The Most Underrated War Dramas of the 1960s, Ranked
The 1960s gave us some phenomenal war dramas that, for one reason or another, didn't get as much of a limelight as they should have.
10. "The Hill" (1965)
Sidney Lumet's gritty prison drama set in a North African British Army prison during World War II, this isn't your typical war film. Sean Connery plays Joe Roberts, a former squadron leader court-martialed for assaulting his superior.
The movie's central feature is "the hill" – a steep, sandy mound under the scorching sun. The prisoners, often unjustly charged, are forced to continuously march up and down this hill. It's a brutal method of punishment and discipline. Notably, Ossie Davis and Harry Andrews put on top-notch performances.
If you're seeking a war movie focusing more on internal military conflict and human endurance, add this one to your list. And to think, it never got the box office attention it deserved!
9. "Play Dirty" (1969)
Got a thing for misfit-led missions? Then this one's for you. Michael Caine stars as Captain Douglas, an oil executive-turned-soldier, leading a ragtag group behind enemy lines in North Africa. Their goal? Blow up a Nazi fuel depot. Sounds simple, right? But with a team filled with criminals and no actual combat experience, the mission is anything but straightforward.
The desert landscape isn't just for show—it's a formidable antagonist itself.
8. "Hell Is for Heroes" (1962)
Steve McQueen alert! Set on the Siegfried Line in 1944, this flick showcases McQueen's acting prowess as Reese, a disenchanted soldier with a penchant for trouble. Facing an overwhelming German force, a severely undermanned American platoon needs to hold the line.
Reese takes charge with a plan so daring it's borderline crazy: use equipment and weapons to simulate a much larger force. It's all tension and strategy.
7. "King Rat" (1965)
Ever heard of a POW camp black market? Welcome to "King Rat". Set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore, the film, based on James Clavell's novel, presents Corporal King (George Segal).
Smooth, cunning, and resourceful, King has built a profitable empire within the camp's confines, much to the chagrin of fellow inmates and officers. He can get you what you want, but everything has its price. The camp's contrasting characters, from die-hard British loyalists to those just trying to survive, all orbit around King.
Segal's performance is a stunner, and it's a shame this film often falls below the radar when discussing '60s war classics.
6. "The Bedford Incident" (1965)
Cold War tension in freezing waters! This film revolves around the U.S. destroyer Bedford, which discovers a Soviet submarine in the North Atlantic. The U.S. captain, played by Richard Widmark, becomes obsessed with tracking the sub, putting his crew on high alert. Sidney Poitier, a journalist aboard the ship, becomes our window into the mounting tension.
As the cat-and-mouse game escalates, so do the stakes. It's a gripping tale of obsession and the dangerous line between duty and fanaticism.
5. "Castle Keep" (1969)
Here's a heady mix of war, art, and morality for you. Towards the end of World War II, a group of American soldiers, led by Major Falconer (Burt Lancaster), find themselves holding a castle in the Belgian Ardennes. This isn't just any castle. It's filled to the brim with priceless art.
But with a German assault imminent, a dilemma arises: Do they destroy the castle to fend off the enemy or preserve the art for posterity? The film masterfully weaves together themes of sacrifice, the role of art in society, and the nature of war itself.
4. "Too Late the Hero" (1970)
Technically, it's 1970, but it's too good to skip. Michael Caine makes our list again in this Pacific Theater drama. He stars alongside Cliff Robertson in a story of a mission to destroy a Japanese communications center. The catch? The team must traverse a hostile island filled with enemy soldiers to get there.
It's not just the physical challenges; the psychological interplay between the characters (including disputes, cowardice, and the weight of leadership) takes center stage. The film's message is clear: Not every hero looks the part at first glance.
3. "The Thin Red Line" (1964)
Before Terrence Malick's more famous 1998 version, there was this one. Based on James Jones' novel, the story captures the raw experience of American infantrymen fighting the Japanese in Guadalcanal during World War II.
The film's beating heart is Private Doll (Keir Dullea), a young soldier grappling with the chaos and senselessness of war. Intense battles, internal strife among the unit, and the harrowing reality of combat are all vividly depicted. For a solid war movie that serves up both action and reflection, this one's a winner.
2. "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" (1969)
Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani light up the screen in this comedic war drama.
Set in the small Italian town of Santa Vittoria during WWII, the residents discover that the Germans are on their way. And what are they after? The town's wine, of course! The townsfolk, led by the bombastic Italo Bombolini (Quinn), hatch a plan to hide a million bottles of wine from the Nazi troops.
Critics might've given it mixed reviews, but for a feel-good wartime movie with a unique plot, this one's hard to beat.
1. "Dark of the Sun" (1968)
Adventure, danger, and a hefty dose of moral ambiguity? "Dark of the Sun" delivers. Jim Brown and Rod Taylor star as mercenaries in the Congo, tasked with retrieving diamonds from a mining town and saving its residents from an advancing rebel army. There's a train, there are machetes, and there's a heist-like tension that permeates the film.
The movie doesn't shy away from the brutalities of war and poses complex questions about morality, greed, and the lengths one will go to survive.