Movies usually attempt to mimic real-life but some, especially war films, will replace facts with special effects. Because many of us have never experienced war or being in the midst of a war, it’s easy to assume that the film is getting everything right— but that’s not always the case.
Over the years though, several movies have come out of Hollywood that pay their respects and depict war and battle as it truly is. Most of the movies on this list have done an excellent job of sticking to the truth. No movie will ever truly represent the reality of war one hundred percent, but these movies do a very good job of showing us what war is really like.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
We’re going to start off with a film that isn’t the most accurate representation of a real historical event. The 2001 film Pearl Harbor directed by Michael Bay depicts one of the worst terror attacks on American soil. Ironically, this movie was released in the same year as perhaps the most famous terrorist attack on American soil, 9/11.
Pearl Harbor focuses more on a love story. The war in the background of the film serves as a plot device. Also, Michael Bay used modern ships in the film instead of ships that would have been used in 1941.
Dunkirk is one of the most recent war movies on this list. This film directed by Christopher Nolan was generally well-received. Critics also praised the film for its historical accuracy. Still, this movie didn’t get everything right.
For the sake of simplicity, Kenneth Branagh’s character stood in for a bunch of people who in reality would have all been necessary for successfully directing the evacuation. One man couldn’t have done all that on his one. Dunkirk also ignored the importance of French, African and Indian soldiers.
MASH, which was released in 1970, was supposed to be a black comedy about the challenges and struggles of men at war. Somehow, it ended up being one of the most historically accurate and culturally significant movies about war ever made.
This film follows a medical unit as they treat injured soldiers during the Korean War, but it makes a strong political statement about the Vietnam War which lasted from 1955 to 1975. There were some historical inaccuracies in this movie, but critics let them slide because of how significant this film became.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker won an Academy Award for best picture (beating out Kathryn’s ex-husband’s film Avatar). Critics seem to be in agreement that this war movie is about as good as they get. Critics praised Bigelow for the realistic dialogue between the soldiers in her movie.
Some veterans of EOD teams have disagreed with film critics. Some even said that the actors’ casual dialogue made it seem like EOD teams are “adrenaline junkies with no self-discipline.”
Glory is based on the actual letters that were written by Robert Gould Shaw—a privileged white soldier who is put in command of the second all-black Union regiment during the Civil War.
The film is an accurate representation of relationships between black and white soldiers during the time of the American Civil War. It shows how horrific war injuries can be, and how field hospitals can’t do much once a soldier has been mortally wounded.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Clint Eastwood’s 2006 war film Letters From Iwo Jima shows a war that America was involved in from the opponent’s point of view. Eastwood’s earlier film Flags of Our Fathers follows the same battle from the American perspective.
This film proves that every story has two sides, and one side is never more valid than any other. Critics have praised this film for its accuracy, which makes sense because it’s based on a book written by the Japanese General of the battle.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan might be one of the most famous and most well-loved war movies in cinema history. That opening scene on Omaha beach completely caught audiences off guard. That scene was so accurate that some WWII veterans had to be removed from theatres because it was too triggering for them.
There are some historical inaccuracies in the actual plot of the film, but this film wasn’t trying to tell a true story. It was trying to share the true nature of war through a fictional narrative. I think we can all agree that Speilberg accomplished what he set out to achieve.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down follows a journalist who was trapped in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu. This film was praised for its stripped-back style and attention to detail. The film shows the crash of the Black Hawk helicopter as it actually happened. It also showcases the tactics U.S. soldiers are forced to use as they were being attacked.
This film doesn’t pay much attention to the political tensions that led to the Battle of Mogadishu, but it’s still a fitting tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in Somalia.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
We Were Soldiers depicts the three-day Battle of la Drang during the Vietnam War. Many of the war tactics that the soldiers use in this film were actual tactics that soldier used in battle. For instance, at one point in the movie, the soldiers fire ammunition into a bush to try to flush out the enemy.
