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15 Best War Movies On Netflix [August 2021]

War is a popular — and often divisive — subject for cinema to tackle, and it naturally stirs up strong feelings. And when it comes to making movies, that's a good thing. There are some excellent war films in the world, from classic World War II movies to gritty modern-day thrillers to historical epics with swords, muskets, or both. The conflict is built right into the plot, and so are the stakes, which means there's no shortage of compelling stories for filmmakers to tell. And there are always new corners to explore, whether that means looking at civilians on the sidelines or forgotten parts of history.

Updated on July 26, 2021: Netflix is constantly adding new movies and rotating others out of its selection, so we'll be keeping an eye on its changes and making sure this list is as up-to-date as possible and that we go through a wide range of war movie approaches, from the grueling to the inspirational and even to the comedic.

Outlaw King

Covering the story of Robert the Bruce, who defied King Edward I of England, "Outlaw King" is an action-packed historical epic. Historians have noted that the movie is hardly the best account of Robert the Bruce's life, but what the film lacks in accuracy, it makes up for in battle scenes. Robert's bloody war against Edward I embodies English-Scottish tensions — Robert himself is crowned king of the Scots — and is also viscerally portrayed, without stinting on the grim reality of medieval fighting. The film also leans into the large-scale nature of the clash, dealing with royal politicking and negotiations of power in a compelling way.

  • Starring: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh

  • Director: David Mackenzie

  • Year: 2018

  • Runtime: 121 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%

Defiance

"Defiance" got an uneven critical reception, but a slightly pedestrian or cliché execution can't completely strip away the appeal of the fascinating and intense story or of Daniel Craig's central performance. The movie recounts the real-life tale of Jewish resistance guerillas in Belarus. The Bielski brothers work to shelter other Jewish refugees, raid German camps, and strike back at the Nazis. It's an intriguing look at a little-told story of heroism, and the gritty action adds some adrenaline into the mix.

  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell

  • Director: Edward Zwick

  • Year: 2008

  • Runtime: 136 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%

The 12th Man

In "The 12th Man," 12 Norwegian resistance fighters are ambushed by the Nazis. Between the initial firefight, brutal interrogations, and ensuing executions, 11 of the fighters die ... but the 12th, Jan Baalsrud, is able to escape. He has the chance to make his way to safety, but the environment is harsh, the temperatures are below freezing, and the Nazis are pursuing him. A war movie crossed with a breathtakingly visceral survival thriller, "The 12th Man" follows Baalsrud's trek back to safety. It's not a one-man show either — and not just because Jonathan Rhys-Meyers turns up to play a great villain. One of the key parts of the film is the help Baalsrud gets along the way, which makes this as heartening as it is gripping.

  • Starring: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Marie Blokhus

  • Director: Harald Zwart

  • Year: 2017

  • Runtime: 130 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Mosul

Gritty and full of action, "Mosul" brings viewers right into some high-stakes Middle Eastern conflict. Kawa, a young Kurdish police officer, joins up with the Nineveh SWAT team. These are all soldiers who've suffered personal loss at the hands of ISIS, and they want to strike back ... but Kawa isn't allowed to see the whole picture and understand the purpose of every mission. In a haze of secrecy and violence, he has to negotiate the chaos and bloodshed around him as he slowly becomes part of the team. "Mosul" offers a rare window into on-the-ground conflict in Iraq and the reclaiming of Mosul in particular.

  • Starring: Adam Bessa, Suhail Dabbach, Is'haq Elias

  • Director: Matthew Michael Carnahan

  • Year: 2019

  • Runtime: 102 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

The Wolf's Call

This French film is a taut, action-packed military thriller about a submarine officer who has an uncanny knack for identifying other vessels just by sound — something that understandably comes in handy in dark undersea warfare. But to his surprise, he encounters a mystery sub ... one that may, in a tense near-future full of escalating international conflicts, be a sign of impending nuclear war. His obsession with the sub shapes the movie. Finding and stopping it will save his honor, and it may also save the world.

  • Starring: François Civil, Omar Sy, Mathieu Kassovitz

  • Director: Antonin Baudry

  • Year: 2019

  • Runtime: 116 minutes

  • Rating: TV-14

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Mission of Honor

"Mission of Honor," also known as "Hurricane: 303 Squadron," concentrates on the true story of a World War II Royal Air Force squad made up mostly of Polish pilots who were able to escape to England. They're carrying around a lot of baggage — and aren't necessarily getting a lot of support from their British compatriots — but the movie shows how they're shaped into a crack team with especially high kill rates. The film succeeds by finding a mostly unexplored bit of military history, leaning into the complexities of its setup, and offering some traditionally satisfying storytelling.

  • Starring: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson, Stefanie Martini

  • Director: David Blair

  • Year: 2018

  • Runtime: 106 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods" has a terrific cast and an energetic — even frenetic — story that deals with not only the Vietnam War but also the lasting effect that combat has on the people involved in it. During Vietnam, five Black soldiers discovered a crashed CIA plane loaded with gold bars. Instead of turning the gold in, they decided to hide it and come back for it later as a kind of repayment for the way their racist superiors used them as cannon fodder. Now, decades later, the four survivors of the "Bloods" are going back to hunt down the lost gold and the body of their beloved commanding officer, who was killed at the site. But going back to Vietnam will plunge them into troubled memories and an equally dangerous present.

