I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love a good war movie. I mean, who doesn’t get a little awestruck when “Ride of the Valkyries” plays as a formation of helicopters descend from the clouds in Apocalypse Now? I think I’ve listened to the opening speech from Patton more times over the years than any single movie scene. Films like The Deer Hunter and Black Hawk Down left audiences in stunned silence; there’s something about a film that brings home the realities of war that strike an indelible chord with people. A good war movie taps into a range of emotions unlike any other form of media.

There’s just something about a really good war movie. So, when we see a story that strikes a particular nerve, we often wonder why no one is telling that story. Thunder Run was one such story. David Zucchino’s 2004 bestselling book recounted the events of three bloody days during the March to Baghdad in 2003, when then-Colonel David Perkins led the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team on a daring assault into the heart of the capitol city. The book was well on its way to becoming a feature film in 2014, with Gerard Butler and Mathew McConaughey leading an all-star cast. But, by 2016, the project was on life support and the film rights sold. The movie was shelved and a great story would never be told.

These stories—the really great ones that never seem to make it to the big screen—are the stuff of legend. We gather around the water cooler or over scotch and cigars and wax eloquently about the movies that were never made. Everyone’s got a story or two (or more in many cases) and they’re stories that need to be told. But they aren’t. Hollywood is perfectly content to churn out forgettable war dogs like Redacted or Green Zone, but can’t see the value in a movie like Thunder Run.

The 10 Best War Movies That Were Never Made

The list of great war movies is short. The list of bad war movies is long. The list of war movies that need to be told is, well… pretty much non-existent. So, let’s give it a shot. This list is by no means all-inclusive and includes a few personal recommendations that might not make anyone else’s list. But, maybe along the way, we’ll spark some interest and one of these movies might actually find their way onto the big screen.

1. F*A*S*T

Every list like this deserves a comedy. This would be a modern-day M*A*S*H, but my version would tell the story of the Forward Area Surgical Team attached to our Charlie Med during the halcyon days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While our versions of Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John wore the same Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, any similarities ended there. They were hilarious for all the wrong reasons, from destroying a HMMWV ambulance with a thermite grenade to wandering into oncoming mortar fire wearing bathrobes and carrying golf clubs.

2. The Battle of Takur Ghar

Malcolm MacPherson’s 2006 book is a gut-wrenching page turner deserving of the big screen treatment. The 2004 documentary that recounts the events most of us know as the Battle of Roberts Ridge is good but doesn’t deliver in the same way a feature film would. One of the “most intense and influential fights of the post-9/11 era,” the battle is case study in heroism against all odds. Takur Ghar could easily be the Black Hawk Down of the war in Afghanistan.

3. Curveball

The story of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi—known to many in the intelligence community as Curveball—has been teased, but never really been fully told outside of print. Al-Janabi’s role in spurring the United States into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is important. Some say he duped America into war, but if anything, he was a convenient excuse. As Curveball, he fed the intelligence community it needed to make the case for war—yellowcake, Saddam, and an active nuclear weapons program—and a punchline-worthy quest for those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

4. The Battle of Chipyon-ni

Fought over three days in February 1951 between American and French units of the 23rd Infantry Regiment and Chinese forces, the battle has been referred to as the Gettysburg of the Korean War and marks the turning point of the Chinese invasion into South Korea. Substantially outmanned and outgunned, the United Nations withstood a relentless assault from five Chinese regiments, earning a hard-fought victory for a battered 8th Army and changed the course of the war.

5. Landing Zone Albany

Mel Gibson did an admirable job of bringing the story of Hal Moore and the men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, to the big screen in 2002’s We Were Soldiers. But that film only tells half the story. The tragedy of Landing Zone Albany is the other half. After securing Landing Zone X-Ray, Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade led 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, into a North Vietnamese ambush near Albany that left 155 American dead and another 124 wounded. Though detailed in Moore and Joseph Galloway’s We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, the Gibson film omits those events. They deserve to be told.

6. Corregidor

Although the story of Corregidor has been told, it hasn’t been told well, and it hasn’t really seen the much of the big screen in nearly 70 years. The 1943 film is the type of Hollywood treatment you would expect for the time, but the story needs a contemporary retelling to capture the raw human drama of the catastrophe. Leave out the sappy love story. Forget about the theatrics. This is a story of heroism, perseverance, and hopelessness that people should understand.

7. Green Ramp

For many of my friends, March 23 is a somber day. On that day in 1994, a mid-air collision between and F-16 and C-130 resulted in the catastrophic destruction of a C-141 on the Green Ramp at Pope Air Force Base, where paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were preparing for a training jump. It was the worst peacetime loss of life—24 soldiers eventually died—suffered by the division in 50 years and the stories that emerged from that day should be told and told again.

8. The Battle of 73 Easting

What has been referred to by some as “the last great tank battle of the 20th century” took place on February 26, 1991, as four troops of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment attacked and destroyed the Iraqi Tawakalna Division’s 18th Brigade and the 12th Armored Division’s 9th Armored Brigade. The battle, which cemented the reputation of then-Captain H.R. McMaster, made possible the great “right hook” that allowed coalition forces to seal a victory in just 100 hours of ground combat. The lessons of that fight and the war it represented still resonate today.

9. Dear Ronald

At Ali al Salem airbase in Kuwait sits a solitary figure in a yellow and red clown suit. For anyone who transited through Ali al Salem, the resin statue of Ronald McDonald sitting on the bench next to his eponymous burger stand became a symbol of the forever wars. Ronald saw it all. Ronald heard it all. The human drama that surrounds those wars needs to be known, and there’s no end to those stories. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, those are our stories.

10. The End of Afghanistan

Call it Exit Stage Left. Call it Another Day in Paradise. Or maybe call it The Eagle Has Departed. It’s not going to be pretty, either. Sort of a cross between Zero Dark Thirty and The Looming Tower, where bureaucracy, turf wars, and information hoarding lead to disastrous consequences. This is a story that needs to be told. This is a story that has to be told.


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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options, and the podcast, The Smell of Victory; co-founder and former board member of the Military Writers Guild; and a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal. He is the author of five books, numerous professional articles, countless blog posts, and is a prolific military cartoonist.