5 Best Anti-War Movies That Cleverly Avoid Bellicose Messages

5 Best Anti-War Movies That Cleverly Avoid Bellicose Messages
Image credit: Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Toho

Although epic war movies are great in their own right, the most powerful stories revolve around the horrific sides that are often left out.

Too many war movies glamorize the battles they show on the big screen, especially when it comes to conflicts of the distant past.

While this has allowed us to see many outstanding epic masterpieces, the most powerful war movies often have an anti-war message in them, so let's take a look at five films that shed light on the true horrific nature of war.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

The first half of this war drama directed by Stanley Kubrick may mislead you into thinking you are watching a black comedy about the Vietnam War, but the tone changes drastically just before our protagonist, J.T. "Joker " Davis, played by Matthew Modine, leaves training camp.

The tragic mental breakdown of Private Leonard Lawrence, portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio, serves as a foretaste of things to come, as the rest of the movie focuses more on the horrors of war, although there are still occasional dark comedic moments here and there.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Another iconic film from a legendary director, Francis Ford Coppola, set during the Vietnam War, although unlike our previous entry, Apocalypse Now has little to no humor and is much more dramatic and dark in tone.

Following Captain Benjamin Willard, portrayed by Martin Sheen, who is sent on a mission to eliminate the rogue Colonel Walter Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, it is a long and deep dive into the human psyche and how it is affected by war.

As he slowly descends into darkness and struggles with his own morality, viewers follow Willard on his journey, witnessing all the atrocities that happen around him.

Jarhead (2005)

Based on Anthony Swofford's memoir of the same name, this film starring Jake Gyllenhaal follows a "green" recruit as he confronts the harsh realities of the Gulf War.

After following in the footsteps of his Vietnam veteran father, Anthony Swofford joins the ranks of Marine Corps recruits and is eventually deployed to the Arabian Peninsula.

But as time passes, the Marines' initial enthusiasm begins to fade as they face one reality check after another and realize that being at war is nothing like they were led to believe.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Directed by Isao Takahata, this anime war drama deals with some seriously depressing and heartbreaking themes, despite its seemingly bright exterior.

Set during World War II in 1945, it follows two orphans, Seita and Setsuko, on their journey after their home in Kobe is destroyed by American bombers, resulting in the death of their mother.

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However, this is only the beginning of their struggles, as they soon suffer from hunger, disease, and many other horrors of war inflicted on innocent civilians.

It's an incredibly dark story with no happy ending that perfectly illustrates how wars affect even those who don't directly participate in them, becoming collateral damage.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Another iconic film directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film takes a more satirical approach to the anti-war message, mocking the absurdities of war.

Following several storylines at once, it revolves around a conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as some of the characters try to prevent it from escalating into a nuclear war, despite the wishes of unhinged politicians.