Best World War II Movies Ever Made, Ranked

For decades, filmmakers have tackled the sensitive and emotionally-driven theme of World War II in an array of noteworthy and poignant pictures. These moving and oftentimes brutal depictions of the horrors, shocking realities, and devastating impacts of the violent war seem to deeply touch audiences across the world.


Production studios continuously harness tales of this frightening and monumental period of history with gripping and heartbreaking stories, and moviegoers can’t help but be drawn to them. Some of Hollywood’s most talented and esteemed visionaries have ventured into the touching and difficult subject, crafting memorable and thought-provoking results and frequently winning Best Picture Oscars as a result.

From legendary directors like Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino to cinema’s most brilliant stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Tom Hanks, and Liam Neeson, both talent and creators can’t seem to stay away from World War II pictures. Whether depicting harrowing tales of soldiers going behind enemy lines to rescue one of their own, like in Saving Private Ryan, with its incredible opening scene, or the assembly of a band of murdering misfits in The Dirty Dozen, the cinema has been home to some epic war dramas. These are some of the best World War II movies ever made.

Update December 4, 2023: This article has been updated with more information regarding the greatest World War II films, as well as where each title is streaming.


15 The Pianist (2002)

The Pianist

The Pianist

Release Date
September 17, 2002

Director
Roman Polanski

Cast
Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox, Michal Zebrowski, Ed Stoppard, Maureen Lipman, Frank Finlay

Rating
R

Runtime
149

Main Genre
Biography

Roman Polanski’s 2002 biographical war drama The Pianist is based on the Holocaust memoir of Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, depicting his struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. The emotionally-moving picture has a deep connection with Polanski, as he escaped from the Kraków Ghetto after the death of his mother and ended up living in a Polish farmer’s barn until the war’s end.

What Makes The Pianist One of the Best War Movies of All Time?

The incredibly gifted Adrien Brody poignantly portrays Szpilman, preparing for the Oscar-winning role by breaking up with his girlfriend, selling his apartment and car, and disconnecting from the world by moving to Europe. The actor took the method approach in order to truly understand the man who lost everything, dropping his weight by 30 pounds to heartrendingly embody the musician who spent two years in hiding in the ghetto of Warsaw.

Stream on Prime Video and PlutoTV

14 The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen

A remake of the 1967 film, directed by Suicide Squad director David Ayer.

Release Date
2022-00-00

Director
David Ayer

Genres
Action, Adventure

Robert Aldrich’s 1967 war flick The Dirty Dozen is based on the 1965 bestseller by E.M. Nathanson that was inspired by a real-life WWII unit of behind-the-lines demolition specialists from the 101st Airborne Division named the “Filthy Thirteen.” The ensemble pictures stars Lee Marvin and a strong supporting cast like Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Sutherland. It follows a rebellious U.S. Army Major who is tasked with training a dozen convicted murderers, ultimately leading them into a mass assassination mission of German officers.

What Makes The Dirty Dozen One of the Best War Movies Ever?

Many cast members of the film actually served in World War II, including Bronson (US Army Air Forces) and Borgnine (US Navy). The Dirty Dozen was well-received by critics and moviegoers, with The New York Daily News writing that it is, “a blessed relief from the strain of gory details and grim aspects of war, fought by a mere handful of American on foreign soil.”

Stream on MGM+

13 Downfall (2004)

Downfalll

Downfalll

Release Date
September 8, 2004

Director
Oliver Hirschbiegel

Cast
Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler, Heino Ferch

Rating
R

Runtime
150

Main Genre
Biography

This 2004 German film by director Oliver Hirschbiegel details Adolf Hitler’s final days in a Berlin bunker as the Soviets lay siege to the city. The film was based on two books: Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest and Until the Final Hour by Traudl Junge, one of Hitler’s secretaries played by Alexandra Maria Lara in this film.

Related: Adolf Hitler in Cinema: Some of the Best Movie Depictions of the Monster

What Makes Downfall Such a Classic?