This movie is based on a book by former U.S. Army General Hal Moore. In the book, Moore complained that “every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” Apparently, according to Moore, this film was as close to right as he had ever seen.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Hamburger Hill was overshadowed by two very big war films that were also released in 1987. Hamburger Hill was released nine months after Platoon and one month after Full Metal Jacket. This movie didn’t get the attention it deserved because of bad timing, but it was still praised as an accurate portrayal of the day to day experiences of an average platoon in wartime.
One critic and historian called the battle scenes “as close as you could ask for.”
Keep in mind that we’re talking about the 1993 film Stalingrad here. There was another film called Stalingrad that was released in Russia in 2013 that was pretty much an overexaggerated propaganda film. The 1993 Stalingrad has been called “one of the most accurate war films ever.”
Stalingrad doesn’t shy away from showing violence on screen, and it even contains several disturbing images of piled-up corpses. The actors in this film do a great job of depicting the fear and panic of being on the losing side of a war.
Lone Survivor (2013)
The film Lone Survivor is based on a book of the same name. It follows the true story of four Navy SEALs who were stationed in Afghanistan when the Taliban attacked. This film might seem overdramatic, but all of the events in the movie actually did happen in real life.
The SEALs jumped down cliffs to escape the gunfire and Mike Murphy really did give his life so that he could radio for backup for his comrades.
84C MoPic (1989)
84C MoPic (also known as 84 Charlie MoPic) is a mockumentary centered around a cameraman who is tasked with following an LRRP team in Vietnam. This movie was released in 1989 making it one of the earliest films to employ the “found footage” style. In many ways, this film is historically accurate, from the language the soldiers use to the kinds of weapons they carry to the specific forms of radio communications.
One US Army Iraq War veteran praised 84CMoPic because “there are no distracting subplots, only the immediate fight for survival.”
Come And See (1985)
Come and See is a Soviet film about the war crimes committed by Nazis during the second world war. It follows a young boy growing up in Nazi-occupied territory in Belarus as the Nazis terrorize innocent people seemingly for the fun of it.
At the end of the movie, there’s a scene in which Nazi soldiers burn down an entire village and kill thousands of innocent people. Sadly, the depiction of these atrocities is historically accurate.
Sergeant York (1941)
The 1941 film Sergeant York follows real-life WW1 soldier Alvin York as he hunts down German soldiers who committed war crimes. York actually ended up capturing 132 German soldiers and killing 25. This movie was able to be true to history because York was on set often making sure that everything was being shot properly.
This movie was received extremely well and it even became the highest-grossing film of 1941. America was getting ready to enter another World War at the time, so this movie really captured America’s attention.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrik was one of the most remarkable directors in movie history, and In 1987, he decided to make a film about a platoon of U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War that was as accurate as possible. Kubrik definitely did his research. He spent four years watching footage of soldiers, reading newspapers, and studying photographs.
Also, he hired R. Lee Ermey to play Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Ermey was a real drill instructor during the Vietnam War.
Das Boot (1981)
Many German movies are brave enough to depict the true horrors of war and Das Boot is no exception. This film is set in 1942 and it follows the crew of a German U-Boat as they battle for the Atlantic.
This movie shows what life was like for U-Boat crews as they lived with each other in cramped quarters and struggled to understand the motivations behind their missions. If you want to know what the inside of a U-Boat looked like, give this movie a watch.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a biographical war drama about the attack on Pearl Harbor. This film is different from other Pearl Harbor movies because it was made by a team of Japanese and American filmmakers. It showcases the conflict from several perspectives, which lends it a greater degree of authenticity.
Also, the details in this movie added to the overall realism of the film. The crew working on this movie even recreated an exact model of the aircraft flown by Japanese fighter pilots.
Enemy At The Gates (2001)
Enemy at the Gates is a film that was released in 2001 about the Battle of Stalingrad from the Soviet perspective. This film depicts the horrible conditions that soldiers and civilians had to live in during the long winter of 1942-43. The film also paid special attention to female soldiers who contributed to the war effort.
This film is historically accurate as far as the events of the war go, but it does also include a romantic subplot that is entirely fictional.
