On the day where we officially honor our service heroes (I hope you all honor these amazing people every day), here are my favorite military movies, in no particular order.
“A Few Good Men” (1992)
This movie is the 1992 USA Basketball “Dream Team” equivalent in the casting department. “A Few Good Men” has Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, and (the late and great) J.T. Walsh. I mean, I can’t think of better cast in any movie.
What makes this movie great: The dialogue is truly amazing. Writer Aaron Sorkin really created a work of art. Add in the direction of Rob Reiner (“Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride”) in creating great courtroom drama and you get pretty much a perfect movie. There is no real action in this movie —all the drama and movie magic is created by the dialogue and the actors.
Iconic Scene: The Col. Nathan R. Jessep’s (Nicholson) “you can’t handle the truth” speech is just spectacular.
“Full Metal Jacket” (1987)
I have seen a ton of movies about the military, but “Full Metal Jacket” is the most authentic of what basic training was truly like.
What makes this movie great: Stanley Kubrick (one of the best directors of all time) really captures the complexity of the Vietnam War. He shows you how the soldiers felt about the war and the hard situation they were put into. It is a real look into what it means to serve. As a soldier, you may not agree with politics or even want to be there, but you do your job and support your fellow soldiers.
Iconic Scene (NSFW): Gunnery SGT. Hartman’s (R. Lee E. Ermey) Welcome speech to the platoon is so good that I don’t think I blinked for those seven minutes. Every Drill Sargent I ever came across used his material from this speech and that is the ultimate compliment.
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
This the greatest World War II movie ever made. Steven Spielberg said that this was an ode to the greatest generation. It totally is, and captures the sacrifices made by these great men!
What makes this movie great: The mix of heart-stopping war action, perfect dialogue, and human drama just really draws you in. This is almost a 3-hour movie and you hardly notice.
Iconic Scene: The attack on Omaha Beach opening battle is spectacular. Your senses are on edge there is so much going on. Spielberg portrays that sense of confusion and disorientation, you cant help and wonder how anyone could’ve survived that battle.
I love this movie! The story of the Massachusetts all-black Volunteer Company that goes from being slaves to free men, then to soldiers and volunteering to fight. It made Denzel Washington a star, and it launched Morgan Freeman’s career.
What makes this movie great: Seeing the transformation of the characters from ex-slaves to a high-functioning infantry company is really rewarding. You get invested in their stories and you feel what it means to them to be able to fight for their freedom.
Iconic Scene: When Col. Shaw (Matthew Broderick) orders that Pvt. Trip (Washington) be whipped and Denzel just takes it and never makes a sound while staring down Shaw is a heart wrenching scene.
Then Denzel hits him with the one tear roll down the cheek move (everyone stole this after Glory), to show Shaw he will not be broken.
The Mel Gibson Movies:
I know he is a lunatic, but the man can make movies.
“Braveheart” (1995): This may be a love story, but has tons of war scenes. The battles are so brutal and real that you almost feel like you are watching a horror movie.
“The Patriot” (2000): This has the Mel Gibson revenge angle (he loves revenge plots, see any one of his movies), while he helps liberate America from the British.
What makes his movies great: Gibson is great at creating villains. He gets you to really hate the bad guys, so in turn, he becomes the ultimate hero. These movies have two all-time movie heels of all time. Col. Tavington (played hatefully by Jason Isaacs) in “The Patriot” is such a smug jerk, you want him dead the whole time. Then King Longshanks who is so bad he kills his own son, by tossing him out a tower.
“A Soldier Story” (1984): great military story with a murder mystery
“Platoon” (1986): could have used less Charlie Sheen and more SGT Elias (Willem Dafoe)
“Apocalypse Now” (1979): great movie, lots of iconic scenes, but way too long.
“Black Hawk Down” (2001): Great cast with lots of young stars, very realistic.
“Heartbreak Ridge” (1986): Clint Eastwood’s performance as an angry, rebellious Marine is worth watching.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012): great story of the men and women who hunted down Bin-Laden.
“Stripes” (1981): because Bill Murray is a comedic legend!