Ranging from Ancient Greece to the beaches of Normandy, these epic movie battle scenes have one thing in common: they’re all awesome. Here are our picks for the 10 best battle scenes in movies.
It’s nearly impossible to make a good war movie without some outstanding battle scenes to support it (though there are exceptions). However, just as when film makers attempt to make good movie shootouts, it’s really hard to produce a movie battle scene that’s intense, realistic, visually appealing, and entertaining all at once.
We selected these battle scenes from war movies based on how well they managed to combine those criteria and ranked them accordingly.
Please note: though the amount of realism in these movies varies, this list only includes battle scenes from (more or less) real-life human conflicts. As such, this list of the best battle scenes in war movies specifically excludes scenes from fantasy movies, science fiction movies, and superhero movies (so, sorry, you won’t find any entries from Lord of the Rings or Star Wars here).
Warning: these video clips contain spoilers, explicit language, and lots of violence, so watch at your own risk.
Now, here are the best battle scenes in war movies.
10. 300: Persians, Come and Get Them!
Based on the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small force of vastly outnumbered Spartans attempted to hold off the invading Persian Army, the opening battle scene in the movie 300 shows off the superior training of the individual Spartan warriors.
While the historical accuracy of the fighting style used by the Spartans in the movie is up for debate, it’s still an impressive and well choreographed battle. As a bonus, King Leonidas responds appropriately when the Persian officer demanded that they lay down their weapons: “Persians, come and get them!” This is a more or less accurate translation of Leonidas’ actual response of “Molon labe,” which is currently in common usage by many pro-Second Amendment groups in the United States.
9. Last of the Mohicans: Attack on English Column
Set during the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s, Last of the Mohicans features several incredible battle scenes with the British on one side and the French and their Native American allies on the other. The attack on the English column is loosely based on the real-life events following the surrender of Fort William Henry in New York and the massacre of British Soldiers and civilians by out of control native forces allied with the French afterwards.
This scene does an admirable job of capturing the chaotic and desperate battle between the outnumbered and surrounded British Soldiers as they fight for their lives against a swarm of native warriors.
8. The Longest Day: Attack on Ouistreham
This epic World War II film told the story of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day from American, British, French, and German perspectives and has since become the standard by which war movies are judged. In an incredible war movie filled with well-done battle scenes, one of the most famous is the attack on the casino in port of Ouistreham by Free French Soldiers from Number 4 Commando.
Filmed in one continuous shot, this realistic and awe inspiring battle scene utilized lots of extras and some good old fashioned special effects (no CGI here). It’s gripping, powerful, and was light years ahead of the battle scenes in other war movies of the day.
7. Gladiator: Battle in Germania
The opening battle against Germanic tribes near modern-day Vienna shows the impressive capability of the Roman Army fighting as a single, cohesive force and demonstrates why few opponents could stand up to their onslaught.
While the actual tactics utilized in the movie do not reflect those used by the Roman Army in real life, the cocktail of incredible special effects, stunning cinematography, and Russel Crowe’s pre-battle speech more than makes up for it and vaults this battle onto this list of the best battle scenes in war movies.
6. The Wild Geese: Final Battle
The plot of the movie The Wilde Geese was based loosely on the rumors and speculation stemming from an unidentified plane landing in Rhodesia in 1968 that was said to be carrying mercenaries who just rescued former Katanga Prime Minister Moise Tshombe from captivity. In the movie, a group of mercenaries led by Richard Burton try to accomplish a similar goal of freeing an imprisoned African leader before being double crossed by their financial backers.
Desperate to escape the country before being caught by hordes of pursuing soldiers, the mercenaries fight a ferocious battle as they struggle to board a DC-3 airplane they hijacked in order to fly to safety. Though the special effects are typical of what you see in the 1970s (lots of explosions, fire, and bodies being thrown in the air) and the battle is not the most realistic, the gritty feel of the battle coupled with sheer intensity of the fight will have you sitting on the edge of your seat as you wait to see if the mercenaries make it out alive or not.
5. Zulu: Final Battle Scene
This classic film featuring a young Stanley Baker and Michael Caine tells the real-life story of just over 100 British Soldiers defending the mission station and supply depot at Rorke’s Drift against thousands of Zulu warriors during the 1879 Zulu War. Since it was filmed in 1964, the movie has no CGI, and all the special effects were done the old-fashioned way, giving the movie a gritty and realistic feel.
Filmed on location in South Africa, all of the Zulu warriors in the movie were played by actual Zulus, which made the movie just that much more authentic. The outnumbered British stubbornly hold their ground against countless assaults over the course of the movie until the Zulu marshal for one final assault at the end of the movie. Their backs against the wall, the anticipation and anxiety prior to the final battle reaches a crescendo as the British sing Men of Harlech in response to the Zulu battle chants. What follows is one of the most gripping battle scenes in cinematic history.
4. Braveheart: Battle of Sterling Bridge
No list of the best battle scenes would be complete without an entry from Braveheart, which was one of Mel Gibson’s crowning achievements as both an actor and a director. Preceded by William Wallace’s rousing speech and the now legendary scenes of the Scottish warriors taunting the British, the Battle of Sterling Bridge was an important battle in both Scottish as well as cinematic history.
This tremendous battle scene incorporated over 1,000 extras from the Irish Army to help convey the sheer enormity of the fight. Even though there were several major historical inaccuracies in the battle scene, the incredible size of the battle, combined with the brutal and realistic violence on display, helps explain why this is one of the best battle scenes of all time.
3. Apocalypse Now: Beach Attack
Regardless of what you might think about the rest of the movie, it’s tough to argue with the fact that the Air Cavalry beach assault led by Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) was one of the most memorable battles in cinematic history.
While Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries plays away, the helicopters sweep through, lay waste to the village, and establish a foothold so Kilgore and his men can take advantage of the excellent surfing conditions in the area (yes, you read that right). Kilgore then caps off the surreal battle scene by delivering one of the most famous famous lines in movie history.
2. We Were Soldiers: Broken Arrow
Immortalized in Joseph Galloway’s bestselling book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965 was the first major clash between the United States and the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. The movie We Were Soldiers did an admirable job of depicting the chaotic and bloody battle, which reached a climax during the morning of the second day when Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore had to call in airstrikes on his own lines after North Vietnamese forces began to overrun the American positions on the silver-screen.
Few battle scenes in any war movie come anywhere close to matching the intensity of the minutes that follow the radio call of “Broken Arrow” as American warplanes from all over South Vietnam roar in to pummel the advancing North Vietnamese forces in a desperate attempt prevent them from destroying the reeling 7th Cavalry troopers.
1. Saving Private Ryan: D-Day
The sheer intensity and realism of the combat during D-Day landings on Omaha beach depicted in Saving Private Ryan were so shocking to some combat veterans that PTSD counselors reported a surge in visits in the weeks following the release of the movie.
Stephen Spielberg wanted to make a movie the showed combat in the most realistic and and unfiltered terms possible and went to extraordinary lengths to do so. Over 1,500 extras (including over 20 real-life amputees depicting wounded soldiers) were involved in filming the Omaha Beach scenes. Spielberg also paid incredible attention to detail, going as far as to use the right code names for the sectors of the beach, depicting the seasickness that many of the assault troops suffered through, and even including the distinctive “ping” made by M1 Garand rifles when they fired the last round in a clip. Never before had a war movie depicted combat in such real and raw terms. The movie remains the most realistic depiction of the D-Day landings and is our undisputed choice for the best battle scene in a war movie.
What did you think about our choices for the best battle scenes in war movies? Did we miss any?