Skip to Content

11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia’s Military History!

11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia’s Military History!

As a country with a longstanding tradition in the art of strategy and combat, the history of Russia has inspired many tales of war and consequently Russian war movies. Myths and legends of mighty characters have been written in ink, drawn in pencil, or shot in a film.

War is a thoroughly tragic thing that, sadly, still takes place in today’s world. One doesn’t need to look further than the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. While Russia is the biggest country in Europe and Asia, it’s followed by Ukraine in size.

11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia's Military History!

This smaller country used to be part of Russia back in the time of the Soviet Union, and after much fighting on the part of its people, it achieved independence in 1991. However, the Russian government has been relentlessly trying to get it back: for them, it’s a matter of territory, but for the Ukrainians, it’s a matter of nation.

The ongoing war was sparked for many reasons, and this isn’t the place to explain it. Instead, this list of war films set in Russia will offer a look at the country’s past, with tales of heroism, tragedy, and bloodshed. It’s not a list for the faint of heart.

However, these are necessary movies. Whether you have no ties to the conflict, live in a faraway country that has no side in this war, or are someone very close to the danger, it is important to learn about the past and to keep it alive. To have memory, to know about those things that many people forget, is one of the most important things one can do when it comes to war. These movies will help you do just that.

The war films set in Russia exhibit a profound interplay between their narratives and the evocative settings, providing viewers with an immersive glimpse of this iconic country through the discerning eyes of the directors. These films masterfully weave together the essence of the Russian backdrop with the intricate stories of their main protagonists, yielding an enriched cinematic experience. In our pursuit to honor the art of cinematic travel, we have meticulously curated a collection of exceptional war films, encompassing Australian war movies, American War movies, and Afghan war movies. By delving into these diverse cinematic portrayals, we gain a deeper understanding of past and present conflicts, the individuals involved, and the profoundly human aspects intrinsic to the ravages of war.

Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.

You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.

Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best. 

While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.

11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia's Military History!
11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia's Military History!
11 Best Russian War Movies To Better Understand Russia's Military History!

Come and See [Иди и смотри] (1985)

Come and See, Elem Klimov is one of the best drama films ever. It was shot to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II but had to endure several years of censorship by the Soviet government.

It recounts, through a boy named Flyora Gaishun (Alekséi Krávchenko), the systematic killing of the inhabitants of Belarusian villages during World War II. When the film was shot, Kravchenko was fourteen years old, and it was his debut role.

In 1943, during the Nazi German occupation of Belarus, a 13-year-old village boy desperately searched the battlefields for a rifle to bring to the Soviet partisans to gain acceptance into their ranks. This child will harden progressively as he’s faced with the horrors of this war: the systematic killing of the inhabitants of Belarusian villages during the Second World War. This event will give a decisive turn to his life, and Flyora will change for the worse.

Come and See has come to be considered one of the best films ever. It was so shocking to audiences that ambulances had to be called to take away particularly impressionable viewers, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. Upon its release, the film was awarded the FIPRESCI award at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival.

Ballad of a Soldier [Баллада о солдате] (1959)

Ballad of a Soldier, by Grigori Chujrai, is an uplifting yet tragic movie about the story of many Russian soldiers during World War II. It was very well received in the West, where it won several international awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the Palme d’Or.

The story beings as follows: a nineteen-year-old Private known as Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) is fighting on the Easter Front of World War II. Everything seems to be going wrong in the battle until he manages to destroy two German tanks with his anti-tank rifle by himself. He effectively wins the battle, and everyone congratulates him. The higher-ups want to give him an award, but the only thing that Alyosha wants is a chance to go back to his home. There, his mother is waiting for him.

Ballad of a Soldier will see him traveling back to his house, and along the way, he’ll see the devastation the war has wreaked on the country. The movie’s best part is when Alyosha arrives at his mother’s house. That’s when he’s finally happy. But his happiness does not last long: he has to return to the front immediately. As he goes away, the film’s narrator says he’ll only be remembered as a Russian soldier.

The Cranes Are Flying [Летят журавли] (1957)

The Cranes Are Flying, by Mikhail Kalatozov, tells the story of two young people, Veronika and Boris, who fall in love just before the start of World War II. Both the film and the original work reflect the cruelty of the war and the suffering it caused the Soviet people.

For those who don’t know, the Soviet military didn’t call this war “World War II” as the other countries did. In the Soviet Union, this war was known as the Great Patriotic War. This was the only Soviet film to win a Palme d’Or.

The film is an adaptation of Viktor Rozov’s 1943 play, “Forever Alive.”. It begins on the fatal day of June 22, 1941. Veronika (Tatiana Samoilova) and her boyfriend Boris (Aleksei Batalov) spend a beautiful day together watching the cranes fly over the city. But just a few hours later, they’ll learn that the Nazis are attacking the city. The couple becomes separated, and each has to deal with the war and the loss of their loved one.

