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Top war-themed movies on Blu-ray

To celebrate all things military, we've rounded up the best war movies on Blu-ray to watch over the Anzac long weekend.

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Michelle Starr
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
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1 of 18 Reel

Breaker Morant

With Anzac Day in just a few days, we wanted to present you with a list of some of the best Aussie war movies on Blu-ray.

Alas, it wasn't to be: great classics such as Gallipoli, Kokoda, 1915, Australians at War and Blood Oath are only available on DVD ... if at all.

However, there are a couple available and we have managed to scrape together a collection of Blu-ray war films for you to enjoy over the long weekend as we remember our heroes, both past and present.

We don't know the precise details of the story of Harry "Breaker" Morant. We do know that he was involved in the summary execution of Boer prisoners and a German missionary during the Second Boer War; and that he was subsequently tried and condemned to death as a war criminal for murder. Nevertheless, he has become an Australian folk hero, and the film Breaker Morant casts him as a selfless hero who killed the prisoners to draw attention away from worse crimes being committed by his superior officers.

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2 of 18 Paramount Home Entertainment

Saving Private Ryan

It is 1944. The Allies are invading Normandy. Meanwhile, feeling a gesture of goodwill is needed, the US army decides to locate and send home to his mother the one surviving brother of the four Ryan boys — missing somewhere in the Normandy war zone. The film follows one small squad tracking the lad down, but Saving Private Ryan is saved from mawkish sentimentality by its raw and bloody depictions of the horrors of battle, in particular its hellacious opening sequence.

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3 of 18 Warner Home Video

Letters From Iwo Jima

The tale of the Battle of Iwo Jima, immortalised by Joe Rosenthal's photo of the raising of the US flag, was first told by Clint Eastwood in Flags of Our Fathers. Letters from Iwo Jima is its companion film, and it tells the same tale — from the perspective of the Japanese instead of the Americans. It serves to highlight that every story has two sides, and it humanises the "enemy", showing the futility of the struggle from the Japanese perspective with empathy and the plight of the expendable. If you can, try to get a copy of Flags of Our Fathers and watch them both together.

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4 of 18 Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Jarhead

You don't have to enter combat to be shaken by a war, and Jarhead, based on Anthony Swofford's memoir of the Gulf War in 1991, tells the story of a band of US Marines stationed in the Middle East awaiting deployment. They have trained hard; but instead of putting their skills to use, they are left frustrated, disappointed, isolated and bored — and in a constant state, nevertheless, of tension. This affects them all in different ways, but not a man of them leaves unchanged. And, in pointing out the failings of military bureaucracy, Jarhead leaves you with an ultimate sense of complete and utter pointlessness.

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5 of 18 Icon Film Distribution

We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers is probably a war film more like a Hollywood war film than the rest of the titles on this list. It has a character-driven story led by a cast of stars, heroic action and a more-or-less triumphant conclusion (except for the dead guys). Except that it's about the first major engagement the US entered in the Vietnam War ... a war from which the US was to eventually withdraw, being outnumbered on extremely hostile territory. Most of the film is action, which looks great in Blu-ray HD, but We Were Soldiers also manages to bring you close to the individuals on the front line.

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6 of 18 Eagle Entertainment

Battle for Haditha

On 19 November 2005, 24 Iraqi men, women and children were killed by US Marines in the western Iraq city of Haditha. Director Nick Bloomberg dramatises the events leading up to the Haditha massacre using a dry documentary style: the aim being to take a step back and attempt to take an objective look at the consequences of war. The actors on the screen are not professional; the cast includes former marines and Iraqi war refugees and the result, though it falters on occasion, is a very different glimpse into what the Iraq conflict was like.

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7 of 18 Warner Home Video

Band of Brothers

For all that Band of Brothers tends to lionise the American troops and the role they played in WWII, it is nevertheless compelling viewing. It follows the experiences of Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army, from training right through to the end of the war. It's based on real-life events, though exaggerated and, while very few of the characters actually stand out in a particular way, it is unflinching from the shock of the Second World War battlefield.

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8 of 18 Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has been a bit hit-and-miss in recent years, but Inglourious Basterds, written in 1998, is a very palpable hit. It's packed with action and the sort of so-over-the-top-you-have-to-laugh violence only Tarantino seems capable of. The plot is as intricate as anything he has produced to date, and the acting is superb. The colour palette of the film is somewhat subdued, echoing the traditional method of shooting in this time period: it's grim and bleak. However, the HD transfer really brings out the details, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is magnificent.

