The Top Suicide Missions in War Films

When War Becomes a Suicide Mission

Most infantry soldiers have a reasonable expectation of survival.  Yes, they know their chosen profession is inherently dangerous and that there is always the possibility of dying or being seriously injured, but - most of the time - the odds are on their side.  There is quite simply, a lot of soldiers, most of whom will make it home alive; in most wars, anyway - the Civil War and a few others have proved the exception.  

But sometimes, soldiers are either given assignments, or find themselves through circumstance, to be in a situation whereby victory seems almost impossible, and defeat certain.  And nothing makes for better war entertainment, then watching on-screen protagonists struggle against submission to the yawning maw of death.

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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front.

All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the first (and best) war films of all time.  The story is a classic one of the disillusioned soldier, initially enthusiastic, who - slowly learning about the actual horror of war - realizes that all of the propaganda about honor and courage and nobility he had been told about was a lie, at least in the face of the cold, deadly, disease ridden trenches that made up most of the first World War.  In the film, as in the first World War, the soldiers were simply relegated to the roll of cannon fodder, sent over the sides of the trenches in waves, only to be mowed down by the enemy.  Wave after wave sent over, as wave after wave died.  There was no chance for movement on the battlefield, to allow one's skill some role in possibly saving one's life, it was purely a war of attrition, of whichever country had more men they could sacrifice to the war machine.  It was a suicide mission, in which millions of young men had been duped into believing they were fighting for something honorable.

(Click here for the Top Anti-War Films of all Time.)

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Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory.

In Paths of Glory, an early Kubrick war film, Kirk Douglas (father to son Michael Douglas) is a military commander in the trenches of the first World War who refuses to follow an order, which will send his men to certain death. He knows that once his men climb the side of the trench, they will simply be killed. And knowing this, he refuses the order. For refusing to commit certain suicide, Douglas and his men are put on trial for cowardice, ironically, with the threat of death hanging over them should they lose their court case.

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Gallipoli (1981)


And, yet again, we have the first World War and those horrific trenches.  In Gallipoli, the commanding officer, sitting comfortably in his tent, makes the decision to continually send the wave of wave of soldiers to their deaths, even being told that they are having no effect, even being told that they are dying in droves and not making it to the enemy's position, even being told that his orders will do nothing, but cost their side thousands of trained soldiers.  He makes the order, because that was his order, from his own commanding officer. 

(Click here for the Top 10 Ethical Dilemmas in War Movies.)

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Zulu (1963)


In this 1963 film, a small contingent of British forces (less than a 100), receives word that a several thousand strong army of Zulu African warriors are headed to their remote isolated position in the rural wilderness of South Africa.  Most of the soldiers (being of sane mind) recommend abandoning their post and fleeing to the coast.  But their commander (Michael Caine) won't have it.  They are subjects of the Queen and a British soldier never deserts his post in the face of the enemy!  

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Hamburger Hill (1987)

Hamburger Hill.

Early in the Vietnam War, the 101st Airborne was assigned the taking of Hill 937, a one kilometer tall hill, which was heavily fortified by enemy fighters.  There was no strategic value in taking the hill, but command elements wanted it anyway.  Also, taking the hill was tantamount to suicide.  At least, it was for the 400+ soldiers that were lost taking the stubby little hill.

(Click here for the Top 10 Vietnam War Movies.)

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Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Letters From Iwo jima.

Letters from Iwo Jima is the companion piece to Flags of our Fathers, both directed by Clint Eastwood.  Americans are well aware of our own history, of the Marines having to take an island heavily fortified with Japanese weaponry, and of the heavy losses that occurred in order to take the island.  What most Americans aren't aware of is that, from the Japanese perspective, the loss of the island was inevitable.  The Americans were simply too many in number, too well armed, and too well supplied.  Conversely, the Japanese were cut off from their larger command structure, had meagre supplies, and a frightening low supply of ammunition.  For the Japanese, it was a suicide mission.  One that was meant literally, as in one of the film's most intense scenes, each Japanese soldier cups a grenade, pulls the pin, and then kills themselves.  Better to die of suicide then to return to Japan a shamed prisoner of war, who hadn't fought to the end.

(Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about the Pacific Theatre.)

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor.

In Lone Survivor, four Navy SEALs find themselves trapped alone on a mountain, without any communications back to base, knowing that they are about to be besieged by a force of several hundred Taliban fighters. They know this, because their hiding positions were discovered by three goat herders whom they had made the decision to release (even knowing these goat herders would immediately race down the mountain and alert the enemy of their location). Which, as it turns out, is exactly what happens. Very quickly, they find themselves surrounded, four men against a much larger enemy force. And with surrender not an option, they do the only thing any Navy SEAL worth his salt would do...they attempt to fight their way out. The title of the film though reveals that this is a decision that costs all but one their lives.

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Kilo Two Bravo

This film is one of the best suicide mission war films ever filmed.  It tells the true story of a contingent of British soldiers in a remote base in Afghanistan who end up trapped in a mine field.  At first, just one soldier is hit.  But then, in trying to aid that soldier, another soldier is hit.  Then a third, then a fourth.  And so on it goes.  They can't move for fear of stepping on a mine, yet they're surrounded by their comrades all screaming in agony begging for medical attention.  And, of course, as often happens in real life, the radios didn't work, so they had no easy way to call back to headquarters for a medical evacuation helicopter.  There are no firefights with the enemy, only soldiers stuck in various positions unable to move for fear of setting off a mine - yet it's one of the most intense war films I've ever seen.