The involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War has inevitably led to a plethora of Vietnam War films. But why is this? Is the intent to glorify war, and, in particular, what happened in Vietnam?
We don’t think so.
Film — or any other kind of art form — is created, or performed, in order to understand something. And the Vietnam War was a confusing time for many, if not all. In effect, as you’ll see on this list of our top 10 Vietnam War Films, there is a wide degree of variance from one film to the next, whether it be geographical location, or genre, or tone.
*Have a favorite that we forgot to include? Let us know in the comment section!
10. RESCUE DAWN
(2006, directed by Werner Herzog)
Dieter Dangler, a US fighter pilot, is shot down over Laos and left with one goal after walking away from the crash: survival. As if the jungle isn’t harsh enough, he soon is captured and taken to a Laotian POW camp. The film glorifies nothing, often taking the viewer closer and closer to the breaking psyches of the soldiers forced to endure the bizarre day-to-day routine of a POW camp.
9. HAMBURGER HILL
(1987, directed by John Irvin)
This film tells the true story of the 10-day battle for Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam. It takes the viewer to the brink of brutality from the eyes of 14 soldiers as they enter and endure what has since become known as one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.
(2000, directed by Joel Schumacher)
Led by Colin Farrell’s performance as nonconforming Pvt. Roland Bozz, Tigerland is a character-driven drama about draftees undergoing Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1971. The film honestly explores the ideas of leadership and self-doubt, and does so in a gritty fashion.
7. FULL METAL JACKET
(1987, directed by Stanley Kubrick)
From boot camp to battle, Stanley Kubrick’s study on the Vietnam-era United States Marine isn’t always pretty. Meaning: Kubrick does not shy from the sheer brutality of war, nor the psychological effects it has on young men. To this day, R. Lee Ermey’s opening scene as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman remains one of the most accurate portrayals put on screen.
6. BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY
(1989, directed by Oliver Stone)
The first of two Oliver Stone films you’ll find on this list, Born On the Fourth of July is a film that challenges you and your beliefs. Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, who, after idolizing service members throughout his childhood, enlists in the United States Marine Corps. He goes to Vietnam, is wounded, and is paralyzed. But it’s what he does when he comes home that lays testament to the arc of this film.
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5. THE DEER HUNTER
(1978, directed by Michael Cimino)
Winner of the 1978 Academy Award for Best Picture, Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter is a raw look at the horrors of war that rupture the lives of both soldiers and those back at home. The themes of this film — brought out by the writing, by the cinematography, and by particularly wonderful performances by Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken — are so honest that they can be applied to any war, at any time. Definitely worth your time.
4. GOOD MORNING VIETNAM
(1987, directed by Barry Levinson)
In a way that only Robin Williams could, Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Vietnam pushes all the right buttons. Equal parts comedy and drama, the film revolves around DJ Adrian Cronauer (Williams), who is relocated from Crete to Vietnam and given the mission of raising the morale of the men with his radio program. But run-ins with middle management, as well as the war itself, threatens to put an end to all of that.
3. APOCALYPSE NOW
(1979, directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
U.S. Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) has been given a mission that will never exist: to find Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is believed to have gone insane while in command. Also starring Dennis Hopper, Forrest Whitaker and Harrison Ford, Apocalypse Now is a bizarre look at the human condition during war. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece is no stranger to the top of film lists.
(1986, directed by Oliver Stone)
Mr. Stone makes his second appearance!
Duality. That’s the word to remember when watching Platoon. Chris Young (Charlie Sheen), who has given up college to volunteer for combat in Vietnam, faces several choices as a soldier, most notably the decision he must make between his two vastly different NCOs, who also wage a not-so-silent war with one another (NCOs portrayed masterfully by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger). As the film goes along, however, more of Chris’s questions arise: Who is the enemy? Where does innocence go?
1. WE WERE SOLDIERS
(2002, directed by Randall Wallace)
With We Were Soldiers, Randall Wallace examines soldiers from the Vietnam War in a very honest and delicate way: he shows them at home, he shows them at war, and he shows what happens to that home when they are away. And what comes of that is not only an accurate portrayal of the first large battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, but a character-driven narrative that tugs on your heartstrings. It is very deserving of a #1 label, and we highly recommend it.Whizzco