War! What is it good for? Source material for really good movies and miniseries, if nothing else. In honor of the 20th anniversary of “Band of Brothers” on Sept. 9, 2021, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at the best war movies and miniseries, starting with the lauded HBO project… Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were among the executive producers of the 10-part miniseries, which centers around the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division during WWII. Some highlights from the expansive cast list are Damian Lewis, Michael Fassbender, David Schwimmer, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg and Neal McDonough. “Band of Brothers” won six Emmys (including outstanding miniseries) and earned another 13 nominations.
Keep reading to see if more of your favorites made the list…
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So nice, they did it twice… Nearly a decade after they struck Emmy gold with “Band of Brothers,” Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg executive produced a spinoff, “The Pacific,” centered around a group of Marines in the Pacific Theater during WWII. James Badge Dale headlined the lauded 10-part HBO miniseries, which debuted in 2010 and went on to win eight Emmys (including best miniseries) and scored another 16 Emmy nominations.
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Tom Hanks led an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Giovanni Ribisi, Ted Danson, Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” — one of the greatest war films in cinema history. The WWII drama directed by Steven Spielberg, which kicks off during the brutality of D-Day, won five Oscars including best director and earned six more Academy Award nominations including best picture (which it inexplicably lost to “Shakespeare in Love”) and best lead actor.
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Matthew Modine starred as a private during the Vietnam War in the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1987 drama “Full Metal Jacket,” which scored just one Oscar nomination (for best adapted screenplay) but is still widely regarded as one of the greatest war films of all time. (It has a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi won an Oscar for writing 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit,” which is based on the book “Caging Skies.” He also directed the dark comedy and starred as Hitler — or at least a version of the loathsome dictator who serves as the titular 10-year-old’s imaginary friend. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) starts the film as a dedicated member of the Hitler Youth. But he begins to question his loyalty when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson, who scored an Oscar nomination for her efforts) has been hiding a Jewish girl in their attic during the final days of the Nazi Party’s reign of terror. The film earned four more Academy Award nominations including best picture.
Mel Gibson starred as a farmer who becomes the leader of a colonial militia during the American Revolution in the 2000 drama “The Patriot.” Roland Emmerich directed the film, which scored three Oscar nominations and also starred the late Heath Ledger.
Mel Gibson also directed a widely celebrated war film: 2016’s “Hacksaw Ridge.” Andrew Garfield starred as real-life WWII Army medic Desmond Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa in Japan but refused to fire a single shot against the enemy and ultimately received the Medal of Honor. The drama won two Oscars and earned another four nominations, including best picture, best director and best lead actor.
Jeremy Renner starred as a sergeant in an army bomb squad during the Iraq War in 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.” Kathryn Bigelow directed the incredibly tense drama, which won six Oscars — including best picture, best director and best original screenplay — and earned three more Academy Award nominations, including best lead actor.
German filmmaker Werner Herzog wrote and directed the 2007 epic “Rescue Dawn,” which centers around real-life U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler and his escape from a POW camp in Laos during the Vietnam War. Christian Bale lost a shocking amount of weight to portray Dieter in the lauded biographical war film, which scored a 90% fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bradley Cooper scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Chris Kyle in 2015’s “American Sniper,” which chronicles the real-life Navy SEAL sniper’s four tours in the Iraq War … during which he became the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. Clint Eastwood directed the biopic, which also earned Academy Award nominations for best picture and best adapted screenplay.
Martin Sheen starred as an Army captain sent to assassinate a rogue American colonel (Marlon Brando’s Walter E. Kurtz) who’s gone off the grid in Cambodia during the Vietnam War in 1979’s “Apocalypse Now,” which is based on the 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness.” Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed the epic, which won two Oscars and scored six more Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director.
Christopher Nolan wrote and directed 2017’s “Dunkirk,” which traces three different perspectives of the evacuation of Allied forces from the titular French city during WWII: one week of action on the ground, one day of action on the sea and one hour of action in the air. The all-star cast includes James D’Arcy and Kenneth Branagh as well as Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles in his acting debut. It was a massive hit with critics and at the box office, banking more than $500 million and scoring a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Dunkirk” also took home three Oscars and earned another five nominations, including best picture.
Oliver Stone directed Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp and Kevin Dillon in 1986’s “Platoon,” which centers around the horrors of the Vietnam War. The film won four Oscars (including best picture and best director) and scored four more Academy Award nominations.
Michael Bay directed 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” — which is great if you’re into love triangles (like we are!) but maybe not so much if accurate depictions of WWII are your thing. Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett starred in the epic, which won an Oscar for best sound editing but scored a 24% rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch! The cast and crew weren’t crying over the bad reviews, though: “Pearl Harbor” banked nearly $450 million at the box office.
Brad Pitt led an all-star cast including Jon Bernthal, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena and Shia Labeouf in 2014’s “Fury.” The David Ayer-directed drama, which scored a 76% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, centers around an American tank crew in Nazi Germany during WWII.
