Ah, when men were men and the sheep ran scared! Esquire recently ran a “10 Manliest War Movies” which I thought was a bit lacking; but it was by a movie critic not a veteran, so forgiveness. I wouldn’t even put The Green Berets in the top 25, and I’m a former Green Beret. Also, maybe I’m more of a realist as you’ll see by perusing my own rather dark list. It’s only my opinion and I’m open to your suggestions as there is not right or wrong in this. I also have some honorable mentions. And my memory isn’t what it used to be as Cool Gus and I go into our gray years. The movies are listed in no particular order
Blackhawk Down: The most recent. Having served with people who were there, this one hits close to home. While some Hollywood elements were thrown in, I really liked Mark Bowden’s book on which it is based. He told both sides of the battle, while the movie really only showed one. Still, it shows the confusion and ferocity of modern warfare. And the bravery of the American soldier. Seriously. Rangers are the finest light infantry in the world.
Saving Private Ryan: The brutal opening shocked people and that’s what should be done. Too many movies glorify combat, when the reality is a messy, bloody, melee of confusion and chaos. Dying soldiers do curse, cry out for their mother, and, most especially, don’t want to die.
Cross of Iron: Classic. The Eastern Front was unbelievably brutal. Read The Forgotten Soldier just to get a glimpse.
The Odd Angry Shot: Most people have never heard of this movie, a 1979 Australian movie about the SAS in Vietnam (Who Dares Wins!). I found it showed the numbing mundaneness along with the terrifying moments of war. Some of our favorite sayings were: “Hurry up and wait” and “Prepare to prepare”. I throw it in just to have something obscure on the list.
Breaker Morant: Another Australian movie. Must like Paths of Glory (below), it focuses on the waste, the betrayal and the darkness of war. And the politics that kill people. The Boer War was where the concentration camp was invented, by the way. By the British. Just saying.
Zulu: I just had to put this in here. The sound of the Zulu’s in the distance, like a freight train approaching, sends chills down your spine. And the ending, with both sides saluting the other is epic. I write a lot about Shaka Zulu and the way he built his incredible army in my Atlantis series.
Das Boot: Classic. I don’t know how those guys stayed sane on those U-Boats; they mostly didn’t stay alive. They had an unbelievably high casualty rate: 82%. The greatness of humans is we can endure almost anything; that is also our Achilles Heel when that anything is war.
Band of Brothers: Technically not a movie but the mini-series showed the great arc from training, through the end of World War II, from the point of view of the men of Easy Company in the 101st Airborne.
The Pacific was confusing, but perhaps showed the trauma of war more deeply. Most Americans don’t realize that those Marines on Guadalcanal were abandoned for a while and could have been annihilated. And the Navy (my father fought in the Navy in WWII) suffered terrible losses.Do you recognize Mr. Robot?
Letters from Iwo Jima: Yes, the enemy are people too. We want to dehumanize our enemies, but maybe if we all treated each other as people, we wouldn’t be so quick to go to war. Old men and women declare wars and young men and women die in them.
Go Tell the Spartans: “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.” Burt Lancaster’s character has a costly affair with a superior’s wife and ends up in Vietnam in 1964. It’s downhill from there.
Paths Of Glory: “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike th’inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” Stanley Kubrick made this movie and it is devastating about the futility and waste of war. As shattering as Gallipoli.
Honorable Mentions- Ken Burns: The Civil War: Technically not a war movie, but a spectacular mini-series about our bloodiest conflict. It was a West Point war (55 of the 60 major battles had West Pointers commanding both sides) and raises the issue I explore in my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy (by the way, 1st book is free right now): which is more important: Honor or loyalty? I know my answer.
Courage Under Fire—about a brave woman. So not manly? The book was better, because in the book, Denzel Washington’s character was more of a coward in combat, so his investigation was a way for him to try to find out what had been lacking in him that the heroine had.
All Quiet on the Western Front. Classic.
Kelly’s Heroes—the boys loved this movie
Platoon Full Metal Jacket Apocalypse Now—we all want to go a little Kurtz now and then. Seriously—if you’re going to fight a war, you’ve got to go all the way.
Bridge on the River Kwai—just for the whistling. But also how the concept of duty can get perverted. I’d throw King Rat in too.
Catch-22 You think it’s over the top. It’s not really.
The Guns of Navarone Just cause.
Big Red One Lee Marvin made some classic war movies.
A Bridge Too Far—every soldier needs to know this story. I followed the assault path while on Reforger with the 1st Cavalry Division and people still remembered the sacrifice of the Allies. And the Dutch War College did war game the exact operation before the war and concluded it would fail. And the Allies did it anyway.
The Longest Day—a bloated star studded movie (look for Sean Connery in a minor role) but it was the Longest Day. Just read an In Memoriam posting from the West Point Association of Graduates about a West Pointer who was a battalion commander in the 101st and jumped in; and they’ve never found his body. That’s real.
Hurt Locker: Loved the ending. Exactly the way I feel every time I go in the supermarket. Seriously. Ask my wife.
Live, Die, Repeat: The Edge of Tomorrow and Aliens. Just cause. “We’re all gonna die!” “What was he thinking?” Not
Braveheart—spare me. Walked out on it when the guy behind us giggled every time someone’s head got splattered. And I like how Mel Gibson aged faster that she did. And didn’t Scotland just vote against what these guys in skirts fought for?
The Green Berets—John Wayne doesn’t hook up before he jumps. Enough said. This is definitely not a complete list. And I’m lacking some movies about earlier wars.
Drums Along The Mohawk just jumped into my brain. And Last of the Mohicans!
Let’s hear your suggestions and what’s special about them!