A good war movie can transport the viewer to a different time and place that they could never imagine being in. Many of us are lucky to have never experienced war as it truly is, and seeing a well-done film about war can open our eyes to the victory, defeat, and valor that soldiers experience.
Unfortunately, many war films are over-dramatized and action-packed to appeal to the public. Still, there are some movies that strip away the over-production and show war in its true light. These are the most brutal and accurate war films will transport you to another world.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Everything from the military tactics used by the squad to the costuming in Saving Private Ryan was nearly perfect. The opening scene that showed the storming of Omaha beach was so accurate that some WWII veterans had to be escorted from theatres after watching it.
We’ll admit though that when it comes to the actual plot of the film, there are some inaccuracies. Tom Hanks’ character never actually existed and the plot of saving a mother’s son never happened. Despite the obvious plot issues, the actual action and facts weaved into the script were incredibly accurate.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
This 2006 war film is one of the few films out of Hollywood that doesn’t follow an American soldier’s point of view. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima is a companion piece to the Eastwood film Flags of our Fathers, which follows the same battle but from an American perspective.
Letters From Iwo Jima goes to incredible lengths to show the fearlessness of Japanese soldiers in one of the biggest battles of WWII. The film is based on a book by the Japanese General of the battle and some of his direct quotes are even used in the film.
Glory tells the story of Robert Gould Shaw—a privileged white soldier who is put in command of the first all-black regiment during the Civil War. The screenplay was based upon letters from Shaw himself that he wrote while in command of the regiment.
The film not only accurately represents race relations at the time, but even the horrors of war that are hung out for everyone to see. Many scenes in Glory show the brutality of combat and how a trip to the field hospital almost certainly resulted in death.
Keep reading to see just how accurate Black Hawk Down really was.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
In 1987, Stanley Kubrick set out to make a film about a platoon of U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War that was as accurate as possible. He began conducting research four years before filming by watching past footage of soldiers, reading Vietnamese newspapers, and studying “hundreds of photographs.” It all came together with Full Metal Jacket.
While the costuming and action scenes were already accurate, they were boosted by the experience actor R. Lee Ermey brought to the film. Ermey was a drill instructor during the Vietnam War who was supposed to be a technical advisor but asked to audition for the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
We Were Soldiers is set throughout the three-day Battle of la Drang during the Vietnam War. In particular, it showcases real tactics soldiers used like firing a few rounds of ammunition into a bush to try and flush out enemy soldiers.
Director Randall Wallace set out to make a movie based on a book about the battle written by former U.S. Army General Hal Moore. In the book, Moore complained that “every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” Wallace vowed to get it right, and according to Moore, he came pretty close.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down was based on a non-fiction book by a journalist who was embedded in Somalia when the Battle of Mogadishu happened. While other Hollywood films tend to stylize accounts of war, Black Hawk Down maintains the stripped-down and gritty style. The film expertly showcases the crash of the Black Hawk helicopter and the tactics U.S. soldiers are forced to employ under heavy fire.
While the film tends to ignore the deeper meaning of the story and the politics surrounding the Battle of Mogadishu, it still manages to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought for their lives.
Coming up, this “found footage” film shows a different point of view of war.
There are two films titled Stalingrad. One was released in Germany in 1993 and has been called “one of the most accurate war films ever” and one is an over-the-top propaganda film released in Russia in 2013. The one made in Germany is shown through the perspective of Nazi soldiers who dramatically failed after invading the Soviet city.
Stalingrad isn’t shy about including violent scenes of piled-up corpses and images of confused and panicked Nazi soldiers. Many people have praised Germany for depicting the losing side of the battle.
Lone Survivor (2013)
Based on the book of the same name, Lone Survivor follows the real-life experience that four Navy SEALs went through while stationed in Afghanistan. The SEALs were put into a life or death scenario after a Taliban attack. While much of the action might seem like it’s dramatized, it all truly did happen.
The SEALs did indeed have to jump down cliffs to escape the Taliban gunfire and Mike Murphy did give his life in order to radio for backup. Even the account of Marcus Luttrell being saved thanks to some friendly villagers is true.
84C MoPic (1989)
Released in 1989, 84C MoPic (also known as 84 Charlie MoPic) is a mock documentary that follows the view of a cameraman who is assigned to an LRRP team in Vietnam. It is one of the earliest “found footage” types of films and by all accounts is entirely accurate. Everything from the language used by the soldiers to the faulty weaponry and forms of radio communication is historically correct.
One US Army Iraq War veteran praised 84CMoPic because “there are no distracting subplots, only the immediate fight for survival.” Sometimes the independent films are the most accurate.
The next film was accurate but overshadowed by two other big blockbuster movies.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Hamburger Hill goes largely unnoticed with war films because it was released nine months after Platoon and one month after Full Metal Jacket. Despite the fact it never got a lot of press, the film has gone down for accurately portraying the day-to-day experiences of an average platoon in war. Rather than put the events into a larger frame, the film simply shows the viewer the difficulties of everyday life.
