As Americans prepare to take a well-deserved day off from work to remember the servicemen and women who have sacrificed their lives for this country during times of war, TheWrap remembered their favorite movies tackling the tough topic.
Some are fun, some are sad, but all are classics that are worth watching this Memorial Day weekend if readers haven’t already. From waging war with aliens to women raging against the military for justice, here are our favorite war stories of all time:
While many people pan “ID4” as a cheesy, big-budget Will Smith vehicle, I consider it one of my personal favorite feel-good, proud-to-be-an-American films. I always tear up when Randy Quaid sacrifices his life so his kids can live free from extraterrestrial tyranny. Bill Pullman’s patriotic speech should also be required viewing for High School civics classes.
“The Hurt Locker”
This film deserved a fate way better than forgotten Best Picture winner (though the statuette was a nice surprise). We talk about supporting our troops, but that’s mostly hollow rhetoric, especially when they come back home — just look at the years of VA incompetence. This depiction of a damaged soldier unable to love anything but hellish battle is a small story, but one that reflects the long-term trauma of our seemingly endless series of wars.
The story of Massachusetts 54th Regiment, an all-black regiment fighting for the Union Army, might seem like another tale of African-American courage told through the eyes of white people — especially because Ed Zwick’s film focuses largely on Matthew Broderick’s Robert Gould Shaw. But two things save the film from “The Help”-style revisionism: First, the subtle and wise performances of the actors, notably Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. And second, the raw courage of the 54th itself. It doesn’t matter who provides the voiceover when history dictates its own truth.
Probably one of the most humane and well-rounded looks at war, and what it takes to survive the trenches I’ve seen in entertainment: comradery, bravery, having something to come home to and a some humor. Beyond the battlefield, the movie also shows the fallout from war for soldiers and the anti-Vietnam movement.
“Born on the Fourth of July”
Three years after starring as a hot-shot naval pilot in “Top Gun,” Tom Cruise went deep in this sprawling exploration of the horrors and personal devastation of war. Cruise’s transformation into Ron Kovic — the real-life paralyzed Vietnam vet turned anti-war protester whose memoir inspired the movie — was remarkable. Especially for a guy who, just a handful of years earlier, was best known for dancing to Bob Seger in his tighty-whities.
“Hope and Glory”
Yes, war is hell, but John Boorman suggested something revolutionary in his deeply personal, enormously affecting and sometimes even comic 1987 film “Hope and Glory” – that for an eight-year-old boy living in London during the Blitz, war could also be exciting. (For one thing, it got you out of school.) Based on Boorman’s own experiences (as is its de facto sequel, “Queen and Country,” which just premiered in Cannes), “Hope and Glory” is a wholly different, original take on war, and as moving a film as the director has ever made.
Based on the true story of the “Screaming Eagles” long, bloody battle to take “Hill 937,” this 1987 Vietnam War film spotlighted both the beauty and power of cameraderie in a painfully horrific situation, as well as the confusing futility of some of the mission commands of America’s most controversial war. Such a narrow focus heightened the emotional turmoil of the soldiers in such a beautiful and deadly environment.
“Black Hawk Down”
Even though the Battle of Mogadishu was a horribly botched mission, and some may say a misguided part of U.S. foreign policy, the soldiers who lost their lives are still our guys. Ridley Scott’s look at those events was beautifully shot and respectful of those soldiers who followed orders as best they could.
“Zero Dark Thirty”
Kathryn Bigelow and Marc Boal’s return to the War on Terror offers an inside glimpse on the hunt for America’s most insidious enemy — Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain gives a stellar turn as the intensely driven CIA Analyst Maya, but Jason Clarke turns in the best performance in the film as Dan, the no-nonsense agent who has absolutely no qualms over using heinous torture techniques to get the information he wants (bro). The film may have a dubious message when it comes to torture, but “Zero Dark Thirty” is a well made and compelling film.
This still-quotable military comedy (“Lighten up, Francis!”) starring Bill Murray in one of his signature sardonic roles, represents an interesting transition from the radical 1970s to the conservative 1980s. On its surface, it’s a post-Vietnam film that sends up authority figures and parodies the pomp and the structured nature of army life. But if you look closely, the film winds up championing the establishment and celebrating the importance of unit cohesion and discipline, effectively eating its cake and having it too. And Murray’s character was totally right about Tito Puente.
“The Invisible War”
Women have fought and died for this country, too, and this Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary honors them by exposing their struggle to get justice after suffering sexual assaults at the hands of their peers, and even commanders. Director Kirby Dick’s investigation into the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military was so powerful, it inspired Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to change military policy on how cases are prosecuted before it was even released in theaters. There are many aspects of America’s military worth celebrating, but how it has handled — and hidden — sexual assaults isn’t one of them, and people need to know about it.