Top 5 military movie endings

Joel Searls Avatar

Military movies usually have an action-packed and/or dramatic ending. Some movies have a timeless ending that lives on in cinema history influencing follow-on generations of filmmakers with their narratives and conclusions.

Here is a list of the top 5 military movie endings to be familiar with and potentially emulate

1. The Dirty Dozen

the dirty dozen military movie endings
Photo courtesy of oscars.fandom.com.

Logline: During World War II, a rebellious U.S. Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers.

There is nothing better than Lee Marvin with his right-hand man Richard Jaeckel leading a group of 12, armed, angry and convicted military criminals against the Nazi high command held up in a castle. The tension builds to an action-packed and blood-filled ending that must be seen. Be on the lookout for one stress casualty during the mission that should not have been on the team.

Co-writer Nunnaly Johnson served in the Army reserve as an artillery officer in the late teens of the twentieth century.

2. The Bridge on the River Kwai

bridge on the river kwai
Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa in Bridge on the River Kwai. Photo courtesy of imdb.com.

Logline: British POWs are forced to build a railway bridge across the River Kwai for their Japanese captors in occupied Burma, not knowing that the allied forces are planning a daring commando raid through the jungle to destroy it.

David Lean’s wartime epic has an ending that is seared into any audience member’s memory upon viewing. The build is so effortlessly driven by the writing, directing, cinematography, sound, music and cast that you will forget you are watching a film early on. Near the end you will be so drawn in by the drama you will be taken by surprise at the climax.

Screenwriters Carl Foreman served in the US Army Signal Corps in World War II and Michael Wilson served in the Marine Corps in World War II, which adds some credibility to why it is such a strong war film.

3. Paths to Glory

paths of glory military movie endings
Kirk Douglas in Paths to Glory. Photo courtesy of criterion.com.

Logline: After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them.

Kubrick directs one of his early films with the star Kirk Douglas leading the way as Colonel Dax. The story covers much ground from trench warfare in World War I to then a courtroom drama with Dax defending three soldiers being tried in a court-martial for cowardice. There are further ups and downs Dax encounters with a dark ending that will leave you thinking.

4. Sergeant York

sergeant york movie
Gary Cooper as Sgt. York in Sergeant York. Photo courtesy of solzyatthemovies.com.

Logline: A Tennessee farmer and marksman is drafted in World War I, and struggles with his pacifist inclinations before becoming one of the most celebrated war heroes.

A morality-based true story of Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War. He initially is a conscientious objector based on his tightly held religious beliefs who eventually alter his choice based on a Bible passage to then fighting in the Army. His heroics are displayed on the screen and he returns home with a surprise dose of integrity that will certainly astonish people in today’s world.

5. Das Boot

das boot military movie endings
Jürgen Prochnow (center with white cover) leads the cast and crew of Das Boot. Photo courtesy of sevendaysvt.com.

Logline: The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth and sheer terror.

Wolfgang Peterson’s breakout film earned him two Oscars, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film shows the grit, grime and uncertainty of a U-Boat operating in the Atlantic. Most of the crew are young men and must perform well in much less than ideal conditions. Once things are over and they return to Germany when the real shocker occurs.

6. The Big Red One

the big red one military movie endings
Lee Marvin in The Big Red One. Photo courtesy of theaceblackblog.com.

Logline: A hardened sergeant and the four core members of his infantry unit try to survive World War II as they move from battle to battle throughout Europe.

Sam Fuller, a World War II veteran, wrote and directed the film, which depicts his real-life unit. A well-acted and engaging narrative with surprise cast members such as Mark Hamil makes for a fulfilling watch. The film is legit even if ole Lee Marvin is a little long in the tooth as a sergeant in his 50s. It could happen. The ending involves the unit liberating a concentration camp with a startling discovery that lends credence to Fuller’s experience in the war and his vision for the film.