The Worst War Films of All Time

These are the worst of the worst.

There are great films, there are mediocre films, and then there are down right horrible, awful films.  We enjoy the great films - it's the great films that keep us going to the movies - but the awful films are, in a way, more interesting, because they aspired to, at the very least, be decent.  No filmmaker sets out to make an awful film.  However, despite so many good intentions, we are besieged by horrible, awful films.  

It was difficult to parse down the contenders amid so many Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies, but eventually I arrived at a definitive list of the worst.  I tried to keep it to recognized films, otherwise I'd have a list of hundreds of direct to DVD movies starring Dolph Lundgren where the protagonist was a generic soldier of some sort, which sort of counts as a "war movie.")

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The Patriot (2000)

The Patriot. Photo © Columbia

As a war film aficionado and war veteran, I hate hate hate hate films like The Patriot.  Most people know movies aren't realistic.  But most people also don't know much about history and so, in a vacuum, what they see in war films has to stand in for what they should but don't know.  Which is how films like this inform what our nation doesn't know about our wars and history.  And this film gets everything wrong. It plays the American Revolution like a bad meme.  (For a list of other bad war movies about the American Revolution, click here.)

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Redacted (2007)


Redacted is a "found footage" war movie, in the vein of Cloverfield or the Blair Witch franchise.  Except that none of the "found footage" appears even the slightest bit real; it's so painfully scripted and staged, that as the viewer you want to scream, "That's so obviously not real!  Quit lying to me!"  

The dialogue is stilted and forced, the interactions between soldiers - far from being organic and natural - is instead awkward and clumsy (as if they were just actors who had only known each other for a single day before shooting the scene), the direction is tepid and dull, and the production values are on par with a sitcom.  And this is all from the famed auteur director Brian de Palma.  This film was painful to watch.  I try to see all the war movies, but I ended up fast forwarding through this one because it was quite literally giving me a headache.  Avoid at all costs.

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Basic (2003)


In the studio board room, I can imagine this military thriller / crime film starring Samuel Jackson and John Travolta being pitched as a high concept, high-profile summer film. But somewhere, this "high profile" film became derailed.

This is a film where they don't even bother to get simple things like rank correct. They salute non-commissioned officers, wear uniforms that are completely wrong, and make a hash of the Army Rangers, which, the lead characters are all supposed to be. (When you cannot get basic details correct, in a world full of potential on-set advisors, that simply shows you do not care.)

This is also one of those films that has not one, not two, but like a half dozen "Gotcha" endings! Each of which undo the previous ending, and which culminates in an ending that makes no sense, and would be actually impossible. (Yes, I mapped out the scenes and the supposed links to the characters and it just ended up in a big squiggly scratch fest.) This isn't's dumbness personified.

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Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor. Buena Vista

In 2001, Michael Bay (Transformers) attempted to make a historical epic, starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett revolving around the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While the action scenes of the attack itself are quite magnificent, the entire rest of the film from the cornball romantic triangle with Kate Beckinsale, to the wooden acting, to the over the top manufactured sentimentality (think lots of slow motion shots of American flags flapping), adds up to just be a giant mess. And a long mess at that, with the final film clocking in at 183 minutes. It may not surprise you to learn that this film gets very details about the actual attack on Pearl Harbor right.

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The Thin Red Line (1998)

The Thin Red Line. 20th Century Fox

While some view director Terrence Malick as a genius auteur, I've never been that fond of him.  And I was even less fond of his World War II film about combat in the Pacific theater.  I'll be the first to admit that it has some great scenes, and some great actors turning in great performances, but the entire film is so esoteric, so abstract, that without a tight narrative structure (or even a cogent storyline) it doesn't add up to much more than a massive snooze fest.  Worse than boring though, the film is also horribly pretentious, with Marines spouting off poetry in voice-overs during combat scenes.  I have no idea what this film is supposed to be about, or what it's trying to say about war.  For me, it was headache-inducing.

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Dead Presidents (1995)

Dead Presidents.

