The Most Underrated Anti-War Movies of the 2000s, Ranked
We all know the heavy-hitters in the anti-war film category, like "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now."
Yet, there are some movies from the 2000s that didn't quite make it to the Oscar stage but still packed a punch.
1. "In the Valley of Elah" (2007)
A Paul Haggis film focuses on Hank, a retired military investigator whose son goes missing shortly after returning from Iraq. Hank pairs up with a local cop to unravel what happened. They discover his son was killed in a friendly fire incident, not by "the enemy." The movie's gut-punch comes from its exploration of the emotional and psychological wreckage left in the wake of war.
Did you know Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for an Academy Award for this role? Yet the film somehow flew under the radar.
2. "Jarhead" (2005)
Sam Mendes gives us a unique look at war — boredom. Based on a memoir, the movie chronicles Anthony Swofford's experience in the Gulf War. Swoff and his unit are prepped for action, but they end up waiting... and waiting. Their biggest battle becomes the fight against monotony and the mental toll of just waiting for something, anything, to happen.
It's an angle we rarely see, showcasing the psychological impact of the "hurry up and wait" military life.
3. "Lord of War" (2005)
Nic Cage at his finest. He plays Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer who exploits global conflicts for profit. As the wars grow, so does his empire. But the weight of his moral compromises starts to catch up with him, especially when his brother gets involved. By the end, Yuri is caught but set free because his arms dealing actually benefits the government.
The film turns the mirror on society, asking who the real criminals are in warfare. The movie opens with a "life of a bullet" sequence that took months to prepare but is incredibly effective.
4. "Tangerines" (2013)
This one's a Georgian-Estonian collaboration and an Oscar nominee. The story is set during the War in Abkhazia and revolves around two Estonian men who stay behind during the conflict to harvest their tangerine crop. When a battle occurs right outside their door, they take in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides.
The film beautifully showcases the absurdity of war as the enemies heal under the same roof.
5. "Redacted" (2007)
Directed by Brian De Palma, this film was overshadowed by other Iraq War movies released around the same time. It focuses on a squad of American soldiers in Iraq who end up raping a local girl and killing her family.
The film is put together like a faux-documentary, stitched together from different footage types. It's tough to watch but serves its purpose — calling out the dark, overlooked corners of military engagement.
6. "The Messenger" (2009)
Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson team up in this indie hit. They play Army officers tasked with notifying next of kin when a soldier has been killed. The film uncovers the emotional trauma involved in just delivering the message, as we watch the varying reactions of family members. Towards the end, Foster's character Will finds himself getting too close to a widow, forcing him to confront his own feelings about war and loss.
Critics praised it, but for some reason, mainstream audiences just missed out. Seriously, why didn't more people see this?
7. "Waltz with Bashir" (2008)
A bit of a genre-bender, this one's an animated documentary. Yeah, you read that right. The director, Ari Folman, interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of the period. As he learns about the Sabra and Shatila massacre, he starts to remember his own involvement.
The animation creates a surreal layer over the very real traumas of war. Plus, it's just visually captivating. Don't sleep on this one!
8. "Three Kings" (1999)
Okay, I'm cheating a bit on the 2000s rule, but this one is too good to pass up. Directed by David O. Russell, this action-comedy stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube as U.S. soldiers who steal gold at the end of the Gulf War. But it's not all fun and games. They end up in a moral quagmire when they decide to help Iraqi rebels.
This film blends humor and grim reality in a way that's just... wow.
9. "Turtles Can Fly" (2004)
This Iranian film is set in a Kurdish refugee camp on the Iraqi-Turkish border just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The story is largely seen through the eyes of children, who are making a living by collecting and selling unexploded mines. Yeah, it's as harrowing as it sounds. It's a haunting look at the people who are most vulnerable in times of war but are seldom heard from.
You'll probably cry, but it's a film worth the emotional investment.
10. "Grace Is Gone" (2007)
John Cusack steps into a more dramatic role here as Stanley, a father who learns his wife has been killed in Iraq. Unable to break the news to his two daughters, he takes them on a spontaneous road trip to a theme park. The war remains a shadowy backdrop to the family drama, but the film delicately unpacks the hidden casualties of war — the families left to pick up the pieces.