Highest-Grossing War Movies of All Time
For critics, a great war movie removes the fantasy from frontline bloodshed and shows the viewer just how hellish war really is. For movie studios, a great war movie grosses millions and millions of dollars.
Surprisingly, these values intersect more often than not — and some of the greatest and most popular war movies of all time are also some of the highest-grossing films.
These war movies have blasted away the box office, from films about medieval times to those about modern warfare.
Note: The worldwide grosses have been adjusted for inflation.
Budget: $100 million
Domestic gross: $56.8 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $129.6 million
Trivia: With no major studios willing to take on the massive budget, director Roland Emmerich had to turn to individual investors to scrape up the $100 million needed to make "Midway."
Bottom Line: Midway
"Midway" wasn't a smash hit, but it was praised for its historical accuracy about the Battle of Midway, a massive World War II naval battle that took place in the war's Pacific Theater.
Critics weren't in love with it either, but audiences dug it. The film has a 92 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes despite a 41 percent Tomatometer rating from critics.
29. Lone Survivor
Budget: $40 million
Domestic gross: $125.1
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $158.4 million
Trivia: To help get the film made, writer/director Peter Berg took the minimum salary allowed under the Directors Guild of America — $17,000 per week — and most of the cast took a pay cut as well.
Bottom Line: Lone Survivor
"Lone Survivor" is based on the true story of a failed Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission that took place in the War in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005.
The mission, Operation Red Wings, ended with 19 Americans killed and one Chinook helicopter downed.
Like "Black Hawk Down," "Lone Survivor" is an excellent modern war movie with tons of research involved.
28. The Pianist
Budget: $35 million
Domestic gross: $32.57 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $170.5 million
Trivia: To prepare for his role, Adrian Brody starved himself down to 130 pounds, "sold my car, got rid of my cell phones, [and] gave up my New York apartment. I stopped listening to hip-hop and contemporary music. I didn't socialize, I didn't go out to drink or eat. I was cutting myself off deliberately to get that sense of total isolation," Brody said.
Bottom Line: The Pianist
"The Pianist" is a biographical film based on the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew and pianist who survived the Warsaw Ghettos.
Its unflinching look at life (or what little of it there was) and death under the Nazis has been compared to "Schindler’s List" in its tone.
"It is unwatchably harrowing," wrote Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian. "And the images of devastation are positively retina-scorching."
Budget: $65 million
Domestic gross: $155.6 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $176.4 million
Trivia: The real-life Louis Zamperini passed away in 2014 at age 97, but before he died, Angelina Jolie showed him the movie on her laptop while he was in the hospital.
Bottom Line: Unbroken
"Unbroken" is a movie about the real-life war hero Louis Zamperini, an American World War II pilot who crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean and survived on a raft for 46 days before being captured and tortured by the Japanese.
Directed by Angelina Jolie, the film received middling reviews, although it performed well at the box office.
The sequel to this movie, "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" is a Christian film that follows Zamperini's conversion to Christianity. It made $6 million at the box office on a $6 million budget.
26. Hacksaw Ridge
Budget: $40 million
Domestic gross: $67.2 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $184.6 million
Trivia: "Hacksaw Ridge" was in production limbo for 14 years. The initial treatment was written in 2002.
Bottom Line: Hacksaw Ridge
"Hacksaw Ridge" is based on the true story of combat medic Desmond T. Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) who, as a devout Seventh-day Adventist, refused to fire a shot during his tour of World War II. He saved 75 men and is the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.
It's a fascinating story told extremely well in Mel Gibson's biopic, with impressive battle scenes — although it's very Hollywood.
Still, it's absolutely worth watching.
Budget: $68 million
Domestic gross: $85.8 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $228.6 million
Trivia: Scott Eastwood (yep — Clint Eastwood’s son) almost took a beating from Shia LaBeouf and Brad Pitt because Eastwood was spitting tobacco on their Sherman tank (which was a real tank, as were all tanks on set). LaBeouf and Pitt had gone through boot camp with the tank and thought of it as their "home," but later found out that Eastwood’s script had instructed him to spit on the Sherman.
