The Most Underrated Anti-War Movies of All Time, Ranked
Some of them are animated, some – star-studded, and each and every one of them – hits just a bit too close to home.
9. "La Grande Illusion"
The curtain rises, and we're in World War I again, with a focus on the lives of French prisoners of war. Class lines blur as aristocrats and commoners share a confined space. The plot revolves around their numerous escape attempts.
The German commander is more a gentleman than a villain, which complicates things. Are they enemies or merely players in a vast, absurd theater? War isn't merely bullets; it's the breaking and remaking of social norms, all under the same ceiling.
A seamless blend of fiction and real D-Day footage. Our man Tom prepares for the infamous Normandy landings. En route, his fears manifest through bizarre dreams and visions, skewing the line between the warfront and his inner turmoil.
Rather than a succession of battlefield victories, the storyline opts for an interwoven pattern of dread, chaos, and occasional beauty. The approach isn't just a recounting of events; it's an emotional—no, a psychological journey.
7. "Grave of the Fireflies"
Not to be confused with a child's plaything, this animated feature hails from Japan and grabs you by the heart. Two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, navigate a war-torn landscape after losing their mother.
The plot chronicles the descent from buoyant childhood to heartbreaking survival. Not a soldier in sight, but the war permeates every frame. From one misadventure to the next, their hopes flicker out. Life crumbles like burnt paper, and the viewer questions: What price innocence?
6. "Johnny Got His Gun"
Joe, an American soldier, wakes up in a hospital. He can't move or talk, lacking limbs and facial features. Through first-person internal monologues, we piece together his memories and regrets. Is he a man or a science experiment?
He taps Morse code messages with his head, pleading to be displayed as a war deterrent. We watch, not just see, Joe's transformation from a human to a faceless statistic. No flag-waving here; the anti-war sentiment is bold and italicized.
5. "The Hill"
Brace yourself, this one takes place away from the frontline. A British-American film, set in a North African British Army prison. No glorious battle sequences, no. It's the brutality of the system that's under the microscope.
Led by Sean Connery, prisoners suffer in the desert under the whims of a sadistic staff sergeant. Climbing a man-made hill becomes their recurring nightmare. What are they fighting for? Air, dignity, survival. You can almost taste the sand and sweat, and you're left wondering who the real enemy is.
4. "Come and See"
Oh, you want to see war? This film shoves you right into the trenches. A Belarusian boy, Flyora, all set to fight Nazis, thinks he's diving into a great adventure. Reality checks in fast. His village is razed, neighbors killed, and by the end, Flyora's face ages decades.
Brutality isn't brushed off; it's showcased, intimately, harrowingly. The narrative doesn't shy away from the grotesque; it puts it in the spotlight, and you can't help but stare.
3. "The Cranes Are Flying"
Post-World War II Soviet cinema gifted us this gem. Veronika and Boris, lovers torn apart by the war—sounds clichéd? Stick with me. Boris volunteers, Veronika stays back, and let's just say their dreams shatter quicker than a porcelain vase. Boris dies, unbeknownst to Veronika, who later marries his cousin.
It's not a cheery carnival but a roller coaster of lost love and inevitable tragedy. The camera angles? Distorted to evoke emotion. A poignant tale, devoid of propaganda, this film's storytelling sways like the cranes in its title.
2. "The Thin Red Line"
Intersecting lives narrate this cinematic take on the Guadalcanal battle during World War II. Director Terrence Malick strays from a conventional war film recipe. Oh, there are no fearless heroes here, my friend. The soldiers harbor haunting inner monologues. They're fighting an enemy, yes, but also the very idea of war itself.
Carnage unveils not just on battlefields but within souls. From one soldier to another, the viewpoint switches, each carrying a personal purgatory. Nature and humans, coexisting yet at war—Malick paints with a complex palette.
1. "Waltz with Bashir"
This animated documentary-style film flirts with the boundaries of surrealism. The protagonist, Ari, deals with haunting memories of his military service during the 1982 Lebanon War. Yes, memories, but fuzzy, almost unreal. As he talks to old comrades, lost sequences come rushing back.
Tragic vignettes—a dog chase, civilian massacres, snipers. The story pirouettes between reality and hallucination. Animation isn't just for kids, huh? If you want a visual buffet that serves a side dish of existential crisis, take a seat at this table.