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The greatest ‘men on a mission’ movies ever made

April 18, 20242 Mins Read

You know the score: a band of men, either fearless elite heroes, nothing-to-lose desperadoes or something in between, who are recruited on a highly dangerous mission by their superiors, where the chances of success are low, the odds of death high and the likelihood of a traitor or coward lurking in their midst almost definite. 

Here are ten of the best that ever emerged from Hollywood, set everywhere from Europe in WWII, but also Alcatraz Island, Britain, southern Africa and even outer space. The only thing that unites them is that they’re all rightly regarded as classics; The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare will have its work cut out to join them. 

1. The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Although there were plenty of stiff-upper-lip WWII adventure films made in the Forties and Fifties, it’s J Lee Thompson’s epic action picture that defined the men-on-a-mission genre as we know it today. Based on Alistair Maclean’s bestselling novel, it contains many of the ingredients that have become iconic over the decades, from the all-star cast (Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and Richard Harris amongst them) to its straightforward but rousing plot, in which an elite gang of Allied commandoes are dispatched by British intelligence to destroy two imposing guns on the Aegean island of Navarone. 

It comes on like a less morally complicated cousin of Bridge on the River Kwai (from the same screenwriter, Carl Foreman) and manages a hugely effective combination of explosive action and “who’s the turncoat” suspense, before building to an exciting and rousing climax. The sequel, Force Ten from Navarone (1978), has its charms (including an early appearance from Harrison Ford), but cannot hold a candle to the original. 

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