François Truffaut once argued that it was impossible to make an anti-war movie, because once you put warfare on camera, it can’t help but look dramatic. But filmmakers have been trying to make anti-war movies for decades, while other filmmakers have been hard at work making pro-war movies to support their nation’s troops.
It’s a complex genre, in which some of the best films can be unironically positive about a war, while others are also entirely critical of that exact same war. Some war movies are action-packed and rousing, others a violent and depressing. Some are ironic and funny, others are brutal and tragic. There are war movies for every kind of person in our list of The Best War Movies of the 21st Century (so far), but there’s one thing you won’t find… and that’s fictional wars.
Many of these war stories are fictional, but they all take place during actual conflicts that occurred on the planet Earth. We extend our apologies to The Lord of the Rings and The Force Awakens, but the historical significance of the war genre is that these films help us catalogue our feelings about real-life violent conflicts, and that makes the genre distinct from otherworldly epics, or even conventional action movies.