Dead Presidents was about a decade and a half too late to be a poignant Vietnam movie.  By 1995, no one found it that shocking that soldiers in Vietnam were, in fact, not happy about being in Vietnam.  And, of course, there is the requisite occurrence of war crimes and drug use, and the difficult reunion home.  But this film takes it one step further and has the veterans become bank robbers, because well - the war drove them to it, I guess.  Sort of an insulting film to Vietnam vets.

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Iron Eagle (1986)

Iron Eagle.

I'll let this summary from IMDB speak for itself:

When Doug's father, an Air Force Pilot, is shot down by MiGs belonging to a radical Middle Eastern state, no one seems able to get him out. Doug finds Chappy, an Air Force Colonel who is intrigued by the idea of sending in two fighters piloted by himself and Doug to rescue Doug's father after bombing the MiG base. Their only problems: Borrowing two fighters, getting them from California to the Mediteranean without anyone noticing, and Doug's inability to hit anything unless he has music playing. Then come the minor problems of the state's air defenses.

That about sums it up. 

Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about Aerial Combat.

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Delta Force (1986)

The Delta Force.

Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin enter Beirut on a secret mission…and then proceed to kill terrorists with bazookas while offering up corny one-liners without any emotion.  Of course, this was never supposed to be a serious war or action movie - but even as an action film it's poorly done.

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Rambo II - IV (1985 - 2008)

Rambo III Poster. Tri-Star Pictures

I couldn't decide on which film in the franchise was the worst, so I added all of them (except the first one, First Blood is pretty good).  In the second film, Rambo takes on the entire Vietcong all by himself.  In the third, the Soviets in Afghanistan.  In the fourth, the entire Burmese Army.

I know it's just a dumb action film, but there are limits to the enjoyability of dumb.

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Commando (1985)


Someone is hunting down and killing the former member's of Schwarzenegger's old unit, Delta Force.  (Is it Chuck Norris?)  And Arnold decides to bring the fight to the bad guys.  How does he bring the fight?  With hand-held missile launchers.  A nuanced meditation on the nature of warfare this was not.  Unfortunately, it was also not an exciting action movie.

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Revolution (1985)


Al Pacino stars in this film about the Revolutionary War with what sounds like a Brooklyn accent.  The film has two horrible flaws:  One is that it got almost every detail about the Revolutionary War wrong.  The second is that it relies on every contrivance and screenwriting cliche known to man in the service of its script.  Al quit acting for five years after this film, and there were questions over whether he would ever work again.  Yes, it was that bad. 

Click here for the Best and Worst Revolutionary War Movies.

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Red Dawn (1984)

Red Dawn. MGM/UA

I didn't always think Red Dawn was an awful film.  I used to like it...when I was twelve.  Several years ago, I thought I'd pay homage to the films of my youth by re-renting it.  What a difference twenty or so years makes.  For those who don't know, the film is the story of a Cuban and Soviet invasion of America, as told from the perspective of some high-school students that hide out in the mountains, forming a militia which single-handidly takes out the Soviet and Cuban forces.  

Do I really need to say anything else?  It's as bad as it sounds.

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Inchon (1981)


This horrible awful terrible film, set during the Korean War, was funded by cult leader Sun Myong Moon, head of the Moonies and the Unification Church (his attempt to break into Hollywood).  What makes the film terrible?  Moon demanded the film be cut to his vision, which apparently was pretty awful.  Cardboard cutouts were used in key scenes instead of special effects, with the strings hanging them clearly visible to the cameras.  Worst of all, the film is sort of a silly soap opera about a relationship gone bad because of the unfortunate Korean war.  

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The Green Berets (1968)

The Green Berets.

And finally, About War Movies candidate for the worst war movie of all time...

The Green Berets.

John Wayne produced this pro-Vietnam film to convince Americans that they should support the war.  It is entirely propaganda and gets almost all of its facts wrong.  That and John Wayne is overweight while trying to play a Green Beret.