We at Low VA Rates love a good war movie. Here are our picks, compiled by the employees in our office, for the top ten best war movies. We based our ranking on a number of deciding factors including the film’s entertainment value and how accurately it depicts the conditions of war. If you’re a movie buff, you’ll want to check these out:
1. Full Metal Jacket
The majority of us at Low VA Rates are in agreement that Full Metal Jacket is the best military movie of all time. It’s depiction of violence in Vietnam during the early 60’s is intense and unforgiving, which is part of what makes it such a compelling film. It was released in 1987 and follows a collection of new recruits as they endure grueling basic training in order to become fearless marines. Our favorite performance is that of R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a classic example of hard-core military training through insults and intimidation.
“Wow” is a fairly common reaction following an initial viewing of Full Metal Jacket, which is arguably one of the most intense Vietnam-era military movies ever made. Released in 1987, Full Metal Jacket returns us to the late 1960s and the experiences of a group of Marines as they start out in basic training. R. Lee Ermey portrays one of the most memorable military characters of all time in Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, whose in-your-face insults and training methods prepare the Marines for their service in Vietnam.
Why we love it: Gunnery Sgt. Hartman’s rampages are often so intense that they make us laugh, though it’s the sheer intensity of this movie that keeps us coming back for more.
2. Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan tells the epic story of a group of American troops during World War II charged with finding and bringing home the last surviving son of the Ryan family: Private James Ryan, whose brothers have all been killed in action. The film poses poignant questions regarding the worth of one man compared to many, and how far you’d be willing to go to and how much you’d be willing to sacrifice for someone you’d never met before. The film’s opening sequence is famous for its brutal but realistic depiction of the battle of Normandy. The events are hard to watch but important to remember
Why we love it: The opening scene that depicts the Normandy invasion is perhaps our favorite single battle scene of all time. It’s difficult to watch, and that makes it all the more real. The remarkable thing about Saving Private Ryan is its ability to interweave dramatic action with heartfelt emotion almost seamlessly. Plus, Saving Private Ryan boasts pretty much the most awesome sniper scene ever!
You’ll notice that lots of the movies that made this list have to do with the Vietnam War. It was an especially brutal war and one surrounded by controversy, happening in a time when American people were divided. Platoon tells the story of a wealthy but disenchanted young man named Chris Taylor, who joins the military and discovers firsthand the horrors of war. The narrative follows Taylor and his platoon through bloody battles and is just one of our favorite representations of what those who served in Vietnam endured. Platoon is banned from viewing in Vietnam; and there’s a reason why.
Why we love it: Oliver Stone isn’t afraid to be gritty, and this military masterpiece doesn’t attempt to gloss over the horrors of war. There’s a reason Platoon is banned in Vietnam to this day – it’s not pretty, and frankly, it shouldn’t be.
4. Black Hawk Down
This more contemporary war drama features the events surrounding the United States’ involvement in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The film Black Hawk Down is based on Mark Bowden’s book of the same name, and though certain creative liberties were taken, the underlying narrative faithfully chronicles the crash-landing of two American helicopters in the heart of a war-torn city. The surviving American soldiers face constant assault as they await rescue in this much beloved film, the events of which many viewers remember hearing about on television as it was actually happening.
Why we love it: While many of the greatest war movies of all time are based on general experiences, Black Hawk Down depicts an actual event that we remember watching and hearing about on the news. And besides that, the theme of heroism is a theme that runs throughout the film.
5. Top Gun
Top Gun is a more light-hearted war film that tells the story of Lt. Pete Mitchell, a.k.a. Maverick, a talented yet rebellious Naval pilot who enrolls in the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School and isn’t afraid to show off and ruffle some feathers. We love Maverick’s sidekick Goose and the exciting, action-packed flight sequences that made all of us want to be fighter pilots someday.
Top Gun takes the military motif into the wild blue yonder of the sky. True to his call name Maverick, Lt. Pete Mitchell is a talented, albeit rebellious Naval pilot who gets a shot at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. During the training, Maverick and his sidekick Goose both impress and enrage their fellow pilots and trainers. Fast flying and hard hitting, Top Gun truly is one of the best military movies of all time.
Why we love it: Why don’t we love it? Between the action-packed flight scenes, the steamy love scenes and the heart-wrenching Goose death scene, Top Gun leaves nothing to be desired. In fact, Top Gun had most of us dreaming of becoming fighter pilots, ripping through the skies with a fun-loving RIO riding shotgun. And, of course, we’ve all tried the “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” routine that Maverick & Goose made famous.
6. Heartbreak Ridge
Heartbreak Ridge is a film that uses the 1951 Battle of Heartbreak Ridge as the back-story of the life and service of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway. this film is largely a character study of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway, his life, service, and relationships. The movie is a character-driven film that focuses largely on the personal and professional life of Highway, calling special attention to his relationships and his sense of duty.
Why we love it: It’s Clint Eastwood and a true depiction of what being an American military service member really means.
7. The Hunt for Red October
The Hunt for Red October is to the seas what Top Gun is to the skies. The film centers on the Red October, a Soviet nuclear submarine captained by Marko Ramius. Fearing what the Soviet government has planned with the submarine’s secret silent propulsion system, Ramius defects to the U.S., a fact initially unbeknownst to the U.S.S. Dallas, which sees the Red October as a rogue threat.
Why we love it: While other popular military movies focus on fantastic battle scenes and gritty violence, The Hunt for Red October instead hinges its success on suspense.
The only Civil War movie to make our list, Glory focuses on the efforts of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was comprised primarily of African-American soldiers, most of which were freeborn Northerners but some of which were freed or escaped slaves. Glory follows the regiments training and subsequent struggle to earn the respect and glory associated with battle.
Why we love it: While we do love the massive in-your-face Civil War battle scenes, it’s the more subtle struggles for glory and respect that make Glory a top choice on our list.
9. G.I. Jane
G.I. Jane is a fictional film that centers on the admission of Lt. Jordan O’Neil to the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Group. As the first woman to undergo the training, Lt. O’Neil is forced to deal with obstacles of sexism and tokenism in her attempt to be taken seriously and to successfully complete the training.
Why we love it: Hands down the best scene in the film occurs after Lt. O’Neil suffers a drawn out beating from Master Chief Urgayle. Her tenacity and ability to swallow down her fear is incredible. And of course, O’Neil’s response to being told to leave after the beating is absolutely classic.
Our only military comedy on the list, Stripes shines a comedic light on military basic training and overseas service. Front and center in the film is Bill Murray as John Winger, a ne’er-do-well who manages to bumble his way through basic training with the help of his best friend. Eventually deployed to Italy, their own stupidity has them wandering into Soviet territory, eventually leading a successful mission against a Soviet base.
Why we love it: Love him or hate him, Bill Murray is hilarious. Stripes was released in the pinnacle of Murray’s reign as the king of awkward comedy, and offers the much-needed comic relief that others – like In the Army Now and Major Payne – failed to do.
Related: Active Military and Veterans Qualify for VA Loans.