Bottom Line: Fury
"Fury" stars Brad Pitt as Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier, who commands a five-man Sherman tank crew into Nazi Germany and has to survive overwhelming odds.
It's a dark, violent movie that isn't exactly a fun watch, but it's a good one with top-notch action sequences.
24. The Bridge on the River Kwai
Budget: $3 million
Domestic gross: $27.2 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $247.4 million
Trivia: When the film debuted on television on Sept. 25, 1966, enough people opted to stay home and watch "The Bridge on the River Kwai" instead of going to theaters that television industry workers dubbed the date "Black Sunday."
Bottom Line: The Bridge on the River Kwai
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" is set during the construction of the Burma Railway in 1941-1942.
There are essentially two plots in this epic — one about Allied POWs refusing to be part of the deadly slave-labor bridge’s construction and the other about a group of paratroopers on a stealth mission to destroy the bridge.
The movie is often lauded as one of the best films ever made.
23. Black Hawk Down
Budget: $92 million
Domestic gross: $108.6 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $249.8 million
Trivia: The name of the war hero portrayed in the film by Ewan McGregor was changed due to pressure from the Pentagon — because the real-life soldier is serving a 30-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl.
Bottom Line: Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott’s "Black Hawk Down" chronicles an event during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu when Somali forces shot down a Black Hawk helicopter. The Battle of Mogadishu lasted only one day, and "Black Hawk Down" takes place during that 24-hour period.
Rangers and Delta Force operators take on a bloody rescue mission, which ultimately left 18 dead and 73 wounded on the American side and some 500 Somalians dead, including civilians.
According to The Seattle Times: "Carefully defined rules of engagement, calling for soldiers to fire only on Somalis who aimed weapons at them, were quickly discarded in the heat of the fight. Most soldiers interviewed said that through most of the fight they fired on crowds and eventually at anyone and anything they saw."
At its heart, "Black Hawk Down" is an anti-war film, and a terrifying one at that. It’s one of the best war movies about modern conflicts.
22. Good Morning Vietnam
Budget: $13 million
Domestic gross: $123.9 million (worldwide numbers unavailable)
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $279 million
Trivia: Robin Williams improvised much of his radio banter.
Bottom Line: Good Morning Vietnam
"Good Morning, Vietnam" hardly shows any real combat.
Instead, it’s about an irreverently good-humored Armed Forces Radio disc jockey named Adrian Cronauer — played by the late, great Robin Williams — who gradually turns more cynical during his stay in war-torn Vietnam.
The movie is sometimes categorized as a comedy, but it’s also a sobering journey into the peripheries of one of America’s most disastrous wars. The real Adrian Cronauer passed away in 2018.
21. Apocalypse Now
Budget: $31.5 million
Domestic gross: $ 78.8 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $286 million
Trivia: Someone purchased actual dead bodies to be used as props, with the intention of hanging them upside down in the trees. Co-producer Gary Fredrickson shot down that idea. Worse still, the bodies weren’t the medical school cadavers they were led to believe. They were unearthed bodies sold by a grave robber.
Bottom Line: Apocalypse Now
The insanity behind the scenes of "Apocalypse Now" contributed to what makes the movie so incredible.
Director Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script as he went along, Marlon Brando showed up enormously fat even though he was supposed to be a rogue officer living in the jungle, Dennis Hopper was on drugs, a typhoon destroyed the set, the cast partied hard and Martin Sheen had a heart attack.
"Apocalypse Now" suffered extensive production delays due to their lengthy shooting schedule in the Philippines.
But it worked. "Apocalypse Now" is one of the greatest war movies ever made.
Budget: $65 million
Domestic gross: $182 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $306.1 million
Trivia: Daniel Day-Lewis studied Abraham Lincoln for about a year to prepare for his part. He read biographies, Lincoln’s own writing, practiced Lincoln’s speeches (then on set, used the Lincoln voice even when the cameras weren’t rolling), and studied Lincoln’s old photographs.
Bottom Line: Lincoln
Spielberg’s "Lincoln" was hailed for its historical attention to detail and a masterful performance by Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln when it was released in 2012.
