My Favorite Antiwar Movies

by rzajac | created - 22 Feb 2011 | updated - 25 Mar 2011 | Public

There are two venerable American traditions in conflict; worship of the God of War, and cinematic inveighing against the Insanity of War. I say: Equal time for inveighing! But it still has to be done right. And how does one do that? Let's look and see...

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1. Why We Fight (2005)

PG-13 | 98 min | Documentary, History, War

68 Metascore

Is American foreign policy dominated by the idea of military supremacy? Has the military become too important in American life? Jarecki's shrewd and intelligent polemic would seem to give an affirmative answer to each of these questions.

Director: Eugene Jarecki | Stars: Gore Vidal, John McCain, Ken Adelman, John Ashcroft

Votes: 9,586 | Gross: $1.44M

Perhaps the best film to take on the problem of war at its very core: The Military-Industrial Complex.

Most other films take the tack of showcasing the internalized mythos of war. It's important to realize that this mythos is groomed and cultivated by economic interests, on the backs of the internalizee suckers. Very important.

2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

PG | 95 min | Comedy

97 Metascore

An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a War Room full of politicians and generals frantically tries to stop.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn

Votes: 422,467 | Gross: $0.28M

There is little I can say that hasn't been said a million times about this film.

Though I will add this: In a short, advanced ESL intro to Strangelove, I said: "The script is both realistic and comedic. It sounds like it was written by a team of military experts, psychologists, English professors, and drunken schoolboys."

I stand by every word of that sentence.

3. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

PG-13 | 107 min | Documentary, Biography, History

87 Metascore

The story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Robert McNamara.

Director: Errol Morris | Stars: Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon

Votes: 21,954 | Gross: $4.20M

The only thing you really need to know about this movie, up front, is that the director (Errol Morris) nailed the documentary subject of the century when he got Robert S. McNamara to sit in front of his Interrotron.

If you have any interest in modern American history whatsoever you will see this movie, or languish for not having seen it

4. Breaker Morant (1980)

PG | 107 min | Drama, History, War

72 Metascore

Three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for executing prisoners as a way of deflecting attention from war crimes committed by their superior officers.

Director: Bruce Beresford | Stars: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, John Waters, Bryan Brown

Votes: 11,440 | Gross: $7.14M

Yes, Paths of Glory is an important movie. But Breaker Morant achieves the same effects, with significantly less affectedness.

5. Barefoot Gen (1983)

TV-PG | 83 min | Animation, Biography, Drama

A powerful statement against war, Barefoot Gen is a disturbing story about the effect of the atomic bomb on a boy's life and the lives of the Japanese people.

Director: Mori Masaki | Stars: Issei Miyazaki, Catherine Battistone, Yoshie Shimamura, Iona Morris

Votes: 6,613

Less is made in the animated feature of Gen's family's antiwar sentiments (than in the original comic stories), but the message is still strong: Life is sacred, and war is an insane, self-inflicted denial of our unspoken contract with life.

6. War, Inc. (2008)

R | 107 min | Action, Comedy, Thriller

37 Metascore

A corporation hires a professional assassin to pose as its trade show representative who must organize the wedding of a Middle Eastern pop star, which will allow him the opportunity to kill a Middle Eastern politician.

Director: Joshua Seftel | Stars: John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff, Joan Cusack

Votes: 21,054 | Gross: $0.58M

A lot of the tepid response to War, Inc. was, I think, due to the fact that Americans didn't recognize themselves in that flick.

As is the case with all prophesy: Prophets are without honor in their own countries, and that's really only natural. Heartfelt response to prophesy is, after all, a supernatural event.

OK, OK, OK: The flick is also a bit of an aesthetic garage sale. I admit that. But America needs to recognize itself in the wares on display in this film.

7. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Approved | 170 min | Drama, Romance, War

92 Metascore

Three World War II veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.

Director: William Wyler | Stars: Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Teresa Wright

Votes: 54,063 | Gross: $23.65M

Artistically, a bit dated; with choppy pacing, writing that occasionally sags, and some lackluster acting.

But it committed the stunning sin of encouraging period postwar moviegoers to reflect on the U.S. State Department turnabout that formed the basis for the Cold War status quo, in which Germany was now to be our new bestest buddy, and our erstwhile ally, Russia, was now our greatest global nemesis.

Didn't George Orwell have something to say about that?

8. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

R | 94 min | Comedy, War

54 Metascore

A reporter in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady, a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army's New Earth Army, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions.

