The 20 Best Modern War Movies – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan War Films

The second half of the 20th century in the world was not a peaceful time. Armed conflicts mostly moved outside Europe (although a dramatic civil war broke out in the Balkans in the 1990s), but they were not among the less bloody and cruel. Here are 20 good movies about modern wars.

War film is a genre that took shape during the First World War (See The Best World War I Movies). Already in the interwar period there were many outstanding productions, for example, by Georg Wilhelm Pabst or Jean Renoir showing the hell of armed conflicts and their degrading effect on the human individual. At the same time, in the 1920s and 1930s, war movies of the battle variety were made, showing the course of specific battles or celebrating the heroism of war participants.

After World War II, war cinema became an extremely popular genre, analyzing on various levels the consequences of these tragic events (See The Best World War II Movies). Unfortunately, in recent history there has also been no shortage of armed conflicts that have inspired the works of directors. Films about the Vietnam War have become a separate sub-genre, while more recently movies about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq War films have joined them.

War movies: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea…

1. “Pork Chop Hill” (1959)

modern war movies - Pork Chop Hill

Lewis Milestone’s “Pork Chop Hill” is a movie telling the story of the Korean War. The picture depicts a significant episode of the conflict – the battle for Pork Chop Hill in the late spring and early summer of 1953. At the time, many American soldiers left in front of the command without thoughtful tactics were killed during the assault on the Chinese positions. Indeed, the fighting for Pork Chop continued during the UN peace negotiations. The main character of the film is Lieutenant Joe Clemons (played by Gregory Peck), who loses his men one by one during the battle while waiting for delaying support.

2. “MASH” (1970)

the best modern war films - MASH

Robert Altman’s “MASH” is another war film set during the Korean War. The conflict is shown here through the prism of the experience of field doctors, taking care of the wounded. The main characters are two medics who are assigned to work in one of the war hospitals. It quickly turns out that Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Captain Augustus Bedford “Duke” Forrest (Tom Skerritt) are two vivacious personalities, who by no means intend to give up their good humor in dangerous circumstances. The film won an Oscar, a Palme d’Or and a Golden Globe, among other awards.

3. “The 317th Platoon” (“La 317e section”), 1965

the best modern warfare movies - The 317 Platoon

Platoon 317 is a French war movie set in Vietnam, in 1954, during the Indochina conflict. A squad of French soldiers is retreating from the battlefield. The commander, Lieutenant Torrens, in addition to the enemy forces, must shoulder the consequences of the decision to retreat. The film directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for best screenplay. It starred Jacques Perrin in the lead role.

4. “The Deer Hunter”, 1978

the best Vietnam War movies - The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter” by Michael Cimino is an award-winning Vietnam War film. The picture won five Oscars, a Golden Globe, two BAFTA statuettes, among others. The piece tells the story of three friends, Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), who are sent to the front in Vietnam. In their homeland, they leave their wives, fiancés and families behind. Just before the trip, Mike goes on a hunting trip with the goal of shooting a deer. During hostilities, the friends end up in captivity, where they are persecuted by sadistic enemy commanders. One day they manage to escape, but during the evacuation an accident occurs and the soldiers are separated – each of them is on his own.

5. “Apocalypse Now”, 1979

the best Vietnam War films - Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s famous novel, “Heart of Darkness”. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) during Vietnam War deserts from the American army and establishes his own state on the outskirts of Cambodia. The Americans pass a death sentence on the disobedient soldier, and the mission to execute him is entrusted to Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen). When the military man and his men end up in the wild jungle, the whole thing is no longer clear to him. The movie won two Oscars, three Golden Globes, a Palme d’Or and three BAFTA statuettes, among others.

6. “The Killing Fields”, 1984

Top Vietnam War movies - The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields by Roland Joffe is another Vietnam War movie. The main characters of the picture are an American war correspondent, Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and his assistant Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). When civil war breaks out in Cambodia between the Khmer Rouge faction and the government, the situation for both men deteriorates dramatically. Pran, along with other residents of the capital Phnom Penh, is sent to a labor camp. The film won many prestigious awards, including three Oscars and six BAFTA statuettes.

7. “Platoon”, 1986

top Vietnam War films - Platoon

“Platoon” is one of the cult war movies. The plot of Oliver Stone’s work is set during the Vietnam War. A young, spirited American soldier – Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) – is sent to the front. The direct experience of war comes as a shock to the young man. The man quickly learns that the constant balancing act between life and death is too demanding for the average person. An outstanding performance in the film alongside Sheen was also created by Willem Defoe. Among other awards, the film won four Academy Awards.

8. “Full Metal Jacket”, 1987

Best Vietnam War movies - Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is another movie about the Vietnam War. It tells the story of a young war correspondent and soldier, Joker, who goes to Vietnam to fight and report on the conflict. The film is based on the memoirs of Gustav Hasford. The role of the main character was played by Matthew Modine. His companions, meanwhile, were played by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio and Arliss Howard.

9. “Born on the Fourth of July”, 1989

Vietnam movies - Born on the Fourth of July

Oliver Stone’s cult movie tells the wartime story of an authentic character, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). The man volunteers for the army and goes to Vietnam. He believes that his attitude will serve the good of the homeland and future generations. However, he returns from the war severely maimed, and his view of the world is completely transformed. The film won Academy Awards for directing and editing; it also won four Golden Globes.

10. “We Were Soldiers”, 2002

Movies about Vietnam War - We Were Soldiers

“We Were Soldiers” is another Vietnam War film. The picture is set in 1965, during one of the first battles of the Americans against the Vietcong – in la Drang Valley. The main character of the film is Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moor (played by Mel Gibson), whose unit gets trapped and has to face an overwhelming enemy force. “We Were Soldiers” exposes the absurdity of war and the sacrifices made in it.

