The 10 Best Movies About Terrorism

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Terrorism has plagued the world from the early days of civilization, causing fear in the hearts of many and destroying many lives. Terrorists are driven to commit these violent acts against others for many reasons. One of the most common reasons, especially in today’s world, is faith and its relation to modern society as well as clashes with other cultures that teach different values.

Some other common instances of terrorists occur when militia forces spring up in countries in order to overthrow the current rulers through means of destruction and violence. The less common, but much more disturbing type of terrorist, are those who hate humanity and just want to see the world burn.

The films on this list approach the subject of terrorism with extremely different methods. Some follow the lives of the terrorists, showing their mentality and how they wound up the way they are. Others focus on the people and agents in charge of catching and stopping those who are responsible for the acts of destruction.

Some filmmakers narrow the scope further, capturing an intense and realistic account of certain instance of terrorism. Covering many different eras and settings of turmoil, both real and fictitious, this list acts as a thorough portrait of international violence and struggle.

Also, before criticizing the list below, keep in mind that the criminals in Die Hard led by Hans Gruber are thieves, not terrorists.


10. The Rock (Michael Bay, 1996)

The Rock movie

The Rock is famed director Michael Bay’s greatest action film. When ex-military general Francis Hummel and his force capture Alcatraz, threatening to kill San Francisco with biological weapons, someone must stop them.

The FBI chooses chemical weapon expert Stanley Goodspeed, played by Nicolas Cage, and John Mason, played by Sean Connery, the only prisoner to ever escape from Alcatraz. They are tasked with infiltrating the fortress, rescuing the hostages and disabling the weapons. Jam packed with explosive, high intensity spectacle, the film is a polished action extravaganza.

While Michael Bay has been critically maligned for filling his films with empty action and cliches, this film has more focus and substance than most of his other films. It addresses many complex moral questions, such as Hummel’s motivation for his actions and the details behind Mason’s imprisonment.

The action in the movie is also more important and well constructed than some of his more bloated pictures. The car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco is especially impressive and stimulating. The Rock is an exceptional example of a pure action film meant to excite and thrill.

Although the events of the film obviously never happened, the main plotline of the film is possible, and more importantly captures the real feeling of how helpless terrorists can make cities feel.

The backstory behind Hummel, who claims that the government forgot its promise to a group of soldiers under his command, is also an intriguing and believable backstory for a loyal patriot turned terrorist. Although the terrorism takes a much lighter and blockbuster tone, its message still shines through in addition to the thrills.


9. The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977)

The Spy Who Loved Me

Roger Moore’s third outing as James Bond was also his greatest. In this film, Agent 007 must team up with beautiful KGB Agent Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach, in order to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of missing nuclear submarines from America, both Britain and Russia.

They discover that the shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg has been stealing the nuclear missiles and plans to start a global atomic war while he waits in his underwater utopia “Atlantis” until it finishes. Along the way the two agents learn to put aside their differences and fall in love.

While the plot of this Bond film is not so different from others in that it features a terrorist hell-bent on destroying the world through ludicrous methods, several aspects make it stand out. For one, the romantic relationship between Bond and Amasova is much more complex than most of his flings in the other movies.

There is even some development of Bond’s character which is usually left out of the films. The film also introduces one of Bond’s most iconic bad guys, Jaws, who possesses super strength and a set of steel teeth that can bite through anything.

Other than story related aspects, the film also stands out from most older James Bond films for is its artistic visual appearance and style, particularly its scenes in Egypt and the enormous sets used for Stromberg’s bases. It also featured the hit song “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon for the opening credits. Mixing the perfect amount of thrills and action with the typical British humor and charm associated with Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me is a terrific action film featuring the threat of terrorists on the world.


8. Air Force One (Wolfgang Petersen, 1997)

Air Force One

This high intensity action movie stars Harrison Ford as President of the United States James Marshall. During a trip with his family and associates, the presidential jet Air Force One becomes hijacked by a group of Russian terrorists.

The terrorists, led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), take the first family and many important leaders hostage, threatening to execute them if they do not get their demands met. Unknown to the terrorists, however, is that President Marshall hid on the plane during the hijacking. With his ex-military skills, Marshall slowly takes control of his plane and saves his family.

Petersen, an acclaimed director of films like Das Boot, adeptly handles this exciting thriller. Featuring well polished and edited action sequences and high tension scenarios, the film is a thrilling and cunning battle between one man and a whole group of terrorists. It also features many great performances, especially from Ford, Oldman and Glenn Close who plays the Vice President put in charge during the national crisis. Air Force One is a well constructed, non-stop American action film.

Even though Petersen’s film takes the shape of an action film more than a political thriller, the implications of the terrorists are never completely overshadowed by the sometimes-unrealistic battle sequences.

Although it is unlikely that a president would be adept enough to take out an entire force of terrorists, or that terrorists could ever take over Air Force One to begin with, the threat to national security is always relevant. Both topical as well as an extremely tense action showdown between Ford and Oldman, Air Force One is a notable addition to the terrorist genre.


7. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

zero dark thirty

Bigelow’s first film following her major hit The Hurt Locker is similar set in the Middle East. It follows a CIA agent named Maya, played by Jessica Chastain in an Academy Award nominated role, who has worked her entire career as an agent to catch Osama Bin Laden. Tracking Maya through various investigative methods and techniques, the film shows the complexity of the actions necessary for America to hunt down Osama Bin Laden over the ten years when he was active.

Coming out less than two years after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the film both drew much interest and controversy. Rarely, if ever, had the public been privy to such important classified tactics so soon after the event took place, leading to much popularity for the film.

The climactic raid on Bin Laden’s compound especially drew attention, due to its close depiction of the actual events. Controversy was also brought upon by the focus on torture, which various critics claimed to be overly critical while others said the film exaggerated its effectiveness.

Nominated for five Academy Awards, Zero Dark Thirty was praised for its grittiness and accurate depiction of CIA operations as well as thrilling action sequences. Although part of its popularity was certainly due to the timeliness of its release, with Bin Laden’s death still fresh in the public’s mind, it stands strong as a well crafted terrorist thriller. Even though it is a dramatization, due to confidentiality, Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most fascinating depictions of secret government work in modern times.


6. Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)


From the creators of South Park comes this audacious, offensive and hysterical commentary on the American government and terrorism, as well as the blockbuster action films of Hollywood.

Filmed with marionettes, Trey Parker and Matt stone voice various characters of a squad of elite American military agents tasked with stopping terrorist forces from attacking America. A new threat arises when Kim Jong-Il organizes a team of forces to take down America and Team America must group together in order to save the day.

The film is one of the most irreverent and outrageous comedies of the 21st century, featuring blatant and frequent racist stereotypes, graphic puppet sex scenes and similar crass humor. It also features goofy musical numbers, laughable special effects and ridiculous impressions which all contribute to the film’s incredible satire and atmosphere. The self aware sense of humor and completely offensive material shocked many reviewers but the film still garnered critical acclaim and a box office success.

While Team America is the only comedy film that deals with terrorism on this list, it still speaks immensely on the international issue as well as the foreign policy of the U.S. government. Parker and Stone manage to pack as much importance in their ludicrous film as many serious, reality-based films can. Over the line to some viewers but universally acclaimed for its genius comical satire, Team America: World Police provides both political messages as well as constant laughs.