"Lincoln" is more a "political thriller," as The New York Times called it, than a movie about the Civil War’s gruesome battles, but the entire movie revolves around one man trying to stop America from burning itself to ashes.
Budget: $6 million
Domestic gross: $138.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $323 million
Trivia: The actors who played the main characters — Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker — went through a 30-day boot camp, which included military training, limited food and water, and blanks fired at night to keep them awake and on edge.
Bottom Line: Platoon
Oliver Stone’s "Platoon" might be the quintessential Vietnam War film.
Stone wrote and directed the epic, and he was drawing from personal experiences — the filmmaker served in Vietnam as an infantryman and received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
"Platoon" is a realistic ground-level look at the Vietnam War. The characters raze villages and murder civilians and one another alike.
18. Born on the Fourth of July
Budget: $17.8 million
Domestic gross: $70 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $331.8 million
Trivia: Even though Stone and Tom Cruise gave up salaries for profit participation, the film still went over budget by nearly $4 million.
Bottom Line: Born on the Fourth of July
"Born on the Fourth of July" is the second of Stone’s Vietnam War film trilogy (his third film, "Heaven and Earth," was a massive flop).
Unlike "Platoon," which wholly takes place in Vietnam during the war, "Born on the Fourth of July" follows the heartbreaking pre- and post-war life of a soldier named Ron Kovic, played by Tom Cruise. The movie is based on Kovic’s eponymous autobiography.
"Born on the Fourth of July" received widespread critical acclaim and won four Golden Globes and two Academy Awards among many other accolades.
17. The Dirty Dozen
Budget: $5.4 million
Domestic gross: $45.3 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $344.8 million
Trivia: Lee Marvin opted to go drinking at a pub instead of showing up on set during a motorcycle scene with Charles Bronson. Crew members dragged him back to the studio, where he promptly fell over, and Bronson threatened to kill him.
Bottom Line: The Dirty Dozen
A tough-guy movie about a dozen convicts sent on a top-secret World War II mission, "The Dirty Dozen" is a classic flick that ruffled feathers at its time of release, with some critics concerned that the movie was too violent.
Today, it's considered a tame war film, but a fun one thanks to the cast and their characters.
Budget: $72 million
Domestic gross: $75.6 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $357.2 million
Trivia: In the battle scene where English cavalry charges the Scottish front line and is greeted with pikes, the horses are mechanical. They were attached to a spring-loaded track to make it look like they were jumping.
Bottom Line: Braveheart
Mel Gibson’s historical epic may be historically inaccurate, but who cares?
"Braveheart" features incredible Medieval-era battle scenes on a massive scale with some 1,500 extras.
And who could forget the rousing speech of William Wallace, or the way he howled "FREEDOOOOOOM" with his last dying breath?
15. Life Is Beautiful
Budget: $20 million
Domestic gross: $229 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $363 million
Trivia: The film was inspired by the life of Rubino Romeo Salmoni, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz and later wrote "In the End, I Beat Hitler."
Bottom Line: Life Is Beautiful
"Life Is Beautiful" is a heartbreaking war drama of one man’s personal sacrifices to keep his child’s innocence alive during their internment in a concentration camp.
"Life Is Beautiful" is considered one of the best World War II movies ever made, and it received over two dozen awards and nominations.
14. The English Patient
Budget: $27 million
Domestic gross: $78.7 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $375.8 million
Trivia: The movie’s main character is based on Laszlo Almasy, a Hungarian explorer and spy for hire. Unlike his English Patient counterpart, Almasy was gay.
Bottom Line: The English Patient
Elaine Benes from "Seinfeld" hated "The English Patient," but audiences and critics adored it.
The epic romantic war drama swept the 69th Academy Awards and sold millions of tickets worldwide.
13. Inglourious Basterds
Budget: $70 million
Domestic gross: $120.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $382.4 million
Trivia: Adam Sandler was originally asked to play the "Bear Jew" character, but he was busy filming "Funny People."
Bottom Line: Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s film has little bearing in reality, but it’s technically a war movie, and it certainly has made a ton of money.
"Inglourious Basterds" is set in Tarantino’s loosely interconnected alternative universe wherein a group of special forces, the Nazi-scalping Basterds, embark on a mission to murder Hitler and various Nazi officers.