“Fury” wasn’t Brad Pitt’s first time “killing Nazis.” He also portrayed the leader of a band of American soldiers in “Inglourious Basterds,” which is set in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed the 2009 revenge fantasy, which puts a spin on how Hitler met his end. It earned eight Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture, best director and best original screenplay.
Cary Fukunaga directed Abraham Attah as a child soldier in an unspecified West African country in the 2015 Netflix film “Beasts of No Nation.” Idris Elba won a SAG Award and scored a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the boy’s vicious and fearsome commandant.
Terrence Malick directed Sean Penn, George Clooney, John Travolta, Jared Leto, Jim Caviezel, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte and Miranda Otto in 1998’s “The Thin Red Line,” which is set in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The drama earned seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director.
Ridley Scott directed Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard in 2002’s “Black Hawk Down,” which is based on a real failed 1993 American military operation in Somalia. The film won two Oscars and earned two more Academy Award nominations, including best director.
Francis Ford Coppola wrote the revered 1970 biopic “Patton,” which chronicles the controversial titular American general’s career throughout WWII. George C. Scott won an Oscar, which he refused, for his work in the title role. The drama earned six more Academy Awards (including best picture and best director) and scored an additional three nominations.
Matthew Broderick starred as the leader of an all-Black company of volunteers during the Civil War in 1989’s “Glory.” Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of Private Trip in the drama, which also featured Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins. “Glory” won two additional Academy Awards and scored two more Oscar nominations.
Jude Law starred as the legendary Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev in the 2001 drama “Enemy at the Gates,” which centers around the WWII Battle of Stalingrad. (Joseph Fiennes portrayed Vasily’s friend Commisar Danilov, who turns the sniper into a propaganda war hero.) The drama scored a 54% rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s noteworthy for one major reason: Jude has literally never looked better!
“Captain America: The First Avenger” isn’t just a superhero movie. It’s also a war film! Chris Evans stars as the titular hero — who’s genetically enhanced by the U.S. government as part of a super-soldier program during WWII — in the 2011 action flick, which sees Cap facing off against Nazis under the secret command of Hydra in Europe.
Owen Wilson starred as a Navy flight officer who’s shot down in enemy territory, while Gene Hackman portrayed the commanding officer desperate to get him home safe in 2001’s “Behind Enemy Lines.” The Bosnian War-set drama has a 37% rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but it launched a movie franchise and inspired an unaired FOX TV pilot, which has gotta count for something, right? And never forget the appeal of early-aughts Owen!
In the 1996 drama “Courage Under Fire,” which is set during the Gulf War, Denzel Washington stars as Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling, who’s tasked with determining whether or not Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) is worthy of becoming the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor for valor in combat. As he investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, he uncovers a conspiracy — one we won’t spoil here!
Denzel Washington also starred in 1995’s “Crimson Tide.” Tony Scott directed the tense drama, which centers around the conflict between a seasoned commanding officer played by Gene Hackman and a new executive officer (Denzel) on an America nuclear missile submarine. The trouble starts when they’re ordered to intervene when a splinter group of Russian forces threaten the United States and Japan. The film earned three Oscar nominations.
The tense 1981 German war film “Das Boot,” which is based on Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1971 novel of the same name, centers around a German submarine crew in the Battle of the Atlantic during WWII. It skillfully depicts both the tedium and the thrill of life aboard a U-boat during the war’s longest continuous military campaign. In 1983, the film made history: It was nominated for six Academy Awards (including best director and best adapted screenplay) and holds the record for most Oscar nods for a German film.
David O. Russell wrote and directed 1999’s “Three Kings,” a heist film set during the end of the Gulf War that centers around four American soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) who steal a hidden supply of Saddam Hussein’s gold during the 1991 uprisings in Iraq. According to the filmmaker, President Bill Clinton enjoyed the movie so much, he screened it for everyone at the White House! “Three Kings” has a 94% fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Peter Jackson directed the 2018 documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which honors the men who fought in WWI. The film is comprised of previously unseen footage updated with colorization, sound and narration to bring the frontlines to life. The movie, which won a BAFTA Award for best documentary, was praised for its exceptional restoration job and evocative depiction of the war.
Rosamund Pike starred as acclaimed American foreign affairs correspondent Marie Colvin, while Jamie Dornan portrayed war photographer Paul Conroy in the 2018 biographical war drama “A Private War,” which traces their efforts to document some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts. The English actress scored a Golden Globe nomination for her work in the film.
Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his performance as Winston Churchill in the 2017 drama “Darkest Hour,” which takes place in May 1940 and follows the famed prime minister of the U.K. as he’s faced with making crucial decisions about Western Europe during WWII. (Kristin Scott Thomas, meanwhile, starred as the politician’s wife, Clementine Churchill.) The film also won the Academy Award for best hair and makeup and scored four more Oscar nominations including best picture.
The 2009 indie film “The Messenger” centers around a soldier (Ben Foster) who returns home from Iraq after suffering a near-fatal injury and is tasked with completing his term of service in the Casualty Notification Office under the tutelage of a hardened older officer (Woody Harrelson). The film scored two Oscar nominations: best original screenplay and best supporting actor for Woody, who also won the Film Independent Spirit Award for best supporting actor.
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