We on Team WATM agree that no matter how you feel about the countries depicted or the wars they’re fighting in these movies, without a doubt, all these films are better than The Hurt Locker.
Here are the 15 best foreign war movies:
1. Days of Glory (France)
Days of Glory is the story of Algerian troops enlisting to fight to save a fatherland (France) they’ve never seen. Though they feel it’s their patriotic duty, they still encounter discrimination and injustice as they attempt to fight the same conflict as their French countrymen. Rumor has it the President of France at the time of the film’s release was so moved by it, he raised the pensions of former colonial troops to be the same as their French counterparts. Essentially, this movie so good and realistic it made the president give them a raise. Not bad.
2. Das Boot (Germany)
Das Boot (The Boat) is not just one of the greatest foreign war films, it’s one of the best films of all time, from anywhere. It follows a U-boat crew as they attempt to wreak havoc on allied shipping during WWII without getting killed themselves. The film beautifully (and sometimes chillingly) depicts life aboard the U-boats: boredom, frustration, and all the trials of life in a diesel-fueled tin can in the middle of the ocean. You will forget what side these guys are on and by the end, and will feel like a member of the crew, struggling in silence, hoping for survival. Das Boot is remarkable for its detail and suspense. (And do yourself a favor — watch it in German with subtitles.)
3. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (South Korea)
Two brothers are forced to fight for the South Korean Army when North Korea invades the South. One brother makes a deal with his commander to kill an impressive number of enemy troops in order to get his brother released from his enlistment. He becomes a war hero, but soon develops a taste for fighting, killing, and cruelty, leading the brother he fights to save to question his older brother’s humanity. The film may not be completely accurate in weapons or their effects, but it’s a great view of the war from the Korean perspective.
4. Waltz With Bashir (Israel)
The only documentary film on the list, Waltz With Bashir follows the director’s experience as an Israeli soldier during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. This is also the only animated film on this list. Banned in Lebanon, this provocative film depicts the director remembering his role in the Sabra and Shatila Massacres in Lebanon, (though the Israeli Defence Forces didn’t actually carry out the massacres, but they didn’t stop it either) and his views of the aftermath. The director is quoted as saying the happiest day of his life will be when he can screen the film in Beirut. The trailer alone is better than The Hurt Locker.
5. Waar (Pakistan)
See how India and Pakistan feel about each other in the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all time – a cloak-and-dagger counterterrorism film set on the background of Pakistan’s War on Terrorism. It includes a depiction of the 2009 attack on a Lahore police station. A former Pakistani Army officer must foil attacks from the Taliban and from Indian Research and Analysis Wing spies on Pakistanis and his own family. Awesome action sequences accompany a really great and beautifully shot story.
6. The Battle of Algiers (Italy/Algeria)
The actual Battle of Algiers is as legendary as this film. This is a film about freedom fighters (or terrorists, depending on where you sit) in the Algerian struggle for freedom from France. Often used by governments and insurgent groups as a demonstration of urban-style guerilla warfare, The Battle of Algiers was so controversial, it couldn’t be screened in France until five years after it was finished.
7. Lebanon (Israel)
Set in the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the entire film is the war from the point of view of Israeli tankers. The crew can only see the outside world through a gunsight. Only four soldiers are in the tank and are ordered to clear an area of enemies using illegal munitions and must deal with POWs, equipment problems, unclear orders, and the general discomforts of living in close quarters – Like a Das Boot for Israeli tankers.
8. Mongol (Kazakhstan)
The story of the legendary Genghis Khan Temujin as he was raised on the Mongolian steppe, lost his parents, was sold into slavery, won his freedom, defeated his best-friend-turned-enemy, and became the Khan of All Mongols. Originally intended to be the first in a trilogy, the end of the film definitely leaves the viewer wanting to see the rest.
9. Paradise Now (Palestine)
Every country wages war the best way it can, with the weapons and tactics they have. How you see these characters again depends on where you sit. During the Second Intifada, Palestinians used suicide bomber attacks. Paradise Now follows two such suicide bombers on their last days before their mission in Tel Aviv. Rather than being the emotionless death robots they could so easily be portrayed as, this film takes the time to humanize them as they realize what they’re doing and why suicide bombing is an awful tactic. The film is so provocative and controversial, one Israeli author called it “a quality Nazi film.”
10. Assembly (China)
Set during the Chinese Civil War in 1948 between Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists, a Communist infantry captain defends the south bank of the Wen River until the retreat assembly call is heard. Politics disappear as his troops defend the bank for hours and the captain is injured. He wakes up in a hospital to find out the Communists think his troops are missing or deserted and goes to the site of the battle to make sure they get the recognition they deserve.
11. Gallipoli (Australia)
This is a depiction of the ANZAC invasion of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) during World War I. Through the relationship between two young soldiers (Mel Gibson and Mark Lee), joining to fight after being influence by homeland propaganda campaigns, the two enlist, train in Egypt, and soon experience the realities of trench warfare, eventually ending up in the Dardanelles fighting the Turkish army in what became one of the worst killing fields of any war.
12. Silmido (South Korea)
This film is a dramatization of the true story of Unit 684, a special operations unit of the South Korean Air Force. They were formed from convicts on death row and some with life sentences, and assigned to assassinate North Korean Leader Kim Il-Sung in response to North Korea’s attempt to assassinate South Korean Prime Minister Park Chung-hee. The 31 men of Unit 684 were trained on the island of Silmido but when relations warmed, their mission was cancelled. The men rebelled in 1971, killed their guards and fled to the mainland. The real reason for the mutiny is unknown, but the film depicts a version of the catalyst events on the island.
13. Talvisota (Finland)
Talvisota is a Finnish depiction of the fight against the Soviet invasion of Finland during 1939-1940. Though Stalin’s troop advanced quickly into Finland, the “Winter War” is generally seen as much of a Finnish victory, due to the heavy resistance of Finnish troops. Talvisota uses real Soviet T-26 light tanks and is a realistic reenactment of the war.
14. The Star (Russia)
Set in WWII Poland, The Star is about Soviet forward reconnaissance scouts behind enemy lines. The film plays with war movie clichés, only from a Russian perspective, featuring a mix of people from various origins in the Soviet Union. Keeping in mind the staggering Russian losses, the toll of civilian casualties, and the brutality of the Wehrmacht toward the Red Army and its prisoners, The Star is an interesting take on the enemy: near shadows, only seen when killed or captured.
15. Border (India)
The Battle of Longewala in India’s Rajasthan region pitted one Indian company (120 foot soldiers) against a Pakistani tank regiment (2,000 soldiers and 45 tanks) during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. Border is the 1997 Bollywood depiction of those events. Like many Bollywood films, there is a great deal of singing, but the acting is reminiscent of older, over-the-top American action films while action sequences are completely unrealistic (see: fighter jet flies ten feet off the ground while one guy sits next to exploding tank). This film is really entertaining.