In honor of Memorial Day, we have put together a list of our most favorite war films (featuring American soldiers), that showcase the bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces throughout history. We hope you are having a happy holiday-and please take the time to remember those who have defended our freedom!
(This list is in no particular order)
1. Saving Private Ryan
This film is one of my all time favorites-it’s on TV every Memorial Day and I always make a point to watch it each year. The film portrays the perfect blend of narrative and the very poignant message that all citizens should take to heart: you don’t have to live an extraordinary life to honor those who have fought for this country, but we should always remember them from time to time.
2. Black Hawk Down
A fantastic film, portraying a rescue mission for American forces in Mogadishu, Somalia. The cast is full of stars who were not as well known at the time the film was made (for example, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom) and, combined with Ridley’s Scott technical directing style, makes this one of the best film experiences ever.
3. Hurt Locker
The Best Picture winner from two years ago, and the reason that next summer’s blockbusters will all feature Jeremy Renner. Based on the experiences of journalist Mark Boal, after being embedded with American forces in Iraq in 2004, The Hurt Locker shows us the lives of the all-important IED detonation squads. A great movie is rarely about the reasons for war, but more about the experiences of those who fight them.
The greatest war biopic ever made, a winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor, Patton tells the story of Gen. Patton during World War II. Although George C. Scott’s voice for Patton is not historically accurate (Patton was known to have a high-pitch), his performance is extremely powerful. One of those films that grip you from the first scene all the way through the last.
5. Tora! Tora! Tora!
The best film to date about the attack on Pearl Harbor, this American-Japanese production shows the attack from both sides. Though a very long film with not such a great cast (low budget actors were cast not to distract from the story, and also probably to help the budget), the real reason to watch this movie is for the action sequences, which are well done and well shot. Several other films, including Midway, The Final Countdown, Australia, and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor have all borrowed shots from this film.
6. The Longest Day
One of the few black and white 60’s epics, this film is fantastic for not only featuring consultants from some of the actual D-Day participants, but also for being one of the few war movies to have the characters speak only in their native languages. This film also features an all star cast including John Wayne, and the last pre-Bond acting role for Sean Connery.
An adaptation of Michael Shaara’s acclaimed novel, The Killer Angels, this film shows the Civil War battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of its key participants. At over four hours long, I wouldn’t recommend trying to sit through it in one sitting (I usually watch it over three days, mirroring the battle itself -Ryan), but is well worth seeing. Ted Turner’s pet project was allowed unprecedented access to the actual battlefield by the National Park Service, and also features almost full-scale battles, thanks to the many reenactors who volunteered to appear in the film. It also features great performances by Jeff Daniels and Martin Sheen, and a wonderful score by Randy Edelman.
This 1989 film portrays the experiences of one of the first formal regiments of African American soldiers in the United States, during the Civil War. The film is shown from the perspective of the troops’ white commander, Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). It also features great performances by Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. While some criticized the movie for showing the experience of the black soldiers through their white officer, I don’t think this distracts from the film’s message, it only enhances it.
9. The Patriot
One of the last films made by Mel Gibson before his inner demons were fully revealed to the general public, The Patriot shows the fictionalized account of a family man during the American Revolutionary War. While much of the film’s plot is completely fictional, it is still a powerful portrait of a man whose home is caught in the middle of a war.
10. Hamburger Hill
I (Jill) always caught pieces of Hamburger Hill on AMC and it has become one of my favorite war films of all time. I feel the reviews for this film have been mixed, with many critics recognizing it’s strengths but always claiming it as less than a “great war film.” I have to disagree. It does a great job showing the effects of the Vietnam War through the eyes of one platoon that sacrifices so much to save one hill.