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)
Master and Commander is set during the height of the Napoleonic Wars in 1805. The film follows the real-life friendship of a British Royal Navy captain and the ship’s medical surgeon. The story of these two friends is entirely fictional, but the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars is historically accurate.
The movie has been applauded for the realistic way it depicted 19th-century naval battles. The movie also paints a pretty accurate picture of the barbaric medical practices of the early 1800s.
Act Of Valor (2012)
The plot of the film Act of Valor, which involves a group of Navy SEALS rescuing a captured CIA agent, is entirely made up, but the way the film depicts what it takes to be a Navy SEAL is quite accurate. The filmmakers used real active Navy SEALS as the actors in their movie. They knew that only real SEALs would know what it takes to truly bring these characters to life.
While the SEALs added a sense of authenticity to the movie, they weren’t very good actors.
The Great Escape (1963)
The film The Great Escape which depicts a mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war isn’t very historically accurate. This movie made it seem like American soldiers were involved in the great escape, which just never happened. The escape was a British and Canadian led operation. There were a few Scandanavian escapees, but no Americans.
Still, this film was shot in Germany where the escape took place, so at least the locations are real.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn is a drama film that’s based on a documentary. It follows the real-life story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler (played by Christian Bale) who was shot down and captured by villagers during the Vietnam war.
This film is pretty accurate in terms of the events depicted in the film, but Herzog did have to understate some of the worst torture that Dengler experienced in order to secure a PG13 rating for his movie.
Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, and none other than Jon Bon Jovi star in U-571, a heroic tale of the American soldiers who stole a coding machine from a German U-Boat during World War II. This film isn’t historically accurate at all because it was actually British soldiers from the HMS Bulldog who captured the machine.
Leave it to the U.S. to steal a story of heroism from the Allied Forces. This movie received a lot of criticism for its inaccuracies.
Jarhead, a 2005 movie that stars Jake Gyllenhaal as U.S. Marine Anthony Swoffordwon several awards for its portrayal of the psychological and neurological issues soldiers faced in the wake of the first Gulf War. Some Marines weren’t so thrilled about this movie though. One Marine said that the physical and mental abuse was “rare and taken out of context.”
Because of this movie, the Marine Corps office of Public Affairs released an official statement saying that the portrayal of the Marines was “inaccurate” and not a “reasonable interpretation of military life.”
Windtalkers was one of the first films to highlight the importance of the Navajo code talkers during the Second World War. Since 2002, movies about code breakers and code talkers have become even more accurate. This movie was criticized for placing too much emphasis on Nicholas Cage’s very whit character and not enough on the code breaker he was protecting.
Film critic Roger Ebert blasted the film for putting the real hero of the movie in a supporting role and for using “battlefield cliches” instead of fresh dialogue.
Alexander was supposed to be Oliver Stone’s magnum opus. This movie is based on the life of the Macedonian Greek general and king Alexander the Great. Colin Farrell plays a young a rather handsome Alexander.
It turns out that this movie wasn’t very historically accurate. Stone skipped out on major wars, turned wars that lasted decades into a single battle, and spent too much time on the romantic subplot. Critics weren’t a huge fan of his movie.
Red Tails (2012)
Red Tails tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen— the first African-American fighter squadron is the U.S. military. The Tuskegee Airmen served in World War 2. This movie had the potential to be a fresh and interesting take on a much-studied historical event, but somehow, the movie ended up being patronizing and at times, just flat out false.
At one point, Red Tails showed the unit commander at a desk job when in reality he flew several bombing raids.
What parts of Braveheart aren’t historically accurate, you ask? Pretty much the whole movie. Everything is wrong from the costumes to the timeline to the battles themselves. One historian mentioned that the Battle of Stirling Bridge didn’t even take place on a bridge.
Mel Gibson said he stands by his decisions to make a “cinematically compelling” story. The story may have been compelling, but it certainly isn’t true. This movie took some huge liberties with the source material.
