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10 Best War-Thriller Movies, Ranked

There’s always a risk involved with making a war movie thrilling, given that many great war movies aim to show the tedium, horror, and uselessness of conflict by making things grim and oftentimes not very entertaining. The thriller genre, on the other hand, is one that tends to succeed by providing excitement and suspense, with thrillers generally – though not always – being fun films, to some extent.




The following war movies can also be categorized as thrillers, with many being the darker sorts of thrillers that can be suspenseful, sure, but might not necessarily be entertaining. Tonally, however, some of these movies do lean toward having a bit more fun, all the while not shying away from the death and destruction present in all wars. These war/thriller hybrid movies are ranked below, starting with the good and ending with the great.


10 ‘Eye in the Sky’ (2015)

Director: Gavin Hood

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky
Image via Bleecker Street Media

More of a political thriller than a traditional war movie, Eye in the Sky does, nevertheless, revolve around warfare, and a particularly contemporary version of it at that. It’s all about the complicated nature of combat that involves the use of drones, showing the various people waging war from afar and exploring what happens when civilian casualties become a possibility, dividing individuals and causing debate.


It’s a fairly bleak movie, but does succeed in being suspenseful and even quite nail-biting in parts, which is what ultimately makes Eye in the Sky feel partly like a thriller and partly like a war movie. It’s a somewhat overlooked movie overall, exploring its complex themes with a straightforward story well, and boasting very good performances from a talented cast that includes Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman.

Watch on Max

9 ‘Civil War’ (2024)

Director: Alex Garland

Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith, staring out a car window, in Civil War.
Image via A24


Though there’s fear the events depicted in Civil War could come true, at least for now, this 2024 release is about a fictional conflict. Effectively, it shows what a modern-day civil war in the U.S. may look like, depicting it through the eyes of a group of journalists who undertake a risky mission over hundreds of miles to cover the inevitable overthrow of the President in Washington D.C.

Civil War is a slow-burn movie, but builds in intensity well and has some genuinely intense action/suspense sequences as it progresses. Cashing in on what feels like a particularly divided time in history (and coming out in an election year, no less), Civil War has proven quite successful financially and critically, and is up there with the most gripping war movies in recent memory.


Civil War

Release Date
April 12, 2024

Director
Alex Garland

Watch in theaters

8 ‘Joint Security Area’ (2000)

Director: Park Chan-wook

Joint Security Area is a movie that explores how, even though the Korean War has officially ended, North Korea and South Korea are still engaged in a tense conflict of sorts. It takes place in and around the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, with the narrative principally being about a South Korean soldier being accused of murdering two North Korean soldiers.


There’s an element of mystery to Joint Security Area that drives much of the story, with an inventive structure that also works to build suspense, intrigue, and emotion. It’s a unique spin on the war genre and a very engaging movie all around, being another winner found within the varied and surprisingly consistent filmography of Park Chan-wook (and being released several years before his most acclaimed film, Oldboy).

Watch on Tubi

7 ‘The Train’ (1964)

Director: John Frankenheimer

The Train 10
Image via United Artists 

A classic 1960s war movie, The Train takes place during World War II, and revolves around a German Colonel’s plans to steal valuable artwork from France and transport it back to Germany. Naturally, a group of French resistance fighters aren’t too thrilled by that idea, setting in motion a conflict that feels like a microcosm of the war as a whole, and succeeds in being generally entertaining and exciting.


The Train has aged remarkably well for a movie that’s now 60 years old, standing as something that’s likely to prove engaging for contemporary viewers in much the same way it would’ve been for audiences decades ago. It’s a movie that understands how surprisingly cinematic trains are (particularly when it comes to action), and it’s an overall undeniably gripping World War II film.

The Train

Release Date
September 24, 1964

Director
John Frankenheimer

Actors
Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau

Run Time
133 Minutes

Watch on Tubi

6 ‘Bullet in the Head’ (1990)

Director: John Woo


John Woo is well known for his action/thriller/crime movies, with Bullet in the Head being something of a change of pace for the filmmaker, released at a time when Woo was one of the best filmmakers working in Hong Kong. It does contain action and the main characters are wrapped up in a life of crime, but Bullet in the Head also crosses over into becoming a prisoner of war movie, owing to the story involving the Vietnam War.

