While war is brutal and bloody, it has the ability to reveal truths about humanity that lie uncovered in times of peace. The nuances and complexities of war stories make them stand out on the big screen, captivating audiences across generations.
With all-star casts and moving storylines, here are some of the top five military movies in cinematic history—just in time for the next movie night.
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
When three brothers die in combat, a unique mission is launched to save the surviving fourth brother and prevent his death from destroying the family beyond repair. Led by Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks), a team of seven soldiers must brave enemy lines to save the titular Private Ryan from near-certain death on the beaches of Normandy.
Based loosely on a true story, Saving Private Ryan follows multiple storylines and questions the complex ethics of war as seven lives are risked for the chance to save a single one.
2. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now follows one Vietnam War officer as he is given an unexpected mission: to find and kill a rogue Special Forces Colonel who is convincing locals that he’s actually a god.
Shot in an allegorical style with intense imagery, Apocalypse Now captures the saddening pointlessness of the Vietnam War. With an all-star cast that includes Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, this movie has held its place as one of the quintessential military movies for decades.
3. The Thin Red Line (1998)
Jim Caviezel plays a U.S. private who goes AWOL during the harsh battles of WWII, only to be caught and forced to rejoin the ranks against the Imperial Japanese Army.
Moving away from the intense action scenes of most military movies, The Thin Red Line focuses on the emotional side of American soldiers as they grapple with their brutal actions against unfamiliar enemies.
4. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Full Metal Jacket follows one soldier on his journey through boot camp and the subsequent Tet Offensive. Emotionally heavy, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece singles out the mental turmoil soldiers face before ever seeing a battlefield that effectively turns them into killing machines. This film’s layered and poetic approach to the intensity of the Vietnam War set it apart from the rest.
5. Platoon (1986)
Starring Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe, Platoon is based on director Oliver Stone’s personal experience in Vietnam.
One young soldier (played by Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam with the intention of finding glory. However, he quickly finds the line between good and bad blurring as he and his partner find themselves at odds over how each one treats the locals. As much a psychological thriller as it is a military movie, Platoon explores a human mind pushed to its limit.
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