War is bad, mmkay. But there have been some truly outstanding movies based on real life wars. It’s a fine balancing act between shooting a really engaging and entertaining movie and staying true to the events so as not to upset any surviving veterans. With that, let’s get right into it with my five favourite war movies!
5. Three Kings (1999)
Not technically a war movie, as it takes place after the “war”, Three Kings follows a group of soldiers stationed in Iraq immediately following the end of operation desert storm. After finding a treasure map tucked away in a P.O.W’s arse crack, the soldiers set out on an unsanctioned mission to retrieve the loot. They soon find that, despite the American involvement being officially over, the atrocities have not yet ended.
What makes Three Kings such a good movie in my opinion is it’s originality. It’s got all the stuff you’d expect from a good war movie but with an added sub plot that makes it really interesting. It’s a good job the story and direction stands up, as well, because it stars two of the worst actors in Hollywood; Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube. Without them, this movie might have ranked even higher in my list. But never mind, Three Kings is still a really entertaining bit of cinema that shouldn’t be overlooked.
4. We Were Soldiers (2002)
The first of three movies in this list set during the Vietnam War (Funny that America produces so many moves about a war where they got their asses handed to them), We Were Soldiers depicts true events of one of the first major battles in the American involvement in Vietnam. It depicts events on both sides as well as continually looking back over at the military base back in the states where the soldiers’ wives anxiously wait for news about the fate of their husbands.
I think the thing that makes this movie is the level of character development we see. Various characters are not only developed during the firefight but the detailed depiction of their life at home with wives and children really fleshes out the characters to a degree not seen in most war movies. The film is finished to a really high standard and some of the gore effects are almost too horrific to watch. If you’ve written this movie off because of poor marketing or questionable choice of stars (Mel Gibson), I urge you to re-visit it and look past those shortcomings. It’s a really good movie underneath.
3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Many peoples’ choice for the best war movie of all time, and for good reason, is Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now. The story follows a lone soldier (Martin Sheen) on a top, top secret mission to assassinate a rogue colonel, played by Marlon Brando, who has holed up with his regiment of defecting troops and a local tribe in the jungle of Cambodia. The movie mainly concerns itself with the journey more than the destination but that’s not to say the climax is anything short of one of the greatest and most important pieces of cinema ever made.
Although I enjoyed this movie a crazy amount, it only makes it to my number three slot for one main reason. It is very inaccessible and a lot of hard work, particularly the longer Redux version. You have to be in a very specific frame of mind to watch it to its full effect. If you watch it, particularly for the first time while tired or after you’ve had a drink you’ll not only miss all the subtle nuances that make the movie great but you’ll probably be confused as hell. Don’t let this stop you, though. Apocalypse Now remains, and will always remain, not only one of the best war movies ever made but one of the best movies, full stop.
2. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
You knew it was coming, right? What I believe to be the best Vietnam war movie ever made is Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket. The mixture of action, the horror of war and lashings of jet-black satirical humour make this movie one-of-a-kind! The movie is split right down the middle. The first half sees the soldiers before seeing any action, in the boot camp. It’s this first half that has provided cinema with the most archetypal portrayal of a drill sergeant ever; Gunnery Sgt. Hartman played by R. Lee Ermey. The second half sees the soldiers after they’ve experienced war and depicts just how much it has changed them as people. This profound message, combined with Kubrick’s magic makes the movie impossible to look away from.
I could honestly watch this movie over and over and over again and never get bored of it. Every time I see it I pick up on another little something I missed before. It takes character development to a whole other level and wraps it up in a bloody, violent and darkly funny bow. This movie should not be missed, by anyone, ever.
1. Black Hawk Down (2001)
My pick for the number 1 best war movie goes to Ridley Scott‘s Black Hawk Down. The movie depicts the true events that took place in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 involving US Army Rangers and Special Forces (Delta) troops. A mission to capture and remove a powerful Somalian war lord that should have taken 20 minutes turned into one of the most bloody and costly military blunders in US history when one of the Black Hawk helicopters that dropped troops onto the ground was shot down. The ensuing rescue mission led to not only multiple soldiers being killed but another Black Hawk being downed. The stranded soldiers had to hold their ground for hours before another rescue attempt was made.
This movie gets my number 1 spot for one reason. Realism. BHD captures the true events in a way that is reported to have had a profound effect on real life soldiers and survivors of the incident who watched it.. Real names are used, authentic uniforms, maps and tactics were all utilised to re-create the battle perfectly down to the last detail. There has simply never been a more realistic war movie before or since. BHD is a triumph in every respect.
So there they are. My five favourite war movies. What do you think to this list? Any in there that you wouldn’t have included? Any that you think I’ve missed? That’s what the comments are for, kids! Ta ta for now.
EDIT: There is one notable condition that has come to my attention. I have yet to see The Hurt Locker, a movie that Empire gave five stars. If, when I see it, I change my mind, I will edit this list.