It’s a bizarre black comedy that made over $120 million at the American box office and garnered positive reviews, including an 11-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.
Budget: $95 million
Domestic gross: $159.2 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $393.8 million
Trivia: The movie used 500 extras, and every single one of them was handpicked by director Sam Mendes, who wanted each one to look and walk a certain way for the film. That took a while.
Bottom Line: 1917
"1917" is one of those movies that critics and audiences love alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movies scored 89 percent with critics and 88 percent with audiences.
It's easy to see why. The film is an epic thriller that takes place during World War I and shows how the actions of a few, brave men can save hundreds, or even thousands, of people.
Budget: $12 million
Domestic gross: $61.75 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $404.6 million
Trivia: "Patton" was Richard Nixon’s favorite movie.
Bottom Line: Patton
George C. Scott’s career-defining role as General George S. Patton is the most famous and greatest portrayal of an American general in any film.
"Patton" won seven Academy Awards, including a Best Actor award, which Scott refused out of contempt for the award show and its voting process.
In 2003, the film was ushered into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
10. The Longest Day
Budget: $7.75 million-$10 million
Domestic gross: $50.1 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $421.71 million
Trivia: Each country’s army speaks in their native tongue, and subtitles are used as a translation. This was a novel concept for World War II movies, and most mainstream movies in general.
Bottom Line: The Longest Day
"The Longest Day" documents the days leading up to D-Day from both Allied and Axis perspectives, which was a unique take on World War II.
It’s a three-hour epic with big stars and a mile-long cast list that's still worth watching today.
9. The Last Samurai
Budget: $140 million
Domestic gross: $111 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $456.76 million
Trivia: The armor Tom Cruise wears weighed around 50 pounds, so he had to build 25 pounds of muscle to help take the strain off of his knees.
Bottom Line: The Last Samurai
"The Last Samurai" is a fictional story very loosely based on historical events in 19th-century Japan during the Satsuma Rebellion.
While the movie won’t impress historians, it's an extremely well-done film that won several awards and received four Academy Award nominations.
Budget: $3.5 million
Domestic gross: $81.6 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $534.6 million
Trivia: MASH’s director Robert Altman’s 15-year-old son wrote the lyrics to the iconic "Suicide Is Painless" theme.
Bottom Line: MASH
The black comedy ostensibly about the Korean War was a huge hit for Fox and spawned the incredibly beloved TV show of the same name.
The movie is clearly a take on the disastrous Vietnam War, but Fox pressured Altman to place PA announcements and an introductory caption stating that the movie took place during the Korean War in 1951.
Movie studios really didn't like to criticize the war machine back then.
Budget: $100 million-$150 million
Domestic gross: $189.7 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $549.5
Trivia: The director wanted to use as little CGI as possible while making "Dunkirk." A Spitfire that crash-lands into the ocean was done for real. The studio created a full-sized Spitfire replica, strapped an IMAX camera on it and crashed it into the water.
Bottom Line: Dunkirk
"Dunkirk" opens with a surreal, nearly silent scene of a group of British soldiers making their way through the harbor town of Dunkirk, France, in 1940.
While the silence doesn’t last long, much of Christopher Nolan’s 2017 World War II masterpiece is understated.
The film received high critical praise and so many accolades that there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them.
6. Schindler's List
Budget: $22 million
Domestic gross: $96.9 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $569.5 million
Trivia: Director Steven Spielberg donated all of his proceeds from the movie because he thought profiting from it would be "blood money," given the film’s subject matter. He founded the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the remembrance of Holocaust victims, one year after the movie was released in 1993.
Bottom Line: Schindler's List
What can be said about "Schindler’s List" that hasn’t been said before?
Steven Spielberg’s gut-wrenching, three-hour black-and-white epic follows Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust while operating within the Nazi party.
"Schindler’s List" is regarded as one of the best movies ever made. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
5. Lawrence of Arabia
Budget: $15 million
Domestic gross: $37.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $589.2 million
Trivia: A typical day of filming, per the late Peter O’Toole via NPR: "It took nine months in the desert of Jordan. ... We lived in tents. Occasionally, I had a caravan. We'd shoot for about 10 to 12 days, and then we'd have two or three days off, and I would go to Jerusalem or to Beirut, [fellow Lawrence actor] Omar [Sharif] and I, where we'd squander our pieces at poker."
