Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Five Best War Films

Who better to select the five best war films than a recently retired U.S. Army colonel? Migs, our guest blogger, was commissioned in 1987 from the United States Military Academy at West Point and held various commands during a distinguished military career. It was not an easy task to pick just five war films, but Migs accepted the mission graciously and we thank him. Here are his choices and his rationales:

1. Saving Private Ryan - What else is there to say. I cry at the end of the movie every time: "Tell me I am a good man, tell me I’ve lived a good life." This movie covers the alpha to omega on emotions. Simply, the best war movie ever.

Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax.
2. Paths of Glory - I started to write my own review about this compelling movie, which has a similar theme to A Few Good Men and another great war movie Apocalypse Now, which both convey the fog and insanity of war. However, I will use the words of an unknown critic: “Paths of Glory is a wonderful film about authority and at times the idiocy and insanity of those that were on top of the pile. It takes place during World War I. Anyone who has studied it or has knowledge of it knows it was a period of war in which traditional methods of warfare clearly failed and millions died over the ignorance and arrogance of a few.” I thought Kirk Douglas was great in the movie. He convincingly played the role of the 701st Regimental Commander, the lead protagonist. The director, Stanley Kubrick, elected to go for an atypical Hollywood ending. I will not spoil it for you. It is a very easy movie to watch at just over 85 minutes and it can be viewed for free on YouTube.

Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence.
3. Lawrence of Arabia is a personal favorite of mine because of my experiences as a military advisor in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Before our deployment to Iraq as advisors, we were required to watch this movie. I initially saw little to no value, especially after spending almost four hours watching a movie that by today standards lacks all the good Hollywood stuff. However, six months into my deployment, there was probably no better movie for us to watch in preparation to be an advisor. The cast is superb, an absolute all-star cast. I understand that the movie cost almost ten times more to make compared to other films at that time. However, the authenticity is real and you can feel it as you see the actors actually struggling with the effects of real desert terrain and weather. I find myself watching clips of the movie on YouTube. If you are looking for a good intellectual movie with a classic acting, Larry of Arabia is for you.

Denzel Washington.
4. Glory is a fantastic movie recounting the story of the 54th Massachusetts. The powerful story line lays out the struggles of a nation and culture where racism is deep in both the Confederacy and United States. It features a great cast led by Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, Mathew Broderick and Morgan Freeman. My biggest problem with this movie is that the story is told from the perspective of Colonel Shaw (Broderick). I would much rather have seen or at least seen some scenes from the perspective of John Rawlins, the escaped slave. Another thing that still irks me is that, despite a fantastic job by screenwriter Kevin Jarre, I still do not get why the 54th has little or no support while attacking. Still, Glory is, in my opinion, the best Civil War movie.

Gibson as Lieutenant Colonel Moore.
5. We Were Soldiers is a great movie if you do not let Hollywood get in your way. Hollywood takes the great story of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore’s leadership and fouls it up with sometimes stupid lines that, having served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, distort the challenges in combat and do not give enough credit to the ones left behind at our homes.  If I am saying these things about the movie, why is it on my list?  It is simply a great leadership story and there are some realistic scenes depicting combat and the reality of casualties. Mel Gibson does a fine job and Sam Elliot is OK.  If I were a Company Commander again, I would make all my subordinates watch this movie.


  1. Some good choices here, especially "Paths of Glory." My list would definitely include "Pork Chop Hill."

  2. Excellent films all, but I'd put All Quiet on the Western Front in there before any of them.

  3. All great choices. Here's some more in no particular order. Casablanca......while not always thought of a war movie....the overall tension is the approaching war. Battleground...a superb look at the GI Joes that were responsible for winning WW2....Spartacus....the battle scenes are amazing....Bridge on the River Kwai.....the madness of war.....and for something completely different....5 amazing seasons of Combat on ABC

  4. I truly enjoyed reading your list and rationale for the selections. As a veteran, you bring experiences to the table that I haven't had. I found "Glory" to be thought provoking. Perhaps the limitations on communication might provide a rationale for lack of support? I especially enjoyed reading about the difference being in the desert made to your experience of "Lawrence of Arabia." Thanks for sharing your favorite war films, Migs, and, most importantly, thank you for serving our country.

  5. I admit you for narrowing the "Best of..." field down to 5 films! There are a couple here I haven't seen, but I would definitely include Paths of Glory in my top picks, too.

  6. Paths of Glory, yes. My choices don't carry the same undercurrent, just "war is hell":
    1. They Were Expendable
    2. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
    3. Battleground
    4. The Longest Day
    5. The Great Escape

  7. You omit some truly greater films like The Big Red One, Attack, Battleground, The Big Parade, (as someone previously mentioned)All Quiet on the Western Front. And I definitely concur with Paths of Glory.
    These are just American films. I view Saving Private Ryan as having a fantastic opening battle, a stunning closing battle and employing every cliche from the war movies of the forties in between. Not the greatest.

  8. Not "Saving Private Ryan" please. After the in-your-face opening it becomes totally unrealistic. Trust me, if you're traversing what may well be enemy territory still (or at least full of snipers) you DON'T walk a ridge line or amble along casually chatting about nothing. And who didn't know the German that Hanks lets live would come back at the end to kill him? A war movie by a guy who never got near a war.