Best War Movies on HBO Max to Watch Right Now


For fans of war movies, Max is a must-have streaming service, as the combined film libraries of HBO and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), with some Criterion Collection masterpieces sprinkled in as well, provide several great choices. Among the over 2,200 films currently available to stream on Max are some classic films of the genre, including several from the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films of All Time. They include war films from Hollywood’s golden age, as well as modern masterpieces by legendary directors.




War films are a famously difficult genre to pull off, as they require deftly blending action and drama, alongside sometimes incorporating biographies and historical context. However, at their best, war films feel unlike any other genre, and offer both exhilaration and moral reflection. So, without further ado, here are some of the best war movies available to stream on Max right now.

Updated on March 27, 2024, by Brian Kirchgessner: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.


23 The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

Home Box Office (HBO)


Widely considered one of the best made-for-TV films ever, The Tuskegee Airmen depicts the true story (albeit with some fictionalized elements) of the titular squad division from WWII, the first ever all-African-American Air Force Squadron. Most of the story is told from the perspective of young squad pilot Hannibal Lee (the great Laurence Fishburne), and the reticence his division faces from their white superior officers.

Moving and Inspiring

Gradually, as the airmen prove their worth, they develop a reputation as one of the most fearsome and reliable squadrons in the army. The cast is absolutely stacked, with seasoned veterans, newcomers, and underrated character actors including Cuba Gooding Jr., Mekhi Phifer, John Lithgow, Courtney B. Vance, and Andre Braugher. If it’s a somewhat predictable viewing, it’s also a moving and inspiring one.

22 Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines
20th Century Studios


Helmed by John Moore (The Omen, Max Payne) in his directorial debut, Behind Enemy Lines tells the story of Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) an American Navy flight officer shot down over Bosnia. Loosely inspired by a similar 1995 scenario involving former Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady, the film depicts Burnett’s struggle to survive as he awaits rescue from his commanding officer.

Tense and Technically Impressive

As he fights for his life, Burnett uncovers evidence of a planned genocide against the Bosnian people, led by a Serb paramilitary leader. While the plot sometimes strains credulity, it’s nonetheless always involving and undeniably impressive on a technical level.

21 Anthropoid (2016)

The Movie Anthropoid
Icon Film Distribution


Anthropoid is a very underrated war film that’s set against the backdrop of WWII, where two Czech soldiers return to the Nazi-occupied Czech Republic to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Powered by incredible performances by Cillian Murphy (who just won a Best Actor Oscar) and Jamie Dornan, Anthropoid is based on true events and is considered to be one of the most accurate and realistic war films in recent times.

A Gripping, Well-Acted Film

With an abundance of bullets and bloodshed, Sean Ellis’ film paints a haunting portrait of the Czech resistance movement and how they put their lives on the line for a greater cause. Despite being a heavy film to digest, Anthropoid ranks highly as a well-rounded film that fires on all cylinders, from emotion to action.

20 Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)

A still from Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
HBO


Rory Kennedy’s haunting war documentary gives the viewers an insight into life inside one of the world’s most notorious prisons: Iran’s Abu Ghraib. A haunting film to experience, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib utilizes the narratives of perpetrators, victims, and witnesses in an effort to probe into the effects of the infirmary. Highlighting a plethora of torture schemes ranging from sexual humiliation to physical abuse, Kennedy’s film pulls no punches and is very critical of America’s hand and credibility in the Iraqi prison ecosystem.

Difficult But Essential

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib is definitely a film that cannot be seen on an empty stomach as its haunting images linger in the bylines of memory much after the credits have rolled. Despite that, the film deserves to be on everyone’s movie list, serving as a reminder of the brutality humans are capable of.


19 When Trumpets Fade (1998)

when-trumpets-fade-1998
HBO

Highlighting the mental trauma of war, When Trumpets Fade follows Pvt. David Manning, the sole survivor in the aftermath of the battle of Hürtgen Forres. Crumpled by shock and trauma, Manning requests to leave but instead is promoted to sergeant and tasked with leading his men into battle despite being thoroughly unqualified for the position.