Controversial at the time of release for humanizing Hitler, Downfall nevertheless received positive reviews and an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature. Bruno Ganz, who plays Hitler, also received accolades for his performance. A harrowing look at the mental breakdown of one of history’s worst monsters as everything around him crumbles to ruins, this drama is well worth checking out.

Stream on YouTube and Tubi

12 Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

hacksaw ridge

Hacksaw Ridge

Release Date
October 7, 2016

Director
Mel Gibson

Cast
Andrew Garfield, Richard Pyros, Jacob Warner, Milo Gibson, Darcy Bryce, Roman Guerriero

Rating
R

Runtime
131

Main Genre
Drama

Mel Gibson’s 2016 biographical war drama Hacksaw Ridge focuses on the World War II experiences of pacifist combat medic Desmond Doss who, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian refused to use or carry a weapon or firearm of any kind. The film was based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector, and after initially turning down the project twice, Gibson finally agreed and was tasked with creating a concoction of violence and faith. Andrew Garfield powerfully portrays Doss, and the biopic features the additional talents of stars like Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, and Vince Vaughn.

What Makes Hacksaw Ridge Such a Seminal Movie?

Upon reading the screenplay for the first time, Garfield revealed he was moved to tears; the actor spent a year studying to be a Jesuit priest to prepare, lost 40 pounds, and went on a silent retreat in Wales (all of which may have helped him for his role as a Christian missionary in Silence). The Oscar-nominated drama garnered universal acclaim upon its release, earning praise for both Gibson’s directing and Garfield’s moving performance.

Stream on Netflix

11 The Thin Red Line (1998)

George Clooney in The Thin Red Line (1)

Terrence Mallick’s seminal war movie, The Thin Red Line sailed under the radar thanks to the huge success of Saving Private Ryan released just six months before, yet, despite its unfortunate timing, this classic film was a wondrous hit with both critics and audiences alike. Following the story of a US Army Corps at Guadalcanal in the Pacific, The Thin Red Line details the final efforts of the American army to defeat the resilient Japanese resistance.

What Makes The Thin Red Line a Great War Movie

This screen adaptation of James Jones’ 1962 autobiography of the same name is a unique, compelling, and contemplative account of life at war. Malick does a truly sublime job at fusing together in-depth character studies with blood-infused action, offering us a multi-dimensional perspective of those who served and how they coped with the physical demands placed on them and the psychological damage endured.

Stream on Starz

10 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge Over the River Kwai
Horizon Pictures

Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, the 1957 epic war drama The Bridge on the River Kwai is based on the Pierre Boulle novel of the same name and tells the harrowing story of a group of British prisoners of war who are forced to build the Burma Railway by the Japanese, unaware that their allies are preparing a dangerous mission to destroy it. Starring cinema greats William Holden and Alec Guinness, the compelling picture offers a fictionalized account on the real-life construction of the railway bridge, with more than 60,000 Allied prisoners of war having been involuntarily tasked with working on its construction against their will.

What Makes The Bridge Over the River Kwai Such a Great Film?

The Bridge on the River Kwai won a whopping seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, with the Philadelphia Inquirer declaring, “There can be no question of this searching, searing picture’s greatness; no doubt that here is the finest, and very likely the most honest, anti-war drama ever made.” The critically-acclaimed drama landed on the American Film Institute’s list of best American films ever made, coming in at number 13 on their ranking.

Stream on FuboTV

9 Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Release Date
August 19, 2009

Director
Quentin Tarantino

Cast
Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger

Rating
R

Runtime
152

Main Genre
Adventure

Writers
Quentin Tarantino

The master of cinema mayhem Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed the 2009 war film Inglourious Basterds, telling an alternate history story of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s leadership: one planned by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers and the other by a French Jewish theater owner. Tarantino spent over a decade creating the script and viewed the project as his masterpiece-in-the-making and his best work thus far. He described the men of the picture as “not your normal hero types that are thrown into a big deal in the Second World War.”

Why is Tarantino’s Film One of the Best Ever?

