Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Professors Discuss Favorite War Movies

Emily Gardner

July 3, 2015

Features from the 1920s to present day made the list.

War movies have held a special place in American cinema through the years as well as in the hearts of film scholars. From movies created in the 1920s to present day, patriotism and freedom have rung. In time for the Fourth of July, several Texas Tech University professors list their all-time favorite war movies and explain why.


Robert Peaslee, associate professor in the College of Media & Communication

  • Apocalypse Now” (1979): “This is not only a great war film – the cinematography, editing, writing, direction, performance and soundtrack are all incredible – it is for my money the single greatest film adaption of literary material ever produced.”
  • Inglourious Basterds” (2009): “The most fun you can have in a war film, and two of the greatest single scenes ever written.”
  • Full Metal Jacket” (1987): “There are at least three Stanley Kubrick films that could be on this list, but this is the most shattering and unforgettable. Pvt. Pyle is perhaps one of the most indelible and haunting characters in all of cinema.”
  • The Thin Red Line” (1998): “For me, this is Terrence Malick's masterwork: a gorgeous tone-poem on the insanity of war, the beauty of life on the edge and the problem of duty.”
  • The Hurt Locker” (2008): “The film is a classic for the War on Terror age. The suit for which the film is named serves as a potent metaphor for the might and the confining, suffocating nature of American military action since 2001. It's expertly directed by Katherine Bigelow, who gets additional points for the taut ‘Zero Dark Thirty.'”

Tim Day, instructor in the College of Media & Communication

  • Empire of the Sun” (1987): “The film is the underrated Spielberg coming-of-age tale and was Christian Bale's feature debut. A 12-year-old boy in a Japanese internment camp makes an indelible impression as he measures his dreams and fantasies against the reality of war.”
  • Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957): “David Lean's epic offers daring escapes, sabotage and one of the most suspenseful sequences ever filmed. A struggle for leadership and power is the crux of this fantastic film, and there is a mesmerizing performance from Alec Guinness.”
  • The Steel Helmet” (1951): “Sam Fuller broke the mold when he shot a film about the Korean War during the Korean War. A ragtag group of soldiers take refuge from a sniper in a Buddhist temple. As racial and ideological tensions grow, the movie offers a gut-punch for the horror of war.”
  • The Dirty Dozen” (1967): “‘Train ‘em! Excite ‘em! Arm ‘em! Then turn them loose on the Nazis.' The film combines the dregs of military prison under the leadership of Lee Marvin for a suicide mission to end Hitler's grip in Europe. Yes please.”
  • The Great Escape” (1963): “Made at the peak of the Hollywood studio system. This is a great example of a fantastic ensemble cast and a marquee idol in Steven McQueen. Thrills, laughs and plenty of action from beginning to end.”

Paul Reinsch, assistant professor of practice, Department of Theatre and Dance

  • The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946): “Most war films are actually combat films, and most combat films are action films merely pretending to have more somber ambitions. William Wyler's greatest film documents the efforts of three World War II veterans to re-assimilate to their home and the community's efforts to welcome them back.”
  • The Big Red One: The Reconstruction” (1980, 1994): “Professional raconteur and World War II veteran Samuel Fuller made films that often feel more like wrestling matches with the audience than anything like entertainment. In the afterword to the novel ‘The Big Red One,' he writes: ‘To make a real war movie would be to occasionally fire at the audience from behind the screen during a battle scene.' This film is less confrontational than this work in previous decades and stops well short of firing live rounds into the audience, but it sums up his feelings about war and war films, especially in the extended version released after his death.”
  • The Deer Hunter” (1978): “Writer-director Michael Cimino's study of the effect of the Vietnam War on the men and woman of a small Pennsylvania town overtly echoes Wyler's earlier film. While the film's ‘Russian Roulette' sequences are rightly infamous, it is the presentation of the community before the war that most successfully builds on the foundation of ‘The Best Years of Our Lives.'”
  • The General” (1926): “Buster Keaton is funnier and more inventive than Chaplin, and he always was. While much of his great work is found in short films, this is his most perfect feature. Here, with Clyde Bruckman, he recreates the partially true story of Johnny Gray and his love for his girlfriend and locomotive. Though the film ignores the ‘peculiar institution' that caused the Civil War and continues to plague the U.S. today, Keaton's images are as indelible as, and more beautiful and spontaneously alive than, Mathew Brady's or Alexander Gardner's photographs.”
  • Men in War” (1957): “The title is generic but not inaccurate. Known more for his westerns and contributions to film noir, director Anthony Mann contributed equally to the war film, though this work is often neglected. ‘Men in War' presents soldiers in the Korean War trying both to survive and understand their own actions.”