  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors

  • Director: Spike Lee

  • Year: 2020

  • Runtime: 155 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

The King

"The King" takes Shakespearean drama and centers it on historical warfare, providing a war story that's weighty and rich. Prince Hal is fine with ceding the crown to his younger brother, Thomas. It'll let him continue living a carefree life. But war gets in the way, killing Thomas and bringing Hal glory and renown — and the throne. Hal tries to make peace, but in the end, he finds war is more politically expedient. The movie delves into his strategizing, and it also shows the unsettling backstage machinations behind some international conflicts.

First They Killed My Father

Some war movies are inspirational. "First They Killed My Father" isn't one of those films, and it can't be. Based on a memoir, this is a deep and painful exploration of the grisly damage of the Cambodian Civil War and the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Loung Ung, a young girl, sees her life destroyed by this conflict. Her family is deprived, starved, beaten, and murdered, and she's trained as a child soldier. The fact that this comes from a memoir gives it a strand of hope because we can have faith that Loung Ung will eventually make it out, and the story is handled in a straightforward way, with sharpness and clarity.

  • Starring: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata 

  • Director: Angelina Jolie

  • Year: 2017

  • Runtime: 136 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

The Resistance Banker

Every war costs money, and the Dutch film "The Resistance Banker" deals with where that money comes from. Banker Walraven van Hall — Wally, to his friends — puts his safety on the line to fund the Netherlands' resistance to the Nazis. The movie explores multiple angles on Wally's bankrolling, from tense but invigorating-to-watch heist-like schemes to the losses and tragedies. It's a beautifully handled appreciation of a historically important figure whose contributions haven't been discussed often enough, and it also illuminates a part of war that often gets disregarded.

  • Starring: Barry Atsma, Jacob Derwig, Pierre Bokma

  • Director: Joram Lürsen

  • Year: 2018

  • Runtime: 123 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

The Pianist

A haunting, intimate, and enormously powerful study of one life helplessly caught up in war, "The Pianist" follows a Polish-Jewish pianist through the ravages of World War II. Szpilman struggles to outlast the Warsaw Ghetto — and all the accompanying malnutrition, terror, loss, and deprivation — and find allies and places to hide. His survival always feels chancy, and it's almost always dependent on receiving someone else's help. His profession turns out to be one of his few assets: It offers him an unexpected connection even to a German Wehrmacht officer, who, in defiance of all odds, may be able to provide him with significant help. The film unflinchingly looks at the chaos and horror of war and its aftermath, but it also finds the unpredictable but all-important bits of human compassion.

  • Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay

  • Director: Roman Polanski

  • Year: 2002

  • Runtime: 148 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

The Siege of Jadotville

"The Siege of Jadotville" is one of a wave of war movies delving into underexplored corners of major conflicts, and this one focuses on a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. An Irish Army squad is assigned to Jadotville to protect a vulnerable UN compound, but the intervention also exacerbates things. When the deaths of unarmed Katangese (of the recently seceded state) provokes a direct attack on the UN compound, the Irish fight to protect it, acting with incredible — but possibly doomed — effectiveness.

  • Starring: Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong, Mikael Persbrandt

  • Director: Richie Smyth

  • Year: 2016

  • Runtime: 108 minutes

  • Rating: TV-MA

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

A Private War

Journalists have essentially always been a part of war — sometimes on the sidelines and sometimes right in the middle of the action. "A Private War" takes conflict coverage as its focus, zeroing in on American journalist Marie Colvin. Passionately committed to seeking out the truth, Colvin goes into extremely dangerous locations, walking into areas torn apart by conflict. After incurring severe physical and psychological damage in the name of the job, Colvin nevertheless remains determined to not let herself be controlled by fear — no matter where that leads her. You shouldn't miss Rosamund Pike's lead performance here.

  • Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander

  • Director: Matthew Heineman

  • Year: 2018

  • Runtime: 110 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Beasts of No Nation

A painful and unflinching account of a child soldier in the middle of a horrific war, "Beasts of No Nation" is brutal and unforgettable. Young Agu is unable to get safe passage out of his village, and every day, the fighting presses closer. He escapes the slaughter at home only to find himself unwillingly enlisted. He's forced to join in with battles and to murder a captive, and his own commander assaults him. This is all unbelievably dark, but thankfully, the movie is able to find an invaluable ray of hope for Agu.

The Outpost

"The Outpost" is a visceral experience, one that puts you straight in the inferno of war. It's the dramatized true story of Afghanistan's "Camp Custer," a U.S. outpost surrounded by mountains. It has no higher ground and, effectively, no chance. It's notorious for being a deadly posting, but the men stationed there have to do their best anyway — even when a devastating attack hits. "The Outpost" deftly evokes both the terror of combat and the courage that's necessary in battle, and it packs a huge punch.

  • Starring: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom

  • Director: Rod Lurie

  • Year: 2020

  • Runtime: 123 minutes

  • Rating: R

  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%