Originally started to honor those lost while fighting in the Civil War, Memorial Day has evolved to commemorate all who have sacrificed their lives in all wars, from WWI to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film industry has always been fascinated by war, and many movies tell the story of countless heroes and villains both real and fictionalized. More than just a snapshot of the action on the battlefield, these movies tell the story of all those who are affected by war and its aftermath — both directly and indirectly. They are stories of heroism, love, determination, desperation, depression, and everything in between. There are so many films (currently available to rent) that could’ve made this list (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dunkirk,” “Atonement,” “Saving Private Ryan,” The Best Years of Our Lives” etc.). So on this Memorial Day, let’s continue to honor the countless fallen soldiers and their sacrifice with some of the best movies about war currently streaming.
10. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
dir. Isao Takahata
In this Japanese animated feature from 1988, war is only the backdrop upon which this heart-wrenching story plays out. “Grave of the Fireflies” tells the tale of a young boy and his little sister trying to survive in Japan during World War II. It is not very often that war is seen through the perspective of a child, but this film is an unforgettable work of art that shows the true cost of war, so don’t look for a happy ending. “Grave of the Fireflies” is currently streaming on Hulu. Make sure to watch it with the subtitles.
9. Wooden Crosses (1932)
dir. Raymond Bernard
From 1932, this French film is an authentic portrayal of the life of a soldier during WWI. “Wooden Crosses” deals with a side of war often depicted — that of an idealistic youth who has romantic notions of war until their eyes are opened to the depravity and destruction. Hailed by some as one of the best anti-war films,”Wooden Crosses” dives into the de-humanizing effects of battle and the tedium of the ordinary soldier’s experience. It also seems to be ahead of its time on the technical front. “Wooden Crosses” is currently streaming on Criterion Channel.
8. Paths of Glory (1957)
dir. Stanley Kubrick
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, “Paths of Glory” stars Kirk Douglas as a former lawyer turned Colonel who must defend soldiers accused of cowardice after refusing to attack an enemy position in a suicide mission during WWI. Another film with a strong anti-war bent, at its core it’s about justice and the misguided quest for glory. This film is beautifully shot and emotionally draining, leaving viewers to question humanity, logic, and the military justice system. “Paths of Glory” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
7. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
dir. Richard Attenborough
A veritable “who’s who” of Hollywood at the time, “A Bridge Too Far” is the story of real-life “Operation Market Garden.” In September 1944, the Allies attempt to capture several strategically important bridges in the Netherlands in order to break the German lines. Starring Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Liv Ullmann, Elliott Gould, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford and a host of others, this British film is well-acted, underrated and finely produced on an epic scale. “A Bridge Too Far” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
6. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
dir. Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson‘s groundbreaking WWI documentary takes never-before-seen footage to commemorate the centennial of the end of the war. By using groundbreaking computer restoration technology to restore, colorize and retime the footage, the team behind this film creates a poignant real-life depiction of WWI. “They Shall Not Grow Old” pulls back the curtain on the war in a way that a fictionalized film never could and is seen and told through the eyes and words of those involved. “They Shall Not Grow Old” is currently streaming on HBO Now.
5. Gallipoli (1981)
dir. Peter Weir
Another WWI depiction, Peter Weir‘s 1981 “Gallipoli” is the story of two Australians who must face the realities of war when they are sent to fight the campaign in Turkey. Nominated for the Golden Globe for “Best Foreign Film,” this historical adventure stars Mel Gibson stars along with Mark Lee, who portrays the idealistic young man beaten down by the war. “Gallipoli” is filled with a sense of brotherhood but also the ever-looming possibility of death and loss. But it’s not all gloom; there are fleeting moments of light-heartedness that are yanked away with the final shot. This is an ending that will stick with you. “Gallipoli” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
dir. Quentin Tarantino
On the historical fantasy side, Quentin Tarantino‘s “Inglorious Basterds” is a re-imagining of a plot to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. With a cast that seemed made for this story (Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruhl, and Til Schweiger among others), this war adventure is a well-acted, visually mesmerizing satirical masterpiece. “Inglorious Basterds” is currently streaming on Netflix.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
dir. Guillermo del Toro
Another film where war is really just the backdrop for which the story is set, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is Guillermo del Toro‘s other-worldly, Oscar-winning story of the lonely young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer during the Spanish Civil War in 1944. To escape the harsh realities of her world, the young Ofelia embarks on a journey into an eerie and bewitching fantasy world. Filled with astounding performances, strong female characters and breathtaking special effects, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a nightmare dreamscape that is a cinematic masterpiece. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is currently streaming on Netflix.
2. The Hurt Locker (2008)
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow‘s 2008 war thriller about a maverick Iraq War Sergeant at odds with his squad was quite the Oscar winner (it won 6, including “Best Picture” and “Best Director”) and it deserved all the praise. Chock full of great performances from the likes of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and David Morse among others, “The Hurt Locker” is masterfully directed and full of intensity and suspense. This movie does a great job trying to accurately capture the dangers of the Iraq War and shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes who risk their lives for our freedoms. This film also packs quite the cinematic and visual punch. Currently streaming on HBO Now.
1. The Cave (2019)
dir. Feras Fayyad
Another documentary, Feras Fayyad “The Cave” is an exploration of civilian life in war-torn Syria through the eyes of female doctors risking it all to care for the injured trapped within the city walls. This glimpse of daily life is heart-wrenching and inspiring all at once. As the air strikes and bombings take place outside the hospital walls, “The Cave” will have you on the edge of your seat. The doctors have to fight not only for their survival, but also for the survival of the children and families left behind with no other option. And they do it all while struggling with systemic sexism. “The Cave” draws you in and makes you empathize with the doctors. They have hopes, dreams and frustrations, but in a much more dire and life-altering environment. Currently streaming on Hulu.
Which war film will you be streaming today to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day?