Much of the film is focused on Veronika. More than Boris, we see her trying to deal with being left alone, not only because her loved one went to fight at the front line, but because her parents are killed in a German air raid that also destroys the apartment building. Veronika’s character became a symbol of the difficulties that Soviet women had to face during the war and touched the hearts of millions of people in the USSR and outside its borders.

Only “Old Men” Are Going into Battle [В бой идут одни «старики»] (1973)

Only “Old Men” Are Going into Battle, by Leonid Bykov, is one of those classic Soviet war dramas that somehow haven’t had that much success in the rest of the world. The film focuses on one of the many squads of fighter pilots that fought in World War II.

The film’s title is ironic, for, as we see in the beginning, the oldest people in Captain Titarenko’s (Leonid Bykov) squad are people in their twenties. However, they weren’t fresh from flight school: the war forced students to be taught more quickly and effectively, having them graduate as soon as possible to fight and die in the war. The squad may be in their twenties, but they have experienced the heat of battles, the joy of the first victory over the enemy, and the bitterness of loss. 

The story begins in the summer of 1943 at the Battle of the Dnieper. This conflict mostly took place in Ukraine by the river Dnieper. It ended up becoming one of the biggest operations in the war. The film shows the squad of pilots undergoing the latest generational change, with many young boys joining who haven’t yet been able to fight in many armed encounters.

There’s only one requirement to join Captain Titarenko’s squad: you must know how to sing, for they like to spend their time between battles performing for the other soldiers as an amateur choir.

Commissar [Комиссар] (1967)

Commissar, by Aleksandr Askoldov, is one of the best films about the Eastern Front of World War II. It was based on “In the Town of Berdychev”, a short story by Vasily Grossman. Those unaware of his work should know that Grossman was a young man who, after World War II, became a war correspondent for the Red Army, publishing acclaimed first-hand accounts of the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin.

The movie follows the Red Army as they enter a small town in Ukraine that bears traces of combat and seems emptied of its inhabitants. Commissar Klavdia Vavilova (Nonna Mordioukova), is pregnant, and the delivery is coming soon.

To prepare for the baby’s birth, her only option is to stay with one of the locals: Yefim Magazanik (Rolan Bykov), a Jewish blacksmith and father of six children, who holds a grudge against the army. He doesn’t want her in his home, but, despite his pleas, a room is requisitioned to install the commissar, and the entire family of the host crowds into the remaining space.

As the days go by, amid this close-knit family, she discovers another way of living: having a family. She had never wanted to have a child, but now she has fun spending time with children. She becomes a little bit more human through contact with these people. But as the fighting draws closer, she’ll have to choose between staying there and risking the family or going away without her baby.

In the Zone of Special Attention [В зоне особого внимания] (1978)

In the Zone of Special Attention, by Andrei Malyukov, is a cult film that is very loved by Russian audiences, particularly those who are veterans of the army. You may ask yourself why. That is because the film is all about a big training exercise the Russian Airborne Troops put into place to test their strategies against each other. But this exercise is disrupted by several armed criminals who have escaped a nearby prison.

The movie is set in an unspecified area of ​​the USSR, where a large-scale military training maneuver is being carried out. This is how it goes: two parties, “North” and “South”, have to outmaneuver each other and capture the enemy’s headquarters.

The film begins with the “South” deploying three parachute squads, which on the one hand, take over the enemy’s headquarters and, on the other, prepare a landing zone for a general attack from the air. Two of the squads are quickly captured by the “North” side, but the landing one isn’t.

In the Zone of Special Attention follows Lieutenant Tarasov (Boris Galkin), who is in charge of this latter squad, as he’s pursued by a unit led by Major Moreshkin (Anatoly Kuznetsov). As they explore the grounds, the paratroopers encounter a group of criminals who have escaped from custody and have already killed some residents. The troop will fight against the criminals while trying to succeed at the exercise.

They Fought for Their Country [Они сражались за Родину] (1975)

They Fought for Their Country, by Sergei Bondarchuk, tells the story of a group of soldiers defending Stalingrad against the Nazis. It was based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Mikhail Sholokhov, a writer, politician, and senior member of the Communist Party.

In the 1942 attack on Stalingrad, a Red Army rifle regiment is retreating from the German attack through the endless steppes and is stopping at an outwork. The soldiers take the opportunity to rest, chat and swim at a nearby lake.

Two of them catch over a hundred crabs, which they now want to cook, but they don’t have any way to do so. Before they can taste their catch, they have to quickly regroup and begin preparing the ground for a fight in a nearby crossing, where they are supposed to hold until reinforcements arrive.

The film sees them being attacked by German tanks and the soldiers that follow. This attack is repelled, but this is immediately followed by another aircraft attack, which in turn is followed by the tanks. They fight without mercy, all the while getting help from the nearby villagers.

When calm returns, the wounded are collected and operated on. Of the whole regiment, 27 men remain capable of fighting, and most of them are dead. The film ends with the arrival of new, unused soldiers and technology so that the turning point in the Second World War can be initiated.

