Veterans Day honors all the men and women who served in the armed forces and coincides with foreign holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which celebrate the end of World War I. (which officially ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918). So November 11.
While supporting veterans can take many forms, including charitable donations, hiring veterans at your company, and supporting a sober foreign policy, one way we can all remember those who have served throughout history is through film. Here are thirteen great war movies, some more directly about veterans and some more directly about the wars themselves, to watch this Veterans Day or over the weekend.
They’re not all American films either, because I believe that war – and its aftermath – is something that crosses national borders. Veterans of all wars and all countries share a bond.
Obviously lists like this are limited (or they would get way too long) but please let me know what your favorite war and/or veteran movies are about Twitter or facebook.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg’s masterful World War II film is quite simply one of the best war movies ever made. Although it only appeals to veterans, it gives a stark and graphic depiction of the violence and heroism of the brave men who fought on the beaches of Normandy and in Nazi-occupied Europe. Spielberg also made Schindler’s List, another harrowing WWII film focused on the Holocaust.
Hacksaw Crest (2016)
hacksaw crest tells the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to hold a gun due to his religious beliefs. The pacifist Doss was first mocked and then applauded for his bravery and courage. Mel Gibson – a controversial figure to say the least – is at his best in the director’s chair here.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
The story of five veterans who return to Vietnam years after the war to find buried gold and recover the body of a deceased friend. If you like Spike Lee movies, you’ll enjoy this one. A story of friendship, pain and loss, with terrific performances.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Not a war story, but still one of the best military movies ever made. Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise are both knocked out of the park in this legal drama surrounding the murder of a soldier at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
by Stanley Kubrick Full Metal Jacket remains one of the best and most iconic Vietnam War films of all time. It follows a group of basic training soldiers – an experience almost as harrowing as the war itself – through the chaos of Vietnam. As much black comedy as historical fiction.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterpiece is as trippy and dark as any on this list, a strange journey into the heart of darkness (the Joseph Conrad book it was based on) that is as much a journey into the mind as into the bowels of war. The cast alone makes it an essential war movie: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, all at the top of their game.
Patton won 7 Oscars when it was released in 1970, including Best Picture, Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner) and George C. Scott won Best Actor for his incredible portrayal of the famous general. Fun facts: Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger all turned down the role before Scott was cast. Steiger later said that was his biggest mistake, but it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Scott in the role now!
Born July 4 (1989)
It’s one of the most anti-war movies on this list, but also the one that focuses the most on the lives of veterans. Tom Cruise stars as Ron Kovic, a veteran who was crippled in Vietnam. The story is autobiographical and based on Kovic’s autobiography. Oliver Stone directs. It won Best Director and Tom Cruise received his first Best Actor nomination.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep…The deer hunter a phenomenal cast and brilliant writing and directing have placed it on countless “best movies ever made” lists. The story is set in both Vietnam and Clairton, Pennsylvania and deals with both war and the effects of war on the lives of these characters.
American Sniper (2014)
Directed by Bradley Cooper, Directed by Clint Eastwood American sniper was deeply controversial when it was released in 2014 thanks to the controversial nature of the man whose story it told. Chris Kyle was a decorated Iraq War veteran and marksman, but upon returning home and becoming a more public figure, he caused controversy with his writings and statements. Still, the film itself was very good and painted a grim picture of both the war in Iraq and the issues veterans with PTSD face when they return home. (I wrote at the time that unlike some critics, I did not consider the film to be pro-war propaganda at all, quite the contrary).
Forrest Gump (1994)
I admit, Forrest Gump doesn’t hold up very well compared to a lot of them, even though Tom Hanks is brilliant in the lead role. It’s a very 90s movie in many ways, but it’s certainly charming and Gump passes through my hometown of Flagstaff, AZ on his trek across the country, so I have a little extra fondness for the tale of fairies. I’m including it here because of Lt. Dan, the wounded veteran and friend of Gump, who has one of the most powerful roles in the story outside of Forrest and Jenny. Lt. Dan is played by Gary Sinise who started the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011. The charity is nothing short of wonderful, helping veterans in a variety of ways including providing free specially tailored smart homes to seriously ill veterans. wounded. You can read more about the foundation here. Sinise is a class act, no doubt.
One of the best modern war films, 1917 creates the illusion of being filmed in one continuous shot. It’s a tense and visually stunning depiction of World War I, and tells a small but important story about two men on a desperate mission to save lives. Absolutely worth your time.
They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
We’ve been hearing a lot about director Peter Jackson lately thanks to power rings make many comparisons with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. His most recent photo is the war documentary They won’t grow old which uses original footage from the First World War – most never seen before – as well as audio interviews with the BBC of British servicemen. Images have been restored and colorized. It’s a jaw-dropping production that offers one of the most extraordinary glimpses into history you could imagine, taking us back in time to over a century ago.
The story of a regiment of black soldiers during the American Civil War, Glory tells a poignant story of courage in the face of prejudice in one of the deadliest wars in American history. Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.
Australian war film by Peter Weir Gallipoli is one of Mel Gibson’s first films. Gibson and Mark Lee star as young World War I recruits who end up fighting at the Battle of Gallipoli under British command. The sequel is haunting and tragic. It’s a brilliant film and coming-of-age story that shows how brutal trench warfare was and how unprepared the world was for industrialized warfare.
Prime: Band Of Brothers (2001 TV series)
Although not a movie, the World War II spectacle based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 non-fiction book of the same name, is a historical look at the hardships faced by American paratroopers as they make their way through Germany, freezing and starving along the way. A stellar ensemble cast that you’ll recognize from countless other shows and movies is well worth watching (and the book is excellent, too).