Why war movies are so popular most likely comes from the fact that we are unfortunately never far away from the possibility of another world war.
In fact, at any time, a war is taking place somewhere in the world.
When you think about it, World War II only ended 77 years ago. It’s no surprise that this topic still fascinates many of us and that war movies do so well at the box office.
War movies are usually high budget movies, with lots of big set pieces and often big time actors.
If you’re reading this my guess is that you enjoy this genre but you might wonder which one you should watch next?
Luckily, Amazon Prime has plenty of options when it comes to war movies. Let’s take a look at the ten best war movies currently on Amazon and how you too can write a war movie.
1. The King’s Choice (2016)
Starring: Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo, Karl Markovics,
Written By: Alf R. Jacobsen (inspired by a book written by) | Harald Rosenløw-Eeg | Jan Trygve Røyneland
Director: Erik Poppe
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Budget: $7.5 Million Dollars
Logline: April 1940. Norway has been invaded by Germany and the royal family and government have fled into the interior. The German envoy to Norway tries to negotiate a peace. Ultimately, the decision on Norway’s future will rest with the King.
The King’s Choice celebrates a moment in the history of Norway when King Haakon VII refused to surrender to the Nazi’s invasion. The dilemma was clear: surrender or be crushed. But driven by duty, the King didn’t surrender and fought for Norway and against Hitler’s army. The King’s Choice is Erik Poppe’s fifth film and was a huge hit in Norway.
Starring: Jack Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Alexia Barlier
Written By: Chuck Hogan (screenplay) | Mitchell Zuckoff (book “13 Hours”)
Director: Michael Bay
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%
Budget: $50 Million Dollars
Logline: During an attack on a U.S. compound in Libya, a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.
You probably know Michael Bay from the Transformers franchise but many think 13 Hours is Michael Bay’s best movie so far. There were worries that 13 Hours might be too political to hit big but most people who went to watch it weren’t sure what to expect aside from a great cast, so they went in with an open mind and while the Rotten Tomatoes Score isn’t high (51%), the movie did well at the box office.
3. By Dawn’s Early Light (1990)
Starring: Power Boothe, Rebecca De Mornay, James Earl Jones, Martin Landau
Written By: William Prochnau (novel “Trinity’s Child”) | Bruce Gilbert (teleplay)
Director: Jack Sholder
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NA
Budget: Low Budget – It’s a Television Movie from HBO that was made before HBO had the current budgets.
Logline: A non-NATO nuclear missile is fired from Turkey at USSR, where it detonates. Soviet response is automatic as it’s seen as a NATO missile. Can continued escalation be avoided? We follow the US president and a bomber crew.
By Dawn’s Early Light is often depicted as the last great nuclear war movie. The script is tense and the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat. The acting is strong and the production is of quality, despite its low budget.
4. 1917 (2019)
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth
Written By: Sam Mendes | Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Director: Sam Mendes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Budget: $95 Million Dollars
Logline: April 6th, 1917. As an infantry battalion assembles to wage war deep in enemy territory, two soldiers are assigned to race against time and deliver a message that will stop 1,600 men from walking straight into a deadly trap.
1917 is a great movie because of the emotional film directing. It portrays what it’s like to be a soldier on a battlefield, what they see, what they have to go through, what they have to live with. The writers spent a long time researching testimonials from people who had fought in the war to give the script an extremely emotional take.
5. Journey’s End (2017)
Starring: Paul Bettany, Sam Claflin, Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge
Written By: Simon Reade (screenplay) | R.C. Sherriff (novel) (play) | Vernon Bartlett (novel)
Director: Saul Dibb
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Budget: Not reported
Logline: Set in a dugout in Aisne in 1918, it is the story of a group of British officers, led by mentally-disintegrating young Officer Stanhope, as they await their fate.
Journey’s End shines by the actors’ performance. What allowed for such great performance was how three dimensional characters were on the page: they were conflicted and felt real, which gave the actors the confidence to shine in their role.
The movie initially started as a play written by R.C Sherriff in 1927 and was adapted several times until it became a movie script.
6. A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Starring: Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Philips, Jack La Rue
Written By: Benjamin Glazer (screenplay) | Oliver H.P. Garrett (screenplay) | Ernest Hemingway (novel)
Director: Frank Borzage
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Logline: An American ambulance driver and an English nurse fall in love in Italy during World War I.
A Farewell to Arms started as a novel by Hemingway. But Hemingway’s voice did not transfer well to the movie. While A Farewell to Arms is a battlefield movie, it’s at his heart a gripping love story.
7. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton
Written By: William Monahan
Director: Ridley Scott
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
Budget: $130 Million Dollars
Logline: Balian of Ibelin travels to Jerusalem during the Crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people.
Kingdom of Heaven is a character drama with heavy set pieces. The script was written by William Monahan who won an Oscar for The Departed.
8. The Tomorrow War (2021)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons
Written By: Zach Dean
Director: Chris McKay
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52%
Budget: $200 Million Dollars
Logline: A family man is drafted to fight in a future war where the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront the past.
A war movie… with aliens. Its cast and budget definitely screams blockbuster.
9. Rescue Dawn (2006)
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Zach Grenier, Toby Huss, Marshall Bell
Written By: Werner Herzog
Director: Werner Herzog
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Budget: $10 Million Dollars
Logline: A U.S. fighter pilot’s epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.
Rescue Dawn is a drama war movie about surviving in a hostile environment with great acting from Bale and Zahn.
10. Without Remorse (2021)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner–Smith, Jamie Bell, Guy Pearce, Lauren London
Written By: Taylor Sheridan (screenplay by) (screen story by) | Will Staples (screenplay by) (screen story by) | Tom Clancy (based on the novel by)
Director: Stefano Sollima
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44%
Budget: $60 Million Dollars
Logline: An elite Navy SEAL, goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy.
Without Remorse is an adaptation from Clancy’s book of the same name.
How To Write a War Movie?
War movies most of the time rely on the structure of the Hero’s Journey:
Ordinary World, Call to Action, Adventure, Fail, Learn from Experiences, Return a hero.
When writing a war movie, you might want to focus on a war that hasn’t been seen so much on screen. Maybe staying away from WWII but instead focusing on a different nation or a war that hasn’t been covered as many times.
If you do go for a WWII movie, what is an angle that is fresh and interesting to tackle when telling that story? Who are your characters and what is the tension there and connections between them? How can you make your war movie feel like a fresh take on an old tale?
One great and successful way to open a war movie is to send us straight into a fight/the war. Often, a big opening can draw an audience in immediately versus waiting until the end to see the epic fight.
When the audience watches a war movie, they want to see that action and those heavy set pieces, keep that in mind.
As far as characters, war movies often have a newcomer who is usually the protagonist. Through the eye of the protagonist, we understand the world and the rules, since they are a newcomer who is just now discovering them.
Additionally to the newcomer there is usually another character that is more intense about the war going and and a love interest that brings the emotional take and another level of stakes for the main character.
So when you write your war movie, think of compelling characters, fresh takes, humanity in your story and epic set pieces. Writing a great script starts with understanding the genre so watching these 10 movies is a great place to start!