The famed director wanted the character of Hans Landa portrayed by a native German-speaking actor and cast Austrian Christoph Waltz who “gave me my movie.” Tarantino was worried the part was unplayable, but Waltz delivered an Oscar-winning knockout performance as the ruthless SS officer. With an additional cast of Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, and Michael Fassbender, it’s no wonder the film was a smash hit at the box office.

Stream on Prime and YouTube

8 Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

Release Date
July 26, 1989

Director
Isao Takahata

Cast
Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi

Rating
Not Rated

Runtime
1hr 29min

Main Genre
Animation

This 1988 Japanese animated movie was based on a semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film follows two children, the 14-year-old Seita and his four-year-old sister, Setsuko, as they struggle to survive after an American firebombing kills their mother. Seen as a powerful anti-war film in the West, director Isao Takahata sees a different message, one of living a failed life due to isolation from society.

Why is Grave of the Fireflies Such a Powerful World War II Film?

Animated by the legendary Studio Ghibli, who paired the film in a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro upon initial release. Roger Ebert said the film is “an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.” A film that will reduce even the hardest person to tears, Grave of the Fireflies is a film that rightfully earns its place amongst the best war films ever made.

Rent on Apple TV+

7 Come and See (1985)

Aleksei Kravchenko as Flyora (Come And See) (1)

1985’s Russian-language feature, Come and See, is an immensely personal portrayal of a Belarusian boy joining the Soviet Resistance after finding a rifle. This Soviet anti-war movie is a harrowing, reflective, and often horrifying chronicle of war in war-torn Russia.

Why Come and See is Such a Breathtaking War Movie

Come and See offers a poignant and in-depth exploration into the life of Flyora, capturing the atrocities so vividly through Director Erik Klimov’s unrestrained lens. This is a film that exposes the true nature of war and the all-absorbing essence of this permanent stain on modern history.

Stream on the Criterion Channel

6 Oppenheimer (2023)

Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Director
Christopher Nolan

Cast
Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, Josh Hartnett, Jack Quaid, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Alex Wolff, Matthew Modine

Christopher Nolan’s filmmaking career has registered hit after hit for the last two decades, and the highly anticipated release of Oppenheimer followed in the same vein. Opening concurrently with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie on the aptly named Barbenheimer weekend, traversing the tale of the “Father of the Atomic Bomb”, Robert J. Oppenheimer played by the flawless Cillian Murphy. The film documents the theoretical physicist’s work at Los Alamos during the Second World War and his creation of one of the very first weapons of mass destruction.

Why Oppenheimer is a Classic World War II Movie

Oppenheimer is an irrefutable epic. Oppenheimer is, by all intents and purposes, an anti-war film, colliding head-on with the ethical concerns of the mastermind behind this game-changing bomb that would invariably change the landscape of war forever. The casting of Cillian Murphy as the film’s lead was a stroke of inspired genius from Nolan, with the Inception star capturing the very quintessence of this complex, contentious, and deeply misunderstood historical figure.

Rent on Vudue and Prime Video

5 Schindler’s List (1993)

schindlers list

Schindlers List

Release Date
November 30, 1993

Director
Steven Spielberg

Cast
Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

Rating
R

Runtime
195

Writers
Thomas Keneally, Steven Zaillian

The highly-renowned Steven Spielberg directed the 1993 historical drama Schindler’s List, detailing German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who helped save more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during World War II. Liam Neeson delivers the performance of a lifetime as Oskar Schindler and appears alongside the gifted Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

What Makes Schindler’s List So Emotive?

Spielberg initially questioned if he was mature enough to take on such a heart-heavy picture, but was amazed and inspired by Schindler’s story. He said, “I was drawn to it because of the paradoxical nature of the character. What would drive a man like this to suddenly take everything he had earned and put it all in the service of saving these lives?” The director famously forwent a salary for the drama, calling it “blood money.” Schindler’s List would go on to earn over $300 million, garnering universal acclaim and winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Rent on Apple TV+ and Prime

4 Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Release Date
July 19, 2017

Director
Christopher Nolan

Cast
Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
107

Main Genre
Drama

Innovative genius Christoper Nolan wrote, produced, and directed the 2017 war picture Dunkirk, which depicts the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II through the perspectives of the land, sea, and air. The outstanding ensemble cast features some of cinema’s finest performers like Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy. Tthe drama was portrayed with very little dialogue, as Nolan wanted to create suspense with the stunning cinematography and music.