Modern War Movies

11. “Under Fire”, 1983

Movies about recent wars - Under Fire

“Under Fire” is a movie about the civil war in Nicaragua, which broke out in the late 1970s. The main character of the picture by Roger Spottiswoode is an American photojournalist, Russell Price (Nick Nolte), who goes to the conflict area to report on the course of events. He is accompanied by his colleagues Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman) and Claire (Joanna Cassidy). The group manages to reach the guerrilla camp. At the urging of the soldiers after the death of their leader, they take photos of the deceased suggesting that the man did not die at all. This becomes the beginning of a series of dangerous accidents. The film won an Oscar and Golden Globes nomination, as well as the Donatello Award.

12. “The Winter War” (“Talvisota”, 1989)

the best war films - the Winter War

The Finnish war drama tells the story of the eponymous “The Winter War”, a conflict between Finland and the USSR in late 1939 and early 1940. The fighting between the Red Army and Finnish forces took place mainly on the Karelian Isthmus. The film by Pekka Parikka shows the heroism of Finland’s soldiers, who did not surrender in the face of crushing Soviet superiority, and their troops inflicted heavy losses on the invaders. Winter War won a Golden Bear nomination.

13. “No Man’s Land”, 2001

Movies about the war in the Balkans- No Mans Land

“No Man’s Land” directed by Danis Tanović is a movie about the civil war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Only a Serb and a Bosnian, as well as a wounded soldier on a mine, emerge from the battle between two hostile units unscathed. In order to save the comrade, the men call a truce. Soon UN forces and a TV camera arrive on the scene to broadcast the sensational event. Maintained in the climate of a tragicomedy, “No Man’s Land” won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Palme d’Or, among other awards. The film stars Branko Djuric and Rene Bitorajac in lead roles.

14. “Black Hawk Down”, 2001

best war films - Movies about the war in Somalia - Black Hawk Down

“Black Hawk Down” is a famous movie by Ridley Scott, set during the civil war in Somalia in the 1990s. The picture concerns one episode of the conflict: the battle in Mogadishu. The plot is based on a book by Mark Bowden, depicting real events. An American squad is to kidnap two Somali leaders. However, the plot gets complicated, two helicopters are shot down, and the soldiers have to face an enraged mob. The film won two Oscars: for editing and sound, and the cinematographer of Scott’s work was Slawomir Idziak. The film starred Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Eric Bana, among others.

15. “Tears of the Sun”, 2003

the greatest war movies - Tears of the Sun

“Tears of the Sun” is a movie by Antoine Fuqua about the civil war in Nigeria in the late 1960s. Nigerian rebels begin to mass murder their opponents and Europeans residing in the country. An American unit under the command of Lieutenant Waters (Bruce Willis) is deployed to evacuate a young doctor, Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Belluci). However, the woman does not want to leave the country without the children in her care. Initially skeptical, Waters eventually agrees to help her. Some of the patients are transported by helicopters, while the remaining group must cross the jungle to the Cameroonian border.

16. “Hotel Rwanda”, 2004

Best modern military movies - Hotel Rwanda

“Hotel Rwanda” is a fact-based drama set in Rwanda during the bloody fighting between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, in 1994. The main character of the film is Paul Rusesabagina, manager of a luxury hotel. When civil war breaks out, the man decides to give shelter to more than 1,200 refugees. At the risk of his own life and that of his family, Paul fights to save the people who trust him.Starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, who were nominated for an Academy Award for their acting performances. In addition, the film directed by Terry George earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay and several Golden Globes and BAFTA Award nominations.

17. “Jarhead”, 2005

Iraq War Movies - Jarhead

“Jarhead” by Sam Mendes is a film about the Gulf War. Iraqi troops are entering Iraq. The U.S. is sending its forces to the conflict area. One of the soldiers is 20-year-old Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal), a volunteer who enthusiastically enlists in the Marines. After training, the man finds himself on the front lines and confronts his imaginings with the real picture of war – a completely absurd, chaotic slaughter. Other roles featured Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Lucas Black, among others.

18. “9th Company” (“9 rota”), 2005

Afghanistan movies -9th Company

The “9th Company” is a high-profile Russian war movie that depicts the war in Afghanistan. The conflict, in which the USSR engaged its large forces, turned out to be a defeat for the great power. In turn, the memory of this defeat is particularly painful for Russians. “9th Company” by Fiodor Bondarczuk is a propaganda film, made on the model of American superproductions. The story of the fate of the title 9th Company, a Soviet troop of soldiers heroically defending Hill 3234, contains numerous misrepresentations and inaccuracies designed to highlight the exceptional attitude of the Russians.

19. “The Hurt Locker”, 2008

the best Iraq War Movies - The Hurt Locker

“The Hurt Locker” is Kathryn Bigelow’s six Oscar-winning Iraq War movie. The author of “Zero Dark Thirty” depicts the fate of a squad of American sappers who have to face a constant balancing act between life and death. The main character of the picture is Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner), who takes command after the death of his predecessor. Soon the war becomes his addiction.

20. “American Sniper”, 2014

the best Iraq War Films - American Sniper

Fact-based story about the fate of Chris Kyle, considered the best sniper in the Navy SEALs. The legendary character was played by Bradley Cooper. His wife, on the other hand, was played by Sienna Miller. “American Sniper” by Clint Eastwood is a story set on the borderline of two worlds: war and peace, family life and loneliness. Ironically, the greatest danger can lurk in the most innocent circumstances.

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