Black war movies with primarily black casts are rare in Hollywood. Most Black military movies on this list profile one Black military veteran, but a few tell African-American stories and stories based on history.
The best war movies also show realistic troops with Black characters and at least one or two main characters. Black people have always fought in wars and been instrumental in victories. The best movies show military diversity with honesty.
Glory features a primarily Black cast to tell the true story of the first Black unit during the Civil War. Actors who went on to fame from this movie include Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Denzel Washington.
This story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment fighting for the North was Washington’s big break. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film and became one of the most in-demand actors of any color in Hollywood.
Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Famed Black director Spike lee tells a murder mystery in one of the most realistic Black army movies you can see. The film takes place in Italy during its WWII German occupation and focuses on the 92nd Infantry, a real-life army division that fought in both World Wars.
One of four Black soldiers saves a young Italian boy’s life. Michael Ealy is one of the stars of this film that depicts them fighting their way free from behind enemy lines.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now is one of Francis Ford Coppola’s most famous films. This movie earned eight Academy Award nominations and is frequently hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made.
Marlon Brando plays a Special Forces Colonel in Cambodia who’s lost his grip on reality. Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen also star. This film makes the list of the best Black army movies because of its realistic portrayal of war and the number of Black characters in the troops.
Laurence Fishburne appeared in the film as a young riverboat crew member. Fishburne was 14 at the time.
Courage Under Fire (1996)
Courage Under Fire is another of the Black army movies with Denzel Washington in a leading role. Meg Ryan plays Karen Walden. Walden is a captain killed in action while trying to rescue a downed helicopter crew.
Washington’s character must investigate her death as a friendly fire incident, something he accidentally caused while on active duty during the Gulf War in 1991.
He uncovers something more sinister than an accident and has to fight against the entire bureaucracy of the U.S. Army to reveal the truth.
Home of the Brave (2006)
This movie features Samuel L. Jackson in a leading role as a doctor trying to adjust to civilian life again after a tour in Iraq. Three other soldiers come back from the Middle East and struggle to regain their lives.
Aiken is one of the four characters, played by Black star Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who struggles with health issues that the VA won’t cover as his life slowly self-destructs.
A Soldier’s Story (1984)
A Soldier’s Story is one of the Black army movies with a Black lead character played so well you can barely look away from the screen. The film has a primarily black cast with actors like David Alan Grier, Robert Townsend, and Denzel Washington.
Howard Rollins, Jr. is a military investigator who must learn the truth about the murder of a Black soldier at the end of WWII.
Racism is depicted realistically in this film set during a tumultuous time for race relations and segregation in the backwoods of rural Louisiana. This movie earned three Academy Award nominations.
Carter’s Army (Black Brigade) (1970)
Carter’s Army was one of the Black war movies set during the Blaxploitation film era in the 1970s. Unlike most Blaxploitation films, Carter’s Army was made for television and aired as the ABC Movie of the Week.
This movie starred many Black actors who later became famous. The cast included Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, and Rosey Grier.
Carter’s Army tells the story of an all-Black squad who need to secure a dam in Nazi Germany. The soldiers have never seen action and, because of racism and ignorance, did little in the service but menial jobs.
A racist, redneck officer is put in charge of the squad and has to lead them to success in a mission that could prolong the war if they fail. This film is one of the Black military movies that shows the determination and fighting spirit of troops persecuted for being Black.
The title changed to Black Brigade for the DVD release.
Buffalo Soldiers (1997)
Danny Glover plays Washington Wyatt, a slave liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of the Civil War. Wyatt joins the first Black unit in the army known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo Soldiers were a real-life Black cavalry troop assigned to protect the Western territories after the war who had a racist commanding officer and colonel. The troop leaders also had no respect for the Native American tribes that white people pushed from their lands.
The film was made for TV and received three Emmy nominations.
Crimson Tide (1995)
Another Denzel Washington film, Crimson Tide, features him as the First Officer on a U.S. nuclear missile submarine with a racist, megalomaniac captain played by Gene Hackman.
Gene Hackman’s Ramsey resents Washington’s character, Hunter, for his college education after working his way up the chain of command without one. Hunter has to relieve the captain and take over to prevent a nuclear disaster with Russia. He also has to fight the other men aboard the submarine who side with their old captain.
The performances by Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman make this one of the most entertaining Black military movies you can watch.
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)
This HBO film has a primarily Black cast with powerhouse actors like Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Andre Braugher, Courtney B. Vance, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Allen Payne.
The Tuskegee Airmen tells the story of the real Tuskegee Airmen who were the first Black U.S. Army combat pilots back in WWII.
This film depicts what the pilots had to endure to achieve their dreams. Not only did they risk their lives in the air for their country, but they had to fight racism to be allowed to do it.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
This film tells the story of Zack Mayo, played by a young Richard Gere, and his experience at the Aviation Officer Candidate School for the Navy. The movie also follows the growing love affair between Mayo and Debra Winger’s Paula.
What makes this one of the best Black war movies is the number of Black characters depicted in the movie and the stunning performance by Louis Gosset Jr. as the Sergeant instructing Mayo in his training.
Gosset’s depiction of Sergeant Emil Foley is a stand-out portrayal that made him the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also won the Golden Globe for the role.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Black actor Anthony Mackie played Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, in the Captain America movies. Sam became the first Black Captain America in the TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Long before that, he starred in this film as Sergeant J. T. Sanborn with another Marvel superhero actor, Jeremy Renner, who depicts Hawkeye in the Marvel superhero films.
Renner plays a soldier good at bomb disposal but with a short fuse himself who puts Sanborn and others at risk when they’re close to being done with their tour of duty.
Men of Honor (2000)
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in this film that tells the true story of Carl Brashear, a sharecropper in 1948 who joined the Navy and fought prejudice and bureaucracy to become the first Black Master Diver in that arm of military service.
The character of Brashear also appears in another war movie, Pearl Harbor. Robert De Niro also stars in this film as Master Chief Billy Sunday. Sunday is a racist officer who tries to keep Brashear from reaching his dreams.
Despite being at odds, Gooding Jr.’s and De Niro’s characters are men of honor who cross paths later and find common ground.
Antwone Fisher (2002)
Powerhouse Black actor Denzel Washington made his directorial debut in this film. Antwone Fisher is one of the many Black military movies Washington starred in that depicts a true story.
Fisher served in the U.S. Navy after years of abuse, including sexual abuse as a child by his foster parents and their daughter. Washington plays Davenport, a psychiatrist who tries to help Fisher during his Mexican jail stay.
The movie follows Antwone as he transforms from a bitter and violent young man to someone determined to make a life for himself and let go of the past. He’s reunited with his mother through his friendship with Davenport, making this a touching redemption story.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
This Spike Lee film tells the story of four Black veterans who go back to Vietnam for a cache of gold bars that the United States forces paid to the South Vietnamese allies. They also want to find the body of their fellow soldier who died there.
Lee shows how the Vietcong used leaflets to show people the racism and prejudice in America. They exploited events like Dr. King’s assassination to turn the Vietnamese people against Americans.
Da 5 Bloods is one of the Black war movies that doesn’t shy away from showing racism and prejudice. On the contrary, it uses them to help tell a compelling story.
Best Black War Movies Ever, Final Thoughts
These Black war movies represent some of the best and most thoughtful depictions of Black military service members on screen. Whether you like true stories and history or imaginative perspectives on what life is like for Black soldiers, you’ll find something on this list to educate and entertain you.