Bottom Line: Lawrence of Arabia
One of the most celebrated movies ever made, "Lawrence of Arabia" can be found on virtually every 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list.
The epic, three-to-four hour movie (depending on which edition you’re watching) tells the tale of a T.E. Lawrence, a British army officer in World War I who is ordered to lead an Arab revolt against the Turks in 1916.
The cinematography is breathtaking.
4. American Sniper
Budget: $58.8 million
Domestic gross: $350.1 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $590.5 million
Trivia: Bradley Cooper put on 40 pounds in 10 weeks for the leading role.
Bottom Line: American Sniper
"American Sniper" is a biographical film about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle directed by Clint Eastwood. The film is a controversial one, with some critics calling it pro-war propaganda that presented a distorted reality, although Eastwood contends the movie is solidly anti-war.
While "American Sniper" showcases Kyle’s military feats, such as his 2,100-yard sniper kill, the movie is also about Kyle’s difficulty to assimilate back into civilian society and the government institutions that fail veterans returning from combat.
Unadjusted for inflation, "American Sniper" is the highest-grossing war film ever made.
3. Pearl Harbor
Budget: $140 million'
Domestic gross: $198.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $648.5 million
Trivia: Ben Affleck’s character is based on Kenneth Taylor, who shot down at least two Japanese aircraft during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Taylor called the film "a piece of trash ... over-sensationalized and distorted.”
Bottom Line: Pearl Harbor
In stark contrast to "Saving Private Ryan," Michael Bay’s "Pearl Harbor" is a melodramatic, explosion-filled, historically inaccurate love story dressed as a film about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of 1941.
Clocking in at a slogging three hours, "Pearl Harbor" was generally panned by critics when it was released in 2001, but audiences didn’t care. It was a huge box-office success, taking in $198.5 million in America and nearly $450 million worldwide.
It's now regarded as one of the worst war movies ever made.
2. Saving Private Ryan
Budget: $70 million
Domestic gross: $216.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $755.4 million
Trivia: The eight main actors who played soldiers all had to endure boot camp — except for Matt Damon, who played Private Ryan. This was done so the other actors would resent Damon and his character, whom they risked their lives to save.
Bottom Line: Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg’s "Saving Private Ryan" was, and possibly still is, the greatest movie about World War II ever made ("Band of Brothers" would take that title if it weren’t technically a TV show).
After it hit theaters in July 1998, the movie won a slew of awards, including six wins and five nominations at the 71st Academy Awards and made over $200 million domestically.
As a World War II movie that didn’t censor the brutal, bloody reality of war, it was the first of its kind. The movie is so realistic that it triggered PTSD in some war veterans who viewed the film in theaters.
1. Gone With the Wind
Budget: $3.85 million
Domestic gross: $189.5 million
Worldwide gross (inflation adjusted): $3.484 billion
Trivia: None of the film’s black actors, including Hattie McDaniel (who later won an Academy Award for playing Mammy), were allowed to attend the film’s premiere in Atlanta.
Bottom Line: Gone With the Wind
This classic epic about the Civil War made an insane amount of money when it was first released in 1939 — $189.5 million, to be precise. It’s even more impressive when considering that the cost of a movie ticket in 1939 was 23 cents! And that was just its initial release.
The movie has been re-released in theaters three more times — twice in the 1980s and, recently, a limited monthlong screening for its 80th anniversary in 2019 — which grossed another $11 million. And then overseas, "Gone with the Wind" made another $200 million.
Adjusted purely for inflation, and using Box Office Mojo’s numbers for its initial domestic and international sales (about $391 million), "Gone with the Wind" made the equivalent of $7 billion on a $70 million budget in today’s money.
More accurately, when accounting for inflation and taking the re-release dates into account, the film grossed about $3.5 billion in today's dollars. It’s not just the highest-grossing war film of all time based on adjusted gross. It’s the highest-grossing domestic film of all time.