7 of the Best Antiwar Movies of All Time

War. It’s bloody, violent, tragic, and costly in both terms of money and human lives. However, the same qualities that make war so terrible in real life also make it an ideal subject for movies. Although some films glamorize the violence and death of war with a spectacle of special effects and blatantly unambiguous villains, other films aim for a more realistic and nuanced depiction of war. Since the latter type of these films often give an unflattering portrayal of the brutal realities of war, these films are often referred to as “antiwar.”

On the other hand, it goes without saying that there will probably never be a film that even comes close to recreating the direct experience of war. However, with wars still being fought all around the world today, we thought this would be an opportune time to take a look at some of the films that do a good job of showing the high costs of war. In no particular order, here are seven antiwar films that remind us why war is hell.

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola’s hallucinatory adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness is not only considered to be one of the century’s best films, but also one of the most powerful antiwar films ever made. Martin Sheen plays Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a troubled veteran who is tasked with assassinating a crazed Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Although the film does contain some violent killing scenes, Apocalypse Now primarily portrays the devastating psychological effects that war has on its perpetrators and its victims.

2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about a team of soldiers assigned to retrieve the last surviving brother of an American family during World War II is in many ways an uplifting war story. However, the film’s realistic and grisly depiction of the violence and death of war has led many critics to label this an antiwar film. The opening scene of the movie that shows the Allied soldiers landing on the beach in Normandy, France, is especially graphic.

3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket focuses on the dehumanizing effects that war has on the people who must participate in it. The story follows a group of U.S. Marines as they go through boot camp and are mentally indoctrinated and physically trained in preparation for combat in Vietnam. The film is notable for its realistic depiction of the rigors of boot camp, thanks in large part to the participation of real-life former U.S. Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey.

4. Jarhead (2005)

Based on Anthony Swofford’s memoir of the same name, this Sam Mendes-directed film depicts a U.S. Marine sniper’s struggle with boredom and depression during the first Gulf War. Although the film does contain some graphic images of dead civilians and soldiers, the story focuses mostly on the various psychological stresses that soldiers face in the run up to war. However, despite a scarcity of actual combat scenes, many critics consider Jarhead a compelling portrayal of the futility of war.

5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Lewis Milestone’s critically-acclaimed antiwar film is based on World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name. The story follows a group of young, idealistic German army recruits from their disillusioning experiences in basic training to their eventual exposure to the horrors of trench warfare in World War I. The film is famous for its frank depiction of the brutal conditions and deprivations that soldiers had to endure in the trenches during World War I.

6. Platoon (1986)

Director Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning film is loosely based on his own experiences serving in an infantry unit during the Vietnam War. With its uncompromising depiction of war atrocities and infighting among American soldiers, Stone’s film is regarded by many critics as one of the most realistic Vietnam War films ever made.

7. Paths of Glory (1957)

Like All Quiet on the Western Front, Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is also based on a novel by a World War I veteran. The film tells the story of three French soldiers who are selected as scapegoats to be executed for the regiment’s supposed cowardice. Colonel Dax, played by Kirk Douglas, volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial. However, despite the blatant unfairness of the proceedings, the three men are sentenced to death. The story’s basis on actual World War I events makes this movie a particularly poignant antiwar film.

All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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