forces, who is accused of murder and is also considered to have lost his mind. What follows is an intense interaction between the two men and a mind game that would leave you with a lot of questions. Suspenseful and cerebral, Apocalypse Now is nothing like all the other war movies you would have seen before and it's a major cultural milestone in cinematic history.
The King (2019)
Director: David Michôd | Run Time: 2 hr 20 min
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Tom Glynn-Carney
Though based on and made as an epic, The King is technically a movie about a historical war. The story is based on William Shakespeare’s Henriad. Adapted from three different plays about Henry IV and Henry V, the plot focuses on Henry V, the eldest son of King Henry IV of England. The prince is an emotionally distant and disenchanted individual, who experiences a turnaround of life and character after his father’s death. Henry must navigate his emotions, royal politics, and the adversaries that his father left behind and become the rightful king that his kingdom expects him to be.
The tone of The King is very classic Shakespearean, as you would imagine. While there's no constant sword-crossing, there are a couple of significant and historical battles which are quite brutal and make this movie fit well into the war genre.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Director: Spike Lee | Run Time: 2 hr 34 min
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis
There are the usual stories of Vietnam war vets and then there’s Da 5 Bloods. An acclaimed and still underrated movie, to say the least, Da 5 Bloods is a powerful story that would be hard to forget if you watch it once.
Co-written and directed by Spike Lee, the movie follows a group of black Vietnam veterans who reunite in Vietnam after years to search for the remains of their squad leader and a buried treasure they had left behind when they were serving in the war. You may not look at it as a “war story” per se, but this is war-adjacent and shows enough of the struggle and trauma that wars bring to people, even if it’s years later. While the journey of these old war vets reconnecting with their past is very emotional, the performances are the real delight. Also, Chadwick Boseman’s work is something to look out for.
First They Killed My Father (2017)
Director: Angelina Jolie | Run Time: 2 hr 16 min
Cast: Sreymoch Sareum, Kompheak Phoeung, Socheata Sveng, Dara Heng, Kimhak Mun
Loung Ung, a Cambodian-American author and human rights activist, penned her personal experience as a little girl during the Khmer Rouge regime in her book First They Killed My Father. The eponymous movie is a cinematic recount of the same incidents that took place in the 1970s, during the Vietnam War. When Ung was seven years old, her parents and siblings were sent to labor camps and she was forced into training as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer-language biographical historical thriller, directed by Angelina Jolie, explores the traumatic events in Ung and her family’s life in the camps and how she and some of her siblings manage to escape and eventually reunite.
Although the movie is a dramatized retelling of the true story, the struggles of Ung and her family as depicted are quite horrific and painful. But at the same time, it also gives a first-person insight into the events of the Vietnam war, parts of which are still unknown to many.
Too Young the Hero (1988)
Director: Buzz Kulik | Run Time: 1 hr 37 min
Cast: Ricky Schroder, R. Pickett Bugg, Jon DeVries, Rick Warner, Mary-Louise Parker
Another war movie based on true events, Too Young the Hero is a fictional retelling of the life of Calvin Graham, who was jailed as a deserter after becoming a WWII hero. Graham is also known to be the youngest American serviceman to serve and fight in WWII.
Set in 1942, this historical war drama film follows a 12-year-old Graham, who joins the United States Navy in Houston. Though he is only 12, he looks older than his age and he forges his mother’s signature to enlist in the navy. After completing basic training, he is assigned to the USS South Dakota to fight the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. But after the war, things take a bad turn when his officers learn the truth about his age and send him to a military prison. The story is told through a series of flashbacks to all the events that led Graham to prison. There are many elements in this movie that makes it a great watch – the story of a young boy doing the most daring thing one could imagine, wanting adventure in his life, a soldier fighting at all costs for his country, and a man fighting for his truth.
War Machine (2017)
Director: David Michôd | Run Time: 2 hr 2 min
Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, Topher Grace
There is nothing humorous about war but sometimes, the best way to understand the most complex and brutal things is to add some humor to them. War Machine is such a movie. The satirical, dark war comedy is set to the backdrop of the Afghanistan war and is based on the non-fiction book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings.