An Emotionally Turbulent Journey

When Trumpets Fade runs on the emotional chaos that’s caused by war, it leaves its effect on everyone who’s put through the experience. This change is evident in Manning’s case as he gradually numbs to war’s harsh realities as the film progresses, taking the viewer with him on a turbulent journey both inward and outward.


18 The Tin Drum (1979)

David Bennent as Oskar in The Tin Drum
United Artists

The Tin Drum, adapted from Günter Grass’ novel of the same name, follows a young boy who purposely refuses to accept the reality of the adult world by banging on his tin drum as a form of protest against the Nazis and war.

A Political Rebellion Seen Through Youth

Upon its release, Volker Schlöndorff’s film was a sensation, winning the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival along with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. With an abundance of symbolic messaging and themes of youth and adulthood, The Tin Drum merges political rebellion with childlike stubbornness, creating a film for warring adults, led by a small boy.


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17 American Sniper (2014)

american sniper

American Sniper

Release Date
December 25, 2014

Runtime
132

Writers
Jason Hall , Chris Kyle , Scott McEwen , James Defelice

Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper tells the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy SEAL who served as a lethal sniper during the war in Iraq. Hell-bent on protecting his fellow soldiers, Chris’ almost inhuman accuracy made him one of the most deadly snipers in American history.


A Deadly and Dedicated Family Man

Against the backdrop of Kyle trying to be a family man while staying loyal to his duty as he serves four tours, the film delves into the poignant issues service personnel face every day, as well as the difficulties soldiers face when forced to leave the battlefield. Chris’ dedication to his role made him a legend, albeit one with a perpetual target on his head.

16 Red Dawn (1984)

Patrick Swayze as Jed looking stern and pointing a gun in Red Dawn (1984)
MGM

Red Dawn is already iconic, if just for being the first film ever to sport a PG-13 rating. But even without this, it’s still a wild, brutal ride (even if it’s a bit self-serious for its own good) boasting highly memorable characters and impressive direction from John Milius (writer of Apocalypse Now, director of Conan the Barbarian).


A Hugely Entertaining Ode to Heroism

Set during the height of the Cold War, Red Dawn envisions a worst-possible-scenario future, where an alliance between the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and Latin America invades the United States. The country’s only hope for freedom lies with the Wolverines, a teenage battalion of guerrilla soldiers (the ranks include Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell). Regardless of one’s political beliefs (the film wears its agenda very openly), it remains a hugely entertaining watch.

15 Conspiracy (2001)

Branagh and Tucci in Conspiracy
HBO

Starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci, Conspiracy is a made-for-TV film that dramatizes the events of the Wannsee Conference, the famous Nazi meeting meant to debate the “Final Solution” of “The Jewish Question”. Featuring uncannily believable dialogue, the film uses the actual transcripts of the conference, while also successfully delving into the frightening psychology of the Nazi mindset.


Essential and Still Relevant

Given its horrific subject, the film is a powerful one portraying the completely insidious intention of the Nazi Party. As depicted in the film, the discussions candidly include options like mass sterilization and genocide — giving us a chilling reminder of why such mindsets should never be tolerated again. With terrific performances from the lead actors, this is a must-see film given how much of the same rhetoric is still so prevalent today.

14 The Exception (2017)

Courtney and James in The Exception
A24

A romantic war film bolstered by a stellar cast, The Exception follows a Wehrmacht Officer (Jai Courtney) as he’s tasked with determining if a British spy has infiltrated the Kaiser’s residence. The stakes are sky-high for the officer to complete his assessment, as it’s believed that the spy’s main orders are to assassinate the monarch, who has been deposed.


Romantic With Sky-High Stakes

While the officer is initially focused on his task, complications arise when he meets one of the Kaiser’s beautiful maids, played by Lily James. Set during Germany’s occupation of The Netherlands in WWII, the film also features a brilliant Christopher Plummer as Kaiser Wilhelm I and was based on the book “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” by Alan Judd.

