Charge! Actors Whose Iconic Roles In War Movies Defined The Genre

It’s not unusual for actors to fit in a role like a hand does a glove, and audiences couldn’t imagine the movie with anyone else. Well, this same concept applies to war movies just like any other genre. Not only are some actors naturally talented at their craft, they also have a calling for wielding a sword or shouting battle commands in front of a camera. Not every Hollywood actor can pull this off, but here are some that certainly can and have.

Brad Pitt Has Been A Soldier Throughout The Centuries

Picture of Brad Pitt
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Brad Pitt is a man of many talents, with an incredible acting range that allows him to play a goofy personal trainer in one film to an eager and short-fused detective in another. He’s also impressive in the war movies that he’s been involved in.

Some of the most notable include him as the legendary historical figure Achilles in 2004’s Troy, a battle-hardened U.S. Army Staff Sergeant in 2014’s Fury, and the ringleader of a ragtag military group in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

Martin Sheen Stars In One Of The Most Classic War Films Ever Made

Picture of Charlie Sheen
United Artists
United Artists

Actor Martin Sheen has an impressive career in the entertainment industry, spanning decades, and involves feature films and television appearances. One of his most notable roles is the conflicted Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s famous 1979 film Apocalypse Now.

In the film, Willard is assigned a secret mission to travel by river from South Vietnam to Cambodia where he is ordered to murder the renegade Colonel Kurtz who is accused of murder and is believed to have lost his mind. For his performance, Sheen received a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

Mel Gibson Is The King Of War And Gore

Picture of Mel Gibson
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

It’s well-known that Mel Gibson has no problem taking on projects heavily entrenched in blood, guts, and in some cases, major controversy. Take The Passion of the Christ, for example.

Also not necessarily revered for the historical accuracy in many of his films, there’s no doubt that Gibson likes his fair share of conflict and violence. He has starred in numerous war films that include, Braveheart, The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, Gallipoli, and directed others such as Apocolaypto and Hacksaw Ridge.

Gerard Butler Fits The Role As King Leonidas In 300

Picture of Gerard Butler
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Over the years, Gerard Butler has established himself as an actor that can do it all, from romantic comedies to high-budget films; he’s become incredibly sought-after. He’s also appeared in war films such as Hunter Killer, Gods of Egypt, Timeline, and more. Yet, the one role that brought him to the forefront of the action genre is his performance as King Leonidas in the highly-stylized and ultra-violent 300.

Faced with a Persian threat of invasion, Leonidas leads 300 of his best soldiers and some fellow Greeks in an attempt to hold back the behemoth Persian force from entering Greece. At the 2007 MTV Movie Awards, Butler was nominated for Best Actor and 300 for Best Movie.

Tom Hanks Takes Point In Saving Private Ryan

Picture of Tom Hanks
DreamWorks Pictures
DreamWorks Pictures

Although Tom Hanks may not necessarily be the first actor that comes to mind in a discussion about war films, he stars in one of the greatest and most realistic ever made. He plays United States Army Rangers, Captain John H. Miller, in Steven Spielberg’s 1998 classic, Saving Private Ryan.

The film follows Miller and his squad during World War II as they go behind enemy lines in France in order to find one man. Considered one of the greatest films of all time, Hanks has also received immense respect for the role.

Willem Dafoe Dies Heroically In Platoon

Picture of Willem Dafoe
Orion Picture
Orion Picture

Willem Dafoe has acted in several war films, both historical and fantastical. He was involved in projects such as Born on the Fourth of July, Flight of the Intruder, The Great Wall, and countless other blockbuster and independent films. Nevertheless, his most notable role in a war film is Sergeant Elias in 1986’s Platoon, a film about the morality of war during the Vietnam War.

Although the film is renowned for a number of reasons, one of the most memorable scenes is when Sgt. Elias is attempting to get to safety as he is shot several times by North Vietnamese soldiers.

Steve McQueen Never Shied Away From War Films

Picture of Steve McQueen
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Referred to as the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen was arguably one of the greatest actors of the 1960s and 1970s. Known for his antihero roles, at one point, he was the highest-paid actor in the world. He played various roles, including those in war films such as The Sand Pebbles, Hell is for Heroes, and possibly his most famous, The Great Escape.

The Great Escape is based on the actual events during World War I involving a mass escape of British soldiers from a German POW camp. McQueen stars as Captain Virgil Hilts, the leader, earning him the Best Actor award at the Moscow International Film Festival.

Jude Law Becomes An Unexpected War Hero In Enemy At The Gates

Picture of Jude Law
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

A twice nominated Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Jude Law, has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. After receiving attention for his performance in 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, he showed what he was truly capable of in the 2001 war film, Enemy at the Gates.

The film depicts the true story of the Battle of Stalingrad during the winter of 1942-1943, in which Law plays the fictionalized sniper Vasily Zaystev and his prolonged cat and mouse game with an enemy sniper.

Lee Ermey Ad-Libbed Most Of His Lines In Full Metal Jacket

Picture of Lee Ermey
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In 1987, Stanley Kubrick released his film Full Metal Jacket, which follows a platoon of United States Marines beginning with their boot camp training and their experiences during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War.

While the film is regarded as one of the greatest war films made, one aspect that makes it stand out is Lee Ermey’s addition as the drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Ermey was initially supposed to be a technical advisor but managed to wow Kubrick with his ability to play the drill sergeant role and the deplorable insults he could come up with on the spot.