Director: Grant Heslov | Stars: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges

Votes: 122,719 | Gross: $32.42M

Sorry, people-who-thought-it-was-a-simultaneously-dim-and-impenetrable-failed-comedy-flick.

It was meant as an expressionistic dark romp over the terrain which is America's failure to come to terms with its own dark desire; to stay "on top", geopolitically, without actually having to create something of real value to our fellow human beings.

And yet, in the midst of all this frogging about in the mire of our self-deluded self-perception, there shines out a glimmer of sacred light: The moment when Clooney apologizes, from a deep place in his earnest heart.

Really: Can you actually get more "antiwar" than that?

9. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)

Not Rated | 167 min | Documentary, Biography, War

A film about the noted American linguist/political dissident and his warning about corporate media's role in modern propaganda.

Directors: Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick | Stars: Noam Chomsky, Mark Achbar, Karin Aguilar-San Juan, Paul Andrews

Votes: 4,123

Some will say this is not an antiwar movie, but I disagree. The film has a lot to say about the media as a vital antecedent of warmaking, and the book is even more focused on this complicity.

Nowhere does abuse of power draw feeling people into the fray--and successfully desensitize others--than when the state kills for geopolitical gain.

And the book and film are both quite convincing in their thesis that abuse of state power begins with the control of information; and the mechanisms of control in democratic societies are as deserving of deconstruction as those in totalitarian societies.

In fact, honest people who aspire to shepherding a decent society owe it to themselves and to their friends and neighbors to invest time and energy in thinking deeply on this issue, and then organizing to overcome the institutional inertia that drives the death machine into the future.

10. Lust, Caution (2007)

NC-17 | 157 min | Drama, History, Romance

61 Metascore

During World War II era, a young woman, Wang Jiazhi, gets swept up in a dangerous game of emotional intrigue with a powerful political figure, Mr. Yee.

Director: Ang Lee | Stars: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang

Votes: 35,119 | Gross: $4.60M

Ultimately, really, a searing, heartrending indictment of power.

It's not about geographic battlefields; it's about the mindset that attends power projection, and the fundamental lie that is needed to support that mindset.

11. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

R | 111 min | Drama, War

71 Metascore

In this tragic, dark, anti-war satire, a patriotic young American in WW1 is rendered blind, deaf, limbless, and mute by a horrific artillery shell attack. Trapped in what's left of his body, he desperately looks for a way to end his life.

Director: Dalton Trumbo | Stars: Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, Jason Robards

Votes: 14,439

I last saw this about 40 years ago.

Notable for having been written by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted. Like the best antiwar movies, it's about the unending denial and lies that attend war.

12. Catch-22 (1970)

R | 122 min | Comedy, Drama, War

70 Metascore

A man is trying desperately to be certified insane during World War II, so he can stop flying missions.

Director: Mike Nichols | Stars: Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Art Garfunkel

Votes: 20,631 | Gross: $24.91M

Not a particularly effective deterrent to war, but lovingly written... by Buck Henry!; from the original Heller, of course.

The production values are incredible, and stand as a high-water mark against which future satires can be justly measured.

13. Top Gun (1986)

PG | 110 min | Action, Drama

50 Metascore

As students at the United States Navy's elite fighter weapons school compete to be best in the class, one daring young pilot learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.

Director: Tony Scott | Stars: Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer

Votes: 269,000 | Gross: $179.80M

IMPORTANT: I'm not saying that Top Gun is an anti-war flick. I'm saying that it's a fantastic period artifact that perfectly captures the popular attitude toward American high-tech military superiority.

Particularly notable is the sense that the film conflates sex and high-tech war machines. This was at a time when Reagan was pitching his Star Wars missile shield boondoggle.

I feel about as confident of this as of anything: This was media collusion with the military-industrial complex to rewire our response centers to respond sexually to the idea of superior firepower.

I think Top Gun is essential viewing for people who want to see a sterling specimen of this kind of collusion.

14. Threads (1984 TV Movie)

112 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, War

92 Metascore

The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.

Director: Mick Jackson | Stars: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly, Rita May

Votes: 10,315

IMDb contributor mysteriousturtle recommended this, so I obtained a copy and watched it.

It beats the living crap out of another noted made-for-TV post-nuclear-apocalypse flick, the U.S. production, "The Day After" with Jason Robards.

It really is about the blotting out of civilization that would surely attend an all-out nuclear exchange.

Catastrophe is heaped upon catastrophe, from the depiction of the survival conceits of officialdom, to the final, unspeakable dread hint of the faceless face of human extinction. And just about everything in between.

Yeah, it's (presumably) dated. But it's still an important Cold War document. Watch it, and get with the program.



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