The plot follows madcap four-star U.S General Glen MacMahon, played by Brad Pitt, who is sent to Afghanistan with a mission to end the war. The catch is he can’t request more troops but MacMahon goes ahead and decides to recruit 40,000 additional troops. His decision leads to a series of unpredictable consequences, including press coverage and an exposé that discredits him and jeopardizes his mission. The movie is a dramatized and fictionalized account of the events of Hastings’ book with MacMahon’s character derived from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal. With its quirky, tongue-in-cheek narrative, this movie is sure to make you look at the whole concept of war in a different way. And of course, there’s a subtle lesson at the end.
The Wolf’s Call (2019)
Director: Antonin Baudry | Run Time: 1 hr 55 min
Cast: François Civil, Omar Sy, Mathieu Kassovitz, Reda Kateb, Paula Beer
This 2019 movie is a peek into a grittier, darker narrative that many don’t associate French cinema with. The Wolf’s Call, or Le Chant du loup in French, follows the events surrounding the members on board the French submarine Titane. On a rescue mission, they pick up an unidentified sonar contact. Officer Chanteraide, known to have an infallible sense of hearing, must use his skills to track down what appears to be a nuclear threat. But as is the case with most of such incidents, he makes a mistake, putting the mission and his crew at risk. To know what happens next, or whether he saves the day, you have to watch the movie. The Wolf’s Call was highly acclaimed and well-reviewed among fans and critics alike. So, it’s definitely worth a shot.
Director: Zhang Yimou | Run Time: 1 hr 56 min
Cast: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Qianyuan, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, Leo Wu, Wang Jingchun
Now, warfare doesn’t always have to involve modern firepower or global political conspiracies. War stories can be epic, poetic, even fantasy-like. Legendary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou proves it so once again, with this 2018 feature. Titled Ying in Chinese, the wuxia film explores the story of an ambitious general during the Three Kingdom period in China. At the center of the story is Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao), who is determined to achieve victory over his rival kingdom and devises an intricate master plan to that end.
What’s striking in this movie, like most of Yimou’s works, is the narrative and its presentation. While there are some loose references to real, historical events, Shadow hinges more on the mythical, mystical, and theatrical aspects of those legends. Yes, there’s warfare and an abundance of it, but the narrative focuses more on the backstory and the machinations that lead to the actual battles. With the larger-than-life visual display in colors, costumes, and backdrops, this movie is like watching poetry unfold on screen.
The Siege of Jadotville (2016)
Director: Richie Smyth | Run Time: 1 hr 48 min
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong, Mikael Persbrandt, Jason O'Mara
Based on the 2005 book The Siege of Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle by Declan Power, this action-drama war film explores the Irish Army’s role in a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. The story is set in 1961 when a small unit of the Irish Army is stationed in the mining town of Jadotville in Congo to hold off the civil war following the death of the Congolese Prime Minister. The unit, led by Connor Cruise O’Brien (Mark Strong) fights the local mercenaries and Katangese forces for five days before Jadotville is sieged. What happens after that is exactly why you need to watch this movie. Highly acclaimed and well-received among fans and critics, The Siege of Jadotville exposes you to the brutality of war and is a reminder of a significant historical event that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga | Run Time: 2 hr 17 min
Cast: Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel "King King" Nii Adom Quaye
Award-winning filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga, of No Time to Die and True Detective fame, directed and wrote this war drama movie adapted from the eponymous novel by Uzodinma Iweala. Beasts of No Nation is a war movie in all senses of the phrase, featuring endless battles.
It follows a young boy named Agu in a small region in West Africa in the middle of a horrifying civil war. As the war tears his country apart, Agu is forced to join a team of rebels and is trained as a child soldier to fight in the war. The rebel leader takes Agu and his fellow soldiers down a violent and bloody path. Like most of Fukunaga's works, this story will leave you with a nightmarish feeling, empathizing with the trauma that the young child soldiers experience in such war-torn regions.