It’s an unpredictable ride of a film, and though it’s very engaging and memorable, it’s also quite grim and shocking in parts. John Woo pulled no punches in showing some of the most unpleasant parts of the conflict fought in Vietnam during the 1960s and ‘70s, with Bullet in the Head ultimately being underrated, not to mention admirably ambitious when it comes to its willingness to blend genres.

Buy on Amazon


5 ‘1917’ (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes

British soldier running through battlefield in 1917
Image via Universal Pictures

Alongside 2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front and the 2018 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, 1917 is a movie that’s part of a resurgence of sorts for World War I films. That could well have something to do with the 2010s marking 100 years since the conflict commenced and ended, with the title of 1917 making it obvious that it’s set just over a century before the film’s year of release.

The premise of 1917 is simple, with the film following two young soldiers tasked with carrying out a dangerous and time-sensitive mission that involves crossing no man’s land, with the filmmaking and technical aspects of 1917 providing complexity and spectacle. It’s intended to look like it was filmed in a single take, and therefore mostly feels like it takes place in real-time, which naturally makes the entire thing (and especially the combat scenes) exceedingly tense.


1917

Release Date
December 25, 2019

Director
Sam Mendes

Runtime
110

Main Genre
Drama

Rent on Apple TV

4 ‘Army of Shadows’ (1969)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

A man tied to a chair sits and a man sitting a desk in Army of Shadows
Image via Valoria Films

Jean-Pierre Melville’s sensibilities as a filmmaker were perfectly suited to heist/crime movies, with Army of Shadows being something of a change of pace, at least compared to some of his other acclaimed works. It’s a film that’s just as intense as his very best crime movies, but deals with World War II and the plight of a French resistance fighter who escapes a prison camp and continues his desperate battle against Nazi forces.


Army of Shadows is as dark and unnerving as the title suggests it would be, and stands as a World War II movie that manages to feel realistic while also being visually bold and stylish. It’s sometimes regarded as one of the very best movies of the 1960s, and rightly so, blending war and thriller genres more seamlessly than most other films that attempt to do the same.

Army of Shadows

Release Date
September 12, 1969

Director
Jean-Pierre Melville

Runtime
145

Rent on Amazon

3 ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2008)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

A soldier running away from an explosion in The Hurt Locker
Image via Summit Entertainment


Of the numerous war movies that have won Best Picture at the Oscars, there’s an argument to be made that the most nail-biting is The Hurt Locker. It takes place during the Iraq War and centers on a bomb squad unit and the dangerous tasks its members are required to do on a daily basis.

It understandably drives home the danger of such a task, and there are so many sequences in The Hurt Locker that prove more intense and suspenseful than the vast majority of full-blooded thrillers out there. It represents filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow operating at the height of her powers, and is perhaps the definitive film about what’s still a relatively recent conflict. In the 15+ years since its release, it’s lost none of its power, and will likely continue to age well as time marches on.

The Hurt Locker

Runtime
105

Main Genre
Drama


Rent on Apple TV

2 ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds
Image via The Weinstein Company

From the opening scene that introduces the instantly iconic villain Colonel Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds never really lets up when it comes to being a suspenseful, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes quite fun World War II movie. It follows various characters doing what they can to take out Nazi forces in occupied France, not all linked, but each of them ultimately ends up at the same destination by the film’s fiery climax.

As one would expect from a Quentin Tarantino movie, the dialogue is expertly written, the violence is remarkably bloody, and history is bent, warped, and subverted in interesting ways. Inglourious Basterds is overall one of his greatest accomplishments as a filmmaker, and is indeed one of the boldest war movies not just of the 21st century so far, but arguably of all time.


Rent on Apple TV

1 ‘The Great Escape’ (1963)

Director: John Sturges

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape
Image via United Artists

The gold standard when it comes to prisoner-of-war movies and films that focus on escaping from prison, The Great Escape is an epic, a war movie, an action/adventure film, and a thriller all at once. The plot is as straightforward and no-nonsense as the title, following a group of Allied soldiers confined to a high-security POW camp during World War II, and the way they enact an ambitious attempt to escape.


Helping The Great Escape is the fact that it has one of the best casts of the entire 1960s, with Steve McQueen in the lead and supporting performances from the likes of Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn. Its runtime clocks in at just a few minutes shy of three hours, but you don’t really feel the length, owing to how gripping, suspenseful, and inevitably entertaining the entire movie ends up being.

The Great Escape

Release Date
June 20, 1963

Director
John Sturges

Runtime
172 minutes

Watch on Amazon

NEXT: The Best War Documentaries of All Time, Ranked

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