Russell Crowe Is A Force To Be Reckoned With When He’s In Combat

Picture of Russell Crow
DteamWorks Pictures
DteamWorks Pictures

Russell Crowe is a New Zealand actor that came to international attention after starring as the Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the historical epic period piece Gladiator.

Although he has also had impressive performances outside of the war genre, such as A Beautiful Mind, The Insider, American Gangster, and others, some of his other battle-heavy films include Master and Commander, Far Side of the World, Robin Hood, and Les Miserables. For his impressive performance in Gladiator, he took home the Academy Award for Best Actor.

George C. Scott Was General Patton Reborn In Patton

Picture of George Scott
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

During his career, George Campbell was known for his performances both on the stage and in front of the camera. Some of his notable performances in films were Anatomy of a Murder, Dr. Strangelove, and A Christmas Carol, although many people remember him as the title character in Patton.

Here, he plays the highly decorated United States military general George S. Patton during his exploits in World War II. Unbelievably, Scott won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Patton but declined to accept the award.

Robert DuVall Knows “Charlie Don’t Surf” In Apocalypse Now

Picture of Robert Duvall
United Artists
United Artists

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse now has an ensemble cast including Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Sam Bottoms, Dennis Hopper, and even Harrison Ford makes an appearance. Another well-known actor that makes an appearance is Robert Duvall, who plays Lieutenant Colonel William Kilgore, a lover of surfing with a care-free, almost fun attitude towards war.

Although he is only in one part of the film, he provides some dark comic relief and gifted us with the iconic line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Bradley Cooper Bulked Up For American Sniper

Picture of Bradley Cooper
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Over the course of Bradley Cooper’s career, he has been nominated for eight Academy Awards and has won two Grammy Awards and a BAFTA Award. With his films grossing more than $11 billion worldwide, he ranks among the world’s highest-paid actors. Successful in both comedy and drama, he tried something different with the biographical war film American Sniper.

In the movie, Cooper portrays sniper Chris Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in American history with 255 kills from four tours during the Iraq War. The film went on to become the highest-grossing war film of all time.

Andrew Garfield Just Wants “One More” In Hacksaw Ridge

Picture of Andrew Garfield
Summit Entertainment
Summit Entertainment

Mel Gibson’s 2016 film, Hacksaw Ridge, tells the true story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Andrew Garfield portrays Doss, who refuses to use a weapon or firearm of any kind, serving as a combat medic in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

For his performance, Garfield was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, as well as at the Golden Globes. Garfield won Best Actor at the AACTA Awards.

Timothée Chalamet On An Unprecedented Role In The King

Picture of Timothee Chalamet
Netflix
Netflix

Although young actor Timothée Hal Chalamet has become a Hollywood heartthrob for his boyish looks and success in films such as Call Me by Your Name, Beautiful Boy, and others, he stepped up to take on the role of King Henry V in Netflix’s 2019 The King.

The film is based on several of William Shakespeare’s plays about the historical king, following Henry as he ascends the throne after his father’s death and the politics and wars he must deal with that were his father’s making.

Mark Whalberg Barely Makes It Out Alive In Lone Survivor

Picture of Mark Wahlberg
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Although Mark Wahlberg has proven his talent in countless roles across genres, there’s little doubt that he’s one of the greatest action movie stars of all time. This made him perfect for the high-intensity war film Lone Survivor.

In the film, Wahlberg plays Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell and follows the true story of a four-man surveillance team tasked to track down the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, with the mission going south. Wahlberg was the first actor to sign on for the project.

Chris Pine Lead His Countrymen In Outlaw King

Photo of Chris Pine
Netflix
Netflix

Released in 2018, Outlaw King is a historical film about Robert the Bruce, the Scottish King who lived during the 14th century and led a war against England for Scotland’s freedom.

The movie stars Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce and takes place over three years of Robert’s life, ending in the climactic Battle of Loudoun Hill, in which the Scottish defeated a larger English army. This was the first time that audiences saw Chris Pine swinging a sword and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Orlando Bloom Plays A Fictionalized Version Of The Crusader Balian de Ibelin In Kingdom Of Heaven

Picture of Orlando Bloom
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Directed by Ridley Scott and released in 2005, Kingdom of Heaven is a historical film that takes place during the Crusades of the 12th Century. Orlando Bloom stars as Balian de Ibelin, a French blacksmith that goes to the Holy land and ends up in command of the defense of Jerusalem from the Muslim Sultan, Saladin.

Although viewers had seen Orlando Bloom as a fighter in fantasy films such as The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Troy, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we see a different performance from Bloom in this film.

Tom Cruise Has A Fair Share Of War Movie Under His Belt

Picture of Tom Cruise
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Known for performing his own stunts and his acting capabilities across a span of different genres, Tom Cruise has also been involved in a few war films which include movies such as Born on the Fourth of July, Valkyrie, and The Last Samurai.

For his performance in the biographical war drama Born on the Fourth of July, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, and the movie was the tenth highest-grossing film of 1989.

Robert De Niro Gives A Gut-Wrenching Performance In The Deer Hunter

Robert De Niro
Universal Studios
Universal Studios

One of the most successful and well-known actors alive, Robert De Niro has won two Academy Awards a Golden Globe Award, the Cecil D. Demille Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

Although he is known for working closely with Martin Scorcese in films that fall into the gangster genre, in 1978, he starred in the epic war drama The Deer Hunter as SSG Michael “Mike” Vronsky. De Niro was a last-minute replacement in the role and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.