Sand Castle (2017)
Director: Fernando Coimbra | Run Time: 1 hr 53 min
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green, Henry Cavill
The story of this movie is taken directly from the personal experiences of its writer, Chris Roessner. Sand Castle revolves around Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a young soldier in the United States Army who is stationed in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Ocre is assigned the task of restoring the water supply in a small village but his mission is not as simple as he thought. The events that follow are terrifying and emotional at the same time. With convincing performances by the cast members and a powerful story, this Netflix original movie promises a good watch.
The Photographer of Mauthausen (2018)
Director: Mar Targarona | Run Time: 1 hr 50 min
Cast: Mario Casas, Alain Hernandez, Macarena Gomez, Mac Rodriguez
Another movie based on real-life events, this Spanish historical biography drama retells the true story of Spanish photographer and civil war veteran Francisco Boix during his time at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex in Austria. The movie is centered around Boix (Mario Casas), a prisoner at the Nazi concentration camp in Mauthausen, and his attempts to collect and save photographic evidence of what happens inside the camp. From the horrific treatment of millions of innocent Jews to all the atrocities committed by the Nazi officers, the photographer records it all. Boix and his fellow prisoners risk their lives and do anything to hide the negatives from the officers and other people who would want it all gone.
The Photographer of Mauthausen is a moving story of one man trying to fight for justice and an insight into the dreadful realities of life in those camps.
The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
Director: Grant Heslov | Run Time: 1 hr 34 min
Cast: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor
When it comes to winning a war, how far would politicians and bureaucrats go? This movie will show you the extent to which armies are trained to oust their enemies. The Men Who Stare at Goats explores an uncanny, unnatural angle to warfare – the use of psychic powers. Unbelievable, isn’t it?
The movie is a fictionalized account of an actual investigation into the U.S military engaging psychic powers as a weapon, documented in the non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Ronson in 2004. The story is essentially a dark, satirical comedy set against the backdrop of the Iraq War. It follows an Ann Arbor reporter named Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who goes to Kuwait to report on the war after his wife leaves him.
With nothing holding him back and also to prove himself to his wife, Bob lands on a story that would change his life and career. He meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a retired U.S Army Special Forces operator, who claims that he was once a part of a unit that trained people to become psychic spies, quite like the Jedis. These spies were skilled with parapsychological abilities like invisibility, remote viewing/sensing, and phasing, among others. It’s strangely intriguing and fascinating and gives an unexpected angle to what we know of war movies. Whether all these things exist for real or not is secondary but as a movie it’s great, complemented by the A-list lead cast.
War Dogs (2016)
Director: Todd Phillips | Run Time: 1 hr 54 min
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper
Another dark war comedy, War Dogs is one of those war-adjacent movies that will definitely ease the trauma of other intense stories on this list. Adapted from a Rolling Stone article of the same title by Guy Lawson, War Dogs follows two American youngsters and their path to becoming arms dealers.
The movie centers on Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) who get into the business of selling arms to the U.S government for the ongoing Iraq War. They somehow manage to convince the army and land a contract of $300 million to supply ammunition to the Afghan National Army. It’s a story of two friends, and their wild and crazy ride of war, corruption, and ambition. Although based on true events and real characters, the movie is highly dramatized and takes a very satirical look at warfare and the arms trade.
The Outpost (2020)
Director: Rod Lurie | Run Time: 2 hr 3 min
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cory Hardrict
Based on the 2012 non-fiction book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper, the movie depicts the Battle of Kamdesh in the war in Afghanistan, through a fictionalized plot.
The Outpost follows the events of October 2009, when 300 Taliban soldiers attacked a U.S. army outpost in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan. The region, at that time, was one of the most dangerous ones for the Americans. This is a story of valor, courage, and an iron determination of not giving up and celebrates the spirit of American soldiers. The narrative is of a classic war movie with intense, nail-biting moments, and it’s sure to spark all those patriotic emotions.