Gladiator tells the story of a beaten-down man who became a warrior in order to avenge the deaths of his family members and his emperor. Ridley Scott tried really, really hard to make this historical drama accurate, but he ran into some issues before he even started filming. Commodus never actually murdered his father, which is a huge plot point in Gladiator.
It looks like Scott was also more concerned with making a cinematically compelling narrative than a historically accurate one.
The Patriot (2000)
Mel Gibson strikes again with Patriot, a film about four real people all rolled into one composite character. Gibson plays American Colonist Benjamin Martin. Things get complicated when he’s swept into the American Revolutionary War.
Gibson forgot to mention in his film that Francis Marion, one of the real people that Martin was based on, was a slave owner who horribly abused his slaves. In fact, this movie completely fails to mention slavery at all.
The Green Berets (1968)
The Green Berets is based on a novel by Robin Moore. It features John Wayne as a member of an anti-Communist Vietnam War fighter platoon. This film strongly supported America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and because of this, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave the film crew full the cooperation of the U.S. military for filming.
Still, The Green Berets wasn’t an accurate representation of the war. It reduced the conflict to something resembling a game of cowboys vs. Indians.
Flyboys is a film about a group of young men who become fighter pilots during the First World War. The boys end up participating in aerial dogfights. Each of the characters is based on a real person from the Lafayette Flying Crops squadron. While the characters are rooted in reality, the aircrafts used in the film definitely weren’t.
All of the aircrafts used in the movie didn’t come into existence until well after the First World War ended.
The Battle Of The Bulge (1965)
The 1965 Warner Bros. film Battle of the Bulge was supposed to be an accurate depiction of the famous 1945 WW2 Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately, the crew working on this film didn’t pay much attention to the props and vehicles they were using.
The biggest inaccuracy of the film comes from the tanks. Aside from the fact the tanks and equipment of the Allied and Axis forces are wrong, the maneuvers are also entirely incorrect.
Inchon is supposed to be a cinematic representation of the Battle of Inchon, which was believed to be the turning point in the Korean War. The film received $30 million in funding, but all the money in the world couldn’t have saved this movie from its bad producing, bad acting, and bad directing.
At one point, you can see that the director chose to use cardboard cutouts of people instead of extras. That’s just unforgivable.
The Last Samurai (2003)
Critics appreciated the effort that went into The Last Samurai, a film about a U.S. regiment captain who helped Westernize the Japanese samurai forces in the 19th century. Still, many critics felt like the film fell flat historically. While the costumes, props, and dialogue were accurate, the plot of the movie definitely isn’t.
At one point, Tom Cruise’s character tried to teach the Japanese how to shoot muskets even though they would have been shooting rifles for decades now.
Revolution was such a bad movie that it actually led Al Pachino to quit acting for four years. This movie follows a fur trapper who unwillingly gets tangled up in the Revolutionary War when his son becomes a drummer boy.
Everything about this movie is just awful, from its dialogue to its costumes to its characters. Nothing about this movie is historically accurate at all. They even messed up the details of the Battle of Yorktown.
The Red Baron (1971)
The Red Baron which is also titled Von Richthofen and Brown centers around the conflict between two fighter pilots in World War 1 who face off against each other. The characters in this movie are based on real people, but pretty much everything else is not historically accurate.
A stunt person actually died during the making of this movie. Production was not on top of their game which caused the set of this film to be unsafe.
The Finest Hour (1991)
The Finest Hour is about two Navy SEALS who both like the same woman. They were best friends, but now they’re fighting over a lady. This is all happing with the Gulf War in the background, but honestly, this movie would have been better off if it just dropped the war subplot altogether.
The Finest Hour should have just been a romantic comedy. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with how inaccurate this portrayal of the Gulf War was.
Green Zone (2010)
Green Zone is based on a non-fiction book about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Matt Damon plays U.S. Army Chief Roy Miller who sorts through information to find out what’s real and what’s fake news.
This movie contains a lot of action scenes, but not much character development. The plot of this movie really suffered because so much energy went into making cool looking explosions. This film has a score of 54% on Rotten Tomatoes.