13 Tears of the Sun (2003)

Tears of the Sun

Tears of the Sun

Release Date
March 7, 2003

Runtime
118

Writers
Alex Lasker , Patrick Cirillo

Back in Bruce Willis’ heyday, Tears of the Sun saw the legendary action star play Lt. Waters, a man tasked with leading a team on a rescue mission to Nigeria, where the government has fallen and the nation is on the verge of civil war. Waters and his men are tasked with rescuing Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), who works to provide humanitarian medical services to war-torn refugees.


Harrowing and Insightful

She refuses to abandon her patients, and as a result, Waters and his men agree to help her get them to safety — a move that lands them in hot water with both American and Nigerian officials. Packed with great action and drama, the film provides harrowing insight into the chaos brought about by a political coup.

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12 Monos (2019)

Teenaged guerillas in Monos
Neon


Winner of the World Dramatic Special Jury Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Monos is far from an easy watch, but it’s a captivating one. Taking inspiration equally from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the film takes place in Colombia, centering around a group of child soldiers tasked with watching over a hostage before an ambush drives them into the jungle.

Nightmarish and Unforgettable

As the group struggles to survive, their bonds are put to the test, and the film takes on a much more surrealistic bent, utilizing nightmarish visuals and a haunting score by Mica Levi to illustrate how the characters are affected by their surroundings. It’s both hugely disturbing and unforgettable.

11 Path to War (2002)

Gambon in Path to War
HBO


A top-tier biographical TV film, Path to War was the last film directed by the great John Frankenheimer, best known for films like The Manchurian Candidate (1962). The movie utilizes the viewpoint of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his cabinet to depict several key historical moments of the Vietnam War.

Inescapably Political and Wonderfully Cast

Path to War successfully highlights both the inescapably political nature of the Vietnam War and the difficult decision-making processes that surrounded it. The film is elevated by a terrific performance from Michael Gambon in the lead as President Johnson, but the veteran actor is backed up wonderfully by a supporting cast including Donald Sutherland and Alec Baldwin.

10 Jim: The James Foley Story (2016)

Still of James Foley
HBO Documentary Films


Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Jim: The James Foley Story is a hard-hitting work about the life of photojournalist and war correspondent, James Foley. Depicting the innocent casualties of war, it primarily focuses on his time covering the Syrian Civil War, during which time he was later kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

The Rise of ISIS

He would remain missing for two years. In 2014, in response to US airstrikes in Iraq, the world watched in horror as a video went viral, in which terrorists beheaded Foley. His tragic murder acted as the world’s first major introduction to the new threat that emerged in the wake of Al-Qaeda’s losses, as the now infamous ISIS began seizing more power in the region.

9 Henry V (1944)

Laurence Olivier in Henry V
Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited


Helmed by the legendary Laurence Olivier, who also took the title role, Henry V was maybe the first Shakespeare film adaptation to receive both critical and popular acclaim. The British government partially funded the movie, as Olivier famously took the project to boost the morale of British troops during the final stretch of WWII.

A Triumph Gorgeously Shot

A cinematic triumph, the film sweeps through the famous battles as seen through the eyes of Shakespeare, and it looks simply gorgeous, with landscapes and battles depicted with astonishing visual clarity, shot in Technicolor. Olivier received a special Academy Award for his outstanding achievement with the film, further proof of why he’s such a screen legend. The film was also nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director for Olivier.


8 Pearl Harbor (2001)

Main battle scene in Pearl Harbor
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution 

At the turn of the century, Michael Bay brought an epic war film to the big screen depicting one of the most important events of the last century. Pearl Harbor features amazing visuals and action sequences, all while depicting the titular attack that dragged the USA into WWII and eventually led to the atomic bomb being used for the first and last time in history. The film is told from the perspective of two best friends and ace pilots, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, as they become entangled in a love triangle with a beautiful nurse played by Kate Beckinsale.