Related: Christopher Nolan’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked

Why Dunkirk is A Masterpiece

The filmmaker conceived the premise of the war film in the mid-1990s, when he and his wife sailed across the English Channel, following the path of many small boats in the Dunkirk evacuation. Dunkirk was a smash hit for Nolan, raking in over half a billion dollars at the box and nabbing three Academy Awards. It earned rave reviews for its screenplay, direction, and musical score, and many have called Dunkirk one of the greatest war films of all time.

Stream on Prime

3 The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Release Date
June 20, 1963

Director
John Sturges

Cast
Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence

Rating
NR

Runtime
172

Main Genre
Adventure

“The King of Cool” Steve McQueen joined stars like James Garner and Richard Attenborough in the thrilling 1963 epic war adventure The Great Escape, following a group of German prisoners of war who are determined to not only escape their confinement but strike back against Nazi forces and lure them out of battle in hopes of searching for fellow fugitives on the run. McQueen is phenomenal as American Captain Virgil Hilts, who, along with his fellow Allies, outmaneuver their captors and dig a tunnel that allows them to break free of the maximum-security prison camp.

Why The Great Escape is Such a Great Film

Adapted from Paul Brickhall’s novel that recounted his real-life experiences surrounding an escape attempt from the German POW camp Stalag Luft III, the film was a massive hit with critics and audiences alike, with immense praise going towards McQueen’s performance. The Great Escape features an iconic motorcycle chase and dramatic jump scene by the legendary McQueen, which has since been touted as one of the best cinematic stunts ever performed.

Stream on Prime, Tubi, and Pluto

2 Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca

Casablanca

Release Date
November 26, 1942

Director
Michael Curtiz

Cast
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet

Rating
PG

Runtime
102

Main Genre
Drama

This classic Hollywood movie is considered one of the finest films ever created. The 1942 romantic drama Casablanca famously features Hollywood icons, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, centering on a cynical American expatriate who must decide whether he wants to help his former lover and her fugitive boyfriend escape the Nazis in French Morocco. The iconic picture was based on an original play by writer Murray Burnett, who drew inspiration after traveling to Vienna in 1938 shortly after the Anschluss and witnessing antisemitism firsthand.

What Makes Casablanca One of the Best World War II Movies Ever?

Since Casablanca’s premiere over eighty years ago, its popularity has only continued to grow, with Burnett once calling it, “true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow.” Critics and audiences continue to appreciate the romantic war drama, and years later, Ingrid Bergman stated, “I feel about Casablanca that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film, a need that film filled.”

Stream on Max and Prime Video

1 Saving Private Ryan (1998)

saving private ryan

Saving Private Ryan

Release Date
July 24, 1998

Director
Steven Spielberg

Cast
Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel

Rating
R

Runtime
169

Main Genre
Action

Steven Spielberg returned to the emotional theme of World War II with the 1998 epic war drama Saving Private Ryan, which is set during the Invasion of Normandy and follows a group of U.S. soldiers who go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. The gripping film stars a myriad of distinguished leads, including Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, and Matt Damon, and was partially inspired by the Niland brothers, four American brothers from New York who served in WWII, with only two surviving.

What Makes Saving Private Ryan the Best World War II Film of All Time?

On why he repeatedly returns to the subject, Spielberg once revealed, “I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the Baby Boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I’ve just always been interested in World War II.” The Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan is frequently cited as influential in the war and action film genre and is credited with renewing World War II interest in the media. Spielberg does a truly impeccable job at creating this almost unbearably palpable tension throughout, employing tremendous set-pieces and maintaining a brutalist approach to depicting the true, barbarous reality of war, as well as delivering one of the best opening scenes ever.

Stream on Netflix and Paramount+

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