The Ascent [Восхождение] (1977)

The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko, is a black-and-white film based on the novel “Sotnikov” by Vasil Bykaŭ. It tells the story of a group of Russian refugees who flee the Germans. Since the original story takes place in a remote Russian village during the winter, the movie was filmed in those same conditions.

It is worth noting that the director of this film is a woman, something that is not seen every day in Russian cinema. She won the Golden Bear at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival, becoming the second woman to achieve this honor. 

On the Eastern Front in Belarus, Soviet partisans flee from the Germans in deep snow into a forest. The group also consists of women, children, and old people. The rations are gone. Red Army officer Sotnikov and partisan Rybak are chosen to go to nearby farms to gather food. Sotnikov is seriously ill and has difficulty dragging himself through the snow. Without Rybak’s help, he would have no chance of surviving the long journey.

They are captured and taken to the city where the Germans have set up their main camp. There they are interrogated and tortured by the Russian Nazi interrogator Portnow. The terminally ill Sotnikov resists the torture and remains silent. Rybak seeks a way to continue living and commits treason. After the execution, Rybak cannot bear his guilt. He looks for a way to escape but cannot find it.

War and Peace [Война и мир] (1966)

War and Peace, by Sergei Bondarchuk, is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Russian literature. The original book is considered one of Tolstoy’s greatest literary achievements and remains an internationally lauded classic of world literature.

The director became famous for managing to film an adaptation of such a classic. This film, whose total original footage exceeded five hours, took seven years to complete and won Bondarchuk the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1968. It ended up being released as a series of four parts, following the parts of the book itself.

War and Peace have a wide cast of characters, most of whom are introduced in the first part. Some are actual historical figures, such as the Emperors Napoleon and Alexander I. Others are fictional Russians. The story’s scope is very broad, although it focuses on the lives of five Russian aristocratic families. The plot and the interaction of the characters take place around 1812, in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia by French troops.

There are three characters to highlight. Andrés Bolkonski enters the army and participates in the battles of Austerlitz, Schöngraben, and Borodino, and in the latter, he is wounded and dies. Nicholas Rostov, also a soldier, survives the war. After Napoleon’s expulsion from Moscow, he marries Andrew’s sister Maria. Pedro Bezukhov, finally, lives the war from afar. He has to overcome several existential crises until he finally falls in love with Natacha Rostov.

Alexander Nevsky [Алекса́ндр Не́вский] (1938)

Alexander Nevsky was directed by Serguéi Einsestein, one of the most important film directors in history, known as the father of editing as we know it today. Its popularity deepened later with the success of Battleship Potemkin (1925), rated one of the greatest films of all time.

The film tells the story of the invasion of the 13th-century Novgorod Republic by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire. This invasion did not occur since Prince Alexander Nevski promptly defeated them at the Battle of Lake Peipus. The film focuses on Alexander, his story, and his legacy.

The film begins in Russia in 1242. The Mongols occupy parts of the country, and another threat approaches Novgorod from the west. A force of the Teutonic Order and its affiliated Order of the Brothers of the Sword has already taken the strategically important city of Pskov, where the invaders rule with extreme brutality. Now the hour has come for the Novgorod Prince Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky.

First, he succeeds in strengthening the will to fight and the feeling of togetherness in his compatriots and spreading confidence in victory. Ultimately, the battle on Lake Peipus was of decisive importance. Under Nevsky’s leadership, the troops of the Knights of the Order are lured onto the frozen lake and then crushed there. Nevsky is enthusiastically celebrated at the end of the film.

Ivan’s Childhood [Иваново детство] (1962)

Ivan’s Childhood is a classic of Russian cinema. The legendary Andréi Tarkovsky directed it as his feature film debut. Those unfamiliar with Tarkovsky should know that he is considered one of the most important and influential authors of Russian cinema and one of the greatest in cinema history.

This film was based on the short story known only as Ivan (Иван), published in 1957 by Vladimir Bogomolov. In his international debut, Tarkovsky received the Golden Lion in Venice, the first Soviet filmmaker to do so.

The front line between the Red Army and the German force, marked by the Dnieper River, is the film’s main setting. The 12-year-old Ivan, briefly immersed in a bright childhood dream, wakes up alone in a dark hiding place and, under cover of the oncoming darkness, stalks through a swampy forest towards that river.

On the opposite bank, he was picked up by Soviet soldiers and taken to the young Lieutenant Galzew. Ivan refuses any information and demands that the head of the reconnaissance report that he, Bondarev, is back.

Captain Cholin arrives that night, greeted enthusiastically by Ivan. He belongs to the reconnaissance staff, in whose service the boy spy on the German troops. Ivan’s most recent mission is overshadowed by the deaths of the two soldiers sent to pick him up in a boat.

Therefore, he had to swim in the river. That’s when we learn that Ivan is a war orphan who has lost his father, mother, and sister. He escaped from a German death camp and ended up finding his place in the army, which he is now defending with all his might.