Absorbing and Immersive

The love story provides more than enough side intrigue, but the heart of the film truly begins when Japanese kamikaze pilots begin their assault on the Pearl Harbor naval base. This unleashes one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed. With absorbing and immersive scenes depicting the chaos brought about by this historic battle, the film provides jaw-dropping scale and booming sound effects, which earned it an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

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7 Eye in the Sky (2015)

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky
Entertainment One


One of the most hotly debated topics regarding military and foreign policy in the 2010s was the use of drone warfare, and few films explore this ethical dilemma better than Eye in the Sky. The plot centers around a British military officer (Helen Mirren) leading an operation to capture a group of terrorists in Kenya. As she learns that they’re planning a suicide mission, she plans to proceed with a kill mission, but everything is thrown into flux when a young girl enters the kill zone.

Nail Biting and Thought Provoking

This triggers an international crisis, with the heads of the British, American, and Chinese governments debating whether to proceed with the mission. The result is a hugely tense thriller, with its characters put through unthinkable moral dilemmas as the clock keeps ticking. But alongside the thrills also comes a thought-provoking illustration of the cost of war, and whether the ends truly justify the means.

6 The Hunt For Red October (1990)

Two soldiers stand together in The Hunt for Red October
Paramount Pictures


The saga of Tom Clancy’s most iconic character, Jack Ryan, has proven one of the most consistently successful cinematic translations of a literary thriller, and it all began with 1990’s The Hunt for Red October. At the height of the Cold War, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is dragged into the heart of an intense ideological conflict, as a rogue Soviet naval captain (Sean Connery) seemingly plans to attack the United States. Ryan, believing the captain actually wants to defect, must rush to prove his theory before it’s too late.

A Classic Thriller

Old-school thrillers simply don’t get much better than this, with director John McTiernan setting the pedal to the metal almost immediately and leaving viewers biting their nails without a chance to catch a breath. The A-list cast helps elevate what could’ve been hugely implausible pulp, and the technical prowess (the film won an Oscar for Sound Editing) only enhances the experience.


5 Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca

Casablanca

Release Date
November 26, 1942

Director
Michael Curtiz

Runtime
102

Writers
Julius J. Epstein , Philip G. Epstein , Howard Koch , Murray Burnett , Joan Alison , Casey Robinson

More than 80 years on, Casablanca is still widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Featuring the immortal talents of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, to this day, the film still holds up remarkably considering its success has had one of the most lasting legacies in cinematic history. The movie takes place in the titular city, at a nightclub attracting all kinds of patrons, including the likes of both Nazi officials and refugees.

An All-Time Great

Rick, the club’s owner and an expat, takes a neutral stance against the currently unfolding war. However, when an old flame that he still loves arrives, he must choose between his love for her and helping her husband, a Czech resistance leader, escape. Filled with legendary setpieces and some of the best dialogue in cinematic history, the film is still widely regarded as the greatest war film ever.


4 Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

Release Date
February 16, 1940

Director
Victor Fleming , George Cukor , Sam Wood

Cast
Thomas Mitchell , Barbara O’Neil , Vivien Leigh , Evelyn Keyes , Ann Rutherford , George Reeves

Runtime
238

Writers
Margaret Mitchell , Sidney Howard , Oliver H.P. Garrett , Ben Hecht , Jo Swerling , John Van Druten

Another film regularly cited as one of the greatest in history, Gone with the Wind is a 1939 epic that remains gorgeous and involving to this day, even eighty-five years after its original release. Set in the American South, while the country was on the brink of the Civil War, the film is a sweeping tale that spans years and shows a change slowly transforming America to its core.


A Controversial Classic

Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), falls for the wealthy Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), but Butler is soon drafted into the army, and the social upheaval brought about by the Civil War slowly but surely changes its characters’ lives along the way. Even though the film is still regarded as a classic, it remains controversial for its depictions of slavery and whitewashing, and for arguably romanticizing the harsh realities the South faced. Nonetheless, the film earned 13 Academy Award nominations and won eight of them, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Leigh for Best Actress.



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