It’s Veteran’s Day and we’re celebrating by compiling a list of our favorite films centered around the military. Whether it’s the Army storming a beach, the Navy hunting an enemy sub, or the Marines carrying out back ops in the middle of the night, these are the films that we think best capture the spirit of the armed forces.
LIST CRITERIA: The film must be focused on the American Military, it is our holiday obviously… sorry Das Boot.
PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)
What’s it about?: A look into the campaigns led by the controversial general George S. Patton during WWII.
Why should I watch it?: George C. Scott is incredible and watching him own the part of Patton is enthralling. For being the longest film of the list, it flies by and leaves you wanting more.
APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
What’s it about?: During the Vietnam War a Captain takes a group of soldiers into Cambodia to track down and kill a renegade Colonel.
Why should I watch it?: It’s considered by many to be a masterpiece in cinema and for good reason. It’s a disheveled look at a group of men headed into a downward spiral of complete insanity and turmoil. The story just gets darker and more disturbed the further into it you go, and spoiler, it doesn’t have a happy ending.
PLATOON (Oliver Stone, 1986)
What’s it about?: A young soldier is thrown head first into the Vietnam War and is ill-equipped to handle the brutality he faces from the enemy, his fellow soldiers, and himself.
Why should I watch it?: Arguably Oliver Stone’s best movie, Platoon is an anti-war film, but one that handles the subject matter with honesty and balance. The duality of man is on display as one looks at Chris Taylor’s journey into the bush, where in order to achieve peace, you have to go to war.
FULL METAL JACKET (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)
What’s it about?: Follow a group of soldiers who first, go through the intense rigors of boot camp, and then into the shit as they head to Vietnam.
Why should I watch it?: Kubrick’s wartime masterpiece (Paths of Glory being a very close second) shows you the horrors of combat but also takes you into the mindframe required in order to handle it. The film, like Sgt. Hartman, will do its best to break you down and prepare you for war. The characters are all some of the most memorable within the genre and the pacing is perfection.
CRIMSON TIDE (Tony Scott, 1995)
What’s it about?: Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman go head to head aboard a nuclear sub. As one tries to stop the other from carrying out unclear orders that could have disastrous effects.
Why should I watch it?: The late great Tony Scott’s most popular film about the military is Top Gun, but his best film about the military is Crimson Tide. Sorry Tom Cruise. This film executes the whole pressure cooker storyline perfectly but it also does it in the quintessential location for such a story… a submarine. The casting is amazing and Denzel and Hackman deliver their A game.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
What’s it about?: After storming the beach at Normandy a group of soldiers are tasked with retrieving a trooper that is unaware all his brothers were killed in action.
Why should I watch it?: Spielberg, the guy can direct a movie. This one is no different. Known for being overly realistic at times, Saving Private Ryan changed the way combat scenes were filmed in the 2000s. Its mark is clearly seen on a ton of films that followed, Black Hawk Down, Enemy at the Gates, and We Were Soldiers, just to name a few.
THIN RED LINE (Terrence Malick, 1998)
What’s it about?: Terrence Malick’s interpretation of the events that unfolded at Guadalcanal as told in the autobiography of James Jones.
Why should I watch it?: As Saving Private Ryan was taking the cinematic world by storm, there was another war film that came out the same year that is dramatically different. Malick masterfully showcases war in a light that honestly, I’ve never seen done before in film. It contrasts the horrors of war with the beauty one could find around it. Never in a hurry, Malick places the viewer into the fatigues of the soldiers and shows you captivating scenery that often gets left out of other films. Thin Red Line explores the meaning of life and death during war and makes for an excellent counterpart to some of the others on this list.
RESCUE DAWN (Werner Herzog, 2006)
What’s it about?: An airman crashes behind enemy lines and must survive imprisonment while planning escape.
Why should I watch it?: Herzog is my favorite director, so there’s no way I’m not including this. But just because I’m a fanboy, doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. Bale rocks out a performance that’s unbelievable and the escape is absolutely crazy. It’s based on a true story, which Herzog also made a documentary about called Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which you should watch after.
THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
What’s it about?: A bomb squad acquires a new Sergeant who is a bit of a maverick and finds himself bumping heads with the rest of the unit.
Why should I watch it?: I wanted to include some modern military films into the list and this is one of my favorites. Bigelow does a solid job showcasing the Iraq War and its complexities. The cinematography and production are big stand outs in the film. Round that off with a high caliber cast and you’ve got yourself one hell of a movie.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
What’s it about?: A group of American soldiers hunt down Nazis in occupied France during WWII.
Why should I watch it?: I know the focus of this list is on the American military and while Brad Pitt, The Bear Jew, and the rest of the Nazi hunters are great… I wanna talk about Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Waltz destroys in this film. His performance in the first 20 minutes of Inglorious Basterds is pure perfection and showcases why him and Tarantino get first class tickets on the hype train.
LONE SURVIVOR (Peter Berg, 2013)
What’s it about?: The retelling of a failed mission by US marines in Afghanistan and their fight to survive.
Why should I watch it?: War is ugly, and Berg captures that in Lone Survivor. Going in, I knew what would happen, most people do, but waiting for it all to transpire was nerve racking. When the battle ensues, I was locked in and engaged like no other modern war film has ever done.
This list was hard, there are tons of great films that deserve a spot. Here are some others to check out:
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Great Escape
Paths of Glory
The Deer Hunter
Zero Dark Thirty
Black Hawk Down