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9 of 18 Roadshow Home Entertainment

The Hurt Locker

The more advanced we grow, the more fraught our battle zones. Set in 2004, The Hurt Locker follows a three-man US Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (bomb squad) team in Iraq, strangers in a strange land where anything or anyone could be rigged to explode.

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10 of 18 Warner Home Video

The Pacific

The Pacific, an HBO sister show to Band of Brothers and filmed partially in Australia, has received criticism from Aussie audiences for its US-centric story, focusing as it does on the US Marines during the fight with Japan in WWII. Nevertheless, it shows a very different side to the war to that shown in Band of Brothers: this is alien territory, and the Allied soldiers have to fight, not only with the enemy, but with the land and the sea as well.

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11 of 18 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Patton

General George S Patton was a divisively controversial figure during the Second World War: he was an excellent leader, but his outspokenness and poor tolerance for fools made his public image difficult to swallow. The 1970 film Patton follows his rise and disgrace, marking along the way his remarkable accomplishments in the war.

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12 of 18 Warner Home Video

The Dirty Dozen

The 1967 film The Dirty Dozen is fictional, but one can easily imagine such a squad existing: twelve convicted felons trained and sent on a suicide mission, with the hope of being exonerated if they survive. The film itself was controversial for its graphic depictions of atrocious violence and its improbability, but nevertheless brought in top box office earnings in its year of release.

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13 of 18 Magna Pacific

WWII Lost Films: WWII in HD

Using contemporary footage, much of which has not been seen by the public, and diaries and first-hand accounts from those who had experienced for themselves the horror of the Second World War, WWII Lost Films: WWII in HD is a comprehensive, deeply personal chronicle of the war. What is particularly impressive is that most of the 455-minute, 10-part documentary was filmed in colour (not later colourised from black-and-white film), and converted to HD. It's not easy viewing, but it's essential for anyone who wants to know about the Second World War.

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14 of 18 Sony Pictures

Black Hawk Down

If you haven't seen Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, don't be fooled by the presence of Josh Hartnett on the slick. This is (like many of the films on this list) a story based on real events, namely the fight for survival of an elite squad of US Delta Force soldiers, Army Rangers and Special Operations Aviation Regiment soldiers after their chopper is downed on a peace-keeping mission in Somalia in 1993. When everything blows up in their faces, the situation devolves into bloody chaos. The film breaks down the events without becoming a propaganda film for the US army, presenting the story in a beautifully shot yet matter-of-fact manner that brings the savagery and bleakness of war into stark relief.

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15 of 18 Paramount Home Entertainment

Beneath Hill 60

Captain Oliver Woodward didn't start out in the army; a metallurgist and mine manager, he wound up with the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company in Europe during World War I, engaged in tunnelling operations beneath German lines. Beneath Hill 60 was adapted from Captain Woodward's diaries and recounts the events when the Company tunnelled under Hill 60 to attempt to place and detonate mines beneath a German bunker.

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16 of 18 Universal Studios Home Entertainment

The Deer Hunter

Three young steelworkers from Pennsylvania enlist in the Vietnam War, but this isn't a story of grand acts of heroism. Divided into three acts, Michael Cimino's film shows the three men before, during and after the war, starkly demonstrating the effects the horror has had on both them and their community. There are gut-wrenching moments, but the focus is not on violence; the emotional impact of the war sends out shockwaves that rock everyone.

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17 of 18 Beyond Home Entertainment

The Eagle Has Landed

The 1976 film The Eagle Has Landed is an audacious action war movie after the classic fashion, the last film by director John Sturges. The Nazis have conceived of a dastardly plot to kidnap Winston Churchill, and it's up to our intrepid heroes to save the day. Starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence as a chilling Himmler, it's a clean and natural-looking transfer to HD, with Dolby Digital Audio. The only shame is that there are no extra features on the disc.

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18 of 18 Madman

Balibo

Balibo is based on a true story. It tells of the controversial deaths of six journalists from Australia, New Zealand and the UK in East Timor before the 1975 invasion by Indonesia. The Balibo Five were killed in October; Roger East, played by Anthony LaPaglia, was the sixth journalist, killed in December after travelling to East Timor to investigate the deaths of his colleagues. It's not a perfect film, but it's much more solid than director Robert Connolly's previous two offerings and, shot on location, it has an immediacy and brutality that brings the events to life.

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