The Vietnam War has become a major talking point over the years and its influence has translated onto the silver screen in the form of many great films. Here’s my rundown of the ten Vietnam War films I find to be the greatest.
10. We Were Soldiers (2002)
We Were Soldiers feels like every other war movie ever made, but writer/ director Randall Wallace’s competent direction, tight scripting and Mel Gibson’s strong performance make it a thoroughly engaging viewing. The film focuses mainly on the Battle of Ia Drang and stars Gibson as Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, a man who must lead a battalion of soldiers into the fray while keeping his pledge to bring back each and every one of them, dead or alive.
9. Hamburger Hill (1987)
One of the most criminally underrated war movies ever made, Hamburger Hill follows the true story of the 101st Airborne’s attempt to take a single hill in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam and the havoc that ensues afterwards. Hamburger Hill’s strength lies in the superbly directed battle sequences and its deception of the sheer brutality of war.
8. Casualties of War (1989)
Casualties of War is actually more of a morality tale than a war movie, which is something you least expect from someone like Brian De Palma. Based on a true story, Casualties of War follows the story of a soldier who finds himself the outsider of his own squad after they unnecessarily kidnap a Vietnamese female stranger. Casualties of War is powerful drama that is further elevated by Brian De Palma’s strong direction and two compelling performances from then youngsters Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox.
7. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Oliver Stone’s second film on the Vietnam war serves as the biopic of anti-war and human rights activist Ron Kovic, a man paralyzed in the Vietnam war who after feeling betrayed by his country rose up to become an anti-war protester. Stone’s wonderful direction deserves praise, but it’s Tom Cruise’s captivating, breakthrough performance as Kovic that’s truly amazing to watch.
6. First Blood (1982)
Even though it barely qualifies as a Vietnam War film, it’s a Vietnam War film nonetheless. First Blood tells the story of John Rambo, a Vietnam war veteran who uses his combat skills against the sheriff of a small town when they arrest and abuse him. First Blood is the ultimate survival movie and a thoroughly exciting one as well. Sylvester Stallone is great as John Rambo in one of his best performances. First Blood spawned many sequels but none come close to level of the first one.
5. Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Good Morning Vietnam is a movie that offers us a perfect showcase of the late Robin Williams’ extraordinary acting and comedic talents. The film follows the story of a Radio DJ (Williams) who attempts to cheer up American troops through his irreverent tendencies when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam. The film itself is funny, warmhearted and poignant that has Robin Williams delivering one of the best performances of his career.
4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Before Michael Cimino sunk his career with Heaven’s Gate he directed The Deer Hunter, one of the greatest war films to don the screen. The Deer Hunter follows the story of three friends and the impact the Vietnam War brings to their lives. Cimino’s direction is remarkable and performance-wise, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken are all at the top of their game, particularly Walken whose sensational supporting turn is the highlight of the movie, while the Russian Roulette scene holds its place as one of the most memorable cinematic moments. It’s an epic in the broadest sense.
3. Full Metal Jacket
Only someone like Stanley Kubrick could make something like Full Metal Jacket because only someone like him could have such a vision of the Vietnam war. Full Metal Jacket isn’t a realistic portrayal of war rather a hard-hitting one. The film is essentially divided into two parts, the first part follows the story of a group of soldiers as they go through their boot-camp training while the second chronicles their descent into Vietnam and their on-field battles. While the film is significantly let down by the latter part, the first part is so intense and absorbing that it makes it all worth it. The film is benefited by an unhinged performance from R. Lee Ermey as Sgt. Hartman while Kubrick constructs the film with utmost brilliance.
2. Platoon (1986)
If there’s any film that’s depicted war in a better and more brutal way than Hamburger Hill, it’s Platoon. Based on Oliver Stone’s personal experiences from the Vietnam War, Platoon is a captivating and gripping war movie that’s powered by Oliver Stone’s kinetic direction, terrific story telling and riveting performances from Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. It’s a haunting and uncompromising portrait of the effects of war on the people that fight that makes it a truly captivating piece of cinema.
1. Apocalypse Now (1979)
A notorious behind the scenes disaster that had director Francis Ford Coppola mulling the possibility of suicide at one stage. When Apocalypse Now did come out people were stunned with its complex and enthralling portrayal of the war. Loosely based on the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now is a monumental achievement that bleeds with ingenuity. Very rarely does one see something so ambitious brought to life, but that’s exactly what this movie is, it’s a work of art. A young Martin Sheen shines as the troubled Captain Willard, a man sent into Cambodia on a covert operation to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself as a god among a local tribe. Apart from Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall are unforgettable in their supporting turns. Apocalypse Now is not just the greatest Vietnam war film, it’s also one of the greatest films ever made and in my opinion the crowning achievement of Francis Ford Coppola’s career.