Skip to main content
Home World U.S. Weather Business Sports Analysis Politics Law Tech Science Health Entertainment Offbeat Travel Education Specials Autos I-Reports
Entertainment News
In association with:

The best -- and worst -- movie battle scenes

Adjust font size:
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font

Wham! Pow! Zap! Argh! To celebrate the launch of the ultimate battle movie, 300, we've compiled a list of our favorite on-screen battle scenes -- and the ones which really made us cringe.

Don't agree? Think we've missed one? Email your list to and we'll publish the best.

Read other CNN viewers' best and worst movie battle scenes >>

The best ...

1. Apocalypse Now -- Helicopter attack
Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory."
Robert Duvall's helicopters wreak bloody destruction upon a Vietnamese village to the strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries in order to secure a beachhead for a bit of post-combat surfing. No cinematic moment better captures the folly, absurdity and tragic human cost of America's war against the Vietcong.

2. Saving Private Ryan -- Omaha Beach landing
Steven Spielberg, 1998
The graphic depiction of the Omaha beach D-Day landing shocked audiences and even induced flashbacks in Normandy veterans. The shaky, hand held cameras, the desaturated color and the unflinching portrayal of the near-suicidal assault all add up to a sickening sense of realism that remains unmatched in war films.

3= Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers -- Helm's Deep
Peter Jackson, 2002
The dull, impending stomp of Saruman's army; the ceaseless onslaught of the Uruk Hai; the inevitable breaching of the unbreachable fort. Jackson captures the desperation of the 300 men facing a host of Orcs 10,000-strong, and the terror of their women and children, against the long, rain-drenched night in the most atmospheric of the Lord of the Rings battles. Oh, the relief when Gandalf arrives on time. (Still not convinced by Legolas skateboarding down the ramparts, though.)

3= Lord of the Rings: Return of the King -- Pelennor Fields
(until the Army of the Dead arrive)

Peter Jackson, 2003
The Orcs get even more hideous, the Oliphaunts are awe-inspiring, the Winged Nazgul had you cowering behind your popcorn. Theoden is at last redeemed on the battlefield, and with one line and swish of her sword, Eowyn proves she's equal with the men. This spectacular whirlwind of CGI, distorted sound and awesome scale stunned audiences, and was rightly hailed as a movie milestone. Then it all goes horribly wrong. (See below.)

5. A Bridge Too Far -- Parachute drop
Richard Attenborough, 1977
Thousands of doomed Allied troops are dispatched behind enemy lines in an awe-inspiring parachute drop, followed by the climactic tank and infantry battle over the bridge at Arnhem. Richard Attenborough's cast is stellar (including Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O'Neal and Robert Redford) and his pre-CGI achievement staggering.

6. Tora! Tora! Tora! -- Attack on Pearl Harbor
Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda, 1970
There are two good films about Pearl Harbor. Neither of them is called Pearl Harbor (see below). If "From Here to Eternity" dealt brilliantly with the human drama of the event, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" captures the sheer audacity of the Japanese aerial raid on the naval base. Massively expensive for its time (it cost an estimated $25 million) and featuring three directors, one American and two Japanese, this is truly filmmaking on an epic scale.

7. Zulu -- Battle of Rourke's Drift
Cy Endfield, 1964
"Zulus, thousands of 'em" -- as Michael Caine never said. The portrayal of the 1879 Battle of Rourke's Drift has proved deeply influential, inspiring Peter Jackson's staging of the Battle of Helm's Deep and echoed in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers. You still feel the chill in the pit of your stomach when you see the tidal wave of Zulu impis running down the side of the valley at the meager 150 British soldiers.

8. Starship Troopers -- Battle of Klendathu, Battle on Planet P
Paul Verhoeven, 1997
"They sucked his brains out!"
A bloody bugfest on Klendathu sees 100,000 troops hacked, ripped and squished to death in an hour; then we follow Rico's roughnecks to Planet P where his poorly-equipped infantry are sent back as bait for thousands of spiky Arachnids. But is it really the bugs who're the evil ones? Slick, smart B-movie action.

9. Braveheart -- Battle of Stirling
Mel Gibson, 1995
"They may take our lives, but they will never take our FREEDOM!"
Woaded-up Mel Gibson plays Scottish rebel William Wallace and tries nobly to overthrow the beastly English. His victory at the Battle of Stirling is scarcely a model of historical accuracy, but tremendous fun nonetheless and, if there were one, Gibson's rousing taunts would have won him the Oscar for best battlefield banter.

10. Gladiator -- Battle in Germania
Ridley Scott, 2000
Classical chaos in the thrilling Germania opening battle, as the Romans pitch a mudfight against hairy, scary forest-dwelling barbarians. Russell Crowe single-handedly revived epic sword-and-sandal films; thousands of movie extras cheered, then were digitally replaced.

And the worst ...

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi -- Battle of Endor
Richard Marquand, 1983
The Empire's frighteningly efficient professional armored troops, backed by the power of the Dark Side, complete with towering Scout Walkers, speeder bikes and ray guns get defeated by ... a bunch of overgrown Tribbles armed with rocks and creepers. Er, no. Not even with Han Solo on your side.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace -- Battle of Naboo
George Lucas, 1999
A chilling multitude of battle droids, reminiscent of Wall-era Pink Floyd; an outnumbered coalition of oppressed good guys; lashings of lightsaber action. The trouble is, we just don't care. And in the world's worst cinematic travesty ever, Qui-Gon Jinn dies; Jar Jar Binks doesn't. Life just ain't fair.

King Arthur -- Battle of Badon Hill
Antoine Fuqua, 2004
This muddy, bloody yawn-fest stretched even the most credulous Bruckheimer fans. We're supposed to root for irritatingly feisty Keira Knightley battling in a ridiculous leather/woad bikini combo? Hand-to-hand with a bunch of hefty Saxon invaders? In the dead of winter? Give us a break.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King -- Pelennor Fields
Peter Jackson, 2003
... and then the staunch resistance of the Men of Gondor and the Rohirrim's endeavors on the battlefield are all rendered utterly pointless when the Army of the Dead swoop in at the end. Couldn't they have turned up a bit earlier? An oversimplified cop out.

Dune -- Battle of Arrakis
David Lynch, 1984
What could be more awe-inspiring than Kyle Maclachlan riding a vacuum-cleaner hose disguised as a giant sandworm as he leads his Fremen warriors into battle against the legions of Sardaukar? Quite a lot of things, as it turned out. A so-bad-it's-almost-good $30 million turkey that tried and failed to be the next Star Wars. Great death for Baron Harkkonen, though.

Pearl Harbor -- Attack on Pearl Harbor
Michael Bay, 2001
This bloated extravaganza manages to turn the tragedy of Pearl Harbor into a schmaltzy love triangle constructed from Hollywood's finest overpaid wood. Worse still, Ben Affleck survives.

Your views

Now it's your turn. What are your favorite -- and worst -- battle scenes in the movies? Email your list to and we'll publish the best.

Read other CNN viewers' best and worst movie battle scenes >>

Robert Duvall in

Robert Duvall in Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" -- the best battle scenes in movie history?



Which do you prefer - independent films or big budget movies?
or View Results


Quick Job Search
  More Options
International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise with Us About Us Contact Us
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
SERVICES » E-mails RSSRSS Feed PodcastsRadio News Icon CNNtoGo CNN Pipeline
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more