Whether the war is un-justified or not, we must always honor the brave men and women serving our country in the military. They put their lives on the line. War is also a complicated endeavor to get into that can bring out not just the best but also the worst in us. People can commit horrific acts in war with politicians sitting behind desks. It is unfortunate soldiers are at times treated like monsters by society. That is wrong. Always respect the people fighting for our freedom. In honor of Memorial Day weekend, these are my Top 10 U.S.A. War Movies. I have excluded any war films not centered around the U.S.A. There are so many greats from so many countries when it comes to war films. This is about our home-country. We’re talking about our triumphs as well as dire mistakes.
10. “Glory” (1989):
The most casualties in American history took place on our own soil. While still in its infancy as a country, the Civil War pitted friends and families against each other in the fight to end slavery and keep the country unified. North vs. South was a grueling multi-year fight that has ramifications as far as racial tensions to this day. Perhaps the best recreation on screen is “Glory“. Based on the first black regiment of soldiers in history, “Glory” highlighted soldiers fighting not just for their side but also for the right to be free. The moment when Denzel Washington lets a tear go while being whipped by a white soldier is all time great.
9. “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987):
It is hard to argue the most controversial war in American history was when we invaded Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism. Many American lives were lost for no reason. The legendary Robin Williams brought a bit of humor into the dire situation with the 1987 comedy “Good Morning, Vietnam”. A long-time supporter and entertainer for military overseas, Williams shines as a hilarious radio announcer as an escape for soldiers in dire straits. The hire up officers are not happy, but the soldiers on the front lines love the hi-jinks Williams has always been known for listening before hitting the battle field. While real life situations hit hard for both sides, “Good Morning, Vietnam” does its best to cheer up veterans who went through awful circumstances.
8. “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012):
Before Covid-19, before the first black president, 9/11 happened. It was a game changer. The first attack on continental soil shook not just the country but also the entire world. The military police force super power named America got hit hard without even seeing it. From there, a massive hunt to find the orchestrator Osama Bin Laden was underway. It took years and many levels of security and government to even get close before marines were finally able to get in there and kill the S.O.B. Director Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for a modern day war movie in “The Hurt Locker” (Beat her cheating ex-husband James Cameron out, haha!). For me,“Zero Dark Thirty” is the ultimate look at modern warfare. A team with every on the books as well as off the books government agencies spent more than a decade trying to find the terrorist. At the core is Jessica Chastain, doing everything possible to find where Bin Laden is hiding. After convincing a room full of men this complex is where Bin Laden is, a tense 20-plus-minute siege that ends in Bin Laden’s death is both visceral as well as realistic. Some claimed “Zero Dark Thirty” was a sham because it depicts U.S. soldiers and agents torturing prisoners. Yeah, sure we don’t. But ultimately, we got him. It took a while, but those brave soldiers got the job done in the end.
7. “The Thin Red Line” (1998):
When speaking with former veterans, most are not huge fans of Terence Malick’s WWII epic re-enactment of the battle of Guadacanal in “The Thin Red Line”. From what I have heard, the majestically beautiful imagery does not represent what it was like to be fighting in Japan. Admittedly I have no experience in battle so no way to relate. However, as a film critic I believe that Malick’s take is centered around the moments that surround war. There are a few gun fights, highlighted by a wonderfully shot scene with soldiers using tall grass to elude the enemy. So many stars were a part of this movie that I can’t even name them all. Seriously, look up the cast list because it is ridiculous. In the end, Malick made perhaps the most meditative piece on countries killing each other ever.
6. “Kelly’s Heroes” (1970):
No character name encapsulates a movie better than Odd-Ball (Donald Sutherland). After capturing a German Colonel, American Lieutenant Kelly (Clint Eastwood) gets the prisoner drunk and discovers where a large amount of gold bullion is to be transported across the border into France during WWII. With this information, Kelly puts together a band of misfits known as “Kelly’s Heroes” in order to steal the gold and become rich. Obviously the plan does not go perfect to say the least with Kelly recruiting outcasts to help steal the loot. But the journey is a ton of fun with the action never being too serious. Odd-Ball helming a tank is comedy gold.
5. “Platoon” (1986):
Leave it up to a great filmmaker such as Oliver Stone who actually served to make an amazing as well as completely f-up take on war. “Platoon”centers on the awful things our soldiers did as well as what was done to them during Vietnam. The story is mainly focused on two platoon Sergeants trying to lead the young men tasked to them without allowing them to lose their sanity. Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) is a total nutcase and un-fraid to kill the gooks. Sgt. Elias (Willem DaFoe) is a bit eccentric but also not on a mission to annihilate a population. In it’s own violent way, “Platoon” shows both sides of combat and how there are no winners.
4. “Restrepo” (2010):
Years after 9/11 and before the rise of ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan were still king of terrorist organizations in the early 2000’s. Director Tim Hetherington and his fellow crew spent a full year with soldiers in what was considered the deadliest valley for troops in the region. The 503rd Infantry Combat Team was tasked with fighting back Taliban forces at its stronghold titled “Restrepo”. The documentary highlights the struggles that men faced while stuck in a small camp as well as gunfire and deaths on both sides. After a brief period of time, all the brave soldiers want to do is get back to their families.
3. “The Great Escape” (1963):
Now what’s war without prison camps? The legendary Steve McQueen led a cast of ‘B’ list stars and several hundred extras in “The Great Escape”. Having been imprisoned in a conceived in-escapable German facility with an a-hole dictator of a warden “just following orders” at the helm, the crew of soldiers from various countries are determined to break free. After careful discussion the best idea is to literally dig their way out. A very mathematical strategy combined with hard labor creates a system that eventually sets some of the prisoners free. Not everyone gets away, but the chase as well as how the prisoners fool the Nazi’s is very clever. The highlight is the iconic McQueen riding his motorcycle over a barbed wire fence. Classic action/adventure stuff in honor of P.O.W.’s.
2. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998):
It is hard to keep repeating the same movie on different list’s. But it’s the truth. “Saving Private Ryan” is, and I mean this with no disrespect, an example of America f-ing stuff up for the right reasons. Director Steven Spielberg crafted a grueling portrayal of war-time action, starting with the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Yet, at its core, “Saving Private Ryan” is about bringing the last remaining son home to his mother while everyone else around is dropping like flies. It is just one man versus the lives of a platoon of course. But sometimes doing the right thing is good, even if it costs your life.
1. “Apocalypse Now” 1979:
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” is not about battle. It is not about shooting each other. It is not about enemy versus enemy. Instead, it is about the chaos that is war and how that affects one psyche. A young drunkard Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is tasked with going down the river to hunt a rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has picked up a following of local villagers. The basic to more complex surreal nature of the Vietnam War is “Apocalypse Now”. Millions of soldiers killed for no reason. And the ones that came back were not the same. Imagine being 20 and a Lt. Colonel such as Kilgore (Robert Duvall) tells you; “I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING. SMELLS LIKE VICTORY.” Not the most inspiring words for a soldier simply trying to live his life and survive.