Since this is Memorial Day Weekend I decided to come up with a list of the Ten Greatest American War Films of All Time. I decided to keep the selections American (or wars involving the United States) because of the holiday, but that doesn't mean I don't acknowledge or watch any of the tremendous foreign war films that have been made.
This being my list, I thought I would mention that these films are my tastes in what I like about good war films. There are no war films on this list that project pro war sentiments. You won't find any John Wayne or Jerry Bruckheimer films on this list. That doesn't necessarily mean I like all anti war films, some films like The Hurt Locker are devoid of any stance, but I tend to like films that do not make a mockery out of the harsh realities of war. I have always respected our men and women in military service, but find multiple times our government has let them down.
1. Apocalypse Now - 1979 - Francis Ford Coppola
We all know the trouble that Coppola went through to make this extraordinary picture and it paid off. With loads of memorable moments, quotes, and images Apocalypse Now was an easy choice for me.
2. The Thin Red Line - 1998 - Terrence Malick
The best film of 1998, and one of the best films of the 1990's, Terrence Malick's star studded picture is the closest to poetry that motion pictures can get. The film is deeper and more thoughtful than Steven Spielberg's overrated Saving Private Ryan, released the same year to more acclaim. Spielberg may have won the battle, but Malick won the war as The Thin Red Line endures.
3. Platoon - 1986 - Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone, a Vietnam veteran, creates the most unique and personal war film of all time. You feel as if you're actually there and you see what happened to these men and the traumatic effect war has on the human psyche.
4. The Big Red One - 1980 - Samuel Fuller
Director Sam Fuller served in World War II. He was a member of "The Big Red One" and many of the moments in this movie are based upon his own experiences. It's a film that wasn't appreciated when first released, however, a restored cut released in 2005 significantly improved the films reputation.
5. Gettysburg - 1993 - Ronald F. Maxwell
An extraordinary film that was originally made for television (for TNT), but once producer Ted Turner saw just how magnificent this film was he released it in theaters, even though the film was 254 minutes long. The detail is impeccable and the performances, especially by Jeff Daniels, are fantastic. Its TV premiere on TNT in June 1994 garnered over 23 million viewers, a record for cable TV at the time.
6. Attack! - 1956 - Robert Aldrich
A grim and cynical war picture (my kind of war picture), Aldrich directed Attack! without the big budget that other war productions were getting at the time. It was shot in thirty-two days on the back lot of RKO Studios with a small cast and budget and a few pieces of military equipment, including two tanks, that Aldrich had bought or rented.
7. The Steel Helmet - 1951 - Samuel Fuller
The Steel Helmet confronts American racism when a North Korean Communist prisoner baits a black soldier in conversation with accounts of American society's Jim Crow rules. Moreover, the Korean soldier makes the first-ever mention, in a Hollywood film, of the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. The film infuriated the military who had provided assistance in the form of military stock footage. Army personnel summoned Fuller for a conference on the film. The studio wanted John Wayne to be in the picture but Fuller refused (he never liked Wayne). This film put Fuller on the map.
8. Full Metal Jacket - 1987 - Stanley Kubrick
Released one year after the Academy Award winning film Platoon, Full Metal Jacket saw Kubrick behind the fold for once (although this was planned and started filming before Platoon) The film is notorious for R. Lee Ermey and the boot camp sequences, but the second half of the film also shines. People falsely mistake this as a pro war film, Kubrick was out to make a film about "the duality of man" as Private Joker puts it.
**Note: Kubrick's Paths of Glory would probably be number one if the list wasn't just American wars.***
9. Glory - 1989 - Edward Zwick
Edward Zwick brilliantly directs this emotional story about the first all volunteer African American regiment to fight for America. This story needed to be told and understood and millions of Americans found out the hardships that these men faced while fighting for what they believed in.
10. Flags of Our Fathers / Letters From Iwo Jima - 2006 - Clint Eastwood
What Clint Eastwood accomplished by making these two pictures back to back is an extraordinary achievement. Flags of Our Fathers is taken from the American viewpoint of the Battle for Iwo Jima, while the sequel, Letters from Iwo Jima, is from the Japanese viewpoint of the battle. Both films show the grim realities of war and Eastwood was praised for showing good and evil on both sides of the conflict.