Broadly speaking, Hollywood makes war movies for two reasons that aren't profit-related (which we take as a given): to give the audience the slightest inkling of what actual battle is like (the closest most of us come is our biannual paintball game), and to commemorate the sacrifices our fighting men and women make, both on the battlefield and at home.
But every "best of" list of war movies inevitably includes a rotating group for the 20 or so everybody has already seen. I'd be a fool to argue against including Apocalypse Now or The Great Escape in any overall ranking, but there are thousands of war movies out there, many unknown to a wider audience.
So consider these an alternative to your annual AMC Midway - Saving Private Ryan - Platoon marathon.
The Boys in Company C (1978) Lost amidst the late '70s punch of The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now and predating Full Metal Jacket by almost ten years (with a plot similar to both the Kubrick film and Victory, which came out three years later). It also stars a pre-Night Eyes Andrew Stevens, for those fond of Shannon Tweed movies.
Year at Danger (2008) Steve Metze, then a major in the National Guard, created this documentary about his deployment at Forward Operating Base "Danger" in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005. It offers unfiltered, uncensored coverage of the day-to-day life of a combat soldier, from the often excruciating boredom to the terror of frequent mortar and rocket attacks. In this day of sanitized media coverage and "pool" journalism, you're probably never going to see a chronicle this raw and uncensored.
Come and See (Idi i smotri) (1985) I won't lie and say you'll come away from this feeling warm and fuzzy about mankind. It is, nonetheless, a "plea for peace," as described by writer (and former Byelorussian partisan) Ales Adamovich.
Paths of Glory (1957) Yeah, a lot of people *say* they've seen it. A lot of people are also liars. Any movie with Kubrick before his Eyes Wide Shut embarrassment, pre-Spartacus Kirk Douglas and a plot that annoys the French is worth your belated time.
A Midnight Clear (1992) Hard as it may be to believe, before Ethan Hawke made remakes, before Peter Berg directed board game-to-movie adaptations and before Gary Sinise was "LIEUTENANT DAN," they made a moving film about unlikely allies in the waning days of WWII.
Gailipoli (1981) This movie makes me sad. Not because of, you know, the ending. No, the tragedy is seeing a young Mel Gibson, so handsome, full of promise and capable of keeping his ugly misogyny and anti-Semitism to himself.
Stalingrad (1993) We tend to forget the scale of past battles, considering the wars of counterinsurgency America has recently waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, the Battle of Stalingrad lasted over five months, with over a million casualties on the Soviet side alone. Joseph Vilsmaier's grim epic gives us an idea just how warm a welcome the Germans received.
Cross of Iron (1977) Sam Peckinpah's only war movie, beloved of Quentin Tarantino, and criminally unappreciated.
The Grey Zone (2001) Yeah, yeah, I know. David Arquette. I didn't believe it either until I finally checked it out. Makes Schindler's List look like Life Is Beautiful. So, in retrospect, not really a date movie.
Pork Chop Hill (1959) There are (comparatively) few films about the Korean War, but this Gregory Peck vehicle is an early look at the politics behind making war and the way the common soldier pays the price.
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