Hamburger Hill is so accurate that they even nailed the “grunt slang” used by the soldiers and had to put in subtitles. One historian also called the battle scenes “as close as you could ask for.”
While the 1970 film was meant to be a black comedy about the trial and terrors of war, it ended up becoming one of the most accurate and culturally significant war pieces. The film depicts a medical unit stationed in the Korean War but the subtext of the film is criticizing the Vietnam War.
Understandably, there were some inaccuracies with the setting and time period but by all accounts, the daily rituals and antics that the MASH unit used to keep themselves sane were remarkably accurate. A film doesn’t need to be a dramatic war epic to be historically accurate.
Come And See (1985)
Come and See is a Soviet film based on the war crimes committed by Nazi soldiers during the occupation on Belarus in WWII. The film follows a young boy as he grows up in occupied territory and experiences Nazi soldiers throwing grenades at houses for fun and other wartime atrocities.
The film culminates with a scene that’s nearly impossible to watch, as Nazi soldiers burn down an entire village and nearly all of its residents. Those who question the accuracy can find chilling photos and videos of Nazis in WWII doing the exact same thing all across Belarus.
Sergeant York (1941)
One of the oldest films on this list, Sergeant York was released in 1941 and depicts the path of real life WW1 soldier Alvin York. York is one of the most decorated soldiers of WWI after killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 132. The film follows York’s story and was extremely accurate because York was on set to advise.
The film’s accuracy and ability to positively showcase the real horrors of war led to it being the highest-grossing movie of that year. It was also credited to increasing American morale since the U.S. had just entered WWII at the time.
Das Boot (1981)
Das Boot is another German-made film that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. Set in 1942, the film looks at the crew of a German U-Boat in the Battle for the Atlantic. It portrays a nuanced view of what life was like cooped up in a submarine and remarkably shows the German soldiers struggling to understand the motivations of the Nazi party.
In Germany, Das Boot is considered one of the greatest films about U-Boat service ever made thanks to its realistic and dim portrayal of the characters.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
More than 30 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American and Japanese filmmakers came together to produce the biological war drama Tora! Tora! Tora! The film showcases both perspectives of the bombing and used as many historical sets that were available. The film shot scenes of USS destroyers and even recreated an exact model of the aircraft flown by the Japanese.
While the critical reviews for the film weren’t exactly great, Tora! Tora! Tora! has gone down as being so accurate that it is often shown in history classes covering WWII.
Enemy At The Gates (2001)
This 2001 film also depicts the Battle of Stalingrad but this time, from the Soviet perspective. Enemy at the Gates excels at showcasing the conditions that soldiers and residents of the city had to deal with during the long winter of 1942-43. The film also notably included the perspective of the female soldiers and residents who contributed to the Soviet’s success.
While the film was based on a nonfiction book, it still added some Hollywood drama by creating an entirely fictionalized main character and adding a love story half-way through.
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)
Set during the height of the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, Master and Commander follows the real-life friendship between a French Royal Navy captain and the ship’s medical surgeon. The film is based on a novel but still includes key historical facts.
While the movie might seem slow-paced, it does a surprising job of accurately showcasing a naval battle in the 17th century. Master and Commander also does a good job at painting a picture of barbaric medical practices as well as the daily life and isolation on a ship.
Act Of Valor (2012)
While Act of Valor is an entirely fictionalized script about Navy SEALS rescuing a captured CIA agent, the material and action are as accurate as it gets. The filmmakers realized that no actor could really portray or be as physically fit as the characters they wrote, so they employed actual active SEALs to play the lead roles.
If anything, the accuracy in Act of Valor was detrimental. Since they didn’t employ real actors, the acting was seen to be sub-par. Still, its accuracy led one movie critic to suggest the film should be considered a “hybrid of documentary and fiction.”
The Great Escape (1963)
One of the most iconic war films in Hollywood is also one of the most accurate. While historical accuracy wasn’t exactly praised at the time that didn’t stop The Great Escape from staying true to the time period and characters. Many of the characters were composites of real people, it was shot in authentic German settings, and there was indeed a tunnel dug to escape.
The movie does paint a more Americanized picture of the escape. The escape was largely planned by British and Canadian personnel, and the three escapees were actually Norwegian and Dutch.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
The 2006 war film is an adapted version of a documentary. It is based on the true story of a German-American pilot, Dieter Dengler, who was captured during the Vietnam War. The film follows Dengler as he is captured, tortured, imprisoned, and eventually escapes.
Rescue Dawn was praised for the lengths it went to in order to portray the day-in-day-out suffering in the camp. The film does change minor facts like Dengler’s accent and the number of men imprisoned in the camp. It also understates some of the worst torture experienced by Dengler, likely in order to receive a PG-13 rating.