War. It is one of the most explored topics in human history, and it is the one of greatest agents of change in global events. Despite the horror and pain of human conflict, is often the topic of cinema, and even the best American movie ever made: 1939's Gone With The Wind is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and its aftermath. War movies can be much more than just showing cool guns and explosion, they are an opportunity for a conversation about the conflict itself and how it effected individuals and the nation at large. War movies were a staple in my life, and since I've never served in the military, war movies were the beginning of my understanding about the military and the lives of soldiers. While FWS is mainly devoted to military science fiction, war films are very important to the genre as a whole. Here is my Top Ten most important war films, and these were chosen by me to reflect something that these film changed about society or a genre or even myself. Only Platoon is in any order of importance. Watch for the FWS Armory blogpost on sniper rifle in about a week!
There is a reason why 1987's Platoon is number one on this list: it altered the national conversation about Vietnam. Platoon was a national mutual cathartic experience that allowed the United States, as a whole, to final talk about the horror that was the Vietnam War, and the mistreatment of the veterans of that war. While no movie made about armed conflict could be really considered anti-war, this film comes damn close, and Platoon is one film that will stay with you due to its haunting depiction of war and how no survivor of combat is left untouched. No battles are glorious, no soldier a saint, the enemy are not monster, Platoon lays bare the sins of war on the psychic of the soldier and how we must chose carefully when and how we as a nation t deploy troops into combat. Most Vietnam War veterans I know cannot watch Platoon much than once, it is too close to the truth. This film changed me, and continues to effect my writing and outlook on war.
2. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
World War II movies had been done...to death by the time Saving Private Ryan would come to the silver screen, but it would relaunch the interest in the 2nd World War for over a decade. Without SOPR, Call of Duty, Band of Brothers, Medal of Honor would not have been made. No only would the film's setting relight interest in World War II, it would also alter how war movies were shoot and produced. SOPR did more than just that, it showed the truth of the Normandy Landings on June 6th, 1944. While the D-DAY landing had been shown on screen in 1962's The Longest Day, the horror of the beach landing was too much for 1960's audiences. Here in SPOR, we experience the hell that those soldiers of the Greatest Generation had to suffer through to rid the world of the Nazi scourge. Everything in this film works and shows the genius of Steven Spielberg.
3. GLORY (1989)
4. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
5. BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001)
6. FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
1987 would see the release of two of the most iconic Vietnam War era films: Platoon and this film shot by one of the greatest directors of the 20th century: Stanley Kubrick. Full Metal Jacket was in some ways the opposite of Platoon. Instead of the jungle and a platoon of core character, Full Metal Jacket followed Marines Joker and Cowboy from the Island to the Battle of Hue City during the Tet Offensive. While many remember the film for the hard-edged DI played expertly by former Marine DI R. Lee Ermey, the film is much more than some of the best uses of English profanity, it shows the strangeness of combat in Vietnam, and its unfairness. While many remember the basic training scenes, once the film moves to Vietnam, we see a different side of the experiences of the American soldier while in-county. This film is a surreal trip into this strange war with masterful direction and acting. It also address the duality of man’s view to war and killing.
8. BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY (1989)
In 1989, Oliver Stone would direct another Vietnam War film, and this time, it was more about the fight after leaving Vietnam War. This film tells the story of Ron Kovic, a dedicated Marine, and who willing signed up for service in Vietnam, and during his 2nd tour of duty, his world changed. In January of 1969, Kovic received an spinal cord injury from hostile gunfire, leaving him paralyzed. During his recovery, Kovic would see the sorry state of America’s care of Veterans, and he would soon be an advocate for veterans’ rights. Through his book and 1989 film, Kovic and Stone were able to bring attention to state of the VA in America and need for improved care for veterans. As a film, Born on the 4th of July would be considered Tom Cruise’s greatest performance and the other side of the coin of the more combat-centered Vietnam War films of this era.9. THE DAY AFTER (1983)
Many believed during the Cold War that the next big war would be the last one for our species. World War III was envisioned as beginning in mushroom clouds and ending in pillars of ashes and blasted shadows. In 1983, ABC network would create a stark TV mini-series on aftermath of a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR. This film would be released at difficult point in US/Soviet relations, and its airing would alter national foreign policy. The Day After tells the story of the horror of nuclear war via two Midwestern American cities and survivors of the apocalypse. This film scared the utter shit out of me and unlike the zombie apocalypse, nuclear war is still all too real. No more was this more true when I was seven years old when The Day After was aired. The mere thought of a nuclear exchange between the Superpowers would spell the end of the world as we know it, and an altering of human civilization that we would never come back from. 100 million would watch The Day After, and the American public would achieve a collective clarity on the policies of nuclear arms, resulting new international nuclear arms policies on limitation. After President Reagan watched the mini-series, he understood that his own administration’s nuclear arms policy would have to be changed due to the lack of national will. The public had been education on what could happen if our bombs outgrew our words, and a war was fought in mere minutes.
10. M*A*S*H (1970)
This is an unusual choice, and a personal one. M*A*S*H was the only war movie that my paternal Grandfather ever saw. My Grandfather was a full-bird Colonel, who served in World War II (Pacific) and the Korean War as an infantry commander, and had zero desire to see a “war film”. However, he did see M*A*S*H. and loved it. To him, the film was darkly funny, especially to those veterans of Korea. M*A*S*H came at low point in the popularity of war films, given the Vietnam War, however, M*A*S*H became a hit, and fueled a TV series on NBC that would outlast the real Korean War by several years. M*A*S*H is an important war film for bucking the trend of thinly veiled propaganda war movie along with adding some realism to war films and the unique culture that is created by soldiers away from home. It would also give rise to the longest running military television drama of all time. Lastly, M*A*S*H also was a different kind of war film that did not deal directly with the combat or the infantry, but the medical side of a combat zone.